The concept of sharing has been transformed - from a throwback to childhood and simpler times, to a truly modern lifestyle choice. Collaborative consumption - the name given to the process of swapping, sharing and renting anything across the web; whether tools and skills or clothes and holidays - is booming business and what's more, the sector is mobilising. Turns out we love to live collaboratively, and share companies are getting slicker, chic-er and savvier about how to get us on board.
Last month was the first offline meeting of the online business leaders behind this new share revolution, set to alter forever the way we get the things we need. Collaborative Consumption Europe (CCE) marked the coming together of representatives from distinctly different share businesses. And sharing can take many forms - whether it's banking with sites like uk.zopa.com, holidaying through sites like www.LoveHomeSwap.com, borrowing household items or renting a fabulous dress for a special occasion.
What sets these companies apart, and what CCE explored, is that they are using cutting-edge technology to make lending and swapping a truly 21st century practice worthy of the World Wide Web and as their popularity increases - taking it worldwide too.
It's 'ordinary' people who have the most to gain from the rise of this share economy. Though big businesses may be most interested in how it affects the profits of traditional providers - in a day to day respect, it is individual lives which will most be affected by it - from the way we travel to work, to the toys our children play with, how we source the clothes we wear, our holidays, our banking...everything!
What did we learn from CCE?
From sharing items to ideas - the attendees at CCE discussed just how they're increasingly making us trust strangers with our stuff - it's all in the experience. If traditional retail therapy has lost its lustre in these tight economic times - collaborative consumption is the answer, as it is as much about pleasure of experience as saving money and resources.
People enjoy the community at the heart of the sharing model - meeting (both online and off) people in mutually beneficial networks. In fact, one of the most striking things about the strongest social swap networks is how much they rely on good old-fashioned meeting and greeting to reinforce in 'real life' the online connections they rely on. Peer-to-peer money lender Zopa celebrated a recent birthday with 400 of its customers, keen to put a face to the online moniker. Putting the 'social' in social networking, this is at the heart of what draws people to the share model - when did you last grab a beer with your bank manager?
This is only the start for collaborative consumption - the key output from CCE was that the rapid growth of the sector shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed, the panellists suggested that the boom was fuelled by the current economic climate - citing a correlation between diminishing consumer confidence in traditional institutions and the rise of the share-economy.
What's more, as discussed at the event, by continuously refining their sites to improve user experience - the more organised the share-sector gets, the stronger the model and ultimately, the more people who will get involved. So where is this revolution going to have the most impact? An on-the-spot audience poll at CCE revealed that finance (24%) and travel (19%) are predicted to be collaborative consumption's most influential sectors in ten year's time. Come 2024 we will be banking with buddies and holidaying in the homes of our cyber neighbours. Mark my words.
Watch highlights from the first CCE session here.
Debbie Wosskow is the founder of Collaborative Consumption Europe and CEO/Founder of www.LoveHomeSwap.com. The next CCE session will take place in London in June 2012.