Collaborative Consumption: Collective Intelligence to the Service of Trading, Bartering, and Swapping

by Ariana Stolarz

The Cyberspace promotes the “rapid integration of intelligences”
(Pierre Levy, Becoming Virtual: Reality in the Digital Age, p. 146).

The C-Factor. In recent years, the concepts of community, cooperation, collaboration, crowdsourcing, the commons, and collective intelligence have circulated and considerably increased their appeal with academics, marketers, and the informed public. A great deal of literature seeks to explain the reasons why people collaborate, while emphasizing the role of digital technologies as catalyst for the various examples to succeed. Currently, new and creative ways of self-motivated collective action have proliferated beyond the exchange of knowledge and information. I am particularly interested in the raise of what has been called collaborative consumption—understood as new practices of “bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting, and swapping, redefined through technology and peer communities”—, and in getting a deeper understanding of the reasons why this concept is now trending (Botsman and Rogers, What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, p. xv).

The throwaway mode of living—characterized by the raise of hyper-consumerism and the production and consumption of disposable items since the early fifties—is now witnessing successful counterexamples of repetitive consumption practices over ownership. At the heart of these practices is the calculation of how we can take an object’s “idling capacity and redistribute elsewhere” (Botsman and Rogers 83). Some examples, just to illustrate a few, include the swapping sites SwapTree, Squidoo, U-Exchange, and ThreadUp, where users swipe books, movies, games, and kids’ clothes. FreeCycle and ReUseIt are sites where people give unwanted items away. The car sharing and per hour car rental, facilitated through platforms such as RelayRide, GetAround, Whipcar, Zipcar, ZimRide, NuRide, and GoLoco, is predicted to become a $12.5 billion industry (Botsman and Rogers xiv-xviii, 84-85). In all these examples, the direct link between producers and consumers is restored leaving aside the middleman.

Numerous authors study the proliferation of a variety of technologies of cooperation, its uses and individual motivations. While most of this literature places a central role in the medium – one architected to foster collaboration – I will argue that the success of current collaborative consumption practices lays at the intersection of a) new technologies of cooperation (computer-networked platforms), b) social modes of organization (in particular, network theories), and c) cultural transformations (more specifically, i) a reinvigorated meaning of trust that emerged from the convergence of new technologies and social networking functions; and ii) a need to be more open to new ways of accessing what one needs and how to go about getting it,  heightened by an increased consciousness in environmental issues and the effects of the global economic crisis) (see Regis Debray’s  mediological approach, Media Manifestos: On the Technological Transmission of Cultural Forms).

Of course, digital technologies are key vehicles for these transmissions to thrive. The Internet offers platforms, such as Swap.com, that make technically possible what was previously theoretically unimaginable: new reliable forms of collaboration among otherwise unconnected individuals.

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One Comment to “Collaborative Consumption: Collective Intelligence to the Service of Trading, Bartering, and Swapping”

  1. Thank you for the article! While CC is used to speak about business models that rely on trading, bartering and swapping, I find the more recent emergence of companies that use other events, such as flash sales (http://mashable.com/2011/10/21/community-collection/), or streamlined distribution methods (http://webthriftstore.com) to be exciting. Botsman herself acknowledges that the current financial climate plays a part in people’s amenability to CC (not that that is a bad thing), and some people may only be as invested as people require them to be. Philanthropic outlets aren’t new, but it’s cool to know that organizations are using technology to make it even easier for people to give while they (re)purchase items that they need.

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