Here’s an internet prediction: As the cost of publishing the things you have and the things you want decreases linearly, the volume of non-monetary exchange (lending, sharing, donating things) will increase exponentially.
Open web services that connect ISBNs (for books) and UPCs (for DVDs, games, and other durables) to data about products enable bloggers to unambiguously identify what products they wish to peddle on online marketplaces like eBay. In the coming years, blogging the products we own will be further simplified when barcode- and RFID readers become embedded in cheap everyday handheld devices such as cell phones.
I think there’s reason to believe that the resulting change in social behavior will not be just quantitative—not just more eBay, more Amazon. It was the portal-driven Web of the 1990s that brought forth the revolution in retail and classifieds. This time it will be different.
The shift to a blog-driven Web can set in motion a new, lively circulation of pre-owned products among networks of friends who play with the dynamics of social capital, not financial capital. Where Amazon pioneered the Web’s retail layer, and eBay pioneered the bargaining layer, a service like Mediachest could pioneer a new lending layer in product circulation. Up until now, this layer has existed off-line, but it has been limited to enclosed and perishable social pockets where discoveries of eligible products in a suitable person’s possession is largely a matter of chance, and lack of appropriate forum for exchanging lending / sharing / donating initiatives complicates the face-saving rituals.
Some distinct characteristics of the emerging online lending layer:
– First, it is about retail products, but unlike Amazon, it is not about retail transactions. Rather, it’s about recycling, swapping, donating and borrowing (mostly) pre-owned products.
– Second, it’s about moving material goods, but unlike eBay, it doesn’t require national or global logistics. It’s about very local logistics—not the suburban neighborhoods as much as the trust-based interpersonal networks that inhabit every institution in our society: the workplace, the school, the sports team, the hospital, the university dorm.
– Third, it may not be about PC users as much as it is about mobile users (although that is contingent on the trend of more hackable mobile terminals).
– And finally, the emerging online small worlds oriented around non-money-based circulation of material objects might not at first reach many of the more affluent 30 to 40-somethings. But they are much more likely to reach their kids—or get originated by them.