How many times in your life have you thought to yourself, “Wow. I could really use a chain saw right now”?

Maybe once. Maybe never.

So should I buy a chain saw for a once in a decade use? I'd rather go with collaborative consumption.

Collaborative Consumption

What do you value in life?

Time? Money? Space? Respect? Reducing stress?

Collaborative consumption addresses them all in a very 21st century kind of way.

Collaborative Differences

I can't remember if a post on My Money Blog or Wired magazine introduced me to collaborative consumption. But it was apparent right away that this was more than just a buy used and recycle philosophy.

Collaborative Consumption is organized into three different categories.

  1. Redistribution markets: Moving goods, products and services from where they are not needed to where they are.
  2. Collaborative lifestyles: The sharing of resources like money, skills, time, lodging, etc. Groovy examples include Landshare, FreeCycle, Couch Surfing and Air BNB.
  3. Product service systems: Pay for the benefit of the product without having to own the product outright. Baby goods, clothes for a specific event like prom, funerals and birthdays. has a pretty sweet Gen Y guide to collaborative consumption but this is applicable to people of all ages. If you're looking for the laundry list of communities head over there.

On an individual leve,l there are people like Rachel Botsman who champion collaborative consumption through a TEDx talk, the What's Mine is Yours book and her website.

Champions of a movement are great but this only gains traction when individuals take action.

At the Core

At its core, collaborative consumption is using technology to enable the sharing and exchanging of assets. These assets can be physical (like a bicycle), digital (perhaps website design), mental (idea swapping), or take on other forms.

These are not new concepts and can be traced back to the dawn of humanity.

Here's the thing though. The ease of implementing them and the scale on which they can be leveraged is so much bigger than it was in the past. It's the technology part that generates the underlying trust that allows strangers to interact with each other in a way previously reserved for friends and family.

A decade ago I wouldn't have considered swapping or lending, say, my chain saw to a total stranger. But now I'll happily and eagerly do it knowing that (often) no money needs to be exchanged and no insurance needs to be verified.

Building Reputational Capital

For collaborative consumption to be widely adopted, reputational capital needs to be easily visible, easily managed, and have real consequences. These new systems require trust and the foundation is reputation management.

So isn't Craigslist a collaborative consumption website? Isn't eBay, with its seller and buyer ratings and real consequences for not delivering on the promise of exchange of goods, collaborative consumption?

When business to business and peer to peer interactions get facilitated through the Internet, you better have a reputational capital system in place to manage trust.

Craigslist and eBay were pioneers but we can do even better.

Why You Will Care

The evolution of technology allows for this kind of rapid paradigm shift.

When we learn that cars, on average, sit idle 23 hours a day, the rapid evolution of an ownership culture to an access culture can be accelerated.

We can go from an ownership model (buying from GM, Toyota, Ford) to car sharing (ZipCar, GoGet) to ride sharing (Nuride, Zimride) to peer-to-peer car rental (DriveMyCar, WhipCar). And we did all this in five years or so.

Now we can make statements like “I don't want the car. I want the freedom and convenience it enables.”

Then we can apply this mindset and make other statements like:

  • “I don't want the DVD, I want the movie it plays”
  • “I don't want the CD. I want the music it plays”
  • “I don't want stuff, I want the means or experiences it fulfills”

A Personal Challenge

This is not a goal and this is not a mission. Often the best challenges we face are those we force upon ourselves. With this in mind, I am throwing down the gauntlet and issuing the following challenge:

I will use three different collaborative consumption services, products, websites and communities by the end of the year.

I'm going to do it because it's easy, it's fun and it benefits everyone locally and throughout the world.

Will you?

Do you agree that access trumps ownership in the 21st century?