How to indulge in collaborative consumption

opensgedCleaning the back patio on a hot day with a high-pressure water cleaner is a joy. Not having one of my own, I borrowed the one I’m using from a friend. Unbeknownst to me, I was indulging in collaborative consumption.

The very nature of the internet these days allows the sharing of things that would otherwise sit in your garage in a way which was never possible before. I might know someone with a high-pressure water jet sitting idle – but a 2 ton hoist or a bike trailer is a different kettle of fish. New services are popping up all over the place to meet these needs.

I was recently pointed to several of these (Daniel sent through links to openshed.com.au, parkingmadeeasy.com.au, and carnextdoor.com.au) and of course I can add in Airtasker and GoGet. Openshed is particularly interesting as it deals with the micro-transactions rather than big-ticket items like cars.

Openshed allows people with unused things sitting about in their shed or house to rent them out to others. The business takes a small cut of the transaction and in addition to providing the facilitating website provides insurance cover. It’s an interesting idea. For $10 for the day or $50 for the week I can rent an Xbox 360 with a selection of games; for $2 for the day or $5 for the week I can rent a sink plunger (not so sure about that one); for $5 for the day and $20 for the week I can rent a Rubix Cube (quite certain that’s looking like a poor deal).

While I like this idea, the reality does not yet quite fit my expectations. I’m struggling in seeing either personal, or wider, value in renting a plunger. Yes it avoids another one being bought from the supermarket, but at the cost of driving about to pick it up. It’s the bigger things that I can really see value in. The moving trolley for $4 for the day or $14 for the week; the circular saw at $6 and $20; and there’s that water jet cleaner for $10 and $20.

The problem with entering someone else’s shed is that 90 percent of what’s in there is junk. The remaining 10 percent may be gold as long as it’s close enough to me to make it accessible. It’s the nature of the beast that Openshed seems to have attracted people posting junk as well as the good stuff. (I know you’re thinking one man’s junk is another’s gold but take a look at this listing before jumping to conclusions: handmade anniversary sign.) That said, Openshed allows you to search on particular items and also to search on location – so you can judge the value of the thing against its distance from you.

The real value of services like these comes with achieving a critical mass. Sharing, just like email or the telephone, only works when you have enough people involved. Openshed is a great start and will work well for some people but it’ll need to achieve that critical mass quickly if it is to achieve its potential and become the go-to place for small rentals. If it can do that not only will we all save some money, but there will be fewer items sitting around wasted in sheds – and that’s a good thing.

If you’re looking for a high-pressure cleaner or a sink plunger, head on over to Openshed.com.au. And now, if you’ll excuse me, the sun is shining and I’m going to go over the back patio one more time – I’m not sure my friend’s gong to be getting that water jet back any time soon.

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