THE BLOG
09/28/2010 10:36 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

With Recession Comes a Return to Sharing

We live in a new era molded by constant change and transitions. Gone are the days of easy credit, a relatively full employment roster and endless budget surpluses. The financial collapse of 2008 had a profound impact on Wall Street, but the weight was heaviest on Main Street and along the citizen byways across the globe. Businesses, governments and consumers are coping by reining in discretionary spending across all categories and those same groups are looking at age old ways to make the most of what they have without buying new, or even buying at all. Thus, the notion of collaborative consumption resurfaced and is fast making its way to households and businesses across America.

Arianna Huffington's recent piece about the "purpose in times of transition" offered an interesting perspective on how we, as citizens and owners of our own space, view our daily options. This "transition phase" has allowed us to take a deeper look into what motivates us and drives us as consumers, and make conscience decisions that reflect our morals, and not our bank accounts. In her piece, Huffington writes:

Millions of Americans are being forced to go outside the range of their experience by the staggering decline of the middle class. And discussions of what it means to have a good life, of what's really valuable in life, are no longer confined to the classroom.

I couldn't agree more, and that's also why I've become so invested in the collaborative consumption movement by bringing back the basic lessons of our childhood: share, and share well. The age old functions of swapping and sharing are vogue again. This idea of swapping and sharing is gaining in momentum and creating a new model of consumption where collaboration reigns supreme. Yes, the declining economy is enabling these new consumption models but there is more to the story. The Internet has been transformed from a network of links to a network of people. The web is a social space and offers a valuable platform to already formed offline social networks consisting of family, friends, schools, co-workers and more. In any community, the reputation of a citizen is paramount and this is becoming truer for online social networks, as well. However, while online commerce services wide markets, it has not fully replaced offline commerce. So, how do consumers make viable decisions in times of transitions with so many influencers? Enter: the online-to-offline commerce (o2o) -- where consumers demand is aggregated online and then fulfilled offline. To quote Ms. Huffington, again:

No matter what stage of transition we are at -- and even if change has been painfully foisted on us -- it's important to see ourselves as more than a bundle of needs. We can all have a voice in redefining what the "good life" will mean going forward -- and a hand in creating it.


But how do you define the good life? How do we come together to create it?

Rachel Botsman recently published a new book on this topic called, What's Mine is Yours. In this manifesto about collaborative consumption, Botsman alludes to the power of the crowds in redefining consumption patterns across the globe. Botsman offers examples of many companies that have been formed to serve this evolving opportunity, ranging from the enormous powerhouses like eBay and Craigslist, to the emerging peer-to-peer networks at Swap.com, RelayRides, RentCycle, Zopa and car sharing from ZipCar.

I've grown as an executive alongside the Internet. I had a front row seat to the establishment of the Search category during my time with Lycos. Now, I'm positioned as a change agent with the establishment of the Swap category as the CEO of Swap.com.

I can say, definitively and without hesitation, that there is massive demand in the market to seek alternative consumption. A key element is for a consumer to establish their reputation in these emerging communities to help maximize their opportunity. We have amassed nearly 1 million members on Swap.com who help facilitate the swapping of books, music, movies and games. There is significant demand for us to expand our presence in these categories and into new categories -- this demand inside our community will not only help members swap and save money, but also define their "good life" as it pertains to a healthier way of spending. Healthy spending equals happy consumers, and happy consumers are, after all, what makes the market go 'round...