03/07/2011 05:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

GiftFlow Helps You Get What You Need, Give What You Don't

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GiftFlow aims to take advantage of the web to encourage a culture of circular giving offline. The site works to let users both give away the things they don't need, and receive the things they do--for free. The goal: to connect "community organizations, businesses, governments and neighbors into a giant network of reciprocity, where they can share resources, meet each others' needs and coordinate their efforts to build a better world."

What it is: GiftFlow basically allows anyone to list those objects they'd like to give away, as well as to list the objects they'd like to receive. Co-founder Hans Schoenburg explained part of his rationale behind the system. "If you get a bunch of people together and get them to write down what they could give away, a database of that sort of information has a lot of potential energy," he said.

The desire to foster this sort of gift economy stems from the simple observation that, as the site puts it, "There are people who lack access to some of the most fundamental human needs. At the same time, many are frustrated with the way consumption has taken over their lives and cluttered their homes." In keeping with the social mission, GiftFlow is a nonprofit.

But GiftFlow is not, Schoenburg emphasizes, simply a take on Craigslist, another site where free objects are often listed and claimed. "The closest cousin to GiftFlow, or what we want GiftFlow to be, is couchsurfing," he said. "We're going along the same lines in that we have a social network with profiles--it's circular reciprocity, instead of barter and exchange."

How it works: For now, GiftFlow only operates in Connecticut--with plans to expand. Anyone can use the site to look for things they might need, or to give away the things they no longer want.

And GiftFlow is not limiting itself to individuals. "We will recruit organizational and institutional members and not just individuals," said Schoenburg. "It has resonated pretty well with nonprofits in New Haven--a homeless shelter can join as a homeless shelter and request the things they need."

Why you'd use it: Many people own things they don't really use, or want. And many people need things that they can't get. Rather than creating waste, GiftFlow attempts to close the circle of goods by letting the human network harness their collective possessions.

"We're providing a free and sustainable alternative to the consumer economy," said Schoenburg. "And reconnecting communities into what will hopefully be a network of interdependence."

How to get it: Just visit to get started.

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