Peer-to-Peer Living - Save money by cutting out the middle man
Peer-to-peer isn't just about dodgy file-sharing. We explore a new breed of companies that is using the web to let people trade goods and services directly with each other
The internet has transformed so many aspects of our lives: how we communicate, learn, have fun, do business and shop. But while Amazon and iTunes Store have replaced high street stalwarts such as Woolworths and Virgin Megastore, there's still a pervading culture of large companies providing products and services for individual consumers.
Yet more change is on the horizon, though. Wikipedia and eBay have demonstrated people's willingness to work or trade directly with each other. These organisations act as facilitators, providing automated systems that let people buy, sell or freely exchange products, services and information with each other. It needn't stop at second-hand goods and encyclopaedia articles, though. A new generation of entrepreneurs is bringing this peer-to-peer model to everything from hotel rooms to product design to banking.
WHERE THERE'S A WILL …
There are some strong incentives for dealing directly with individuals. The most obvious one is financial: cut out – or at least, pare back – the middleman and everyone else should get a better deal. There are more personal incentives, too. It's gratifying to know that your money is going straight to the person who provided the product or service, and by talking to him or her, you can ask for exactly what you want.
Ecomodo co-founder Meriel Lenfestey with some of the stuff she has to lend
The desire is there, but it can be tricky to forge these peer-to-peer connections. There are directories such as Yell.com but they still involve trawling through listings, getting quotes, comparing options and – often – taking a punt on the quality of a product or service. Meanwhile, big businesses make it incredibly easy for us to spend our money with them. Online stores are easy to use, and can have huge economies of scale, at least on products that are standardised, such as books, gadgets and mass-produced clothing.
Similar incentives and obstacles apply to borrowing versus buying. If you needed a barbeque one weekend, the chances are you'd be able to borrow one by asking around a few friends. Many of us would prefer just to nip to B&Q, though. It's quicker, not that expensive and, for many people, there's a reluctance to even ask small favours of others we know. What if they have a barbeque but aren't too keen to lend it? It might not be worth the embarrassment of asking.