Just in Time vs. Just in Case: Creating real world sharing opportunities.
This weekend I was helping my friend sell her stuff as she is preparing to move out of the country. As she was looking over her possessions she remarked that a lot of this had been in storage for the past four years and she never accessed it. She bought a lot of things because she should she would need it. Other items were gifts and giveaways from companies that she didn't feel she could throwaway earlier. It made me think how much of our lives are about just in case vs just in time. I can't say that either is better than the other since they are hedges against different circumstances.
However, much of our economy is based the worry part of our natures. You should have this just in case you need it. And sometimes you do, I have a scanner that I don't use every day. but it's nice to have when you need it. But there are products that we seem to buy as a single use purchase that linger when not needed. I recently borrowed a slide scanner from my friend, he bought it to convert his old negatives to digital and I borrowed it. I spent a weekend scanning all my photos from my past and it was a nice accomplishment. But then I returned the scanner to him. It's nice to have someone in your circle to be able to borrow things, especially things you don't use all the time. And no one uses all the time. There is a start up called Roonga that is trying to do that. It's in "beta" and it is living up to that moniker, but the concept is solid. What do we have that is "on the bench" that we can make available. Obviously there are things like party supplies (punch bowls, card tables, etc) that one can offer in a pinch. There are tools that one can offer to those in need. And there are libraries (both books and media). Delicious Monster offers a nice product called Delicious Library that tracks your library and has a share option. GoodReads.com has a bookswap option to let your friends know of books you like to swap, it would be great to have a lending option.
The problem is that most of these solutions exist in the digital realm, but they fail to jump the chasm into real world usability. Tracking and managing atoms is so much harder than bits. So what do we need to do to get these things processes to work better. I think we need to think about the workflow of everyday things.
The first issue is, just in time availability. People have been borrowing goods from each other for all of time. People have also been struggling to get things back from people almost as long. Identifying who you do things with on a regular basis is really important to make things work. The other way to improve things is to make returning and lending part of one's everyday life. I love the if it fits in a box it's one price option of US Priority Mail. Lend a book, but include a pre-addressed pre paid envelope. Maybe print it out in the borrow process.
Second issues if latent value, how do I know the value of something is not more for someone else. For instance, my friend had a remote control for her computer. She never used it, it was brand new. I interestingly had recently joined the real world and got television reception through a digital tuner and started using my PC was my TV. (I was TV free now I am for all intent and purposes a couch potato just like everyone else). It had huge value for me, well not huge but I do use it and it's a nice solution. Identifying the value match still needs to be figured out.
Third issue, defining a meaningful sharing network. When you want to lend, you want to lend to those that you trust. Social networking sites help find potential real world sharing opportunities, not just digital ones. Creating trust and rating models is a huge area. Ebay did this was ratings, but let's face it some of your friends are flakier than others.
Last issue, timeliness. It is interesting to see freecycle as it is run by email, but often when something is available you don't need it and when you need something, someone has offered it but it was never picked up. Solving the time mismatch issue will increase use.
We have a lot of "dark stuff" in our lives waiting to be lit and used. Figuring out how to do it can help the environment and our society. I do have concerns that our current economic model may suffer from greater use efficiency, but that will be for another post.