What's mine is yours for a small price in sharing trend

An illustration picture shows the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign in Frankfurt, September 15, 2014.

Last Saturday, Ms Kyle Shay, 42, opened her house to nine dinner guests who tucked into a hearty meal of gnocchi and carrot cake.

But this wasn't a regular gathering of friends: The guests signed up online and paid US$30 (S$38.50) to be there.

Ms Shay, a project manager, had put her menu on the website Feastly, which links home chefs to diners craving an intimate home-cooked meal. She received good reviews for her efforts.

"It's a way to validate my recipes and I'm practising to be a good host," says Ms Shay, who hopes to open an Italian deli.

Sharing a meal with strangers is just another business idea within the sharing economy, a social economic system that has grown out of technology that connects people and allows them to share goods and services.

Sharing-economy websites include Open Shed, which allows people to rent household appliances for a day; Skillshare, which lets people log on to learn a new skill; and Fon, which enables the sharing of Wi-Fi connections.

Then there are trail-blazers like Uber, where car owners become cabby for a day, and Airbnb, where home owners rent out rooms or entire houses to visitors.

The idea behind it is simple: Share your excess resources or talents and earn some money.

The concept took off after the 2008 recession, says Ms Lisa Gansky, an entrepreneur and author of The Mesh: Why The Future Of Business Is Sharing.

She says the downturn made people more aware of the true costs of things and pushed them to look for ways to offset the cost of owning something.

Advances in information technology play a part in the growth of the sharing economy, which experts value at US$15 billion globally. That is set to grow as more people embrace the idea.

Ms Gansky says this is due to the lack of trust in large firms.

"People are very interested in trying new kinds of services from companies that are not the big brands that have disappointed customers in recent years."

In the United States, companies like Target and Home Depot come to mind for their recent credit card breaches, resulting in millions of credit card numbers and customer details being exposed.

But why would one trust a random stranger to provide transport, food or even lodging?

Ms Anna Brook, head of communications at JustPark, a platform which allows people to rent out their parking spaces, believes many sharing-economy companies "exhibit an extraordinary capacity to self-regulate".

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