In my Scientific American column this month I wrote about the wild, efficient, unregulated, joyous new world of the "sharing economy." Those are special Web sites that connect ordinary citizens with other citizens to do business directly, face to face, bypassing brands and corporations. Airbnb to rent your home. UberX and Lyft to rent your car. TaskRabbit to rent your time—and so on.
There's much more to come in this category, which offers benefits and savings to just about everybody (except, of course, the entrenched interests like taxi companies). So here, with tongue only partway in cheek, are my suggestions for the Next Great Success Stories in the sharing economy.
SplitMyPool.com: On my street—this is not a joke—four families installed swimming pools the same year. I made an offer to each one: I'd pay for half the expenses, chemicals and maintenance each summer if I could bring my kids over to swim when the pool is otherwise unused. All four turned me down.
But at RentMyPool.com, more forward-thinking neighbors could offer swimming privileges to nearby residents in exchange for sharing the costs. A swimming-pool co-op, if you will. Everybody wins.
ShutterBorrow.com: The sharing economy really shines when it comes to belongings that cost a lot—but wind up sitting unused much of the time. Camera equipment is a great example. At Shutterborrow.com, you'd be able to get your hands on someone else's expensive camera gear—maybe a digital SLR with a couple of fantastic lenses—for a fraction of the purchase price.
Let's face it: unless you're a professional, camera gear spends most of its time sitting in a cabinet. At the next wedding, school play or graduation, why not pay a few dollars to borrow a really great setup?
CookForMe.com: Just what it sounds like. On some night when you're exhausted and too tired to putter in the kitchen—or some night when you're tired of frozen dinners and takeout—you call up CookForMe.com. Someone who lives nearby, someone who really knows how to cook, does the shopping and the chopping for you. And voilà: a home-cooked meal, for far less expense, time, grease and hassle than a restaurant would have involved.
There are already all kinds of services that bring you food. But this is different. This is a neighbor, a cheery face, someone with a little extra time—maybe an empty-nester—who'd love to earn a little income making your taste buds and tummy happy.
NeighborDisc.com: You know that there are still people who maintain collections of movies on DVD and Blu-ray? You've seen the towers of cases in their TV rooms. Do you really think they watch all those movies more than a couple of times? Nobody possibly could.
Movies, too, are screaming out to be loaned locally. Maybe $2 to borrow a disc for a few nights. Why not? That movie's doing nothing for the owner but gathering dust on a shelf. You save a lot of money (when compared with a monthly service such as Netflix or "renting" a digital copy through Amazon), you gain the convenience of spontaneous borrowing from someone a few blocks away and you get to watch movies that still aren't available to rent online (such as the original Star Wars trilogy). It's a perfect blend of two concepts: the local video store and the sharing economy.