Collaborative consumption and 'doing well by doing good'

Two keynote speakers at Online Information 2011 focused on social and economic transformation - facilitated by new technology.

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A new revolution in consumption

The 21st century's reaction to the hyper-consumption of the previous century will be collaborative consumption.   The signs are already with us and can no longer be avoided.  In fact, they should be embraced.  In her Online Information conference keynote Rachel Botsman expressed her belief that this new model means we are embarking on a new revolution - every bit as big as the industrial revolution that changed the way we lived, worked and consumed more than 200 years ago.

Botsman believes that collaborative consumption embodies a return to old fashioned ways of doing things, but facilitated by social media and other technology tools.   Examples include an increase in localised bartering and exchange, gifting and freecycling, local networking clubs, and websites that match local 'needs' with 'wants'. 

Craigslist - an accidental brand

For Botsman, Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, is the 'godfather' of collaborative consumption.  In his keynote, which opened this year's Online Information conference, he described himself  as a nerd who is now able to focus his energies on helping others who may have felt excluded.  The decisions he has made concerning the 'accidental brand' of Craigslist may not have netted him the most money but have enabled him to achieve personal happiness.   Realising that he was probably not the best of managers, Newmark appointed a CEO and focused his attention on customer service.  His advice is that all senior leaders - of organisations or even countries - should do something similar.  The problem, he believes, is that senior people are surrounded by 'yes people'.  A stint on customer services tells you what is really going on in your constituency!

The importance of trust

Newmark's current areas of interest focus on establishing and building trust.  Though craigconnects, he is looking to bring together volunteer groups with common interests and looking to establish methods of measuring the financial effectiveness of non-profits. 

In an era of citizen journalism and instant publishing, Newmark is also looking for ways to help improve trust in the press by identifying ways to facilitate fact checking 'on the fly' - as cheaply and rapidly as possible.  He is working with Wikipedia and others to explore how, for example, crowdsourcing, could help.

Trust is also critical to the success of the new types of 'social' venture described by Rachel Botsman.  Taskrabbit focuses on matching local people with something they want doing with someone who can do it.  People bid on the tasks, which can range from assembling flat pack furniture to writing a love letter.  Many of the people who undertake the tasks are local retired people, who are able to supplement their incomes, and structure their tasking around their lifestyles.  These are 'micro entrepreneurs', who benefit from a social, mobile site that facilitates the building of trust between strangers. 

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