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The limits of collaborative consumption: Would people really share their belongings?

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An unofficial Google news blog Google Operating System has reported that the search giant is playing around with a potential new service called “Google Mine” — a Google+ feature that would allow users to share their real-life possessions with their social network.

“Google Mine lets you share your belongings with your friends and keep up to date with what your friends are sharing,” the blogpost says. “It enables you to control which of your Google+ Circles you share an item with. It also lets you rate and review the items, upload photos of them and share updates on the Google+ Stream where your friends get to see and comment on them.”

Google hasn’t commented publicly on the report. It is constantly testing out new features and products, many of which never see the light of day. So if Google is, in fact, tinkering with Google Mine, it, too, could die in the laboratory.

But it’s a good jumping-off point to talk about whether people would use such a service. Collaborative consumption — where people share things like cars (ZipCar), homes (Airbnb) and even chores (TaskRabbit) — is a hot trend among entrepreneurs. There are startups trying to make it big sharing all kinds of things. Google Mine would catalogue a user’s belongings, whether it’s a dog-eared copy of Pride and Prejudice from college or a kayak you bought last year, so you could share them among trusted friends.

In many ways, a product like Google Mine would be the fastest way to get an answer to “Does anyone have a screwdriver I could borrow?” And it could create whole new efficiencies around stuff that mostly just takes up space– much of what we own, of course, we barely use. But at the same time, it’s very much a product rooted in San Francisco, the poster city for collaborative consumption. In a community where technology and business are so comfortable alongside the city’s hippie undercurrents, something like Google Mine would make some real sense.

But for the rest of the country?

Large-scale escalation of a collaborative program has a hitch in that it assumes that people want to document their belongings online explicitly for sharing. It hinges, also, on a maximum efficiency rate where there are enough people in the community participating to make sharing worthwhile. While it’s easier to replicate in metro areas like San Francisco or New York — unsurprisingly, since many collaborative consumption startups focus on high-density areas — it has less of a chance succeeding in suburban or rural areas.

That said, Google is probably the perfect company to road-test it, simply because it’s unafraid of trying to shoot the moon. If Google Mine is a real and planned addition to Google+, it could paint a helpful picture of how collaborative consumption could work on a worldwide scale.

But don’t be surprised if no one really wants to share their belongings — you never know when you’ll get them back!

4 Responses to “The limits of collaborative consumption: Would people really share their belongings?”

  1. dweddepohl

    I think collaborative consumption is something that can work in any place where enough people live close together. Amsterdam has it’s own Google Minde, called Peerby ( It will connect you to a neighbor with a screwdriver within minutes.

  2. Paula Wertheim - Executive Director, HDAudioPlus

    It all sounds so “New Age”, innocent, wonderful and safe…doesn’t it?

    I always feel kind of of icky whenever companies like Google insist I “share” my most personal stuff online with total strangers. Every day I’m urged to “share” my family’s most personal photos on Picasa or store sensitive documents in the “Cloud”. I’m getting the clear message from every blogger, online marketing guru or company that if I won’t get with the program and “share” enough details of of my private life or personal photos with the world on Facebook, Google+ or via the dozen or so photo editing apps residing on my Smartphone; each one connected to their respective online “vaults”- I’d better start looking for a different profession. The marketing experts all advise small businesses to either “get naked” or “get lost” if they hope to survive online. Call me “old school”; but personally, I have a huge privacy problem with advice like that.

    All of the above is bad enough. What I find even more disturbing is the massive governmental breach of citizens’ of privacy revealed after the recent Prism scandal. Here we all got to see black on white how government so easily “helps itself” to any information it chooses. And yet, even after after that bombshell, “Big Brother” is still free to go about it’s “business” of hoarding mountains of personal, sensitive information about you and me; without our consent, exactly as it has been doing all along since the 80’s!

    For some strange reason, I don’t feel too safe “sharing” information about my personal belongings online. They can call it what they want, but when I’m told to “share” something personal online, it somehow smacks of the same underhanded coercion tactics parents sometimes use to pressure their kids to share a beloved toy with company. Usually the company returns the toy to it’s rightful owner before going home. Can we trust Google to safeguard our “toys” and return them to us intact one day? Not bloody likely.

    • Well, don’t use it then. It’s not mandatory. Google =/= Govt. Prism Program… Google = Skynet. There’s a difference, one is coniving governemnt officials, the other is robots. I for one, welcome our new robot overlords. Would do a hell of lot better job than these dillholes.