menu

Connecting Peer-To-Peer Trades Of Physical Goods Online

Connecting Peer-To-Peer Trades Of Physical Goods Online
Advertising

Rachel Botsman, author of 'What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption,' explores the story of Swap.com.

Rachel Botsman
  • 15 december 2010

College friends Greg Boesel and Mark Hexamer started to think about online swap trading in 2004, a time when peer-to-peer precursor sites such as craigslist, Freecycle, and Netflix were taking off. The pair had met while studying for graduate degrees at Boston College and had already created a successful legal software company together. As Hexamer recalls, “The inspiration for their site was really a whole bunch of things, as opposed to one ‘a-ha’ moment.” They began to notice that their nephews played a new $55 video game for a couple of weeks and then got bored with it. Their friends with children would watch videos such as Shrek and The Little Mermaid numerous times but would quickly move on to their next favorite movie. Boesel’s and Hexamer’s mothers would swap books with their friends without thinking about it. And their own shelves were full of DVDs and CDs they would neither watch nor listen to again. The final impetus was when Boesel, like so many readers, devoured The Da Vinci Code in a matter of days. After he turned the last page he wondered, “What do I with this book now?” He did not want to throw it away or go through the hassles of selling it for a few dollars on eBay. Boesel proposed to Hexamer, “Could we create a site that would let people swap any product for the same value as what they’re offering?”

As math whizzes, the two friends started to think about the algorithms that would enable trades to happen instantly. They realized the key would be to calculate an equal value of goods to automatically ensure an undeniably fair exchange. And not just for two-way direct trades but for three-way cross-media trades that would, as Hexamer put it, “explode the system.” For example, in a three-way, user A would send a CD to User B, User B would send a DVD to User C, and User C would send a video game to User A. The problem Boesel and Hexamer had to solve was much aligned to Chris Anderson’s Long Tail concept, the niche strategy of selling (or in this case, trading) large numbers of unique items in small quantities.35 How would a person in Iowa who wants to trade an unwanted Wii Super Mario Galaxy 2 for a PlayStation Sims 2 find a match?

The site Boesel and Hexamer ended up launching in 2007, SwapTree (now Swap.com), solves this problem in sixty milliseconds. You enter the UPC (for Super Mario Galaxy 2 it’s 045496900434) or IBSN on the back of the box (this code is used to identify the edition, release, or version, and thereby determine the value) in a little green box. You then mark the condition of the item from “worn” to “never used.” When we tried this system out on SwapTree, 132,209 items popped up that could be traded for the Super Mario Galaxy, including 100,350 books, 20,349 CDs, 8,809 DVDs, and 2,701 video games. And at the time we experimented, there were two copies of Sims 2 to be traded instantly for Super Mario, one from “Gwerd67” in Florida and the other from “Ukfan64” from Kansas. If you decided to make the exchange, SwapTree generates the postage label, too (on average items cost $2.20 to mail). The whole trip to the post office, including the weighing of the item, can be bypassed. From start to finish, swaptrading Super Mario for Sims 2 would have taken no more than two minutes.

In November 2009, there was an inventory of approximately 5.5 million items on people’s “have lists” and 3.5 million items on people’s “want lists.” To a certain extent, the multiway, multimedia trading system that connects these goods is leveraging the concept of six degrees of separation. Boesel explains, “We have essentially created a social network for your media. When you tell us you have the movie The Departed, we connect you to all the people who want that movie, and all of the people who want those people’s items.” Cracking this challenge has enabled the founders to create two critical experience factors that can compete head-to-head with shopping for new stuff: choice and instant gratification.

Swap.com is one of hundreds of innovative examples that are part of a new culture and economy called Collaborative Consumption transforming business, consumerism, and the way we live. It is explored for the first time in the must read book What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption.

Rachel Botsman (@rachelbotsman//twitter) is a social innovator who consults, writes, and speaks on the power of collaboration and sharing. Roo Rogers is a serial entrepreneur and is currently the director of Redscout Ventures.

Advertising
Trending

Japanese Face Wash Creates A Perfect Rose Every Time

Arts & Culture
Mobile august 26, 2016

Get A Better Idea Of How You Are Wasting Your Time

The TouchTime app is trying to revolutionize personal task management by providing detailed insight on how to be more efficient

Culture august 26, 2016

London Telephone Box Repurposed As A Tiny Mobile Repair Shop

Tools and supplies to replace broken screens or damage are neatly stowed away in these micro-workrooms

Trending

Get PSFK's Latest Report: Future of Work

See All
Design august 26, 2016

Conceptual Sportswear Created Out Of Futuristic Condom Material

A Dutch fashion designer is experimenting with new methods and fabrics to make high performance clothing

Fashion august 26, 2016

Fashionable Tassel Will Ensure You Never Lose Your Valuables Again

The device is fashion meets connected tech, that will help you keep track of your belongings at all times

PURPLELIST EXPERTS

Jay Parkinson

Health, wellness, fitness

Syndicated august 26, 2016

Would You Wear Wool Shoes To Save The Environment?

As demand for wool shoes grows, a number of US footwear brands are heading directly to the source: the sheep pastures of New Zealand

Sustainability august 26, 2016

Self-Healing Material Is Fashioned Out Of Squid Teeth

Penn State researchers have devised a new textile that uses organic proteins

Arts & Culture august 26, 2016

Search Engine Turns Your Own Drawings Into Photos

This image-matching software accepts hand-made sketches instead of keywords

PSFK LABS REPORT

Future Of Work
Cultivating The Next Generation Of Leaders
NEW

PSFK Op-Ed august 23, 2016

Modern Workplace Culture: No More Fat Cats Or Kissing Ass

Samar Birwadker, CEO & Co-Founder of Good & Co, on designing shared organizational values to optimize employee happiness and success

PSFK Labs august 25, 2016

PSFK’s Workplace Vision: How The Nurturing Of Seeds Will Come To Define The Onboarding Process

Our Future of Work vision is a service that allows companies to assemble and deliver welcome packets that are uniquely focused on the concept of growth

Arts & Culture august 26, 2016

Illustrator Interprets The Experiences Of Blind Travelers

Artist Alby Letoy creates drawings of poignant travel memories for the visually impaired

Advertising august 26, 2016

Clickbait Titles Used For The Good Of Charity

An agency devised an unlikely campaign that uses clickbait as a positive force to drive awareness to nonprofit initiatives

Advertising august 26, 2016

The Best In Eye-Catching Olympics Campaigns

PSFK rounds out the Rio Games with our picks for the best advertising moments off the field

Work august 26, 2016

Editorial Roundtable: The Arrival Of The People-First Workplace

Managed By Q, Soma, Workbar, Primary and thinkPARALLAX enumerate the reasons why companies need an employee-embracing workforce in order to exist

Arts & Culture august 26, 2016

Transforming Light Waves Into A New Art Form

An artist uses glass treated with layers of metallic coatings to create a unique installation called lightpaintings

INSIGHTS COVERAGE

Rio Olympics
Innovation Coverage From The Rio Games
READ NOW

Design august 26, 2016

This Windbreaker Lets You Explore The Outdoors While Charging Your Phone

The apparel includes solar panels that allow the wearer to stay connected through the power of renewable energy

Asia august 26, 2016

The Goal Of This Game Is To Not Get Laid Off From Your Job

A hit mobile app has you working really, really hard to not get fired as you climb the corporate ladder

Advertising august 26, 2016

Movie Critic Bot Guides Viewers Through Festival Offerings

The Toronto International Film Festival has created a Facebook Messenger chatbot to help attendants curate their schedule

No search results found.