the software of…sharing software

March 16, 2009

For some time now I have been thinking about the issue of new social techs that allow us to share everyday resources more efficiently – Streetcar being an excellent example: using existing technologies it allows users to approach the logic of Just-In-Time delivery for such a basic parameter of life as private transport, underpinning a much more efficient use of a resource that for most people sits dormant most of the time: the car.

In industry, dormant capital goods represent waste. The same logic applies for many resources, be they consumer goods or business resources, which are merely means to an end – in this case mobility. There are so many examples across many sectors, from books (an obvious one) and gardening / DIY tools (or toys) to office desk space and underprogrammed community halls. If we succeed to intensify their use, we achieve higher living standards whilst minimising waste and therefore, environmental impact. This requires social innovation – the use of social techs to make this possible. The roll-out of public libraries (or public baths, for that matter) in the 19th Century is a good example – a social innovation (clearly not a technical one) which built new institutions in working-class neighbourhoods to improve quality of life. They answered a need in their time by taking an existing concept and creating an organisational and physical infrastructure to create intensified use, enriching the public realm.

I thought that, like Streetcar, the urban bicycle renting schemes of Paris and Barcelona were an excellent example – a new sharing software that combines available technologies to answer a contemporary need, enriching the public realm and laying the basis for a new sharing ethic in our cities, which itself could nurture social capital and underpin a new development cycle in our social-economy, creating new civic institutions …

Yes. But. See last months report on Paris here

They get nicked. Or trashed. Or dumped. Or ‘exported’. The Curse of the Free Rider is everywhere. A New Commons depleted.

So, we have created the institution and the social tech but not found ways to validate and reinforce the collective behaviour norms required to sustain it. The very software of this sharing software failed – (it’s like pissing in the pool, really).

So now what?



2 Responses to “the software of…sharing software”

  1. vvvijay Says:

    not sure what the answer is, but thought the below was somewhat relevant:

    but what if “the public” begins mistreating, vandalising the toilets, or worse…

    on a more positive, it may be a great way for companies to actually advertise their (or others) services in the toilets… i always thought urinal advertising works great (most people look straight ahead).

  2. Kevin Harris Says:

    Nice post. A couple quick thoughts – (i) geographical scale could be important when talking about trust and public behaviour. I can’t help thinking that somewhere the size of Paris is a little large for an experiment in public ethics even when the focus is as morally-thoroughbred as the bicycle and its associated lifestyles… It would be interesting to know if there were areas of Paris where the results were significantly less negative than others. (ii) Not everyone thinks of social capital in terms of trust – some think of it more (or entirely) in terms of social networks, which if strengthened might or might not in turn generate higher levels of trust. So we start local. Oh, and keep in mind that the level of thefts from public libraries is not insignificant, just partially-hidden!

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