A few years ago, Emily Bitze was a starving Toronto musician who started a Facebook page to trade stuff. "I wasn't able to make ends meet, which meant that I couldn't always buy food," Bitze tells the CBC.”So, I figured that my friends nearby would have something I needed if I could provide what they needed." It started out as Bumz (like, can I bum a cigarette?) but some thought that politically incorrect so it was changed to Bunz, and now is a community of about 75,000 members.
It’s not like Freecycle where you just give stuff away, nor is it like Craigslist; it is trading only and some of the trades are odd and hilarious. My daughter put together much of her wedding using it, including trading a collection of jars that she needed for a bunch of asparagus, and an entire bushel of grapes for a jar of her mother’s jam.
There are some unofficial currencies, like tall boys of beer or subway tokens; a bottle of booze goes a long way, as does a dinner. Now Magazine lists some of the more bizarre trades, including a school bus, sex toys and “A homemade coffee table featuring a life-size Han Solo in carbonite.”
What started as just a Toronto thing has now spread across the country and into the States. Bloomberg has written about it, and describes it under the title Maybe Mark Zuckerberg Should Listen to These Canadian Hipsters:
With its endless stream of off-the-wall trades, heated arguments and camaraderie, Bunz is a quirky mash-up of the classifieds vibe of Craigslist, the sociability of Meetup and the neighborliness of NextDoor. Dozens of groups have spun off to focus on a variety of categories, from housing and jobs to health tips. The rules are simple: Don't be a jerk, and don't use cash.
The groups are amazing and effective. I dropped my keys while running a few weeks ago at 11 in the morning; my daughter put up a note in one group saying I had lost them; a young woman had found them and put up a note in another community; by 12:30 I was in touch and by 2 I had my keys back, and I do not even have a big black beard and a nose ring. This apparently is not unusual; people have also recovered bikes and pets.
Bunz has now raised a bit of money from angel investors and has a real office with live dogs, and continues to grow and continues to have good ideas, like finding coffee shops that would agree to be safe places for people to trade, if they did not want people coming to their homes. And while they are figuring out how to make a few bucks on the side, the main trading site is still totally a cash free zone. Bitze tells the CBC:
That's why it's so special. Because you take money out of the equation, there's more room for goodwill. You might do a trade with someone and sit down and have a coffee with them. And that's really cool. I think a lot of people really lack that sense of belonging in a community.
Years ago TreeHugger talked about Product Service Systems, which later became known as the sharing economy, which then got co-opted by Uber and other companies that were not about sharing at all.
Bunz feels very much like the Internet used to be, a real community with real people moderating and managing it. A way of using computers to bring people (and things) together. These kinds of sites often fall apart when they get too big or too complicated or fail to develop a working financial model, but everyone is certainly having fun while it lasts.
And if you ever lose your keys in Toronto, you know what to do- put it up on Bunz.