From informal tool sharing listservs to Streetbank's online neighborhood exchange platform, there's no doubt that internet technologies are helping to facilitate sharing, exchange and barter among neighbors who might not otherwise come into contact with each other.
Social Bartering Site Offers Credits for Lending
At least that's what the folks behind Favabank are hoping, as they work to launch a website for social bartering. Unlike sites like Freecycle that encourage folks to simply give what they don't need, Favabank actually tracks exchanges through a system of credits and debits known as "Favas". (In many ways this is similar to the LETS, or Local Exchange Trading Schemes, that were popular among some communities even before (gasp!) the internet became widely used.)
It will be interesting to see how this goes. On the one hand, there's great value in providing incentives to give as well as receive, and to reward those who contribute to the overall system. On the other hand, however, there is a danger of stigmatizing those who take before they can give. After all, in order for any kind of social exchange to work, somebody has to go into "debt" by being the first to be on the receiving end.
No Right or Wrong Answer
It's a problem I've been pondering in my own experiences with setting up a neighborhood tool share. So far my neighbors seem delighted to lend, but I am the only one doing the borrowing. It's easy to start feeling like a freeloader, until you realize that the borrower is as valuable a part of the transaction as the lender is. Of course if I now refused to lend to neighbors as and when they reach out, that would be a serious detriment to the system (not to mention it would make me look like a dick), but as long as each gives or lends according to what they have, and asks, borrows and takes according to what they need, then it's important not to put too many barriers up to reaching out.
Ultimately, I don't think it's a question of whether or not to track exchanges. Different systems will emerge that suit different users, different communities and different types of transactions. But those systems that do track exchanges will need to make sure that they don't put too much emphasis on building credit. We "freeloaders" (I use the term lightly) are an important part of the equation too.