Neighborly Lending In The Digital Age

fromSCPR

In these difficult economic times, many Americans are wary of buying items they'll use just once or twice and then store in the garage.

But for those times you really need a hedge clipper, bread maker or camping stove, there's a social networking site called NeighborGoods.net.

The site is an inventory of items users are willing to lend.

And it helped Web developer Jory Felice of Los Angeles find a mouse to borrow so he could test out a 20-year-old Apple computer he'd found at a garage sale.

"I thought, 'You know what, I could probably go to eBay and find one, but I don't want to pay, like, weird computer collector prices for something that I may not decide that I really want," Felice says.

Felice logged in to NeighborGoods.net and searched for the old-school mouse. Sure enough, a fellow user in nearby Hollywood had just what he was looking for and was willing, via NeighborGoods, to lend it out for free. So Felice drove over to his apartment to pick it up.

"And he had a bunch of friends sitting out on the front porch kind of watching him do this weird deal in the driveway in front of his apartment. But it's a great mouse, and it looks beautiful," Felice says.

Helping A Neighbor Out

Google Maps indicates where users near you have everything you might need: from steam cleaners and sewing machines to tiki torches and tents.

And then, says NeighborGoods founder Micki Krimmel, there's the goofy stuff. One guy is lending out egg-laying chickens.

An old mouse Jory Felice borrowed on the website NeighborGoods.net

Jory Felice borrowed this old mouse on NeighborGoods.net from a user in Hollywood, who was willing to lend it out for free. NeighborGoods.net hide caption

itoggle caption NeighborGoods.net

"His thinking was maybe someone would like to try it out, see how it goes for a weekend before making the commitment, so he put his chickens up on the website," Krimmel says.

The site started locally in Los Angeles, but now has users nationwide sharing $1 million worth of goods.

Though users can charge deposit or rental fees, Krimmel says most people are happy to lend for free, just to take pleasure in helping a neighbor out.

She adds that the site promotes sustainability by reducing waste — and it saves people money.

"Whenever you add an item to the site, we ask you: 'How much did you pay for it?' And then whenever you lend that out, it tracks how much money you've saved for yourself, and also how much money you saved for your neighbors," Krimmel says.

When you borrow something, NeighborGoods will send an e-mail congratulating you on saving, for example, $200 on that electric lawnmower. They'll also ask you to contribute 5 percent of that amount back to the site to help keep it running.

A Sense Of Community

So far, it's worked.

Zsolt Katona, who specializes in e-commerce at the Haas School of Business at the University of California-Berkeley, says the site operates on a sound principle — that people don't want to buy things they don't have to. But he adds that users may be reluctant to lend their items to a complete stranger.

"Like eBay, a lot of people were very concerned about the sellers at the beginning. But with the rating system, it's kind of a reliable way of telling if the seller is reliable or not," Katona says.

NeighborGoods does have a rating system much like the one on eBay. And even better than eBay, users meet each other in person to exchange and return goods.

User Felice says meeting online and then in person not only provides confidence in the transaction, it also promotes a sense of community — something almost unheard of in the car culture of Los Angeles.

"We all have this notion that neighbors should be able to knock on your next-door neighbor's door and ask for a cup of sugar, right? But I've never done that, and I would feel completely like a freak asking someone for sugar," Felice says.

To date, Felice has proudly saved fellow Angelenos more than $200 through NeighborGoods. He's also been able to get to know people who live in his community — and that, he says, is priceless.

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