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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Robert Siegel. And in this part of the program it's All Tech Considered.

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SIEGEL: This week, our tech team is exploring what is called the sharing economy. Our Internet-connected world makes it easy for anyone to offer up an unused resource for sale or for rent, like an empty bedroom or a parked car, or a skill online. This has become such a common way of doing business that it's now being studied as a piece of the overall economy. Billions of dollars are changing hands this way.

Danielle Sacks, of Fast Company magazine, has been tracking the sharing economy for several years, and she joins us to tell us just how important it's become. Welcome to the program, Danielle.

DANIELLE SACKS: Thanks so much for having me.

SIEGEL: And first of all, we're not really talking about sharing but selling. What makes selling in this way different from Amazon or CraigsList?

SACKS: Sure, that brings up a great point that it has a sort of very warm and fuzzy, kindergarteny feeling to it almost. But the reality is, I think what really sort of got the attention of venture capitalists and people with money, and the idea that there is money to be made, is this notion of underutilized assets, which is sort of feels like it is on the opposite end of sharing.

But this notion that we all have things in our lives that sit there for a lot of time - whether it's your car, whether it's your driveway, whether it's a piece of electronic equipment or your clothing - and that what if we can use all the connectivity that we have through the Web, and through technology, to rent and borrow and basically find a way to make a profit off all of that?

SIEGEL: People who observe this economic activity speak of a shift from ownership to access. What do they mean by that?

SACKS: Well, the idea is that I think particularly in the wake of the financial crisis and you have sort of the whole Millennial generation coming out of that and having a tough time finding jobs, and living, you know, as we all hear, in their parents' basements, this whole notion of the importance isn't really necessarily to own something. And again, this is sort of within the context of increasing concern about consumption and environmentalism, but the importance is to have access to things.

So, you know, why do I need to go out and spend $3,000 on a dress I'm going to wear for one night, when I can borrow it from Rent the Runway and pay, you know, 75 bucks and look just as fabulous? And then not have to worry about the fact that I have an irrelevant gown sitting in my closet for years and years to come.

SIEGEL: Well, if we can add up all of the gowns and all of the rooms that are rented out through, I guess, it's Airbnb or all of the cars that are rented out by the hour in this way, what does it come to? How big a sector is this?

SACKS: The number I've heard is as large as a $100 billion opportunity. You know, just if you look at the specific sectors there are now startups ranging every from, you know, food-sharing businesses to car-sharing to outsourcing every task in your life.

Something that seems as narrow as pet services is considered to be an $8 billion industry and so there are startups. There's one called DogVacay, which is basically, as many of these startups like to call themselves, the Airbnb of dogs.

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SACKS: That's an $8 billion industry that they want to go and disrupt.

SIEGEL: As this sharing economy grows, do you get the sense that it actually adds to economic activity or does it just shift away from the traditional other ways in which people found these goods and services?

SACKS: I think it grows, you know, just because you're seeing people who - in the case of TaskRabbit, which is basically a platform that says you can outsource any task, you know, within legal constraints, ranging from, I need someone to pick my kids up from school today, to actually the most popular task on TaskRabbit - if you can believe this - is assembling IKEA furniture. So I don't want the headache of assembling IKEA furniture. I will pay someone to do that.

And so, people, whether, you know, I think for a lot of them - for a lot of people it's sort of a career stopgap, whether it's a student wanting to make some extra money on the side or someone who's found themselves unemployed and is cobbling together, you know, all of what they call these micro gigs. That is economics at work.

SIEGEL: Well, Danielle Sacks, of Fast Company magazine, thanks for talking with us about the sharing economy.

SACKS: Thank you.

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