From cars and computers to books and apartments, many people are returning to the lessons they learned in primary school: it's good to share. Businesses are also learning it can be profitable not to own everything.
"We even have a view of the sea," said Thomas Kohlmann. The journalist works at DW and has traded his apartment in Cologne for one in foreign countries several times, including a four-week stay in southern Italy in a private apartment rather than a hotel room.
Britta Majer and her husband share a car with one of their friends. Majer uses it on the weekends while her friend takes the driver's seat during the week. "In a place like Cologne where it's really hard to find a parking spot, it's great for both of us," said Majer, an online marketing consultant.
One way to lower costs
Kohlmann and Majer aren't alone when it comes to sharing. An increasing number of services help people share everything from homes and couches to cars and books when they aren't being used. The trend could turn out to be particularly profitable for businesses looking to share equipment and lower their costs, according to Michael Kuhndt, head of the Collaborating Center on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP) in Wuppertal.
"Companies are saying, 'We have equipment sitting around or even an entire facility that we are not always using. Why not share it and lower our costs?'" Kuhndt said.
Complex equipment can sometimes be too expensive for an individual person or business to purchase, but sharing the costs and benefits with others nearby can make it a smart business decision.
It's just standing around doing nothing
A recent report in Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said the average drill turns for a total of about 13 minutes while most cars are parked for about 23 hours a day. If a machine is going to spend much of its operating life sitting around, why, the sharers ask, should everyone have one?
The growing trend to share and trade made its way to Europe from the United States and Australia, and has taken particular hold over Greece, especially popular among young city dwellers. Kuhndt estimates there are about 200 companies organizing the sharing and trading of goods and services.
While sharing and trading wasn't born on the Internet - libraries and common bookshelves saw books being shared long before anyone was online - the Internet has also made sharing much easier, he said. "People can use a local app on their smartphones to see if the neighbors they've never talked to have started sharing their car," Kuhndt said.
The chances are increasing. At the beginning of 2011, there were 190,000 people in Germany who signed up for car-sharing services.
And it's not just Internet start-ups profiting from people's desire not to own everything they use.
"The companies are interested in reaching low-income groups they might not otherwise have contact with," he said. "Big companies are involved. BMW is taking part in a neighborhood car-sharing project, for example."
The dirty risks
The German Hotel Association (IHA), however, said in a report that it was alarmed about a possible drop in revenue due to tourists sharing places to live. Although private accommodations with fewer than nine beds are not included in official statistics, "the 87 million overnight stays per year in Germany make up a segment of the market that should not be underestimated," the report said.
IHA head Markus Luthe pointed out that renting an apartment poses risks to both the host and the visitor.
"Many of these offers for accommodation do not meet the safety and hygiene standards that are applied to hotels and guesthouses," he said. "Fire extinguishers and emergency plans are often missing."
Developing the shareconomy
The "shareconomy" is set to take the spotlight at the CeBIT trade fair in Hannover next year. The idea is that a process that has established itself offline will meet with little resistance on the Internet.
"Blogs, wikis, collaboration, polls and other software solutions will dynamically change our working world in the coming years," Frank Pörschmann, a member of the managing board at Deutsche Messe, wrote on the CeBIT website.
Tobias Arns of the Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media referred to crowdsourcing, or calling on the knowledge created by a large number of people, as another trend to watch.
"The idea behind it is a so-called open innovation," he told DW. "Innovation processes that used to happen behind closed doors are being made public earlier in the creation process so that members of the public can contribute their knowledge to the planning process."
Arns said carmaker Ford opened a crowdsourcing project where users could contribute ideas to make vehicles' interiors more senior citizen friendly. "Then it's up to the manufacturer to decide what to do with the information," he added.
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