The Stuff Cloud

After reading Oli’s post about the stuff cloud, I remembered an idea I once had about a system that helps you share all sorts of objects you need around the house. In his post, Oli wrote about how you should sell the stuff you don’t really need and buy it again (on ebay for example) as and when you need it rather than storing it in your house. I have an idea for a “stuff cloud” (i borrowed the name from Oli since it’s just perfect!) where you don’t even need to buy and sell your stuff – instead you borrow it when you need it and share the things you already have. It would be a portal on which you can share your physical objects with others and access all the objects other people have shared on the portal.

The problem

There are lots of things you don’t need on a regular basis, but when you need them, you need them. Since you don’t know anybody who could lend them to you, you go and buy them. After you use them, they tend to sit around your house for a long time before you need them again. They take up space, sometimes need maintenance and when you move house, you have to move them with you.

Let’s say your nephews come to visit you for a weekend and you’d really like to play some video games with them. Unfortunately, you don’t own a games console and buying one (plus games) for several hundred Euros just for the weekend is a waste of money.

carpet cleanerAnother time, your kid throws up on the carpet and you really, urgently, need a carpet cleaning machine. If you buy one, there’s a good chance you won’t need it again and it’ll just sit there loosing value for years to come. Plus it takes up a lot of space.

The solution

Imagine there’s a website (let’s call it – the domain’s free to buy, go ahead) where you search for the thing you need, sort the search results by distance from your home and rent the item for free or for a very small fee.

It should be a worldwide portal but focused on local communities. If you move away from your neighbourhood, you should be able to use the system in your new location, taking your positive reviews with you.

So how would it work?

  • The system would be based on reviews and you would only be able to lend your stuff to people who have positive reviews and/or pay a deposit in the system.
  • You wouldn’t necessarily have to share any of your own stuff, but people would see what you are currently offering and have shared in the past. So if you do share something, other people are more likely to want to share their stuff with you.
  • After you found your item, you would apply for it by clicking a button and writing a short text about why you want it. The owner would then decide within a specified period of time whether to lend to you.
  • The focus would be on your own neighbourhood to avoid shipping stuff around. It would also save time and provide a great opportunity for you to get to know your neighbours.

What happens if things break or get lost?

I don’t know how feasible it is, but maybe it could be mandatory for all users to have personal liability insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung). That way the insurance company would ideally cover the costs if items get broken or lost.

Another idea is to make users put down a deposit and only let them rent stuff that has a lower value than their deposit. Users would be able to top up their deposit any time Paypal.

Lenders could also ask for a deposit, especially for expensive stuff.

I’m not the first person to have this idea

Although I didn’t know that such portals existed before I started writing this post, after a little googling I found a number of similar ones:

  • (US): This looks pretty much like the one I imagine but it seems it’s not very active – it only has 3264 items on offer.
  • (DE): This is different from my idea since you have to offer an object in exchange for each item you borrow.

What do you think of the idea?

If you use this portal, you won’t have things lying around your house taking up space and losing value, and you won’t need to take care of stuff or move it around. Instead, you can invest the money you would have spent on buying it and get even closer to financial independence.

Does anyone know of similar portals in Europe and/or Germany that actually work?

Build it! 

Whether or not there are already portals like that out there, why not build your own? If you’re reading this, the stats say that you’re very likely to be a software developer. But even if you’re not, I think this is a great opportunity to make the world a better place and even make a nice business from it! You could take a small commission from every new user or every item leant so you can maintain and develop the system. If I didn’t have 20 other things I need to do every day, I would probably do it…

I’d be really happy to hear your thoughts about this and develop the idea and the rules etc. Maybe somebody will actually make this happen! So…let me know what you think!

  • Oliver

    Hi Mr W,
    cool that you picked up my idea for the Stuff Cloud (and that you even started over with your own post after your initial commentary on my blog got lost :)).
    I like your idea and I am pretty convinced that I already read about some startups or concepts that aimed to implement this “sharing economy of things” a few years ago – maybe it was about NeighborGoods, but I cannot remember it exactly. Unfortunately, I do not know about any similar projects in Germany. So yeah, maybe it would be a cool idea to start one here. However, I think it will be necessary to analyse why the existing US platforms are not as successful. Is there a flaw in the concept? Or is there just no need for a service like this? Is the world not “ready” yet for a sharing economy? Or is it against people’s nature/habits of keeping things for themselves?

    I think the principle of NeighborGoods (or your concept) fulfills only part of the service an ideal “Stuff Cloud” would provide: The scenario in which you need an item for a very short period of time (as a gaming console over the weekend), and during which the item does not depreciate, so it is worth short-term borrowing from somebody else. In reality, however, there are much more use cases.
    Think of me living at a place where I cycle to work along a rough canal towpath every day. To make this a comfortable ride, I will need a mountain bike from the stuff cloud. After three years, I change my job (or move) so my way to work changes to be a nice asphalt road, for which a road bike would be the ideal choice. So I give the mountain bike back into the cloud and take a road bike out ouf it instead. In this case, the stuff cloud has to take into account two more factors: The depreciation of the mountain bike, for which I will have to pay in some way. And secondly the “long-term lease” of three years, which pretty much rules out temporarily borrowing from someone, like you would borrow a console for the weekend. So with the bikes, buying from ebay and selling again after three years clearly makes more sense than borrowing from a neighbour.

    I think the real difficulty lies in between these two extremes: In scenarios where the lease is longer than a few days but shorter than a year or where the length of the lease is yet unknown. Think of a gaming console that I just want to try out and play a few games until I am bored of it or do not have time to play anymore. This might be a week of a couple of months. Would I borrow it from your borrowing-platform? Probably not, as I do not know yet how long I want to keep it. Would I buy and sell it on eBay? Probably not, as the costs and effort that comes with the sale process might not justify the benefit I get. So a good implementation of the Stuff Cloud has to make transactions as simple as borrowing from a neighbour and still allow for de-facto ownership of things as well as discounting for any depreciation (as a free market would).
    Such an “ideal model” would still allow for short-term borrowing (as NeighborGoods) and more permanent selling (as on eBay), but also for all kind of transactions that lie in between.

    As you see, the Stuff Cloud it is definitely an interesting topic you can discuss a lot about! 🙂

    • sure, for “long term borrowing” makes more sense to buy and then sell it once you don’t need it anymore. Those classifieds do exist and they work. The challenge is on short term borrowing…and I did find a german system that seems to have many items:

      Looks very good at first sight and I’ll get back to report after I’ve used it.

      • Oliver

        To be fair, I do not think so, personally
        Short term borrowing is not the challenge, at least not from a technical perspective. There have been quite a few attempts to establish such a platform, but the concept never caught fire, compared to other parts of the “sharing economy”, such as Uber or AirBnB (which have been heavily commercialised, though). So the reason is not that the existing platforms did not allow for practical borrowing, but that they do not serve a market or a need that is larger than a tiny niche. People (currently) simply do not want to borrow or there is no need to, it seems.
        A very good article which I read last year and which I pretty much agree on is this one here:
        i think the phrase “Borrowing is the new owning” is just an overrated and hyped buzzword, reality is actually much more complex. Much like people in the 60s thought that we would have flying cars in the 2000s, people now seem to think we will switch to a full sharing economy in the next decades. Cars certainly improved in the last 50 years and so will the way we own and use things. But just like cars have not learnt to fly, the future might not be all about borrowing, if you ask me.
        When I really think about it, when it comes to borrowing, existing real-life social networks fulfill the need quite well already. If I wanted a gaming console for the weekend, I would probably just drop a facebook post “Can anyone lend me a console?” and one of my many friends who own one will hopefully reply.

        I see the current challenge elsewhere: You are right that classifieds work pretty well for “long-term cloud renting”, but it is still much harder to get something from eBay or Kleinanzeigen than just hitting the Amazon Prime Button and have it delivered to your door the next day (or even hour). Amazon is currently setting the standard of what “virtualization of stuff” is – not eBay or Classifieds – and this should be different in my perfect world: If you need something, you don’t look on Amazon first, but on the Stuff cloud (because it is easier and less expensive to get something from the latter).
        Another point is that selling is still much harder than buying. There needs to be a way to get rid of things that is as easy as buying them.
        People are hoarding things in their basements and attics that other people might need. The problem is that the potential sellers do not know how to sell it (or they fear the required time investment) and thus potential buyers cannot buy from them. People have to put their things on offer, otherwise any sales platform, no matter how it works, would fail.
        In a nutshell, there needs to be a much more liquid, efficient market of used things. Whether it is about borrowing or buying, really does not matter in the end, as long as both acquiring and getting rid of things is easy, quick, reliable and risk-free. That would be the perfect stuff cloud and we are currently far from that.

        • you’re right: it has to be really easy for people to share or sell their stuff. I am more optimistic though. Do you know rebuy? They mad it really easy with their app to buy your things. It
          s limited to some products but still, it works! You can scan the barcodes of used CDs, Books etc and they instantly show what they pay for it. You can also send it to them for free.
          You also made a good point with uber, airbnb etc that are commercial platforms and running very well. The stuff cloud I descirbed can be commercial as well. Paying a few cents for the platform everytime you borrow/share something it’s not a bourdain. Such a portal could make good money.
          Also, there are examples for non commercial platforms (couchsurfing) that are extremely popular.
          There’s room for innovation. it could (and maybe should) become commercial, but…it could work. I’m optimistic!

          • Oliver

            Oh yeah, Rebuy is indeed a very good example. They make it really easy to have stuff sold to them, although the range of products they accept is somewhat limited to DVDs, books, electronics and the like. I think they are a good example that some sort of institution or infrastructure might be necessary to provide an easy-to-use stuff cloud interface. In the particular case of Rebuy, this is an army of case handlers, who rate and test the items that have been sent in and prepare them for re-selling. This infrastructure comes of course with a cost – the price I get from items sold to Rebuy is typically way lower than the price I can get on eBay or classifieds.
            I totally agree with you that a stuff cloud could be either commercial or non-commercial (or maybe even a mix between the two?). ebay Kleinanzeigen or Shpock for example do not have selling fees, but make money by offering advertisement of the things on sale. A very good model, I feel. The “perfect” system might be somewhere in the middle between all the mentioned ideas and principles.

  • I think this is a great idea. Would also work well as a mobile app, using geolocation. That way you could carry it around with you in your pocket and it would match you up with potential lenders wherever you go – even if you are on vacation. Reviews would of course be critical – maybe you could introduce fee scales where the higher the trust rating the lower the fee you pay, encouraging people to be active on the portal/app and be responsible with the items they rent/borrow.
    People are getting used to sharing their stuff (eg their homes!). We are moving towards a future where the concept of ownership will change (think of self-driving cars we can just summon to our door when we need them) so this idea could work 🙂 You are a developer, are you not – why don’t you go for it? a side hustle 😉

    • you are right about the ownership becoming a changing concept. The popularity and insane growth of carsharing is a good example. Soon stuff-sharing platforms will get more popular. I am convinced about that.
      You are asking why I am not developing something like that: well, the short answer is: I don’t have time :). The long answer: I am an ex-developer. A shit developer. 🙂 So others, with better skills should go for it. Also, I allready have my “baby”. Taking care of another portal would be too much and would not be a good idea…

  • That’s an AMAZING idea, I’ve also been desiring something similar since forever. We should build it 🙂

    Anyway, isn’t the “Buy Nothing Project” something similar? Maybe more idealistic and less pragmatic than your idea (so more prone to fail).

    And… ROFL for sharonimo, best name ever, going to register the domain soon 😀

    P.S. this post will be in my next “11 gems from the net” 🙂

    • thanks for the feedback MrRIP. You are better in programming than me, do you want to do it?
      I don’t know about the “buy nothing project” will look it up.
      Looking forward to your post!

  • the idea is wonderful, perfect for me. I didn’t find this in Belgium, but
    there are facebook groups to promote sell /buy items second hand, small prices.