By JK Fowler
1:00 PM: Have a bunch of stuff sitting around that you don't use? Want to give it to someone that needs it but just can't find the right organization or person to give it to? Enter TheGiftEconomy.org.
Like couchsurfing.org on crack, the savvy crew of Brandon Jackson and Hans Schoenburg (both students at Yale) have created a monster of a site at www.thegifteconomy.org. The premise, stated in a pamphlet they were handing out at the panel, reads as follows:
TheGiftEconomy is an online economics experiment that aims to change how goods and services move within local communities. Users post what they need and what they have to give away. It then connects neighbors in need with neighbors who can help. There is only one rule: the use of money is banned. Instead, users barter, share, or give. They then record and review each interaction, documenting each other's efforts.
Non-profits and community groups can use the site as well. They can document the good work they already do for the community, solicit needed donations and find volunteers. Then, those volunteers can post their efforts on their profiles. The reciprocity of TheGiftEconomy means that working to improve one's community no longer comes without reward.
Although not live yet, the website should be up and running in a few weeks Hans said, although mentioning that its been delayed for a "few weeks" for awhile now. The idea behind the website works largely against the text message, distance-giving that so recently was used widely in the Haitian earthquake crisis. While very nice to give, Brandon stated, what underlies most people's longing to give is the one on one interaction between giver and receiver, the ability to see and speak to the person you are helping. TheGiftEconomy.org aims to fill that gap.
One wonders how it will survive as an alternative to a monetary, capital-driven economy. Brandon and Hans' answer is the latest buzz theory in economics: social capital, defined by the sociologist Pierre Bordieu as "the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition." Taking the existing informal economy of giving and distributing to those most in need and coordinating this through a one-stop swap for individuals and organizations, TheGiftEconomy.org operates similar to ebay or couchsurfing.org whereby users leave "reviews" of each other and their transactions. This then builds (through repetition) an individual or organization's social capital which, as Hans and Bradon envision, can be analgous to the "banking" system. The idea, Hans stated, is to, "open the definition of value."
The overall idea behind the website is a furthering of existing ideas, an amalgamation of concepts which are currently out there (the FreeCycle Network, www.gratisoptehalen.nl, Time Interchange of NY, Ebay, couchsurfing.org) but not coordinated. And although perhaps a bit idealistic at times, Brandon and Hans struck a chord with audience members, explaining that even though their politics at times differ, TheGiftEconomy.org site bridges any gaps that may exist between them. We will see if the glue can hold as the site expands (they will roll it out as a trial in New Haven to begin with) once live.
If interested in becoming involved or lean more visit TheGiftEconomy.org and sign up for the latest email announcements.