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My Neighbour's Tractor and the Sharing Economy

Revue
 
In which a driveway full of snow leads to an idea for a social network
 

First World Rural

March 29 · Issue #2 · View online
First World (Rural) Problems - Bringing the 21st century past city limits.

In which a driveway full of snow leads to an idea for a social network

I live in a subdivision of 49 lots, carved out of a treed quarter-section by a farmer who had no better way of profiting from the hilly, forested land. He bulldozed some roads, ran power and gas along the roads, and separated the land into acreages.
I'm in lot 12.
The lot to the north of me is being slowly developed by a couple who live in the city but are planning to either move out or build and flip, depending on if they like the way the place feels when they’ve built it. They’ve found that the clay in the soil means their driveway is a big puddle for now, until it’s crowned and gravelled properly. Drainage is one of the things most of us in the subdivision have to be aware of.
We had a lot of snow this past winter. Our neighbour’s driveway was buried pretty deep when they came to check on things last week.
I bumped into them while walking my dogs. They asked who in the area ‘does driveways’. It took me a moment to understand that they meant shovelling the snow. I discussed it with my wife and the friends that were with us, and we came up with a couple of names. The neighbours left me their contact info and asked me to pass it on if there was someone who could help.
Another neighbour had come over after a particularly big dump of snow this winter and plowed my driveway with his tractor. I emailed him with my neighbours’ predicament and their number. The next day when I went for another walk, their driveway was plowed.
It will still get messy soon...
I would love to have a tractor, but we haven’t got there yet. My neighbour has a tractor, he’s retired, and he has fun playing with it. My other neighbour now has a plowed driveway.
The future of property is heading to rental, but as I learned from EconTalk, we need to know what is out there, we need to trust that the tools or services we need will be provided for fair value, and the tool or service needs to be delivered in exchange for some currency of equal value. Anyone who can provide discovery, delivery and trust will have a platform that provides economic value, and will have created a new marketplace.
Facebook is becoming a portal for that kind of exchange through local “Wall4All” groups, but they require a lot of curation and tending, including banning of offenders. In Facebook, where you use your real name, that means someone is banning someone they could meet in a grocery store, and so things get tense sometimes in our local group.
Kijiji and other classified sites serve a similar purpose for sales, but the tool rental or local service clearinghouse is an open opportunity. The problem is getting people onto your platform. Facebook has the people, but it doesn’t have the right defaults for a tool-sharing site. An entrepreneur could advertise on Facebook but the onboarding process would have to be frictionless to encourage users to add yet another membership to their online lives - and how would you do notifications?
Geography is really important in the real world, not so much in the virtual. This sharing social network we are imagining could use real location to limit the distance you see within the network. A neighbour 100 miles away is not a neighbour. A tool for rent 50 klicks away is probably not worth it.
Time is also relevant - some things are only available for a short time. SnapChat has done a great job of introducing expiring messages, the equivalent of a daily classified section. What if your offer of a tool to rent expired unless you renewed it, and your request for a rental disappeared automatically within a couple of days? What about a crop of flowers or vegetables in your greenhouse? Next month they won’t be relevant.
Anyone who wants to talk about building this platform, reply to this email (dave@northcreek.ca) and I’ll share with you my sketches as I imagined this website. I even registered a name: SignalFlare.ca. It doesn’t lead to anything, but if you want it, let’s talk.
If this letter sparked some thoughts, forward it to a friend. The more people who get involved in the conversation, the better the conversation has a chance of being.
Talk to you next week!
Dave from North Creek
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David Block RR 1 Site 1 Comp 271, Onoway, Alberta, Canada T0E 1V0