Web platform for neighbors to share with each other

Cincinnati-based start-up Share Some Sugar created a Web platform to link up neighbors who need to borrow things, and the people who don't mind loaning them. I haven't tried it, but I very much like the idea of communities sharing tools and other things that are just impractical or too expensive for most people to purchase, but when you need one, you really need one. Here's the company story:
Sharesugarrrr 3 years ago I moved out of an apartment into my first home. Moving into your first home is not only a big, scary deal, but once you move in, you realize that you don't have 'house things' like a set of tools, a lawnmower, a ladder.

I thought it would be silly to go out and buy things like a seeder or rake when I knew that one of my neighbors had one. The problem was, I didn't know who had what.

I thought to myself, "what if there was a way to know who had what in your neighborhood?". A way for you to see your neighbor's inventory, and share and borrow things rather than buy them. In the meantime you would get to know and trust more of your neighbors. You'd feel like you actually live in a community. Like the good old days when you would knock on a neighbors door to see if they would Share Some Sugar with you.

Share Some Sugar (Thanks, Elizabeth Edwards!)


  1. I love the concept and I want to like the service, but reviewing their terms of use leaves me cold. Some excerpts:
    Among their “prohibited items and services”:
    – clothing, used
    – electronics equipment
    – medical devices (so i can’t loan someone crutches or a wheelchair?)
    – art (wtf?)
    – plants

    I understand a lot of the more absurd prohibited stuff is probably legally mandated, but that points to a more general problem: loaning and sharing is inherently an informal, extra-legal tradition. Formalizing it under the benevolent control of a corporation (LLC, to be specific) makes the whole thing much more complicated and annoying than it needs to be.

    What I’d like to see is an open source implementation of the server component of this system, so different neighborhood associations could set up their own non-profit lending systems directly under their control. That would probably cut down on a lot of these BS rules and help keep neighborly lending informal and no-strings while also making it easier than ever.

    1. This makes a couple of telling points. Some of those restrictions are a bit WTF – plants? art? – while some seem driven by legal/liability issues (medical devices). The clothing one – I don’t know what to think.

      But clearly what is needed is some kind of distributed, open source implementation of this idea that wouldn’t have to worry as much about such issues.

      And the nature of this company as a company makes me wonder about their business model. How are they going to generate revenue, what are they going to monetize?

      As the case of Facebook has shown, when we jump into these things and they become hits, they then have us over something like a barrel and can monetize our activities to the hilt….

      I’d like to see sites like this make very solid upfront commitments about privacy and future marketing/monetizing activities.

      Obviously, all these sites are in it to make money. Since I don’t like that, we have a problem. Since creating and running these sites takes money, we have an even bigger problem.

  2. This is close to something I’ve been looking for, only it’d be nice to be able to “friend” other people and have the option to hide your goodies from everyone but your friends. I don’t necessarily trust just anyone with all of my stuff, but I’d trust some of it to my friends.

    Wouldn’t hurt to also have it track who you’ve lent stuff to, and for how long, so you’re not sitting at home trying to remember who you gave out your only copy of ‘Little Brother’ to.

  3. Somewhat OT, but the real-estate-ism of calling a house a “home”, as distinct from an apartment, houseshare, flat, or condominium, has always really irked me.

    It feels like the suggestion is, if I live in a flat my home life isn’t worthy of being called a “home” life – it’s sort of a squalid refugee camp situation. But somehow if my dwelling’s front door opens onto a lawn rather than a hallway, only then is my private life worthy of respect.

    A house is a house. A flat is a flat. A home is a group of people living in some place, the arrangements they make among themselves to keep their lives together harmonious, and the place itself. (Yes, it could be just one person living alone, of course)

    This may seem trivial, but I think that language really does have an influence on how we think and feel, and uncritically saying things like “I moved out of an apartment and into my first home” has the potential to colour how we consider the validity of living in apartments, and the rights of those who live in apartments to the private enjoyment of their homes.

    1. I have much the same reaction. “Home” does not mean single family detached dwelling unit, as the real estate industry has convinced Americans to believe. The pernicious influence of this mindset is a major reason for the housing bubble and inevitable crash that has followed. When folks decided to buy a house at any cost and borrow as much as they possibly could, because they were fooled into thinking an apartment wasn’t good enough, it grew into the out of control situation we now have, and we’re all poorer for it.

  4. Sounds like a neat idea looking for a problem. If I know someone well enough that I feel comfortable borrowing stuff from them, I’ll probably just call/visit/e-mail them. Furthermore, who is going to take the time to inventory all their stuff solely for the purpose of making it available to all the deadbeats on the block?

  5. An even better way to create trust with your neighbors and feel like part of a community is to go introduce yourself and ask in person.

  6. I’ve found so much stuff like this using my local freecycle list. It’s about giving stuff away instead of loaning but at least in my area (Silicon Valley) it’s very active and lots of perfectly useful stuff pops up.

  7. Along with neighborgoods.net, there’s also rentalic.com, which I think has a better model than this one.

    I agree with EggyToast in principle, that we ought to be able to walk up to a neighbor and meet them, but the fact is that we generally don’t. We don’t share much in the way of spaces or casual interaction, and modern etiquette generally favors people leaving each other the hell alone.

    The idea of web-enabled community organizing is a good one, but adoption is going to be cumbersome.

  8. Turns out recently, I needed a Basin Wrench. It’s a plumber’s wrench that when you need it, you REALLY REALLY need it.

    Also turns out that the $10 one works great, but the deluxe $20 one is actually better.

    Sure, you could save $20 borrowing one, and you might never use it again, but compared to paying a plumber to come out and do the job, $20 is about $100 saved.

    Many of the things that I might potentially borrow, I wouldn’t, such as a toilet snake (which are like $20 anyway), and many of the things that someone else might want to borrow, I would not loan. (Imagine loaning a lawnmower, and getting it back broken. That’s like a double-bummer.)

    On the other hand, Berkeley California, and probably other places, have tool-lending libraries.

  9. I tend to agree with the other reactions:

    1) I don’t really want to publish what I do and don’t have. Burglary, and just plain privacy, concerns.

    2) I don’t want the “but you posted it in public” implied obligation to loan. Even with close friends, there are some I would trust with (for example) my favorite books and some I wouldn’t. There are plenty of people I wouldn’t trust with some tools from a safety point of view, and some from a public safety point of view.

    3) Frankly, I’d rather folks knocked on my door and asked. If it’s someone I know, I’m usually pleased to be able to help. If it isn’t someone I know, I may or may not lend but would probably be glad to come over hand help out unless I’m otherwise committed.

    Seems to me that the place to begin is finding more excuses to get to know the neighbors… so you’re comfortable asking them when you need assistance.

    (And for myself, I generally prefer to buy tools unless they’re something odd like a wallboard jack or floor sander — and those tend to be items better rented than either bought or borrowed.)

  10. I’m a user of Neighborgoods.net, and love it. I’m in PDX, and there’s a fairly small userbase here so far, but I expect it to grow.

    I haven’t seen the other sites, but there’s a couple things worth noting about neighborgoods:

    1) You can opt to sell, loan or give away stuff.

    2) vs borrowing from neighbors, it gives you the transparency/connectability of the net. Sure, most of your neighbors have a lawnmower or a blender, but what if you are hoping to borrow an acetylene torch or a kiln?

    3) (@haineux, technogeek): Neighborgoods adds a social network component, so you can opt to just share with anyone, or only friend/connections. Also there is a rating system like Ebay, so if someone breaks your mower, you can ding them for doing so. (In my case it was the opposite: I loaned someone an impact drill and they returned it with a new set of bits thrown in, so I gave them a thumbs-up review)

  11. David, you should totally do a post about Los Angele’s own startup in the same space, neighborgoods.net.

  12. Just another happy Neighborgoods.net user, saying, “Hey!! – What about us???”

  13. This scheme is totally evil as it will result in dramtic falls in the sales of things “like a set of tools, a lawnmower, a ladder” and will stop people deciding to “go out and buy things like a seeder or rake”. The Chinese economy will collapse and they will want all their overseas money back, capitalsim will decline, economic growth will plummet and it will be the end of civilisation as we know it.

    Oh, wait – did I say evil?

  14. It’s great to learn of so many experiments in on-line goods networking. The past couple of years have really proven to just about everyone that today’s market economy is a failure, has too many unrestrained psychopaths in critical places, and is no longer safe enough to bet your life on. We need back-up and I think we really need to be working toward a functional bottom-up alter-economy that isn’t underground/black-market. There are obviously a lot of bugs to work out here but it’s great that so many people are now thinking about this and experimenting.

    I’ve long been an advocate of a concept I call Open Reciprocal Production which I consider one of the cornerstones of a post-scarcity culture. The idea is that, as the technology of independent production advances and we reduce the labor overhead of production to something akin to running a free web server, people will be doing exactly that with an increasing number of products and services on the premise of assumed reciprocity. In other words, people ‘produce’ according to their personal affinities -things they like doing- in terms of talents and skills and give away their products ‘free within reason’ on the assumption of being able to receive whatever they need from their community ‘market’ likewise free within reason. The key to this is embodying communities and production networks that seek to flesh-out the full spectrum of necessary production to support a common standard of living model, leveraging the productivity of those with production affinities.

    This is a hard idea for many to grasp because our culture conditions us to assume that there’s a scarcity of everything thus requiring economics as a mechanism of triage and that everyone else in the world is a psychopath who would compulsively steal from us if not restrained by law and the threat of institutionalized violence. But if you paired this open production to a system of social credit as a metric for responsibility you can moderate the potential for run-away free-loading or scamming. In other words, social economics becomes the means by which one defines the ‘within reason’ part of ‘free within reason’. Free-loading is not in itself wrong. It’s only when it exceeds the comfortable productivity of the community network as a whole that it’s a problem. People with an affinity for a particular form of production don’t care about free-loading as long as their own needs and wants are met, unless it starts exceeding the amount of work they do for their enjoyment. If I could build a robotic hydroponics farm that can feed a million people on a day a week of my labor and I get everything I need to live comfortably for free, the fact that not every single one of those people is absolutely matching my own productivity in return doesn’t bother me. I make, maintain, and improve this thing because I enjoy it.

    But one of the key stumbling blocks in goods networking is the actual goods communication. It’s easy to setup something like a barter bulletin board on-line but, so far, the physical transport of stuff between parties remains out of the system and cash-economics dependent. There’s, so far, an inability to factor the service of transportation in to the exchange because its logistics -at levels higher than a work bike- is dependent upon external and distant sources of energy and it tends not to relate to the context of individual exchanges outside of a truly open reciprocal model. Or to put it another way, transportation is like a third party in a barter exchange who doesn’t really have much interest in any ‘share’ of what’s being traded. This keeps alter-economy networks stuck in very small sizes, which hampers their ability to flesh out full adequate standard of living spectrums of goods. I think this is a key problem that needs to be worked on in alter-economy experimentation. I don’t think it’s insurmountable. It’s just been overlooked and has not yet enjoyed the same creativity and invention other things have.

    1. Eric
      Can I sum up your position as: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need …”?

      Which is Marxism. You know – that stuff Americans call socialism or communism.

      Just saying. (Even if I agree with you in principle.)

  15. Hey David! Micki here. I guess you didn’t know I actually run NeighborGoods.net? Anyway, thanks everyone for the shoutouts here. We’re opening up nationally next month. Woo hoo! I’m excited to be a part of this trend toward alternative economies and thrilled that there’s so much press around the idea. Keep sharing, y’all!

  16. Hi All! I’m Keara, the Founder of Share Some Sugar.

    Thanks to everyone for your thoughts. Lots of great comments here, many of which we are addressing in development and will be integrated into the site very shortly.

    Great conversation around privacy and geolocation. We take privacy VERY seriously. Neighbors’ addresses are never shared on the site, or with any other members.

    Lots more to come! We’re excited to be a part of the sharing movement and excited to see it grow!

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