Sharing Cell Phones

In Yochai Benkler’s essay “Sharing Nicely” about large class of institutions where people solve problems by sharing rather than market clearing or regulatory frameworks he blocks out a rough model of what enables that them; e.g. a large pool of excess capacity (empty seats in the car, idle cycles on your PC or your head) and ownership at the periphery.

With that model in hand you can begin to look for them.  And there are lots and lots: in the ride share space; the community wireless movement; around the P2P, mesh networking, craig’s list, freecycle, leave-one/take-one book exchanges, etc. etc.  There are lots of little examples of which the is a great one.  And given that you start to see them you can try to get to the next level and see if you can find opportunities to create new ones; e.g. entrepreneurial opportunities to create new sharing institutions.

This is fun! It’s like three other periods in my life when I developed an eye for a new pattern.  For example at one point I started to realize that marketing people had an eye out for empty niches in your house and tried to slip products into them: the fridge door, the medicine cabinet, your pockets.  That each of these was a competitive landscape.  For example at one point I noticed that there were components which were so widely used for one function that they created a near discontinuity in the price curve for things of their kind and that they then created options to repurpose them: the magnets in disk drives, or the motors and lasers in cd players are both examples.  The sharing nicely examples are analogous to both of those.

So, it looks to me like wifi/bluetooth equipped phones are an almost perfect example of a substrate for Yochai’s sharing systems.  If they were sufficiently open and sufficiently dense upon the landscape it should be possible to route around the Telcos.  That would be fun.  I don’t doubt this idea has already brought a smile to a lot of engineer’s eyes inside of the handset manufactures.  Makes me wonder, is Apple planning on doing just this to escape the relationship with AT&T?  Makes me wonder if you couldn’t to this today with some of the Linux based cell phones.

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