One irony about the rise of the "sharing economy," known for pioneers like Uber and AirBnb, is that there isn't really that much sharing going on at all. As the Harvard Business Review has noted, "sharing is a form of social exchange that takes place among people known to each other, without any profit." That doesn't sound like Uber, does it? Some have even argued that, by co-opting the term, these enterprises are ruining the very notion of sharing.
But this week saw the U.S. debut of a slightly purer take on the sharing economy: TimeRepublik, a new peer-to-peer skills exchange app wherein the only currency is time. "If you are starting out, starting over, need help with a project in school or help for your business—or just want to build a following doing something you love—TimeRepublik makes it easy to get what you need, giving whatever you have to offer, and being paid in time, not money,” said cofounder Gabriele Donati in an announcement.
While hourly fees on essentially any other platform vary significantly by service, on TimeRepublik, an hour of help from a graphic designer, stylist, tutor, dog-walker, or surf instructor all cost exactly the same: an hour of your time.
On the one hand, that sounds like a bummer of a deal for the IT specialist, whose hour is certainly valued higher in the marketplace than that of the piano instructor.
On the other, TimeRepublik's model shifts the value of a transaction onto the actual act of sharing and socializing. It's a utopian take on the sharing economy, in which people theoretically share for the sake of its social value. And it may help fill important gaps in economies that are struggling. According to Fast Company, the service, which already has users in South America and Europe, is currently partnered with University students in Italy, who are "using it while the economy flounders."
Only (traded) time will tell whether this app has overestimated its American user base's sharing capacity. In the meantime, you get five free hours for signing up—and I for one could use some cooking lessons.