Hyperlocal commerce can be a tricky nut to crack. For years, Craigslist has been a default destination for those looking to informally buy or sell things locally, but a number of startups have popped up recently to present other options. One of these (for now limited to the residents of Ithaca, N.Y.) is Swidjit, a hyperlocal social network that founder and CEO Alex Colket hopes will centralize many of the key functions of Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist, Meetup and Yelp, into one. Swidjit allows users to post “have its” or “want its” to facilitate an online bartering system. The website launched on May 1, and items exchanged thus far include baby strollers, mattresses and even rides to Syracuse, N.Y.
How does Swidjit work?
The goal is to try to create an operating system for community living and leverage the power of the mobile social Web to really increase our access to local resources, whether those resources be goods or services or ideas or activities, opportunities [and] people, and really make it easier for us to know what’s around us on our streets, in our dorms, in our neighborhood [and] in our towns. There’s a real lack of a central hub for all that information. It’s very valuable information and something that people are increasingly using the Internet for. But, really, if you do want to stay in touch with all the things around you, you have to cobble all that information together from a lot of different resources. Moving forward, it’s such an important thing that it would be really useful to have it in one place.
Swidjit emphasizes swapping as opposed to shopping. Why do you think swapping, not shopping, will expand as a form of currency exchange?
Shopping is definitely going to be a part of [Swidjit] moving forward and something that I’m including in Swidjit, but, yes, these different forms of exchange, bartering and sharing, certainly are going to be increasingly relevant. This is something we used to do all the time. We sort of lost touch of it. Almost out of a laziness we started buying everything, but ultimately that’s not going to be possible moving forward. As people become aware of the environmental, social and economic impacts of their consumer choices, they’re going to become more aware that bartering and sharing are really good options. From an economic perspective, it’s cheaper. From an environmental perspective, it’s obviously gentler on the planet. From a social perspective, the way we consume has a lot of negative impacts, so it makes things a little more fair and equitable. I think that, once we have the tools to make these old market behaviors convenient again, people will really embrace them. If not just because they’re useful, eventually it’s just going to become a necessity.
What separates Swidjit from Craigslist, an established centralized digital network that you’ve said you could see Swidjit overtaking?
Obviously, I really like the idea behind [Craigslist] — that it’s this kind of community hub. But ultimately, since it hasn’t really grown with the Web, it’s not social, [and] it’s not mobile. You can’t curate stuff. You can’t do simple things like bookmarks or share things. It doesn’t really feel very much like a community. It’s anonymous. It’s not very friendly or inviting in terms of the actual climate there, so I’m definitely trying to improve on that and build in mechanisms for trust. That’s a big part of this emerging peer-to-peer economy. You’re meeting somebody on the Internet you don’t know, so you want to have some kind of sense that they’re going to follow through with what they say, that they’re not going to commit a crime against you. I’m definitely trying to build on the social element, community element [and] trust element and then just incorporate all these kind of tools for discovery, curation and collaboration that are now popping up all over the Web but don’t seem like they’re going to ever be part of Craigslist.
How do you plan on expanding on existing social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Meetup, etc. through Swidjit?
It’s actually more of a narrowing of those networks. I’m trying to bring an element of them, but I don’t expect Swidjit is going to completely fill that role. For instance, [with] Twitter, I really like the way that you can follow an idea using a hashtag or the ways that people use to communicate in real time, and that element I want to draw out of it. I’m trying to take a lot of the ways that those sites are used and the tools that they offer and bring them into this community-based space.
Take something like Meetup. Meetup is an incredible tool. It’s one of the coolest things on the Internet because it allows you to meet people you don’t know — which is different from Facebook — and it allows you to connect around interests. It’s a great site, but ultimately it’s still not very widely used or as widely used as it could be. If you had a central place where people already were, something that has a critical mass of a Facebook or a Craigslist or a Twitter, and then had the functionality of Meetup built into it, I think it would actually be much more effective. With respect to Meetup in particular — they’re doing a great job. I just think that bringing that tool into a very local space with a high user base would render it more effective.
Why do you see converging, peer-to-peer networks as the future of hyperlocal economies?
There are all these amazing tools that can be emerging that will allow us to do incredible things, but we already have this platform fatigue. To maintain accounts and be active in all these different places and establish this trust factor, which is going to be important, and build up your profile and do all the other things to be an active member of these emerging communities, that’s going to just be prohibitive to people really engaging in them. To bring that all together and converge it into one space — that’s my vision. All the time people are telling me, ‘That’s too broad of a vision,’ and, ‘You should focus on something in particular.’ Facebook is showing us what can happen when you have that many people in one space, but I really think that’s just the beginning. As other networks develop that large user ship, even if it’s not necessarily as global like Facebook, but pockets of it — that’s going to unlock incredible possibilities.
Patrick Duprey is an intern at Street Fight.