If you’ve been reading freeplaycraft for any length of time, you’re probably already well aware that a big part of my life and work centres around the first part of this blog’s name — free. Most of my work emerges from salvaged or abandoned materials that are both free to me and freed by me, being saved from a deadend in landfill. Other times I’m lucky enough to get unwanted materials to use and enjoy directly from an individual, rather than a dumpster. And better still are the times when I’ve given them something of my own in exchange. At this point gleaning intersects with bartering, but it’s all still free.
My own experience with bartering started a few years ago. While living in Montreal I had a regular swap relationship with my massage therapist, trading my work creating custom clothing and alterations for her in exchange for kinesetherapy. It was awesome. Over the years I’ve also traded my various design skills and haircutting services for all sorts of things, ranging from home baking to fabric and paints and catsitting. And numerous clothing swaps! And then of course there was the fabulous composting worm exchange…
The beauty of swapping is each individual tends to offer up things for trade that she doesn’t want or need, or that have no monetary value to her. But in a happy exchange, everyone feels like they have gotten a great bargain – gotten more then they gave. The key is of course that the value of skills and services isn’t nearly as rigid as the conventional market makes us feel: in the right hands, everything has value – even garbage, right? It’s just a question of finding that right person.
So without further ado, it is my great delight to temporarily avert my gaze from my navel in order to introduce you to the mastermind behind SwapSity; a new online service dedicated to connecting people interested in swapping with each other! Take it away, Marta!
Freeplaycraft: So what is SwapSity?
Marta Nowinska: SwapSity is a green bartering community for Canadians. The site facilitates local barter exchanges of a wide range of goods and services. For example, members can swap their artwork for website development services or trade books for videos. When the exchange feels uneven, trades can be balanced with cash. You can compare swapping on SwapSity to free, eco-conscious shopping with an added benefit of clearing your home of any excess stuff.
FPC: How did the project start?
Marta: I came up with the idea for SwapSity in mid-2005. I thought it would be really cool to create an innovative e-swapping site where Canadian consumers could exchange all kinds of things without having to spend cash. It would essentially turn their items and skills into purchasing power. Further web research revealed that other websites did not provide exactly what I had envisioned. So, I set out to create SwapSity. I launched SwapSity as private beta (i.e. membership by invitation only) in September 2008!
FPC: How does the service work?
Marta: You start out by putting your things up for swap. Your swap inventory could include anything you no longer need, skills or knowledge you possess or things you can lend to other people. Next, you proceed to create a wish list of desired items you want to receive in exchange. As soon as your item inventory and wish list are uploaded, you are all set for the most exciting part: swapping! That’s where you make, receive and negotiate barter offers with other members. We have a user-friendly interface to help swappers negotiate and track multiple trades. As you become a more active member, you begin to receive more offers for your items. Every newly received swap offer carries an element of anticipation. It’s exciting to click it open, haggle a little and when both parties are happy, seal the deal. Swapped items can be exchanged in person or shipped locally. There is also user accountability in the community through a feedback system.
FPC: What makes SwapSity special and different from other exchange websites that people might know about (craigslist or freecycle)?
Marta: Unlike craigslist or freecycle, we are not a classified site or a re-gifting network. SwapSity is a Canadian consumer bartering site. Our tools are built to facilitate user-to-user barter transactions, negotiations of swaps, easy management of multiple offers and finalizing trades. We are also working hard to constantly improve the site and offer customer friendly service – listening to our members’ feedback and suggestions is important to me.
FPC: On a personal note, you’ve put a lot of work into making your vision come to life. I can’t imagine taking on such an ambitious project alone! What were you up to before you decided to start SwapSity?
Marta: Before SwapSity, I had a full-time job with a Canadian investment bank in Toronto. When I embarked on the path of entrepreneurship, I felt very energized, enthusiastic and eager to turn my vision into reality. Building SwapSity from the ground up has been an incredible project. A lot of careful planning and attention to detail have gone into making all the building blocks of the project work together seamlessly. But SwapSity work never feels like work. Even working on evenings or weekends is almost always enjoyable. The project offers a healthy balance of analytical and creative work, so I get to engage both my brain hemispheres. I think I made a good personal swap!
FPC: So if people aren’t curious yet, why is bartering better?
Marta: Bartering offers a smorgasbord of benefits. Not only does bartering support the environment, curb consumerism and save money, it also generates tangible value for both swappers. If I am giving up a spare treadmill which is only taking up space in my basement, the item has little value to me. On the other hand, it has high importance to someone who cannot afford gym fees and would like an exercise machine. Put in economics lingo, in a typical barter transaction, both barterers are giving up something which has low marginal utility for them and trading it for something else that has a high marginal utility. Simply said, junk gets swapped for jewels and everyone leaves happy.
Also, with the downward economy, swapping is on the rise. Bartering can be used in lieu of cash to acquire goods and services locally. It’s a recession-friendly resource.
FPC: How can people get involved?
Marta: People can get involved by joining SwapSity, becoming active members, and spreading the word about the community. The more Canadians know about SwapSity, the more barter opportunities for everyone. We do not charge any transaction fees, so everyone can swap to their heart’s content!
FPC: Thanks Marta! Keep up the good work!
So there you go, gentle readers – I hope that you will all check it out and consider joining! Like Marta says, it’s all free — and until May 15th, new member accounts currently come pre-loaded with 250 free credits — which you can use to promote your items up for trade, add extra pictures, etc. Okay, I admit, I sound like an informercial. The thing is, I think this service is the cat’s meow, and the more people that get involved the better it will be. Already in it’s private beta stage there are thousands of members in the GTA, and a new branch of SwapSity just opened in the Greater Vancouver area. Public launch is planned for later in 2009.
A’ight, that’s enough swap talk for now. Time for me to swap this keyboard for a warm chocolate brownie!
Hope you all have a great may weekend.