Seattle’s Barter Boom
To paraphrase a scene from Mad Max... Listen up! This is the truth of it: Shopping leads to buying, and buying leads to bills. And it was darned near the economic downfall of us all. But we’ve learned–Seattle learned. Now when we get to shopping, it happens in the community and it finishes in the community. Two services or goods enter; two satisfied traders leave. Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls: Barterin’ time’s here. We may not have a Thunderdome (did the Kingdome count?), but three Seattle-based websites—and a fourth that’s just taking off in our city—are turning us into a real-world Bartertown with their economically refreshing approach to “supply and demand.”
The brainchild of Ballardite Creagh Miller, with the help of Ericka Sisolak and a steering committee, Backyard Barter (backyardbarter.org) is designed to unite overwhelmed backyard owners with garden-deprived green thumbs. Launched in May of this year, Backyard Barter is a combination online/real-world community where neighbors swap excess produce, materials and gardening skills—from seedlings, eggs and extra tomatoes to the use of garden tools, expertise in canning and chicken coops and getting a helping hand to dig in the dirt. Inspired by her interest in connecting people through homemade and homegrown food, Miller took her idea to the community, where it flourished. After scoring $11,201 in funding from Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods (as a project of the Seattle Tilth), Backyard Barter has become a fully formed bartering venue. Aside from the website, monthly events provide additional opportunities for community bonding over informational seminars, in-person bartering events and collaborative happenings with other local organizations. “Knowing that Seattle has a lot of locally focused foodies and gardeners, we think people will really get excited about connecting and sharing through Backyard Barter,” says Sisolak.
Differing slightly from the traditional barter format, Bellevue-based Dibspace (dibspace.com) is a services-based bartering site that uses a fictional currency called “Dibits.” Users accrue Dibits (equated to $1) by offering services (and some goods) to other users, then use earned Dibits to “purchase” other services. Struck with the idea during a marketing seminar, Dibspace creator Dominic Canterbury realized that by using a barter service, businesses could trade at a level that’s impossible with any other currency. Though Dibits allow for more flexibility than a straight-across, this-for-that transaction, the downside is that some users may value their service a bit unrealistically (such as a children’s one-hour jewelry-making tutorial for 200 Dibits). Since its 2008 launch, Dibspace has grown to 5,200 users and sees a large variety of products and services bartered, from cars to pole-dancing lessons, though restaurant gift certificates, massages, naturopathy and cleaning services tend to be most popular.
After spending $200 on a backpack she knew she would only use once, Los Angeles resident Micki Krimmel got to pondering. “I thought about all the stuff gathering dust in storage spaces and closets across the country, and I began to imagine all the latent value hidden in that stuff,” Krimmel says. “What if, instead of letting our belongings go to waste, we offered them up to our neighbors?” Inspired, Krimmel launched NeighborGoods (neighborgoods.net), an online community where people can borrow, lend or share tools, equipment and materials with thousands of other members. Initially limiting the site to California residents, in June 2010 Krimmel took Neighborgoods national—to Seattle and beyond. Household items and sporting equipment are the most popular things shared on the site (good news for power-tool and camping-gear stockpilers) while, interestingly, the most commonly wish-listed items are steam cleaners. The 2.0 version of the site, launched this March, allows users to form groups based on ‘hoods (“Green Lake neighbors” is up and running), organizations and businesses. “People have shared with each other since the dawn of time,” Krimmel says. “Social technologies are simply making that easier than ever before.”
For an esoteric take on trade, consider bARTer Sauce (bartersauce.com). Originally conceived in 2006, bARTer Sauce is a hybrid of art proliferation, self-discovery and community outreach helmed by downtown Seattle resident Rosalie Gale. With an admirable sense of impermanence, Gale trades unique objects and pieces of art for other odd items, never holding on to one thing any longer than it takes to trade it for something else. To further spice up the transaction, Gale requires all traders to share a story—whether true or fictional—for publication on her website. Aside from encountering some remarkable objects—such as an 1867 tombstone found in an alley, a Barbie fish monster and a paraglider that a cat had allegedly peed on—Gale credits the project with introducing her to people she would never otherwise have met. “That alone makes the whole project worthwhile,” she says. Interested in checking Gale’s stock of oddities in person? She lays out her wares in Studio 115A of the OK Hotel (212 Alaskan Way S; 206.264.1688; theokhotel.com) at the Pioneer Square First Thursday art walk every month. Wanna trade?