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How To: Get Things Done With "Crowdsourcing" Sites

Buy and Sell Basic Necessities: Cars, Toilets, or a Place To Sleep

What happens when you compile the world’s toilets, spare bedrooms, cars, and time? You get a slew of new crowdsourcing websites that make a sharable and searchable society seem within reach. And the discounted prices and personal touches are a bonus.

Apps like Cloo let nearby walkers or shoppers pay for a resident’s toilet. Airbnb finds a guest bedroom in a home instead of a hotel. Californian college students can use Wheelz to borrow a local car for a few hours. And anyone can find anything in their area on Zaarly

These peer-to-peer marketplaces let one user make money while the other user gets something they need. It’s a win-win situation, but it makes some traditional consumers feel uneasy.

Maureen Green, a fifty-four year old writer in Syracuse, New York, has rented a couch and bedroom in her historic Tudor home to about thirty travelers from all over the world including Germany, China, and The Netherlands.

“Everyone is remarkably friendly, kind, respectful, and responsible,” Green said. “It reinforces my belief that people are inherently good.”

The “new sharing economy,” as Green calls it, has been safe and affordable for her guests. As the website picked up in popularity, Green made about $3,000 in 2011.

“You don’t need a degree in tourism to run your own little tourism enterprise,” said Sebastion Marcu, a thirty-seven-year-old CEO from Cologne, Germany, who has used Airbnb to find a studio in a turn-of-the-century building in Paris as well as a luxury flat in Tel Aviv with a beach view. “It is a democratization process of the travel industry that is breaking up the old norms.”

Marcu likes the personal spin these crowdsourcing sites put on life and travel.

“It’s like having friends around the world that put you up for a few days,” he added. “You get to meet interesting people and catch a glimpse of their lives.”

Networking and meeting new friends is what separates these sites from traditional consumer interactions. Twenty-eight-year-old Liz Langer, a PhD student at the University of Illinois – Chicago, uses the online marketplace Zaarly.com to fulfill local user’s requests. She’s made a little over $1,000 doing things like delivering a cupcake tor Starbucks to a busy employee. And she’s met a ton of new people while doing it.

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During this year’s South by Southwest festival in Austin, blogger and marketer Eric Highland, age 41, soon realized that thousands of savvy entrepreneurs and festival goers were in need of things like rides around the city. One executive paid him $20 for a clean pair of socks after a downpour, bringing up his festival total to $1500 and 25 different interactions. But the time he spent networking in his car while driving around leaders in his industry was priceless

“Most of the folks I’ve met are truly engaging,” Highland said. “It has been my experience that relationships – though brief – are still formed.”