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Markets for “slivers of time”

Online auctions are booming. The phenomenon has been been labelled the ‘march of the micro-sellers’. But could sites like eBay, with its 105 million users, be harbingers of a more important transformation, when individuals start to exchange time and services online? Wingham Rowan in the UK is developing the technical and institutional infrastructure for Neighbourhood e-Markets (NEMs) in which anyone can directly sell their time, around other commitments in their life, with total control and all the information they need about localised patterns of demand/supply and pricing for the kind of work or services they wish to offer. “These are hugely complex transactions” says Rowan; “they can now be made effortless, ultra-low overhead and consistently safe – but it takes much more sophisticated technology than Internet marketplaces based on bulletin boards or auctions require. Each ‘slivers of time’ marketplace must absorb issues including availability, contactability, reliability, price construction, potential agency involvement, protection of all parties, legal compliance, alignment of localised supply/demand, post transaction administration and restructuring of failed transactions”. It seems that NEMs does all of this, but the participation of government is needed to seed this kind of economic activity and create a legal framework that enables its full potential.

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