SwitchPlanet is one of the more compelling online communities I’ve seen in a
while. Members can switch movies, CDs, books, and games with each other for
free. The system is based on Switchbucs, an internal currency. You list
whatever items you have for a Switchbucs price and get credited that amount when you ship an item to someone willing to pay that price using their Switchbucs. No real money ever trades hands, just
switching with a third-party broker.
The interface is clean and slick. You can rate your content (Netflix); leave feedback (eBay); list items easily (craigslist), create a wishlist (Amazon) plus more intriguing features: seeing which members are online, leaving open comments for members, participating in forums, browsing items sorted by most wanted / most switched / most available / newest, etc.
Each time a switch takes place, it costs you almost nothing. Switchers on what would be the seller’s end (in the non-free world) pay for the shipping while receivers get the item for free. But it evens out quite nicely. In order to be a receiver, you must have accumulated Switchbucs by previously sending (at your shipping expense) some of your items.
And switchers are encouraged (though by no means required) to give to charity during each pseudo-transaction. In fact, the site has already generated nearly $2,000 for charity after its first few months of running. The company’s mission is simple, “establish a premier online community that is committed to helping reduce the impact waste is having on the planet by trading the things we no longer use to get the things we want.”
I bring up the mission statement at the end only to point out that the one thing the site could use is an easier, more concise area for new users to figure out the underlying concept. The mission statement sounds good even if ambitious in true start-up style.
But the truth is, the ambition has already been realized to a certain degree, though it took me reading quite a bit throughout the site before I felt like I knew what was going on (there are many sections that help explain: Welcome, Mission Statement, SwitchFunds, About Us, FAQ, News, etc.).
SwitchPlanet is privately funded, has nearly 7,000 users, and has been active for almost three months. If you want a place to combine some of the best features of Netflix, eBay, craigslist, and Amazon all for free, give it a try.