If eBay is like a yard sale, then Swapdom, a new service situated squarely in the stranger economy, is like a yard sale across the street from a yard sale, next to three other yard sales, where no one has any money and instead buys stuff with stuff from their own yard sales. Basically, Swapdom aims to become a massive Internet barter system, based on what they call a “circular swap”: Based on what item you have to swap and what item you’d like to receive, Swapdom’s algorithm finds a chain of swappers (six degrees of Kevin Bacon-style) to get from your swap to theirs, and everyone is happy. How this doesn’t result in a warehouse somewhere in Kansas quietly slowly filling up with Fisher-Price telephones and classic hilarious T-shirts is frankly beyond me.
You have to create an account to see Swapdom’s full range of offerings, but the site’s preview selection includes a Breaking Bad “Heisenberg” T-shirt, with drawing, a crockpot, a mini faux mounted deer, a laptop, and a collection of paperback Harry Potter books. According to Swapdom’s about page, what separates their service from a “traditional” swap is that whereas typically swapped items are assessed based on their market value—as in, “No I will not trade you my antique spoon collection for a denim romper even if it is ‘vintage'”—Swapdom swaps are made based on “your personal valuation” of what you choose to swap. It’s all very confusing.
What even is value? you ask. Indeed, What was the traditional swap? There’s a popular office holiday party tradition known as a “Yankee Swap,” which is a higher-stakes alternative to a Secret Santa. Everyone brings something as a gift and puts it into a central heap, and the swap involves opening each gift one by one in a set order; the catch is that every subsequent gift opener has the chance to either keep the gift they opened or swap it for something someone already opened. The first opener is at the mercy of later swappers not to get swapped a bundt pan for a pair of Beats by Dre headphones.
Though if you do, march your bundt over to Swapdom and you can maybe swap back! Swapdom’s circular swap contains more opportunities for swap happiness because it is not a one-for-one exchange, but it is a zero-sum trade. Everything swapped (your bundt pan, for existence) must be accepted as swapworthy for something else. Your bundt tin might be swapped for some vinyl, which might be swapped for a tin lunchbox, which might be swapped for a sweater, which might be swapped for the Beats that were unrightfully swapped from you. It’s entirely possible that no one will want to trade you for your bundt pan, but if they do, everyone swaps away happy, in theory. Except for the guy with the sweater. That guy has no idea what he missed.
Follow John Sherman on Twitter @_john_sherman.