Not many things in business are hotter than start-ups in "the sharing economy."
The headlines are grabbed by the likes of the car service Uber and lodging company Airbnb, but 20 minutes on Google created a page-long list of others.
You might not know that through Spinlister, a bike-sharing service, a nice-looking Surly Cross-Check bicycle is available near downtown Minneapolis for just $8 an hour.
An underutilized 2011 Hyundai Elantra car could be had last week for only $1.50 more an hour than the bike, although at 327 miles away it seems the service that's offered it, called Getaround, hasn't really rolled out here.
But Getaround is coming, along with a host of others. There will be plenty of opportunities to drive someone else's car, sleep in their house or ride their bike, maybe even use their golf clubs.
But of course, no one will be sharing any of those things. They will be renting them.
So perhaps once again the new, new thing turns out to be just another old thing.
You only have to go back to 2008 and 2009, before we were hip enough to use terms like "sharing economy," that renting out part of your private home was still known as "taking in boarders."
In fact, a whole bunch of companies we have done business with for years should be able to rightfully claim a spot in the sharing economy, too.
After all, Delta Air Lines seems willing to share its cabin on a quick trip to Chicago. It's certainly true that it has let everyone know that it's going to be making that trip a few times tomorrow anyway, so it may as well take along a few friends and neighbors.
Of course, those climbing aboard for the ride are pretty much obligated to share their American Express cards with Delta — in advance.
One entrepreneur who has become annoyed watching all this renting get called sharing is Dan Hobbs. As he pointed out, "the sharing economy so far hasn't been about sharing."
As best I can tell he's one of the very few trying to create a business to help people actually share ownership of assets that are pretty costly to own.
His Minneapolis-based firm, last week with all of six people, is called Divvy Inc.
The origin of his company really goes back to three young men he met through mutual friends who were way ahead of him in their understanding of genuine sharing.
These three together owned a gleaming Porsche Boxster sports car one of them still calls "a rolling piece of art." And as Hobbs put it, "they kind of made this whole system on their own of how to do it."
It didn't exactly take cutting-edge technology to share ownership of this car. They mostly used e-mail, Google calendar and a spreadsheet, the latter to keep track of miles driven, maintenance and expenses.
"Not only was it a third of the cost to own, it was just a richer experience," said Paul Helgeson of Minneapolis, one of the three partners in the Porsche. "It was something we were doing for fun. To be able to share that fun was really the whole point of it."
The car is now gone — a victim of winter weather and high-performance tires — and Helgeson has moved on to joint ownership of a boat. But to Hobbs, what they did increasingly looked like a business opportunity.
"I realized, gosh, this is actual sharing," Hobbs said. And the more he thought about it, the more he saw sharing as the only way for more people to have a piece of the life enjoyed by their far wealthier neighbors.
"We can make it so the average blue-collar worker can afford a Porsche," he said. "That's pretty cool."
Hobbs started Divvy early last year, and he's personally put in much of the capital to fund the development of the business so far. He's also begun talking with venture capitalists.
Last fall, Divvy launched what was basically an extended market test of its service, helping people find each other based on what they wanted to own.
One of the case studies was a camping tent shared by two families, and the "how it works" example was of two women who jointly bought a high-end juicer. That's when Hobbs learned that there's only really a chance to make a business out of enabling sharing of much bigger-ticket items.
When the revamped Divvy service launches later this year, it's going to create partnerships more like what his friends did with their Porsche. In addition to cars, he intends to quickly add boats and vacation properties.
This certainly looks a little like a conventional business, such as timeshare vacation properties, but Hobbs said the key will be allowing the owners to use their property as they together see fit. The owners will all know each other, and they won't have to live by the rules of any property management company.
Hobbs said he's not exactly sure how many people can be listed on the title on a single car, but he knows that current state law allows more than enough for quite a group to enjoy owning one car.
He suspects Divvy is going to be popular for people hoping to own luxury cars, like a Mercedes-Benz or Porsche, not because the clients will be well off but because one weekend a month they will want to live like they are.
He still thinks it's a no-brainer for all the neighbors on a cul-de-sac to get together to buy one commercial-grade lawn mower rather than each own a consumer mower, but he's not sure how to make money enabling that kind of purchase.
It'll be up to some other enterprising entrepreneur to figure out how to make a business enabling joint ownership of this kind of more workaday — and still costly — item.
Thankfully, the consumer today isn't without any good options for those things.
Once the frost comes out of the ground, and a homeowner really needs a big post-hole auger, the Home Depot will gladly share one that it has.