Over the last five years, the web has become a lot more personal. The buzzword "social" really doesn’t do it justice, not when you compare the transaction-based interactions that practically founded the Internet—PayPal, eBay and Amazon—with the ability to see photos of friends and family on Facebook and Instagram. But as things have shifted so much, to be so much more personal, e-commerce has been left behind. Buying and selling things online feels very much the same way today as it did a decade ago.
Enter Bondsy, an iPhone app for buying, selling—and maybe most interestingly, trading—things with friends. Its chief brainchild is designer Diego Zambrano, who’s worked as a creative director in advertising for some of the biggest firms (Ogilvy, R/GA) and clients (Nike, IKEA) in the world—though his greater claim to fame may be that he hasn’t shaved since 2009. With a new five-person team in Dumbo that snacks at a "nut bar" and prefers to work in "sexy mode" low light, Zambrano is rethinking what it means to sell things online—not to the anonymous masses of e-commerce but to your own friends and friends of friends.
"It’s beyond sales," Zambrano tells Co.Design. "It’s about connections and how we interact with each other."
That’s a pitch that probably sounds like BS, until you actually try the app. Because while Bondsy looks and works like the social networks you already know—allowing you to add friends to a feed, then see their listings in the large, square images popularized by Instagram—this very personal interaction model actually redefines how it feels to buy and sell things online. Namely, people speak to one another like they’re humans on a social network rather than customers on eBay. And it helps that your items don’t need to be purchased in money: As Zambrano explains, "When you’re not restricted to paying for things with cash, things get a lot more interesting."
I found this out for myself while scanning through my feed—past old stereo equipment, homecooked meals, and even an apartment rental—when I came across a large towel decorated with the lower male anatomy. (Technically it was listed as the "dick towel" from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.) The towel’s price was—well, I wouldn’t exactly call it free—that "you have to bring it with you on your next beach trip." Now it’s funny reading about naked towels in my feed, but it’ll be even funnier if someone actually takes that towel to the beach.
"It’s about exchanging things that people can’t necessarily put a price on," Zambrano explains. "And it sparks some fun conversations that wouldn’t happen with strangers."
Indeed, by removing the entire cash/checkout process—even items that are sold for cash are "grabbed," with the details ironed out over email—sharing items becomes a lot more satisfying than just selling, and the things people are willing to share become a whole lot more quirky. Bondy’s test users have exchanged Playstations for popsicles, clothing for charitable donations and T-shirts for plumbing services.
Because after all, I’m happy enough to cook any of my friends a free meal whenever they’d like to stop by. But if I can convince them to wear a penis towel on the ride over, it’s all the more hilarious.