Time banking is a practice that involves people trading their abilities and skills in hours, generally with a central organized system or database. For example, if I mow your lawn for an hour, I have earned an hour in the time bank. I can cash that in for other members’ offered services, which might be accounting, piano lessons or another activity. This practice of organized skill-bartering has been around since the 1800s and is undergoing a digital resurgence of kinds thanks to an app called Ying.
Ying Co-founder and CEO Karla Ballard told Smithsonian Magazine the idea for the time banking app sprang from her experience of living in an apartment with a communal atmosphere, in which neighbors would help each other out in different ways. She wanted to make a kind of virtual neighborhood wherein people could use the time bank to support one another.
Within Ying, new users are given 24 hours of free time credits to get started. People list skills they can provide. They can request a certain service from a specific member or post it to the whole network. Like many online services, Ying also has a rating feature for members’ work. The Ying site states that, “Members bank time helping each other and then can spend the earned credits with others in the community for business resources, help at home, companionship or any other service you may need.”
Ballard describes the purpose and benefits of the app in this way:
It’s about savings, but it’s also tapping into your tribe, the people you have an affinity towards. You could participate in this so much you really begin to lean on each other … It’s very much a way for us to build social capital and really connect people -- that’s really our mission … This gives us another way of feeling like we’re saving money and feeling like we have a sense of abundance and not scarcity.
In order to make the app run more smoothly, Ying is teaming up with governments and businesses to organize the time banks around neighborhoods. This way, members of a community organization or people who live on the same street or attend the same school can time bank more easily.
The peer-to-peer nature of time banking apps is similar to payment apps like Venmo and PayPal that ease money transfers, and also can be easily compared to blockchain technology, which allows users to transact and pay each other without a middleman. Another time banking network and app is called Hourworld, which also provides digitally-managed local time banking.
Sociologist Ed Collom of California State University, Fullerton, who wrote a book about time banks, says while their popularity and usage tend to ebb and flow, the banks that are well-organized and have committed founders are most likely to last. In this light, structured apps like Ying and Hourworld may have a good chance of succeeding. He also tells Smithsonian Magazine he thinks the apps can make finding services and goods easier, and that “the rating systems -- that technology can help build trust. Because ultimately, these systems are totally based on trust.”