Switchboard Success: Community and Affinity Turn Strangers into Friends

We like to think of Switchboard as a manifestation of the gift economy, but we’re just as happy to see people using it to barter. This success story begins with Nancy’s Offer to trade her collection of Virginia Woolf texts for chores or original artwork.

David, the protagonist of our story, had used Switchboard before to find a host in Tucson when he drove there on vacation. When he saw Nancy’s offer, he seized on it. “It piqued my interest, and within the hour I’d sent Nancy a message offering a short story I’d written, a collage I’d make, or an afternoon of chores,” David says. “Nancy decided a short story and collage would suffice and we kept up correspondence to figure out a time we could meet up. I helped her take the books up to my dorm, and after that we got coffee.”

Nancy and David’s exchange involved more than trading a few books. They met one another as members of the same community and as artists. They traded stories—David as a student, Nancy as an alumna—and discussed their artwork and creative process.

David’s story is simple, and that’s how it should be. Nancy offers books. David contacts Nancy. Nancy and David exchange art for books over coffee.

Before they met, Nancy and David didn’t share any social connections despite being members of the same community and despite sharing a passion for writing. On Switchboard, not having someone in common isn’t an obstacle—sharing an affinity (e.g. cycling) or an experience (e.g. college) with someone is enough. There’s no such thing as a stranger. There are only other Switchboarders.