No matter how you categorize them, they, and services like them, have not been without controversy. After all, the premise of services like Airbnb and Uber is that you trust another otherwise unknown and possibly unqualified person to deliver a service to you, safely, completely and for a fee.
If you’re unfamiliar, Airbnb is a service that allows travellers to rent a room from someone else. Uber’s UberX service allows people to book a ride from someone who operates as a taxi (licensed or not). Both services rely on technology to facilitate the transaction.
My wife suggested we book accommodations for a summer trip to Europe through Airbnb. As Andrea pointed out, we were able to read user reviews of hosts before we booked the stay. Another feature that helped convince me was the idea of staying with locals in local communities rather than in hotels in tourist-centric areas. That meant we were more likely to eat at local restaurants which serve good food at reasonable prices rather than at restaurants that charge outrageous prices for marginally good food.
Airbnb’s model can be compared to eBay. You earn credibility as a host or guest for a positive experience considering your role in the transaction and you as a person.
Of the six Airbnb experiences we had in Europe, only one was disappointing — the host arrived 30 minutes late for our scheduled arrival and tour, the room was not ready for us, the apartment was a disaster (unlike her promotional photos) and she had friends over one evening to watch televisions, loudly, until about 11pm when they were asked to be quiet since we had been sleeping.
The Airbnb review system is smart. Both parties are reminded by the website to submit their reviews within two weeks of the end of the stay. The reviews are not published until both are submitted, and neither party can see the other’s review until both are submitted or until the window for submitting your review has passed. If you miss the window, you don’t get to issue the review. As it turns out, the host of our bad experience was so disorganized, she never submitted a review of us.
I’m happy to report the other five experiences were fantastic. The hosts were amazing; some even more so.
Here’s the interesting part. eBay, Airbnb and Uber build marketplaces based on the quality of the individual as much as the quality of the experience. Because the social currency is measured publicly, these services demand that all parties in a transaction are better people.
These are the pioneers of social business.