It was not so long ago that we happily purchased expensive security systems to keep strangers out of our homes and cars. Cut to the present, and hundreds of thousands of people will stay in a stranger’s home every night. AirBnB and Uber are leading the way for a new wave of consumerism with a side of ‘stranger danger’ that has revolutionised the way we get stuff done. Also known as ‘uberization’, the sharing economy movement thrives on mutual trust between strangers trading resources. Just as eBay changed the garage sale game, Uber, AirBnB and Task Rabbit are apps that are leading the way in this economic revolution. Welcome to the sharing economy, where reputation is your most valuable credit.
In the same way that Uber has threatened the Taxi industry, AirBnB has gained take-up amongst all sectors of the socio-economic pie, and now is making long-standing hotel chains like Sheraton and Hilton shake in their soggy conservative boots. AirBnB is a peer-to-peer marketplace that matches guests with ‘hosts’ who have a spare couch, bedroom, apartment, treehouse, igloo, or aeroplane hangar (because we all have a spare aeroplane hangar in our backyards). The real magic of AirBnB is not its income capacity or convenience, but the way it has ruptured the idea of ‘stranger danger’ and invited mutual trust between strangers over the internet. And it’s working – this year, 30 million people in 191 countries will either stay in someone’s home or welcome someone into theirs.
Human beings are remarkable at taking trust leaps, but it takes the right design to enable them. Reputation has taken on a whole new immediacy and importance in the sharing economy, where every exchange is accompanied by a review or rating of both the vendor and the customer. The likelihood of future business depends entirely on previous reviews.
Consider what it would be like handing a stranger your unlocked phone. They could access your photos, social media, maybe even your banking information. Scary, right? But, what if that stranger had multiple reviews that read ‘skilled phone holder’ and ‘very trustworthy’. Simultaneously, the stranger holding your phone knows that you will review them, affecting their prospective phone-holding career. The reviewing phenomenon encourages both parties to respect the other and their property. This principle relates to the entire sharing economy, where reviews and ratings are a form of ‘trust currency’ which allow people to judge each other’s credibility.
Apps like AirBnB are enabling us to rediscover a humanness that we’ve lost somewhere along the way. The psychologically empty transaction of checking into a hotel with a bored receptionist and in a soulless marble foyer is becoming an old-fashioned experience. Tourists have a growing desire to submerge themselves in the culture, and what better way to do so than living with a local? The sharing economy mirrors medieval trading traditions, only with the addition of the App Store and the internet. Society is revisiting the idea that we can share, swap, barter and trade just about anything we own. We’re sharing our cars on WhipCar, our bikes on Spinlister, our offices on Loosecubes, our services on AirTasker and our gardens on Landshare. You can even share your pets on DogVacay. People are beginning to grasp the power of technology to unlock value in their personal assets.
The ‘stranger danger’ aspect of the sharing economy has had several mishaps along the way. Out of control parties, theft, serious injury and even death have all occurred in AirBnB’s, just as they have in hotels. But there are simple ways to avoid this from behind your screen. If you are looking at staying in an AirBnB, make sure the host has at least five positive reviews, clear descriptions and pictures. As a guest, understand that you should treat the accommodation as someone’s home, and not a hotel room. Have faith in other people’s reviews, they’re there for you to use as data towards making a good decision for yourself.
The enormity of our personal resources is becoming clear as we watch the metaphorical wave of the Sharing Economy buildup in the distance. As the Sharing Economy moves from couch-surfing startup companies to major businesses, many industries such as hotel chains and taxis are being disrupted and shaken. The movement has only just begun surpassing powerful corporations designed for a capitalist society. Make no mistake, AirBnB did not originate to abolish hotels, nor Uber to suppress taxis. These companies emerged from the cracks in the pavement of capitalism, in that they do not feed off power, but operate alongside it, and so unsettle the stability of the latent power structures within our society.
So, gear up. Like it or not, your reputation will become your biggest strength when surfing the wave of the Sharing Economy. Treat others pleasantly, treat their possessions with the highest regard, and your involvement will flourish. Above all, watch as the Sharing Economy washes over socio-economic society and completely changes the way we get stuff done.