Thoughts on the AirBnB Situation

I have been watching the whole AirBnB thing with interest. There have been some thoughts running through my mind, but I didn’t want to share them prematurely, so I have held off, until now. Here they are:

1. AirBnB is something people want to use. So, even if a large percentage of people think the idea itself is unsafe and would never open their home or stay at a stranger’s home, it doesn’t matter. Plenty of people want this and there is risk involved and the responsibility for that risk falls on the participants as much as AirBnB. Because of that, there is room for AirBnB (and like sites) in the market.

2. I think AirBnB will be alright long term with regard to this issue. The sooner they can get in front of this issue, the better for those chances, though. But, other issues may hurt them.

3. AirBnB is popular and the fact that we have only heard of a few of these instances speaks well of the service. Of course, when the host who had her house trashed suggests that AirBnB asked her to keep quiet, that doesn’t inspire confidence.

4. From the outside, it seems like AirBnB was running itself like a classified ad service (or even a social network) when it is clearly more than that. AirBnB is not “meet once and buy my stuff” or “connect online” – it’s “I am going to come to where you live and stay there.” That was wreckless and they are paying the price.

5. By being wreckless, they have opened themselves up, in a very big way, to competition. I could see Roomarama, a site I just heard of because of this whole thing, eating their lunch. Why? Because they have more substantial checks and balances in place.

To restore trust in their system, AirBnB needs to adopt standards like this (and stronger ones). It may mean a hit in revenue, but they have a responsibility, in my view.

6. AirBnB has, so far, shown itself to not have been ready for this situation, which was an eventuality. Sooner or later, someone was going to get hurt. In the cases we have heard, it has been property damage. In the future, it will be crimes of an even more heinous nature. It is difficult to understand why they didn’t have the foresight to see that and to build a battle plan. Maybe they had one and it didn’t stand up.

7. Startups who play fast and loose with responsibility at the start, so that they can grow faster, have always annoyed me. Whether it was YouTube or Grooveshark or … whoever, I don’t like it. But, when you do that with something like this and something as personal as this, it is even worse. They should have been a model citizen from the very start. Would it have led to slower growth? Yeah, it would have.

It’s not just the safety issue, it is also the legality of this in general, and how it applies to insurance policies, mortgage agreements, applicable laws and any other considerations.

8. Though I admit that my interest was piqued by AirBnB, I have never actually booked with them and don’t expect to. Bad things happen, no matter what you do. I have run across two people, staying at hotel chains, that have had their rooms broken into and their laptops stolen during conferences I myself attended.

It doesn’t matter where you stay, bad stuff can happen. But, personally, I feel more comfortable staying at an actual hotel or booking something with a recognized agent. I feel like the probability of something bad happened is lessened even if, statistically, it may not be. That’s the human element. Plenty of people would never use AirBnB because of that, but even more are being turned away from the service because AirBnB is scaring people right now.

They need to get on top of that right away, because if not, they will begin to be regarded as just a classified ad site. AirBnB doesn’t want to be thought of in the same breath of Craigslist. Or, at least – they shouldn’t.

Patrick O'Keefe

Managing online communities since 2000, I publish a collective of websites known as the iFroggy Network. I wrote the book Managing Online Forums and, as a public speaker, have presented for organizations like CNN, institutions like Australian National University and conferences like SXSW. More about me.

1 Comment

Michael Kimsal

about 3 years ago

Hit in revenue shouldn't mean anything to them at this point - it'd be a one time hit to restructure themselves, and if they don't do it now with millions in investments, they'll never do it. I suspect there's actually a fair number of people who've had bad experiences with ABNB, but haven't spoken up yet for a variety of reasons. The damage wasn't that bad, or didn't have much of a web platform to get their voice across. But likely other people have remained quiet because they felt it was somehow their fault - opening up their home/house to someone who then trashed it doesn't sound smart on the face of it, but keeping quiet only perpetuates the problem. There may be a similarity to domestic abuse partners somewhere in there too. Agreed, they will probably get through this somehow, but I'm sort of surprised it's taken them > a month to sort anything out. Each side may be lawyering up to some extent, or trying to see if the other side caves first, but I'd expect more from a company with so many ostensibly upright names behind it. Pay restitution to this person, perhaps a couple - be generous, but then change your terms of service ASAP to avoid payouts like this in the future. I suspect they've been playing fast and loose with insurance concerns from the start, otherwise there'd have been something more official sooner.

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