The sharing economy is only as strong as the people who participate in it. But can we be trusted to use it wisely?
The more professional cousin of peer-to-peer lodging services like Tripping and CouchSurfing, Airbnb has served as the poster child of the collaborative consumption movement. But when news broke that a California woman’s home had been ransacked and vandalized by someone who booked it through the site, questions about the security of sharing began flying around the internet.
If we’re honest, the entire sharing economy is built on the kindness of strangers. Sure, many online sharing services have safeguards and tips about how to avoid dishonest users, but when it comes down to it, you can never really be sure that someone is who they say they are, until you meet them. Whether you’re swapping a book or opening your home to a traveler for the weekend, trust is required.
Because their success depends on a community that is willing to conduct business based on this trust, it is essential that peer-to-peer websites and companies make protecting it their first priority. As Lisa Gansky often remarks in her book, The Mesh, the typical top-down approach to customer service won’t work in the sharing economy. Hiding behind fine print, liability waivers, and public relations speak will only create distrust among community members, and eventually, weaken the strength of the entire sharing economy.
Neal Gorenflo, publisher of Shareable Magazine, recently wrote a thoughtful blog post about what sharing entrepreneurs should learn from the Airbnb situation–and I think it’s good advice for sharing enthusiasts as well.
“Like all life-changing wake up calls, Airbnb’s fiasco revives a fundamental idea. Be human first. And an entrepreneur second. If a person is harmed by your service, immediately do whatever it takes to help that person recover fully. Not because it’s good for business. But because being an excellent human being is good for everybody. It inspires. It makes life worth living. I admire Paul Carr’s recent post on Techcrunch, ‘A Billion Dollars Isn’t Cool. You Know What’s Cool? Basic Human Decency”, which ends with this thought, “What’s cool is keeping your soul, whatever the financial cost.'”
As those who believe that our future lies in an open, connected, and vibrant sharing economy, let’s remember to always act in a trustworthy, transparent manner with the best interests of the community at heart. Setting an example now means that safe sharing can be the norm in the future, and incidents like this one will be even further and few between.