The internet is not only a good place to find information; it is also a good place to find stuff. Websites like Amazon, eBay and Craigslist offer all sorts of advantages, whether you’re looking to buy, sell or rent, which have led consumers in the United States to digitize an ever-increasing percentage of their transactions.
One of the lesser known advantages of the digital marketplace is the facilitation of sharing. Often, sharing is thought of something which is limited to friends and family. The idea of lending a personal belonging to a complete stranger is not in the cards for many people. Call it paranoia or prudence: it’s a strong roadblock to all the benefits which sharing affords.
Fortunately, the internet is changing that.
Recognizing the importance of trust, companies that deal with peer-to-peer services have built trust-building features into their products.
Consider the buyer and seller profiles on sites like Amazon and eBay. These allow users to make decisions on who to trust based on the reputation they have accrued in previous transactions. It’s like the transparency of small-town communities, projected onto an international scale.
Lyft offers another good example. Founded in 2002, Lyft is a transportation network company that has developed a mobile application for ridesharing. Anyone with the app can use his or her GPS to search for a registered driver in the area. A picture of each driver is available to the passenger, along with a score that is determined by previous passenger ratings. This links a face and a reputation to the drivers, creating a sense of familiarity and security before they even meet. Lyft drivers are also known to place fuzzy, pink mustaches in the front of their bumpers. Additionally, drivers give fist bumps in greeting. This is all in the effort to make it seem less like a taxi service and more like a “ride with a friend.”
Airbnb invites strangers into an even more personal space of our lives: our homes. Using the website, travelers are able to search for spare rooms, apartments or entire houses to crash for a night, a week, or longer. Users have more reason to be cautious here, so the company has upped its security provisions over the years, providing a 24/7 customer service hotline and a $1 million host guarantee. The brains behind Airbnb have also found some more practical methods of generating trust. By hiring professional photographers, they eliminate anything that could be communicated through poor lighting or bad camera angles. Also, payment is taken care of by the Airbnb, as well as all the tools for communication between the lodgers and their hosts. Running these things on top of the website gives a sense of legitimacy to the transaction, helping keep users at ease. It will be interesting to see how sharing with strangers will become more and more agreeable through technologies like these. One thing that they have demonstrated is how much just a little knowledge of the other person can scare the spook out of our interactions with strangers, whether it is a picture, a profile or a few golden stars. Cynics may sneer at those who are so frugal with their trust. And they may have good reason. But to those who have faith in the sharing economy, it is a sign that the water is rising in well of goodwill. In either case, it’s something to pay attention to, as the trust management is going to play a key role in the future of the peer-to-peer technologies.