Airbnb isn't all grown up and in the clear yet, but it is making some changes to cope with some of its more stubborn challenges.
In the wake of Airbnb moving to a Verified ID system to enhance trust between hosts and prospective guests, NBCNews.com’s Ben Popken spoke with Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky about trust and security, and what the new feature means for the evolution of Airbnb. Skift reprints the interview with permission.
NBC NEWS: How does anonymity erode trust?
CHESKY: We believe that when you remove anonymity, it brings out the best in people. It creates more accountability and gives our users more confidence when they’re booking a trip.
NBC: How do you design trust?
CHESKY: The first wave of the web was all about getting online. The second wave was about connecting online (social media, Facebook). Now, we’re on the precipice of a third wave, one that’s about taking those online connections and manifesting them in the real world. Airbnb is unique because it links online interactions with offline experiences. The ways that we build trust in our marketplace have to do the same. Verified ID is innovative because of the way it links online identity with offline identification. Imagine confirming your Facebook account when you checked in a hotel. That’s the direction we’re headed.
NBC: When you talk about trust, are you talking not just about trust between users, but also how external parties — landlords, regulators, legislators and media — trust your service and those who use it?
CHESKY: Airbnb is about access. We provide access to meaningful experiences in local places all over the world — places that weren’t easily accessible before. Trust is the currency that powers those experiences, and when you build more trust, you can provide more access. As pioneers of the sharing economy, our community expects us to innovate at a speed that matches our growth.
NBC: The last big round of trust-enhancing service additions in 2011 were reactive, borne out of crisis control. Is it fair to say that the latest move is an attempt to lock the service down more before blowing the scale out?
CHESKY: The fundamentals of trust on Airbnb have existed since the beginning of the company: our secure payment structure, detailed profiles, and authentic review system. In 2011 we added the $50,000 Host Guarantee, 24/7 Customer Service, and over 40 trust features. In 2012 we upped the Host Guarantee to $1 Million. Verified ID is the latest innovation in our ongoing commitment to trust.
NBC: Of the reservations that now require offline identity verification, what percentage have been abandoned due to incomplete ID registration?
CHESKY: The early feedback from our community has been very positive. Our team worked hard to make the Verified ID product as seamless and easy-to-use as possible.
NBC: What is your current number of 24/7 support reps?
CHESKY: We have built a dedicated Trust team that works to protect our community from fraud and build trust in the user experience.
NBC: If Verified ID is the foundation, what are the next steps, or categories of steps, towards increasing trust?
CHESKY: Trust isn’t static — it’s built over time. We’re always working to innovate new products that build trust on Airbnb. In the early days of the Web, anonymity was prevalent, but we feel the Web is moving away from that. Real identification will eventually become the standard. There is no place for anonymity in the future of Airbnb or the sharing economy.
Read the full NBCNews.com story here.
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Photo credit: Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky (center) with fellow co-founders Nathan Blecharczyk (left) and Joe Gebbia. No, they are not couch-surfing. Airbnb