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Airbnb hits conference stage, ignores giant elephant in the room

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The hottest new site

Airbnb.com has enjoyed glowing reviews from the media and public as the hottest on-line short-term rental site. In fact, this apartment sharing startup just raised $112 million with a valuation of $1.2 billion.

The site says “We connect people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay.” I wasn’t really sure what the hype was all about. Sounds like you are just renting your home to a stranger while you are away. Is that really a $1.2 billion idea? But hey, they have been featured on a jillion media outlets from Forbes to Bloomberg to New York Times, so what do I know? Their PR peeps are working overtime no doubt.

They are the media darlings of the moment….that is, until Wednesday, when an Airbnb user’s home got completely destroyed by a renter. The renter stole her ID, credit cards, passport & savagely ransacked her home over a whole week. The media who were so quick to build Airbnb up, were just as quick to break the horrific story with headlines like “Woman Utterly Pillaged via Airbnb” (gawker), “Moment of Truth For Airbnb As User’s Home Utterly Trashed” (TechCrunch) to “Airbnb Horror” (Business Insider). This literally hits close to home because Airbnb is also headquartered in San Francisco where the vandalism happened.

Airbnb’s damage control

It’s admirable that Airbnb took to their twitter feed to do damage control. Their tweets from that day are peppered with updates. And they did not blame the Airbnb customer (that would have been a major doozie). Admittedly, the woman whose house was violated to the nth degree even said on blog that “They have offered to help me recover emotionally and financially, and are working with SFPD.”

What is most interesting to me about this whole sordid saga is how Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia broached it to an auditorium of tech savvy real estate agents the day after. He didn’t broach it at all. (Huh?!)

Giant elephant in the conference ballroom

The “Airbnb Horror” was splattered over the press Wednesday and Joe Gebbia was slated as a keynote speaker for Inman Real Estate Connect on Thursday. Talk about bad timing! At any rate, he was clearly there to extol the virtue of his site and that’s what he did. He praised it to high heaven.

All the while, there is a white elephant in the room. People in the audience wanted to know if is Airbnb dangerous? Is it a blow to their credibility? What is Airbnb going to do to prevent crimes against their users? Anyone who looked up Airbnb in the audience during Gebbia’s talk would have come across this horrifying experience. And yet, not a single peep.

Disconnect between Twitter feed and keynote speech

There was a total disconnect between Airbnb’s tweeter feed & the rosy picture painted on stage. What a missed opportunity for Airbnb to clear the air. Agents could be a huge proponent for a site like Airbnb. This would be great for our clients who need short term rentals, or another way to generate some rental income for clients with spare rooms.

But now in light of the grizzly incident, how can we recommend Airbnb with confidence? Any acknowledgement of the robbery would have been better than saying nothing. It is so crucial to be honest and upfront with consumers.

If you ask me, at the end of the day, it’s still letting a stranger into your home. There’s a reason why people don’t hitchhike anymore! Agents, what do you think about Airbnb? Is it a fancier version of house swapping on Craigslist? Has the Airbnb horror deterred you away from this service?

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Ken Brand

    July 29, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Bummer for everyone. But here's what I want to know and why I won't be cheering them on, until I do. Today it's rooms everywhere for everyone, super cheap – bleeding the hotel industry. What's to prevent them from scaling up to SELLING houses, everywhere to everyone, bleeding real estate brokers and agents like the hotel industry. It makes perfect sense once they have scale.

    I'm not against progress and innovation, more power to the disrupters of the world. In fact we should all be sprinting to reinvent, disrupt and improve what we do. What I'm not in favor of is helping the disrupters. They have plenty of money to push things forward. Seriously, if a broker/agent/competitor in your market introduces a new service that can (bleed) impact your business, do you fawn all over them, send promotional tweets and kiss their cheeks? I doubt it.

    We've seen this short sighted story over and over. First with RELO, then recently Trulia and Zillow. Basically we do all the work, hand over our data, then they sell us opportunities to monazite the very data we gave them. I get that once the cards are played, we have to play them, but personally, I'd like for us to collectively and individually disrupt the disrupters and regain the value-proposition power position. Collectively, mostly we help the tail wag the dog – the big brains at 3rd party companies have to be laughing behind closed doors. It's easier than taking candy from a baby.

    Ok, that's enough rant for now. What do you think about this? Am I a crackpot?

    Thanks for sharing.

    • hermanchan.com

      July 30, 2011 at 5:07 pm

      thanks ken! i responded on google plus when i saw your post.

  2. Matt Dollinger

    July 29, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Aside from all of this I had to share this thought brought about by Matt Lerner of Walkscore.com.

    We are all talking about buyers, local and the necessity for them to REALLY get to know neighborhood they potentially buy in.

    Enter Airbnb.com – your buyer goes onto the website, finds homes in a couple of the areas they are considering, and spends a weekend in each one.

    Thought that this was one of the smartest ideas I came home from Inman with… courtesy of Matt Lerner of Walkscore.

  3. hermanchan.com

    July 30, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    OMG, the PR for airbnb is only getting worse!
    Airbnb Pillage Victim Says Company Tried to Keep Her Quiet – @Gawker gawker.com/5825996/airbnb-pillage-victim-says-company-tried-to-keep-her-quiet

  4. Stephanie Crawford, @AgentStep

    July 31, 2011 at 12:42 am

    Well thus was BOUND to happen, right?

    • hermanchan.com

      August 1, 2011 at 2:16 am

      apparently this isn't a one time thing.

      Another Airbnb Victim Tells His Story: “There Were Meth Pipes Everywhere” via @techcrunch techcrunch.com/2011/07/31/another-airbnb-victim-tells-his-story-there-were-meth-pipes-everywhere/

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Opinion Editorials

Facebook fights falsehoods (it’s a false flag)

(EDITORIAL) Facebook has chosen Reuters to monitor its site for false information, but what can one company really do, and why would Facebook only pick one?

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Reuters checks facebook

So Facebook has finally taken a step to making sure fake news doesn’t get spread on it’s platform. Like many a decision from them though, they haven’t been thorough with their venture.

I am a scientifically driven person, I want facts, figures, and evidence to determine what is reality. Technology is a double edged sword in this arena; sure having a camera on every device any person can hold makes it easy to film events, but deepfakes have made even video more questionable.

Many social media platforms have tried to ban deepfakes but others have actually encouraged it. “I’ll believe it when I see it” was the rally cry for the skeptical, but now it doesn’t mean anything. Altering video in realistic ways has destroyed the credibility of the medium, we have to question even what we see with our eyes.

The expansion of the internet has created a tighter communication net for all of humanity to share, but when specific groups want to sway everyone else there isn’t a lot stopping them if they shout louder than the rest.

With the use of bots, and knowing the specifics of a group you want to sway, it’s easy to spread a lie as truth. Considering how much information is known about almost any user on any social media platform, it’s easy to pick targets that don’t question what they see online.

Facebook has been the worst offender in knowing consumer data and what they do with that data. Even if you never post anything political, they know what your affiliation is. If you want to delete that information, it’s hidden in advertising customization.

Part of me is thrilled that Facebook has decided to try and stand against this spread of misinformation, but how they pursued this goal is anything but complete and foolproof.

Reuters is the news organization that Facebook has chosen to fact check the massive amount of posts, photos, and videos that show up on their platform everyday. It makes sense to grab a news organization to verify facts compared to “alternative facts”.

A big problem I have with this is that Reuters is a company, companies exist to make money. Lies sell better than truths. Ask 2007 banks how well lies sell, ask Enron how that business plan worked out, ask the actors from Game of Thrones about that last season.

Since Reuters is a company, some other bigger company could come along, buy them, and change everything, or put in people who let things slide. Even Captain America recognizes this process. “It’s run by people with agendas, and agendas change.” This could either begin pushing falsehoods into Facebook, or destroy Reuters credibility, and bite Facebook in the ass.

If some large group wants to spread misinformation, but can’t do it themselves, why wouldn’t they go after the number one place that people share information?

I really question if Reuters can handle the amount of information flowing through Facebook, remember almost a 3rd of the whole world uses Facebook. 2.45 Billion people will be checked by 25,800 employees at Reuters? I can appreciate their effort, but they will fail.

Why did Facebook only tag one company to handle this monumental task? If you know that many people are using your platform, and such a limited number of people work for the company you tasked with guarding the users, why wouldn’t you tag a dozen companies to tackle that nigh insurmountable number of users?

I think it’s because Facebook just needs that first headline “Facebook fights falsehoods”. That one line gets spread around but the rest of the story is ignored, or not thought about at all. If there is anything Facebook has learned about the spread of fake information on their platform, it’s how to spread it better.

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Opinion Editorials

Will shopping for that luxury item actually lower your quality of life?

(EDITORIAL) Want to buy yourself a pick-me-up? Have you thought of all the ramifications of that purchase? Try to avoid splurging on it.

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shopping bags

In an era of “treat-yo-self,” the urge to splurge is real. It doesn’t help that shopping – or what ends up being closer to impulse shopping – provides us with a hit of dopamine and a fleeting sense of control. Whether your life feels like it’s going downhill or you’ve just had a bad day, buying something you want (or think you want) can seem like an easy fix.

Unfortunately, it might not be so great when it comes to long-term happiness.

As you might have already guessed, purchasing new goods doesn’t fall in line with the minimalism trend that’s been sweeping the globe. Being saddled with a bunch of stuff you don’t need (and don’t even like!) is sure to make your mood dip, especially if the clutter makes it harder to concentrate. Plus, if you’ve got a real spending problem, the ache in your wallet is sure to manifest.

If that seems depressing, I’ve got even more bad news. Researchers at Harvard and Boston College have found yet another way spending can make us more unhappy in the long run: imposter syndrome. It’s that feeling you get when it seems like you’re not as good as your peers and they just haven’t caught on yet. This insecurity often arises in competitive careers, academics and, apparently, shopping.

Now, there’s one big caveat to this idea that purchasing goods will make you feel inferior: it really only applies to luxury goods. I’m talking about things like a Louis Vuitton purse, a top of the line Mercedes Benz, a cast iron skillet from Williams Sonoma (or is that one just me?). The point is, the study found that about 67% of people – regardless of their income – believed their purchase was inauthentic to their “true self.”

And this imposter syndrome even existed when the luxury items were bought on sale.

Does this mean you should avoid making a nice purchase you’ve been saving up for? Not necessarily. One researcher at Cambridge found that people were more likely to report happiness for purchases that fit their personalities. Basically, a die-hard golfer is going to enjoy a new club more than someone who bought the same golf club to try to keep up with their co-workers.

Moral of the story: maybe don’t impulse buy a fancy new Apple watch. Waiting to see if it’s something you really want can save your budget…and your overall happiness.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer got you down? Does it make your job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment without budget worries.

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better equipment, better work

Aside from bringing the boss coffee and donuts for a month before asking, what is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes. In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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