AirBnB and Editorial Responsibility

AirBnB and Editorial Responsibility

by Bo Vibe 0 Comments

AirBnB is, undoubtedly one of the larger success stories in the travel industry of late, allowing private owners to publish rooms and apartments for short term rental. Taking a commission of around 10% on average has created a nice revenue flow for the investors and Airbnb books 1/2 a million nightly stays in almost 200 countries. Lately the company has come under fire as the site includes a substantial number illegal content – that is apartments for which the owner doesn’t pay taxes and/or are not allowed to rent out under city laws. The problem being that the company is failing to take editorial responsibility.

The argument is that online companies are just as bound by editorial responsibilities as an editor of a newspaper or by the responsibilities of a goods distribution company to control the cargo. So, solely placing the responsibility on the supplier is a strategy that is risky and questionable. In this context we see Airbnb as the distributor and the accommodation owner as the supplier.

An interesting historical parallel is the file sharing revolution that took-off a decade ago. The emergence of file sharing sites ( in particular) challenged existing business models, copyright legislation and sparked numerous ethical, technical and financial debates, with the question of legality as a key issue.

Simply put, the argument put forward by Napster, Kazaa, Limewire and other file-sharing sites was that they, as companies, could not be held responsible for copyright infringements committed by the users of their systems. This “Napster defence” is what Airbnb is attempting at the moment by not 1. Having a control system under the sign-up process and 2. Not removing illegal offers from their site.

AirBnbB’s terms and conditions telling hosts not to break any laws are comparable to file sharing sites’ notice warning not to break copyright laws on their site. The question is how legally viable is this approach when your whole business model is based on largely illegal activity? In cities like Amsterdam, London, Paris, Barcelona, New Orleans, San Fransisco and New York the likelihood of the accommodation offer being illegal is especially high due to local restrictions on vacation rentals. In New York (source: supposedly about half of the rentals on Airbnb are illegal.

AirBnB is not much different from the numerous file sharing sites that have had to close during the last decade, it all boils down to “editorial responsibility”. The company is, at the moment, reacting like those moribund file sharing sites by refusing to remove illegal content, thus not taking any editorial responsibility. In fact, the situation with Airbnb is more clear-cut as it is a lot less complicated defining what constitutes an illegal activity and there are no intricate privacy issues related to a control system.

Two things killed the file-sharing sites mentioned (even though Napster is reborn); law-suits and new technology (streaming). The law-suits was an extremely costly, counter-productive exercise for all involved whereas the development of a new technical solution opened the door to new business models for the music industry, despite significant growing pains. In a market, the emergence of a new concept that is at odds with existing norms is a frequent occurrence. The concept that survives, though, is the one that tackles the challenge directly instead of trying to “ride it out”.

If the company continues to be a non-regulated marketplace the effect would be that the market is flooded by illegal offers. The repercussions of this unchecked growth in private holiday rental listings are potentially destructive on many levels. Most official holiday rental agencies take their relationships with neighbours and the community seriously, educating their guests and even screening, to some extent, their customers (by age, usually) to avoid antagonizing the community.  A free for all situation leads to lower the general trust level, hurt the brands (both Airbnb and the cities) and trigger more rigorous regulation from city governing bodies.

Just like Napster created a lot of excitement and opened the doors to new opportunities by lowering the entrance level to the market, Airbnb has created a lot of buzz and changes in the travel industry and huge revenue for its owners. Just as the online sharing model of music became too big to bury, it is obvious that the share economy model cannot (and should not) be regulated away. Unfortunately there appears to be no statements issued, or initiatives made, on behalf of Airbnb, that point to the company actually adjusting their model to contribute to a more productive share economy for all.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky states that we are only in “Day Two” of the sharing economy, in which case “Day Three” should be the time to start addressing how to best get to “the seventh day” when the world is in order and everyone can rest comfortably in their beds, or couches. There is no doubt that the couch model and the private apartment model can exist side by side. The demand for city holiday rentals is so great that the whole stay industry can only benefit from a more flexible, and finely segmented supply situation.

One can easily imagine one out of two probable scenarios in the Airbnb headquarters from the standard response they produce to legal challenges in different cities that they are “working closely with city authorities”; 1. Working closely with actually means that they are sticking their heads in the sand hoping for business as usual or 2. They actually are working with authorities to find solutions. Judging from the way this stay concept has come to flourish due to the simplicity of the idea and the complexity of the concept (marketing, pay model etc.) it is hard to believe that alternative 2 is not their chosen strategy.

Taking editorial responsibility seems to be an inevitable outcome; the next step on “the third day” of the sharing economy. This is the day when a new model has to adapt to rules and regulations that are not tuned to the mechanism of share economics. At the moment Airbnb is the square peg trying to pass through a round hole. Creativity is demanded both from authorities and executives of the share model to ensure a smooth passage into day three of both the share economy and of stay concepts.

UPDATE: Since this post was first published (2013) AirBnB has signed tax agreements with 275 governments.

The 10 Twitter Archetypes

The 10 Twitter Archetypes

by Bo Vibe 0 Comments

The Parrot
Incapable of original thought, the parrot will only retweet/repeat more eloquent opinions than their own.

The Town Crier
Is unfamiliar with the concept of dialogue. Uses Twitter as his own personal soapbox; “hear ye, hear ye!” The town crier tends to fall into two subcategories; “the promoter” and “the politician”. The first represents a brand, and will only extol the brilliance of said brand. The second, someone in political office, high or low, and will only extol the brilliance of his/her own political thoughts.

The Comedian
An actual comedian, or someone convinced they are one.

The Philosopher
Overdosed on Paolo Coelho. Eager to share her wisdom with the world. Also fond of posting pictures of sunrises and “inspirational thoughts”.

The Tagger
Hashtags every other word for maximum visibility to the point where the actual tweets become completely illegible.

The Chronicler
Feels the need to inform you about every minute detail of their life; what they are having for breakfast, what the kids said during breakfast, what they are having for breakfast tomorrow, what their dog is doing during breakfast….and so on.

The Watchdog
Akin to the old neighborhood lady with her goggles behind curtains constantly watching what goes on outside. Never utters a virtual peep.

The Black Adder
Will just randomly add profiles to follow in hope of recruiting followers for their own spammy messages (or “racy” photo posts).

The Rookie
“New to this thing, don’t know what I’m doing here or if I will keep doing what I‘m doing here. Don’t know if there is a point. What’s a tweet?”

The Beefer
Someone famous, or semi-famous dissing an individual of similar or (ideally) more prominent fame with the object of becoming even more (in)famous.

Twitter personalities - archetypes

SEO Tips – Ten steps to online marketing success

SEO Tips – Ten steps to online marketing success

by Bo Vibe 0 Comments

1. Be visible!

If Pablo Picasso had painted his greatest masterworks only to place them in an inaccessible cave he might still be the greatest artist of the 20th century, but hardly the century’s most commercially successful! If no one knows you exist it does not matter how brilliant you are. Your website could be a masterpiece and your technical solution (and coding) could be an “inaccessible cave”. To choose a SEO friendly solution for building your website is step one towards online success.

2. Be accessible!

With “virtual soapboxes” like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. available, there is no excuse not to let your presence be noticed! Lack of accessibility is normally a pet peeve among customers (just think about your own “favorite” phone service!), and communicating directly via social media is an indispensable tactic in keeping your customers happy and well informed. An online omnipresence has other implications as well. “Social search” delivers a search-result influenced by what your friends (those connected to you in different sources like Facebook, Twitter etc.) search for.

3. Be generous!

Give stuff away! This is a tricky one for many, you have put a lot of effort into creating a quality service/product and you expect people to pay for it! However, offering applications, samples, demos or simply information for free is a way to build trust and credibility and a loyal following. You need to prove that you are offering something of value to potential customers/members/clients. A side effect is the reward of gaining links to your site as well as returning visitors/customers. This is often referred to as “link-bait”. Contribute off-site as well to further boost your standing as an authority in your field.

4. Be ahead of the game!

Being ahead of the game is not only about being able to suss out what is “the next big thing”, but to mould its uses and inherent communication characteristics into your thing. The rules of the game can be altered, or completely changed, by new arenas for advertising, new apps, up-coming social media sites etc. Your efforts should always be focused on how to “rewrite the instructions for use” whether it is a new social media phenomenon or an app.

6. Be adaptable!

All though the what might never change, the how always does!. Meaning, what you sell (products/services) might always be the same, but the how to sell it is always changing. Furthermore the whereabouts of your target demographic might change “at any given time” as well. This is naturally highly individual depending on where your services are on the scale of “internet interchangeability” – that is; how fast do changes occur in the market, how fast can you adapt and what potential for interchange (growing connections, and enhancing online dialogue) is inherent in what you market and how you market it?

5. Be discerning!

As the world of online marketing is (in lack of a better phrase) highly dynamic, there is no clear-cut blueprint on what will work for you. Discard what clearly isn’t working and put your resources into what is. This is why tools like Google Analytics etc. exist- to conversion track all your efforts. These statistics offer you the chance to be precise in the way you communicate, in what forums and to whom.

7. Be frequent!

If you want to build a following, and your own status as an authority in your field, it takes consistency. The occasional tweet is not sufficient to hold anyone’s interest, but keeping your pages constantly fresh with new tidbits of interesting information as well as creative offers and added value for your customers will!  Methods include newsletters, on-site and off-site blogs, using full-text RSS feeds, and in general make sure that you are creative in how you present your services on-site.

8. Be direct!

Generally there is no room for (too much) subtlety on the Internet. Resisting the urge to be overly clever becomes easier knowing that we on average make our online decisions (to click or not to click) in seconds, or even in a split second. Being direct does not, however, equal being mundane or generic. The idea is to generate more interest before your potential visitor/customer loses all interest in what you offer.

9. Be unique!

There is a niche for everything online. In fact, “niche products” make up the bulk of sales in the online business world today. Even in a more mainstream market finding your niche is key – what sets you apart from the competition? This might be completely obvious or need some serious thought. This doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel, are you offering an extra service that your competitors aren’t, does your product come with a new/different feature? Success is in the details!

10. Be good!

“Be good” as in “be clever” and “be kind”.Professionals like ourselves (SEO consultants) have often been guilty of focusing on “tricks” instead of focusing on quality work, and long-term gain. As search-engines have become more sophisticated in determining how to identify dubious strategies, we all have to adapt and not engage in SEO strategies that will get your site penalized in said search engines. Be responsive and take customer concerns seriously. This is pretty self evident, but as  “word of mouth” has risen to a whole different plateau with social media and blogs this becomes more essential than ever. The last thing you want is that someone googles your name/brand and 9 out of 10 places on the search result pages are occupied by bad reviews and angry blog comments!