Several years ago I worked on a project backed by a now prolific angel investor on the west coast. I found the idea extremely compelling, but the for a couple reasons the project failed to reach the next step. The most major reason was that our users were not totally comfortable with the new type of social interaction our model was predicated on: staying at someone else’s house (and thereby undermining the $120M+ lodging market). Fast forward a few years and it’s really exciting to see the concept validated by Airbnb.com (backed by Sequoia and gaining real momentum): the two concepts are almost identical. The difference is that Airbnb.com seems to be emerging just as people are becoming more comfortable opening up their lives – offline, as well as online*.
People tend to forget that it’s not only technology that evolves, but also users and their willingness to embrace new mediums at scale. Social dynamics often lag the models themselves (think Mercata). I recall a time not long ago when my parents would balk at the idea of paying for something online. Now they wouldn’t think twice about it. Times change. People change. Even announcing my location on Foursquare was not something I thought I’d be comfortable with. Now I am.
I have a feeling that our large friend counts on Facebook and willingness to publicly share our locations via Foursquare are also opening us up to new opportunities – and perhaps a new willingness – to connect offline.
I see a wave of offline engagement taking shape and it will be big; big because there is a void in many young people’s lives that screens alone cannot fill**. People are social creatures and they want connect with each other; if they can do so while also generating passive income and saving money, so much the better. I think Burning Man is a testament to this movement.
Offline + Marketplaces for Reallocating Resources
Aside from Airbnb.com’s “progressive” social dynamics, it also boasts an incredibly empowering marketplace model. Empowering in the sense that its community both saves and earns money via the reallocation of resources. Reallocating resources on a local marketplace level is a huge deal. Craigslist does it. eBay does it. New entrants such as Etsy, Homeaway, Kickstarter, and Meetup are the new offspring. But Airbnb.com takes it to an entirely new level. It takes a B2C model and reinvents it as C2C, similar to what Napster did with music.
Look for more of these types of platforms to emerge.
And Back to Offline…
As a final note, I currently have several friends looking for work. As they would attest, while Linkedin is great, sending an “in-message” is not the same as meeting someone in-person at a networking event. We would all do well to remember it.
*The poor economy probably helps, as does an ability to leverage the social graph to filter out those who might be perceived as overly creepy
**Perhaps Soctt Heiferman is right in taking a sledgehammer to his iPhone