JO: So what were some of the concrete ways you went about it – what are the actual features that allowed you to design trust?
JG: It wasn’t one thing, but many things working together. Let’s extend that phone experiment: how different would you feel if, before handing it over, you first got the chance to introduce yourself to your neighbour, get their names, where they lived, hear if they had kids or a dog. And then imagine that they had 150 reviews saying how great they were at holding unlocked phones. How would you feel about handing it over then? So really what we’re talking about here is a well designed reputation system, and that’s at the core of creating trust.
There was a study that came out from Stanford around the same time I gave that talk which looked at people’s willingness to trust each other across age, demographic, gender and location barriers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they found we’re most willing to trust people who are similar to us. That’s the default social bias. But then something magical happens when you add reputation to the mix – we can trust very dissimilar people if they have a strong reputation.
For Airbnb, we found that nothing really changes if you have a handful of reviews. But if you have more than ten there’s a tipping point where high reputation beats high similarity. Our design allowed us to create this reputation system, creating connection across social barriers. Good design gives people confidence – it’s as simple as that.
These insights have probably come to their greatest fruition through Airbnb.org, our non-profit arm that focuses on initiatives such as rehousing refugees. Here, we’re adding in a whole load of extra variables that could potentially undermine trust, and yet what we’ve seen is that people are very willing to help each other given the right system. I absolutely don’t think Airbnb.org would have been possible without our years of experience in designing for trust – Airbnb acted as the trampoline that made this next level possible.