mike curtis, airbnb
Mike Curtis, VP of Engineering, Airbnb
How would you say Airbnb uses tech?
Technology is really at the heart of everything we do. When you think about what our product is, our product is something in the physical world. When people come to Airbnb, they book on Airbnb to go stay somewhere – physical, right?
But that means that the stakes are pretty high on us being able to match the right person with the right experience that they’re going to have out there in the world; be it a place that they’re going to stay, or one of the new trips that we’ve just launched.
So, a lot that technology teams at Airbnb do is to accurately figure out these matches. When you’re operating on a global scale like we are, you need technology to be able to manage. You’ll need to figure out things that apply very well globally, and work out how to personalize things for the individual, but on a mass scale.
That’s a lot of data you must be handling. How do you deal with it all?
Well, there’s certainly a lot of scalability issues we have to deal with, but I think what’s more interesting is the work we do with that data. Because in a lot of ways Airbnb has more structured information about how people travel and about their tastes than any other company in history has had.
We have detailed profiles, user reviews, search patterns, and we know where people are traveling around the world at any given time. So, in addition to scaling for the volume, we also have to scale for the data, so we can take all the data we have to come up with great personalization experiences.
But how do you balance it against privacy concerns then?
The good news is that, to do that kind of personalization, you don’t need information that’s directly identifiable to that person. You’re actually just looking at aggregate trends right? The only thing we do is to keep track of your searches on Airbnb, to see what the common attributes are between the things you click on, so we can rerank the search and provide the most relevant suggestions.
What are some of the emerging trends you see at the moment?
I think there’s a big trend in the world towards valuing experiences over things. People are valuing and thinking not about the sum collection of the things that they own, but more the things that they’ve done, the people they’ve met, and the experiences that they’ve had.
And that’s very tied to the notion of sharing. For example, do you need 20 vacuum cleaners for a single apartment block, or just two that are shared among the community? I think we’re going to see a movement away from ownership of things to collection of experiences and sharing things, making maximum use of physical goods.