Mike Cur­tis, AirBnB

Mike Cur­tis, VP of En­gi­neer­ing, AirBnB

HWM (Singapore) - - Contents - By Mar­cus Wong

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 gure 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 gure 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 proles, 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 identiable 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 re-rank 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.

“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.” Mike Cur­tis

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