Kickstarter, AirBnB, and trust in your fellow man (even strangers)

I’ve been thinking about Kickstarter and AirBnB a lot lately because of Cory Tschogl, a California woman who rented out her Palm Springs condo to two brothers for 44 days. The situation quickly devolved into a squatting nightmare after the two guys refused to pay off the full balance of their fare, and what’s worse, refused to leave her apartment. Because the men were renting for at least 30 days, they are tenants and have rights, meaning that it will take months and lots of money for Tschogl to get the guys out of her condominium.

The guy who made the reservation is reportedly Maksym Pashanin, a successful Kickstarter fundraiser who managed to accrue $40,000 to finance a game he was creating. According to some reports, not only has Pashanin conned Tschogl, but his financial backers as well.

Both Kickstarter and AirBnB are services that rely a lot on trust. AirBnB provides a great service for budget travlers – I myself have used it a few times, and have always had good experiences, but then again, I’ve always been the guest, never the host. Some who have opened up their homes to make a bit of extra money have had their homes left in shambles.

A  Hyattsville Maryland man found his house a wreck, with “liquor bottles and cigar wrappers inside and outside of his home,” even finding lingerie in his rooms. A New Yorker rented her East Village penthouse only to come back and find it trashed with “human feces, used condoms and other disgusting things all over her bathroom and furniture.” A blogger recounted a horror story of a renter ransacking her place, stealing valuable items and destroying furniture.

These instances are very rare, and AirBnB has reached out to their clients working with them to figure out what to do. Similarly, Kickstarter also has a good record, but with some spotty moments that call crowdsourcing into question. One of the most infamous cases of a Kickstarter problem is popular web comic artist John Campbell who famously burned 127 copies of his Kickstarter funded book after failing to ship them to his backers. In another highly-publicized example, New York University student Matias Shimada used his Kickstarter funds to inadvertently plagiarize a film for a student movie contest.

These examples, while very rare, all make using Kickstarter and AirBnb a frightening prospect. But for most, they’re an invaluable resource. But aside from all the legalese the sites used to cover themselves, there is a reliance on trust involved when one is using either site.

When I traveled to Lake Geneva a few years ago, I made a reservation through AirBnB, agreeing to stay in a stranger’s home for a weekend. We drove all the way to the resort town hoping that (a) we weren’t hosed by some scam artist and would be homeless for two days and (b) the beautiful cottage we were promised would end up being some awful shack. While not scared, we did talk about how we were essentially trusting a woman we didn’t know in a town far away from our homes. In the end, it was better than fine, and we ended up having a great time (and I must say, we were the consummate guests – I even sent her a copy of Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Delight after our host mentioned she was a fan of his).

But despite the inherent nowness of the two services, there is also something quite quaint about the idea behind Kickstarter and AirBnB, harking back to that mythical time when people were more open and trusting of each other. Despite its contemporary trappings, there is an old-fashioned ethos behind these sites: a community comes together to support a struggling artist, or a kindly landlady rents out a room to a boarder. It’s practically a setting for a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie.

But unfortunately, life isn’t Andy Hardy and the suspension of cynicism is difficult, even if instances like the ones reported are exceedingly rare. And as unlikely as these episodes are, they do highlight the growing need for vigilance when using the Internet and when dealing with people – especially when money, safety, and property are concerned.


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Filed under commentary, Nonfiction

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