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Does anonymity have a place in the sharing economy?

The Craigslist of 2013 finds itself at the butt of a lot of jokes. The OG peer-to-peer marketplace, however, can be considered the grandfather of nearly all of the P2P services we have today. For nearly every category that Craigslist has, a specialized sharing marketplace has been born.

Though the idea between Craigslist and other sharing marketplaces is similar–find strangers online, buy/trade with them–they couldn’t be more different. Craigslist prides itself on anonymity, going as far as scrambling your email address. You may not know if they’re a man or woman until you finally see them in broad daylight.

But in the new sharing economy that type of anonymity doesn’t have a place. People want to know what type of person they’re inviting into their lives, to sleep in their beds, drive their cars, and even watch their dog while they’re away.

The days of being able to post an ad as succinct as “Dog boarding. Call now” are over. A quick look at the profiles on Rover.com–a newish, and very popular dog boarding marketplace–show that the more you share, the more likely you are to land a job dogsitting.

Billed as the “Airbnb for dogs,” Rover–along with competitor DogVacay.com–has emerged as a popular alternative to traditional dog kennels in the ever expanding peer-to-peer marketplace. The site is built on the idea of an at-home boarding service. The chosen sitter can either host the dog in their home, or be invited into the dog owner’s house to look after Fido while the owners are away.

Where traditional dog kennels fail–a quick Google News search of “dog kennels” yields some alarming headlines–Rover succeeds. Traditional kennels are akin to a Craigslist ad. Sure you can look them up, but at the end of the day you don’t really know who is taking care of your pet. With Rover.com, you get a full profile of why the sitter loves dogs, pictures of them with their animals, and even where they went to school. Looking over a handful of profiles shows that Rover users are eager to share a lot about themselves, photos included, and it makes it easy to feel an immediate connection to the people offering their services.

Rover, however, is not immune to the same anxiety that surrounds every other constituent of the sharing economy. But with user reviews–much like Ebay–a star rating, and the ability for the sitters to share as much about themselves as they’d like, it seems that the people who don’t opt to do the same will fall to the wayside, leaving the “Five Star Sitters” to rise to the top.

In the rapidly evolving world of collaborative consumption, this type of “light background check”, one that provides access to photos of them smiling with animals or a detailed profile of who they are, carries some clout. Airbnb is now requiring people to verify their identity to use the website in the name of security, and it has been met with some backlash. Establishing online trust, however, can be as easy requiring people to share more about themselves, adding more pictures, giving users a better idea of who they are.

There’s still a lot of room for improvement for trust in the sharing economy, but the idea of sharing to share could prove to be a good stepping stone.

In the Press: