Every Airbnb is different. Some have Wi-Fi passwords like 1234, others have 16-digit WEP passwords that read like a Cylon’s genetic code. Some are okay with you grabbing a beer from the fridge, others will one-star you if you so much as steal a dab of the host’s toothpaste.
For all its success on the booking side of things, Airbnb has no standardized user interface to deal with this. It’s up to the host to communicate house rules, whether through as a thick folder of print-outs or a steady stream of passive-aggressive comments.
Created by Kristian Knobloch, a recent graduate from the Royal College of Art, Ping is a system that makes it easier for Airbnb hosts to convey useful rules to a guest. It’s basically a series of wireless-enabled touchpoints that a host can spread through their home to distribute useful information in a contextual way. When a guest taps his smartphone against a Ping beacon, it automatically opens a webpage, providing info about the room he’s standing in.
For example, when you enter an Airbnb’s home for the first time, the Ping beacon next to the door might pop up a video of the host, welcoming you to her apartment and telling you where you’ll find your room. A beacon near the router might give your smartphone the Wi-Fi password; in the bathroom, instructions on where to find fresh towels; or in the kitchen, how to use the coffee machine. You can basically convey anything in a Ping, from basic house rules to recommendations for places to go in the neighborhood. There are even ways to set up a Ping to automatically call a host in case of a problem, just by tapping your smartphone against the proper beacon.
According to Knoblach, the physical design of the Ping beacons was made not only to fit in with Airbnb’s branding scheme, but also to allow the beacons to stand out in every room (the dark salmon color) while also looking more like a homeware than a technical product, thanks to wood grain construction. Right now, they run off of NFC chips, which makes Ping compatible with Android and Samsung phones, but not iPhones; the creator says a Bluetooth version compatible with Apple devices will be coming soon.
While it’s not a retail product yet, Knoblach is currently working on bringing Ping to market; Airbnb hosts can even sign up for the forthcoming beta here. And why not? It’s such a great idea, it’s a wonder that Airbnb hasn’t just started shipping something like this itself: not only are these a cheap and useful way to standardize the way hosts communicate with their guests, they’re a fantastic way of reinforcing the Airbnb brand within other people’s homes.