To this day, I have friends who won’t buy things over the Internet because of the myriad dangers involved. There’s the danger of being ripped off, the danger of being robbed, and most terrifyingly, there’s the danger that you might put your own personal safety on the line. Meeting people IRL (In Real Life) is something that needs to be treated with caution and sometimes it’s just easiest to avoid it altogether. But it’s 2013: if we can have driverless cars and jetpacks, then surely we can have better methods of trusting people on the Internet?
A Berlin-based startup called Credport might be on the right track when it comes to establishing online trust. Using the information on a person’s various social networks and online marketplaces, Credport is able to paint a portrait of a user – essentially humanizing the person you are transacting with and blurring that line between complete stranger and friend. It is far less terrifying to buy a car from someone who you can see is friends with your Aunt on Facebook.
Credport uses Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and memberships to various online marketplaces to build a user’s profile. If I look at someone’s profile on Credport I can see all of their previous reviews from eBay, what common connections we have on Twitter and Facebook, and I can see if we have any shared interests. There is no grade or score involved: the idea is to give users a way to find their own reason for trusting someone they are transacting with online.
Credport is partnering with online marketplaces, starting with the German car sharing website Tamyca. During signup, users are prompted to set up a Credport profile as well as a kind of verification. The sign up process is easy – a few clicks will connect your social networks and your profile is ready to be shared. An interesting quirk of Credport is that there is no search functionality, which means you can’t stalk people – in order to look at someone’s profile they have to provide you with a link. This may change as the audience grows, but I quite like this feature (or lack thereof): it gives Credport more weight as an accreditation tool rather than just another social network.
After seeing the growth of platforms like AirBNB in the States, founders Connor McEwen and Nam Chu Hoai saw that online trust was a problem and that the time was right to try and solve that problem, leading them to apply for the Startupbootcamp accelerator program in Berlin. Their university studies have been put on hold while they concentrate on building Credport, something Connor points out is a valuable educational opportunity in itself: “I feel like I’ve learned a ton more in the past half year than I did in university.” Their relatively tender age has been a source of much commentary in the Berlin tech scene, much to Nam’s amusement: “I think that’s what we’re known for.”
The team are currently focusing their efforts in Germany: not just because there are already a few big players in the US in the form of AirBNB and Task Rabbit, but also because Germans tend to be more private and less trusting when it comes to the Internet. They are working on gaining traction in the immediate future, and see the potential to become a kind of credit score for the Internet by using all of the information they collect to help prevent online fraud.
I definitely see the benefit of a platform like Credport myself: a few years ago I found a guitar teacher on Gumtree and it wasn’t until I was nearly at his house for our initial meeting that I realized the potential danger of what I was doing. I tried to justify it to myself by thinking about all the flats I’d been to look at by myself while I was flat hunting. And then I realized what a potentially dangerous situation that was, as well. Asking someone to sign up for Credport before you meet them seems like an incredibly logical thing to do to eliminate at least some of the risk involved.
The idea of actually trusting people on the Internet is so foreign to most that the challenge is to now convince people that they need a Credport profile. The value is obvious, and yet the Credport team has a hard road ahead of them showing users that having a profile should be a priority, and showing marketplaces that Credport can build their active user base. “Someone is going to figure out trust on the Internet somehow,” says Connor. “We’re one way of doing it and we obviously think it’s the right way, but only time will tell.”