Yesterday, my father sent me a New York Times article about ride-sharing. For those few nomads who don't know what ride-sharing is, it's simply carpooling with a stranger, in exchange for a bit of gas money. Throughout the article, they listed a dozen or so different ride-sharing sites. They all let you share your car for a bit of cash, but the article never mentioned the key issue, fragmentation.
Why do 4.5 million backpackers use CouchSurfing? Because 4.5 million backpackers use CouchSurfing. In order for ride-share sites to really take hold, the Facebook's of the space will have to beat out the MySpace's. No one wants to have multiple, unlinked profiles across several sites, but at the same time, no one wants their post to go unseen. One carpooling site will have to dominate the rest of the competition before the idea of ride-sharing really takes off.
Last week, I covered some metrics from BlaBlaCar, a popular UK ride-share site, but if a user of BlahBlahCar was say in the US, all of their positive reviews and rapport would be useless. So why not integrate ride-sharing into CouchSurfing? CouchSurfing is already international. They operate in 90,000 cities across 207 countries. The site has been successful because they're good at connecting travelers in a safe manner. Going from the couch to the car isn't that big of a jump, really.
CraigsList currently holds the most mind share in this space, for backpackers, but there is no safety net. Grabbing a ride on CraigsList holds all the same risks as hitchhiking. If ride-sharing is to be, as the NYT put it:
A far cry from the somewhat risky hitchhiking phenomenon of decades past.That safety net needs to be there, and CouchSurfing is damn good at providing it.
With CouchSurfing going for-profit this past year, there is a risk that they won't compete with CraigsList's price point, FREE, but that might not be a bad thing. CouchSurfing has always been a fee free endeavor, but with ride-sharing, there is usually some form of cash exchange. It would be a lot safer, for both parties, to have that happen online, and if CouchSurfing was to take a small cut, that's fine by me. I would love to have a CarSurfing tab on my profile. Until then though, I'll continue to just hitchhike.
Have you ever used a ride-share service? Let me know in a comment below.
CouchSurfing does have a ride-share group on the site with over 15,000 members, but it is all set up through messaging: no formal requests or money transfer services are provided.
Source: The New York Times CouchSurfing CarSurfing