2 The role of technology in the co-living movement

Technology in the co-living sector; a double-edged sword

The role technology plays in the co-living sector is interesting because it is somewhat of a double-edged sword: part of why the co-living phenomenon is growing so fast is because individuals in dense urban environments feel lonelier than ever (40% of Americans report feeling lonely and loneliness is now being considered a growing health epidemic), receding to social media and online television series for their sense of belonging and connection. On the other hand, technology has the potential to strengthen the co-living experience through services, tools and apps that facilitate many elements of co-living including communication, onboarding, sustainability, bookings, rental payments and so much more. Technology in this sense is adding value to the co-living experience by facilitating a holistic lifestyle that integrates all aspects of people’s lives through these different services and tools.

Guillaume De Jenlis, the Services Research Forum Coordinator of PUREHOUSE LAB, identifies two main uses of technology in co-living spaces:

  • “Finding the best suited co-living spaces:  A couple websites are referencing co-living spaces and coliving.com has done a great job to help you find and book a space. If you are traveling to a new city and want to meet people or you are in need of an accommodation for a couple months, you will find a space where you can find people like you.
  • Co-living management: Book a space, send and collect billing, chat with neighbors, share a bike (or a car) with your community, create events, etc… I believe all co-living spaces will need to rely on technology to manage their day to day logistics and bring communication inside their communities”.

As noted, some of the ways in which co-living spaces are using technology is focused on onboarding and marketing, for example some spaces use 360 virtual reality tours (such as Common’s 3D Showcase tours). 5Lmeet in Beijing has a similar 360 virtual reality tour, but also has an in-house app called Joyrun, that guests use to book co-working desks, enter their individual apartments, access communal areas and the kitchens. As a well-connected building with many IOT technologies, 5Lmeet also uses facial recognition systems to allow guests to enter their rooms.

HomeMaker, A mobile app that links co-living communities with housing seekers and allows people to form their own communities (Source: Miranda Kay)

Messaging apps such as WhatsApp and private Facebook groups are also very commonly used for group communication amongst residents within different co-living spaces. These are used to organize events, outings, share rides, food and ideas, express complaints and concerns and as general means of communication between residents. One our members Al Jeffrey, who is the founder of Base Commons in Melbourne, says that co-living spaces need to be“making sure there is a platform (digital or otherwise) that is the ‘interactive connective tissue’ of the community and allows members to self-organize”.  However, the use of too many apps or websites for communicating may end up being overwhelming and confuse residents as to where the most important information is being posted, so most co-living operators go with what is usually being used by members already, which is usually WhatsApp, Slack and Facebook.

 

Developing apps and technologies specifically for co-living spaces

Alongside existing apps and technologies, there is also a potential for developing in-house apps similar to 5Lmeet’s Joyrun. However, our Services Research Forum Coordinator argues that there is also a strong case for developing white label apps over in-house apps:

“I think there is a much bigger potential with white label apps. If you look at the co-working industry, most spaces are building apps based on a framework. It helps reduce the development cost and build new features faster as costs are shared with other spaces using the app. You are still able to customize your app layout and the features you want to use”.

With PUREHOUSE LAB members, Guillaume is working on developing a white-labeled app so that co-living spaces can have the right tools to manage their community; this white label app could potentially help spaces with marketing (showcase spaces, qualify tenants, book appointments), space management (rent collection, group messaging, maintenance service requests) and community management (tenant portal, events, neighborhood interaction). The idea is that co-living spaces could customize this app according to the size of their community and their branding techniques.

 

The potential of open source technologies and decentralized platforms for co-living management

Open source technologies such as GitHub have a huge potential for sharing best practices and insights amongst co-living spaces around the world. For Example, EdgeRyders – a group of entrepreneurs and innovators who work with the UNDP and the Council of Europe to research new technologies and millennial culture – have a large GitHub network that emerged after their unMonastery collaborative shared living experience in Matera, Italy ended. According to their unMonastery GitHub website, they use this technology for knowledge sharing and organizational management:

“As a decentralized membership steered organization, we needed a criteria for inclusion. We settled upon a membership ‘fee’ of 100 hours of unpaid unMonastery labour as the marker for meaningful commitment, and─we sent out an invite to all those that had contributed this level of time to the initiative up until then. Now, finally back on track, this organizational document should outline how we anticipate the organizational structure will work in practice as both a membership base, organization forum and commitment management account.”

Cobudget, a tool for collaborative financing (Source: Cobudget)

In regards to co-living management, tools like GitHub can be used as a measurement tool to track commitment and contributions, as a way to organize holocractic governance and to share and develop new ideas and practices. Other disruptive technologies such as the Blockchain also have an enormous potential to be integrated into the co-living sector through multiple angles, such as through rental payments, insurance provisions, medical assistance and group voting techniques. According to a sharing platform called the Coliving Club, blockchain technology also has the potential to disrupt the real estate sector, ultimately facilitating the development of shared living spaces:

“Some of the issues in buying and selling real estate are bureaucracy, lack of transparency, fraud, and mistakes in public records. Using blockchain technology can speed up transactions by reducing the need for paper-based record keeping. It can also help with tracking, verifying ownership, ensuring accuracy of documents, and transferring property deeds”.

For example, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) blockchain platforms such as Ubitquity help increase transparency in real estate deals by inputting property information and record documents directly onto the blockchain with secure recording and tracking methods. At the moment the use of these decentralized platforms is ripe with potential, and these technologies can catalyze the co-living movement into a leader of real estate, tech and social entrepreneurship sectors.

The co-living sector can be grateful for these technological innovations; in a way, technology has facilitated the emergence of the sector by creating a need for physical interaction and connection and at the same time the potential for integrating IOT and decentralized technologies into co-living spaces and management is strong. PUREHOUSE LAB is working to connect thought leaders in these different sectors to one another in order to develop these technologies for the co-living sector, and we are aiming to facilitate the creation of disruptive platforms for governance, finance, management and communication for shared living spaces.

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