The credit system being developed by companies such as ofo is going to have an impact on user behavior way beyond how well they treat the bikes. This user behavior, in turn, is going to have an impact on how cities themselves develop, said ofo co-founder Austin Zhang speaking at TechCrunch Shenzhen.

In the session “How does the sharing economy push the development of the credit city?”, Austin described how users’ treatment of an ofo bike could lead to trouble buying a house and how credit ratings will eventually link to create a ‘credit city’.

ofo co-founder Austin Zhang
ofo co-founder Austin Zhang

“When I go abroad I don’t usually stay in hotels, but Airbnb,” said Austin, “Why do people stay in strangers’ houses? Why do people dare let strangers stay in their houses? There’s a mutual trust, like when you hail a Didi driver you can see his rating.”

Companies have started following user history to create rudimentary credit scores, but it’s not very sophisticated or useful, according to Austin: “We now need a better way to quantify credit. One is to use credit to avoid paying a deposit and the other is to work with Sesame Credit [Ant Financial’s credit scoring scheme]. In Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Guangzhou, if you’ve got a Sesame Credit rating of over 650, you don’t need to put down a deposit which makes it much easier. We see this is a phase we need to go through to get to bike sharing 2.0.

“In terms of the development of future ‘credit cities’ user behavior won’t just affect one’s use of bike sharing, but will have an impact on things like shopping, consumption, and education – they’ll all be hooked onto the credit system,” Austin said. “So misusing a bike might not just mean problems next time you want to use a bike, but when you want to buy a house or get an education.”

While ofo might be cooperating with Sesame credit, they’re not sharing data with other bike companies. “The thing about sharing user credit rating data with other [bike share companies] is that the way they evaluated credit ratings are different, so what we can do is pass on the data to research agencies for them to pick out trends,” Austin clarified after the talk.

Austin Zhang being interviewed on stage by TechNode founder Lu Gang
Austin Zhang interviewed on stage by TechNode founder Lu Gang

Along with creating a credit back-end for city living, the data from ofo users could actually start to change cities themselves. “Cities have been designed around cars but they’re completely blocked up, leading to city ills such as air pollution, but in terms of city planning and bicycle use, no one has done a proper study and there hasn’t been enough data. We’re now generating data from 10 million rides a day in China.”

Data can be used for formal city planning, for simple things such as deciding the width of roads, but as Austin told TechNode, bike usage and the data generated can inform business owners large and small in making business decisions: “What we’ve seen in a city like Beijing is that people are getting on bikes to go and explore areas, for example inside the Second Ring in Beijing. Places that you can’t really get to by car – the roads are too narrow, nowhere to park – but in this new era where people are getting into new areas, we’re going to see a shift in consumption. Businesses such as cafes and shops can open up based on where people are going, such as in the hutongs.”

Beyond credit and city development, Austin talked about ofo’s early days as a C2C bike sharing scheme and realizing they’d have to switch to B2C and that since then the focus has been on the product and user experience. “Investment is all going into the the product. You have to look at products in terms of user experience, what will make the bikes better for riders [to the extent that] we’re becoming a user experience company.”

Austin Zhang answering questions backstage
Austin Zhang answering questions backstage (Image credit: TechNode)

“The speed of the development of travel is breakneck. We’re seeing drones, flying cars – and so for public transport, we’re going to see even bigger changes and we’re going to keep exploring,” he said”

While Austin remained grounded by the need to keep improving the product otherwise without users there is not point in grand visions, but admitted: “We want to unlock every corner of the world, leave no part unknown. In the future we want to be the the most influential platform in the world for getting about.”

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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