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January 9, 2017

Language model shows most popular words by neighborhood in Airbnb ads

Local data geek Alex Manning, an engineer who formerly worked on missile defense systems at Raytheon, recently designed a site that models how Airbnb hosts describe San Francisco, dubbed AirDnG (for “data and graphics”).

AirDnG gathers listing info from Inside Airbnb, an Airbnb data aggregating site that updates a city’s Airbnb profile every few months, then crunches which words are used the most often in every neighborhood.

Here are some of the most-often used phrases for the city’s most noteworthy neighborhoods, in order of frequency:

  • Bayview: Downtown, Backyard, Views, T, Muni, Garden
  • Bernal Heights: The Mission, Restaurants, Deck, Walk, Victorian
  • Castro: The Mission, Restaurants, Walk, Quiet, Downtown
  • Chinatown: Union Square, Walk, Resort, Downtown, Historic
  • Haight: Golden Gate Park, Restaurants, Victorian, New, Haightashbury [sic]
  • The Mission: Restaurants, BART, Heart, Bars, Coffee
  • Nob Hill: Cable Car, Walk, Union Square, Beautiful, Cathedral
  • North Beach: Telegraph, Restaurants, Coit Tower, Chinatown, Encourages
  • Pac Heights: Fillmore, Great, Shops, Victorian, Coffee
  • Potrero Hill: Parking, Views, Downtown, Quiet, Modern
  • Russian Hill: Views, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, Lombard, Alcatraz
  • SoMa: Center, Muni, Heart, Moscone, Gym

As Manning points out via Reddit, what’s most interesting about this data are the words people choose not to use. Certain key phrases and descriptives, ones locals would consider critical to a neighborhood’s character, rarely appear.

For example, Chinatown’s profile overwhelmingly uses terms like “size,” “studio,” and “cozy,” but not words that might describe the neighborhood’s history, culture, or landmarks.

Words like “Victorian,” “bars,” and, mysteriously, “heart” make up the lexicon for the Castro, but there’s comparatively fewer mentions of words like “gay,” “LGBT,” or “queer.”

A lot of people are dropping the word “heart” around here. A lot.
Maria Keays

Notice that the word “apartment” appears four times as often as the word “Victorian” in Pac Heights listings.

Of course, more apartments than Victorians are going to land on Airbnb. But this tells us that most STRs in the neighborhood aren’t bothering to advertise their proximity to some of the city’s most beautiful historic architecture.

But Manning tells Curbed SF that when he uses Airbnb (he’s a frequent customer) he finds hosts very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their neighborhoods.

Just for some reason that rarely shows up in listings.

“My friend jokes that it’s like OKCupid,” says Manning. “Everyone has the same profile.”

He adds that key words like “gay” for the Castro do show up. Just not as often as more generic phrases.

In fairness, STR hosts are presumably calibrating their ads toward what works; they’re here to rent rooms, not be culture liaisons.

Still, it’s startling that in a city full of vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, so many of them are advertised to sound the same.

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