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Loosecubes: Airbnb for office space

Find an open desk, or rent one out, with this office-sharing service.

I'm not sure if Loosecubes is a clever commercial real estate play or a dating service for geeks.

In a nutshell, it's Airbnb for office space. If you're traveling and need a professional space to get some work done, you can book a desk from a Loosecubes user (a "host") who has open space. But more than just putting working butts in chairs, Loosecubes founder Campbell McKellar designed the service to put people in offices where they'll feel happy and inspired.

She wants no boring, hushed, corporate rent-a-box offices for Loosecubes. "We focus on inspiring office spaces," McKellar told me. And also on connecting compatible workers. Loosecubes makes use of Facebook to connect people together. Why not LinkedIn, the network for professional relationships? Because, McKellar says, "I'd rather work about people I'm friends with, or friends of friends."

Still, it is an open marketplace, and there are plenty of standard professional suites on the service (with standard day-rate prices to match). There are also some unusual arrangements, like a New York home office space with very low rent--provided you take the owner's dogs for a mid-day walk.

But Loosecubes' premier listings are those put up by the hip owners of cool start-ups. If you're nursing a start-up or creative project, and you can't get work done at the house you've found on Airbnb or CouchSurfing when you're traveling, Loosecubes may have a good place for you to park. McKellar says Loosecubes today has 1,464 spaces available in 323 cities around the world.

Got a spare desk? Need one? Loosecubes has listings from hip lofts to square rent-a-suites. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Likewise, it looks like a good service for growing companies that haven't yet filled their empty desks with employees. The risk of putting a space on the service seems low: hosts can approve applicants, or not. If you have a few open desks in your liberal think-tank office, you can disapprove the desk request from the advance man for the Bachmann campaign. Instead, you can get a stream of like-minded people coming through your office, providing healthy but manageable injections of alien culture to your usual routine.

More importantly, you can charge rent and offset some of your own office costs a bit. McKellar says Loosecubes will eventually, and naturally, take a cut of rental transactions, but it isn't yet.

While Loosecubes is designed to foster co-working relationships, it is, as I said, also being used to rent out vacant spaces. I'm curious to see if people with in-law apartments who don't want to play innkeeper will turn to Loosecubes instead to try to generate some cashflow by renting their unused rooms as office space (although I would predict problems due to local zoning regulations).

There are several office and co-work rental services (see DeskWanted, LiquidSpace, and ShareYourOffice), but Loosecubes appears to be differentiating through its vibe. As the site grows, I'm not sure that vibe is going to be maintainable, or if, instead, standard rent-a-suite companies will overwhelm the site with standard, vacant office listings, overshadowing the smaller number of inhabited uber-hip lofts and warehouse spaces with a few extra desks. Regardless, it looks like a good place to shop for a temporary workspace, or to list one as available.