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Archive for the 'Member Rights' Category

Casey attempts to sell Groups posts to Google, members protest en masse

If he was any more blatantly deceitful, we’d have to call him Zuckerberg! Step right up trusting travelers, and watch how Casey Fenton attempts to sell all your old (and current, and future) Groups posts for profit!

And if not for cash, then surely for the added marketing value (worth real money, and lots of it), to allow Google and every other web site and search engine to add what you thought you were sharing with only fellow CS-members, to their fully public, permanent record that is the global internet.

All the personal trip and traveler feedback you thought you were sharing only with other CS members? Sorry, surprise, now everything you posted on CS is part of the public record, forever. And, perfectly searchable.

I realize Casey’s announcement(s) have mostly to do with Groups posts, but isn’t he trying to put into place the exact same kind of exposure and sale of all your information, including your profile? Your profile picture? Isn’t he playing the exact same kind of despicable game that Zuckerberg plays?

Make no mistake about what Casey is attempting to do, exactly like Zuckerberg/Facebook – blatantly deceive you, to gain your trust and persuade you to add to his mountainous pile of traveler feedback, then once he has your trust (and your posts and personal information) he sells everyone’s posted information to enrich himself, personally.

This has been his goal since the inception of the entire CS project, he just didn’t have any buyers yet. Until now. Until Facebook became the story to copy. Until he invested considerable effort in building the largest list of users he could accumulate, to ensure the biggest pay-day he could arrange for himself.

I’ve noticed that despite several fundamental issues which members have complained about for literally years, that are never even acknowledged… in all this time, the most visible efforts seen from the inner circle and their hiring decisions, seemed to always be about PR (public relations), suppressing the publication of complaints, outright denial of reality, and spreading the gospel. To grow the list of users. To fatten the calf before the slaughter.

In classic Cult-of-Casey style, he sells you out without a warning or your consent, but when the backlash proves substantial and it turns out that people don’t want any part of what Casey’s selling, he tries to spin his scheme as something that he only intended in the best of ways, something to help you!

I don’t know which kind of people I despise more strongly – users, or liars. Let alone a career scam-artist highly skilled in both exploiting and lying to people. But the recent investors want the maximum return on their investment, so just as others have predicted… let the sale (of information you donated in good faith) begin!
Fresh email from HQ, just received, sent to all CS “members.” Stare into the face of pure exploitation and bald-faced lies:

“We’ve heard you: Change to plans regarding groups”
Dear CouchSurfers,

Last week, we sent an email in which we announced our plan to make CS groups available to search. We made this decision because the team had received member complaints that some newer members of the site didn’t seem to be joining for the right reasons. We thought that allowing people to see more of what CS is about before they join might help address this problem.

The members disagreed! We’ve heard from hundreds of people who are very opposed to this approach. I’m very sorry to have caused so much distress. It’s clear that this is something that members care deeply about, and I respect the need to approach it differently.

We have made two major changes to our plan:

Group posts created in the past will not be available to search. The only posts that will be visible to search engines will be those created after February 15, 2012. This will protect the privacy of any members who no longer use the site and may not be aware of the changes.

All members will have the option to keep all of their posts hidden from search and from non-members. Just as we currently allow you to keep your profile hidden from anyone who is not logged in, we are now building another privacy option that will allow you to easily specify that your group posts should not be visible to search engines or people who are not logged in. This privacy option will apply to all of your posts, both past and future.

These two factors combined mean that the only posts that will be visible to search will be those made in the future by people who choose not to make their participation in groups private.

I sincerely hope that this approach will protect the privacy needs of all CouchSurfing members while also giving people who are considering joining CS an accurate impression of who we are – a community, not a place to find a free place to crash.

If you still have concerns about this, I invite you to email me at and share your thoughts. The team makes all of its decisions with the intention of making CS better for its members. It seems that this time the change we wanted to make would actually have made it worse, and for that I’m sincerely sorry. I’m glad that you responded with your concerns: your reactions helped us see various sides of the issue that we had not considered. I know that CS groups are considered to be a safe and comfortable place to express yourself fully, and I would never want that to change.

Thank you for your patience and for your passion,

Casey Fenton
Co-Founder, CouchSurfing International

A plan for dramitic change and its already started.

Hi people.

I have not come here to talk about CS history and its negativity, this site stands as testimony to that and needs little added to it. I have come here to talk about a plan for the future and its abundant potential positivity for the community. If you are interested in the community and finding solutions to the problems it faces, then this project is for you.

Most of us are naturally positive, altruistic and open, it is our nature as humans. Many of us normally chilled people have become incensed and even outraged, at the state of the organisation at the heart of our community, its actions or lack of them and the dubious legal positions that leaves them and us in. This is a bad situation that we have all been painfully aware for far too long and that must change. Now is the time to make that change! Are you ready?

The plan is to create a new site and organisation (Couch Surfing Community org) that will initially supplement and CSI, filling their numerous gaps. Our belief, is that we have many times more resources, than is needed, within the community, to form a totally fresh organisation, owned and run by the community and for the community, open and accountable to the community. With the establishment of this additional organisation for the community, we expect it to grow and move forward, benefiting the community in countless positive ways, with the desired outcome of advancing way beyond CSI, making it mostly irrelevant or even taking it to the point of replacing CSI entirely.

The key is this plan is in its community ownership and community involvement. We are currently investigating how best to legally bind this project, it’s organisation, website(s), etc to the member base. (If you can assist with this then please get involved now) We feel that from this base we can build an organisation and website, that dose the community justice and facilitates the community to do the many good and positive things, that have long been desired.

A few of us techies have made a start. This is a quick and effective, off-the-shelf environment. It provides a free forum to collect, associate, focus, discuss and decide, the form of the project and the site it will create, the structure of the organisation and the projects it will work on.

We have successfully collectively collaborated to produce a great deal of talk on this site and elsewhere, this has taken a great deal of our time and energy. You are being asked now to spend a little time and energy to at least join this site and support the project and its mission, which you will shape. If you still have any passion for the community or a subset of it or even individual members, who have enriched your life, please join

If you have any skills or knowledge that you would like to contribute to this project then please email us

We are currently particularly looking for legal and organisational skills and knowledge to prevent the same legal and organisational bungles that the original bunch of techies made. Contributions made now to a successful project will probably be the most beneficial act you will ever make to help and support the cs community.

We are also calling on the wealth of technical skill out there, we know that there are numerous highly skilled individuals in our community, who have excellent skills and or ideas. If you are one of them and have a desire to help CSC move on from this technical and organisational hell, then please spare a few moment to join this project and any groups that take your fancy. There is a fair amount of work to do, building a new site and making the temporary site more useful, your community needs you now! Join Now! If you would like a free linux or windows server and sub domain for your country/city to get a local tech group going and work directly for your local community, as well as for the global one, then contact us, with a phone number and we can get you going in minutes.

Legal, organisational and technical are not the only skills we need. Communication is an important part of any endeavor. As the current members are techies, who are not built to produce nice texts, we could do with a copy editor or two. If you have a passion for communicating and CS then again please email us

If you are willing to actively contribute to any area of this project, then please email us directly Large and small contributions are all valid. Even if you only have a little time to spare, you contribution will still be valuable.

I’m known for using music to reinforce my posts. On this occasion i feel that there is only one song needed for this project…
Bob Marley – Rastaman Vibration(Positive Vibration)


Gods in the Vitrual world ,losers in the real world

Virtual Communities with virtual badges .

It sounds like the game of army which kids play .

“We are the general’s (LT) you are the soldiers(ambassadors) you need to protect the our turf (the world).”

Ambassadors are CouchSurfing members who have applied for a special role within our community. The role of the Ambassadors is to be of service to CouchSurfing members and to be of service to the global community.

These are individuals to whom you wont n give a second glance . Either they are normal noobs or low down losers who have messed up lives.

So what we have is a game of army .Where the kids form virtual hierarchies LT, Global ambassador,Country ambassadors,United Nations , President of the US of A.

The games is still not old as people still love those virtual badges. Though we see the playground fist fights all the time . The supporters of the generals ie the playground bullies ULF and the new kids on the block trent collins (stating those mark his turf).And the other kids who still want to play the game and some calling out “NO FAIR !”

But this game is taken to another level .Where the kids who play General take away the lunch money of the other kids and have fun with it. The bullies show the other kids they cant get their money back and have to still play ball.

Now the kids playing general need to justify to the other kids why they are eating ice cream with the other kids money.The kids on top have to be smarter than the other kids and think fast. So they come up with “we are holding a collective to make the world a better place for you and me “. The other kids buy the story .

The lunch money is gone!! The local communities are poorer with out those funds which could have set up local center all over the world. But as control of turf is essential to the well-being of the gang this will never happen.

Researchers agree that most gangs share certain characteristics. Although there are exceptions, gangs tend to develop along racial and ethnic lines, and are typically 90 percent male . Gang members often display

their membership through distinctive styles of dress ,symbols –their “colors”–and through specific activities and patterns of behavior. In addition, gangs almost universally show strong loyalty to their neighborhood, but the primary attraction of gangs is their ability to respond to needs that are not otherwise being met gang membership gives youth a sense of belonging and becomes a major source of identity for its members. In turn,gang membership affords youth a sense of power and control, and gang activities become an outlet the control of turf is essential to the well-being of the gang, which often will use pressure tactice to control both its territory and members (NDA).

Cease and desist à la CouchSurfing

I’m still reading Brainstorm group at times (too much in fact, should just wait and see what happens). I’ve managed to restrain from replying (well, somewhat) as I feel I really don’t feel like getting angry yet again. But sometimes there’s just no helping a reaction.

This post quotes the complete gag order (I don’t feel comfortable quoting the rest right now, maybe they’ll throw a infringement of copyrights on me ;) :

“CouchSurfing’s new policy is to end all correspondence and immediately suspend the account of any member who notifies CouchSurfing of an intent to pursue a legal action. This policy is for the protection of CouchSurfing members.”

My reply:
“So the options are
a) just take it and shut up about standing up for your legal rights (can CS *really* ditch the laws of every other country except for the US for all eternity?)

b) NOT tell CS if you are going to take legal action – isn’t it more protective of the members to at least give a fair warning before said action takes place?

IF I didn’t know how crooked some of the stuff is and has been at times (not saying all of it, and everyone of the leadership team / whoever in charge all the time), this just tops it.

So let’s get this straight: I’ve in fact donated time and money (multiple times) to an organization that will NOT give half a thought about protecting its members’ legal rights internationally, in the form of not being in any way responsive to any kinds of inquiries (considered threats in here in any way you state them I assume) of getting them enforced? Am I getting it right?”

Trust issues

Let’s take a step back and look at what hospitality services like Couchsurfing are really about. It is pretty obvious that almost all of the real-life activity associated with CS (hosting, being a guest, organising and attending meetings, collectives, etc) all require one simple thing from all participants: mutual trust. The content of profiles and of course especially the references (and vouches) are very much designed towards determining trust. Perhaps actually more a trust network than a travel network?

Yesterday, I loaned two American girls a key to my house. I had met them about 30 minutes before that. They followed me home from the train station, happily handing over parts of their luggage to relieve their own back. None of us asked for passports, identification, or anything. They are 19 years old. If you would try to explain this to an average person, they’d probably declare us nuts, but they would be mistaken. It is pure and simple “trust by default” and an extremely refreshing feeling considering the world we live in.

Oddly enough, it appears that for the organisation of Couchsurfing, this basic principle of trusting each other has been completely turned on its head. Of course, the most obvious and glaring distrust is between people in the leadership team and anyone critical of them. We have come to the point that practically any statement critical of the leaders results in the commenter being filed under the “haters” category, which can only happen if CS leaders like Jim Stone or Matthew Brauer distrust any interested volunteers by default. Worse, they have taken actions in return that can only be interpreted as defensive (moving of threats on forums, taking away rights on the Wiki, etc etc).

If you look at the organisational structure of Couchsurfing, you will notice that “distrust by default” is present everywhere. You cannot become ambassador if the already established ambassadors don’t explicitly trust you and it is very obvious they have a very different standard for that than they would as CS hosts. Worse still, you can’t ever become an admin or a leader if Casey doesn’t trust you personally and his criteria are, to say the least, murky. What do Jim and Matthew have in common which makes them elligable for this top position?

  1. A long term relationship with Casey.
  2. Americans.
  3. A fondness for partying hard*. (Burning man, etc.)

*This is something we hardly ever talk about, but common knowledge for anyone who’s been to a collective. It’s one of those unspoken truths that everyone seems to avoid on OCS, because it can easily be interpreted as a personal attack. To be clear: I’m not making moral judgements here about how they spend their free time (hey, go nuts!), but it does worry me that the organisational top is held together by this. However juicy the rest of the gossip is, I’m happy it doesn’t appear here.

Perhaps, and this is speculation of course, this situation has to do with some fundamental aspect of Casey’s psyche. If anything, the structure of CS is a reflection of his personality. And aren’t Jim and Matthew merely “channeling” Casey’s fundamental distrust, while of course taking it a bit further than Casey ever did? The fact that Casey started a trust network doesn’t have to be a contradiction to this, it could easily be an overcompensation on his part.

I don’t expect Casey to suddenly see the light and invite “us” into his castle. This would require an almost superhuman effort. But, something will happen eventually. Maybe something or someone will “break” eventually. (Casey has quit the project before, he might do it again.) Maybe people will drift off in separate directions.

The only thing I can hope for is that – somewhere in the future – the Couchsurfing organisation will reflect the one thing that it’s members rely on every day: trust.

Have a great weekend. Thomas

Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web

Besides the couchsurfers who care about the openness of our precious not so little network, the call for open social networks is getting louder and louder. On CS it might be flogging dead horses but our experiences will strengthen other hospitality exchange networks (and our presence will attract the right people to the right networks).

I’m sure that anyone who supports OpenCouchSurfing will support the Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web:

We publicly assert that all users of the social web are entitled to certain fundamental rights, specifically:

  • Ownership of their own personal information, including:
    • their own profile data
    • the list of people they are connected to
    • the activity stream of content they create;
  • Control of whether and how such personal information is shared with others; and
  • Freedom to grant persistent access to their personal information to trusted external sites.

Sites supporting these rights shall:

  • Allow their users to syndicate their own profile data, their friends list, and the data that’s shared with them via the service, using a persistent URL or API token and open data formats;
  • Allow their users to syndicate their own stream of activity outside the site;
  • Allow their users to link from their profile pages to external identifiers in a public way; and
  • Allow their users to discover who else they know is also on their site, using the same external identifiers made available for lookup within the service.

Authored by Joseph Smarr, Marc Canter, Robert Scoble, and Michael Arrington, September 4, 2007

Looking from the rapid spread of this bill of rights, I dare to say, that we’re not alone, by far not alone.

Volunteer coordinator handling a serious privacy issue – or not?

bentivogli found out about a serious privacy issue in the CouchSurfing system. He reported it on August 10th. Apparently anyone on the internet can see who is interested in who on CS. And password resets. Here’s an (anonymized) excerpt:

* D did interesting_user to D (20070816070640)
* P did interesting_user to I (20070816070517)
* G did interesting_user to G (20070816070453)
* S did interesting_user to E (20070816070117)
* c did interesting_user to c (20070816070104)
* B did password reset to B (20070816065925)
* M did interesting_user to T (20070816065628)
* M did interesting_user to L (20070816065410)
* T did interesting_user to COUCHSURFING SYSTEM (20070816065307)

(Note that people find themselves very interesting.)

The CouchSurfing volunteer coordinator (2000 US$/month), who should be able to fix this in 10 minutes, respond on August 15th:

Basically, I’d need to do what you should have done and go post it myself in the bug tracker. That’s not really efficient for anyone. Also, since only one other person has bothered on discussing this it’s not likely to be changed. I’d suggest to wait and see if anyone else supports this idea and go from there. I don’t personally see a problem with it, myself.

I’m sure that the CS VC doesn’t see a problem, since he can read the messages of all CouchSurfers, so he’s not very used to people fathoming their privacy. But I’m sure his attitude will lead to herds of new volunteers posting stuff in the bug tracker, or removing spam on the CouchSurfing wiki. Yay for efficiency for anyone!

Deconstructing the Leadership Circle

Wow. Within a week of launching OpenCouchSurfing, we’ve seen an immediate upgrade to the CS DB (resulting in the site being down for 18 hours). They (*) have announced upgrading the webservers as well (to reduce the current security risks). The “Leadership Team” has finally been made official. Now, some of these things have been announced before (the DB upgrade and Leadership circle), but it seems like to much of a coïncidence that all this happens in one week. So, this effort seems to have good and positive effects which strengthens us to continue to improve things.

What I wanted to talk about is the Leadership Team. At first view, it seems like it is indeed a step in the right directon. At second view it actually makes matters worse and formalizes the closed culture of CS. Let’s have a look, shall we? The most important sections to pay attention to:

  1. To become a new member of the leadership team (after May 2007), a volunteer must have been an ambassador in good standing for at least one year.
  2. To become a new member of the leadership team (after May 2007), a volunteer must be approved by consensus (unanimously) by existing leaders.
  3. [For a leader to remain active, he/she must] produce a biannual departmental progress report and goals for the coming semester.
  4. Ambassadors may officially censure any one or more leaders. Censure requires:
    - a petition of specific grievances endorsed by a simple majority of ambassadors
    - the leaders to immediately make a public statement regarding the planned course of action to correct the grievances.

What does this mean in practice? A boys club. You are not allowed in unless you are in good standing with the Leadership group, because they hold each and every means to allow or disallow you. Dissenting ambassadors are explicitely discouraged from even trying to apply (“in good standing”), not that they could get in anyway. Oh, wait. There is no application process defined. Never mind. But there’s no official end to a Leadership position anyway, so we don’t actually need candidates. But hey! Ambassadors can censure a leader, right? Uhm. No. Leaders are only required to make a public statement regarding the “planned action” to address this. Case closed. There is no way in and no way to get anyone out. A proper way to do it would have been to let the ambassadors actually vote for their “leaders” every year or so, but I guess that is too threatening for the existing power structure. The current state of affairs is just outrageous.

Transparancy by biannual reports? This is not transparancy, this is PR. We need insight into the decision making process and there need to be tools in place to ensure accountability, not just promises of “focussing on the mission”. We don’t need binannual PR reports.

Funny intermezzo: Look at the Leadership Qualities page. Now have a look at the self-evaluation form for level B registered nurses. E.g. “Teamwork: Interacts effectively and builds respectful relationships among individuals and in teams” (leader) versus “Teamwork: Interacts effectively and builds respectful relationships within and between units and among individuals.” (nurse). Some requirements are copied almost verbatim. So, are we getting leaders or nurses? On a more serious note, this is indicative of the increasing use of marketing speak coming from the Leadership Circle. They’re not talking, they’re making announcements/press releases. This is no way to treat a community run by volunteers. And it doesn’t speak well for the effort put into this document that parts are just copied of the net, it definitely makes it seem like a rushed PR job.

What is all of this lacking?

  1. Real transparancy. Where is the agenda/meeting notes section for the Leadership Circle? Where is any serious timeframe for anything? Biannual? When? In 6 months? Tomorrow? These people have consistently shown an unwillingness to commit to any kind of deadline, which is plain bad leadership. Slipping deadlines? Fine, worst case for that is a bunch of angry people and a bit of stress. No deadline? Not acceptable.
  2. Real representation. Not another boys club system please.
  3. Where the hell is the new NDA? It was announced half a year before the Leadership Circle was even mentioned. It shows you where the priorities are. (Hint: Power, not your average volunteering developer)

Say no to the circle of level B nurses**. Write to them and demand direct representation, transparancy and accountability. Help us make CS more Open and Free.
*: There has been a lot of complaining about using “us vs. them” language, which is just annoying. Raise your hand if you don’t know who “they” are. You’ll know when you’re not part of “them”.
**: It’s called humor people.