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The beginning of the end of CS 2.0

“It just feels bad to be asked for help and promised something in return by the captain after he set the boat on a riff and than when the ship is running being told: ‘What do you want here? This is the captains lounge. I’ve hired professional help now. You are just a stupid little member. Now stop whining, go down to where the swimming pools are and have fun.’ ” – Torsten (from the Brainstorm group).

As someone who was present in Montreal during the week of the crash, I can add some detail to the Captain’s behavior in those days.

We have been told that the particular combination of events leading to the crash (“The Triple Storm”) was highly unlikely, but even if accurate this excuse for the disaster obscures the fact that the organization’s extreme dependency on Casey in the technical area was a great vulnerability to the organization, and a disaster waiting to happen.

I believe this dependency was not due to the lack of willing, trustworthy and qualified members to spread the responsibility among (and thus provide redundancy and checks and balances), but to Casey’s intention to maintain control of the website and thus, in part, I strongly suspect, justify his privileged (and salaried) position. i.e., If others were doing all the work Casey was doing voluntarily, then it would be harder to justify being the only salaried member of the organization.

If the major crash was unavoidable (we’ll never know for sure), certainly many of the chronic server problems since then, that at times put members traveling in foreign countries at greater risk, were really a direct result of Casey’s policy.

A few days after the crash, Casey terminated the Couchsurfing Project. He did not discuss this with any of the members at Montreal that I talked with: people who had traveled from great distances at their own expense and on their vacation time to answer the call for community participation. It was as though in Casey’s mind, CS was the website and with the website gone (in his opinion) there was no CS.

But most of us there understood that CS was not a website but a community. The Community still existed and needed to come together for each other more than ever. Especially, there were members out on the road, traveling in foreign countries, using the website to make contacts with hosts as they went, many on a low budget who couldn’t afford to just start staying in hotels. It was the beginning of summer, and many others had made vacation plans based on CS. These people needed our help and support. Casey abandoned them.

I was stunned by Casey’s behavior. Not knowing him, I just assumed that there must be factors I did not know of, and gave him the benefit of doubt.

There was a leadership vacuum immediately following the termination, as Casey was absent for much of the time. Members were dazed and directionless, wondering if they should just go home. I organized some meetings, as did Heather. I proposed that the first order of business was to take care of the members. I suggested that we set up message boards on some free site so that members could at least communicate with each other. All agreed and we got to work right away.

Once we were set up, there was only one problem: how to let members know about the message boards? We knew that the home page of was still working. So all we needed was an announcement with a link to the message boards put on it. It took about a day to find Casey and get him to put the link in place. No one else could do it because Casey was the only one with the password to the servers.

The next order of business was to get the website back up. While Casey was still out of the picture, we made a group decision to bring back CS any way possible, however long it took. This was the true beginning of CS 2.0.

We knew that the software was not lost, only the data (i.e., members personal information and friendship links). So, the website could be restarted quickly, but members would have to re-register and re-establish their friendships. If this was the only obstacle, I could not understand why Casey would shut down the organization, unless perhaps, he was burnt out and just wanted to be done with it.

One thing very crucial here is that Casey did not offer the community access to the software. We could have quickly (in a matter of a couple weeks at most, which is how long it took anyway to restart the site with salvaged data) brought the site without the data. There was a tremendous, self-organized offering of support from programmers all over the world. They even formed themselves into teams and began extracting member data from Google’s caches. This was the community I was proud to belonged to and wanted to support.

It was clear that Casey considered the software to be his own property, not the property of the community, and he was not willing to just give it to us. The Captain had abandoned the ship and took the steering wheel with him, being willing to let the ship sink rather than give up control and let others save the ship.

In this crucial meeting, I personally committed to take the responsibility to rebuild the website myself, if necessary, but was sure many would help in the effort. I would have done it free of charge and claim no ownership of it. Also, I would have always been accountable to the community, and followed their guidance and stepped down if they asked me to. But I was a new member, and did not have a reputation within CS. Heather, who was an Admin, argued that “we have to get Casey back on board”. She held sway. I did not know at the time that she was romantically involved with Casey (or so I have been told), as this was kept discreet.

Over the next few days, pleas were made with Casey to come back, led by Heather, although, at least, the group insisted that the new CS must be different from the old, and that there should be much more emphasis on member participation. Casey agreed to this. In Heather’s word’s: “CS should not be about just one person”. Heather even expressed that the crash was a blessing in disguise, and urged that the recovery be delayed if necessary to ensure that fundamental changes were made and that CS did not just return to business as usual.

Casey tentatively agreed to explore the possibility of reviving CS, and when he began to have success recovering the data, resumed control over the project. I was relieved at the time, because Casey’s return meant that I could go on the vacation I had planned. But now I realized that those few days were the one chance for CS to become a truly community-based self-governing organization. The seeds of the demise of CS 2.0 were planted almost as soon as it began.


Rewriting history – Replacing “us vs. them” with “those, who hate CS”?

When the OpenCS campaigns were published, the Leadership Circle had to face the fact, that ignorance wasn’t working this time. While some “followers of the true Couchsurfing spirit” (i. e. Mikky, Donna, Naz) were doing the dirt work of insulting the main protagonist of OpenCS in public, the Leadership Circle constructed an “us vs. them” legend, give some marketing bloats to the users and tried to avoid every real communication. The result was the resign of many volunteers. Surprisingly more than the Leadership Circle expected.

OpenCS became a lost cause and as a result the campaigners themselves failt to fullfill their own requirements. It was never meant as a clear frontline against someone, but more or less the “discussions” end up in the “us vs. them” logic. The Leadership Circle strategy of keeping more or less quiet and as a result lacking a place for a discussion makes it worse: users at brainstorm began to feel annoyed about the same issues again and again in nearly every thread. In the meantime, forced by deeply personal disappointments, injuries and feeling betrayed, the reference war started. But leaving each other negative references not only symbolized the edge between “us” and “them” very well, it was also bad PR for OpenCS at all, even if the Leadership Circle answered in the same way (and Casey himself started to remove friendlinks).

Then things began to change again: Kasper – listening to the advice of others – made the brave step to remove the bad references (something I could not appreciate enough). This – supported by some apologies – changed the situation at brainstorm a bit. Additionally some new people at brainstorm have begun to ask questions. With the same result as ever: not much answers, even if this is from time to time hidden behind a lot of words. But the tone is different this time:
no more “us vs. them”, what means at least a form of dispute, no, now some people are adressed as “those few who hate CS”.

Who is that? A small group planning to destroy CS out of pure hate against CS as such? More conspiracy theories, please! Do I hate CS? Don’t expect me to answer this question, but maybe I should create a group “those who _really_ hate CS” (no worries: I won’t do it really. Like the “Goovy is an arsehole and we know it”-group). Seems all in all more a reason to laugh out loud than to worry. But the problem is: The Leadership is rewriting history here. If there are no answers or alternatives, the ideas of OpenCS will disappear more or less completely. The “usual supects” will end up as couchterrorists, who tried to destroy the happyhappy couchsurfing family, but failed thanks to the good and visionary leaders.

I claim the right of my own history. Remember, this is the digital age: history written on paper rolls by winners only is history itself.

PS: Didn’t I mention “The little leninist’s cookbook” before? One very important task is to define the own opinion as a majority and every critics as a small minority. Don’t worry about real numbers, it’s just important to say so. A perfect historical example about this can be found with the keywords Menshevik (from russian the Russian word for minority) and Bolshevik (from russian the Russian word for majority).
PPS: Nonviolent communication is not a good concept for people who don’t understand (or don’t want to understand) that non-communication is probably one of the most violent forms of communication at all.

In retrospective

During all recent events I often thought about what must be going on in Casey’s head. He’s the one pulling the strings. Then I remembered an email I received from Casey Fenton, a long time ago, November 29, 2005 10:01 PM to be exactly.

Subject: Censorship in Hospitality Club / CS

Hi Kasper,

I was just sent a link to your page about HC censorship.
You said: “The thing that I find most revolting is that it, at least to
me at this point, seems such a closed process. Rules are somehow being
set up, and the 90000 members of HC are just to follow them.
CouchSurfing has actually the same problem, and I think it will be good
to address this.” I was wondering what the problem is that CS has that
you’re referring to? We always want to make sure that we’re doing
things right… and it there’s something we’re not doing right, please
let us know! If you need any questions answered, I’d be happy to answer

btw, love your photos… especially the one of those kids in Bamako and
the one of you on the beach with the guitar.


Which implies that Casey read about the ideas I have for hospitality exchange a long time before we actually met in Montreal. As Joe wrote: “Many aspects of CouchSurfing have been marred by these issues: (a) a tendency to do
things in the dark, (b) a tendency to tell people what they want to hear, and (c) a tendency to work *near* people, but not *with* them.”

Sometimes I feel sad, sometimes I feel bitter. But…

Life is still good, though I hope that some things will change. In my opionion there are several principles a free hospitality exchange network must follow:

  1. Open policies
    It should be clear what is going on. Policies and guidelines should be accessible by anyone.
  2. Democratic processes
    All people making part of the network should be able to take part in discussions.
  3. Open data
    People should be able to “take” their own data in a portable, open format onto their computer, into their phone. It should be possible to give permission to others (based on a trust level) to copy part of one’s information. Similar to ideas implemented in Indyvoter (
  4. Free software
    Like Wikipedia, hospitality exchange networks should be based on free software. This will attract more programmers, open up new possibilities (like integrating electronic authentification and encryption ( or efficient access on portable devices (, extending it into a getting-car-rides system where drivers and hitchhikers can get in touch using GPS…).