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Round up

It is difficult to describe just how shocking the last 24 hours have been. The final result is pretty clear though: instead of taking any practical step towards Openness and Freedom, Couchsurfing has decided to take the path of a closed, protected, corporate-like structure.

A brief history:

  1. Sunday 6/May/2007: is launched after about 2 weeks of preparation. It was the result of months of uncertainty and dissatisfaction in the development group. First real reaction comes from Leo (who later turns out to not be a part of the “inner circle”. No “official” reaction.
  2. Wednesday 9/May/2007: The CS site goes down for 18 hours to upgrade the database. No warning to the tech team. Casey finally proposes to talk over the phone with me; on Sunday.
  3. Thursday 10/May/2007: Casey announces the Leadership Circle. Couchsurfing will be run by a self-appointed and closed group of (mostly) his personal friends.
  4. Friday 11/May/2007: Casey suddenly and unannounced decides to move the SVN server with all of the CS code, quoting “upgrades”. It stays offline until today and now everyone has to reapply for commit rights.
  5. Sunday 13/May/2007: I finally get to talk to Casey over the phone. He tells me he doesn’t want “politics” in Couchsurfing and clearly has no real-world knowledge or experience with code licensing. We agree to try and investigate two things together: a community code license of sorts and some form of elective experiment to determine a tech team “coordinator”. We agree to call again the next day. It gives me hope. (False hope as it turns out.)
  6. Monday 14/May/2007: Casey postpones the phone call by a day. He’s too busy communicating with others.
  7. Tuesday 15/May/2007: Everything seems to happen at once.
    • All day long, there is a flame-war (warning: long and ugly) between Naz (a completely new and unknown developer since 2 weeks) and Kasper on the developers mailing list. Naz is simply nasty and basically tells Kasper to take a hike. Chris Burley, our “tech team leader” does not step in at all.
    • I talk to Casey on the phone again. He basically states that he wants to split CS into a “staff” of sorts and “volunteers”. Ambassadors would be mere volunteers and developers would probably have to be split into people within and people outside of “the circle”. (I’ve now come to understand that they simply don’t want developers outside of the circle.)
    • Morgan Tocker resigns (see his Blog article).
    • Appearantly the long awaited NDA is now called “Volunteer Agreement” and is sent in secret to “core devs”, including John, Walter, Naz (who has been a developer for 2 weeks!) and Anu. Kasper, who has at least 1/3rd of the code commits to his name, is not included as a “core dev”. We learn all of this by accident. Chris Burley chats with both Kasper and me and tries to talk “off the record” with me, which I decline. We know it contains the following:
      - Automatic transfer of all intellectual property (=ideas) to CS.
      - A non-compete agreement, which basically states you can’t work on any travel or social network site simultaneously or 1 year after volunteering (working) for CS, profesionally or otherwise.
      - A complete gag order. You are not allowed to discuss anything “internal” with non-NDA people.
    • Kasper resigns.
    • Chris Burley offers me the Volunteer Agreement document, under the condition that I don’t talk about it. I decline. He tells me certain people might get “exceptions” to the NDA rules.
    • I quit.
    • After at least three people tell Chris that he should have stepped in with the Naztyness on the mailinglist, he finally does. The discussion is by that time already long over and done.

After that, there was a mixture of saying goodbye, total apathy and more nastiness (style: “Glad you guys are gone”). The Leadership Circle still doesn’t have the guts to publish the Volunteer Agreement.
So, what are we left with after 1,5 weeks of campaigning?

  1. A completely closed CS organisation that is heading for a semi-commercial structure. Volunteering is considered second rate.
  2. An NDA/Volunteer Agreement that is probably 3 times worse than the previous one. In all practicality, no IT professional could ever sign it, unless you never want to work on travel or social network related websites again besides CS.
  3. Open sourcing, transparancy and representation seem farther away than ever. They have succeeded in getting Kasper to quit, which clearly was something they wanted. “Not a core dev” is probably the closest one can come to being tarred and feathered.

To put it simply: OpenCouchSurfing has failed miserably in its goals. Even though around 70 people ended up signing our petition, including Heather O’Brian and Jim Stone (both part of the Leadership Circle), none of it made any difference.

Have we made matters worse? I don’t think so, because clearly these things were already being planned for a long time. We have however clearly accelerated the process and discovered things that were meant to be kept secret. The back-room dealings, the secrecy, the buddy-systems, the social manipulation, all of these things are not new to me and can happen in any organisation. The scale and rate at which they happen in Couchsurfing, an organisation that boasts a mission to “Participate in Creating a Better World, One Couch at a Time” is however frightening.

There are only three options left:

  1. Waste energy and time whining and being ignored.
  2. Start taking destructive action.
  3. Bow out.

Out of self-respect, I will obviously choose the latter.
The End.

9 Responses to “Round up”

  • Today I spent some time unsubscribing from some CS groups, removing my own access to some CS stuff, such as the wiki.

    I just got access to the wiki, and, well, it’s rad, people. 13 out of 13 devs voted to release its code under the GPL, the remaining questions are just “how?” and “when?”.

    There is a Board of Directors, with NINE members, who have been elected by the 40 (and counting…) official volunteers.

    All in all, it feels like a very welcoming place!

  • be welcome at be welcome: it is written in to be open and be accountable and to be democratic and to be community…

    it really is a place to be welcome and to be a volunteer of the people by the people and for the people, liberty, equality, fraternity… and all the good stuff.

    love and peace and happy trails


  • Thomas, thank you sincerely for this reply. I appreciate you taking the time to summarize all that you think happened. I am going to agree to disagree that “OCS failed miserably in its goals”. That kind of language is just defeatist and I expect more from a group as talented as you guys.

    I would hope you realize that things have been accelerated, that asses have been kicked and people are being held accountable. I can’t vouch for the rest of our leaders group, but I personally stand for creating a better organization and I believe openness and transparency and accountability are three major pillars we could improve upon.

    Thank you sincerely Thomas, we appreciate all the effort you’ve put into this campaign.

  • Talking of transparency, there is something fishy about how users appear in search results, esp. in San Francisco where the “circle” is based. Its inconsistent and till a month ago, my name would not appear in people offering a couch(even after narrowing down age group and going through top 100 results) though I have been a verified member for few months and had references too.
    I only discovered it when I realized that I get requests through HC but never through CS and I asked a friend who is a CS member to test
    by searching for couches in SF.
    Also, people in “circle”‘s network, ie. friends or friends of friends, would consistently appear as top results (No filter like “vouched for” etc. was selected).

  • K.,

    This is fortunately a thing of the past. Thanks to the efforts of John / matrixpoint (who has just resigned from the dev team too) and a few of us that provided feedback, a new sorting algorithm is in effect for search results, which is simple, effective in its goals, and most importantly its operation is public knowledge. Check out the “CouchSearch sorting” group:

    As for the old algorithm, I honestly don’t want to know what went on in there. I can only assume it is fairly ugly.


  • Such a shame. CouchSurfing has the potential to do something wonderful as a community.

    But it feels like it is shifting to just be a service. It feels like the new mission is “intercultural understanding, the American way”. The Volunteer Agreement smells like some sort of Patriot Act initiative to protect against other websites with Weapons of Mass Hospitality.

    However once people have made a paradigm shift (from community to service) people will continue to happily use CS. Sort of like using

    But I wonder if CS can really afford to run on a barebones tech team? Perhaps to complete this transformation, CS will start having advertising and hired staff.

  • Wow, what A LOT of effort you guys put in trying to raise awareness and change things to a more open and democratic style!
    Some of you might know that a similar development took place with Hospitality Club about 1 year ago.

    The official missions of CS, HC are very nice but as a volunteer some of us spend so many hours and energy on unpaid work that the least thing to expect would be that this work is respected and that the volunteers are treated fairly: that it is fun to contribute to the project.
    Nobody is perfect and maybe the more people work together the more imperfect a project becomes. As long as we are aware of it we might simply learn out of mistakes.

    Guys, I am really sorry to find all your effort leading to nowhere (or at least not to where you hoped) and I can only encourage you to take a step back and look at CS and HC and think about how the future of a real volunteer network should look different to them. Many things you fought for with open.cs you will find already implemented in BeVolunteer. But this is only the beginning. Working together and respecting each other also means that as members it is YOU to suggest, discuss and implement changes. Ask as much as you want – we will not get tired of answering because we were once where you are now. A big BeWelcome! Be welcome to build a project with us – and do it in a friendly way :)

  • An open letter to Naz:

    Sounds like you are some retard who did a couple a law papers for your Business studies and now think you’re a friggin’ lawyer.

    1. “Consideration is a contractual term at law and has no place in this discussion.”

    Well, guess what retard – an NDA is a contract.

    2. “Basically, either you trust Casey and the rest of the CS guys or you don’t. Decide.”

    So it’s OK for Casey and the Leadership Klan to NOT trust devs?

    3. It could be written on toilet paper and read “Oh behave baby!” but if it bears your signature, then you have indicated that a) You will behave and b) You have no problem with Casey referring to you as “baby”. It creates a pre-existing relationship that implicitly creates a heightened legal duty of care.”

    This is super-retarded. A contract is not enforceable without consideration, you idiot. Stop copy & pasting stuff from wikipedia that you don’t understand.

    Seriously Naz, are you socially retarded?
    First you show complete disrespect for a CORE member of CouchSurfing. You have been a member for what 6 months? Are you trying to kiss your way up to the Leadership Circle? Bet you’re REAL popular in the dev team, now.

    Also the NDA is a moral issue. Something you obviously know nothing about. CouchSurfing was supposed to be about making the world a better place – for everyone, not just CouchSurfing members. That’s why people first volunteered. That’s why they are now pissed and quiting. CouchSurfing is now becoming just another example of American corporate collonialism.

    CouchSurfing REALLY needs more “know-it-all retards” like you. Sheesh.

  • My feeling about Casey wanting to “own” the code, was that he’s a scheming weasel who always intended to personally benefit from the blood, sweat, and tears of people who were hoping to build a great organization, and certainly not for (practically) the sole benefit of Casey Fenton. FWIW, I saw things heading this way slightly before the NDA meltdown, but I was very pleased to see so many talented coders refuse to accept the leg irons and gags.

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