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CS becoming a for-profit business: A message from Hospitality Club Founder Veit

After the shocking news of Couchsurfing accepting a $7.6 million investment and becoming a for-profit company, I just wrote a message to the hospitality exchange community. Most important: Hospitality Club will never be a for-profit business, we are currently developing an open-source site for HC and some behind-the-scenes info on CS. Please read the statement here:

Oh, and a special shoutout to my haters here :-D

And so it goes down

This is where I say: told you so. I envy the person that will eventually write the history of how Couchsurfing came crashing down, for the story is filled with betrayal, success, horror, sex, drugs and money. No, seriously, “Social Network” is a Disney movie compared to the R-rated chronicles of Couchsurfing.

For those just tuning in, where are we in the scenario? We’ve seen a community founded on lofty ideals, grow, nay burst with activity and numbers, we’ve seen hubris take the form of work-as-permanent-vacation, we’ve seen scandals of every sort imaginable, we’ve seen the falling out of all the idealistic volunteers and – not so long ago – the original founder has gone into hiding. As predicted, the money-flow eventually became insufficient to full-fill the beast that was created. Worse yet, the beast had not been paying taxes because “the IRS didn’t understand the innovative commercial nature of our non-profit” and now must be fed even more:

“I think the best possible structure is the one we have. One of the challenges with nonprofits is it’s difficult to adapt quickly and easily from a business model perspective because you need clearance from the IRS. Now we get that flexibility and we’re still making a statement.” – Dan Hoffer (in Techcrunch)

What is amazing is that they have found VC money (a mere 7,6 million $, which is actually pretty abismal and probably indicative of the low expectancy of success) and have thus kept afloat even now. The CS inner crowd are survivors, you have to respect that at least. And they know how to lie to, judging by this bit:

“Indeed, one of the big reasons they decided to take funding and switch the company’s classification was to make it easier to recruit stock-option seeking engineers.” (same Techcrunch article)

Anyone who knows anything knows the switch in classification was forced unto CS, after years of fruitfully trying to obtain 501(c)3, but I guess it’s important to start rewriting history as soon as possible.

Here’s the problem though. How are they going to earn those VC’s their big bucks? You have to keep in mind that the expectation here is about 5-7 times (!) the investment in about 4-5 years and the clock has started ticking. It is easy to see that the current revenue stream just doesn’t work: verification fees are eventually going to dry up (most likely have hit their peak already). And donating to a for-profit? I just don’t see it happening. This means CS is going to have to find a steady income stream and – I would expect – even have already made indications to the VC’s of where they might get it. Now, I only see two options:

  1. They start making money off the “daily activity”, which would be hosting itself. Dan hints at “premier services”, but I don’t think that is going to fly for a two reasons. a) You can only run a verification scam once. b) It is insanely hard to convert non-paying volunteers into paying customers. c) There are still free alternatives out there, BeWelcoming everyone with open arms. (OK, that’s three reasons.) I honestly doubt they will go this route, but with Todor Tashev on board it might just happen. Todor Tashev is also on the board of Meetup, a company that successfully makes money from their volunteer-run activities.
  2. They go the Facebook route of leveraging the personal data that is embedded in the social network that Couchsurfing is to a large extent. The fact that Matt Cohler (heavy duty ex-Facebook guy) has joined the board as well makes this a very frightening possibility. On a practical level, this would mean letting companies access the enormous amount of personal information, so they can give you those personalized ads you’ve always wanted. The advantage is that this can be introduced in a nice and sneaky way, the disadvantage is that a large majority of couchsurfers are on there precisely because they don’t have cash to burn. I guess you can always try to schlepp airplane tickets or discount backpacks, but that is a rough business (travel is an industries with razor-thin margins, keeping afloat mainly on quantity).
Either way, holy shit, that is going to be difficult. Points to the VC guys for having so much self-confidence.
Here are the blind angles though, the things that are going to kick their asses all over their no doubt fancy San Fransisco offices :
  1. We may assume the code is still an unholy patchwork and they are going to throw some “stock-option seeking engineers” at it. Oh lord, this is going to be spectacular. And by spectacular, I mean a disaster.
  2. They are going to have to transform one of the most self-centered and non-standard organization into a well-oiled money making machine. And by non-standard, I mean bat-shit insane.
Wrestling the Couchsurfing culture to the ground is going to way more difficult than any of these guys can ever imagine. But hey, Digg succeeded in doing that right? No, wait, they got their asses handed to them by Reddit (the 5 years younger open-source alternative).
Here’s what I predict:
  • A spectacular series of technical failures as these stock-option seeking engineers break stuff that wasn’t meant to be touched – ever.
  • An incredible and ugly public fight with their own user-base. All these ambassadors that worked so hard to earn their badge for the wonderful non-profit, someone is bound to get angry, no? Not only that, but imagine the dirt that is lying around (on this site as well as various archives). I mean, seriously, did none of these investors do their homework?
  • Couchsurfing will never ever break-even.

CouchSurfing is now for profit

It’s been in the air for a while. Finally the announcement came yesterday. 7.6 million US$ of funding. I personally have a big question about how this happened, I have volunteered to a non-profit, what happened to that work? There’s still quite a bit of code that I wrote for a non-profit that is running the for profit company right now…

A reason for me to change my couch status to YES!
And I added the following message…

I host so my status is YES but unfortunately not through the for profit company CouchSurfing. Contact me through a genuine non profit hospitality exchange network instead: BeWelcome.

I also encourage you to copy and adapt this message on to your couchsurfing profile.

Airbed & Breakfast Evolution

Airbed & Breakfast is a kind of commercial variant of Couchsurfing that has been around for over two years now, and which has been valued at $1 billion. They just had a massive safety-issue and therefore “will be implementing a $50,000 Airbnb Guarantee, protecting the property of hosts from damage by Airbnb guests who book reservations through our website.”

Last month, the home of a San Francisco host named EJ was tragically vandalized by a guest. The damage was so bad that her life was turned upside down.

According to Wikipedia, in June 2011, a user who had rented her house for a week came back to find it trashed and missing a great amount of money and valuables. And Airbnb’s policy of not letting users know until the last minute who they’re renting to was criticized as a contributor to the incident. The company recently responded to it with a blog-post and newsletter.

With regards to EJ, we let her down, and for that we are very sorry. We should have responded faster, communicated more sensitively, and taken more decisive action to make sure she felt safe and secure. But we weren’t prepared for the crisis and we dropped the ball.

Changes will also be made on their website in terms of trust-levels.

Our updated user profiles chronicle their public history on Airbnb, giving you more insight than ever about a potential host or guest. Along with standard social information, you’ll also see if a user has verified their phone number, connected to their Facebook account, and whether the majority of their reviews are positive or negative. And as always, you can read their reviews and references.

253 users deleted

I was doing some admin on the site. I deleted 253 users who had never written a post or comment. I assumed they were all spam. I have a list of their emails just to be on the safe side. As a result of a recent upgrade to WordPress 3.2, one user was unable to login with the error “ERROR: Invalid registration status.” If you see that error, or have any other problems logging in, please contact me or one of the other admins.

I’m planning to switch the site over to twentyeleven, the latest WordPress default theme. It supports mobile devices and has all sorts of accessibility stuff built in, so I think it’ll serve us to move over. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments here. If anyone strongly objects in the next 48 hours, I’ll consult the mailing list before taking any action.

Making a better community site

Isn’t this, what all this boils down to?

Isn’t this what has already been done or at least had a good stab at?: BeWelcome, Tripping. So everything has been done.

I don’t think the issue is that is shit and CSI is incompetent, its that the bulk of the hospex community only really use People like popular and in hospex it is better to use a network that has more people on it. I’m at the end of a 3 week trip round Taiwan, i had to sign up on CS again, because both BW and T only have one member here, CS has 6000+. The BW member hadn’t loged in for two years and didn’t reply and i don;t think i contacted the tripping member. The CS account was deleted BTW, some how they worked out it was me. Leaving two members with positive references from a deleted account. One who i was their first guest and the other who i was their second guest, both very happy to know and host me. That pissed be off for a while, but when surrounded by so many beautiful, wonderful people, with a medium sweet hot milk tea, ordered in perfect international sign language, with lots of laughing and bowing and shear delight, WTF is CS to me anyway?

Great question. As i’ve said many times, to me CS is the community, with a big side order of Cow Shit International. We all know that. We all also know that Casey ain’t gona let anyone play with his toys. It has also been said many times, go get some of your own toys. And we have, BW, T and even Servas. So the solution is already there. The only problem is, is that people aren’t coming across from CS. Maybe it the designs, but i think its simpler than that. Sheeple(sheep like people. follow the herd).

I thought that could be got round by creating something from within. But the community is like any large or small group of surfers. To move a group, even across the street, you need to get part of the group to start moving, and the other notice and move to be with the others, if the lead members move too fast, they’ll generally find themselves having to wait or even go back for the others.

I think that we need to think about how we can get more drift going from CS to the others, maybe we just moved too fast. We can’t do much online on CS.O, but offline i think has a lot of potential, through traveling interaction and local meets there is lots of scope to attract more members across. I think that it probably comes down to a marketing pitch, essentially. That how most people think these days: Why should I? Whats in it for me? So if were serious about hospex, we should be able to offer advantage and sing it from the roof tops. If we want to shift the hospex focus more on to the alternatives, then we need to offer some big carrots. Tripping had a nice one with its competition for the round the world tickets, but is just empty promotion really. I know the person who won it and how they won it and that makes me even more cynical to the idea of this form of promotion. The carrots need to be in advantage of moving, feature and function benefits, safety, help, discounts even, but not a one off firework show.

There are a huge range of additional directions that a global, mobile and talented hospex community can go in, which can add value in many ways. Like not just assuming that someone only wants to stay for 2 nights and move on. I was toying with the idea of staying here in Taiwan for 3, 6, 12 months or more, why limit a hospex site to short term. I feel like a host to all visitors to london and feel like a guest where ever i go. Flat sharing, home swaps, home and pet sitting, camping. Shower surfing, would have been great a few days ago when i was host’s sofa was on the terrace above his bar, with only a cold tap to wash with. Structured language exchange. Suitcase hosting. Someone has been hosting my case for three weeks while i cut loose with just a rucksack. All these things could probably be arranged through CS messaging, but if they were thought about and catered for and promoted they, with other carrots, could be able to start the drift away from CS, as well as, attracting fresh hospex members .

I would have liked to have expanded on some of these points more, but i have a flight to catch in 7 hours and won’t have internet in the sky, sadly. Some of you, most of you are probably grateful for this fact. But i hope this stimulates some productive discussions and even action, to make some big improvements in a tolerant, open, expressive, positive, hospitable community.

Love and Peace from Taipai to one and all that comes from it.

Making the world a better place?

‘Making the world a better place’

This was not the primary reason i and many others, signed up to cs, but it was an indicator to me and many others as to the atmosphere of the site, network and organisation. I think that it was right to remove this mission, as CSI consistently made the world a much worse place, for many of its members. It has also failed to multiply any of its members efforts to make the world a better place and actively prevented many from doing so. Even doing anything to make CS a better place, let alone anything in the real world, has proved to be beyond the abilities of casey fenton, dan hoffer, jim stone and mat bauer.

Making the world a better place for me is what i live for, its how i was brought up, in my culture, religion, family and community. Its natural or at least intelligent, to want to do so, it is how our species have got as far ahead as they have. We naturally look out for others, attending to the old, the young and disadvantaged. I see it everywhere i go. It is natural for our species!

If CS can make the world a better place, it will be that it has brought together like minded people, who actively care about their fellow humans and other species and the world we all share.

For me personally, the triviality of the politics of CS and to an extent the general hospex scene is pathetic, juvenile and a blockage to achieving anything productive. I was twice deleted for trying to achieve positive and productive initiatives, wasted countless hours, days, weeks even on the general mess that CSI has created for itself, as well as donating 25 bucks, to a ‘charitable’ cause and i’m not the only one that has done the same, with no result.

Ok this is a complicated thread and i’ll try and steer it closer to the centre. OK. Most of the, comments from people who are aware of the reality of CS are angry and negative, which in my view is a natural reaction, when you have been cheated, lied to, abused, defrauded, etc. BUT. Big but here. But, these negative emotions and states are fundamentally non-productive on the whole and do nothing towards the aspirations of the writer, the community or the greater world. If they prompted or forced change then they would be positive, but this is not often the case in CS, the reverse is often true, in that they have made the shy leadership hide even more and be even less unproductive.

Since my first deletion, i have had a lot of space away from that anger and negativity, which really made my world a better place. I allowed a global amb, who knew me personally, to initiate a process to get my account back. I won’t go into this story, because its looong and negative. But during this time i had a lot of time to think. The result of this thinking and having my account restored, with additional lifetime, censorship and restricted movement and association terms(designed to make a person angry imo), was to setup a site where the community could talk, associate and organise community projects, in a positive space. has been up for around 8 months. I put a 3 month personal limit on the amount of time i would actively spend on the site. This project, i would say currently, has failed. The reasons are numerous and varied, but the most common ones are, lack of interest in CS ‘anymore’, fear of negative reprisals, personal dislike of me, because of lack of understanding of my style of dealing with problems and most common of all, amongst the masses is, ignorance, disbelief or simple apathy ‘I’m alright Jack’. I don’t want to dwell on negative things and really the failure of CSC was very positive for me, as i discovered that given a clear opportunity to do more in one year than CSI has done in total and make CS many times better, that few people had the courage to stand up an be counted and even fewer to actually do anything when they did join. This made the situation very clear and i learnt a great deal from it and from the whole CS experience in general.

I don’t see this as a specific CS problem, it is far more general than that. Which is why this thread is here. The problems in CS are a mini version of problems in the wider world. Most people in this world don’t give a shit about anyone but themselves. This is at the heart of most of the problems around the world and at the root of what leads many people to to say and do negative things as a reaction. This is quite natural in most modern societies, because it is how we are brought up(educated/conditioned), but it is unnatural to the human animal, by default.

If the people, who pay more than just lip service to the idea of making a better world, actively made it better or at least have the desire to do so, collaborating in an organised way to multiply the results, conversations like this would not be needed.

Now this is the interesting part, well for me anyway, because its complicated.

First off. Creating anything where one party forces/coerces another to do something, that they would not normally do, by whatever means, is bad. I am a big believer autonomy and where persuasion is needed, in carrot, not stick or tricks. Further in my mind any sustained group that gather around a philosophy, is a cult. This is a very big part of why I chose not to put up a big vision on CSC, which is one of its biggest criticisms. The other big part was because, i didn’t want to impose my thoughts onto our community. The hope was that collective community conversation would mould the site however we choose. I was ready, able and willing to provide resources that would reduce the system based problems and facilitate a successful project.

So whats the answer to that? The philosophy of no philosophy? That dose not work either, because it requires people to think for themselves, doomed. The answer in my mind is to have a minimal non intrusive base set of terms and rights and use technology, to resolve system based problems. Rules are needed when the system can’t deal with an event. In my mind rules are the symptom of poor/lazy system design. So the aim would be to create a site that is generally designed to protect members, giving them the freedoms of real world interaction as well as methods for self defence protection.

This is simpleish on a single small site, but when looking at a more complex situation, such as the wider hospex community or even the make the world a better place community, there are many details that will never come together under a single project. This for me is part of the beauty of the world. It is too detailed to ever fit everything into one mould

What is needed imo, is a loose organisation that acts as a conduit between disparate organisations, communities and individuals, that allow them to communicate, function and achieve objectives together, whilst maintaining their autonomy.

I have a couple of domains that i have registered to build one or more networks, when i have the time and money, hopefully later in the year. These sites are more general than CS or even CSC, but not as wide ranging as i would want, because being too general/simple, requires a lot of work, to then be attractive to numbers of people large enough to create a functioning community. A more general network would aim to attract a smaller number of diverse players/networks/groups. I have seen the need for such a network for many years in the charity/npo space. In my mind the best way to create such a network is to start from grass roots, create something of value that will naturally attract like minded organisations/communities/individuals.

Making the world a better place sounds like hard work to many people and immediately cop out. ‘Shit man, you mean, i have to actually do something, na, i’ll pass thanks. Let me know when you have a plan where i don’t actually have to get of the sofa’. I’ll leave it to another text to break down the folly of this thinking, maybe even a whole book, but the rewards of this type of project will always be immeasurably bigger than the positive effort used to achieve them.

To get a project going would require a base set of professional individuals, who can bring design, technical, legal and financial skills and knowledge. One of each is enough to start, although the more the better. Location, age, colour, sex and sexuality, nationality, religion and size are irrelevant. Knowledge and a little intelligence is all that is required. Doing it properly from the start, with a clean slate, is for me, the key to the success of such a or any, project.

If any of you reading this has a beating heart and a determination to make this while world a better place, for everyone or even if just for yourself, your children, then i implore you to email me

I have a lot of time, energy and resources to work on such a project, if any of you also have the courage to act and not just get angry. I am not about getting angry or about being passive. Another way is possible. Though the change first needs to happen within you.


Tim could go commercial…

Via Facebook:

Seems that Casey is giving up the 501c3 status due to “This approach is one that doesn’t fit into the categories our government traditionally uses.”.

I’m not amazed, but I *AM* disappointed. Seems to me one good reason to (re)try!

Couchsurfing Customers

A new service might be hitting the Couchsurfing Community soon: Couchsurfing Postcards. Looks great, and finally turns you into a real customer ;-)

Create a Customer Profile with CouchSurfing Postcards which allows you to shop faster, track the status of your current orders, review your previous orders and take advantage of our other member’s benefits.

For some users of Couchsurfing, a survey has been launched to check how much interest there is for this new service. Interesting enough the maybe-soon-to-come-about service is not offered by Couchsurfing but seems to be going through a partnership-deal with a company called AIgypsy, a for-profit company which already registered the domain end of 2009.

The Couchsurfer behind this idea is ssri, who on his profile states: “The postcard project is delayed yet again due to a random survey/beta test this month”.

Why People-Powered Projects Are Ruled by Tyrants

Any of this sound familiar?

…the paradox is that they’re often more authoritarian, even autocratic, than the most tightly controlled for-profit firms. The volunteer model makes them almost feudal in structure: an enormous mass of unpaid serfs, kept in line by a small group of paid manager-nobles, in turn serving at the pleasure of the kingly founder, whose authority is more or less absolute. After all, when you create a dominant website but eschew the vast wealth that could come with it, conventional checks on your power no longer apply. You have no shareholders or paying customers to mollify. Competitors don’t bother challenging you, since how can they beat a market leader when that leader is unbound by market forces?

…Assange, similarly, has said that he alone makes the final call about what WikiLeaks will post. To this list of digital sovereigns we might someday add two young barons: CouchSurfing’s Casey Fenton and 4chan’s Christopher Poole.