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Archive for the 'Corpganization' Category

Sunsetting OpenCS

Friends, it’s time to move on.

CouchSurfing International Inc is now a for-profit business. It’s a shame, it had such incredible potential to become a truly democratic, inclusive, open platform. But it’s not. It’s a venture capital funded business. We all know how it got there, but that’s where it is. The dreams of an open and free CouchSurfing are now dead.

Let’s recognise that and move on with our lives. BeWelcome is the only viable alternative. So I say we archive the OpenCS site with a message telling freedom lovers to visit BeWelcome for open-source, democratic hospitality exchange.

In the spirit of do-ocracy, I will action this after 1 March unless I hear strong objections before then. That gives us a month to say our goodbyes, write our memoirs, and so on.

CouchSurfing has always been, and is now honest about being, a corporation.

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

IPO! and some random numbers

CouchSurfing Inc. seems to have been more transparent than ever in the past couple of weeks. But as usual, you’ll find the most accurate news elsewhere. I’m not talking about OpenCS, this miserable bunch of folks who have been clamoring in the desert for years. No I’m talking about Spain’s most respected newspaper:
The CouchSurfing Chief assures that the objective is to get CS shares traded on the stock market. IPO! IPO!

So we go from NGO to B rated to IPO!

I don’t know what to think of this except for that we’ve been missing out on some financial analysis here. So…

Some random numbers

I don’t think the valuating the company based on the number of 3 million members makes any sense, a large part of those are not active (heck, quite a few must have died by now even). So let’s do a search “Everywhere” for people with host status Yes or Maybe. Today, I get about 350.000 results.

If we assume that 7.6 million US$ have bought 10% of the company that gives a value of a bit more than 200$ per host.

With the current rate of 30.000 new signups per week and a hosting ratio of about 40% (yes+maybe) that means the company’s value is increasing with 2.4 million US$ every week.

Not bad, aye?

Well, that presumes that the new signups are as much into hosting as people who signed up 5 years ago.

Funny enough, today there were 2500 fewer potential hosts than yesterday.

And… rumors have it that over 100.000 members have deleted their profile in the first week after the announcement of going B-corporate.

We Love New Couch$urfers!

New to Couch$urfing and you just signed up? And you clicked on the link that says “Continue”? Great! You are now at the page that we call the We-Trap-You-Page or also “Step 2″. This step is to verify that you really are who you say you are. Sounds good, right?

Now you see information about money and how great verification is, and a form that is for you to fill in. “Can I deal with that later maybe?” is probably what you think. But no! You can’t find the next continue button! Help! Where is the “skip this” button? How do I get out of here? I thought C$ was for free?

And what? Oh you live in Denmark? Bad for you, your suggested minimum donation is set to be $69.71 currently. And don’t you even think of paying less than that “recommended” amount because you won’t get through the form!

Ah, you live just across the border in Germany. That’s cool, you then pay $48.37 dollar less ($21.34). That’s 3 times cheaper for 5 kilometer! Hey, didn’t Casey just promise the community: “Just because we’re not a non-profit doesn’t mean we’re actually “for” profit”

Anyway. No worries. If you have no money, you can still become a member. As Casey wrote before, “The CouchSurfing features that you use today will continue to be free”. To help you further, you can apply for free verification through a verification scholarship.

But unfortunately the page doesn’t give you much information, and it still tells you that you have to pay (oh did the tech-team again release something without talking with communication dept? Where is Casey when you need him? Oh wait, he’s partying at Burning Man!)

And in despair you go to the address-bar and type: and pfff, it finally works.

C$ Feature: No Negative References

With C$ going commercial I wouldn’t mind paying for the feature of having my negative references erased immediately. Just like what happens when you leave one for Couch$urfing-founder Casey. This is a message I received from a friend:

If you want to play a funny game, try to leave a negative ref to Casey and its gonna be erased right away! Wow! life is great!

Casey must have been getting a lot of them since the recent announcement of selling our data.

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. 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”.

What To Do With The Extra Money?

Couchsurfing’s strategy is “not sustainable”, concludes a Couchsurfing interim marketing consultant in a presentation given in San Francisco last Summer. “In order to keep cashflow, you would need to grow all the time”.

The consultant Mirek, also a CS-member, served at Basecamp from 16-21 July 2009 for Gadget and Matthew Brauer. The presentation of his ideas and conclusions can be found online (pdf, odp ).

Some Couchsurfing Facts from the presentation:

  1. CS has 15-20 thousand new users each week
  2. 5.6% of them pay verification fee of 26 $
  3. That makes more than 20.000 USD flowing in every week = ca. 1 mln USD a year.
  4. Expenses = 700-800 K USD
  5. 200.000 USD of surplus, and growing…
  6. Big Question: What to do with the extra money?

Mirek has some nice other nice observations about the organisational model of Couchsurfing. “Your present structure is based on a ‘family business’ model: tasks and responsibilities are ‘automatically’ assigned to people (mainly insiders).”

He advices to give it more structure, to have better defined functions and thinks it is a bad idea “to pay salaries to people staying [at Basecamp] up to one year, even if you have enough money. This would spoil the CS atmosphere and cause lot of formal (legal) obstacles.”

Interesting enough, Mirek explains to see donations as “a loan of trust”, which CS has to repay, “by improving the value you bring to CS users.” Couchsurfing should do that by “improving the website and services” and the organization, “so you are able to create a better product”.

Censorship at CS

Thomas and I saw this coming: the “Moval” of the resignation of Brian. In short:

Afbeelding 3

You could see that coming. But in the post itself Chiara Gandolfi asks:

It might be me, but as of now I fail to find it in Ambassadors Private…

Can we have the link? Thanks

Since Chiara is a City Ambassador, I guess that she should be able to check the Ambassadors Private. Nothing there though? Gadget says later on (in another censorship) the post “Probably still is in transit” and “The post is moved. Check the guidelines for the group”…