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Archive for the 'Participation' Category

Replacing The Airplane-Symbol With Something Less Insidious

Why is the “I am traveling” logo on a couchsurfing profile symbolised by an airplane? That’s what a member asked himself. He suggests to have this “pernicious symbol” replaced with a drawing that better relates to what traveling is about.

Small in itself, I think this is quite an important observation, and a great way for Couchsurfing also to reach out to the community. For example to ask for new drawings and have members to vote on those. But instead of seeing this as an opportunity to increase member-involvement, this was the answer:

Thank you for your suggestion! We have added your idea to the wish list for the tech team. However, please note that our tech team’s “Must Do” list is large, followed by a larger “To Do” list, followed by an even larger “Wish List.” Therefore, we have no way to tell you if, or when, your suggestion may ever be implemented.

Is CouchSurfing sustainable???

Hello guys!

There is a concept that twirls in my mind since some months: the SUSTAINABILITY of CS and other hospitality exchange communities.

I thought about that again because I saw some profiles stating that they are hosting people because they like to do an anarchist action, against hotels and capitalistic economy/consumerism.

I generally agree, in my point of view food should come from Nature (that doesn’t know what to do with those papers we call “money”) and not from the supermarket, shelter and Home when we are not in out town should theoretically come from networks of friends and not from business activities who provide this for money.
The same for medical services, care, massage, friendly advice,  … all these things strictly connected with the life of a Human are, in my opinion, much better if they come without involvement of dirty money.

But, money is one thing, SUSTAINABILITY is another.

So far hotels and hostels were a economical model that worked well for centuries, not just because there is money involved, but also because there is something in exchange, and this makes it sustainable.

I tell you how: the exchange (in this case services/money) makes a market between offers and request and the presence of a market guarantees that no one of the parts involved got taken advantage of.

The same we can’t unfortunately say in CS and in the other hospex communities!
Did you ever feel “used” as a host?
Did you ever see that if you host too much you don’t have time for your own life?

Yes, sustainability is mostly a problem when hosting.
As a guest, you can travel for several years passing from one city to another, from one host to another, without ever using ho(s)tels at all, without any big problem.
Try to do the same as a host, to have guests every single day!

We can’t deny that the guest is the party in the host-guest relationship who gets more immediate benefit. I am not just talking of free accommodation but also of a more generic concept as everything is actioned by the guest, the request, the dates…
The host (mostly) can just accept or deny. If he accepts, he promises to provide accommodation, infos, care, shelter, Home…. to the guest, when the guest needed it.

There are of course lots of intrinsic costs in having guests, let’s say:
- more cleaning of the house, floors, kitchen and bathroom especially
- cleaning of bedsheets, etc..
- more consumption of electricity, water, gas etc..
- tea, coffee, food to offer..
- personal time and attention
- changing of plans sometimes to adapt to the guest’s schedule (late or early arrivals, ..)
- expenses to go out (bars, food, clubs, transport) while you wouldn’t have stayed home if you didn’t have guests
- time to reply to emails and requests, time to get to know more potential guests on IM, …
- cost of phone calls and text messages to keep in touch with the guest
- risk of problems with guests who take things with them, don’t give back keys, leave a mess, …

(Guest would have also some costs in terms of time and money, but they are directly connected with his travel, that’s the reason why he is there and he is meeting up the host, instead for the host they are connected to the guest’s travel!)

If you think well, on the host part there are really many costs in terms of money and time.
And of course of personal freedom!
What if when I am out with my guest I meet a guy/girl that I would like to take back home, especially if I don’t have a separate room for guests?
What if I change my plans during the day but I don’t have spare keys for the guest (or I don’t want to give him/her)?

People are active as hosts because they have the opportunity to meet cool people.
Mmmh… that doesn’t convince me!
Actually this “benefit” is of both parties, host and guest, isn’t it?

There are situations in life when something is valuable or not just because of the market, the exchange between offer and request. (I don’t think we should support these artifacts…)

Like the cultures where guys always pay when they invite out a girl for dinner.
Shouldn’t be the pleasure to go out together mutual?
Or people who pay for sex… should we tell them that it’s normal to do that for free, just for mutual pleasure?

Anyhow, going back to hospex, the benefit to meet a new cool person should be mutual, so why the host has to sustain more costs in terms of time and money?

I think that a normal person with a full life, work/study, friends, boy/girlfriend/husband/wife, doing some sports and hobbies, maybe volunteering, … can’t find time for hosting people.
Of course, the same person, when traveling, is free from work and many of these things of his normal life, so he has way more time to dedicate to talk with his CS host, meetup with him and his friends, … so he would be a terrific guest but a bad host!

Now I understand why the most active CS in my area says “don’t worry, I have a lot of free time, nobody waits me at home, just 3 cats…”

That’s why CS hosts are more single than in a couple.
That’s why the cool people I know very rarely would have guests.

And what, hosts are losers and guests are cool dudes traveling the world spicing up the life of those poor losers? :) ) Is this how things work, on a large scale?

And what about those members who joined CS just before a big trip, mostly to save money in accommodation, they payed without problem the verification because it was a little money compared to all the money potentially saved in hotels, they never hosted anyone when at home and they are not planning to host people when back home, despite how great was their experience as guest, usually they arrive to the host place empty handed, they care just of the free couch and maybe other free benefits, they behave very politely till the last night of their stay and after they show their real being, of course they don’t even think for a moment to become friends with their host and to keep in touch… Are these members SUSTAINABLE for the community?

That’s where I think come those ideas of points, karmas, etc… things to see if you are a good member that gives benefit to the worldwide community or just a member who is taking advantage of the community for your own benefit.

Nowadays is cool to talk about externalization of costs. It’s when you don’t pay for all the costs that incurs in your life, your activity, your production, but there is someone else that pays for that, usually not being asked to. It refers usually to industries, the client buys the products for so cheap that all the costs for quality prime materials, the energies consumes, the fair salaries, the correct disposal of wastes, are evidently not included in the price but all the society tips in for us to have a cheap industrial product (see
In this model, don’t you think that being guest is somehow externalizing the cost of living?

Somebody else is going to pay our bills, we don’t have to think about it.
It’s like living all life at parent’s place, never being an independent self sustaining individual.

Have you ever saw those travelers who are traveling since years without stop and they even dare to tell you, who are working to make this society works, that they are living on 200 $ a month or less?
Of course, because they are externalizing the costs, they are using water, energy, food, resources, space, … that they are not paying for.

Yes, living permanently CouchSurfing is cheaper that living at your own home!

And what I really don’t like is that now there is people who plan travels just counting the transfer costs, souvenirs and eating out/bars but they don’t take into account accommodation.

The effect of CouchSurfing and other hospex community on these people is very bad, it gives them a fake feeling of confidence in finding a couch everywhere, but maybe getting in unpleasant situations because they don’t have second options, as they don’t even have money for a hostel (see here for more details:

How can I explain to some students who are doing their best to pay the rent and share bills, that they have to host someone for few days who will use the place and the utilities but won’t contribute?
Oh yes, it will be few days, just few days, not a big deal…. a pity that after there can/will be an other guest and so on…

If it sustainable, it is sustainable is a small or big scale. If it’s not, it’s not.

I heard also of some other kind of agreements for accommodation, that sound a bit more fair to me.

One is called COOKSURFING, I come with food at your place, I cook for you, you let me stay overnight. Sounds more fair for me, even if usually the host feels offering something too and maybe ends up spending more money because of the guests.

An other is the old good AU PAIR. You come and help me some hours a day with the home/babies, you have some hours free to visit the city or whatever you like, I offer you food and accommodation and sometimes some pocket money.

But there is more. Have you ever heard of those hostels where you can stay some days longer if you work in cleaning and making beds?

Also in the CouchSurfing world there were some hosts (especially in Japan) who asked some few bucks every day to contribute to the bills and/or the rent. Very controversial topic, but I can’t honestly say that’s all wrong.

Now it’s time for you guys’ to say your opinions! I am really interested!

A good day!


Quo vadis hospex?

Short and cynical comments on some could-be-existing networks:

  • * – Easygoing consumerfriendly network run by a bunchfull of burning men buddies with no strategy for the future at all. As they eat up an amazing amount of donations and the market for virtual social networks collapses with the international cashflow a simple sellout isn’t an option anymore. When the fun is over, I won’t share the hangover.
  • * – The google-ad homebase of a single men gathering people who don’t mind censorship in communication. If the communication system is working at all. Estimated 2 years behind reality. Hard to signup for newbies and without technical improvements a living dead.
  • * – Surviving from the stoneage of postwar hospitality exchange still not yet at home in the digital age but muddling through anyway.
  • * – Some core volunteers still suffer from restrictive mindsets (courtesy of, so progress in really opening up the network is small. Restrictions are still restrictions even if the code is GPL. The open source rebuilt of a common hospex-software is probably to slow to really suffer in the decline of big hospexnetworks, but may offer some software for other experiments (still a shitload of work).

Short but nevertheless also cynical theses for the future of hospex:

The hospitality exchange scene is and always was diverse. This won’t change, no, in the future the number of networks will probably rise and the importance of each one for the whole scene will shrink. I see two main future options / possibilities:

  • * Hospex as a gadget/plugin in other (commercial) networks like f**kbook, MyShit, soon T-Couch, iHospex, MacSleep, Sleepbucks and others – nothing I’d really care for, but something that would definetly keep some idiots out of things I like. There’s nothing wrong with it, but please leave me alone.
  • * Hospexnetworks with very specialized communities like gay boyscouts, polite gamblers, frustrated florists … A disadvantage of this kind of networks is the absence of bigger diffences within them, as there is always a common interest / category. So somehow it’s a bit limiting and cultural exchange simply fails with out differences. A solution could be megasearches between open parts of these networks, profile transfers and easy access. Besides smelling like violating privacy all over the place, it’s all theory right now.

And why this ranting?

I’ve spent and still spend some of my free time to volunteer for hospex networks, but from time to time it’s good to reconsider engagement. Right now it feels like being stucked between something halfdead, that is still working from an user-only point of view, and a luck of ideas/projects to improve/develop things.

So maybe it’s time to look for something useful to do in other areas? – the real background!

This blog is mostly run by BW-lovers with a clear agenda (make CS and HC look bad so their “oh-so-moral” alternative looks attractive). For all others, who still have a somewhat open mind and don’t fall so easily for Kasper & Co’s constant propaganda, here a link to our side of the story:

The real background about this “democratic, transparent, legal” (sic) network.

Money talks – creating funds

People ask, how can they support OpenCouchSurfing? Likewise, I often meet people who support the ideals, but also want to support CouchSurfing. They might have paid for verification. They don’t totally agree with the way CouchSurfing is run, but they want to support the organisation anyway.

My idea is to offer people a way to support CouchSurfing financially, while also supporting the ideals of OpenCouchSurfing. That’s the basic premise.

I think it could work as follows. We create one or more funds or trusts. These funds are clearly constituted. They exist to support the work of CouchSurfing, within certain conditions. Rather like the government supports universities in the UK, but the money comes with requirements. The universities must behave in a certain way to be eligible for the cash.

A simple example might be server costs. We could create a fund to pay for CouchSurfing’s server costs. So long as CouchSurfing International Inc submits invoices for these costs, the fund would reimburse the expenses. This is just a simple example.

The underlying concept is to give members a way to financially support CouchSurfing, while still upholding the principles of OpenCouchSurfing.

We could also provide a mechanism for members to display and verify their donations. For example, images which could be inserted into the user’s profile, showing how much that user has donated. This might help to spread the message amongst members. In effect, we would be creating an alternative to the CouchSurfing verification system.

This is very much an idea right now. It needs considerable research and discussion before being implemented. Please share your thoughts at this early stage. Can you see merit in the concept? Would you be willing to donate money through such a framework? All feedback will be appreciated.

Trust decreasing among CouchSurfers?

Trust metrics are techniques for predicting how much a certain user can be trusted by the other users.CouchSurfing doesn’t really have a prediction mechanism, but trust values are registered for every friendship link.

I never thought the denominators for the trust value made a lot of sense for the friendship links on CS (especially when translated, I don’t really know how to best translate “I somewhat trust this person” into my mother tongue). Still, there seems to be a definite trend of linearly (in time) decreasing trust on the Quality of Service page. It would be interesting to compare this to values from before and do a deeper analysis. The “average quality” doesn’t seem to be changing significantly on the other hand, maybe slightly going up? Possibly because it’s actually visible to the receiver.

Joe Edelman wrote the QoS code, and wrote to me:

Wow, that *is* interesting!

So the avg trust is calculated among introductions added in the last
week that are reported as due to CS and in-person. So it’s not because
of virtual users, and it’s not because CS is accelerating and includes
less pre-existing friends.

The only confounding factor I can think of, is that it doesn’t take the
“date you met this person” field into account — a lot of people don’t
fill it out, or don’t fill it out correctly. So it includes
introductions that are finally being reported from the past, as well as
those that actually occurred that week.

We could be seeing an ever-greater percentage of weirdos from the past.
You know, those random people that blew through a collective, and much
later are friending everyone. And the people they are friending hardly
remember them and so don’t trust them. This would be a result of social
graph “fill-in”, perhaps as a kind of recoil from expansion last summer.

Or, perhaps it’s an accurate result, and as CS grows, people that meet
find they have less in common, since CS includes more demographics.

In that case, it could be interpretted as a *positive* result: perhaps
the ideal would be to take people who DON’T trust each other INITIALLY,
and give them POSITIVE EXPERIENCES such that later they DO trust each
other, or they start to trust other people from a new demographic MORE.

Let’s just hope this trend does not continue. If it would, the average trust would be zero by the end of 2010.

In the meanwhile, some active work can be done on designing and implementing a trust system from scratch on BeWelcome.

The data:

year   week introductions users  quality  trust

2008    16         6625   3890    1.526   0.370

2008    15        14238   7345    1.506   0.377

2008    14        14818   7591    1.490   0.379

2008    13        16520   8201    1.527   0.388

2008    12        13895   6952    1.500   0.387

2008    11        12252   6291    1.479   0.379

2008    10        12303   6490    1.493   0.392

2008    09        12796   6482    1.480   0.382

2008    08        11336   5875    1.483   0.376

2008    07        12484   6408    1.486   0.391

2008    06        11778   6215    1.469   0.409

2008    05        11201   5945    1.453   0.406

2008    04        10570   5998    1.479   0.415

2008    03        10757   5983    1.489   0.410

2008    02         9560   4872    1.503   0.410

2008    01        13972   6425    1.484   0.417

2007    52         7749   4279    1.476   0.414

2007    51         9332   5118    1.467   0.421

2007    50        10975   5500    1.480   0.422

2007    49        10309   5632    1.454   0.415

2007    48        10664   5500    1.454   0.413

2007    47        10335   5734    1.487   0.425

2007    46        10835   5762    1.492   0.429



Argument By Selective Reading:

making it seem as if the weakest of an opponent’s arguments was the best he had. Suppose the opponent gave a strong argument X and also a weaker argument Y. Simply rebut Y and then say the opponent has made a weak case.

This is a relative of Argument By Selective Observation, in that the arguer overlooks arguments that he does not like. It is also related to Straw Man (Fallacy Of Extension), in that the opponent’s argument is not being fairly represented.

Your argument conveniently omits the more relevant information:

American Red Cross
Top Person: Marsha Evans
Top Salary:* $651,957

Easter Seals
Top Person: James E. Williams Jr.
Top Salary:* $488,300

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
Top Person: Thomas Priselac
Top Salary:* $1,503,080

On average these executives from other non-profits made:

Mattthew Brauer mentions in his post:

Even if we take the lowest figure in that list MB is still only making 4.9%

the bad guy on our couches

hi guys,
there is this bad guy bouncing around our couches and taking things with him that doesn t belong to him.he is leaving behind empty pockets and broken hearts. I have researched his way around Europe and he has been doing this on CS since spring 2006. I will write a story on him and how the CS is handling his case. There is a self-defensive system going: people warn each other, start threads, etc., which is fine. I just have the impression, that the leadership is slowing this down. Anyone who wants to give me his opinion about it or speak up for the contrary I would appreciate to get to know your arguments. Please send me a Mail via CS:

CouchSurfing member council

Following the recent idea to create elected ambassadors and my post about channelling our energy, I have an idea. I think the concept of elections are very powerful. While not a perfect mechanism, it is a good one. So I’m bouncing ideas around trying to figure out how we could use elections within CouchSurfing.

We want to avoid resistance from the established systems. So I think using the term Ambassador will cause confusion. However, a group of people could quite reasonably choose to elect a “community leader” or “community representative”. That idea got me thinking about creating a CouchSurfing member council.

A group of democratically elected representatives who have the permission of the community to address matters on their behalf. This could be a very powerful mechanism. These individuals could serve as a channel for members to interface with the CouchSurfing organisation.

I think most people agree that communication is the biggest operational problem facing CouchSurfing right now. A mechanism like a member council could help this process. If there was one person for each town / city, speaking on behalf of the community, the voice would carry a great deal of weight. Likewise if the system scaled up to regional / national representation.

Of course, there is a great risk that it would simply create politics for the sake of politics. But I do believe it could work.

Does anyone have experience of designing systems like this? Any experience in organisations of this nature? Would anyone care to share their comments / feedback / criticism / etc?

Nonviolent communication

Thailand collective newsletter nr 3 is out. There’s not many real announcements in it, much “we are going to …” or “we are working on …”, but a particular section caught my eye:

Collective Members Learn a New Way to Talk it Out

Communication is crucial, particularly when considering our growing membership. That’s why volunteers at the Collective are devoting their own time to learn from enthusiastic CouchSurfer, Johnny Colden about Nonviolent Communication (NVC). Collective participants who already have training in this communication technique have found it useful not only in CS member relations, but in their personal and professional relationships as well.

Now, this communication technique called “nonviolent communication” is something that some of the old-timers (like Kasper and me) have seen before at the New Zealand collective. To be able to understand CS, it’s good to try and understand this NVC thing.

The term itself is of course sheer marketing genius: You can’t possibly be pro violent communication can you? However, the odd thing is when it is being applied in a situation (like here) where there is absolutely no evidence of “violence”, except when you stretch (and pretty much redefine) the word to mean “angry” or “direct”. If CS has had trouble, physical violence within the organization or amongst volunteers certainly hasn’t been it. In other words, it is a great example of Newspeak. Oddly enough, NVC does endorse (physical) violence as a means of self-defense [3]. The enormous difficulty of defining self-defense is however ignored (something Ghandi was for instance much better aware off).

The origins are pretty ambiguous as well. It was invented by a guy called Marshall Rosenberg, who now has a “center for nonviolent communication” in… San Fransisco. His “supporting research” is mostly based on domination systems in primate communities [1]. That’s right: monkeys. Of course, this completely disregards not so subtle differences like self-awareness and actual language or any effect rational thinking might have. To the point however, the entire theory is based on the notion that we (still) behave like primates, which is a gross generalization at best. There is no scientific research whatsoever of the effectiveness of NVC in daily life, organizations or elsewhere, making it the same type of “theory” as “intelligent design”, which incidentally is also American in origin.

But what is it about? The goal is to “to observe without evaluation, judgement, or analysis”, “to look for feelings behind words that are expressed”, “to look for unmet needs, connected to these feelings; evaluating which needs are not (yet) being met instead of evaluating actions in ‘right’ and ‘wrong’” and “to make a request how another person could enrich life. Essential in this is that the other person is to be left free to honour or decline the request.” [2]
In essence, it promotes a “feeling” based language as opposed to “critical” thinking. Any kind of moral judgment is to be avoided, as is obligation (things you have to do) or any feeling of guilt. In nonviolent communication one would never say “you should” or even feel guilty for an wrongful action. At best, you can have a “sweet bad” feeling [1]. But, let’s listen to this:

They were not ordered around, for the simple reason that if the chief officials had been told what to do in the form of: you must, you have to, that would not have helped matters any. If the person in question does not like what he is doing, the whole works will suffer. We did our best to make everything somehow palatable.

Where that quote came from might shock you: Adolf Eichmann. If you think quoting Nazi’s is over the top, please realize that Rosenberg himself posits NVC as an antidote to certain lingual techniques described by the Nazis. The fact that there actually is quite some overlap in the ways of redefining language is a sad and somehow frightening irony.

Now, to be fair, NVC has supposedly had quite some success in places like Rwanda, Burundi, Serbia and Ireland, essentially in (war) conflict zones. It is easy to see how a non-judgmental language can help in solving such deeply rooted, civilian and truly violent conflicts.

The elephant in the room, the BIG question however is: What is nonviolent communication doing in CS? Why is it being used in an volunteer organization that has absolutely nothing to do with civilian conflict zones? The consequences of using NVC are highly disruptive for any kind of constructive or even pragmatic work. CS and Casey in particular has repeatedly shown an unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes, which allows those mistakes to endure and be repeated indefinitely, simply because feeling guilty is “violent”. Casey (and Matthew Brauer) repeatedly refuse to state an official answer on critical questions, because “every opinion is equal”. CS would much rather let the issues raised here on OCS hang in the air unanswered than to critically self-examine. It has repeatedly chosen an emotional process over rational thinking. (NVC ignores the possibility that rationality and emotions aren’t such separate entities or that they can coexist easily).

Nonviolent communication in the couchsurfing organization is actually “non communication”. NVC is a horribly ill suited way of communicating in an organization such as CS because it is explicitly against critical thinking and badly suited for any kind of self-improvement. It is a system of avoidance, useful only for being able to ignore any guilt or moral judgment.

It is hard to say what came first to CS: NVC or the avoidance culture. But it seems here to stay.

[1] Marshall B. Rosenberg, The Basics of Nonviolent Communication: An Introductory Training, two video-cassettes, Center for Nonviolent Communication, 2001
[2] Nonviolent communication on Wikipedia.
[3] Advanced Training, Day 1, with Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., raising your giraffe consciousness, 6 Jan. 2005, Center for Nonviolent Communication, 4 May 2005

As an happy/sad/ironic side-note, it’s typical to see that the guy that gave an NVC presentation in Thailand (Johnny Colden) put as his occupation on CS: “Dream engineer”. Sigh.