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Tag Archive for 'BeWelcome' – 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.

Democracy in action

This weekend the BeVolunteer General Assembly took place in Essen, Germany. Congratulations to the BV volunteers for their diligent efforts toward establishing the principles of openness, fairness and democracy in the hospitality community. The minutes of the Assembly are available here.

Special congratulations to Thomas Goorden for his election to the BV Board of Directors. I was very gratified to have a voice in this democratic process, and happily voted for Thomas.

Among the accomplishments of the assembly was a new wiki page highlighting the differences between BW/BV and other Hospex networks. It’s worth checking out here.

So long, and thanks for the fish

Also posted in: ambassador’s public

It’s finally time to let go of all my remaining ties to volunteering in CouchSurfing, a few words about the why, if you will…

It wasn’t a bad year (1) In fact, it was a very good year. How often do you get a chance to see the world, settle down a bit in places, work for the things you believe in and meet the people you’ve been craving to meet all your life?

I’m still coming to terms with my feelings of this year, and CS more specifically. There’s a strong component of unjust treatment, and many questions which are to date not answered. I could probably write a book about all this but this will have to wait until a later date (you might want to check here in the near future though ;) (2)

There’s definitely some anger: after all, I started doing CS work after already been burned once in a volunteering setting (3) and for this reason really did not want or need a second similar experience. However, I got one. What makes me angry is not the “wasted time” itself, it’s more the fact that had I known the fundamental attitudes (4, 5) of the leadership a year ago, I would probably not have started volunteering to such an extent – my anger is more directed towards concealing these attitudes (with lack of real communication there was no way of telling what the admins were thinking) rather than having them in the first place – for at least it would have offered an opportunity for me to choose if these were the kinds of people I’d like to work with (or as it seems, for). This by now almost feels like purposeful deception to lure in willing volunteers (6).

There’s also sadness: thinking of what might have been, the possibilities for creating real difference, all in vain. And not because people, the community didn’t want it, they were ready to take CS to the next level, to decentralize (7) along with the mission crafted up after the big crash of 2006 (7, 8 ) to create a better world, one couch at a time. No, it was the attitudes of the leaders, lack of any real communication by them, lack of meaningful, respectful dialogue with the community or even volunteers who are actively striving to make things better that stopped (sometimes even reversed) (9) the momentum of the community to decentralize itself. I also feel sad that this potential of the community was never recognized by those in power and that corporate structures, top-down management and weeding out all possibility to self-organize were seen as the only way to go forward – where’s the space for diversity, more bohemian attitudes towards life and independent thinking that are very present in the spirit of this community?

But there’s (always?) a silver lining: if it wasn’t through CS, it would have probably taken me years longer to find the people I connected and hope to continue working with (some, though by means not all ;) of them here: 10,11) to create a better world, one whatever (Line of code? Guest bed? Idea? Freedom?) at a time!

I’d like to thank all the great people I have worked with and met on my 21st century version of the”Grand Tour” (11). Regardless of my issues with the leaders at the moment, I believe the rest of you are still good people and deserve far more credit and appreciation than what you’re given now.

Finally, just a fair warning from someone who cares about all of you: please keep your eyes open before jumping in the deep end with CS or if you’re there already, and don’t stop asking the questions (13) in case there’s something worrying you…

Goodbye, and happy surfing,

9. (original) (backup)

Casey’s Magic

While reading an NY Times article about CouchSurfing (thanks Mary) I was reminded of the magic that Casey created in the CouchSurfing project. I’ve definitely lost track of the magic over the last few months since becoming involved in the inner workings of the CouchSurfing organisation.

There’s a great sense of community, a great PR image, a wonderful “feeling” when reading about CouchSurfing. It’s a feeling that Hospitality Club and BeWelcome definitely don’t have. It’s more bohemian, more offbeat and quirky, yet somehow more mainstream.

Casey struck a great balance between the hitch hiking “true” traveller and the mainstream. CouchSurfing appeals to people from all walks of life, and that’s undoubtedly because of Casey’s ability to pitch it well.

In many ways, this makes it even more tragic that Casey chooses to run the organisation in the way he does. There’s such a huge opportunity to do something really, trully exceptional here. Unfortunately, it’s being stifled by the closed door, backroom politics style of leadership.

So here’s my question. Can we create the same magic in another network? Can we recreate that wonderful bohemian feeling in BeWelcome? Or CrashAtMine? Or a whole new network? Or is it something uniquely Casey that can’t easily be copied? Is it a quality that can’t be replicated?

Eating your own dogfood.

So, I’ve become a consumer of our own product, and I am happy to report that “the dogfood tastes great”. This weekend, It looks like I’m all set to BeWelcome surf in Paris. I didn’t even bother to try with because I knew that although only 1000 members, BeWelcome seems to already be getting enough geographic coverage. Having not been involved in usability of either CS or BW (I’m a database guy), it was refreshing to see how much more intuitive BeWelcome already is. Top marks to the devs.

Follow the money

To anyone who is trying to sort out what is going on in CS and who to believe, I suggest you apply what many consider to be the “First Rule of Investigation”.

“Follow the Money”.

Something very significant happened to CS during the year since CS 2.0 was launched as a volunteer-centered community-based enterprise. The corporate income drastically increased from a level where there was barely enough to make ends meet, to a big surplus, with the reasonable expectation of much more to come.

It doesn’t take much imagination, knowing human nature, to construct various scenarios that would explain much of what has happened in CS. It’s a certain fact that Casey, at the very least, from early on, was leveraging his position in CS for his own personal profit.

“Site design by Casey Fenton Consulting”

used to appear at the bottom of all emails to members and (if I remember right) every page on the site, with a link to his personal business. Now, this, in itself, is not necessarily a problem. Whether it is or not has everything to do with with impressions given to and agreements made with people who signed on to do do full-time volunteer work for what they thought was a noble cause, for a community built specifically on the value of freely giving without expecting a financial reward, and who literally saved CS from termination.

Things are going well for a young rapidly growing volunteer enterprise, there is tremendous community spirit, creativity, new initiatives, large numbers of highly talented people wanting to get involved. And then suddenly, the rug is pulled out from under them. Some of the most active and committed volunteers are made to feel unappreciated and all but shown the door. Announcements come down about new paid positions for Casey’s close associates.

We are told paid employees are needed to do the necessary tasks that volunteers won’t do, because they tend to do things on a whim. I, myself, had spent 5 months doing nothing but things that needed to be done, fixing hundreds of bugs, postponing my “whim” project (which would have greatly benefited the community, I believe, but never happened). I did all this in spite of the LT, who for the most part, were unresponsive, non-participating, prone to arbitrary assertions of executive authority without understanding the situation, and even at times seriously undermining worthy, community-based projects.

We are told democracy can’t work in an organization like CS and that voting is impractical. Aside from any philosophical arguments, the plain fact is that democracy and voting are happing right now in, and very successfully, I might add.

These kind of statements defy logic and reality, so why would they be made? Just look at the result: concentration of power and money in the pockets of Casey and his hand-picked associates. A paid developer will be hired, who will do what he or she is told, to replace the 6 highly qualified computer professionals who used to work for CS but are now working for BW, where their individual creative ideas, personal ideologies and cultural diversity are welcome and valued.

We question all this and are branded “whiners” and “CS-haters”.

I would never have given a good part of a year of valuable service to CS if I had known where it was headed. When I started having concerns about what the Admins were up to in their secret meetings back in December, I wrote a long, detailed, thoroughly documented letter to them. It was entitled “Request for Information from the Admins” (approx.). It was posted in a CS group named “CS Core Volunteer Communication” (approx.) created specifically for the purpose of allowing for communication between volunteers and the Admins, who previously were unavailable for communication as a group, and could only be communicated with through a liason.

I specifically mentioned problems with responsiveness, participation and arbitrary assertions of power. I expressed concerns about accountability. I said I was in CS to work freely for the community, and was not willing to work for Casey and/or the Admins if they were not accountable to the community.

The only response I got from the Admins was, from one of them, “Your letter is too long, so I’m not going to read it.” (approx.) This is when I became very concerned.

I started paying more attention to the NDA issue, which was very troubling to me, and I had only accepted it provisionally with the assurances that “it is being worked on and will be fixed soon.” (approx.). It was already going on 6 months.

I wrote another letter to the Admins after about a month or two, reminding them I was still waiting for a response from my first letter, and amplifying my concerns, which continued to be validated.

There was no response from any of the Admins who were in power before the crash.

Now, in retrospect, knowing what they were working towards, I believe I may have been allowed to continue to work for free under false pretenses, while the LT was planning to use the increasing revenue which I and many other volunteers were helping to generate, to pay some of themselves, without my permission or the permission of the other volunteers.

If this is what really what happened, and the total absence of meaningful response to my two inquiries was not just sheer incompetence or negligence (and how can I know when so much is kept secret), it was an ethical breach and I and the other volunteers have every right to feel mislead and disrespected. We certainly have the right to challenge the LT without having our credibility and integrity questioned.

So, to you new investigators, I suggest, follow the money and judge for yourself.


My last post to CS

I agree. I’m also Anu’s #1 fan :)

And I thought I was! :)

Although I have moved on to support the hospitality movement through, where a true democracy exists and no one is making money off the generosity of others, where volunteers are respected and treated with honesty and fairness by other volunteers acting as leaders with the consent of the community, I sometimes check in at CouchSurfing to see what my friends are up to and to check on the community I love and gladly worked for as a full-time volunteer until it was led away from the CS 2.0 vision by the current management.

Not well, I would say.

I feel that trying to influence the power elite of CS is futile through any other than legal means, but I feel compelled to speak up on behalf of Anu.

I worked very closely with her for more than six months. During this time, she demonstrated excellent qualities of self-motivation, leadership, responsible communication, and technical competence. But more impressive was her tireless devotion to the community, always advocating for it, always nurturing it, always defending it (even with anger at times). And above all, most impressive was her direct honesty and integrity.
She was the obvious choice for Tech Team leader, in the minds of Kasper and I, and I believe she had the support of Joe by that time. We were the 4 core volunteer developers who together did the bulk of the technical work on this website during most of the year following the Montreal Collective, where CS 2.0 was launched.

Anu was blacklisted by the CS elite, and passed over as leader of the Tech Team. After many months of devoted work on behalf of the community, the wishes of the Tech Team on this matter were completely ignored, not even consulted.

Anu has been unappreciated and treated with disrespect. This is unconscionable. Myself and other volunteers of the Tech Team were mislead and treated with disrespect.

When I resigned as a volunteer, I had strong suspicions about the motives of the CS elite, but I gave them what benefit of the doubt I could and was willing to support CS as a corporation providing a service to the hospitality community. After what I have seen and what has come to light since, no longer can I support it under the current management.

Casting dispersions on Anu’s integrity is going too far. She deserves an apology.

Calling people who gave heart and soul to this community, but now feel mislead and betrayed by the CS elite, and are angry about it, “CS-haters”, is reprehensible.

This is in the style of the Bush administration, which brands all critics of its policies “unpatriotic“.

Let me out of here. I’m deleting my profile.


From a BeWelcome volunteer

I was just reading the BeVolunteer forum and I was happy to read lemon-head’s post about the BW mission and objectives. Here’s a part of that. Of course I was especially pleased with the remark between brackets.

No interest in organisation politics?

It was said that the ordinary CouchSurfing or Hospitality Club member doesn’t care about the legal structure of the organisation behind.

I agree that most members will choose a hospex site mainly based on the chances to find a host etc. However, as soon as volunteering or donations are involved, at least some people will start thinking. For me this was the point where I started to become interested in the legal structure of couchsurfing and hospitalityclub. Later a talk with some CS people mentioned BeWelcome, and I felt pushed to read more about it and find information from external sources (opencouchsurfing, at first).