This site was archived on 24 April 2012. No new content can be posted. The mailing list remains online and the site will stay in this archived state for the forseeable future. If you find any technical errors on the site, please contact Callum.

Tag Archive for 'community'

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

The beginning of the end of CS 2.0

“It just feels bad to be asked for help and promised something in return by the captain after he set the boat on a riff and than when the ship is running being told: ‘What do you want here? This is the captains lounge. I’ve hired professional help now. You are just a stupid little member. Now stop whining, go down to where the swimming pools are and have fun.’ ” – Torsten (from the Brainstorm group).

As someone who was present in Montreal during the week of the crash, I can add some detail to the Captain’s behavior in those days.

We have been told that the particular combination of events leading to the crash (“The Triple Storm”) was highly unlikely, but even if accurate this excuse for the disaster obscures the fact that the organization’s extreme dependency on Casey in the technical area was a great vulnerability to the organization, and a disaster waiting to happen.

I believe this dependency was not due to the lack of willing, trustworthy and qualified members to spread the responsibility among (and thus provide redundancy and checks and balances), but to Casey’s intention to maintain control of the website and thus, in part, I strongly suspect, justify his privileged (and salaried) position. i.e., If others were doing all the work Casey was doing voluntarily, then it would be harder to justify being the only salaried member of the organization.

If the major crash was unavoidable (we’ll never know for sure), certainly many of the chronic server problems since then, that at times put members traveling in foreign countries at greater risk, were really a direct result of Casey’s policy.

A few days after the crash, Casey terminated the Couchsurfing Project. He did not discuss this with any of the members at Montreal that I talked with: people who had traveled from great distances at their own expense and on their vacation time to answer the call for community participation. It was as though in Casey’s mind, CS was the website and with the website gone (in his opinion) there was no CS.

But most of us there understood that CS was not a website but a community. The Community still existed and needed to come together for each other more than ever. Especially, there were members out on the road, traveling in foreign countries, using the website to make contacts with hosts as they went, many on a low budget who couldn’t afford to just start staying in hotels. It was the beginning of summer, and many others had made vacation plans based on CS. These people needed our help and support. Casey abandoned them.

I was stunned by Casey’s behavior. Not knowing him, I just assumed that there must be factors I did not know of, and gave him the benefit of doubt.

There was a leadership vacuum immediately following the termination, as Casey was absent for much of the time. Members were dazed and directionless, wondering if they should just go home. I organized some meetings, as did Heather. I proposed that the first order of business was to take care of the members. I suggested that we set up message boards on some free site so that members could at least communicate with each other. All agreed and we got to work right away.

Once we were set up, there was only one problem: how to let members know about the message boards? We knew that the home page of was still working. So all we needed was an announcement with a link to the message boards put on it. It took about a day to find Casey and get him to put the link in place. No one else could do it because Casey was the only one with the password to the servers.

The next order of business was to get the website back up. While Casey was still out of the picture, we made a group decision to bring back CS any way possible, however long it took. This was the true beginning of CS 2.0.

We knew that the software was not lost, only the data (i.e., members personal information and friendship links). So, the website could be restarted quickly, but members would have to re-register and re-establish their friendships. If this was the only obstacle, I could not understand why Casey would shut down the organization, unless perhaps, he was burnt out and just wanted to be done with it.

One thing very crucial here is that Casey did not offer the community access to the software. We could have quickly (in a matter of a couple weeks at most, which is how long it took anyway to restart the site with salvaged data) brought the site without the data. There was a tremendous, self-organized offering of support from programmers all over the world. They even formed themselves into teams and began extracting member data from Google’s caches. This was the community I was proud to belonged to and wanted to support.

It was clear that Casey considered the software to be his own property, not the property of the community, and he was not willing to just give it to us. The Captain had abandoned the ship and took the steering wheel with him, being willing to let the ship sink rather than give up control and let others save the ship.

In this crucial meeting, I personally committed to take the responsibility to rebuild the website myself, if necessary, but was sure many would help in the effort. I would have done it free of charge and claim no ownership of it. Also, I would have always been accountable to the community, and followed their guidance and stepped down if they asked me to. But I was a new member, and did not have a reputation within CS. Heather, who was an Admin, argued that “we have to get Casey back on board”. She held sway. I did not know at the time that she was romantically involved with Casey (or so I have been told), as this was kept discreet.

Over the next few days, pleas were made with Casey to come back, led by Heather, although, at least, the group insisted that the new CS must be different from the old, and that there should be much more emphasis on member participation. Casey agreed to this. In Heather’s word’s: “CS should not be about just one person”. Heather even expressed that the crash was a blessing in disguise, and urged that the recovery be delayed if necessary to ensure that fundamental changes were made and that CS did not just return to business as usual.

Casey tentatively agreed to explore the possibility of reviving CS, and when he began to have success recovering the data, resumed control over the project. I was relieved at the time, because Casey’s return meant that I could go on the vacation I had planned. But now I realized that those few days were the one chance for CS to become a truly community-based self-governing organization. The seeds of the demise of CS 2.0 were planted almost as soon as it began.


Usual suspects

Being off the grid has its benefits ;) however I couldn’t help but responding to the thread below – where “negativity” is once again being shut down and anyone who is even remotely associated with “heretic” views is actively being marginalized.

“as apparently one of “them”… all I have to say I have said elsewhere (see below).

For a quick read (online time is scarce these days) I can’t help but agreeing with Pickwick – this call for positivity is starting to sound a bit too cult-like to me. Also, how can you claim you know “those guys” hate CS? Have you actually talked with them about why they volunteered for CS in the first place? What aspects of CS they do enjoy, and why? Have you asked why they stuck by while being treated like shit? Would you have done the same, if received the same treatment, repeatedly?

For me personally, I would have left long ago IF I didn’t care about what this community still stands for for me. The fact that I’m still somewhat involved (the thread is getting thinner, just in case you haven’t noticed) is because I still have all the faith in the community, if not the leadership.

PS. yes it IS starting to feel like a waste of my time to keep kicking this particular dead horse, so perhaps you can all “be positive” soon enough :P (thankfully there are other projects where some critical thinking is actually welcome, and responded to with due respect, and where *gasp* even Kasper’s input is more than appropriate!)
Current opinion of CS:
It’s an adventure machine, and a world full of friends I haven’t met yet! I cherish the CS community, which is full of amazing people and hope to meet many more of them on the remaining paths of my trip.

BUT after a year of volunteering I can say I’m not happy of the current events: seeing CS disregarding its culturally diverse member base (with a non-American majority) and entertaining values of the American corporate culture. Although my belief in the community itself is strong, I don’t share this view on the way CS is currently lead. Feel free to disagree, or take the red pill……
Anu Aug 15th, 2007 at 3:52 pm

Along the same lines here – for me it was never about open source (though by seeing the most recent standpoints of CS, I do tend to agree more and more with OCS views), but about overall fairness and openness in policies and decision-making. So I would not just blindly jump onto HC or any other organization that does not actively address these issues.”


…two months after resigning as a CS volunteer, in the form of responses to two calls for an egalitarian CS community in the CS Brainstorm group.

Hello Abrahim,

I appreciate your efforts to bring this issue to the attention of the community again. You obviously put a lot of thought into your post and recognize the critical importance of this to a community which shares the values that we do. I hope I’m proven wrong, but I feel certain that the kind of movement you are proposing would end up going nowhere in CS.

Just over a year ago, there was an excellent opportunity to redirect the course of the CS community away from being under the control of a small elite group, unaccountable and unanswerable to the community at large. This opportunity coincided with a major crash of the servers followed by Casey‘s termination of the CouchSurfing Project. For most of the last year since the community-led rebuilding effort, some volunteers worked towards an egalitarian community, which they thought was consistent with the stated CS 2.0 goal of decentralized participation, while the former administrators of the website redefined themselves in secret. A few months ago, the elite group re-emerged in the form of the “Leadership Team”. These self-appointed leaders are really rulers (if you consider CS as a community) or managers (if you consider CS as a corporation). Leaders generally lead by consent of the led. Rulers need no consent.

Since the Leadership Team members were each chosen (or at least endorsed) by Casey, the owner of the Corporation, and by extension felt entitled to govern the community that has formed around the web site as they saw fit, some of us who hoped for a different CS realized that our cause was lost and moved on, in some cases to alternative hospitality organizations which do have an egalitarian community.

The Leadership Team has clearly taken a stand against democracy. They have taken upon themselves the role of guardians of the CS mission, as they define it. Their “constitution” is as much about protecting their power as it is about protecting the mission. They don’t seem to be aware of the hazards of this stance. It is an easy mistake to make, since they are generally good people with good intentions and a noble mission. But the structure itself is inherently flawed and prone to abuse and corruption. This has happened countless times throughout human history whenever too much power is concentrated in the hands of too few people, even in organizations started by the best people with the best intentions.

As one example of how easy it is for a self-reinforcing group with no accountability to the people they claim to serve, consider the mission of intercultural understanding that they purport to promote and protect. The very essence of intercultural understanding is respect for diversity. Yet, the structure of the leadership team requires unanimous agreement among themselves to make important changes. The implication is that, knowing that one person could bring the effectiveness of the Leadership Team to a complete halt, extreme care will be used to select only those people that will not disrupt the consensus; in other words, people who will not create “divisiveness” or “conflict”, but conform to the established groupthink. This is perhaps the worst possible environment for promoting diversity of values, opinions and ideas, cultural or otherwise. Yet it seems they consider themselves to have a special insight and virtue which entitles them to be the guardians of the CS mission.

I have already seen cases where extremely valuable volunteers have been blacklisted because of what seems to me are mostly cultural or gender differences, or because they had an ideology not in sufficient conformity with the elite’s ideology.

Besides being inconsistent with the CS mission, the LT policies are inherently non-viable according to the lessons of nature, where diversity is the primary guarantee of adaptability and survivability in the face of changing environmental conditions and random events.

Another inconsistency: in a community which is as much about freely giving as anything, truly built upon the generosity of people willing to give without expecting a financial return, how is it that the owner, who should be exemplifying the spirit of the community, is the only one getting financial benefit for his contributions? If someone is to be granted an exception to the otherwise universal policy (so far) of voluntary work, voluntary donations and voluntary hosting, shouldn’t the community, who provides the money used to operate the infrastructure, have a say in this? I’ve heard all the counterarguments to this, but nevertheless I’m certain that CS could be run entirely by volunteers. The fact that it isn’t has not been a community decision.

Without going into details now, there is now doubt in my mind that the lack of participation and responsiveness of many of the so-called leaders in many areas at many times is a symptom of the structural problem (lack of accountability to the community) and the attitude it fosters. (For example: over a year and counting and still no acceptable NDA, something of such grave importance to several volunteers that they stopped volunteering because of this fiasco). Likewise, the chronic server problems and the slow response to member requests for bug fixes and feature enhancements are also traceable to the same problem.

The only possibility I see for CS to become an egalitarian community is for the community to obtain ownership of the Corporation. In other words, buy out Casey. But I don’t think this is realistic considering that perhaps 99% of the users of the CS website are reasonably happy with the free service that it provides. The number of members actively involved in the community (beyond hosting and surfing) are a small percentage of the total membership and of those, only small percentage of us are really concerned with such philosophical and political matters as we’re discussing. There are some other hospitality communities where self-government is considered as important an objective as intercultural understanding, and inextricably linked to it. For me, it is more efficient to start over with one of those communities. Indeed, I was given no choice. Casey himself stated that if we don’t like the way CS is run, then leave and come back later [after all the structural changes now being implemented are locked in - he has veto power over any proposed structural change in the future]. Don’t get me wrong, I like a strong, assertive leader, and even encouraged Casey that way, but any leader without accountability to those led is a dictator, even if a benevolent dictator.

I recommend you think of CS in terms of the Western culture notion of “corporate entity” and all the concepts of ownership and entitlement that go with that, rather than a diverse community of equals with shared values. That may save you a lot of heartache. For me, it is best to think of the new CS as a social website like Myspace combined with a travel website like Expedia. Then, Casey is just a entrepreneur carefully protecting his investment and his personal vision and getting his just reward financially. No problem with that if you’re a fan of Western corporate culture! (Just be clear about it to potential volunteers: your free work and ideas are welcome, but Casey is the only one who financially benefits from them, and you have no say in that.) We are all free to use what the CS Corporation offers and to go elsewhere if we object to the way it is managed. Thankfully. Just the mere fact that this post will not be censored is a credit to the LT — they ARE doing some things well!



Responding to David Lee Frazer’s commentary on the “Wolf Pack Psychology” of the LT in another thread:

Hi David:

The following is meant to be taken partly in jest.

I don’t think “Wolfpack” is the best analogy to descibe the LT, although it’s imaginative. I just don’t see Casey as the alpha male of the pack. Brute force is not his means of holding power.

“Monarchy” is a better analogy: King Casey and the Lords and Ladies of CouchSurfing. But most monarchies do not justify their entitlement to power as virtuous protectors of a noble mission. It is enough for them to claim hereditary entitlement, or royal blood, in many cases, or else “might makes right”.

“Religion” is an even better analogy. Pope Casey the First and the College of Cardinals. The Global Ambassadors would be the Bishops, from whom the Cardinals are chosen. The other ambassadors complete the priesthood, and the rest of us are the bleating flock, who are shepherded by the wise and learned Bishops. Very good description, actually. Can you imagine an election for the Pope by the flock ever happening?

Those of use who resigned as volunteers could be thought of as the Protestants and have gone on to find a more tolerant and open cultural milieu. Among other things, we didn’t like the idea of the CS Corporation claiming custody of our creative ideas like a Church claiming custody of our souls. We even had a heretic among us, who was shunned after enormous contributions (Kasper).

The Roman Church began with a noble mission but which over time, due to the inherent structure it shares with CS, erred in many ways. The leaders acquired an attitude of condescension and hubris, thinking themselves infallible, not needing checks and balances. They became enamored of their wealth and power, drifting far astray from the example of Jesus, who wanted neither. Protecting their power became more important than the original mission. Anyone who is ignorant of this danger of concentrated power, or thinks themselves immune to it, is surely vulnerable.

All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree. — James Madison

If I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don’t know. — Kansas

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant. — Mark 10:42-43