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Tag Archive for 'haters'

Trust issues

Let’s take a step back and look at what hospitality services like Couchsurfing are really about. It is pretty obvious that almost all of the real-life activity associated with CS (hosting, being a guest, organising and attending meetings, collectives, etc) all require one simple thing from all participants: mutual trust. The content of profiles and of course especially the references (and vouches) are very much designed towards determining trust. Perhaps actually more a trust network than a travel network?

Yesterday, I loaned two American girls a key to my house. I had met them about 30 minutes before that. They followed me home from the train station, happily handing over parts of their luggage to relieve their own back. None of us asked for passports, identification, or anything. They are 19 years old. If you would try to explain this to an average person, they’d probably declare us nuts, but they would be mistaken. It is pure and simple “trust by default” and an extremely refreshing feeling considering the world we live in.

Oddly enough, it appears that for the organisation of Couchsurfing, this basic principle of trusting each other has been completely turned on its head. Of course, the most obvious and glaring distrust is between people in the leadership team and anyone critical of them. We have come to the point that practically any statement critical of the leaders results in the commenter being filed under the “haters” category, which can only happen if CS leaders like Jim Stone or Matthew Brauer distrust any interested volunteers by default. Worse, they have taken actions in return that can only be interpreted as defensive (moving of threats on forums, taking away rights on the Wiki, etc etc).

If you look at the organisational structure of Couchsurfing, you will notice that “distrust by default” is present everywhere. You cannot become ambassador if the already established ambassadors don’t explicitly trust you and it is very obvious they have a very different standard for that than they would as CS hosts. Worse still, you can’t ever become an admin or a leader if Casey doesn’t trust you personally and his criteria are, to say the least, murky. What do Jim and Matthew have in common which makes them elligable for this top position?

  1. A long term relationship with Casey.
  2. Americans.
  3. A fondness for partying hard*. (Burning man, etc.)

*This is something we hardly ever talk about, but common knowledge for anyone who’s been to a collective. It’s one of those unspoken truths that everyone seems to avoid on OCS, because it can easily be interpreted as a personal attack. To be clear: I’m not making moral judgements here about how they spend their free time (hey, go nuts!), but it does worry me that the organisational top is held together by this. However juicy the rest of the gossip is, I’m happy it doesn’t appear here.

Perhaps, and this is speculation of course, this situation has to do with some fundamental aspect of Casey’s psyche. If anything, the structure of CS is a reflection of his personality. And aren’t Jim and Matthew merely “channeling” Casey’s fundamental distrust, while of course taking it a bit further than Casey ever did? The fact that Casey started a trust network doesn’t have to be a contradiction to this, it could easily be an overcompensation on his part.

I don’t expect Casey to suddenly see the light and invite “us” into his castle. This would require an almost superhuman effort. But, something will happen eventually. Maybe something or someone will “break” eventually. (Casey has quit the project before, he might do it again.) Maybe people will drift off in separate directions.

The only thing I can hope for is that – somewhere in the future – the Couchsurfing organisation will reflect the one thing that it’s members rely on every day: trust.

Have a great weekend. Thomas

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.