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Tag Archive for 'NDA'

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California Supreme Court rejects noncompete clauses

Good news for all CouchSurfing volunteers who signed the non-disclosure agreement: the California Supreme Court rejects noncompete clauses.  Since it seems as if the organization has moved on to San Francisco it would be even harder to enforce anyone breaking the non-compete clause, although Matt Whatley seems to have been aware of issues with the non-compete clause in California.

John: “Casey’s style: indirect, manipulative, pulling strings from behind the scenes”

I think almost all of John’s comments deserve to be blog posts on their own. So I’m copying this one over here:


“I think it was Matrixpoint who said that Casey really insists that he is not the true leader of CS…”


Actually, I don’t know that he ever said this. On the contrary, since I first appeared at the Montreal Collective, and during the following year as a volunteer, I found it very difficult to determine the organizational structure of CS and Casey’s role in it.

Everyone knew that the organizational structure was being revamped as part of CS 2.0, but the only public information I could find was an organizational diagram on the website that showed a central box labeled “Admins and Founders” or the like, months after I left Montreal. I was disturbed to see this for two reasons: 1. the complete lack of detail of the internal structure of this box, and 2. it’s central position, which was in conflict with the agreed upon decentralized organizational structure suggested by the tree model (see the logo of this website) that was created during the Montreal Collective.

There was no particular mention anywhere that Casey was the supreme, unaccountable head of CS. He was only included among the list of 4 founders prominently featured on the website. There were no by-laws to be found. The only information available about the Admins was a brief statement that they were volunteers who helped with important administrative duties involved in running the website. No information about how they got their positions or whether there was a term of office, etc. No information about performance reviews, etc.

As someone who had begun volunteering full-time with the intention of working freely on behalf of the hospitality community for years to come, I sought clarification as to who I was actually working for. I made it clear that my intent was to work for the Community, not for Casey and the Admins unless they were in some way accountable to the Community. Why in the world would I (or anyone) work full time so that Casey and his hand-picked buddies could live it up in exotic locations, unless the Community who provided the support for that had some say in it?

I got no meaningful response to two lengthy requests for information from the Admins beginning in December, 2006. That’s when I started reconsidering my commitment to CS and paying attention to such matters as the NDA (another whole story in itself).

It wasn’t until the following year (in the spring I think) that Casey finally revealed to the developers that he was the sole member of the Board of Directors. (According to Pickwick, Casey’s told a different story to NH government officials).

So, you see, Casey’s style was very indirect. CS 2.0 was supposed to be about members participating in the operation and evolution of CS, and the emphasis was **decentralized** participation. It was “The CouchSurfing Project”, not “Couchsurfing International, Inc., Casey Fenton CEO and sole member of the Board of Directors”. “Do-ocracy” was promoted by at least one of the Admins, and another Admin was generating most of the communication which included a call for member involvement.” No where was it mentioned that these Admins derived all their power from Casey and that he quietly controlled everything with absolute authority. He rarely took a public stand one way or the other, but rather allowed people to form impressions, whether they agreed with his personal agenda or not, that he did nothing to correct.

An example of his indirect style was when he made Chris Burley the new Tech Team leader near the end of the New Zealand Collective. Chris obviously was functioning as Casey’s tool, being used by Casey to shake up the development team (probably due to issues with Joe and Kasper). Chris had very little familiarity with the code or with ongoing initiatives. He only had Casey’s authority backing him up and used it to rule with an iron fist, announcing that no “personal ideologies” would be tolerated and all developer-initiated projects would be put on indefinite hold. (Developers were clearly now to be thought of as order-following employees, but without the pay, not co-participants in a project to make the world a better place.) Casey remained quietly in the background while Chris took most of the heat for Casey’s “house-cleaning”. Chris quietly dropped off the radar by the end of last summer, as if his usefulness as a tool had expired.

What was most disturbing to me about this incident was that not long before this Casey had finally talked with me on the phone (after a 3 month wait) for a few hours and we seemed to have reached a meeting of minds. I explained to him that I would begin no new projects until the NDA was fixed (as he had promised some nine months before). I told him that it was outrageous as it stood. He said nothing in response. But he actually invited me to participate in the formulation of the organizational structure that was in its final stages. I said, yes, I would very much like to be involved. The result of this call was that I felt Casey had heard my concerns and that I now was getting some respect as a full-time volunteer (of more than half a year).

So I was very shocked that Casey appointed Chris, without even consulting me or any of the Tech Team about it, especially since he had the opportunity to discuss it with me on the phone and had given me the impression that he wanted me to be in the loop when it came to organizational issues.

I was even more shocked when I sent him an email saying that although Chris might be a good choice based on his past general contributions (this was before his new personality as a “leader” emerged) but that he didn’t have enough technical knowledge to lead the team, and a least another co-leader who did was needed. Casey never responded to my email.

I was even more shocked when the new organizational structure was announced (completely done in secret), and that what little apparent accountability it seemed to include amounted to nothing.

I was ultimately shocked when the proposed NDA came out (after a year) that was supposed to be the “fixed” version, but it was 10 times worse than the original. It had the feel of the Patriot Act to me. I was utterly uppalled by the mindset that produced it, and by the way this whole drawn-out fiasco was conducted by Casey and his appointed elite.

I certainly felt the trust I had put in Casey as a result of the phone call completely betrayed, and I took the NDA as an indirect message to me that I was no longer wanted as a developer, since I had publicly announced I would no longer begin any new projects if the NDA wasn’t sufficiently fixed.

I would have much preferred that Casey had told me this directly, as I would have preferred that he shake-up the Tech Team himself instead of having a henchman do his dirty work for him.

This is Casey’s style: indirect, manipulative, pulling strings from behind the scenes, while giving a casual, no-worries, laid-back, often non-committal impression in public: a fun guy to party with.

In case any one is wondering whether Casey might have been justified in “cleaning house”, I can say that the 4 core developers made a huge contribution to CS, much more so than Casey, at least in the technical area, for most of the year following the Montreal Collective. (I suspect it was our very success that scared Casey, and threatened his absolute control.) Speaking for myself, the greatest problems I encountered as a volunteer developer were all caused either directly or indirectly by Casey or the Admins due to their arbitrary assertions of power without understanding the situation, extremely poor communication, and poor judgment. Working with the Community, on the other hand, was delightful and I still have those good memories.


Casey Love

Damn Kasper, how do you do those quotes?

Thanks ;)

For your information: this is an extract of the original post by Kasper (

Thomas said:

It would be nice if Diederik could speak up about his experience and his own evaluation of the CS organisation.

A (small) word of warning: Speaking out against CS will almost automatically get you lumped in with the “OCSers”, even if you specifically state that you aren’t.

Well, to be honest, I probably already am. Some months ago, I had some posts, also on my own website. Seems that the communication went dead afterwards.

Let’s start at the beginning. I think this gives a better insight in my current feelings towards the Techteam, and in general: the leader of it, and Casey (ok, here comes my ban…)

My CS experience started at my former employer. Walter was a programmer then. I and Walter could (and still can) get along quite well, and I was invited in his house.
There were several great people, which had the same “frequency” (another word of saying we could get along, but that sentence would became corny ;) ). I met Duke, Aldo, Tiina, Paul and some others I forgot due to the use of ethanol ) My current position then was system engineer, and I was asked for that position at couchsurfing.

That would become handy, because of the start of the Rotterdam Tech Collective. Some several others were there too. Anu* (love!), Weston, Naz (great friend), Chris where several of them.
I got introduced with Nicco and we had great chats about the code (I’m not a programmer, so having some insight is perfect for me), system engineering, the couchsurfing system etc, etc. At that time, there were several things an issue. Nicco and I (as the only admins, besides some Indian people) started to work.

We had an agenda, and could start.

Several issues were addressed quite quick. Most of them are not-to-be-disclosed, but several were visible from the outside:

That time, the collective was already 3 months (or something like that) in the past. Several people came to become “sysadmin”, Nicco was degraded as leader, while Weston became TT-Leader (managing dev and sysadmin). Communication became less and less. From some times, we couldn’t reach Casey, which was our first contact for the code. At that time, my irritation began (my irritation towards the OCS was already there ;) ). Could some parts from OCS be *INDEED* true?

(Anu isn’t really stupid, you know, and Daz is just Daz and should drop dead, etc etc ;) ) At that time, it seemed to *ME* that some people were only busy programming, and not with management.

We had a great CSInterklaas weekend, and the Thai-collective started. We had several “incidents” before and after that (not-to-be-disclosed), and my irritation was at top. When I decided to resign (1 week ago) at the same time the poweroutage at the datacenter happened. Bad timing… Or probably not, because there were some more “incidents”.

This morning, I pulled the plugs from cs-sysadmins, cs-erc, cs-devel(|public). At my desktop is a Freemind scheme (, go get it) with my thoughts, idea’s and remedies. I had the idea to post it in the CS-Sysadmin group for learning. If only someone would not only *READ* it, but also *REPLY* to it. Therefor, I decided not to do so. I have the feeling that I’m being ignored, so why should I put more energy in it?

From my opinion (an censored version of the mindmap):

  • Where’s the communication?
    We are having more and more people, which asks more communcation to happen. The group only has 3 or 4 skype-meetings, and no real agenda. LT has, I believe that dev has. Why doens’t sysadmin have one?Miscommunications happen too often. Get a good IRC channel, AND STICK WITH IT. Use it like SVN, and make sure that you are the only one working on one problem.
  • Weston should resign from being a techteam-leader.
    Weston is a great guy (as well as Casey btw), but he is a programmer (as well as Casey). I believe that Casey and Weston should either resign from sysadminning and start programming OR do resign from both, and become a real manager (that is: delegate and check).
  • Get things prioritized
    Sticks with the communication part. Changing passwords is not an problem, but if changing OSes is having an higher priority, get that done.
  • Have more communication between CS-Sysadmin and development
    Commit often
    Commit the build to the webservers *NOT* often, but on an weekly base, and *COMMUNICATE* what the differences are. This ensures that everyone knows what is going on, and can act upon unexpected behaviour…
  • Learn from mistakes
    D’oh ;)

Let’s end with some positive notes:

  • I met all those great people. Some of those I want to mention: Nicco (thanks mate), Anu, Naz, Aldo (thanks a lot with the thinking), Martine (hug), Stijn, and all those others. Not to mention all those people that we hosted, will host, and I blatantly forgot.
  • I still believe that CS works. It needs to change. An negative one here is that I don’t believe that that will happen in the near future.
  • I still will be hosting with my girlfriend. We have a lively community in Rotterdam, which I love.
  • I seem to understand better and better where this OCS is all about. I only hope that I won’t reach the cynical level of communication that some of OCS have. At the same moment I feel that I will become only more bitter.

I guess that the post shuld be called “Casey Love”, the feeling that you were loved, but the other end just decides to move on to the next one.

Love from Rotterdam!

Diederik (And Frank Sinatra… “The best is yet to come”)

p.s. When resigning from cs-sysadmins this morning, I saw the description of the group. Guess that this one is not NDA bound:

“Description: This group is free from political agendas and personal ideologies. It is a place to serve the one of the core needs(server administration) of the CS Organization in order to make sure that the members have access to the site at all times so that they can experience inter cultural understanding.”

Finally the new NDA! Beware, it’s very funny!

For your convenience I put it a copy of the new CouchSurfing NDA on the OpenCS wiki.

It’s so beyond anything that it’s very funny, and merely deserves to be laughed at.

The burning question is just: Who will be asked to sign this monstrous document?

CouchSurfing NDA Lessons

Reading recent posts on this blog I realise that a number of people signed the CouchSurfing NDA under the impression “it was going to be fixed”.

I think there’s an important lesson for volunteers to learn here. Don’t sign unless you’re happy with what you’re signing.

It’s impossible to say how things could have happened if people had made different choices, that’s not my purpose here. I’m looking forward, both to new CouchSurfing volunteers and to other NDAs. If you’re not happy with the terms, don’t sign them. A verbal agreement to change the terms later simply doesn’t cut it.

I held off signing the NDA on the basis that it would interfere with future businesses I might be involved in. Now, I’m glad I made that choice, because it seems clear that CouchSurfing (Casey) have no intention of producing an NDA I would be willing to sign. is Back is back online after almost 20 hours of down time.

This downtime was especially frustrating for a number of reasons.

1) It was unannounced. Even on the public developers list, there was no forewarning of the upgrade. No doubt travellers were left stranded while the site was down for almost a full day.

2) It clearly wasn’t planned well enough. There are so many willing and skilled volunteers who could have helped with this upgrade, if it weren’t for CouchSurfing’s ludicrous NDA.

I warmly encourage you to take action now, join the campaign, sign the petition.

Silence and misunderstandings

This site has been getting quite a bit of attention so far. Couchsurfers are responding to these issues from all sides, both positively and negatively. Overall, it can be said that the majority of reactions respond positively to the concept of more openness. The main objections are to the style of communication and to individual campaigns.

Why in this (direct and not so subtle) way? Why not through the organisation itself? Why now? Why not wait for … (insert something here)?

The Wiki main page adresses this more thouroughly, but simply put:

  • We believe direct action is needed because there is no real incentive for Casey and/or the admins to change anything or even communicate about these issues. By creating this (deliberate) tension, we at least force a discussion. Open Couchsurfing is not about forcing the changes themselves (all of our campaigns are in a proposal fase), but it is about forcing the dialogue.
  • You might be shocked by some of our disclosures: Security Concerns and Technical Information. Two points to keep in mind: 1) The issues listed in there are in direct contradiction to the Terms of Use and the Privacy statement on 2) I personally don’t consider the NDA as legally binding: it is misrepresentative and not enforcable. In fact, it’s dangerous and (again) in contradiction with the Terms of Use not to disclose this information. Couchsurfing promises to respect your privacy and protect your data and yet is not diligent in this. It is our moral duty to report this kind of thing.
  • There have been many attempts to do this through the organisation itself, by dozens of people. There is an Open Organisation CS group and especially within the tech team, protest has been loud and sustained. It is very logical that the tech team is at the fore-front of this discussion because they are closest to the core team (they see a lot of what happens) and are directly impacted by the closed decisionmaking of the core team, the NDA and all that stuff.
  • We have been waiting for too long.”Wait!” sounds exactly like “No!” at this point.

Things that have been long overdue:

  • A new NDA was promised back in June 2006 (!). There is supposedly a new one, that has been seen at by everyone (lawyers, admins, etc) except for the people it applies to: the developers.
  • First there was talk of a new governing structure to replace the admins, namely “The Leadership Circle” and now appearantly it has been implemented already. Nobody knows what it is, who’s in there, what they do, how it differs from the admin group, etc. But this is the structure that is currently governing the site? Weird.
  • A simple reply from Casey Fenton to So far, only Dan and Leonardo (both admins) have replied and there has been some (private) communication with Aldo (also an admin). The rest? Silent as ever.

On a side note, we’re trying (as per some people’s suggestion) to present the “other side” of the argument as well. Please help us complete the Wiki with pro’s and con’s.

Why a non-compete clause will be very harmful to CouchSurfing

Mattthew Brauer is one of the people who is involved in the creation of a new Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) for CouchSurfing. The current NDA is simply ridiculous, it transfers all trade secrets from the volunteer to CouchSurfing. A trade secret is a very ill-defined term that literally can include anything you can think of, such as “programming techniques” and “software patents”. The NDA should be limited to giving CouchSurfing a license to use the work of the volunteer, it should not try to transfer copyrights or just ideas.

My main concern for the new NDA used to be this part. A secondary concern is the non-compete clause, which forbids the signee from working for related organizations or companies, which is, again a bit vague. It could mean that if you sign the NDA, you can’t work for any other website. Or you can’t work for a travel agency.

When I signed the NDA in August 2006, Casey told me the NDA would be changed. This year I found out Casey Fenton had already been promising a new NDA in June 2006. It’s nearly one year later and no draft has been shown to people outside the Leadership Circle. Mattthew, one of the people who was working on this wrote yesterday:

I support a reasonable non-compete clause. The non-compete clause will apply only to other travel related social networks and will last for one year. It’s good for CS to require a commitment from volunteers. They have to make the choice to work for CS over competitors, and if they make that commitment, they are likely to be dedicated and motivated. It’s also safest for CS to ask that volunteers don’t immediately go work for competitors with the knowledge they’ve gained from CS.

…and I am deeply shocked. I know that many CS volunteers are also volunteers for Hospitality Club. I know that most people don’t give a damn about whether it’s called CouchSurfing, Servas, HomeStay, WWOOFing, WarmShowersList, BeWelcome, or WhatEver, as long as they meet interesting people. Most volunteers care about the mission of all these organization a lot more than that they care about the individual organizations.

And what about Hitchwiki, Wikitravel and other websites created by travelers. Add “friend links” and voila, suddenly it’s a travel related network, and anyone who has signed the NDA for CouchSurfing can’t work on these projects anymore.

from feeling part of something bigger, from responsibility. Someone who takes the step to find out how to volunteer is already motivated, and in CS, if they actually get to do something they must have been truly very dedicated, going through mires of information, contacting many people without getting replies. Commitment doesn’t come through the force of law.

If there will be any non-compete clause in the new NDA, I will stop doing any work for CouchSurfing and demand that the NDA I signed in August is declared void. I am sure that other technically inclined people will do the same. Since the NDA is also supposed to be signed by many more people CouchSurfing will loose a lot of its core volunteers, the people who have been struggling for more transparency, who have been working off their asses for free, and who have been able to keep the site running. If they leave, CS will be left amputated and there will just be a core of people who highly value secrecy and prefer to work with people who think the same as they do and with whom they have been close friends with for a long time.


P.S. If there will be a non-compete clause the OpenCS project could be terminated very soon: Yesterday I heard it’s likely that BeWelcome will soon release their code under the GNU General Public License.