Surf Around the World! An Analysis of ‘couchsurfing.com’

On: September 20, 2008
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About Dorris de Heij
I finished my Bachlor in Information science last year and am now a student at the New Media Master.

Website
http://www.dorrisnewmedia.blogspot.com    
The website http://www.couchsurfing.com/ was founded in 2004 by four guys interested in traveling and meeting new people and cultures. Nowadays the Couchsurfing community contains 725,731 members, of which 73.5 % is between 18 and 29 years old. The site represents couches in 231 countries.

Couchsurfing is a non profit organisation based primarely on volunteers and donations.
It is a site for people who want to meet new people and travel cheap. The site only works because there are mostly non opportunistic people on there, everybody hosts and travels.
The mission of the project stated on the website is as follows:
“CouchSurfing seeks to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding. As a community we strive to do our individual and collective parts to make the world a better place, and we believe that the surfing of couches is a means to accomplish this goal.
CouchSurfing is not about the furniture, not just about finding free accommodations around the world; it’s about making connections worldwide. We make the world a better place by opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives. We open our minds and welcome the knowledge that cultural exchange makes available. We create deep and meaningful connections that cross oceans, continents and cultures. CouchSurfing wants to change not only the way we travel, but how we relate to the world! ”

One girl from Prague has multiple people over EACH day! She must be a filantropist because couchsurfing is not about moneymaking. It is helping out strangers, offering them your bed and show them your city. Reciprocity is very important in this lifestyle. If you host people you will get good reviews and those reviews help you to get a couch if you go travel yourself. The fact that these reviews are a major issue assures you, I think, that only (or at least mostly) wellwilling, peaceloving world improvers will use this website. You can see most are caring for the environment, they have rules like: if you stay here you have to recycle.. And they have philosophies on their profile like: “Helping others is my pesonal choice, I cannot expect, that they will help me, but i always hope.” This makes me very happy, to see all these warm, no worries, loving people together on one website. It is more than just a website to score a free bed when you’re on holidays, it’s a meeting place, a community for people with like minded points of view of this world.

One thing that does concerns me though is that there are many males on there, 51,4 % is male, 40.5 % is female, rest are several people. Are guys more hospital than girls or do they search for girls to come and sleep over? This is a question that draws agaist the idea of couchsurfing but I couldn’t help but wondering. To be more sure about the ultimate Internet question: is the person he/she says to be online really that guy/girl, you can your profile “Verified”, this means you transfer a minimal amount of money to the couchsurfing company and that way they can check via your creditcard information if you really are who you say you are. Also the references and the vouches you can give people help you tot trust the people using this great initiative.

Then I came across a blog which is completely tearing down the couchsurfing project: http://www.opencouchsurfing.org/2007/07/20/couchsurfing-20-is-dead/ . They don’t think it is a web 2.0 application since they’ve hired more staff who need to be paid and still use volunteers for programming but not letting them co-decide in decisions about the website. One volunteer who worked for the website a long time says Couchsurfing has become a corporation who do what they want without listening to its users/volunteers, he writes: ” Unless, of course, one regards CS as a corporation, and the management has absolute authority to do what they will and volunteers are just “hired” help who should just be thankful for the opportunity to work for such a respected international corporation. This was NOT this spirit of the community that brought CS back from the crash, but something precious has been lost along the way.” So the non opportunistic website it seems to be is changing and maybe becoming less web 2.0 than before. Still, users are the ones making this website possible, it’s still free to use and the website functions as a platform/community website like a web 2.0 application should. Another blog about the question if couchsurfing.com is using it’s volunteers has a comment from someone saying it is just about the question of making CS open source or not, which they decided to do not, this commentator understands the CS corporation for wanting to protect their work and not make it an open source application. (http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/couchsurfing-emerging-as-a-case-study-in-company-community-foul-up/2007/10/17)

The people on these blogs refer a lot to another “couchsurfing” website: http://www.bewelcome.org/, this one actually ís open source. I’ll check this one out as well and see if I can find the differences and at which one I will earlier find a place to stay in Prague in Decembre ..

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