Morgan Tocker (mtocker) wrote,

Why (I think) hospitality exchange networks should be distributed.

I don't have a myspace account, I can think of hundreds of people I still have to linkup with on LinkedIn, and my facebook account only gets checked every few days[1], so some might claim I'm not a real consumer of the social networking kool aid.

I'm a consumer of Hospitality Exchange networks though, so I thought I would try and write a bit of a history for the unintiated from my perspective.

The first 'large'[2] website was Hospitality Club ("HC"), started by Veit. For me Hospitality club is now dead in the water. The best volunteers walked out about a year ago to start BeWelcome, and Veit just can't attract the talent to keep his servers up, or afford to pay them.

The second 'large' website was probably Couchsurfing.com, which soaked up a lot of press when a crash managed to bring the website down, and almost meant the end of the website.

For some people couchsurfing was an answer to Veit's ridiculous snooping and censorship (where words like 'couchsurfing' are literally banned). But in many ways it's become a victim of the same problem itself. It seems to be in an interesting position right now for two reasons:


  1. Lack of transparency led to a protest (Opencouchsurfing.org[3]), and a new "proposed nda" led to the resignation of many volunteers.

  2. It can now afford to pay fulltime staff. Three of them infact.



I don't think that couchsurfing people percieve they are doing anything wrong, but with in their doors-closed discussions the usa-centric leadership team makes decisions with a lot of cultural backgrounds that are not represented.

BeWelcome is a new network which seems to address a lot of couchsurfing's problems for me. They have a Board of Directors that are apointed for one year terms. Yes, elections!

I've started volunteering in small amounts to bewelcome, and their code is about to be GPL'ed, which is great news. I consider it to be the third generation in the Hospitality Exchange saga, but I'm not sure if it completes the story for me. I want to make it impossible for "power to corrupt" this time around.

BeWelcome doesn't actively sensor members, but they do make sure that discussion and groups created are "in line" with the main mission. This means that JoeRedneck isn't allowed to create a lesbian hate group and call BeWelcome home. Fair enough, nor should he.

But let's take a greyer example; is someone allowed to create a YouTube-Videos-Of-The-King-Are-Funny[4] BeWelcome group? In a free and open society, I would say yes. In Thailand however, Youtube is
blocked and self-sensorship means that the local population is likely to view this as unacceptable also.

Which gets me to my point; the views on what are "acceptable" are culturally always going to be different. Let's start by recognising that.

I like to think of this difference as to why we have local and federal government. How I can see this implimented into hospitality exchange is by having many networks, with the ability for people to roam between them with a single signon. The technology exists; it's called OpenID (for the not familiar - it's similar to MSN passport but distributed).

Some examples of Hospitality networks could be:

  • Christian Couchsurfers

  • Queer Couchsurfers

  • Existing Organisations (Scouts?)



Individual networks can choose their own rules regarding membership and policy. Christian couchsurfers might not want to accept signups from non-christians and Scouts may require that people be an existing _or_ former member of the Scouts organistion. Networks can even charge membership fees. It's entirely their choice.

You don't need massive numbers for these networks to work. Given that;
a) You can roam across other networks as well as your own (openid)
b) If everyone at the company I worked for (My SQL) joined a network, I would already have a couch in 25 countries. We have less than 400 staff.

I plan to follow up with this "why I think they should be distributed" with
"how they can be distributed" once I document more of the technical workings in detail.

[1] Apparently this makes me the minority of facebookers. Weird.
[2] Servas pre-dates Hospitalityclub by years. Globalfreeloaders is also quite a large network I ommit from this story.
[3] Disclaimer; I was involved with this.
[4] When the comedic King of Thailand video hit Thailand, the government literally blocked the whole domain; youtube.com. Trying to circumvent the block (proxies, etc) is illegal.
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