How will you prevent this platform from ever becoming a for-profit like Couchsurfing™ did?
We fundamentally believe that attempting to make a profit out of couch-surfing is a bad idea. It introduces incentives that damage the community and would not make financial sense — the couch-surfing idea, based on non-transactional experiences, is not monetizable. This is about societal value, not monetary value.
We intend to keep the platform as non-profit forever. Our plan to follow this relies on three fundamental pillars:
We are legally established as a non-profit foundation, and our constitution contains provisions that prevents the company from ceasing to be a non-profit, or transferring its assets to an entity that is not a non-profit.
We will carry out a policy of distributed moderation, so that we will engage hundreds of moderators as volunteers around the world to moderate their own communities. We will make the platform reliant on volunteers, and so the entity controlling the platform could not be a for-profit business without violating laws in many countries. The foundation would have to remain as a non-profit to continue operating.
Our code base is open source. If the community ever feels like the leaders of the platform are not acting in their interest, they can simply fork the codebase, making a copy that is under control of new management.
We do encourage you to sign up and contribute ideas for how we can further secure Couchers.org as being non-profit forever.
Why are you working on this? What are you getting out of it?
Everyone in our team has had amazing experiences using Couchsurfing™, but we'd like to see it improved. A lot of us come from community leadership backgrounds including co-ops, clubs, unions, and open-source projects. We understand the value of communities and get a lot of joy in seeing them thrive. Quite honestly though, we want to build something that we'd want to use so we can have a better time when we're hosting or traveling.
We don't plan on making money out of this. There is no money to be made out of this. That's one important lesson we can learn from the monetization of Couchsurfing™.
Why don't you just work with any of the other non-profit platforms?
We are approaching this from a different angle. BeWelcome and TrustRoots have built platforms that are functionally different from Couchsurfing™, whereas we aim to build a platform that is functionally more similar (hosting, surfing, hangouts, events, etc. in a convenient app), but is modernized, far better designed and built, and with the community interests as the main priority.
There are also some core ideas that we want to build into the foundations, and that requires something new. We fundamentally believe that some of the actions taken by Couchsurfing™ in the design of its platform have damaged communities, but we also believe that the reverse can be true. With good architecture and design we can encourage healthy communities, user's safety, filter out creeps and freeloaders, and make the experience a better one for all users. You can read about our ideas for the design to achieve this.
This sounds great! Can I donate some money to help out?
We're really excited to hear that you're interested in the idea, but we don't believe we should accept funds from anyone before we have some real costs to cover and a useful product. We've put up some funds for the initial costs and those should last for quite some time.
If you want to help out in other ways, please get in touch and join the team.
How do you plan on funding this? Doesn't it cost a lot of money?
There are three main costs that Couchsurfing™ needs to cover that we will need to replicate:
- Moderators (following up on reports about bad user behavior, etc.)
- Server hosting and third-party services
We believe moderation can be built into the system where necessary so that more trusted members of the community can take charge of moderation actions, and we can rely on the volunteer efforts of moderators. This method is cost-effective, scalable and cements communities into the functioning of the platform.
On the development end, we will initially handle the build and development of the platform ourselves and have committed time to complete it. Over time, we wish to onboard more volunteers, and as time goes by, hope to hand over a number of development and maintenance tasks to individuals from the community, according to our governance model.
Server hosting will be our main cost, but we believe we will easily be able to cover the cost of hosting through donations from the community. We also believe Couchsurfing™ was built poorly, increasing the hosting costs. We believe that if we build a great platform for the community, the community will be willing to pitch in enough to keep it going.
How can you remain competitive or even build something good if you're so focused on not making money?
There are many companies that are not profit-seeking that perform far better than their competitors and provide greater societal value, including Wikipedia, TED, Khan Academy and the Red Cross (go donate some blood).
When do you think this will be ready to launch?
We have a bit of flexibility as people aren't traveling so much right now. Our aim is to have it ready by the time people are on the road again. Please sign up for regular updates, or join our community forum to get access to early testing versions which have already been released.