Thursday, February 18, 2016

The fall of Couchsurfing and the need for DApps

Abstract: How Ethereum DApps can be applied even outside finances and how communities can benefit from technologies of the future.

Couchsurfing (or at least the idea of it) used to be a community of people who would welcome each other in various places around the world, show them the local culture, recommend best local places and since many people have a spare couch at home, why not let the traveller crash there for a night or two.

Of course, not everybody knows everyone so people would leave references for each other after having spent some time together. The reference would include information such as how long you've known the person, whether your experience of them was positive or negative and of course a paragraph or two. The site emphasized that references are the fundamental tool to keep people secure.

People have accumulated lots of positive references over the years by letting backpacking travelers crash on their couch and showing them around. People knew they could trust a bunch of good references. This good track record would make it easier to find a couch when they go traveling (which for a typical CSer is often). So we could say that having lots of good references on CS has some value and is not that easy to build.

Of course, nothing lasts forever and CS, no longer a non-profit, is moving away from the original idea. The home page is saying something about staying somewhere for free. No mention of cultural exchange, making new friends. The last step they've taken is removing metadata from references, leaving only the verbal description. So you can no longer see at a glance if it's positive or negative. Want to know if that stranger is trustworthy enough to let them stay? Sure, just read through all of their references!

The reason CS is doing this is because they are now owned by the same group which owns AirBnB and other paid accommodation services. "Free accommodation" using couchsurfing is not a good alternative to their paid services so they need to get rid of it. And delete years worth of good references.

We could say the problem is in the amorality of new owners of CS destroying the community and something that the people have been building. Maybe. The CS website owns all the data that users have entered there and it has control over what shows on the website. They are able to do any move that's bad for the community and the users are powerless even though they create the site's content and actually the entire value of the website.

It doesn't have to be like that. Scientists are working Computer nerds are working on a new Web, one where users are in control because they own the site and its data collectively. No longer having to trust one person or company that could become evil or simply sell out to some greedy profit-seeker. In this way, changes that wouldn't benefit the community could not be made, data could not be deleted.

Those websites are called DApps (from distributed apps, because they are owned by multiple people) and they are slowly becoming possible thanks to technologies such as Ethereum, Bitcoin, IPFS and others. They can be used to build financial services, true democratic communities or what I've described above. Sounds interesting? Get involved! Even if you're not technical at all, an ordinary user can help a lot in this early stage. Install the apps. Start playing around, get involved in discussion, many ideas still need figuring out. Tell other people about the idea.

And what is the fate of Couchsurfing? Multiple people are thinking about starting a new site. Starting from scratch, without the data that has been built in CS because there's no way to transfer the data to a new place (another problem of the old website system). Building a new CS as an DApp would not be easy at this moment because there's very little support available for DApp developers, it is a very unexplored area and needs original work to build anything, unlike traditional websites. But that will change over time.


  1. Hey Roman,

    This is a great post. I was just thinking this over in my head yesterday. CouchSurfing didn't have to die. The idea is strong. We should bring it back as a DApp! You mentioned knowing some people working on this? Who are they? can you connect me to them? I'm @hschoenburg on twitter

  2. I'm afraid no one is remaking CS as a DApp. I heard about some attempts to remake CS as a traditional web app (BeWelcome for example). And it seems people are using AirBnB more where the expectations are clear (pay and get proper bed).

    But DApp reputation systems are far from dead, uPort on Ethereum looks like one, maybe will do something as well.

  3. It's been few years since the blog post. Is there any DApp alternative now?