Couch surfing: Mi casa es su casa

The Boston Globe in “Take The Couch” (8/22/07) highlights an organization CouchSurfing.com  that we listed on the Saguaro Seminar website many months back on our social capital in organizations page.

The site offers a way for people (mainly in their 20s) to share their ‘couches’ with others who are traveling and find couches to crash on across the world when they are traveling.  The site’s creators believe it is more about making human connections than about saving a hotel night’s rate; other sites like hospitalityclub.org aim more for the latter.

The story reports that “tracks the number of registered users and how many cities are represented, but it also follows the connections and friendships that have been forged. According to its website, nearly 240,000 friendships have been created so far among more than 285,000 registered users.”

And having listed one’s couch, one is not required to actually make it available to anyone requesting; one has alternate options like meeting the traveler for a cup of coffee (assuming the traveler finds alternate accommodation).

The Globe also reports that “has grown into a global nonprofit organization with hundreds of volunteers. Experienced CouchSurfers can become ‘ambassadors’ for the website, organizing events for local CouchSurfers to get together.”

And the site takes efforts to try to build up trust between the couch-provider and couch-taker.  “It provides safeguards for hosts and surfers. For a $25 fee, the website’s administrators verify bank accounts and mailing addresses, to prove that users are who they say they are. References on each user’s profile build confidence among other surfers. Members are also given the opportunity to reach the highest level of verification available called ‘vouching,’ in which they are essentially ‘vouched for’ by three CouchSurfers who themselves have been ‘vouched for’ already.”  It makes sense: using social capital to create synthetic trust between strangers.  As one couch-offerer noted, “It’s tough to believe the kid you’re meeting at the airport is getting off a plane from China to come here and steal my Nintendo Wii.”

Full story available here.

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