CouchSurfing, the room-sharing service of choice for Burning Man attendees, free-spirited geeks and backpacking college students, just announced it's selling out and going corporate with $7.6 million in venture funding. Now users are in open revolt.
Since its launch in 2003, CouchSurfing has embodied the communitarian ethos of the early social web. It's a network of three million thrifty travelers in 81,000 cities which operates on a system of "vouching" to make sure potential guests aren't serial killers. Up until last month, it was a non-profit. Geek-idealist-in-chief Julian Assange even had a profile.
Last month, though, CouchSurfing raised $7.6 million in venture funding and became a for-profit corporation. Seems like they looked around and saw that new start-up room-sharing services like AirBnB are raising giant wads of cash and buying themselves fancy offices with indoor treehouses and chocolate fountains and everything. The company's doing its best to remain true to its roots even as it accepts dirty money: It's registering as a "B corporation," which supposedly indicates a dedication to social responsibility, and CouchSurfing's founder, Casey Fenton, has taken on a new role as "Chief Inspiration officer."
Unsurprisingly, a number of CouchSurfing diehards are screaming "sell out!" About 1,400 of them have launched a protest movement on the site under a group called "We are against CS becoming a corporation." They argue that CouchSurfing's source code and user database are products of the community, and shouldn't be mined for profits. Some users have even proposed a "strike," to keep from contributing to CouchSurfing, Inc.'s profits.
We'll see if CouchSurfing can stay weird while turning pro. When I was in college in Portland, my house was registered on CouchSurfing and it was a more colorful experience than is offered by AirBnB, which aspires to make room-sharing as blandly expedient checking into a hotel (excluding the occasional rampaging meth head).
One kid I remember in particular is the French Canadian who stayed for a night and arranged a ride to San Francisco for the next morning on Craigslist. The rideshare was free but came with a catch: He had to give the driver a handjob. We talked for a while about whether it would be best to give the handjob at the beginning of the ride (and risk getting scammed) or at the end (and be forced to spend 5 hours making small talk with a man whose erect penis you know you'll be touching before the day is out.) But when I came downstairs the next morning he was sitting forlornly at the kitchen table: the guy never showed up. [GigaOm]