Couchsurfing.org began in 2003 as the good-natured traveler’s dream: a website that offered a forum for potential couch surfers and couch hosts to appeal to the budget-conscious backpacker. The site’s popularity boomed and became the online home to a worldwide community of couch surfers and reputable hosts, built from the positive experiences the site’s usage provided and the members who hoped to keep it that way.
In 2011, the management of Couchsurfing.org switched from a nonprofit organization to a capital backed startup intent on creating a wieldy “Facebook for travelers”. The redesign was met with disdain and backlash from many prominent members, culminating in an anger that peaked when the site wiped away years worth of community-generated data under it’s “Cities” section to replace it with a muddled “Places” page. Couch surfing aficionados lambasted the redesign and the new management, prompting the deletion of many profiles deemed a bit too vocal over the changes. A good number of the deleted members were known as important contributors to the original community.
The disappointment in Couchsurfing.org’s direction stems from the faint glimmer of the site’s brilliant premise that became too inviting for spammers and online predators, an undesirable group that was once easily intimidated and kept at bat by the wealth of honest commentary towards the best hosts and members. With the inability to access the original information, couchsurfers have scrambled to find a decent alternative. Many have turned to BeWelcome.org.
BeWelcome’s appeal is the community-driven focus that couch surfers yearn for and the promise that the site will remain as such. The site is part of a non-profit volunteer group registered in France, where public site laws work differently and ensure that it can’t meet the same fate as Couchsurfing.org (for now, at least. You can read the site’s assurance of remaining nonprofit and reasoning here). With a simple comment-based interface and the ability to search for hosts by cities, BeWelcome was once just a Couchsurfing.org knock-off that stayed in dormancy since its inception in 2007. It now features a swelling popularity.
The primary complaint with BeWelcome is that it doesn’t offer the utility or vast user-base of Couchsurfing.org, but as more CSer’s become infatuated with the welcoming aspects of the competing site, the hope is that it will eventually reach the user mass of the old community. Some BeWelcome fans have gone as far as to put postings on Couchsurfing.org with explicit instructions that they will confirm the surfing/hosting request only on their BeWelcome profile. The attempt to reinvigorate the couchsurfing community under a new site is one considered to be daunting, but it may prove to be an example of a self-sustaining group that can’t be easily corralled by a profit-driven management.
That should be the case since couchsurfers are pretty much gypsies anyways.
Featured image via chictraveler.com