Thursday, November 08, 2007

CouchSurfing

Here's a potentially exciting, or scary, combination of technology and travel. For no charge, anyone can register at couchsurfing.com to become a member of what amounts to an accommodation exchange network. In registering, you agree to take on two roles in the project.

The first role is that of a host. As a host, you sign on to provide accommodations (the proverbial couch) to a surfer at your leisure. Yes, you announce to the world your willingness to open your house to a complete stranger!

As a surfer, you search for and request accommodations at the destination of your choice. If you can work out a consensual arrangement with a host, you are on your way to being a guest in the home of a person you have never met who lives perhaps half a world away!

So what's the upside of this system? Here's what one surfer has said: "I won’t set foot in hotels or hostels anymore. I won’t not couch surf anymore. You get a lot more cultural interaction. You get to meet people. Instead of going off a guidebook, you stay with someone who lives there. You see the country you’re going to see instead of the Americanized version of it. And you make a friend. It’s a much more personal experience." (For this and other happy quotes, see http://www.bellinghamherald.com/lifestyle/story/227898.html.)

There's the obvious question to ask about all of this. How do you avoid the seemingly inevitable outcome of getting paired up with an ax murderer? The system's safeguard is a pretty commonplace idea on the web today--the marketplace of peer review. Like eBay, Amazon, and other Internet exchange sites, hosts and surfers have the opportunity to provide feedback to the community about their experiences with particular individuals. Why does this peer feedback not comfort me all that much in this particular context ? Could it be that one bad experience could cost you more than a few dollars?

As if you haven't guessed, you can count me out on the couchsurfing deal. I'll stick to Motel 6, the Chinese Tibetan Medicine Hotel (small, hard beds and all)...anything but a couch that I really know nothing about, despite the faith I might have in humanity (a lot) and the Internet (somewhat less).

~Steve

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