The Invisible Key (1)

I was very lucky in 2007, someone called me and offered a spacious flat in the center of the city. Two months after I moved in, I already had all the dinners I could have with my old time friends, but still felt it’d be cool to share it with more people, besides, I used to have lots of free time back then. A good friend talked to me about hospitality networks like CouchSurfing or Hospitality Club. Had my doubts, but gave it a try and decided to start hosting. Little I knew how that small internet move would change my life forever.

My first guests were a no show. Is this what hospex is about? I wondered. Then another couple finally showed up; we had dinner at a taberna near by and tried to show them around as I’d do with a friend who’d come to visit. We had a great time, talking about many interesting subjects and learning from each other’s culture & life. And I had the best Italian dish ever, as far as I could remember. A few weeks later after them, two New Yorkers asked me to stay and I thought it would be a good opportunity to catch up with people from one of my favorite cities. To make a long story short, I woke up one day to be served 3 different type of vegan cakes for breakfast. After that, the awkward feeling about allowing an unknown person home was gone for good, and I was definitely hooked to hosting.

Apparently, at the same time my new social life was growing so were the hospitality exchange networks. CS was reaching half million members, Hospitality Club was also getting big and other names like Warmshowers, Freeloaders and even BeWelcome were starting to be familiar around the web. More people were coming by, others locals were interested in the idea, and the whole thing had the feeling of a bunch of similar mind set people forming an international community around the globe. Not something you see everyday, at least no easily.

Each visitor I’d welcomed home would bring new stuff about life styles, interests, country’s culture (the food omg!) and other many times fascinating and undiscovered (to me) subjects. It was easy to feel that interacting with people from so many different backgrounds was adding great color to my life canvas, making me cast off old preconceptions and helping me grow as a human being, just to mention a few. I’d happily open the door of my home to this wonderful strangers, or should I say, these friends to be met. The best part? Hard to say but probably the fact that it was a real life experience, hardly consuming a 5% of the whole thing on line, the rest was a face to face participation.

Allowing Trust to be part of my life also started to grow the number of options available. It was almost as if suddenly many invisible doors would open, not to mention my own mind. Many came to knock on, but no matter how much hosting was done, there was always more receiving than giving. Spaniards, Canadians, Americans, Taiwanese, Italians, French, Palestinians, British, Argentinians, Japanese, Dutch, Belgians, Hungarians, Czechs, Germans, Israelis, Slovaks, New Zealanders, Australians, Latvians, Peruvians, Polish, Ukrainians, Swedish, Portuguese, Mexicans, Turkish, Swiss, Slovenians, and other nationalities I can’t remember. We all had so much in common. Not only Spain, earth was home now. And I hadn’t even started staying at other people’s home…

Thanks for reading. This will continue on a following post in the next weeks.

How we “use” Facebook

It seems there is a misunderstanding about how we’re using Facebook. I’m getting some signals that some people don’t want to sign up “because of Facebook”. Let me clarify three things about what we do with Facebook.

  • There is no and there never will be any obligation to have a Facebook account to use Trustroots.
  • It’s not possible to sign up with Facebook, it’s merely possible to link your Trustroots account to Facebook. More than half of current users have done so.
  • If a user has linked their Facebook account with us we’ll use their profile picture if the user hasn’t set a Gravatar image. This is using the Facebook Social Graph and if you don’t want FB to receive any data from you you should set up e.g. Ghostery. Or help with this issue.

Then there are some ideas that we’ll work out at some point:

  • IF you have a connection with your Facebook account we’ll have a map layer that will show you your FB friends on the map. (Likewise for Twitter.)
  • IF you have a connection with your Facebook account we’ll try to show you which of your friends are also on Facebook so you can connect with them on Trustroots.

And then there’s the long term goal to actually get people out of Facebook for many things, starting with some very active FB groups related to low budget traveling.

Life outside the Big Blue Box

It’s not that everyone needs to stop using Facebook but those who actually communicate with friends, participate in communities and organise real life meetings really should start using something else as well. The rest could spend less time looking at stream of pictures and random blurbs, but for that Facebook is really ideal. Just like television.

As I’ve already written before:

Somebody said: “i would love to see hitchhikers leave CS and FB for their chats”. I promise to work hard to make this happen. Might take a year or two but eventually, slowly. *

Facebook can be very effective tool at organising events or building communities. A lot of people are reachable via it daily. Hitchgathering — the annual gathering of European hitchhikers — was originally organised purely at the wiki and mailing lists, but slowly discussions moved over to Facebook. It has grown from a mailing list of 100 actives to a Facebook group of 7000. Daily at the group people ask questions, look for travel companions and hosts. The same has happened to many previously active CouchSurfing groups.

Just ignoring the power of Facebook won’t lead anywhere, we have to be more pragmatic.

Ok, so how do we get people out?

At communities we develop, we shouldn’t overlook the “Facebook effect”. Instead let’s allow people to use their data from Facebook so that they could benefit from their existing contacts, events, profiles and groups without visiting the blue site itself. At the same time you need to offer these tools to meet people’s needs at your network and frankly just do a better job. Your network cannot be built only upon Facebook obviously, but it can benefit from it and therefore survive. Facebook does not get any of your data or contacts from Trustroots. You don’t have to be pushing anything (or anyone) back to Facebook.

For instance, at Trustroots we allow people to connect with their profiles in Facebook and elsewhere. That’s not at all required of course (and will never be). Those not using Facebook won’t miss a thing.

Trustroots minimizes your time spent online and maximizes time spent with people. Almost the opposite of FB, which gets people addicted and attached to the site, to sell ads.

However hard we try to encourage people to fill up their profiles and hope they’ll bring friends with them to the new network, they will still leave their profiles empty and their friend connections will mostly remain outside Trustroots. For a new site to nourish and avoid having a stack of empty profiles, it’s important to have also other mechanisms to show they are real, trustworthy people with a history of social interactions collected somewhere else.

Trustroots is still at the very early stage, but eventually we’re planning to:

Link to your other profiles

Creating an account anywhere is quick, but creating years of social history isn’t. Why hide it? You can now already add a link to your Twitter and Facebook profiles.

See your contacts on a map

See in an instant where all your Facebook friends are. You can use the same feature with your Trustroots connections; FB just brings extra content to it and many people who are not likely to join Trustroots anytime soon.

See who/what you have in common with someone

If you like the same groups, follow the same person on Twitter, have mutual contacts in Trustroots or Facebook, you will probably trust that person more. Even with an empty profile.

Fill your profile with content from other sites

Now, this idea has been getting interesting criticism. Automatic filling is often perceived as lazyness. It’s nothing more than copy-pasting your CouchSurfing or BeWelcome profile descriptions. If that prevents empty profiles, be it. Again, you still need other methods to encourage people to make their profiles interesting.

Show who of your Facebook contacts are also at Trustroots

Pretty self explanatory.

Get those discussions and user mentions out of FB

I don’t yet know how but eventually I want this to happen.

Our ideals

Internet neutrality, privacy, decentralization, or simply disliking to give personal data to capitalist corporations are all important matters, but not everyone is concerned.

We who believe in freedom, open source and non-profit organizations, should work on this issue pragmatically, not with unproductive emotional fuss.

The rest will follow.