How we “use” Facebook

Photo by mkhmktg (Creative Commons).
Photo by mkhmktg (Creative Commons).

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. (Update: because of changes at Facebook’s end, this wasn’t possible anymore.)
  • 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

Photo by mkhmktg (Creative Commons).
Photo by mkhmktg (Creative Commons)

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.

Taking roots

Montreal CS Collective logo by amylin. Couch turned gray later on.

I’m writing down my own opinions, ideas and experiences, these are not necessarily shared by other team members.

The roots of this website have been growing for a long time. Back in 2005 I wrote an article about how hospitality exchange websites should be based on free software and free from censorship. In August 2006 I joined the Couchsurfing Collective in Montreal. For a couple of months I traveled to amazing places with fun people while feeling the excitement of potentially changing the world in a big time, reaching a 100.000 people ready to share their homes to strangers, while working with some amazingly smart people.

More than hospitality

Of course I didn’t have the illusion that merely surfing couches would suffice to create peace on earth, but I saw couchsurfing as a way to get to something bigger. Do more than just hospitality. But for that to happen it was important to grow it into an organization ran by volunteers working in a way similar to open source projects. With code under a free license. During the discussions about Couchsurfing’s outrageous non-disclosure agreement early 2007 it became clear to me that that wasn’t going to happen. (And meanwhile BeWelcome was launched in January 2007.)

The roots of Hitchwiki

The first Hitchwiki logo
The first Hitchwiki logo, also made by amylin

Hitchwiki didn’t start of as “Hitchwiki”. When I started hitchhiking there was no good source with hitching info. I came across a hitchhiking wiki, started editing there for a while. But it was quickly overrun by spam. No admin in sight. So I moved it to Wikia, with ads and not much room for customization. In November 2006, while at the Couchsurfing Collective in New Zealand MrTweek and I moved it to – after I refused an offer to put it up at and host it on couchsurfing servers – we can all be very happy for that.

In the past 8 years Hitchwiki has grown into the ultimate resource for hitchhikers. In 2008 or so Mikael appeared and offered to add a mapping application to Hitchwiki. “Do it!” That’s how things grow. We also launched some other projects, some relatively successful (like Trashwiki), some abandoned to some degree and others hopeful and in need of some growth (Nomadwiki, Veganwiki). I’ve also joined and hosted a couple of hackathons to work on these projects and also on BeWelcome.

Democratic open source projects

BeWelcome is a great project and I’m still very much supportive of the concept of democratic open source hospitality exchange. Unfortunately I don’t feel the time I spent on improving BW has been very effective. It’s hard to create software by committee. There has definitely been progress but I think the whatever happens at the start of a project can largely determine its future and with BW the code base that was used as a start was far from ideal. Another issue is the fear of power concentration. BW was started by people who had been dealing with a dictator- management style for years within Hospitality Club. I tried to move a bit more towards a do-ocratic way of working, but this didn’t really work out so well either.

All in all I’m happy for trying but it’s clear to me that my time and energy are better spent elsewhere. I didn’t come to this conclusion on my own and thus it was finally time to pick up some pieces and ideas.

Taking (trust)root

Trustroots was released 4 days ago. Almost all of this was the work of Mikael. Callum and I first wanted to build it in Meteor, a very nice real-time JavaScript framework but we kind of stalled with that. Mikael simply went ahead and did it with Mongo, Express, Angular and Node (MEAN). Do-ocracy at work. Now there’s a working proof of concept.

In a very short time hundreds of people have joined and this is with the most MVPish thing we could imagine. And whenever I check the numbers these days I see more and more people. Of course this growth can flatten very soon if we would stop here.

Next steps

1. beyond hitchhikers

Hitchwiki will be a great place to really get Trustroots growing. We have many visitors on there and if we properly integrate the two projects we’ll see a nice boost.

Another fairly obvious step is to look behind hitchhiking. Warm Showers is a great website for traveling bicyclists. It’s fairly good at what it’s doing, so we won’t do the same thing for bicyclists, but we will do it for dumpster divers and for traveling veg(etari)ans it can be very nice to stay with (and host) like-minded people – plus this will be a nice way to grow the related wikis.

I see this happening as follows: people can sign up to be part of specific groups (e.g. only veg) and we’ll only do this for a limited number of groups so we can quickly get enough critical mass among a specific niche group. Using the spread and growth of hitchhikers (who are constantly meeting people) we can extend into other fields.

2. API and mobile

Most important for mobile is that the web app Trustroots works well on all mobile browsers.

An Android app would be an excellent addition and I expect someone (contact us) will come up and offer building one very soon. This requires a solid API though and I’m not yet sure how this works out with the mean stack we’re using.

3. trust beyond hospitality exchange

Since 2007 sharing has become big business. Uber and Airbnb have 9 figure valuations. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I was dreaming of a better world in 2006 but it’s exciting to see that there’s a lot more potential for new things now. We should go and build a ride share application that works for hitchhikers – and that works within cities.

We also want to share resources and connect people beyond couches and transport: adventure! I’m thinking along the lines of the Decentralized Dance Party and real life gaming. Once we have gathered enough trust in a city (Berlin will probably be the first) it will be possible to organize ad-hoc pot lucks and share resources among people in a much wider scale.

As for trust itself, I’m about to restore a project I worked on before. In 2007 I spent some time in Italy doing research and writing code related to trust metrics. I’ll write another blog post about these things soon.

4. A Trustroots collective

We’ll organize a Trustroots collective some time in Spring, somewhere in Europe, most likely in Berlin. We want to keep it focused, open and clear.

Legal and financial

We want to focus on growing this thing and adding new cool features. We promise to set up some kind of European non profit organisation and we need your help with that. Ideally we want to be able to handle most of this online and in English.

Financial resources would be nice to allow us (which can include you) to spend more time on this project, in the form of paying for rent and other expenses. If this can be done through donations, great. Another possibility is looking for grants (but that’s probably a full time occupation on itself, wanna help?). I definitely want to exclude advertising: no ads on

Other spin-off projects

In the long run however I think the code (and the team of people we’re building) can have a lot of potential and I’m personally not excluding the possibility to use the same code base to build a project that is for profit, e.g. around cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. As for how to set up such a thing, I like Mozilla’s example, which is a company owned by a non profit.

Just to be clear I promise that the core hitchhiking Trustroots project remains non profit and faithful to basic principles, just like Hitchwiki.

Wanna help?

Further reading

 Photo by Johnson, Creative Commons
Photo by Johnson, Creative Commons
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