Couchsurfing.com is a free online social network for backpackers and travellers. It brings together travellers who are looking for a cheap, usually free, place to stay, with apartment and house owners willing to host them. In order to first become either a host or guest (couchsurfer), one must first create an account on the website. This is free. All user fill out key information including their location, age, sex, the amount of couchsurfers they are willing to host, and the maximum and minimum amount of time a couch surfer can stay. Other information such as hobbies, interests, personal philosophies, languages spoken, are optional but recommended.
After one has an online profile they are given access to a worldwide database of other hosts and couchsurfers. Users can now browse through profiles as well as run searches. Search results can be narrowed down within the criteria mentioned above to fit a given users preferences. If one finds a satisfactory host, he can make a request to be hosted by sending a private message via the website. The host, who is able to view the online profile of the couchsurfer is free to accept or reject the request.
Couchsurfing is international. Someone in Malaga, Spain can host someone from Toronto, Canada. Someone in London, England can request to stay with someone in Seattle, Washington. The usual time of stay is, from my own personal experience, about 2 or 3 days at a time but this depends on the agreement reached by the couchsurfer and the host.
Arguably the most important aspect of Couchsurfing is user reputation. Users have the ability to give each other positive or negative references. If someone hosts a couchsurfer in New York, and both the host and couchsurfer enjoy their times together, they can give each other a positive review. â€œJimbo was a fantastic host, he cooked, showed me around the city, and was generally a great guy.â€ Or, â€œRaoul is clean, quiet and respects his hosts. I will gladly host him in the future and recommend others to do so as well.â€ This reviews will appear on Jimbo or Raoul’s online profiles and will be visible to all other hosts and couchsurfers. Needless to say, the more positive reviews a user has, the more likely he is to be hosted or be a host. A feature similar to this is user verification. A verified user is one who has made a donation to the Couchsurfing community, and has had their identity verified by showing legal documentation.
On Couchsurfing, no one is forced to meet or host any one he does not want to. All the details of the visit, including how long the couchsurfer will stay, where he will sleep in the apartment, and what extra accommodations the host will provide are worked out freely between consenting individuals. A host is not even required to host a couchsurfer for a night if he does not want to. There exists a â€œMeet for coffeeâ€ option in which the host and couchsurfer can meet and chat at a cafe for a few hours. Perhaps if the host takes a liking to the couchsurfer he may later host him. Couchsurfing does not claim that there is any â€œrightâ€ to be hosted, likewise, there is no minimum or maximum amount of time someone should be hosted by anyone else. There is no judicial body or final arbiter that has a last say in disputes between couchsurfers or hosts. Furthermore, despite an entirely voluntary system of reviews and references, hosts are under no obligation to host couchsurfers with a high rating or reject those with a low one.
Imagine if most of our lives were run the way Couchsurfing is. We would be under no obligation to interact with anyone, and inversely, could conduct affairs with whomever we want, that is, the basic trait of libertarian anarchist philosophy. Individuals would not need to get the permission of a third party to cut someone’s hair or feed them food just as they do not need third party permission to have someone sleep on their couch. If someone was conducting business with someone else, he would not have to abide by mandatory, inefficient regulations, but rather would base his decisions off how trusted and well referenced his client was. This function could be performed in a voluntary society the same way it is done on Couchsurfing. Doctors, lawyer, butchers, veterinarians and anyone else would have a financial incentive to conduct business honestly and efficiently as the claims of customers and clients would be documented for all to see. Various organizations could collect such information and sell it (or give it away for free?) to customers seeking advice. Perhaps each industry would establish such a service among their own workers. Perhaps such services would spread over several industries.
I don’t mean to argue that the existence of Couchsurfing is a proof of the workability of a stateless society. Rather, I think it serves as a very simple and everyday example of how a decentralized, voluntary network of individuals is effectively capable of producing a system where peaceful behaviour is encouraged and rewarded, and violent, threatening behaviour is discouraged and punished.
He welcomes all comments, criticisms, and questions.