Posts tagged with : "Community News for the frontpage" BoD

The future of BeWelcome: Reactions so far.

written by tgoorden - 2010/01/24 14:04

Well. Life sure is surprising!

I saw an enormous amount of response to the "BeWelcome needs you" mailing and I hope to see even more. Some people have terminated their account, which in a way is regrettable, but in another way can also improve the quality of our network. A few people have made a serious donation, we're not there yet though! A lot of people reacted in writing, on the forum and via personal messages.

In general the impression is that I do see a lot of people wanting this community to continue. We've had a lot of practical suggestions as well though:

  • Ideas about reducing (server) costs. Our server admins are already making efforts in this direction and it will help. We can also look at other sources of income, of which ads/affiliations seem the most "easy" one. Grants were also suggested and I would happily welcome a volunteer who would like to investigate the possibilities there.
  • Feature suggestions. This sparked an interesting discussion yesterday about "killer features", things that could make us stand out even more as a unique hospitality exchange site. There are a few very strong (and sometimes difficult to implement) suggestions, which we will certainly talk about more in the coming days.
  • Suggestions about small improvements to for instance the layout, the forum system, etc. All of these are actually relatively easy to help improve as a volunteer, so I would happily direct anyone with user interface/HTML/CSS/PHP experience to the development team!

But there was one reaction that is worthy of a special reply, because it goes to the core reason BeWelcome even exists in the first place: "Why do we volunteer for this relatively small organization and not for Couchsurfing, Hospitality Club or one of the others out there?"

The short answer is: we are the only hospitality network that is truly run by the community. This is a bold statement and to understand why this is so, it may help to consider my own personal story.

Before I got involved with BeWelcome, I volunteered for Couchsurfing, where I tried to help with some coding. All-in-all, this was an incredibly frustrating experience because it seemed that no good idea had any chance if it didn't come from the "right people". When I found out some ex-volunteers from Hospitality Club had started this new thing called BeWelcome, I was quite surprised when I went and had a look:

  • BeWelcome had and has a real legal non-profit structure (the BeVolunteer association) and it was possible to become a legal (voting) member of this organization. Not only that, but it was possible for anyone to be a candidate for the board of directors.
  • Real discussions about features, code, philosophy, etc, were held in the open and I could participate! Not only that, but the tone in BeWelcome was and is almost always constructive, even if people didn't agree all the time. Not only that, but the outcome of the discussions has real impact on what was going on inside the website/community. For once, I wasn't talking into thin air, what a difference!

The way BeWelcome was set up even allowed me to become chairman after a couple of years of volunteering and building trust.

And this is where BeWelcome makes the difference for volunteers compared to any of the other networks: the community and volunteers take absolute priority over the founders and the "directors". I challenge you to become "in charge" (this is a very heavy term for what I actually do in BeWelcome) of any of the other hospitality networks and websites out there. In BeWelcome, this truly is possible.

This of course has consequences for the way we run, both good and bad:

  • Things tend to move a bit more slowly because concencus is often valued. (Although, the speed at which our software gets better is actually pretty damn good if I may say so.) It is definitely harder to "keep focus".
  • There is no-one that can stop or sell the website by themselves. There is strong legal protection in place against this.
  • We have much stronger protections against privacy problems for the same organizational and legal reasons.
For the same reasons, our relationship with other organizations can sometimes seem a bit strange: working with a non-democratic, non-registered or commercial organization just doesn't make sense because the decisional process is usually incompatible and visions almost always clash. The fragmentation of hospex services is really unfortunate, but I do believe there needs to be at least one fundamentally community-driven website and I believe BeWelcome is it.

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BeWelcome needs your help

written by tgoorden - 2010/01/23 12:47
Dear BeWelcome member,

Today I am going to ask you for your help. Today I am going to ask you to make a difference.

BeWelcome is a website, but it's also a community which you have chosen to be a part of. It is also a place where ordinary people like you and me have put in thousands of hours of voluntary work to make the community interesting, fun and functional. It may surprise you, but no one has ever been paid for any of that hard work.

BeWelcome is unique in another way, because it is the only truly democratic online hospitality exchange network. This means that this is the only place where your voice, your opinion truly matters. BeWelcome is built on this promise, this opportunity:

"Creating a hospitality community based on collective work, democracy and transparency."

But we're in serious danger of losing this opportunity. We are not growing as we'd like to grow. We have trouble keeping our donations flowing. We're simply not seeing the usage and the support that BeWelcome needs. Out of frustration regarding this current state of affairs and because of serious time constraints, Florian has stepped down as chairman of the board of directors of BeVolunteer (the legal organization underneath this all) and asked me as former vice chairman to take over. I would like to personally thank Florian for his voluntary work so far, but especially for the strong wake-up call he is giving us in this way. Because he's right: making BeWelcome work sometimes seems like an impossible task with very little in return.

That's why we need your help. We need you to speak up, to let us know if you still care about this project.

You can do this in many ways:

  • You can vote with your feet. Make your presence known:
    put up a picture, update your profile, write a reference, join a group.
    Or - if you are not interested any more in participating - terminate your account.
  • You can participate in this evaluation phase by letting your voice be heard in our forums. Tell everyone what you think should be done. Make suggestions.
  • You can make an even stronger statement: donate. This one is simple; if we can't get enough donations, we will simply not be able to afford the rent for the website servers anymore. This will be the end of the community no matter what. You know BeWelcome doesn't ask for money often, so when we do, it's serious. Donate.
  • Volunteer. Join one of the many efforts to make BeWelcome work. Or, show your appreciation to any of the hard-working volunteers out there.

I'm going to do my part as well. Together with the entire board of directors, I will try to reach out to other organizations to form long-term alliances. We will also listen to you, read and process all of your suggestions/comments/questions and create a poll in the very near future that will determine where BeWelcome is headed.

Show that you care. Make this community live.
Log in, participate, debate, donate, volunteer or send thanks. Make a difference.

Thank you,
Thomas Goorden, new chairman of BeVolunteer, and the BoD

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