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.