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interview Frank 10.2007

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In her chat interview (October 2007) Valerie asks thorgal67 his views on the challenges and possibilities faced by BeWelcome and BeVolunteer. Some of the topics discussed include creating a community with a difference, having a grass-roots-based volunteer circle, and a personal perspective on the larger vision of BW and BV.

Could you briefly explain your position in BeWelcome (BW) and BeVolunteer (BV)?
Sure. In BW I deal mainly with Forum and Geography issues. In BV I am the executive delegate.
What kind of decision-making power does that give you?
Less than you might think. I was elected for one year in May 2007 to be one of the 9 members of the Board of Directors. And the other BoD members asked me to be the executive. It does not give me any other decision-making powers, except maybe in case of a stale-mate.
I understand BW/BV are established on good non-profit principles... how is the large number of new volunteers affecting this? Do you see any difference in approaches that might cause issues?
I think the new volunteers are actually a benefit, and not so much an issue,

the only issue i can see is that we have to go over the same discussions almost every time a new volunteer joins. But good communication can solve a lot of that.The whole concept of BeVolunteer is to try new things, new ways of handling volunteer participations and democracy. It has been said by other people that a democratic volunteer-based organization could not work, and we are proving every day that it DOES work (even if it takes a lot of time, effort and discussions).

So.. interjection of new ideas is not only good, but being welcomed? LOL
Yes, of course. Even the best project can even be improved by a fresh angle.
Definitely! What do you envision are the main challenges for BW in the next year or two?
For BW I see 2 challenges :

1. creating a community with a difference; 2. having a grass root-based volunteer circle.

I'll explain a bit more in detail...

1. there are lots of communities that offer free accommodation. I hope we will grow out of that limited vision in the future. BW should not be about finding a place to stay, but about finding others to share part of your dreams, hopes, travels, ...

Interesting. And it would be more supportive of reaching a deeper level of connection with people across the globe.
In the end it is not so important whether we accomplish that with BW or through other BV-related websites and projects.
Do you envision a kind of network of these interrelated sites then?
It's not about creating Be-Hitchhiker or Be-Expat..but about linking all those into one global community.OpenID and similar projects might be a key to that...although I'm not very familiar with all the technical details...we have much better qualified people in our community for that.
So in the bigger picture then.. you see BW itself, even , expanding beyond just a hospex mission? How do you see it in terms of web2.0 scheme of social networking?
BV definitely. Whether it will be under the name BeWelcome or BeGlobal or BeLocal...that is an issue that we can deal with later.About the web2.0 scheme : at the moment in many of the social communities, there is only a limited web2.0 interaction. Of course, people are uploading pictures and writing comments about each other, and that is good. But we should take it a step further.
How do you see those steps?

Collaboration with other organizations, or at a more personal level still?

As you probably know collaboration with other organizations is a hot topic, and certainly something we need to look into very carefully. But I'm really interested in the personal dimension of on-line communities - things like "trust through common friends" spring to mind.
Yes... the issue of trust metrics is a big one...i think some of the new CS volunteers have that as a focus, perhaps this warrants some thought from the community?
Yes, when talking about trust, safety and possible abuse it is very important to listen to the community, and involve them more. That is why in BW we do not have a spam check system, but we allow our members to decide for themselves what they consider spam.

Of course this has a drawback, and new members might be disappointed if they receive a dating spam message for example. But the solution is only one click away "report this as spam". We do give our members the possibility to make up their own minds.

Is there a method for integrating those 'spam' messages so that there is a clear recognition of when the system perhaps, recognizes something as spam? I mean.. say.. viagra LOL
I'm sure there is, but that goes beyond my duties. I have concerns like everybody else, but i'm sure the Abuse Team is dealing with that.
What do you think are the most important things BW volunteers should be considering, in an overall way about BW?
OK, that brings us to my second point :

2. having a grass-roots based volunteer circle. When we started BV, there were about 9 founding members who took care of everything: programming, setting up the statutes, the rules and regulations, registering the account, etc... and now, about a year later we have implemented many of our ideas and there are about 100 BW volunteers who are contributing. It is extremely easy to become a BW volunteer and everybody who joins us has access to all the tools and wiki and forum discussions they need.

Yes, although it can be a bit overwhelming :)
What is more and very different from other social networks : BW volunteers can read, write and contribute on all levels of team discussions.
So basically... BW/BV are interested in having a more distributed and decentralized mode of interaction?
Of course you are right when you say that it is overwhelming, but the forum has a good search function and it gives you the possibility to only receive messages from those teams that you want to follow. I think it is better to give the people the choice, than to choose in their place.
That's true.. what I mean though is that BW/BV are choosing a different *structural* model for interaction.. more egalitarian.
"Decentralized" is ideal IF it still gives everybody the possibility to find what they need.
Agreed.. in fact one approach is to distribute power/decision-making and of course information to all.. but meanwhile centralize the most crucial information so people can catch up quickly to most important discussions and ideas.
Yes, that is definitely one of the main challenges at the moment.
Frank, you said something quite interesting: "But I'm really interested in the personal dimension of on-line communities" -- could you expand a bit beyond the trust network idea?
Yes, of course. I have had the pleasure of hosting more than 80 travellers now, and have been hosted by a large number myself. Some of these meetings have marked my life, others have given me joy at a certain moment.

What really interests me is : what kind of influence do these moments have on the personal relationship of the people involved. Why will some become friends for life and others stay friendly encounters? And what makes people interested in meeting other people? I believe that every person wants to welcome others, but each in their own way - and it is fascinating to see how we take that step.

Probably you could say that already the hospitality exchange network idea selects for certain types of people what I mean is, through at least one parameter: openness to some extent.
That is why I don't completely agree with the "certain type of people" discussion. Take my parents for example. They are not "the type of people" that would welcome strange people in their home. But when I have guests, they drop by with some fruit or nuts when they hear they are vegans :).
I see.. so it is about expanding the circle of openness, as well.
Even "openness" is not necessarily a requirement.. I personally feel every person has some kind of need for interaction, it's just about finding the right way to do so.
Finding the right avenue for them, in other words.
Most members of these hospitality exchange organizations like to welcome other members...but do we do the same for the homeless in our street ? The idea of "openness" can be used in many ways.
I sense a far larger vision here... how far does it go, for you?
Obviously I'm taking a personal position here. And I am not saying that I would have an open house where everybody can just come and go. But it is important that we should all realize that "openness" does not simply mean that you're "easy-going" or "a cool dude". "Openness" is really more a state of mind where you try to look to the world through the eyes of somebody else.
Yes, and I for one don't use it in that sense.. more closely.. receptivity, tolerance, willingness to hear new perspectives.
I realize that is a very difficult thing to do, especially if you come from a background that is completely opposite to that of the person you meet. But I'm sure it must be the first step towards truly accepting the differences that people might have.
Again.. I'm sensing a more global vision.. do you see BW and BV as pathways to some needed and innovative benefit in the world, then?
Yes, I think that we can make a difference. It might not yet be a priority for many volunteers, but the more we become involved in collaborations with other organizations, the more it will lead to a general awareness that small steps are needed to change the world.

But openness works both ways of course - if the political activist refuses to talk to the businessman, all dialogue will fail.

Speaking for many of the CS members that I know who have joined, I think we share a very general interest in making a difference, and potentially bringing inventive ideas to the world.
That is why BW should try to involve all parts of society, not just the backpacking hitchhiker.
So.. creating some infrastructure to facilitate more global dialogue, or finding people who can facilitate that, would be of interest to you? And means to involve not just the 'traveller' type of person?
Yes, that is correct. I realize that for example a business woman does not need/want accommodation when she is on a business trip. But finding somebody to show her the sights on her evening off is something that BW should offer.
Yes, and possibly through sub-networks, could be with other businesspeople who share her interests.
There are thousands of different "travellers" out there who are looking for info, contacts, meetings etc... that is why a sub-network of groups is a high priority for me.
Have you already used BW for meeting interesting people?
Yes, I met some interesting people recently thanks to BW.

First of all of course Anu, Thomas and Morgan in Antwerp, and very recently Raymond and Fernando in Austria. All of them have strong ideas about what makes a strong community, and it was refreshing to see their views.

I'd like to say that as a newbie, I'm impressed not only by the website and the people already here.. but the ethics and willingness to hear new ideas and improvements. Having a network with integrity as a basic value is going to have an impact on us all.

Thanks for your role in creating this community.

Thank you for your contribution, and I'm looking forward to working with you.
interview_Frank_10.2007