Day 9 Predictions

From Cyberlaw: Difficult Issues Winter 2010
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Online Trust and Identity

It's kind of puzzling that a service like couchsurfing works despite the fact that it relies on people's ability to trust strangers. If now people can rely on reviews made by other users, it would be interesting to know how the site dealt with that issue in the beginning. What's especially interesting (and different) about couchsurfing is that people cannot hide under anonymity - they actually meet up in person, so there's no way to shield yourself under a pseudonym as you can on most other websites or web services. Does that contribute to people acting a little more nobly?

The amount of trust that people place in online applications has, I believe, risen significantly over the past 10 years. In 2000, people were skeptical of giving their credit card number to ecommerce sites, and in 2010 a site like Blippy can raise over $1m to build a service that shares all your purchases with the world ( I would be interested to hear though how, if at all, Couchsurfing separates itself from taking responsibility when a user has a bad experience. All too often in social apps, companies take the "we're just the platform" defense and I wonder how much they subscribe to that. CS' terms of service, quite predictably, deny that their site is even involved in users contacting each other.

We'd be also interested in hearing about the identity verification system that Daniel mentioned at approx. 23:30 in the YouTube video mentioned bellow. How are they getting access to passport numbers and credit card numbers? If it is that much better at identifying people, why hasn't eBay implemented something like this? Is this a safe system (from a security and data protection point of view)? Besides the verification system, discussing other mechanisms to foster online trust (such as the CS vouching system), their failures and successes, seems extremely important.

This verification process seems fairly onerous on the user -- actually requires them to wait for snail mail to arrive at their house. In a digital age, this might seem a pretty long time to wait for access to a site. Has this been a problem in keeping "good" members off the site, or did that seem to only have a negligible effect? Or is this actually a good thing -- keeping more bad members off than good?

Community and Motivations

It's interesting how the Extraordinaries (great name, reminded me of the Pixar movie The Incredibles) is for-profit, while Couchsurfing is non-profit. Will the Extraordinaries be able to build a Couchsurfing or Wikipedia-type community even though it's for-profit? Alternately, we might discuss how the non-profit of CS may have given rise to such a strong community of dissenters. If CS were a so-called B-Corp, as the Extraordinaries apparently aspires to be, would be people as angry at the supposed "betrayal" of the core values of the organization? It would also be really interesting to hear if they have a vetting process for people who want to "create missions." Have they gotten any "bad seeds" themselves? Do people try to scam the system and create illegitimate missions? Or is it just built on a system of trust?

We were struck by the fissures within the couchsurfing movement. It seems inevitable in these bottom-up, free internet communities that there will be intense fights over the direction of the project. What keeps communities like Wikipedia and Couchsurfing from still providing useful services despite all the chatter? Could that balance be reversed? While community members that care enough to fight intensely about the direction of their project are also likely to be valuable contributors while continuing the fight, these intense fights can drive away new members. How do we keep the community motivated enough to keep contributing?

Bad Apples in An Online Community

The OCS site leveled several general criticisms at CS and its governance structure, but other eye-catching rebukes involved the actions of a few "bad apples". It would be interesting to see the CS people consider whether their structure of vouching and verification truly offer the best protection against such isolated incidents, and whether the partially-open nature of the organization can lend enough critical eyes to "guilt" (using Gino et al's word choice) everyone into better behavior. Perhaps the existence of Open Couchsurfing itself provides some outsider review--what changes has Couchsurfing considered or actually implemented since these contrarian voices began their loose campaign? So in sites like Wikipedia, etc, there are ways for the good actors to fix any vandalism committed by "bad apples." Are there ways for regular good users to warn of the existence of bad actors? Can they leave warning comments on profiles they think look sketchy or are they required to actually interact with a user before they can leave feedback?

Additional Info

Here is a related youtube video, CouchSurfing: What one website reveals about the future of the net.