Chelsea Rustrum

@shareablelife

Should Couchsurfing Be a DAO?

A couple of years ago, I published an article entitled “The Sharing Economy: A Social Movement Dying to Become an Economic One.” At the time, I was disenchanted by the direction in which the sharing economy was heading.

I’d experienced the joy of connecting without money — sharing meals and homes (including my own home) with complete strangers on Couchsurfing.com, gifting access to my car while I traveled, and experimenting with random acts of generosity, like buying a cup of coffee for someone standing behind me in line. These experiences were so transformational that I volunteered to help shoot a documentary, One Couch at a Time, which highlighted the relational aspects of the burgeoning sharing economy.

Collaborators on “One Couch at at Time” & It’s a Shareable Life

With time, the social glue that made the sharing economy so culturally rich was being quickly erased by an influx of venture capital and the desire for efficiency over human interaction and connection. In fact, most of the incoming companies seemed want to move humans out of the equation as much as possible.

Hanging out with Couchsurfers in Paris in 2011

On-demand everything was born, and the user experience of convenience seemed to replace the original ideology of connecting people as a primary objective.

During the original boom of the sharing economy, there were countless cooperative endeavors, grassroots sharing initiatives, and stuff- and skill-sharing platforms that aimed to connect neighbors and communities by bridging resources. One by one, most of these tumbled like dominos. They couldn’t get enough capital, support, or resources because they weren’t high-growth enough for traditional VC.

One of the community gatherings I put together at Couchsurfing HQ

As the sharing economy was evolving, I led community and marketing at Couchsurfing as an interim consultant. While in this position, I witnessed the direct result of venture capital on an originally values-aligned, community-centric organization — it was devastating. There was no room for a cohesive pattern of decision-making that could take all value contributors into account. I made a case for giving equity or ownership to guests and hosts, but this kind of thinking wasn’t possible for a company that had so many venture firms invested in the outcome.

Regardless, I’ve always believed that we can integrate sharing into the very fabric of the economy. We just need the right tools. With strong cooperative structural models, blockchain technology, and community-centric finance, we can build on the original promise of the sharing economy.

Fast-forward.

Blockchain technology can now power previously unrealized possibilities, like value sharing in an organization like Couchsurfing.

The research company P2P Models, based in Madrid, is trying to understand just that. They are looking at the tools necessary for making the collaborative economy come to life in what they call the third wave — decentralized solutions (with peer-to-peer being the second wave).

Much like I’ve found, P2P Models identified three major challenges with the sharing economy:

Centralized surveillance
Companies have power over people’s privacy and the data operating within their organizational structure

Disempowered communities
Members do not have any decision-making influence over platforms

Concentration of profits
Companies are not proportionally distributing value to members, users, customers, and contributors

In looking at P2P Models’ conclusions, concentration of profits strikes me as the root of the problem. If all the stakeholders are not aligned, the community is naturally disempowered and beholden to centralized surveillance and decision-making that will not work in favor of the people (and the people in a P2P marketplace are the main contributors).

The key to making all this work is actually not so obvious. Structural models can be tightened and made more dynamic than ever before. Blockchain technology makes value distribution more than possible. Organizations can be built and operated in such a way that all the stakeholders are considered.

But there’s another sticking point.

How would these “third wave” sharing economy organizations be governed? In other words, how would decisions be made in a collective manner?

Introducing the DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization).

According to P2P Models’ definition, “A DAO can be regarded as a digital organization mediated by a software agent, whose code is in the blockchain. As a decentralized organization, a DAO can provide services (or resources) to third parties or even hire people to perform specific tasks. Hence, individuals can transact with a DAO in order to access its service or get paid for their contributions. DAOs are fully autonomous, as they do not rely on any central server and thus cannot be arbitrarily shut down by any single party (unless specifically provided for in their code).”

Couchsurfing could operate as a DAO wherein users could interact, share their time and space, and even reward hosts with cryptocurrency. Instead of operating as a platform-based, venture-backed company, Couchsurfing could operate independently of a centralized organization.

Yet even with a DAO, there is still the question of how to govern such an organization.

How could the governance of something like Couchsurfing be continually aligned with the overall purpose of the organization? With guests? With hosts? With on the ground trust and safety?

For a Couchsurfing DAO to work, the process of decision-making would have to include the overall intent of the organization, regardless of how large or small each decision is. And when you scale an organization like Couchsurfing, there are an unlimited number of decisions that would have to be made in real time. A top-down, bottleneck hierarchy wouldn’t allow for the ease or scale necessary to keep things running.

A organization that I’m working with has some solutions. DAOstack offers a tool kit for decentralized intelligence and collaboration.

Just as HTTP allows for the creation and interoperability of web sites and web applications, DAOstack enables the creation and interoperability of web companies, collaboration apps and DAOs, as well as the alignment of their interests. The result is a new web of open collaboration, in which collectives can self-organize around shared goals and values, not limited by pure economic growth.

For example, DAOstack recently built Alchemy, a collective budgeting tool. This tool gives teams and groups of all sizes a way to decide where to prioritize spending.

If Couchsurfing were to operate as a DAO, many rules would have to be created, and a thoughtfulness around the trust and the safety of the network would need to be designed and implemented. While the organization could easily be autonomous, there would still need to be human touch and collective decision-making, plus a pattern of values that the organization agrees upon that are connected to every decision.

In a follow-up post, I will dial into the specifics of how an organization like Couchsurfing could operate as a DAO on the blockchain, distributing value to all the organization’s value creators along the way.

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This article was created in partnership with DAOstack, a new blockchain protocol and platform for building DAOs. To learn more about DAOstack and their upcoming token sale visit them here or join them on Telegram.

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