Trust in an online hospitality network : An interpretive study of The CouchSurfing Project


Publication date



Høgskolen i Oslo. Avdeling for journalistikk, bibliotek- og informasjonsvitenskap

Document type


Joint Master Degree in Digital Library Learning (DILL)


The aim of this interpretive study is to acquire a deeper understanding of the concept of interpersonal trust in an online community, namely, The CouchSurfing Project. CouchSurfing is an online hospitality network whose purpose is to connect travellers and local hosts offering free accommodations and more importantly, a chance for cultural exchange. CouchSurfers complete online profiles that allow other members to search for and make requests for accommodations based on information on these profiles. In the discombobulated virtual environment, online personas might not reflect reality. Issues of trust and the perceived risks associated with CouchSurfing were explored. The concepts of trust and risk share a close relationship; in order to build trust, it is necessary to minimise the perceived risks. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 6 CouchSurfing members and 6 nonmembers. Non-members were included in this study in order to obtain a perspective that would be different from those who already prescribe to the CouchSurfing philosophy that is based on the concept of “paying it forward.” Both members and non-members acknowledged that there are risks to participating in CouchSurfing. However, strategies such as control, comparison between risks, possession of self-confidence and scapegoating seem to help mitigate perceived risks. Moreover, this study suggests that the community’s social network acts as an informal method of social control to help foster and sustain trust amongst its members. Thus, it is the human relationships, rather than technologies that are important in nurturing trust.


Permanent URL (for citation purposes)