Friday, 19 September 2008

Is Couchsurfing the new Google?

Is Couchsurfing the new Google? Not literally of course, that’d never work.

What I mean is the word “couchsurfing” seems to have become a catch-all term for the whole hospitality movement. Today people refer to “going couchsurfing” when they may be sourcing hosts through multiple sites, while newspapers write on the “new trend of couchsurfing” when really it goes much broader than just (For proof, just see the list of links on the right of the Going Local Travel homepage.) can’t take credit for inventing the word, it has been in the lexicon a good few before the site was established in 2004. However, Casey Fenton and co did make a very savvy move by opting for a site name that, like Google, also works as a verb (I couchsurf, you couchsurf, we all couchsurf).

It’s certainly one of the key factors that has enabled to pick up so much media coverage and leave its rivals in the dust. The rival conjugations don't exactly roll off your tongue: I BeWelcomed today, we are going Servasing, he has been Hospitality Clubbing.

However, there’s one difference between Couchsurfing and Google – ok, there’s more than one, but here’s one worth noting for this discussion - whereas has made no official statement on its service-marked buzzword, the search-engine giant has made it perfectly clear that it will sue your ass if you don’t refer to it with a capital letter (eg "I Googled it").

In fact, the "what you are not allowed to do" section on Google's extensive permissions page is quite hilarious - in a threatening sort of way. I quote (and therefore hope not to be sued): "you can't mess around with our marks. Only we get to do that. Don’t remove, distort or alter any element of a Google Brand Feature. That includes modifying a Google trademark, for example ... Googliscious, Googlyoogly, GaGooglemania."

Meanwhile, have registered their term as a service mark, but don't seem to be strictly policing it. Their exclusivity rights are no doubt somewhat different as they didn't invent the name.

The most public current use of the couchsurfing phrase includes the recent T-Mobile ad. One seemingly in-the-know member on the forum says (and this has not been confirmed):

"Although T-mobile contacted CouchSurfers before the commercial aired, they refused to work with us before the commercial aired (...) The first thing that pops up when you google [sic] the term CouchSurfer is CS, so in the end we are still getting new members from the commercial."

It's true that the "couchsurfer" in the advert makes no reference to using the internet to find his hosts and appears to be relying on a network of friends he contacts through his trusty mobile phone.

Currently, there are references to couchsurfing on online dictionaries, but there’s no entry in that true bastion of language, the OED. Surely it won't be long...