Why decentralization in hospex?
This is a philosophical overview related to P2P hospitality.
Ongoing P2P Hospitality initiatives and proposals are elsewhere.
The case for decentralization
Decentralization encourages diversity, resiliency, and adaptability; it discourages uniformity, fragility, and unresponsiveness. The tremendous abundance and richness of the natural world is a case study in the benefits of a web of interconnected sub-ecosystems, each of which is quasi-independent.
Human society is in the midst of a crisis which, on one level, is the consequence of centralized power and wealth. Wherever concentrated power exists, it attracts parasites and predators who feed or prey upon those they dominate. Even well-intended people can be seduced and corrupted by power, and so measures to counteract its corrupting influence are always necessary.
The best defense against concentrated power is decentralization. To whatever extent a centralized social structure is deemed necessary, checking and balancing mechanisms should always be incorporated. Since no system is perfect for all times and circumstances, the ultimate success of a society depends on the willingness of its members to constantly monitor and upgrade their system as needed.
When a few control the many, everyone loses in the long run. Individual creativity and initiative are stifled and replaced by a robotic uniformity and conformity. Bottlenecks occur as information attempts to transit layers of bureaucracy and chains of command. Serial processing replaces parallel processing, reducing productivity and effectiveness. The whole system becomes monolithic, sluggish, and vulnerable.
What's good for the ruling elite becomes what's good for the ruled. A class of bureaucrats and sycophants arises which must demonstrate loyalty to the rulers or be demoted or expelled. The mission of the organization becomes subverted in favor of perpetuating the positions of power and wealth of a privileged few. Secrecy and unaccountability prevail over integrity. Honor dies where self-interest lies.
The problems associated with centralized power in the world are more visible every day, in virtually every sector, but especially finance. There is a movement afoot that amounts to a world-wide paradigm shift away from centralized power: the Peer-to-Peer or P2P movement. The best resource for learning about it is probably the The Foundation for P2P Alternatives. Some believe that a transformation from a pyramidal social structure to a holographic structure is the best hope for humanity to enter a new Renaissance. Unity in diversity; transparency with respect for privacy. Let's include the hospex movement in this paradigm shift.
Hospitality is naturally decentralized. It can and does happen spontaneously between people all over our planet. The fundamental principle involved is sharing; typically shelter, food, information and guidance for strangers or travelers. In a broader sense, hospitality includes any gesture of kindness and welcome, when offered without expectation of immediate reciprocation other than perhaps simple appreciation and respect. If there is any movement which should be protected from predators and parasites, it is the hospex movement.
In the context of hospex, decentralization would manifest as many loosely-connected but autonomous communities. There is already a trend in this direction with a handful of traditional web-sites now available (CS, HC, BW, BL, Servas, InterNations, etc.). Further decentralization might be encouraged if technological barriers were reduced and if universal standards, protocols and tools were established for interaction between hospex networks.
One beneficial innovation would be a distributed (P2P) global trust/reputation network. The nodes of such a network would be individuals or sub-networks, both searchable using descriptive tags. It should be free and open-source and operate on distributed personal computers, much the way the bittorrent file-sharing system works (but without server-based trackers). Its only role would be to provide global interconnectivity between diverse hospex entities. Everything else is left to the discretion of the sub-networks. No one could own or control it.
Sub-networks might include geographically-localized communities or special-interest peer-groups. The hardware/software platforms used by such sub-networks could be varied: anything available and adaptable to hospex needs. One promising platform is Noserub, which can be run by an individual on a PC, by a small community on a distributed network of PC's (in principle) or on a server. It has the advantage of allowing an individual or group to maintain control over their personal data while still participating in multiple Noserub communities or any of the big social websites like Facebook, Myspace, Orkut, etc.
Some communities might focus on humanitarian projects. Others might focus on travel and/or cultural exchange, or perhaps on shared recreational, religious, lifestyle or professional interests. Some may have high standards of integrity and trust, while others emphasize privacy or safety. Governance could range from authoritarian to democratic to anarchist, but no one person or group could dominate all others. There would be something for everyone and the entire hospex movement would be enriched. Trust relations between communities would naturally evolve through diplomacy, exchanges and cooperative endeavors.