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Mi casa es su casa

Speaking of the social-networking possibilties of the Internet, today's Boston Globe has an interesting story about Couchsurfing.com, whose mission " 'is not just about free accommodations' but about human interaction."

"It makes the world a smaller place," says Benoit, 25, a medical technologist at Boston Medical Center. "Eventually, we'll have friends all over the world."

Hosts offer the use of their couches, bathrooms, kitchens, and spare beds. They sometimes provide meals and even the use of their cars. They give their guests tips about local attractions and often show them around. Still, CouchSurfers end up doing much exploring on their own, since most hosts have jobs and other commitments.

CouchSurfing.com tracks the number of registered users and how many cities are represented, but it also follows the connections and friendships that have been forged. According to its website, nearly 240,000 friendships have been created so far among more than 285,000 registered users. At the end of each stay, surfers and hosts are asked to evaluate their experiences. Jesse Fenton's brother Casey, a New Hampshire resident who founded CouchSurfing.com with three friends in 2004, said 98.8 percent of users have rated their experience a positive one.

CouchSurfing.com doesn't require its users to commit their couches. Upon registering, users have the option of simply saying they'd be available only to meet for cup of a coffee, assuming the traveler finds somewhere else to stay. But the point is the same: encouraging people to reach out to one another.

"I don't necessarily believe that CouchSurfing can put an end to world war," says Casey Fenton. "But as the world becomes more and more globalized, there are more opportunities for issues and misunderstanding. The more we network and the more we understand each other, the better chance we have of this world being a better place."

Fenton, 29, hatched the idea for the website after planning a last-minute weekend trip to Iceland. Instead of booking a hotel, he e-mailed 1,500 Icelanders through the University of Iceland student directory, looking for a place to stay. Within days, he received more than 50 responses offering free digs. "When I was leaving there after the long weekend, I said to myself, 'This is how it should be every time I travel,' " he says.

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