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Thoughts from a provincial host…
Posted July 10th, 2013 - 7:31 am by from Aalborg, Denmark (Permalink)
Hi guys.

I’m hosting in one of the world’s less busy parts – and I thought I’d contribute to the on-going debate with a perspective from a less active – but not less valid part of CS.

Especially on the later changes of CS – and suggested new features.

As so many of you – I’ve hosted and feed hundreds of surfers over the years – happily so. – I hope to continue to do so for many years to come. I’m very thankful for the many rich and enlightening experiences CS has afforded my over the years. – And for each and every stranger turned into a friend.

I have noticed a heavy decrease in numbers of direct requests over the last 18 month or so. – This no doubt due to the open request feature – that calls for the host to “do the work” (I get its value in travel “hot spots” – remember please, that this is the perspective of the lesser traveled places – which, after all, is the most part of the world)
– Also I’ve noticed a serious decrease in the quality of requests and profiles I do get. – This no doubt due to the vast increase in numbers of new members – lacking in training and understanding of the community.

I get, that one of cshq’s perspectives surely is, to cater to the needs of the surfers – without those, there would be no need for CS. – But please remember also – that without host’s – the same goes. Wherefore it’s equally important to cater to the needs of the hosts.

As much as I’m an advocate for the mutual benefit of CS – host and surfer alike – I think it’s fair, to some extent, to consider the host as the provider and the surfer as the consumer.
Remember, CS is not a right – it’s a privilege on both parts. – But I think it’s fair to expect a reasonable amount of work on behalf of the surfer – they are the ones in need of a “service” – the host only puts themselves available to who cares to ask. – I don’t run a hostel or a hotel service – I openly invite adventures travelers to share a bit of my time and home – and perhaps a meal if it’s convenient. – But I’m not about to chase down people to ask them to please come and stay with me – this for me is completely the idea upside down!
If travelers cares to invest a bit of time and energy – do their research and find a match or an interesting profile and politely ask the host if they care to share their home and time for a mutual experience – well – for my part – most are very welcome.

I see – that CSHQ has failed in communicating this premise to the many, many new members – and therefore the system is failing – and we’re experiencing a vast decrease in successful couch surfs.
BUT – the solution to this challenge is NOT to shift the “workload” to the part of the hosts. Nor is it to reduce the host’s profiles to a standard easy read overview that you sift through like any other add. – The sole reason that CS works is – that it’s a genuine exchange between people who cares about others – and are out to actively make more strangers into friends.
I, as a host, am active in the exchange the minute you contact me – I also provide the physical frame and facilities as well as most nights a decent meal (for free).
I will not chase down people to come and share this with me – nor will I accept to be reduced to a standard commodity. – My individual profile is a testament of me – and how I chose to present my offer of a free place to stay. – And that’s the way it should stay.

The suggested focus on a few pointers at the top – such as smoking (really guys – in this day and age??) – and gender quotation? WTF? – Here’s a real life example – I’m a host – I’m a man – I like men (as I’m a homosexual) – I mostly host women! – This due to the fact, that most women traveling alone prefers a female host – not many of those around – and all girls mum’s taught them, that the next best thing to a girl friend is a gay friend! – Therefore I get a lot of requests from woman. This fact is in no way a testament to the safety of my surfers nor can I in any way see why in the world it would be relevant for future surfers?? – Remember please that I’m offering my couch – NOT my bed.

If there is to be a short list - here’s a few pointers, which I find relevant – for example – are you vegetarian or have other special diet needs? – Do you keep pets? (I’m allergic to animal hairs) – What part of the city do you live in? – Do you have blankets I can use? – Do you expect me to share any cost, while staying with you? Etc.

I get that safety is tremendously important here – but isn’t that exactly the reason why we shouldn’t focus on sex in the very first line??
Should we not be about all the ways we’re the same – friends and strangers alike – regardless of race, nationality, gender, sexuality etc. etc..???
And encourage everyone to have a good and clear profile – and to have a proper exchange of expectations with their host/surfer before coming?

The women’s equality movements aren’t taking any points on this one neither – yet again reducing women to the delicate and fragile entity that “we” need to take care of. – Rather than thinking of woman as intelligent and able to take good care of themselves – by thinking for themselves.

There’s much (and reasonable) focus on the safety of the surfers – but I think it’s important to remember the safety and comfort of the host as well. – Even despite the “home court advantage” – we’re still letting perfect strangers into our home – it is very much a trust issue on both parts.
The solutions aren’t easy or obvious – but surely that’s why it’s so very important that we all have individual profiles and we take the time to read about people before we chose to ask to stay with them – surely that’s why we encourage references and testimonies from other members?

To sum it all up:
Dear HQ – thanks for all your great work. – Please remember, when developing the site:

The difficult, yet essential, task of educating new members – falls to you more than anyone else.
– It’s essential that the surfers gets that – as they are in need of a free service – they need to do the work required to obtain it. – Thus in as great an extend as possible they need to request a couch – based on research and containing clear evidence that the read the host’s profile before asking.
Making them aware that CS might work in different ways – depending on whether you’re traveling to a “Hot spot” or somewhere less busy.

Please re-consider – the new “short ‘n’ standard” profile – it’s in no way representative of the individual host – nor are your shortlist of information very relevant to surfers.

The “old system” worked very well – I find it very difficult to accept – that this tested and successful system won’t work equally well with a few million new members – as long as all these people gets what this community is really about – and how to use it.

Thanks so much for your time (if you made it this far) – and have a great summer surfing!
/k.

Posted July 10th, 2013 - 7:46 pm by from Atlanta, United States (Permalink)
I agree with almost everything above. In particular, I would love us to get rid of open requests altogether. I understand that there may be come people who want to use that, but it is one of the biggest things I see people complaining about.

It makes surfers lazy and it puts an onus on the host to chase people down. EVen though hosts don't HAVE to use it, the optics are bad.

Open requests are also a major safety issue, in my opinion. It is a perfect way for people to search for people who are in vulnerable situations.

This method of finding accommodations has, in effect, turned the idea of CS on its head and it feels wrong.

Posted July 10th, 2013 - 9:07 pm from London, England
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Posted July 11th, 2013 - 12:15 am from Melbourne, Australia
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Posted July 11th, 2013 - 3:11 pm from Burlington, United States
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Posted July 11th, 2013 - 4:46 pm from New York, United States
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Posted July 12th, 2013 - 9:29 am by from Aalborg, Denmark (Permalink)
Well for my bit, it’s like this.

I might be above average naive – but I genuinely think that the vast majority on CS are good people with the best intentions. So far I haven’t meet or heard surfers tell of other sorts.
I truly fail to see the relevance of this information. I as a host has very little influence on this statistic any way.
I only host on request – when It’s convenient – and if the surfer has a decent profile – but otherwise don’t select or discriminate in any way. So you see I have no influence on this statistic – as it’s solely dependent on whom requests with me.

If the first line of my profile was to say – “mostly hosts woman” or whatever – I’d be truly sorry for this – and feel like everyone was made aware of the fact that I’m a creep – And trust me – I NEVER looked in on a surfer in the shower – regardless of the gender.

The challenge of playing it safe – whilst not criminalizing innocents, is not an easy one – but I think that’s why the references are so very very important – educate all surfers in writing their host a reference after their stay.
Again, we’re back to the provider/consumer issue here. – I for one feel that, it’s the responsibility if the surfer to leave the first reference – I’ll happily return it, once I receive one – but again, I feel it’s upside down for me to write to someone – “thanks for staying with me, you’re a really nice guy” – if you don’t even have the courtesy to say “thank you for your hospitality” to me.

Surely “we” (as in, the really smart ppl. at CSHQ) could very easily make some automatic form, where surfers has to leave a reference to the host – and the host then returns the gesture.
Right now – I get an e-mail from CS after each surfer, recommending me to write them a reference – and honestly guys – it provokes me every time. – I hope you send one to the surfer as well?

In my experience – only about half of all surfers leaves a reference. (And sadly woman are better at it than guys – so again I have very little control over how this is portrayed on my profile!)

I still think that the best and safest feature we have available is the reference system – real people writing about other real people.
“But what do new profiles do?” – Well, make sure they have a really good profile, trustworthy pictures, and join in on their local community to make new friends – and over time, invite them to leave a reference.
I’ve hosted plenty of “first timers” without any reference – if they have a decent profile, I have no problem with this.

I know there are a few terrible stories out there – but I think it’s a reflection of the state of the world in general. Consider how many surfs take place around the world every day – and how few incidents – One is to too many I agree! – But it’s naive to think we’re that different than the real world here. – Bad things happens in real life – and this community, sadly is no different. – But isn’t that why we’re all here? – “to make the world a better place – one couch at a time!” – Or is that an obsolete idea – and we’re becoming the world’s largest hostel site – re-vitalizing gender differences??

Focus on education of new members. – And the use of common sense whilst surfing – as well as in real life.

General “rule” of communication – focus on the important issues. – I don’t mean to ignore the “ghost under the bed” – but if you only focus on it – it will become real.

Well – I’m off on holiday – with NO computer! – see you all in a couple of weeks!
/k.

PS; - Thanks so much to those of you whom chose the time to read my comment – and take the time to give such positive feedback – I’m truly happy to know I’m not alone with these thoughts.

Posted July 12th, 2013 - 8:50 pm from Edwardsville, United States
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Posted July 13th, 2013 - 9:04 am by from Townsville, Australia (Permalink)
Well written and I have a similar opinion about open requests and much prefer the personal message. I know when I am travelling I prefer to contact a host directly and ask.
Damien

Posted July 12th, 2013 - 11:05 am from Saint Petersburg, Russia
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Posted July 13th, 2013 - 9:47 am from Paris, France
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Posted July 29th, 2013 - 11:50 pm by from Oakland, United States (Permalink)
@ Kim Jönsson

Hi all and thanks Kim!

You bring up some central questions that I'd like to take up. I'll reply to the initial post with all of your replies in mind.

First, you may be interested in watching this video from the LeWeb conference for more context.

For the sake of clarity, I will be phrase my reply very directly.

Regarding the new surf/host engine:

I get, that one of cshq’s perspectives surely is, to cater to the needs of the surfers – without those, there would be no need for CS. – But please remember also – that without host’s – the same goes. Wherefore it’s equally important to cater to the needs of the hosts.

We are focusing on hosts's needs first and foremost. Hosts are the ones ultimately making core Couchsurfing experiences happen.

I see – that CSHQ has failed in communicating this premise to the many, many new members – and therefore the system is failing – and we’re experiencing a vast decrease in successful couch surfs.
BUT – the solution to this challenge is NOT to shift the “workload” to the part of the hosts. Nor is it to reduce the host’s profiles to a standard easy read overview that you sift through like any other add. – The sole reason that CS works is – that it’s a genuine exchange between people who cares about others – and are out to actively make more strangers into friends.


I agree that we need to do a much better job at communicating to new members that it is not about a free place to stay but about sharing and cultural exchange. These will be areas that we are improving now or in the near future:

- We are improving the new user on boarding experience, which will require new users to understand the concept and values of Couchsurfing before they can actually surf. It ail also require basic profiles before new members can interact with other members.
- We will be adding more confidential review tools (in addition to the references).
- We also look forward to support Ambassadors again as they are the ones who understand best what it takes for a successful and truly meaningful surfer/host experience.

By no means do we intend to shift the workload towards hosts.
The new surf/host engine shall give hosts who want to host more a better tool to choose who can send them a request.
We are still in a early testing phase and we are changing it continuously thanks to the feedback from our most active hosts in the test cities. The host profiles will include much more information and it will be displayed in different ways.

The “old system” worked very well – I find it very difficult to accept – that this tested and successful system won’t work equally well with a few million new members – as long as all these people gets what this community is really about – and how to use it.

This "new" system we are testing will not replace the traditional couch request, it is an additional way that shall give hosts more choice over their hosting activities. Also, it is intended to cut down on low quality requests.

Particularly in places where there are hundreds of hosts per surfer, this "new" way to find a host shall make it easier for host and surfer to find each other, and leave both sides less frustrated as they can focus on lesser but more quality requests.

That said, the "old" system will stay alive!


Regarding safety/gender concerns:

The suggested focus on a few pointers at the top – such as smoking (really guys – in this day and age??) – and gender quotation? WTF? – Here’s a real life example – I’m a host – I’m a man – I like men (as I’m a homosexual) – I mostly host women! – This due to the fact, that most women traveling alone prefers a female host – not many of those around – and all girls mum’s taught them, that the next best thing to a girl friend is a gay friend! – Therefore I get a lot of requests from woman. This fact is in no way a testament to the safety of my surfers nor can I in any way see why in the world it would be relevant for future surfers?? – Remember please that I’m offering my couch – NOT my bed.
[…]
I get that safety is tremendously important here – but isn’t that exactly the reason why we shouldn’t focus on sex in the very first line??
Should we not be about all the ways we’re the same – friends and strangers alike – regardless of race, nationality, gender, sexuality etc. etc..???
And encourage everyone to have a good and clear profile – and to have a proper exchange of expectations with their host/surfer before coming?

The women’s equality movements aren’t taking any points on this one neither – yet again reducing women to the delicate and fragile entity that “we” need to take care of. – Rather than thinking of woman as intelligent and able to take good care of themselves – by thinking for themselves.


We included gender indication as one factual pointer that may help travelers make more informed decisions. The wording and display of it may still need to be improved, but gender per se IS a crucial element for our members' safety.

While we ARE a trust network, we encourage trust to be based on informed decisions rather than blind faith. Keep in mind that Couchsurfing connects people from different cultures, religions and with hugely varying gender concepts. We intend to remind members that gender may be a factor to consider before staying with a stranger.

We're absolutely in agreement that we need much better new member education. My hopes are that Ambassadors in the new Ambs program will also have this "new member" challenge in mind. All members, but especially new ones need to understand that they are responsible for their own safety at all times and to use good judgement: https://www.couchsurfing.org/n/safety.

We are currently putting together a beta tester group for feedback on a new user experience. If you wish to participate, please send an empty email to beta@couchsurfing.com!

Thank you for your thoughts!

Posted July 30th, 2013 - 3:08 am from Managua, Nicaragua
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Posted August 1st, 2013 - 11:45 pm by from Oakland, United States (Permalink)
@Claudia,

I am listening.
"Advice for hosts" offers a lot of useful input and we are aware that guests with inappropriate expectations are a pain point for hosts.

We are working on improving the new user education by on boarding them step by step. In May, we introduced a first version of our new user experience (NUX). Now we're about to develop it further, so that members are required to complete their profiles upfront and are then slowly introduced to how Couchsurfing works.

An essential part of this new member education are our Couchsurfing values. We intend to emphasize them much more in the future.

My hope is also that Ambassadors will also find our values a useful resource to share, especially with new members.

Posted August 3rd, 2013 - 8:52 am from Los Angeles, United States
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Posted August 5th, 2013 - 3:30 pm from Kolkata, India
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Posted August 6th, 2013 - 10:44 am by from Wellington, New Zealand (Permalink)
Agree with most of the content of this thread - I do actually like the open CS request system ; BUT. I think it should be an advanced user feature (maybe limit it's use to people with Vouches).

I also think a large part of the problem is due to the Places stream becoming a dumping ground for lazy surfers (see my other post).

The reputation currency that used to drive CS (Vouches, References and to a lesser extent verification) ; actually I believe was the 1 reason CS was such high quality - in fact a wrote a thesis on the topic and participated in cross cultural-economics/psych and research into the topic. Degrading it's importance has removed the ideal of reciprocity from the community (as well as community itself).

In summary ; Get rid of 'Place streams' and bring Vouching and Open CS requests into line and out of reach of low quality profiles.

Posted August 6th, 2013 - 3:56 pm from New York, United States
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Posted August 6th, 2013 - 9:31 pm by from Wellington, New Zealand (Permalink)
I have had some great experiences with open Couch requests as a surfer. Mainly because it allows me to still surf when I am on a schedule and otherwise unfair to send a cs request when I don't know dates. Again this is I think a reflection on my very full historical profile rather than on hosts. I think putting cooldown of a year or 1 successful host/surf outside of it before being able to use them would solve the problem.

Posted August 11th, 2013 - 2:29 am from San Francisco, United States
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Posted August 27th, 2013 - 10:33 am by from Aalborg, Denmark (Permalink)
Hey all.

Thanks so much for all the feedback – I’m ever so sorry I dropped out of the discussion like that. I’ve got a bit much on, on the family front right now – so I’m sorry I can’t contribute further right now. – I trust you’ll all do your best to take care of our great community whilst I’m gone. – I hope and trust that things are back to normal soon – and will join in on the fun again, as soon as possible.

Kind thoughts and good energy sent to Dad, with stage 4 cancer and Mum in hospital with an aneurysm in the brain are welcome and appreciated with thanks.

Remember please, all of you – to enjoy life each and every day – to give thanks and celebrate every chance you get. – You never know – so make sure you don’t regret anything along the way. – If anything Carpe Diem is more important now.

Positive thoughts to all.
/k.