May 14 2021 marked the first anniversary of the Couchers.org project. In one year, we have gone from an idea—a simple conversation of “can we do better?”—to an international organization of committed volunteers. We are a large and skilled worldwide team rallying around the simple idea that the community they are part of should not be operated for anyone’s profit. That a service can be made better, and run better, if it is in the hands of the community that it is built for.
We still have a long way to go, but we have come extremely far in this short time. Our first anniversary gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve achieved and where we go from here.
A year ago on May 14, the Couchsurfing™ paywall appeared without warning—locking its user base out of a hospitality-exchange site driven by the free sharing of their own homes—until each member paid a fee to be granted access back into their own profiles. This triggered an uproar—not about the money, but about the manner in which this hostage-like paywall was implemented. After years of the company not adequately listening to its lifeblood volunteer network, this was the final straw. Community trust was irreparably broken. Our cultural exchanges and our hospitality were being sold at a price. Our couches had been commodified. Couch surfing as a movement had been co-opted by Couchsurfing™ the corporation.
This was unacceptable, and two couch surfers in Australia came up with a plan to take it back. As more and more people saw that this plan was achievable, hundreds signed on to help. Now, after a year that has brought together a talented group of passionate volunteers from all corners of the globe, driven to create a nonprofit platform for ourselves and our interconnected global communities, we’re excited to share our progress.
In May 2020, we launched the original Couchers.org landing site, outlining our vision for couch surfing.
A month later, we launched the Couchers.org Community Forum, creating a centralized place to gather feedback for the whole community so that people could start having their say for the first time in years.
By August 2020, we had launched the Alpha platform, allowing users to create accounts and start playing around with the few features we had released.
And in April 2021, we launched the Couchers.org Beta, a usable platform with a new frontend, complete with UX designs from our own design team.
We’re developing features derived from the input of our community, and we’re building them right; everything has been engineered from scratch through solid software development practices with scalability, performance, and ease of development in mind. We’ve already got 800 accounts and growing, 200 of those having joined in the last four days. That averages out to 15 new sign-ups per day since the release of the Beta—and we’re just getting started.
Our structured development team is able to deliver at a good pace for both feature roll-outs and bug fixes. We’ve maintained about 12 developers at any given time throughout the past six months, with weekly meetings alternating between frontend and backend to help us coordinate work and stay on track. We maintain good dev practices with a high level of testing—all code is reviewed by a core dev to maintain high quality and make sure that each contribution counts and makes a difference. To date, we have had 37 contributors to our Github codebase. Our production systems have been stable, with no unscheduled outages.
Financially, the total cost of the Couchers.org project has come to about $1,400 USD. A large part of that money was required for incorporating the Couchers.org Foundation as a nonprofit, registered in Australia and related fees; the other half on servers and collaboration tools. Our servers can be scaled up around 10 times without incurring further costs—at 100,000 users, we predict a cost of $2,000-$5,000 USD per year—and we don’t expect yearly collaboration costs to increase. Roughly, this amounts to a total cost of 4.5 cents per user, per year.
This next year is all about growth. In this next stage, we will focus on recruiting community organizers and hosts; from there, we’ll move into marketing the platform to more casual users. With our core features now polished and in place, our aim remains on delivering community features (virtual/in-person events, discussion boards and community pages) and onboarding community leaders who will form the backbone of our user base. The next round of features will revolve around safety and trust, including moderation, references, verification and our community standing system. We are also aiming to launch the beta versions of our mobile apps (iOS and Android) ready by the end of the year.
Finally, a heartfelt thank you for the contributions of our entire volunteer team, who are at the heart of Couchers.org. Their tireless efforts are turning this vision into a reality. We know we’re attempting something radical here: taking back a corporatized construct and returning couch surfing to the hands of its users. We believe in the life-changing nature of travel and couch surfing and hospitality exchange, and believe it should be accessible to all. We’re excited and passionate about the future of this movement we’ve started.
If you’re also excited about where this is headed and passionate about this mission—join us.
Written by Mindy. Published on 2021/05/16.
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