First Open Town Hall

We kicked off the first Couchers.org Open Town Hall on June 27. We organize this monthly event in an effort to get better feedback from the community and understand what you need from the platform, what we're doing well, and what we need to improve on. Users are able to voice their thoughts, opinions, concerns and compliments, as well as any other feedback they have.

The event is open to everyone, and runs every fourth Sunday of the month from 14:00 UTC to 15:00 UTC.

The Open Town Halls are relatively informal and start with a brief overview of the Couchers.org project,our recent progress, and the current roadmap. It then transitions into an open question & answer session where members of the community and core team alike are able to ask any and all questions they have about the project.

Notes and format

We started off with everyone introducing themselves, after which Itsi gave an overview of what Couchers.org is, our plan, vision, and what we believe in. Aapeli then gave a brief summary of recent progress, what's currently being worked on, and what the roadmap is for the next few months.

The development team is currently working on starting up the mobile development effort and is aiming to release beta mobile apps by the end of the year. Additionally, the dev teams are working on revamping the requests and messaging system, as well as building out events for communities, and a real-time notification system for the whole platform. As always, they continue to work on bug fixes and UI/UX improvements.

We then moved into the Q&A section, the questions and answers are below.

Questions & Answers

Note: these are based on rough notes taken during the fast-paced discussion in the meeting. The questions and answers have therefore been paraphrased, and sometimes do not capture the whole conversation or may fail to represent what the speaker meant to convey. We've redacted the names of people asking questions and making comments to preserve privacy and encourage open dialogue.

How does the community moderator onboarding work? How do you get to know people and vet them, and how to do it scalably?

Answered by Itsi.

In the short term, it's important to grow the communities even if we aren't able to choose the "ideal" community leaders. We'll have Zoom chats with them to get to know them a bit, but the key is in growing them out quickly now in the early stages. We'll have to be a bit rough about it at first, but communicate that the early stage moderation positions are non-permanent.

In the long term, we'll set up a systematic way of choosing community leaders based on vouching from members of that community and mandate a minimum level of activity or community standing requirements.

This is not set in stone, we're still learning and figuring it out. The forum is a great place to discuss and provide feedback!

Are there any plans to translate the website? This is important for non-English speaking communities, and translations are important for getting them off the ground...

Answered by Lucas and Aapeli.

Translations are one of the higher priority tasks we're working on. It'll make the platform accessible to more users and allow more members of the community to contribute to building the platform.

It involves two parts: the technical side and the organizational side. The technical side requires adding a translation framework into the platform and setting up a process for people to come in and translate strings. We're talking to someone in the next few days to start work on that and find the right framework. The organizational side involves getting a group of translators together to help out on the endeavour and having a targeted translation methodology.

In the long term, the goal is to have a dedicated website where the community can help translate, and upvote the best translations. We'll then pull these into the app.

Will there only be one group per city? How does the community group thing work in that sense?

Answered by Itsi and Aapeli.

There will be one official community per city, which will have dedicated moderators. The community is more than just a group; they have moderation duties, and moderation duties are divided up depending on geographical locations.

Anyone can make a group for a city, but ultimately moderation will fall with the moderators for that city's official community.

Is the plan to allow everybody to create whatever groups they want, making Couchers.org a general-purpose social media platform?

Answered by Itsi and Aapeli, with comments from others.

Fundamentally everything should connect back to the act of couch surfing and its non-transactional, face-to-face, cultural experiences. For example, events (virtual and in-person) are really important for this as they provide a great way to hang out with other members of our community and allow us to build the community and trust required for couch surfing. Our ultimate aim is always to enable these in person interactions, whether it be hosting, surfing, events, or anything else. We don't want to do the social media "scroll feed" where the platform abstracts the vacuous social feeling from the real social experience: we don't want to be in a situation where we're trying to get users to spend time on the platform for the sake of spending time there. For example, some platforms are incentivized to build technology to get users to scroll for a few more minutes on an endless scroll just so the platform can get a few more eyeball-seconds on ads. We want our community to go out and have real interactions, whether that be surfing, hosting, going to community events, or meeting others over video call—and that's fundamentally what we're about.

We want to eventually address use cases such as users cross-posting on Meetup and other platforms, which sometimes made long-time couch surfers not enjoy the event due to there being more random people at the event than there were couch surfers. To do this, we're thinking of building features that allow the event organizer to indicate whether the event will be exclusively for our community or whether it will be cross-posted elsewhere and open to the wider public.

Can there be an application and approval process for creating groups? Where the creator has to make a case about how the group will promote the values of hospitality/cultural exchange. Or is that too bureaucratic?

Prompted a general discussion.

Many core team members think it's too bureaucratic to require a big application process. For now we need to have some process to do this (because we don't have functionality in the app to do so yet!), and so it might be okay to pose the following question as part of the existing process: "why is it better to have this group on Couchers.org rather than not have it?"

But still we don't want it to be too much of a hurdle since we want the platform to grow organically. We don't want to discourage people from creating legitimate groups, but at the same time we don't want inactive content or content completely unrelated to the goals of the platform.

Poovan thinks we should make sure all communities are in line with the values of Couchers.org, and that we should write them down and educate users on these values. Moderators should only step in when there are issues that have been reported and conflict with our value system. So we should not put too many restrictions or get people to jump through hoops to set stuff up.

Other comments and suggestions

Someone commented that the landing page is too heavy on text and needs more images to balance it out!

A community member mentioned that she loves that Couchers.org exists and commends the team on great work on safety and references. However, she thinks only being able to send messages to friends is too restrictive, and that having an option to filter out all men seems too much (referring to the option to display one's profile only to users of the same gender). There was a long discussion about this and related topics that Aapeli failed to take notes about.

Time: 27/6/21, 14:00 UTC.

Link: https://couchers.org/town-hall

Present: Aapeli, Gus, Itsi, Jesse, Lost Boy, Lucas, Marta, Natalia, Nolo, Polina, Poovan.

If you have questions or feedback please join us on the discussion forum or join the next Open Town Hall on the 25th of July, 14:00 UTC!

Written by Aapeli. Published on 2021/06/27.

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