Talk of the Town: 14th July 2021—Hosting and User preferences, and Gender Inclusivity

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Welcome to the first-ever issue of the biweekly forum digest, which will be summarizing the main points brought up, discussed, and debated in recent forum threads! We’re calling it “Talk of the Town”.

Forum Digest: 1st July - 14th July 2021

Many of our recent hot topics revolve around how to best balance safety features with gender inclusivity, and have led to very nuanced discussions.

In this issue:

If you want to contribute to any of the below discussions, hop on to one of the topics linked below or start a new discussion on our community forum.

'Preferred Gender' option for hosting

What is being discussed:

  • Should an option be added to the hosting preferences that states the host's preferred gender for hosting?
  • This could give people the opportunity to state a "soft" preference for hosting (which could make their experience safer or otherwise more pleasant), without adopting an extreme measure such as hiding their profile from men.

Ideas:

  • Should anyone be able to state any preference for what genders they want to host?
    • Pro: some men (including gay men) may feel more comfortable staying with women
    • Con: this ability could be abused in the form of individuals stating that they prefer to host the opposite gender, with the intention of dating
    • Counter: individuals who are made uncomfortable by another user's gender hosting preferences can always refrain from surfing with them (assuming they are also unwilling to date)
  • Or, should we have an "any gender" vs. "same gender only" option?
    • Pros: more equal towards men, accommodates cultures where opposite-sex hosting is not customary
    • Con: could be (ab)used for same-sex dating; anecdotal evidence was brought up about a recent problem of men being preyed on by other men
    • Pro: in theory, this is a heteronormative option, but, in reality: "the main focus should be on the most vulnerable group on hospitality exchange platforms- which are women"
  • Does the “Preferred Gender” feature really add anything?
    • "Yes" viewpoint: it would be nice to state that you only want to host women without taking the extreme stance of hiding your profile from all men. People should be able to express their preference.
    • "No" viewpoint: it adds more ways to discriminate, and prioritizes the avoidance of certain predatory behaviors (men on women) against others that are present. Between providing clear guidelines and safety features against misbehavior, and people using their judgement and describing their preferences on their profile, the "preferred gender" option is not necessary.
    • How are non-binary folks included/excluded from these filters if such a preference becomes stated?
  • We should be mindful of survivorship bias in these discussions.

Read the full discussion...

What is the purpose of the gender field?

What is being discussed:

  • Should the gender field primarily serve the purpose of self-assignment/expression, or should it cater to safety features?
  • If it is to cater to safety features, how can that best be done? How should users be able to filter for genders when searching?
  • If gender is not to relate to safety features, what other strategies can be used for safety?

Ideas:

  • If we allow everyone to filter by any gender, the consensus is that certain users would abuse this feature for the purposes of dating. But not being able to filter by gender at all is also impractical (e.g. trying to find women hosts in a city with 90% male users).
  • On the other hand, other safety features (e.g. message filtering, blocking, character limits, etc.) can to an extent prevent possible abuses of the "filter by gender" feature.
  • A popular idea is to allow for filtering for "same gender" or "any gender" only. In that case, should we allow for non-binary folk to be excluded from searches? How would that affect non-binary people that lean more towards the "woman" side of the spectrum or the "man" side of the spectrum?
  • Idea brought up: make the display of gender optional (and only show pronouns by default), but keep it in the backend for safety purposes?
  • Concern brought up:men could take advantage of the "non-binary" option and falsely represent their gender to gain "access" to Women and non-binary-only events?
  • We should consult more non-binary and women users (e.g. through surveys or focus groups)

Read the full discussion...

Shared beds

What is being discussed:

  • Do the benefits of providing a "shared sleeping surface" accommodation option outweigh the risks?

Ideas:

  • Points in favor of "shared sleeping surface" option:
    • Enables a wider audience of people to host others, even if they have limited space
    • Excluding this option could be considered ethnocentric, as it is customary in some non-Western cultures to share a sleeping surface (e.g. the floor) with no sexual connotations
    • Unless that option is transparently there, there may be misunderstandings between host and surfer, e.g. with the host not disclosing that they are offering a shared sleeping surface until it's too late
  • Points against "shared sleeping surface" option:
    • For a large number of people, this option is suggestive and something that is fundamentally opposed to the values of Couchers.org. It also increases the chance for unwanted sexual advances in the platform and creates incentives that "change the demographics of the community in a negative way"
    • The transparency issue could be solved by providing (or asking for) a picture of the sleeping area(s)
    • Shared sleeping surfaces could still be negotiated between host and surfer in some edge cases, but, by not providing the option, we are not suggesting that idea to people who didn't have it in the first place
  • A good alternative: "Bring Your Own Surface" (e.g. in a Shared Room option)
    • Should we indicate a “sleeping surface” checkbox that explains the type of sleeping surface?
    • We want to make sure we maintain some of the adventure aspect of couch-surfing
    • Still, it would be important to know if someone should bring a sleeping bag or not
    • It should be the surfer’s responsibility to find out (and there’s already a Sleeping Arrangement write-in section)

Read the full discussion...

You should be able to message anyone

What is being discussed:

  • It is very limiting to only be able to message "friends" and people you are asking to surf with
  • It also leads to people sending friend requests to people they don't know just to message them
  • For context, the development team has already taken these comments into account and decided to move in the direction of allowing anyone to message anyone

Ideas (also discussed in Filter out low-quality messages):

  • Introduce a character minimum for the first message in a conversation (100 characters?)
  • Adopt an "Instagram/Facebook model" where recipient has to "accept" the first message to receive further notifications about it
  • Implement a point system to gradually discourage serial bad-messengers
  • Continually remind and educate about how to properly write hangout or host requests
  • Enable more robust reporting and blocking features

Read the full discussion...

Hosting and Home Preferences

What is being discussed:

  • How to optimize selection and display of home/hosting preferences on one’s profile to effectively convey the most important information

Ideas:

  • Maximum number of guests should not default to 1 as it is very confusing
  • There should be a fourth option for the “Accepts X”-type questions (Yes, No, Maybe/It depends, Not Specified), where “Maybe” is distinct from “Not specified”
  • Certain preferences should be optional to display if not specified (e.g. parking, camping, drinking)
  • The “Drinking” preference may lead to misunderstanding if represented by a yes or no question; for example, it may be unclear if a host is just “okay” with drinking with guests, or if the host is fine with guests coming home drunk. House rules could specify that better
  • Certain fields should be mandatory to fill out—which should those be?
    • accessibility-related (e.g. “wheelchair accessible”)
    • Has pets
    • Has kids
    • “Sleeping Privacy” (maybe rename to “Sleeping Arrangement?”)
    • Others?
  • The “Accepts Last-Minute Requests” may be replaceable by an automated ability to disable dates that are close to today
  • Drug use: while drugs are becoming legal in more places, the risks of officially disclosing preferences (e.g. “okay to use drugs, not okay”) are currently higher than any benefit.
  • The idea of introducing more home specifics, such as blankets, air-conditioning, public transport etc., was brought up. However, most replies indicated that this would give an “Airbnb” feeling to Couchers.org that we don’t want.
  • Related: this very fresh forum thread is questioning to what extent we need all these filters… what do you think?

Read the full discussion...

Encouraging people to fill in their profiles

What is being discussed:

  • How can we encourage more users to fill out their profiles?

Ideas:

  • Introduce fun incentives such as profile progress bar, short encouraging messages, etc.
  • Hide users from the map if their profile is empty and notify them of this
  • Add more interesting prompts to profile
  • Allow easier transfer of profile data from other hospex platforms

Read the full discussion...

Other discussions

See what people have been saying about how to elicit and write good-quality references, if it is meaningful to import or link to one's references from Couchsurfing™, and what cool features we could add for people hosting or surfing as groups/couples!

Did we miss an important recent contribution you made to the forum between July 1st and 14th? Feel free to privately message n.spark on the forum.

Written by Natalia. Published on 2021/07/19.

Natalia is a chemistry PhD student from Greece, living in the USA since 2012 and hoping to move to Europe soon. She has hosted many surfers in Madison, WI with her partner, and helped organize Couch Crashes in the area, where couch surfing enthusiasts from all over the world gather in each other's company to explore a city together.

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