Talk of the Town: July 28th, 2021

Checkboxes, documentation, and… towels

Welcome to the second issue of Talk of the Town, the biweekly summary of the main points brought up, discussed, and debated in recent Community Forum threads! If you missed the first issue, take a look here!

If you’ve not joined the forum yet, please quickly create an account to contribute and be part of the community. You can play an important role in shaping Couchers.org for everyone.

Forum Digest: 15th July - 28th July 2021

A LOT of lively discussions happened these past few weeks! Not only did new conversations start (and recent ones continue), a few community members even read and responded to threads that dated all the way back to last year, bringing those discussions back to life. Kudos to these dedicated forum readers!

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.

How is Couchers.org handling the data?

What is being discussed:

  • Some users have been wondering how the data, messages, and communications by Couchers.org members are stored or protected.

Ideas:

  • Aapeli (Developer Team Lead) clarified how data is stored. The Couchers.org database is secure, with a very small and heavily vetted number of people having access to it to serve specific purposes (e.g. moderation, support). Any access to the database is logged. Given the nature of messaging communications that Couchers.org is intended for, there is no plan currently set up to provide end-to-end encryption. There are, however, plans to provide more detailed documentation for volunteers (terms of service, agreements, etc.) to precisely define how the people who need to interact with the database should do so.
  • In terms of “data ownership,” there will be an attempt to differentiate between different kinds of data—personal data (e.g. your profile info) and data one contributes to discussions in Couchers.org communities.

Read the full discussion...

How do we offer documentation?

What is being discussed:

  • This discussion was started over a year ago and is a general call for ideas on how to provide effective instructions and guidelines for people as they use the Couchers.org app.
  • Recently, the thread was revitalized by a discussion about… towels! Or, more specifically, a discussion about how to help hosts and surfers clarify their expectations from each other.

Ideas:

  • A mixture of a “Resources/FAQ” page and small hints interspersed at different actions in the platform could be a good way to communicate guidelines to users.
  • For surfers, we could offer explanations on “how to write a good request” and how to properly discuss expectations with the host.
  • For hosts, there could be a guideline urging them to clarify what surfers should be expected to bring with them (e.g. towels, sleeping bag), as this can vary from host to host.
  • There could also be a guideline for hosts on how to choose “good” surfers based on the quality of their request and profile.
  • For both hosts and surfers, there could be additional hints on “good” general timelines for communication, etiquette, and info that would be good to provide to each other.
  • The majority of participants seem to agree that any “educational” language about appropriateness of requests should come from the platform itself, instead of asking users to educate each other. The latter can be pointless and also lead to unfair references.
  • Should the quality of one’s references/messages play a part in community standing? Could it backfire (e.g. disgruntled surfers trying to lower the community score of hosts who rejected them)?

Read the full discussion...

Do we really need so many checkboxes and filters?

What is being discussed:

  • Recent threads have discussed a lot of possible preferences that users can/should be able to indicate for their couch surfing experiences. Does offering too many filters and checkboxes run the risk of discouraging people to get out of their comfort zone? Do we need all these filters?

Ideas:

  • Cons of “too many” checkboxes and filters: they may remove the “adventure” aspect of couch surfing; people may miss out on interactions and learning by “filtering out” those who are different from them
  • Another con: the way some of the safety features have been framed so far may even promote prejudices and sentiments that we wanted to avoid (e.g. consistently implying that men are dangerous can make men feel unwelcome and make women afraid of them).
  • Counter-argument: most people on the forum are on the same page about what types of things should be mandatory “checkboxes” (e.g. safety and accessibility features) and what shouldn’t (e.g. air conditioning)! It’s more about fleshing out the details.
  • How, then, do we decide on the “details?” Multiple forum participants have expressed the desire to collect perspectives from a larger number of people. Perhaps the volunteer team could think about coordinating some informal—but large-scale— surveys on users of Couchers.org and other hospitality exchange platforms?

Read the full discussion...

How to write a quality reference

What is being discussed:

  • A collection of ideas on what should be part of a good reference, and how such guidelines can be communicated to users

Ideas:

  • Length of reference: there are preferences for both shorter (easier to navigate) and longer (fun guest-book!) references, so it’s best to leave it up to the people involved.
  • Use guiding (but not compulsory) questions! What did you do together? What was the best part of your stay?
  • Points that can be included in host-to-guest references: positive character traits, how we spent time together, how respectful the guests were; provide context of hosting (occasion, how many people, etc.), summary of interactions, general impression, a recommendation for others to host them; how independent or willing to interact the surfer was;
  • Points that can be included in guest-to-host references: how the host spent time with guests, how their home was, context of surfing, summary of interactions, general impressions, fun memories
  • Many people agree that adding the duration and even dates of the stay to the references would be a useful feature
  • Sometimes people leaving references can use inconsiderate language that reveals biases (e.g. calling a woman “ little girl”)—could we do something to solve this?

Read the full discussion...

Inactive memberships

What is being discussed:

  • This is another older discussion that was recently revitalized! The main question is, how can Couchers.org overcome the problem of inactive users appearing on search results in the platform while being, well, inactive?

Ideas:

  • A recent idea brought up is to add more incentives for people to fill out their profiles when using the platform (also discussed here)!
  • Another, older idea that was highlighted is to implement some sort of temporary hibernation/deactivation system for inactive users, which can be reversed when they log into the platform again.

Read the full discussion...

Should we implement Single Sign-On for forum and app?

What is being discussed:

  • There are currently two separate sign-on systems for the Couchers.org forum and the Couchers.org app (with different usernames and passwords)
  • Should those systems be kept separate or merged into a single account?
  • Alternatively, can/should we implement a single sign-on system for logging in that optionally keeps the account separate?

Ideas:

  • The purpose of the forum is meta-discussion about the app. The purpose of the app is hosting, surfing, and hanging out with people.
  • Arguments in favor of single sign-on:
    • Ease of use for logging in
    • The linking between profiles can be done automatically and avoid broken links
    • Transparency: more likely for users to be responsible and stand behind what they say
  • Arguments against single sign-on:
    • Members may feel restricted in expressing their views on the app if their views are linked to a profile
    • The additional “hurdle” of having to create a forum profile as a Couchers.org user can be positive, as it ensures that forum contributors are explicitly interested in contributing to the meta discussion. This makes the distinct purpose of the forum clearer.

Read the full discussion...

Nomadic, city, and country ambassadors

What is being discussed:

  • Should we implement an “ambassador” program similar to Couchsurfing™? If so, how?
  • Desire to build a strong community of nomadic Couchers!

Ideas:

Read the full discussion...

Should Couchers.org follow the same model as Couchsurfing™, or find a new model?

What is being discussed:

  • A recent contributor to the forum brought up some really important questions about the financial sustainability of Couchers.org. These questions have been periodically brought up in multiple threads in the past, but they are important to revisit sometimes! The volunteer team has carefully crunched the numbers and decided that a volunteer donation model is most fair and also financially sustainable!

Read the full discussion...

Other discussions

Read about how/if one’s Couchers.org profile can link to other social media, and how Couchers.org is approaching users’ choice to possibly build Couchers.org communities on other social media platforms . Oh—and if you would like to be part of a Women’s Focus Group and discuss features that could enhance women’s experience on Couchers.org, please express your interest here!

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 2021/07/28.

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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