Talk of the Town: August 25th, 2021

It's about culture!

Talk of the Town: August 25th, 2021 — It’s about culture!

Welcome to Issue #4 of Talk of the Town, the biweekly summary of the main points brought up, discussed, and debated in recent Community Forum threads! Check out the previous issue if you missed it!

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: August 12th - 25th, 2021

Lots of interesting discussions took place this past few weeks—we are trying to capture the most important ones here. A repeating theme across forum threads has been about how to shape and promote the desired Couchers.org culture through the wording of the options we provide, our safety features, and environmental concerns.

In this issue, among others:

  • How would you define couch surfing to someone who doesn’t know about it?
  • What are people’s current thoughts of dating, gender, and safety on the platform?
  • How can we make it easier for settled people to surf?
  • How can a platform that promotes travel alleviate its environmental impact?
  • And, as always, more thoughts about shared sleeping surfaces!

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 do you define couch surfing?

What is being discussed:

  • The current version of Couchers.org mostly defines itself as the better alternative to Couchsurfing™. How about the part of our audience that doesn’t know what couch surfing is?

Ideas:

  • A core element of couch surfing is treating strangers as “friends you haven’t met yet,” offering them a friendly favor in a non-transactional way.
  • A possible definition: a non-transactional exchange of hospitality that focuses on meaningful interactions between hosts and guests.
  • The host and guest are treating each other as friends (even if they are not technically friends or if their interactions are short); the “vibe” is one of trust and like-mindedness.
  • Let’s be honest though—a lot of experienced couch surfers, who have grown to love hosting and participating in cultural exchange, started couch surfing primarily by looking for a place to sleep.
  • If you primarily want to use the platform for surfing, but you are insecure about being a “free-loader,” you can self-evaluate your intentions using phaula’s or Niklas’s thought experiments! :)
  • Along the same topic, let’s think of some more good slogans for Couchers.org!

Read the full discussion...

Gender, safety, and dating

What is being discussed:

Ideas:

  • Declaring that the platform is not for dating is not intended to eliminate romantic relationships from forming (this will still happen occasionally); it’s about creating the desired type of “culture”—which in turn is trying to address problematic elements of the existing couch surfing culture.
  • A few users have proposed creating algorithms or other features that automate user search to prevent targeting of the opposite gender
  • However, the general agreement is to not restrict users’ behavior, but instead use other tools to detect and prevent creepy behavior.

Read the full discussions here and here.

Couch surfing for settled people

What is being discussed:

  • “Settled” people (i.e. people with families or children) usually have higher standards of cleanliness and safety when traveling with their family. How can we make Couchers.org welcoming to settled people without the host/surf process becoming like Airbnb?

Ideas:

  • We could add a “badge” showing that a user has experience hosting families.
  • This sort of badge could be associated with a “Couchers with Families” thematic group (when that feature becomes available)—or, in lieu of a badge, settled people could find each other through such a group.
  • A mandatory text field could be added for hosts who indicate they “accept children” on their profile, so that they can explain what makes their home “family friendly”.

Read the full discussion…

Couchers.org and environmentalism

What is being discussed:

  • As a community, the overwhelming majority of us care about environmentalism and conservation. Yet, most travel (the core driving force of couch surfing) is at odds with protecting the environment. What can the Couchers.org community do to alleviate environmental problems instead of exacerbating them?

Ideas:

  • As a platform that promotes travel, we can never advertise ourselves as an environmentally friendly platform; however, the least we can do is raise awareness about our environmental impact.
  • Promote community activities tied to environmentalism (e.g. garbage pickups).
  • Make it easy for community builders to share information on public transport.
  • Use carbon-neutral services and servers for the platform’s digital needs.
  • Raise environmental awareness through blog posts, events, and forum discussions.
  • Different countries have differing approaches to handling the environmental crisis; we shouldn’t just cling on to Eurocentric environmentalist values.
  • Couchers.org can partner with and promote other organizations that positively contribute to the environment.
  • Traveling to get to know other cultures’ way of life is not the main culprit behind climate destruction; most of the impact is made by large corporations seeking to maximize their profit. In that sense, Couchers.org as a non-profit organization seeking to improve people’s lives is already on the good side.

Read the full discussion...

Shared beds (continued)!

What is being discussed:

  • This topic has been discussed a lot in the past (check out Issue #1!), with people generally arguing that the risks of providing an explicit option for “shared sleeping surface” would outweigh the benefits—and that other alternatives (e.g. “bring your own surface,” and clear descriptions of sleeping arrangements on host profiles) could still lead to the same benefits. The debate on this topic has been recently revitalized with some newer perspectives.

Ideas:

  • In the post-pandemic world**, **we may be able to do without the shared sleeping surface option, as people may not be that keen on it.
  • People without enough resources besides their own sleeping surface can still find ways to host people and/or participate in Couchers.org events; the “bring your own surface” option can still be available, or, in edge cases, the host and surfer may decide to share a sleeping surface.
  • As also mentioned previously, transparency about the sleeping arrangement is essential; and, in some cases, it may be better to officially and clearly disclose that you offer a shared sleeping surface arrangement. For example, it can help people filter against it.
  • The point of not including the “shared sleeping surface” as an explicit option is not to forbid people from sharing sleeping surfaces (which is fine). The aim is to not encourage this behavior for people who did not previously think about it and have no “good” reason to share a sleeping surface. It also does not forbid people from disclosing that they have a shared sleeping surface in the “Sleeping Arrangement” section of their profile. It is about culture formation, not censoring of lifestyles, and it’s trying to contrast the problematic tacit open-door policy of Couchsurfing™ to dating and sex.

Read the full discussion...

Other discussions

Does the fact that we can currently only upload one picture to our Couchers.org profile keep you up at night? What do you think about changing the color of users’ pins on the Map Search depending on their hosting status and activity? If the above questions seem intriguing to you, jump into those discussions and see what is being said!


Did we miss an important contribution you made to the forum between August 11th and 25th? Feel free to privately message nspark on the forum. Written by Natalia. Published on 2021/08/25.

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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