What Couchsurfing™ got wrong

We have had amazing experiences using Couchsurfing™. For many people, it brought them into communities and provided them with great interactions with other people. There is still a lot of love and loyalty for Couchsurfing™, even amongst the people working on this project. That being said, it definitely has its issues. Here, we go into a deep dive on those problems before addressing them in our improvements.

If you look through the forum posts discussing Couchsurfing™ or chat to long-time users, you'll come across the conventional wisdom that Couchsurfing™ used to be amazing back in the "heyday"; usually pegged from the mid 2000s to the early 2010s. Hosts and surfers enjoyed rich, active communities, a phenomenon replicated across the world and maintained by a volunteer workforce. In 2011, Couchsurfing™ filed as a for-profit company, a decision frequently cited as the start of the decline of the community. The number of users continued to grow, enjoying a boom from around 2.5 million users at the time, to at least 12 million users currently. However, the reality is that the community activity has seen a downturn and the platform has been overrun by creeps and travelers looking to score free accommodation, rather than looking for the genuine, non-transactional human experience that the forerunners sought to foster.

What was lost along the way was the influence, strength and moderation of communities. This was thrown away to be replaced by an attempt to monetize people's generosity. This created several inter-related problems within the platform, percolating into the community and the whole couch surfing experience.

The Issues

Here are the largest issues we've identified with the Couchsurfing™ platform. If there are other issues you think we should address, please let us know.

Profit incentives Governance

Couchsurfing™ changed into a for-profit company, and in doing so introduced new incentives for the platform that damaged the community. Critically, these involved trying to get anyone new onto the platform for the verification revenue, putting in restrictions on the number of messages, and not putting effort into preserving communities and keeping good members.

Neglected communities and trust Governance

Couchsurfing™ believed it could monetize a community that believes in and practices non-transactional experiences. In doing so, it neglected those communities and let them dwindle. By perverting verification and flooding the platform with new members who didn't necessarily understand the community's values, trust was eroded in the community.

Safety issues and freeloaders Design

There are many people on the platform that leach on or are detrimental to the community. Mostly creeps and freeloaders. There is a safety problem for members, especially women. There is a lack of accountability so users get away with being sexually aggressive or taking advantage of hosts.

The broken reference system Design

The reference system currently isn't a great way to work out who is trustable. It discourages negative reviews, so everyone looks equally positive. It's hard to work out who's an awesome member of the community and who's a creep.

The trend of super-hosts and few other active hosts Design

In a lot of places, the communities have shrunk down to just a small handful of super-hosts. It's not a bad thing for someone to host a lot of people, but Couchsurfing™ is structured in a way that doesn't encourage surfers to spread requests around a lot of hosts.

Poor functioning of the phone and web apps Technology

There are countless bugs and problems with the platform that we've gotten used to, but we could easily do without.