If you are reading this, you probably already know the basics. If the idea of couch surfing is completely new to you, please read this article to get acquainted with the concept.
Couch surfing is a form of lodging mainly used by college students and recent college graduates, where the stay is on an acquaintance's couch rather than at a hostel or hotel. Couch surfing has been a common practice for decades, and if counting the occasional and casual crashing at someone's home after a night of socializing, then couch surfing is centuries old.
Couchsurfing is a neologism referring to the practice of moving from one friend's house to another, sleeping in whatever spare space is available, whether on a floor, a couch, or maybe a spare mattress on the floor, and generally staying a few days before moving on to the next house. The term pre-existed the website in vernacular usage; for example, "Couch Surfer" was the title of a song by Bran Van 3000 written in the 90s.
Then, in 2003, Couchsurfing.com was created. Not without a few missteps, but by any measure the overall story of Couchsurfing.com can only be counted as a huge success! The impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people is something that cannot be measured in dollars, or by the number of site members alone.
Couchsurfing.com was originally founded as a non-profit organization and then liquidated in 2011. Its assets were sold to a private for-profit corporation which defines itself as “a mission-driven for-profit corporation”. As of August 2012, the company has raised $22.6 million in investment capital, while reporting no revenue. The registration is free of charge, but payment of a $25 fee is a factor in user access to services. CEO Billock envisions increasing the number of services available only to paid members. They began as a non-profit, but in 2011 the company was forced to reclassify itself as a for-profit corporation and has spent the years since transforming from a cultural movement into a business.
Many members felt betrayed. Those that were initially attracted by the revolutionary nature of the site, revolted. Some of these users moved to other hospitality sites such as BeWelcome.org, another great network, created and managed by volunteers and run as a non-profit in France.
In our view Couchsurfing.com is still a perfectly viable and valuable part of the social phenomena called "couch surfing". It is a well known website that won't go away, but it may not stay attractive to the same demographic it attracted initially, between the years of 2003 and 2011.
However, by not being able to foresee the consequences of their change in status, and some of their key decisions, such as eliminating most of the ambassadors, deleting the work of thousands of volunteers, eliminating relevant location information pages, and several other decisions, Couchsurfing.com lost the opportunity to concentrate most of the global couch surfing community under a single umbrella. Now they are scattered over multiple relevant websites and thousands of groups on Facebook, Yahoo, VK and elsewhere.
The major loss in all of this is no central, trusted repository for reviews. There is no simple way to put together a profile that incorporates the resources of any combination of these sites, and no mechanism for a trustworthy, but new, member of any site to convey that they are trustworthy and can be good hosts or guests.
There is something wrong with the couch surfing world.
Things were better. A great and powerful network of people with beautiful ideals and lots of enthusiasm was forming. In every place there were people getting together, sharing hospitality, making friends, learning exciting things. Good relationships started, hundreds of thousands of people are close friends today because they got together couch surfing years ago.
It was beautiful.
Then gradually, web sites that were easy to use became difficult. Thousands of pages with amazing information about places to visit and things to do suddenly disappeared. Thousands of ambassadors, people full of enthusiasm and ideals, fully engaged with the ideals of hospitality exchange and paying it forward, felt betrayed and abandoned.
Networks that were supposed to be open to dialog and criticism were suddenly censored. People in charge of improving the safety and well being of travelers had to reverse their roles, and instead protect the liability and interests of investors. Systems that made it easy to find comments, tips, and information became difficult to navigate.
Worst of all; the idealism created by a gigantic wave of couch surfers and amazing experiences was replaced by a swamp of cynicism. The looming idea that was once an awesome field of fun was now going to be bulldozed by the heavy machinery of impersonal corporatism.
Couch surfers, still hungry for discovery and adventure, started to pop up everywhere: Facebook groups, hospitality networks, and on commercial web sites. But sadly, some of them just went inactive and the flame of couch surfing went dormant in their lives.
It is possible to re-ignite that enthusiasm! We can help everyone reconnect. We can restore the faith in the reviews and other means of building trust. We can have all couch surfers using their favorite web sites and networks, still be able to find each other.
If you want to find a friend to have drink with while visiting a new city, why should you have to login into several different web sites? Remember several passwords, and need to deal with several different ways of searching for people? Why do you need to create the same event in different places? Have you been to a couch surfers meeting recently? Monthly meetings that used to fill up restaurants now just require a couple of tables. Fewer people are hosting now than pre-2012! Web sites now have millions of new users, but the level of engagement and understanding of those users is not like it was years ago.
The people that should be leading the community have been behaving like absentee landlords for years.
We will reverse that trend!
It all starts by making sure our values are taken seriously. Values interlaced with our safety and potential for positive experiences. Given the right tools couch surfers can self-monitor and solve most problems regarding the need to educate and provide guidance to newcomers.
But they can only do it if web site management is supportive and provides the tools. As a community, how do we look out for each other? What are our responsibilities in caring for our community? How are these answers impacted by the cooperation (or lack thereof) of management?
We can have it all back.