We hear you

Dear Couchsurfing,

We hear you.

You’re disappointed that we did not communicate more about the financial state of the organization as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic earlier. For that, we apologize. Sincerely. Genuinely. From our hearts. We are sorry.

We are humbled by the outpouring of voices. You have shown us the depth of your passion for Couchsurfing, for the community, and for the friends you have made here.

We do hear you. Now, it’s time to take a deep breath to explain more about what’s going on, and more importantly, why. We want you to understand the situation as clearly as we do and clarify a few of the most commonly asked questions surrounding the implementation of our member contribution program:

1) Why was I not warned?

We understand that not being able to login into Couchsurfing and interact with the community without first making a financial contribution is a shock and disappointing to many Couchsurfing members.

The team supporting Couchsurfing is very small and we had very little time to try to do something, anything, to save Couchsurfing. The team was (and still is) working long days and through weekends just to get done what we can. Even sending millions of emails out to the community is not a simple feat. At the point of the rollout, we felt like this was the best option to keep the community we love. We are trying the best we can and we are sorry we let so many of you down. Looking back, not informing you of such a drastic change was a mistake.

Going forward, we will work on a process together with the Couchsurfing Ambassadors on how we should communicate changes that impact the community.

2) Why did Couchsurfing start asking for contributions?

Since 2015, Couchsurfing has been solely focused on improving our community. By all measures we have been successful and we have grown to a size and vibrancy far beyond what many could imagine. Yet, less than 4% of our active members financially contributed to Couchsurfing by choosing to verify their profiles. This number dropped to nearly 0% in March.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, our community engagement dropped by almost 90% because fewer people are traveling and most people are staying home. That means even fewer people verifying their profiles and fewer people seeing advertisements and therefore less funding available for Couchsurfing. Given the global economic climate, fewer companies are advertising so we are seeing even less funding from the few advertisements we are displaying. We tried for two months to solve this problem in some other way and have had to fund operations with our cash reserves which were limited to begin with. In short, we had no other option than to turn to you, the community, for your support.

3) Did Couchsurfing consider other options?

Aside from profile verification and advertising, Couchsurfing tested over 10 different funding models multiple times in the past 4 years. These included asking for donations, permitting members to charge for hosting, asking surfers to pay a nominal fee when confirming a stay, negotiated advertising and sponsorships, affiliate partnerships (Couchsurfing getting paid when members purchased something we promoted), selling merchandise, a Couchsurfing cryptocurrency/blockchain, and more. Multiple versions of these were tested with minimal success. The funding we generated barely covered our costs associated with the tests themselves as well as the ballooning success of the community (growth and engagement).

We did not sell your data. We would not feel comfortable doing this. We think this is unethical. We did not do this. We will never do this. There are mentions on various social media channels of Couchsurfing selling member data. So we will say this once more, we have not and will not do this. 

In addition to our attempts at generating additional funding, we also cut costs significantly. We constantly renegotiate our contracts. The beautiful (and expensive) Couchsurfing office which you can see pictures and videos of online was shuttered at the end of 2018 (it took us over 4 years to get out of the lease). Just like the Couchsurfing community, our team is now 100% remote and distributed all across the world. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the team have taken partial pay cuts or are foregoing compensation altogether.

4) But doesn’t Couchsurfing have millions of dollars from rich investors? Isn’t it worth one billion U.S. dollars? Can’t you just raise more money from these wealthy people since this is all about money and they have so much of it?

While it is true that in 2011, and again in 2013, Couchsurfing sold parts of itself to investors (Silicon Valley venture capitalists) in exchange for capital that was reinvested into the company, 99% of that money was spent by early 2015. Those funds were used to improve, scrap, and replace technology that was outdated and expensive to maintain.

By 2015 Couchsurfing was no longer an attractive investment for Silicon Valley venture capitalists, mostly because the community had remained the priority instead of making money. Prioritizing the Couchsurfing community was the right thing to do for the community, but not the right thing to do for the business. We stand by this decision.

Couchsurfing was never worth a billion dollars. We are going to publish another blog post later this week with more details, but Couchsurfing has been an independent and financially self sustaining entity since 2015. None of the investors, founders, or prior team members are actively involved in the company nor have they been since 2015 (except for two team members: our team leads for mobile development and trust and safety).

5) What will you do with the profits you make from the new member contribution?

Our first priority is to ensure that our monthly operational costs are covered. If we start receiving contributions that are above our cost base we will start prioritizing new product development that will make Couchsurfing an even more meaningful and engaging community. 

What we will not be doing is sending any of those profits to our investors, or into the pockets of our CEO or employees. The money we earn at Couchsurfing has always gone straight back into the product. You will not see anyone at Couchsurfing driving a Lambo or flying in a Gulfstream jet on the way to the latest EDM party in Vegas. This is simply not part of the Couchsurfing DNA.

6) But how expensive can it be? Can’t we build an alternative for $25k?

Hosting an application costs money based on the amount of data you store, the complexity of the application, the features you offer, and the regulations to which you are subject. In order to provide much of the Couchsurfing functionality, some of which you see but most of which is behind the scenes, we have to integrate with and pay for third party technology. Scaling these applications to millions of members via web, mobile web, and iOS/Android mobile applications is expensive. Complying with regulations (like GDPR, which we fully support!) is expensive. Maintaining all of this is expensive.

A great example of some of the costs Couchsurfing faces is with the use of maps in the existing web and mobile apps. While we don’t use maps as much as you all would like, we do leverage location data across every aspect of the Couchsurfing application. Couchsurfiing previously used Google Maps to provide all location information. This past summer our cost jumped from $8,000 per month to $40,000 per month due to Google’s latest price increase. We made a decision (along with many other apps) to transition to another maps provider, Mapbox. This transition took us over 2 months to complete due to the complexity of our application. Due to our small engineering team, it consumed 99% of their time. We are happy to report that with Mapbox our spend is now less than $4,000 per month. This anecdote is good at identifying the scale at which Couchsurfing operates and the discipline we have in operating a cost effective platform. This is not a simple application you can host on your own servers, or something you can re-build and support overnight.

Our team is one of the least expensive parts of Couchsurfing. We have an incredibly small team of 25 who each do a job that is usually done by multiple people.

Our team serves many functions: 

  • Trust and Safety team: These folks ensure we are GDPR compliant as well as ensuring any safety complaints / violations are quickly addressed.  
  • Mobile engineering team: Responsible for delivering iOS and Android applications with security and feature updates on a regular basis.
  • Web engineering team: Responsible for the entire codebase. This team was responsible for fixing and improving a rat’s nest of code touched by multiple generations of Couchsurfing employees.
  • DevOps team: Ensures the site does not “go down” (which it used to a lot in the past).
  • Product team: Interview users to understand what they need in terms of new features, works with engineering teams to improve existing features and build new ones.
  • Operations team: Manages the finances, accounting, and legal work of a distributed, global organization.

Without any of the above Couchsurfing would resemble the wild west. The site and mobile applications would break and crash all the time with zero reliability. 

7) So the larger you become the more money is needed?

In short, yes. It is a double-edged sword in that as we gain the amazing people that make up our community, it costs more to keep the systems in place to facilitate the connections that make Couchsurfing a place where we can easily share our lives and make a world enriched by travel. Maciej Ceglowsk, the founder of the site pinboad.in, wrote about it in his blog and titled it “Don’t Be A Free User”:

Were you a big Gowalla fan? Did you like Dodgeball? Did you think Trunk.ly (gasp!) was better than Pinboard? Did you make a lot of contributions to Nextstop? Do you miss Aardvark and EtherPad? Did “I Want Sandy” change your life?

These projects are all very different, but the dynamic is the same. Someone builds a cool, free product, it gets popular, and that popularity attracts a buyer. The new owner shuts the product down and the founders issue a glowing press release about how excited they are about synergies going forward. They are never heard from again.

Whether or not this is done in good faith, in practice this kind of ‘exit event’ is a pump-and-dump scheme. The very popularity that attracts a buyer also makes the project financially unsustainable. The owners cash out, the acquirer gets some good engineers, and the users get screwed.

To avoid this problem, avoid mom-and-pop projects that don’t take your money! You might call this the anti-free-software movement.

If every additional user is putting money in the developers’ pockets, then you’re less likely to see the site disappear overnight. If every new user is costing the developers money, and the site is really taking off, then get ready to read about those synergies.

What if a little site you love doesn’t have a business model? Yell at the developers! Explain that you are tired of good projects folding and are willing to pay cash American dollar to prevent that from happening. It doesn’t take prohibitive per-user revenue to put a project in the black. It just requires a number greater than zero.

I love free software and could not have built my site without it. But free web services are not like free software. If your free software project suddenly gets popular, you gain resources: testers, developers and people willing to pitch in. If your free website takes off, you lose resources. Your time is spent firefighting and your money all goes to the nice people at Linode.

So stop getting caught off guard when your favorite project sells out! “They were getting so popular, why did they have to shut it down?” Because it’s hard to resist a big payday when you are rapidly heading into debt. And because it’s culturally acceptable to leave your user base high and dry if you get a good offer, citing self-inflicted financial hardship.

Our goal is not to “make lots of money” but rather to continue to invest in trust and safety initiatives, develop new and better features in the website and mobile applications, showcase the community, and provide support to all those incredible Couchsurfing members who reflect the Couchsurfing values to the world.

8) What about people saying that this is just like when Couchsurfing switched from a non-profit to a corporation?

Couchsurfing was NEVER a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Couchsurfing was founded in 2004 and applied for non-profit status but was denied by the United States tax authorities (the IRS) for not meeting the qualifications. Couchsurfing is and has been a company. It never qualified as a non-profit and has never been one. In a scenario where Couchsurfing was a non-profit and had achieved the same level of success, we would be in the same situation. Operational costs would be just as high, and they would need to be offset with some form of funding, like member contributions. 

As we will share in the coming weeks, we have serious aspirations for the impact we want Couchsurfing to have on the world. In our current world, corporations are the non-governmental organizations that can have the largest impact. As soon as some other organizational format can have a larger impact than a corporation, we will become one of those. Just because we are a corporation does not mean we are focused on money, profits, or expensive compensation packages. We are focused on none of those things.

9) Wait. Millions of members? So the Couchsurfing community hasn’t been slowly dying?

No. Quite the contrary. The number of active members has grown by leaps and bounds in the past four years with no money spent on marketing (because we have none to spend on this). We have been successfully acculturating members into the Couchsurfing ethos as the number of Couchsurfing members engaging with the website and mobile applications on a daily basis has grown 4x. The number of Couchsurfing members engaging with the website and mobile applications on a monthly basis has grown almost 5x. The community has never been more vibrant (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, of course). With your participation, we have a real opportunity to transform the world in a way that few communities have.

In an effort to avoid over-commercialization, very few members of the community were asked to contribute financially. Unfortunately, very few of our members have made the voluntary Verification payment meaning we have not seen an increase in our funding to match the increase in our membership.

10) Why have I not heard more from Couchsurfing about any of this in the past several years?

We have made a conscious effort to keep the focus on the Couchsurfing community and all the amazing things you do. There are community members who still hold grudges against Couchsurfing for things that were said or done in 2012. In order to avoid that, we focused on making consistent positive improvements to the website and mobile applications. Given the unprecedented times and this abrupt change, we are going to break from this to provide more detail about all things happening in the Couchsurfing community and what you can look forward to and expect in the future.

11) Okay. So what is a Couchsurfing contribution?

All we are asking for is some marginal financial support to help cover our costs. In the United States we are asking for $2.39/month or $14.29/year. This amount is adjusted in a number of currencies and is often considerably lower in various countries.

12) I don’t see it on my account, what does it look like?

It looks like this:

If you don’t see this when you login it is because you have been left out of the contribution program due to either you 1) being an Ambassador, 2) having purchased Lifetime Verification, or 3) you are in a free country.

13) But what about countries that can’t afford $2.39/month or $14.29/year?

We have adjusted these amounts for many countries. In fact, your contributions will allow over 75% of the world to still have access to the Couchsurfing community for free.

14) How did you adjust the contributions and decide which countries did not have to contribute?

We looked at a variety of factors: economic development, economic purchasing power, credit card adoption, debit card adoption, digital payment adoption, size of the countries’ Couchsurfing communities, vibrancy of the countries’ Couchsurfing communities, country population size, country population density, and many other factors. 

15) Will you be publishing a list of these countries?

Not just yet.

Unfortunately, we have seen some chatter about people trying to circumvent the contribution program by saying they are from one of these countries even though they are not. This type of behavior is not in line with the Couchsurfing values. We consider this cheating everyone else who is contributing to Couchsurfing. If you do this you will be banned for life from Couchsurfing.

16) But do hosts have to contribute?

We are asking for contributions from all members. It is important that everyone participates. Everyone – whether you are hosting, surfing, organizing an event, or attending a hangout – receives value and needs to contribute to the Couchsurfing community. Everyone provides the community value, everyone receives value from the community. The contribution is for the tools and upkeep of the website and mobile applications that everyone in the community uses.

17) What if I purchased Verification?

If you purchased Verification we are not asking you to contribute for one full year from now. Thank you for your support of Couchsurfing – you are a huge piece as to why we are still a community!

18) Aren’t you holding my data hostage?

Nope. We understand some of you feel we are keeping your profiles “hostage” or require that you pay a “ransom”, and apologize for this. This was not the intention we had in trying to rally the community around saving Couchsurfing. We remain compliant with all privacy regulations. As has always been the case, you can ask for a copy of your data and to delete your account by contacting Couchsurfing Support at support@couchsurfing.com or through privacy@couchsurfing.com.

19) What happens to my profile, information, and pictures if I don’t contribute?

Nothing! Your profile will be waiting for you whenever you are ready to return to the Couchsurfing community. We understand if making a financial contribution to Couchsurfing is difficult at this time and can’t wait to see you in the future.

20) Won’t this make the community smaller?

Yes, but with fewer accounts to support our overhead will be lower and thus the funding will go further to improve member experience in the long-term. This is a win for members that choose to contribute. When you contribute to Couchsurfing, you are enabling others to enjoy Couchsurfing even when you are not (like when you are asleep and Couchsurfing members on the other side of the world are awake). Some members may look at this through the lens of “What does it do for me right now?” While we wish everyone could see the global impact of their contributions, we understand that certain members will not understand this aspect of contributing to a global community.

While there may be a drop in the overall number of Couchsurfing members, the community will be stronger and the interactions better. There were people freeloading on Couchsurfing, using it as a way to find a free place to stay, not responding to messages, and flaking on hosts, hangouts, and events. By implementing the contribution program we will begin to put an end to all of this and raise the overall quality of our shared Couchsurfing community.

21) I see people saying negative things about Couchsurfing, what should I do?

Admittedly, we could have been more transparent beforehand, which may have allowed for less confusion. As with any change, some people will have an emotional reaction to implementing contributions. Unfortunately, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, this is bad news on top of bad news on top of bad news. We encourage everyone to show compassion towards people that are angry, upset, and frustrated by this change.

There will inevitably be conspiracy theories, misinformation, and downright lies spread about Couchsurfing and these contributions. We know that some people and other sites are opportunistically preying on people’s temporary confusion. It is frustrating to have our intentions called into question which is why we’ve spilled our heart out to you now. We hope in doing so it has shed light on our commitment to keeping the Couchsurfing community alive.

We encourage everyone to come to Couchsurfing with any questions, concerns, or clarification for anything seen on Couchsurfing or any other online channel. As always, you can contact Couchsurfing Support directly at support@couchsurfing.com

Sincerely,

The Couchsurfing Team

Comments

comments

81 thoughts on “We hear you

  1. Turn this horrible crisis into an opportunity and rebump communities around the world. Bring back the forums and community groups that made CS a lively group of humans enjoying together what has been missing in the new era: communication.

  2. Would be nice to see Couchsurfing switch to a Co-op. This would be a true community that could be financially feasible through member fees. Spending and direction of the co-op would also be guided by it’s members, not only those at the top.

  3. I wish CS used the format of workaway , helpx etc.. taking a membership free from those going to travel, so the hosts were exempted. Already, the number of people who use CS like a hostel is soo huge. They would not mind paying this kind of fee for their yearly trip, as they save much more in accommodation and even food. But asking also the hosts to pay seems unfair, may I say.
    – CS could have deleted all those accounts who never log in for years and has 0% reply rates, or ask them to make this contribution
    – could have asked for payment for those setting on a new trip. There are even people who create an id, after reaching the destination. Most of these people only look to get hosted. They are never going to host
    – could have asked for payment for those using the hangout option.
    I am glad for now, I wont have to pay, as am already in the verified section, but am not sure if I would want to continue hosting, after making a payment.

  4. Have anyone payed the monthly membership? Is it possible to pay for one month? I would love to pay for one month to get out of that rathole. Just afraid I might be charged forever by such a scam company.

  5. I would love to pay those 22.99 NOK (who do they thing they’re fooling) to get deleted, but how can I trust they will not charge me forever?

  6. I’m totally fine paying for the service, especially in these times. I hope you will survive.

    Although Im very irritated by the way you forced people to pay without an explanation up front. To me that is just lack of communication and a poor strategy. I don’t believe it is hard to send an email to all you members, which you can still do.

    What worries me is that paying for a website without a free entrance does not attract more new members. Then there is a risk Members how were not active for while, will delete their profiles.

    Please communicate and it is not too late to communicate to all your members by email!

  7. I’m very glad about this choice. The payment version will drastically filter out the garbage memberships, the ones only looking for a free B&B, and fake profiles. Quality vs quantity 👍

  8. Longtime member here (10 years). In this damage control blog post effort they do say that their strategy of suddenly imposing a hasty paywall on users was a mistake. But since the same paywall still exists, it’s hard to believe that it really was. Hard to know what information is reliable, because independent internal sources describe this as a cash grab designed by CS leadership that takes advantage of a pandemic, but either way, suddenly imposing a paywall on users with no prior communication about it was their strategy. I don’t agree with this strategy, so I would very much hesitate to fund the leadership that does.

  9. while this is a good decision to keep CS going i had a suggestion but first i have a Q. my country is under sanctions and it won’t let us pay even if we could with all the currency change which makes 14$ a loooot of money here so how do we keep our accounts?and aside from that i know it might not be the thing you want to hear but just a suggestion: so since i have hosted guest before and well i don’t know about other countries but we have a custom to take care of our guests in every way like three meals a day and taking them to explore the city and all the rest. i’m not saying i ever asked for money instead but to keep you going and make members contribute you can let host charge guests for a amount (only once or per night depends on your decision but a small amount like 5 or 10$ and you get 20% of it or any other percent) this encourage hosts to be active more and you can give host the option to weather do hosting this way or not but if not the guest must pay). this is a really cheap price comparing to hotels and hostels or dorms even so nobody cares and it won’t seem as forcing them to verify their account.
    or you can add some new option like giving surfers an option about weather they want to go to their trip on themselves of they want to give the CS a destination and ask for it’s help about where to go on the trip and what to see and estimate how much money they need based on the other users experience for that destination and around cities or countries and they can have this option for 20$ or not choose it at all. and the module will ask how many days they have for this trip and how much budget they have and what are their interests and plane something for them and even can offer the contact of the users who did go that destination so they could contact and ask for more info and you can think of a way to make money of this for you and the users who offer information like X$ of that 20$ or you can ask the user who choose this option weather they want to contact the ex-surfer of that place then it’s 25$ or if they only need the site suggestion then it will be 20$.

  10. In the middle of my University Studies I took a 19 month gap backpacking and working around the world in 2000-2001. Along my travels I had met and ended up staying with many locals so naturally I was immediately interested in joining the Couchsurfing Community after I was introduced to the CS platform by a friend after returning to my studies.

    I started joining the CS Community attending CS meetups then joined online in old CS 1.0 days in 2007 when CS was almost entirely powered by volunteers and donations. I later hosted, surfed, participated at a Couch Collective, created and moderated multiple active groups, donated again to support the cause as soon as the Verification system was introduced, hosted regular meetups/events like potluck BBQs and outings like hiking, skiing, and teaching CSers to surf in Hawaii, I was decently active CS user until I moved to a rural area not well represented or easily searchable within the CS system that sees little CS traffic/requests 8 years ago, and still occasionally host.

    Like many other long-time CS Community Members I was shocked to receive a notification indicating without warning or the CS Community’s consultation/input that CS HQ had unilaterally (in contradiction to previous commitments made to the CS Community) decided the CS website/app would become a payment subscription service and, furthermore, they had already locked all non-verified CS user’s accounts behind a paywall without prior discussion, notice, or the CS Community’s input and consent.

    Upon further investigation it now appears, unbenounced to me, numerous successive administration teams within the CS HQ currently responsible for maintaining/developing the CS platform have become increasingly disconnected from the CS Community and our core founding values and have lost their way and now the broad support of what was previously a very passionate and supportive CS Community comprised of Member, Devs, Volunteers, and Ambassadors over the last decade. It appears after transitioning CS to a Corp B, taking on Venture Capital investors, and building a plush office in San Francisco CS HQ began decreasing transparency and pursuing top-down command structure governance, degrading and devaluing the CS Community’s input, corporate oversight, feedback, and direction. CS HQ then deleted the Community Based Knowledge features including the new member welcome forums and the wiki, pushed out passionate volunteers and outsourced back-end work to contractors in developing countries, and then followed faulty murky business plans pursuing bloated non-core features in attempts to mimic other platforms (like Airbnb) without maintaining sufficient incoming revenues to offset the increased overhead until it finally reached a breaking point …at which, while refusing to disclose the actual financials and appealing to the CS Community for greater financial support …CS HQ instead generically scapegoated many years of poor financials on the Covid-19 pandemic as a justification for switching the platform to a subscription payment service and ransoming non-verified user’s accounts behind a paymentwall without forewarning.

    My personal feelings are that CS HQ making such drastic changes to the platform without full transparency and the CS Community’s input and consent and in contradiction with previous promises was completely inappropriate and inexcusable for a administration that is tasked with upkeeping the platform for a gift-given based community’s membership. A gift-giving based community is a fragile and idealisting thing that requires trust and transparency to maintain sufficient member support to survive. The most valuable CS participants aren’t ‘customers’… they are Members of a rare trust-based Community.

    As it now stands, CS HQ doesn’t just have a REVENUE PROBLEM but, also TRANSPARENCY, TRUST, and VALUES DISCONNECT PROBLEMS for which the CS HQ Admins have given themselves less than one year to fix before Verified users will have to decide if they want to stay or bail and permanently move to other similar platforms.

    CS has had it’s ups and downs over the years, but sadly the CS HQ Admins appear to have become increasingly disconnected from the Community’s original core values and lost their way and, thus, the broad support of the passionate CS Community they need to survive. I hope the rash actions already taken by CS HQ will not eventually destroy this beautiful thing we love, but it is blatantly apparent that it is going to take much more than a few flowery PR/Marketing blog posts admitting that mistakes have been made without rectifying actions to restore the Community’s trust that has been broken.

    It’s going to require full transparency and accountability to earned back enough trust that long-time passionate members (which previously would have been more than willing to donate in excess of the current annual fees) to want to continue financially support the current CS HQ Administrators.

    I sincerely hope CS HQ takes disgruntled Community Member’s complaints, comments, feedback, and the overall blowback to heart and make necessary changes and engagements to gain back the trust and support of the very Community they depend upon and are tasked with serving within this 1st year of CS 3.0. If they do not, I fear this will eventually led to the best members of our CS Community migrating to other platforms, eventually exiting participating in CS entirely, and the platform going the way of MySpace.

    Ok CS HQ, now is your time to shine and you’re one opportunity to show us why you are worth our continued financial support. The clock is ticking, and you have given yourself one year to redeem yourselves. I wish you luck for all of our sakes!

  11. Thanks for the explanation. I’ve been a mmber since 2011 and have hosted maybe 100-150 surfers, including some of the most amzing people I’ve ever met. Even though I’m very low income, I don’t mind paying a fee (or making a donation, since my account is good for another year). In fact, I tried to make a donation, but couldn’t figure out how, using the link from the “CS needs your help” email.

    I have long noticed that CS has a “bloat” problem. I just checked and my city has
    “5,549 hosts. ” No it doesn’t. I think 50-100 is more accurate. I’ve met at least 50 over the years. Most of the accounts are bogus. And I mean no ill intent on anyone’s part, but the push for high numbers in the past rather than organic growth has weakened the platform. I live in a university city. Lots of young people come here, learn about CS and sign up. They put up a half-assed Profile, missing lots of information. CS encourages them by saying their Profile is 85% complete with almost nothing in it. But they get busy at school and forget it. Then they move to another city, but still leave their Profile untouched. And never come back. All these accounts need to *not* be on the site. They cost you a fortune in hosting costs, do nothing for the community and never answer messages. Contact them and, if they don’t respond, remove their Profiles. I’ve surfed a few times and nothing is worse than sending a Request to someone who isn’t really there.

    There’s much more, but I’m not here to criticize. I’m here to help make things better. The secret to community is community. But not having millions of non-participating members.

  12. Thanks for the explanation!
    First I wanna say that Couchsurfing really changed my life. From my heart I’m very grateful to those people who built it. I was happy to be able to contribute and I will happily contribute as long as I can.
    I agree with many comments I read here. But one thing that someone talked about and really concerns me is that genuine new people who cannot afford will be pushed away by this fee. This is not right, not good at all. You guys will have to find a away.
    But, like I said, I believe in those people who created CS. I believe in everybody in CS actually, the true ones. That’s my motivation to use the platform in the first place. The CS community is unique and will survive =)

  13. I understand that this was likely a very hard decision to make and that you are now bearing the brunt of people’s anger, I stand beside your decision.

    The bottom line for me is, I love this community and had always questioned how it was able to survive with no membership fee. When the choice is between a reasonable contribution or risk losing this community, it’s an easy decision. Yes, you could have told us all sooner, but this has already been apologized for and I personally feel the same sencerity behind that apology that I have with nearly everyone that I have interacted with in this beautiful community.

    I still hope that there will be a way back to similarly cost-free structure in the future, but if that is not an option then I will still stand behind Couchsurfing.

  14. Ok, if i understand, i will have to pay to host freely. I would prefer a system where people hosting can use CS for free and people who don’t host will have to pay. But I don’t understand why, while hosting for free (means, spending my money to host someone), i would have to pay other fees for CS. Host are making this website alive. Why do they have to pay ?

    1. Good point. I surfed only twice but hosted guests at my place about 70+ times. I made sure that atleast once i serve them my local food to introduce them to our taste. I shouldn’t be paying anything or atleast pay lesser than whom who have never hosted before.

      1. Asim you will pay less. We all pay basic membership but if you host someone you will not pay for verification for 3 months every time you host.

    2. Exactly.. I am hosting and almost never surfing, why should I pay? I am already paying on my guests.. giving them my time, food, cleaning apartment, washing bed sheets…

    3. Hi Erwan.

      I don´t think everything is mainly black or white. We should always try to see more perspectives.

      I have mostly been a host myself and maybe surfed twice and I still paid for a membership. I think it is ok to put a value on this community, appreciate that the team behind this is valuing and taking care of themselves and learn from them. Give ourselves as individuals the same chance.

      Then maybe that is also an opportunity that people who are not here for the right reason can simply redirect, find something that feels better.

  15. I am glad you are finally starting to communicate but this could have been handled so much better.

    Given the circumstances where most of us can’t travel anyway, the first step should have been to ask for donations. Not yesterday, but a month ago. I know there are plenty in the community who were willing to do this. Now, it feels like we are forced to buy a product we can’t use.

    It would have also given you a bit of breathing room to inform the community about your plans to move to a subscription model and set expectations moving forward. Now, there is still confusion on whether this is a temporary COVID measure or permanent change in policy.
    I personally have no issues with a subscription model as it probably is more ethical than relying on advertising, but doing this without any warning is incomprehensible.

    And even if you had a good reason as to why this had to happen so suddenly, was it really necessary to lock everyone out of their accounts? Had you made it that only subscribers could message new people or create events, while everyone else could still access the site, people would not have felt like you had taken the community hostage.

    I also understand that CS is not a typical silicon valley startup and that it will never be a billion-dollar company. If you are serious about keeping the company focused on the community, then why not offer the CS community the option to buy shares in the company, not with the intent to make money but protect the well being of the CS community as a whole?

    1. Fair points. Fully agree.

      I surfed only twice but hosted guests at my place about 70+ times. I made sure that atleast once i serve them my local food to introduce them to our taste. I shouldn’t be paying anything or atleast pay lesser than whom who have never hosted before.

  16. Good decision, I support it. People are just used to the free stuff and yet whine they do not get the best service. I am not interested in hosting anyone who cannot afford to let go of a small amount to use a platform that offers several benefits. Anyways, most couch surfers are less genuine/authentic than they pretend to be. Amount is reasonable. Verification amount was more expensive I believe.

  17. Dear Couchsurfing:

    First of all, it is necessary to recognize that the people I met and the experiences that I was able to live thanks to this platform changed my life.

    Having said that, I think it’s good that they communicate SOMETHING to the community…
    … BUT!

    Considering what you say / will do is not aligned to community values, in certain ways. And I understand why the massive wave of hate and negative comments have rained down these past few days.

    If they charge, we should be possible and active and charge the subscription only for those who want to stay. There is no point in paying to host people. It would be enough doing a survey with all the users who regularly host to come up with that fact.

    I would not do it, and I consider that a large part of the community (mainly those who stay), if the idea of ​​the platform is freedom and not an economic or cultural interest of any kind.

    I’m verified, but there is no way that I can pay again (much less a subscription mode) being that in Argentina including the monthly value of approx. 2 dollars would represent a lot of money. As necessarily also in ten other countries.

    This paradigm shifts will cause the disappearance of hosts. Maybe not at first, but once their (currently verified) account is disabled and payments are required, in one year… bye.

    As I read in another comment, I do not see how it is difficult to open a debate how to solve the current problem WITH THE COMMUNITY. After all, CS exists BY and FOR it, come on.

    All members who have been inactive for more than a year should be contacted by email in order to request confirmation within a certain time (one month, for example) that they are still interested, that otherwise their profiles would be removed .

    Some suggestions to improve things:

    1. Obligation to complete the profile before being able to do anything like send messages, requests, etc., and includes appearing in the search engine. Come on, if you search for people in a certain place, hundreds of ghost profiles will appear.


    2. Put a limit of 5 profile photos and 1 that the photos of “Couch” or experiences are enabled 1 for each confirmed stay. They would make more sense, and lower hosting costs for the platform.

    3. Finally, if there is no other possible solution, I suppose that without a doubt it would be a better alternative to obligatorily request a one-time payment FOR LIFE (real and not the deception that they have made by changing this now for those of us who made that payment for life before). Only for those who want to surf, of course.

    Super sad to run into this information right now. I understand, of course, the situation, but it seems to me without a doubt a lack of respect towards the community the way you did things. Without considering it, the opinion of the people, to make a change.

  18. 22) CAN I SEE YEARLY FINANCIAL REPORTS BEFORE I CONTRIBUTE?

    BESIDES THAT, ISN’T IT POSSIBLE TO GO OPEN SOURCE AND ASK DEVELOPERS ALL OVER THE WORLD TO CONTRIBUTE THIS WAY?

    1. Jacob when they were open source the website crashed all time. Not sure how long you have been a member but this was prior to 2012. No standards and too many people doing things on their own.

      CS or any company has no obligation to shows us any of their financials. As a consumer it is a value proposition. You make a decision to buy something and if you don’t like it don’t buy it again.

    1. Don’t be rude about this. I also don’t like to have my income divided up by several just small payments here and for other things that are accumulatedly taken off automatically. But the bigger picture is what consequences does it have on the community, especially on the availability of hosts. If someone wants to travel and use CS for it, they will happily pay it during their travel, but if someone is hosting sporadically, they might not bother and thus not be available as host. Also in lockdown times, when does activity in CS start again? During the time where nobody can really travel, we are asked for what by its design is a service fee, although it’s meant as a rescue contribution, for a service that is limited in its use right now due to the virus, that caused the problem to begin with. I think, it will be essential to get rid of the fee again as soon as possible given the situation and switch back to advertising and then keep the expenses of CS low in future in order to be able to put money aside for a rainy day like now.

    2. Dear Sir/Madam,

      Besides that there is no need for rude language, how do you feel if somebody sudenly blocks your profile and your acces to your data (or their data of you, depending how you look at it) and denies any possibility to either access it even for a last time/delete/…without you paying a fee. This seems rather like a ransom note, no?

      The profiles were blocked from 14th of May on, while users (at least I) were only notified on the 21st of May. More than the money, this does feel like a breach of trust. Hence the moaning.

    3. You are completely missing the point. Asking hosts to pay for “the wonderful opportunity to be able to host” is sheer nonsense. The amount does not matter. Locking people out of their accounts without prior warning and forcing them to pay to access what is basically their data is unethical to say the least.
      If CS would have communicated the financial trouble they are facing in advance and asked for voluntary donations, that could have saved the day. What they did instead is a nail coffin.
      I have used CS for years, hosted 100s of people, was not hosted even once. And now I am supposed to pay for the privilege of sharing my home for free with de facto strangers, who may feel “entitled” because they paid their monthly fee?! Bye, I am gone to BeWell.

  19. I would like to make a contribution but this seems not to be possible as I already paid for lifetime membership. How can I achieve this ?

    1. Same for me. I am happy to contribute more but I don’t see anywhere to do it on the CS dashboard. Couchsurfing is an amazing tool and I have met so many great friends through it. I don’t use it much anymore but I want others starting their travel adventures to have and enjoy it!

  20. I agree with the co-op model idea and I think it is the only model that could work for CS.
    I’ve been a member for over 10 years now and I have seen many changes, most of which were for the worse. I’ve also paid for verification and heard many times of these mysterious “ambassadors” that CS consults with. I’ve never seen an actual consultation with the community. And it’s not a difficult thing to create a poll for active users, especially for CS.
    To be frank, I don’t have any trust in the ownership of this organization and I will not support it because I don’t have any evidence of it making good decisions or understanding the needs of the community.
    Despite the fact, CS is indeed a very strong community, maybe one of the strongest “social media communities”. That is a great asset to have, but it also comes with responsibility. I don’t feel like CS has been responsible nor accountable to it’s community through the years.
    I would agree to support it if I was offered something in return. A piece of the co-operatively owned company, for example with the right to vote for a CEO, would be something. Now it’s just more of the same old tune.

    1. CS is essentially a small business. They are working a lot. The time they would spend to hold your hand and “convince you”would not be worth it and would greatly harm the CS community. Thing about it, they actually have work to do. You have been a part of this community for how many years? And how much have you paid per year? Take responsibility you can get something for nothing, be thankful. When was the last time you spend $12 at Walmart, yet you can’t contribute to the CS community…

    2. Arm, I’ve been a member since 2006 and I agree completely. I said the same in my response to the email about paid membership: 1) CS leadership’s decisions in recent years have not seemed to have the community as its top priority, and 2) I don’t trust the organization.

      I am disappointed at the lack of transparency in the organization’s finances, and this FAQ falls far short of would be needed for the organization to maintain trust of the community when making such a decision and request.

      Also, as we are in the midst of a pandemic with no vaccine in sight, and as much as I love the CouchSurfing community, now is not the time for it. On top on the damaged trust and lack of transparency, we are being asked to fund a company with expensive operating costs for a service that is, at the moment and for the next year or so, antithetical to public health.

      It just doesn’t make sense.

  21. I hope you will reverse this decision when the virus is over. Many members only occasionally use CouchSurfing, more like… I haven’t looked into CS for some time.
    Many people, especially hosts, will not be available this way and it was always at the heart of CS to be part of the non-monetary sharing community.
    My casual usage doesn’t make me want to pay for using CS. Is there a plan for after covid19?

  22. We started as a COMMUNITY, grew all these years as a COMMUNITY.

    Let us start focusing on who is interested to join this beautiful community and don’t want a lot of random people to join this like any other social networking site – just to show the numbers.

    I strongly believe that people who see and feel Couchsurfing as a COMMUNITY will do funding to keep this alive. Others, they just come and go; Party got over for them.

    There are a lot of things to change with growing technology but all those things were on the backend part.
    1) Choose a better cloud service provider who can host our servers at cheaper rates or select the best possible combinations to effectively handle peak-time traffic.
    2) A lot of old-time CSers are the only people who talk offensive or angry here cos’ they were frustrated with the transformation from ORG to COM. One can show anger and frustration on the people whom you really care about.
    3) I may be wrong with this particular point – linking Facebook to login in CS site allowed a lot of unwanted members here (We opened the box of worms). The numbers would have shooted up multiple times but check if they honestly use CS for travel purposes.
    4) Let us think about minimalistic living – the way we budget our travels. Let’s keep the site simple – maybe like the old CS site. This might save a lot of development and operational costs. Adding new features (Open Couch requests), introducing hangouts, etc looks good for any social networking sites but it killed the habit of reading other member profiles and writing a decent request to your prospective host.

    ** Ask opinions from members; Create Polls; Run a challenge; Members will submit sample designs and you can choose the best possible outcome.

    PS: If possible remove the other social networking links like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

    Once again, We started as a COMMUNITY, grew all these years as a COMMUNITY, and continue living as a BEAUTIFUL COMMUNITY.

    1. I agree that the Hangouts feature was pretty crappy, and not very useful (at least in my case), but the Open Couch request feature was there when I started, and I found it very useful. While I agree that it may have made for some lazy requesting, I was able to find and invite many surfers that had common interests and friends who did not contact me first. I ended up being hosted in San Francisco by a guy who saw my open request (I DID send out many personal ones) and saw we had a friend in common. This led him to reach out to host me. I think that there could be a way to have people use the open couch request, in conjunction with making personal requests. Like maybe your request wouldn’t go into the public forum until you had written a certain number of requests to individuals.

    2. Nicely said. I can’t agree more. I can not say i have been around for a decade but for the short while I’ve been part of this community I’ve witnessed enough to agree with you. I mean one can understand being linked with Facebook and other social media platforms might aid with supporting the corporation’s financial support but not without diminishing its authenticity and creating an opening for users with shady motives other than what CS was initially founded upon.

    3. To number 4)
      I agree with minimalistic living. I’m sure there were saving options before and I was also surprised that there ever was a physical office for CS. I’m often a digital nomad myself and I believe one could have saved on several spots for a rainy day like now. If the map feature was so expensive before, it could have been cut out altogether.
      However, I specifically like the add on function of open couch requests, as it offers me the opportunity to read profiles of possible guests and invite someone to my home when I actually am at home and free. It makes this a two ways thing and at 45 you don’t get that many requests anymore. I’ve been on CS for 14 years, some of them more and some less active.

  23. If you want to make this change then get rid of the people that haven’t even logged into the website in years as well as those that haven’t completed their profiles. The website was so much better when it was under 1 million really active people … There’s too much deadwood at CS.

    1. I said EXACTLY the same thing.

      Right now, I am getting messages from members who paid the fee, but are unaware that I cannot respond.

      If I pay, it could well be, for the privilege of messaging inactive profiles!

  24. I think your explanations are late and bad, although I do not reproach you for anything, each one runs his business as he wants, badly or well.
    although I think it could have been warned before blocking profiles.
    I will particularly wait for the evolution in this year, and later I will see what I do, continue or leave it.
    Of course I hope that now at least the profiles with more than a year unused (or two) will disappear, as well as groups that are not used or messages that are useless, some with more than 6 years, unless you want maintain a fictitious and non-existent couchsurfing, better few and good, than many and bad, but I understand if the business is profitable or not.
    In any case I hope that couchsurfing finds the right path and continues.

  25. “The number of active members has grown by leaps and bounds in the past four years with no money spent on marketing (because we have none to spend on this).” So why did I see ads on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube videos?
    “There were people freeloading on Couchsurfing, using it as a way to find a free place to stay, not responding to messages, and flaking on hangouts or events.” Why not investing more in the quality of community members, their interactions and fundamental features like search engine, why investing on fancy new features like Hangout and, I believe, marketing ? This system of hosting for free is super fragile, it’s unique, you need to take super care of it. Most people are not compatible with it because too selfish, too affraid of strangers, too willing for confort or else so it doesn’t make sense to brag about how large is the user base, Couchsurfing community is meant to be small.

  26. Actually, as I know thant you have to finance your work somehow, I am so much more comfortable paying a certain amount of money than paying you with something I have no control over or knowledge about (data, advertising,…). It’s totally okay (an normal) to pay for a service. If you can assure me that you don’t give anything away to other companies, I will feel “free” again on CS 🙂

  27. I love couchsurfing so much. This company should be an example to so many other companies as far as really listening to its users. Its integrity to not share data is no small task as it really limits their profitability from investors as well as advertisers. I am grateful for the community and I can’t wait to see how this transition takes the community to higher heights. Let’s use the same mindset that we do when meeting complete strangers in the hopes that we will have an authentic connection and experience and give our Couchsufing team the benefit of the doubt ❤️❤️

  28. If you admit that not giving the CS users warning is a mistake……why not make the warning NOW…..and give people a week or two to decide if they wish to edit / save / delete info from their profile and / or pay the “contribution” fee?

  29. How about CS management just mothballing the site until the virus is
    declared over? 99% temporary layoffs are only natural at a time when
    only 1% of couchsurfers should still be surfing. No worry about the
    “competition” taking advantage of CS hibernation: nobody would be
    surfing on their sites during the virus either. Anyway everything backed
    up to disk and email notification to finish any conversations soon, as
    the site is going to be replaced with a static page: “See you after the
    virus is over.” Presto. CouchSurfing saved!

  30. I am still hoping you come up with some way that people can make other contributions than those required. I would be willing to, and I am sure others would be also. That could help make up for the countries without a fee. Or for someone who has lost their job for example even if they live in a country where one is required to pay.

    I cannot understand, unless someone simply cannot afford it at all, why people are complaining about a token fee. Depending on where you live, this yearly cost might be less than the cost of one dinner with a friend per year. The benefits we get from couchsurfing, and the groups where we can communicate with people from all over the world are certainly worth that in my opinion.

    Thank you for this explanation, and hopefully there will be more to follow. I appreciate all of the work that you do that I have benefited from. Special thanks to Couchsurfing Support and Safety, and to all of the Moderators who donate their time 🙂

  31. Great post and I absolutely support this change even if not rolled out completely correctly. Looking forward to traveling again with CS soon!

  32. I was so disappointed when I first heard the news of a paid model, I thought this will be the end of couchsurfing (…we are still to see) Reading all the backlash from the community and the idea of no Couchsurfing made my heart sink. However, I’m a bit more at ease after reading the latest blog post. The communication was needed, thanks.

    I’m a verified paid member and have been using couchsurfing for around 3 years, my travel experience would not have been the same without it!

    I solo travel, I like my own space, I rarely stay at hostels and never request to be hosted. This can make it difficult to meet people and as a result I’ve come to rely heavily on couchsurfing, the events and particularly the apps hangout feature.
    The ability to arrive at a new destination, go to an event with a pre set date, time and location or switch on the hangouts feature and instantly plug in with locals and fellow travellers has become invaluable to me. I would absolutely hate for the events or hangouts features to go, for couchsurfing to go for that matter.

    In some ways I like the idea of a paid model to get rid of those that “freeload” people making new accounts just to find a place to sleep and add nothing to the community. I live in a popular location and host when I can but am inundated with new members, no pictures, no bio, no references, nothing.
    Additionally those that come to events or a hangout and are only interested in one thing. I’m male and make it a point not to use couchsurfing like a dating app. It spoils it for everyone and I think a paid model will in some ways help to alleviate this issue.

    The downside of a paid model is that it will unfortunately isolate those genuine people who want to contribute to the community but just can’t afford it. I’m also concerned that the initial barrier will put off genuine new users. Perhaps a free trial period for new users?

    Put a donation button back up on the site and app front and centre, even with all the community backlash those that feel they would like to contribute a bit more have the option to do so.

    I’m sure there are many more members like me that are a little more reserved when it comes to commenting on blog posts or forums but I feel so passionate about couchsurfing, the current situation and it’s future.

    Like others have mentioned I think the community does need more than just promises. Couchsurfing should publish data, a clear road map and better communication going forwards.

    #letssavecouchsurfing

  33. I was thinking about a fair way how to charge people money to keep up CS online. I have one idea worth of thinking.

    I am on CS since 2006. I’ve been hosting and surfing a lot. Hosted more than 250 people, surfed around 350 times.

    There are many members who only host and almost never surf. When they host, their home bills increase. It wouldn’t be fair for them to pay money to host because they already pay more when they have people over.

    Instead of that, you can introduce a small fee when travelers are surfing someone’s couch. For example, I send a request, I am approved and then I pay small fee to the website, not to the members.

    It can be 0.10$, 0.50$ or 1$. You can design a price based on ratio of the surfer. If the ratio of hosted/surfed is close to 1:1, it could be free for the surfer or very cheap, for example 0.10$. If ratio hosted/surfed is 10:1 (less people hosted than surfed), you can charge 1$ to the surfer. If ratio of hosted/surfed is 2:1 or even more, it can be free for the surfer.

    I hope you will find a way to fund all the costs. I know it’s expensive because I am also in website business and know how much hosting such a big website can cost, plus all developers you have to pay and etc.

  34. Here’s a question that’s not been answered. What most people would like to know is why you didn’t warn us before locking us out of our accounts? This is probably the single most hurtful aspect of this new move, and has caused anger among many who otherwise would have been willing to pay. Since the decision to do this was made weeks ago, you had plenty of time to inform us first. That would at least have given us the opportunity to choose freely between paying or leaving. It would also give those who chose to leave the chance to exit gracefully, organize their relationships on the platform, inform their friends and old hosts and guests of the situation and leave forwarding information. Instead, all they get is an option to request a data dump of their profile.
    So, again, why did you choose to do it this way?

  35. I think you’ve misunderstood something. People aren’t saying you’re holding the data hostage, it’s that you’re holding the *community* hostage. I didn’t have time to message my friends on Couchsurfing and provide an alternate form of contact. I love what Couchsurfing stands for, and am happy to contribute to help you all stay afloat, but it’s likely that other people in my network either won’t do this, or won’t be able to do this.

    This means that even if I support Couchsurfing, and as you say, the network gets reduced to the people who are serious enough to contribute, I’m still not going to have a way to contact people I’ve met over the 15 years I’ve used couchsurfing, since this change was made without warning. This leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and makes me disinclined to want to pay the fee in the first place. If you allowed non-paying members to read their messages from friends and former surfers/hosts without being able to reply, it would address this issue.

    Additionally, lots of people who host don’t want to pay for the privilege of hosting, so now you’re asking users to pay when a lot of the superhosts (who are the most pivotal part of the community) will be unavailable as well.

    Honestly, if you addressed the above concerns, I believe more people would be willing to pay to continue using couchsurfing, and it would be better for your survival in the long run as well.

    So in summary, here’s what you could do to actually show the users that you care about the community as well:

    – Allow hosts to receive and respond to couch requests, even if they’re not paying.
    – Allow all users to read messages from their ‘friends’ on couchsurfing, from people they’ve hosted in the past, and from people they’ve surfed with in the past

  36. Maybe it would be a good idea for the badges to return, as a recognition of the commitment that the CS have and that could sell a little more

  37. Agree it is worth to keep cs alive
    Agree that some financial inside is good
    Some info about number of people ( paid or not ) help to maintain the system/database ( hell of a job )
    Personally curious about the database ( worked in ict )
    One strong advice, please clean up
    At last, i am verified user, how can i contribute ( creditcard, paypall )

  38. Definitely the form of the local forums engaged the community better. They even created spirit to travel to specific city just because of the vibe of those groups and locals. This is definitely lost and missed in the current site. Bringing this back would boost the community a lot.

  39. Honestly, I understand why you need to be charging a small amount. It will help weed out some of the guest that are just looking for a free place. I hope you keep the policy of leaving out certain countries from payment. If you guys were surviving on 4% verification payments, then I would think this will greatly increase your income. However, here are my thoughts on the roll out… Not cool…
    1) Give people the option to pay a lifetime membership to Couchsurfing with no annual or monthly payments for $200. (This lump sum would help alleviate your immediate financial issues, and give people with more disposable income to pay for a site they love )
    2) Monthly fees are a set $2 and start in September. (This will give your members the feeling that they are valued and time to adjust, get messages, and delete or keep their account during this difficult time in the covid world. Instead of making some members feel held hostage, and forcing payments at a bad time for everyone)
    3) Fees paid annually are $15 ( having the change, is not necessary. Just round up for the annual, and down for the monthly, the incentive is still there for the annual)
    4) Add an option on the payment screen to donate to sponsor a member or for the site. Even leaving off some countries there will still be situations where people will have trouble paying fees. For example, exchange students or foreign workers that are staying in the US and have little money to share. You could offset this by having an option to request fee waivers and have the donations offset these.
    I think with this pay structure you will more than cover for the financial situation. I would just also add that if you are going to start mandating payment… There should really be full financial transparency to maintain the trust of your members. The last thing you need is a mass exodus based on poor communication and mistrust.

    I have been a couchsurfing member for a long time and have gotten and given a lot out of this connectivity tool. I appreciate all you guys do, and hope it continues and improves over this next evolution.

  40. It sounds great when you read it fist, but when you think of it you start to wonder. Just one example, they said it was not their intention to keep our data hostage.
    Yes nice, but they still do it is what they forgot to write. Why do they not simply give us access to our profile and just disable all message functions and whatsoever if we don’t pay. Then we have control of our profile.
    Ah yes.. of course that would be stupid because if we can’t change it and can’t change the setting to not available it looks better. All paying people see a lot of active couchsurfer, until they find out they are all ghosts. So the ones who pay will feel quite stupid soon.

    Even before that in some regions I already found many many ghost profiles, mostly they were easily recognizable. Soon it will be way worse, because the ghost profiles has not always been ghosts. So they look very very real.

    My first thought after that blog was, I should pay and support them because it sounds they really have good intentions. After giving it a second thought I’m not so sure it more sounds like empty promises of politicians and when I picture what CS will be when I log in, I just se me surrounded of many many dead profiles which all look alive at the first sight.

    Not a really comforting feeling for me… but I still have hope they might find the right way to deal with it, hopefully not too late. When the day has come I happily will pay for the service they provide, but not in reverse.

  41. I’m already a verified member for some time. I can see what this worldwide COVID-19 mess is doing to people and companies. I don’t mind participating as a verified member, and I would be happy to donate more than that—but there’s no option for me.
    I genuinely like this platform and all the opportunities to meet people. What I don’t like is discrepancies between the website and the mobile app and the functionalities that have been removed or are broken. Happy to support Couchsurfing if you work on these features.

    Some tip: I think you can save some money if you limit the number and size of photos members upload. I don’t think people need 300 photos on a profile.

    1. “I would be happy to donate more than that—but there’s no option for me.”

      My feelings exactly.

    2. Same – I logged on to pay the fee, but because I purchased lifetime verification I don’t seem to have the option. Would happily give some funds to keep this going but don’t seem to have the option to do so.

  42. Thank you.
    I really hope you keep this way of communicating up. It’s tempting to spend all your time improving the website and app, but you have to realize first and foremost who you’re doing it for. So when all the dust has settled and everything is calm again, and there is no great need to explain anything, please keep your focus on the community. Even small news is good to bring to the community. 🙂

  43. It was obvious, even by mid-March, to anyone who took a flight anywhere, that travel industry ad spending was going to tank. It’s the job of C-level people to anticipate these types of issues and correct course, and if no course correction is possible, to communicate. The communication of these issues to the community needed to happen in March, or heck, even April, not two days after implementing a hasty pay wall. That said, I’m not deleting my membership just yet. Let’s see what CS 3.0 turns into. Best of luck, and let’s hope better decisions will be made in the future.

  44. Appreciate this transparency CS. I also appreciate hearing that financials were discussed with the current ambassadors as well. It is a step that has not been taken.

    I never thought CS was “worth a billion” or that CS staff “drove lambos and flew gulfstreams” so those were funny assuming questions.

    The key to our community is trust and transparency. What was just written is a great start and so, thank you.

    I want to encourage the product team to help mobilize a “super – volunteerism” culture in the community and I would be willing to help with that.

  45. I have been an active member for quite a while, with a few notable gaps. I could easily go “back in the day, it was like…”, but I’m not sure that helps anything. Regardless, it was such an important part of my life making connections in my community and around the world. Thank you for your communication now and hopefully this experience teaches us all something about the value of communication.

    I have a few questions and suggestions…hopefully they can be addressed:
    1) A concern I have seen in the communities I’m involved with is that income is not uniformly distributed within a country. Even in the US, a yearly fee is tough for some and not even a thought for others. As you are likely aware, quite a few members don’t seem to have a permanent address at all, or even more than a minimal income…ESPECIALLY with Covid. Is there way to account for the diversity of income within countries and not just between? A suggestion that I think would gain traction – create a “surplus fee” fund. Members can voluntarily pay MORE than the $14. If somebody feels they can only pay $10, they can take from the “bank” that other members have paid. I know this is a logistics nightmare, but I feel it would be worth investigating.
    2) Is there a way, short of requesting data, to see your profile? A lot of members are angry, as you’ve said, of holding data hostage. Could you simply deactivate tools like requesting and hosting, but leave access to the community? Losing all of it in one fell swoop will undoubtedly drive some valuable members away.
    3) One of the most important aspects years ago was the COMMUNITY built, LOCAL groups. This disappeared during the first great upset and I think that drove a lot of members away. With a fee-based system, can this come back? As I understand it, the goal was streamlining for mobile devices more than anything else. Most of the older members really don’t care about streamline and care far more for the community. That way, when visiting a city, you’re visiting a community, not just just one host.
    4) With that – a lot of the “streamlined” request options can be problematic. One of the beautiful things of the clunky-old-site was that it was clunky. This kept the quality of requests higher and made everyone have a bit more of a vested interest in writing them well.
    5) HTML! I want the HTML option back for my page! Honestly, I’m okay if this isn’t feasible…just I miss it.
    6) Is the fee-based structure a PERMANENT thing? Is this a one, two, three year plan? What is the long-term structure and what guarantee do members have that the fees don’t arbitrarily (perceived or otherwise) increase a year from now?
    7) A bit more radical of an approach – has CS considered shifting/reorganizing as a co-op? Ask members to pay a fee ($10, $20, $100…whatever) to BUY ownership of CS. City/Country ambassadors could be members of the board of directors for the company and vote on bylaws, direction…etc. If you decided to no longer be a member, your membership dues are returned (fully or partly…whatever).

    Soon…we’ll be able to travel again…until then, stay safe!
    -David (couchsurfing.org/people/DAL1283)

    1. I love the idea of a CS Co-op. Co-ops are, above all, accountable to their member-owners. That’s the missing piece here, and has been for a very long time. Bravo for that suggestion!

      1. I’d love to see a feasibility study done. Perhaps connecting with somebody from REI (also a large co-op) would be a way to start.

      2. Absolutely! Kick in €100, €200 for a co-op share? Yes, in a heartbeat. CS is a wonderful and important community and has provided wonderful experiences to many, many people. I’d love to be one of many equal co-owners of this community, keeping it open and active for ourselves as well as for those just trying it out or those not able to financially contribute. But kicking in money now with governance and financials as opaque and, obviously, questionable? Not so clear that I’d be on board for that. Just to show that it’s not about being cheap, I just donated €15 to BW even though I’ve never surfed that community and only ever received one couch request. Of course, I wouldn’t expect to ever make money from my co-op share. I’d be happy that it provided a small part of the funding needed to keep the lights on and to spread the word. But please, give the community that chance to contribute in a way that’s right and in line with the CS spirit. Let’s get rid of that awful feeling of helplessness and of not being heard and let’s have CS be what it always should have been: a co-operative venture! couchsurfing.com/people/ansgar

  46. If CS is about the members it should be as open and transparent as possible with all its initiatves. It should be accountable TO members and not try to execute things in a bubble separate from members. Where is the data to back up your claims? We need full transparency. I’m fully aware of the escalating costs to run websites and the cost of Google maps vs alternatives, but most people won’t be, so how about share some numbers? You claim that there are sooo many active members making such a vibrant community but that’s not been the experience of most people I know. Where is the data? How do you measure active? How do you determine what is vibrant? What days do you have to suggest the website as it exists today is more engaged and active than pre-2011? Please share as much as possible so that we can make our own judgements into how active and vibrant the community is. Also as a long time member of CS I can say I never saw any of the initiatives you mentioned except ads, which were executed extremely poorly.

    TL;DR:
    CS as a company needs to be fully accountable to it’s members first, and continuously transparent about its expenses, funds, efforts to raise money,etc.

  47. Please publish numbers.
    Detailed money spending and revenues of the last 10 years.
    We need to know if what you’re saying matches reality.
    If you care about the Community, then there would be no reason to not publish the numbers.

  48. I was really angry. But honestly, I think you raise a lot of valid points there.
    I once paid for verification, about 10 years ago. Back then, I wrote you that I was a poor student and you said I should just pay some amount I would see fit. I think I paid 15 $. Each time I moved, you mailed me a new verification postcard. I have moved so often, these postcards alone cost you more than 15 $.
    I have gotten a lot of experience and friends and good stories out of your website. Many trips wouldn’t have been the same without Couchsurfing. Some wouldn’t have been possible at all.
    I find it absolutely okay to pay something for that. Especially as you are charging a really reasonable amount. Obviously, charging by countries is not completely fair because there are homeless people in Canada and Switzerland, and there are millionaires in Bangladesh and Burundi. Maybe members could sponsor another member? I’ve hosted or stayed with a few people who are students and whom I would love to support now.
    (But please don’t ever introduce that idea of hosts charging surfers!)

  49. I had no issue paying, but I’m so happy there was an outrage and which this triggered an explanation. We now know our community is engaged and passionate, and that the CS team cares about what the community thinks.

    My two cents, please remember we are a garden, we don’t need to grow and become a park. Rather spend any resources you have in making the garden more beautiful than chasing the community growth. It ain’t worth it!

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