All that is wrong with the world…

January 24, 2010

A criticism of CouchSurfing and review of alternatives

Table of Contents

Introduction
Free Accommodation
The “CouchSurfing Spirit” and Super-Hippies
Problems with CouchSurfing
……..Fraud and illegal behavior
……..The Verification Scam
……..Privacy Concerns
……..References and the lack of a dispute resolution process
……..Censorship
Alternatives
……..Hospitality Club
……..GlobalFreeloaders
……..BeWelcome
……..Tripping
……..Crashatmine
Conclusion
References

Introduction

For the last six years I have been traveling a lot, being in a different place every few months. Early on when I started my travels I was made aware of GlobalFreeloaders, and at a later stage CouchSurfing and Hospitality Club. The concept behind these sites has is referred to as hospitality exchange. The general idea behind hospitality exchange sites or communities is that when you visit a country, you find a host you think you will get on with and stay with them, instead of at a hotel or hostel, the advantage being that you get to save some cash while getting a more accurate taste of the culture as opposed to what most tourists get or perhaps want to see. Hospitality exchange sites have a long history starting with the Servas Open Doors association founded shortly after WW2. This was the first true hospitality exchange program with the goal being to help build understanding and peace. Servas is certainly the oldest hospitality exchange community, and is the most official with it being recognized by the UN. Membership is taken a bit more seriously with an interview being required before being accepted to join.

Before the internet was as popular as it is, there were other sites that offered hospitality exchange although it was arguably not the main focus. Examples would be student exchange programs and hitchhiking communities. In 2001 or so the first of the current hospitality exchange sites launched, which was the start or an irreversible trend. Now thanks to the internet anyone could join and find people to host or stay with and due to the larger network of people references could be left which would work as a form of verification. Currently there are three primary hospitality exchange sites with a fourth still in development. While each of these sites share the same basic principles they tend to have many important differences in practice. CouchSurfing is certainly the most popular and well known of these services with some 1.7 million members to its name. CouchSurfing also has the nicest website and has gotten the most media coverage, however it also has many disadvantages that people may not be aware of. In this article it is my goal to give my experiences with Couchsurfing while listing many of the serious problems that have plagued CouchSurfing almost since its inception, in detail, while providing as many references as possible. I hope to raise people’s awareness and so that they will be aware of the risks of using CouchSurfing and perhaps petition for the truth and a change in policy. I also review the other hospitality exchange sites and why I consider them to be preferable and will try to encourage their use since they do not have any of the problems attributed to CouchSurfing.

Free Accommodation

There can be no question that one of the things all of these hospitality exchange sites have in common is free accommodation. One of the most common reasons people use these services is to save money by staying with a host for free. Meeting people, hearing about their travels and making lasting friendships is an awesome opportunity that is possible through these kinds of sites, however for most people it is not the primary goal but more of a positive consequence. This is of course true only for people traveling, for people hosting it truly is about meeting new people and learning new things or perhaps reciprocating to the community. If most of the people who use these services could afford to stay in Hotels for much of the time, they would probably meet up for coffee instead of staying on peoples couches.

Not everyone will use these sites for the purpose of free accommodation but the majority of people surfing do, at least to varying extents. I myself look for free accommodation first and foremost and anything I get after that such as a great cultural experience or a friendship is an amazing extra. There are some people on CouchSurfing however that completely deny that they use these sites for free accommodation. I suppose for some people this is true, however for the majority that state this it is very clearly not. There are people on CouchSurfing who blatantly deny that they are using the site for free accommodation, despite the fact that as unemployed students they would not be able to do their world travels if it were not for the charity of the people hosting them. They may have chosen to travel to meet new people and be exposed to new cultures, but if it were not for the free accommodation provided through CouchSurfing, they would be homeless in the street.

One rather blatant example of this was a guy who claimed that using the site for free accommodation was very wrong and not at all what it was about. It was interesting to see after he had a problem accessing his account that he completely freaked out because he wouldn’t have anywhere to stay. These people are the same type I described below – Super-Hippies. There is no shame in acknowledging that the reason people use these sites is for free accommodation. It does not have to be the primary reason, but to deny it all together is just wrong. Traveling in different countries with limited budgets that don’t take accommodation into account while saying it is not important and then furiously messaging 20 people a day to make sure they have somewhere to stay? Is there any other word to describe this behavior other than hypocritical? Unfortunately I have met many CouchSurfers like this (not a majority) and it only seems these people are unique to the CouchSurfing community.

One of the most disconcerting things about CouchSurfing is the pressure to hang out with people when you would not otherwise want to do so. Not in a positive way as in talking to people you would not normally talk to and gaining new insight, but rather a pressure for people who simply don’t get along to pretend they like and are interested in learning more about each other. Every user is encouraged to fill in their profile with as much detail as possible not unlike a MySpace page. The majority of these details have absolutely no relevance to requesting to stay on someone’s couch for a few days either from a hosting or surfing perspective. This is actually enforced in some ways with quite a few people stating that they will not even consider hosting you unless your profile is substantially filled out. Didn’t list your favorite movies and books? Then forget it. It is this need and want to know everything about people that strikes me as being so very hypocritical and fake. If you want to get to know someone then talk to them when they arrive; don’t use their lists of favorite movies and books or philosophies and political opinions as the only indicator.

The level of emphasis that these different sites place on free accommodation is perhaps where they differ most. For CouchSurfing while free accommodation exists as a point, it is not at all defined by it and it may well be a minor point. There are a great many people on CouchSurfing who are using the service to save money even if they don’t say so. For GlobalFreeloaders the emphasis is without a doubt on free accommodation. This is evident in the lack of profiles and general philosophy of the people on the site. Instead of checking out individual profiles, you mass mail the people in any city you think may like to host you, and anyone interested gets back to you. Personally, I find this to be a whole lot more honest and refreshing than the somewhat forced “let’s be friends!” philosophy pushed by CouchSurfing. For Hospitality Club the emphasis seems about equal to that of seeing new cultures. I have not had a chance to use BeWelcome or Tripping however at a glance they seem to have a similar philosophie to Hospitality Club.

Meeting new people, sharing a new culture, seeing the parts that tourists tend to miss out on; these are all amazing benefits of hospitality exchange programs. For many people on these sites money is tight, and free accommodation which allows them to save money so they may keep on traveling is an amazing advantage. There should be no shame in admitting that this is a part of the reason you use the site, even if it is not the priority. To deny it completely is just dishonest except for a minority of cases.

The “CouchSurfing Spirit” and Super-Hippies

Sometimes on CouchSurfing there will be a reference made to something referred to as the “CouchSurfing Spirit”. This spirit is consistently described as something unique to CouchSurfing, and something the other hospitality exchange sites lack. The “CouchSurfing Spirit” is defined then as the idea of trusting people you have never met, letting them into your house or entering theirs and sharing in their life and culture while being generous, open minded and hospitable. The thing is, this “CouchSurfing Spirit” does not exist! At all. The people who talk about the CouchSurfing spirit are the same people that completely reject the notion that the CouchSurfing project has anything to do with free accommodation, rather that it is about making new friends and being exposed to new things. The other hospitality exchange sites are simply more honest in acknowledging that free accommodation is a major if not primary aspect of the service. Wanting to see the sides of countries and cities most tourists miss out on is in no way unique to CouchSurfing, but is common to all of the hospitality exchange sites. It doesn’t matter which way the “CouchSurfing Spirit” is described, it always refers to basic human trust and altruism. I have had people on GlobalFreeloaders and Hospitality Club offer to take the day of work and drive for hours to come and get me from an airport, all who are on that site for free accommodation – at least in part. Did these people not have the spirit? I have also found people on CouchSurfing who didn’t want me in the house if they weren’t there and were not interested in sharing anything; did these people have the spirit?

What the “CouchSurfing Spirit” seems to refer to in practice in a close-minded, naïve and unrealistically optimistic outlook on life. Without exception, every single person I have met (a considerable number) who claims to have this spirit is under the impression that the spirit they believe defines the site has also been a Super-Hippie. These are the type of people who preach open-mindedness while having firmly made up their minds about the other hospitality exchange sites without ever having used them, and will dismiss any criticisms of CouchSurfing as being due to a bad experience, even if they have considerably less experience with the site then the person making the criticisms.I don’t think it is a question that this subset of the CouchSurfing community exists regardless of if my views of them have any credibility. Despite my views, I do not mean for the term “Super-Hippie” to be insulting, I just feel it is an accurate term that perhaps these people would even agree with. There is nothing objectively negative or offensive about the term hippie, and Super-Hippie refers to an exaggerated version of the hippie stereotype.

These people tend to have an unshakable and ultimate faith in the pure goodness of their fellow man. They say that they appreciate each and every person for who they are, no matter their faults because everyone is different and you can learn something new from everyone. These people might be the real deal but all too often they will be saying how much they like you and appreciate your viewpoint while obviously getting pissed off and frustrated, and preaching how open minded they are while completely dismissing your input if you point out that current science contradicts their Super-Hippie philosophies. Coincidentally, these are the same people who tend to organize the community events and encourage the spirit and so are becoming the ‘voice’ of CouchSurfing – if they are not already. Probably at least 2/3rds of the active CouchSurfing member base would be just as at home on BeWelcome or GlobalFreeloaders as on CouchSurfing. Indeed, many members are on all the sites. The people who go on about this spirit are the minority, but they are without a doubt the most vocal as their events and opinions tend to get media coverage and thus, in a way, characterize CouchSurfing. These particular members are not indicative of the larger community although they likely soon will be.

I cannot stand these people. I can’t stand willfully ignorant people. I can’t stand fake or phony people. I can’t stand blatantly hypocritical people. I can’t stand liars. These people may not mean to be these things intentionally, but it doesn’t change that they are. The “CouchSurfing Spirit” does not exist except in the minds of close-minded people who like to pretend that the reason they all use the site has absolutely nothing to do with free accommodation. Bullshit. Some of these people activley discourage or will not tell other people about CouchSurfing because they don’t share the same Super-Hippie views. I have made many great friends on CouchSurfing and I like to think the people who have hosted me have also gotten something positive out of it, yet if it were up to these Super-Hippies I would never have been admitted to the site. Super-Hippies are the types of people who believe almost anything they are told. Their entire view and understanding of the places they travel to is based on what people tell them. They entirely lack the capacity to think critically and see that one persons experiences are likely not representative of their entire country or city. These are the types of people that will assume that if the windows where they stay are double glazed, all the windows in that country or city will be double glazed. If the kebabs they purchased tend to come with chili sauce, then typically all the kebabs have chili sauce. While it is great to be open-minded and want to learn as much as you can about new cultures and places, it is even more important not to limit your knowledge to assumptions based on your personal experiences. Keeping an open-mind requires critical thinking, and not simply accepting everything people say at face value. I just can’t understand people who would take a single view as authoritative rather than developing the skills to assess what they are told critically.

Too many of these people want to be involved in every aspect of your life as soon as they meet you. Hanging out constantly, doing the same activities together under pressure…many profiles actually say if you stay with this person they will expect you to join them in all of their daily activities. Wanting to see and experience local culture is one thing, having to shadow someone out of a feeling of obligation is quite another. If I go to visit rural Texas I may want to see cattle farms and farm life, and would be happy to help with chores but I wouldn’t expect that all my free time would expected to be spent doing as farmers do. I like to explore on my own, see what the community and society have to offer and have interesting experiences. There is nothing better than knowing you can come home to someone friendly while in a strange city and share a meal and interesting conversation. That has to happen naturally however. Far too many people, mostly Super-Hippies – try to force this issue. Their profiles will be amazingly filled out and expect the same of you. When I look to stay with people, I don’t expect to have to share my life story, I just want to know that we will get on OK, and if any friendship develops it will be amazing, because it happened naturally. Learning everything you can about people from their profiles and 20 questions and sharing activities is not the way to make friends. It can make for interesting experiences many of which might be positive, but why try to force the issue? Why not just meet up and let things happen naturally? What kind of person actually stipulates they anyone they host must join them in all of their daily activities while staying?

Personally I feel these people are only damaging the hospitality exchange communities and don’t tend to help society in general. Such blatant hypocrisy and close-mindedness will only hold back these exchange programs and more generally. If you preach that you want to learn and experience new things, than that also means being able to challenge your core beliefs. It doesn’t just mean being willing to try a new food which is what many take it as. To those of you that meet this criteria do yourselves a favor, educate yourselves. Engage in debate and try and back up your viewpoints, don’t simply dismiss anyone who questions them. Engage in debate and actually learn new things about yourselves and others, and most of all be honest. As amazing as you consider the world to be, it has layers that you have not even imagined that you are missing out on while you continue to limit yourselves.

I don’t know if this belongs in this section but it seems appropriate. It is important to note that many CouchSurfing members cannot handle any criticism of the project at all. They have a lot of love for their community and oppose anyone who would ask questions or demand answers. This is a shame, as most of the time these people raise valid points and just get attacked by the more rabid members. It is yet another example of supreme close-mindedness.Yes the community may be great and you may have had amazing experiences, this doesn’t mean their isn’t cause to investigate or report certain behaviors and actions.This devotion is somewhat errie and almost implies a certain dependence on CouchSurfing, as though they could not cope if it were taken away. The organization and community need to be open to criticism because it is the only way to move forward and grow. If things continue as they are then CouchSurfing will come to resemble a cult rather than an amazing open community they they believe themselves to be.

Problems with the CouchSurfing organization

The CouchSurfing service is plagued by problems that most people are perhaps not aware of. These problems range from defrauding and scamming users, illegal behavior, gross violations of privacy, a complete lack of any real appeals or dispute resolution process and censorship. Many of the members were so frustrated that the OpenCouchSurfing was started as a result. A plea for an open and transparent organization without all of the secrecy and deception that plagues the current incarnation of CouchSurfing. Also interesting is a small list of people stating why they refuse to volunteer for CouchSurfing. Searching around the web will yield many stories of negatives experiences with CouchSurfing, not with bad hosts or guests but with CouchSurfing directly such as deleting peoples accounts for no reasons while silencing critics and illegal behavior. One interesting question to ask of those who advocate the CouchSurfing Spirit – do you think the following behaviors and actions of the organization what the community believes to be the spirit? Please keep that question in mind while reading ahead. There seems to be a very large gap between what the users know and understand and the organization itself. This has to stop.

Fraud and illegal behavior

CouchSurfing have engaged in much questionable behavior almost since their inception as an organization. The most obvious and perhaps controversial of these behaviors is their management of donation money, and the fact that they have referred to themselves as both a charity and as a non-profit organization in the past misleading many people. They state that being a non-profit is essential to their mission and guiding principles, and that they rely entirely on the voluntary donations of members. I have no issue with them being a non-profit, but for them to have received charity status is crap. CouchSurfing is not a charity, in any sense of the word except legally. They do not directly provide any services or do any charitable actions; they merely offer a service so people can offer charity to each other. They are the enabler for people to provide charitable services, they do not provide any charitable services themselves. CouchSurfing should have their charity status revoked after a full investigation of what the charitable services they actually provide is performed and they are shown to only offer a website, and use donation money to pay for rent and food of staff members.

A problem at the moment is that CouchSurfing is a currently registered charity organization and they may have obtained this status status on false grounds by misrepresenting the organizations role in the community, and that the organization is not compliant with the various reporting and disclosure requirements for charities. As per a message on a CouchSurfing mailing list, CouchSurfing was due to file a tax return in 2009 along with an independently conducted financial audit. This is required to be made public yet four months later nothing has been released. The problem with CouchSurfing not releasing the information as they are required to is it becomes difficult for people and organizations to verify that the donation money that people give in good faith is being used in a responsible way. Given that all of CouchSurfing’s behavior indicates they have something to hide and the fact that the organization can not be said to do any charitable work I think this is the most likely situation. In which case as above I think a full investigation should be conducted before the organization is allowed to continue soliciting donations. Later on in the same CouchSurfing thread I linked to above, a rough analysis of CouchSurfing’s legitimacy as a charity organization is performed by Margaret using the Charity Navigator methodology as a guide. According to Margaret’s calculations 69.87% of the donation money CouchSurfing receives allegedly goes to administrative costs involved with running the website (suuuure) which going by Charity Navigator’s guidelines would place CouchSurfing squarely in the runaway category.

It is also important to to mention that from 2003 – 2007 CouchSurfing’s structure as an organization was illegal. The reason for this is that Casey had himself listed as CEO as well as the chair of the Board of Directors. This arrangement is illegal under New Hampshire law and so any donations taken during this time and any contracts CouchSurfing entered into may not have been valid. If it turns out that charitable donations of time and money made to CouchSurfing when it did not exist in the correct form legal are invalid, then CouchSurfing should be made available for any loss suffered as a result. Based on the evidence I have seen and what is publicly available, it appears the only reason CouchSurfing is looking to be a charity/non-profit org is to get tax exempt status. That’s it. To keep living a certain lifestyle funded by a deceptive verification scheme without ever having to pay taxes. Casey Fenton (the founder and leader of CouchSurfing) has to either clear up these misconceptions or be held accountable.

Regardless of the credibility of CouchSurfing’s charity status it appears that the legal requirements have not always been met, and were even knowingly and willing broken. Quoted from a message by user Pickwick : “New Hampshire law does not allow the chairman/president of a charity to be an employee at the same time. So when Casey as chairman/president signed his own employment contract he violated that law, and for this reason alone the contract may be invalid.“. There is no question that Casey is an employee of CouchSurfing, receiving a salary of some $70k per year. Casey also seems to be without a doubt the leader and president of CouchSurfing. When Casey was on the Board of Directors and also an employee, then this was illegal. Not only was this a violation of law this would also be a case of Casey committing perjury. The implications of this are significant, as all employment contracts would be invalid, all contracts and legal agreements would be invalid, further laws would have been violated etc…

Of note are the application forms originally submitted by Casey to get nonprofit status. It is evident in the original filing (the first link) that Casey was listed as the President, Treasurer, Secretary and head of the Board of Directions in violation of NH law. I don’t believe that their have been any ramifications for CouchSurfing having an illegal structure for four years. The second link shows the reasons CouchSurfing used to obtain charity status. CouchSurfing is organized exclusively for charitable, religious, educational and scientific purposes? I think not. To internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding? This is more acceptable, however out of those that are actually obtainable CouchSurfing is not the facilitator. They offer a website which enables others to organize such exchanges and offer charity without having any direct involvement themselves. Looking at the CouchSurfing Terms of Service, they state that “Many in-person meetings are held by groups of interested members and are not sponsored or organized by us.”. If RedCross ran a website that enabled volunteers to help those in need without doing charity work themselves or putting their donation money to good use, would people still support them and give donations so readily? Lastly the second form states that “No part of the net earnings of the organization shall inure to the benefit, of or be distributable to its members, trustees, officers, or other private persons…”. Well a quick look at CouchSurfing’s financial information shows that not being honored.

This really needs to be properly and thoroughly investigated. There are some very serious and obvious discrepancies that need to be sorted out. The financial statements and registration information made available through the organization and the website do not match those provided to the New Hampshire authorities. What exactly is going on? The most recent financial information has not been made available when it should have been and it is now almost a quarter later. At least some people before have been disillusioned, with CouchSurfing even being reported to the New Hampshire District Attorney in 2007. I am unclear what the outcome of this was, and suspect the investigation is ongoing.

Now, to examine the financial information. It is important to note here that despite a legal obligation to do so, the financial records for 2009 have not been released, so I will be going by the records for 2008. The net income for 2008 was $ 128,455.55. The total income was $788,297.70, with $783,977.23 coming from contributed donations. This can be read as the income from the verification process. Somehow, a not for profit organization that boasts about having a virtual office managed to spend the majority of this income, despite not paying to organize events(the members organize these out of pocket) and not having an office. Looking at the expense, the aside from salaries, the majority of the rest of the money goes towards travel, rent and food. Those four expenses account for more than a third of the total income, with nothing to show for it.

A not for profit organization or charity should not be using income to provide food and rent for its members, and doing so does not qualify them as a charity. Since CouchSurfing provides the food and rent expenses for members, their salaries should be adjusted accordingly to reflect they have no cost of living. There are numerous messages on the CouchSurfing mailing lists pointing out that the income has not been reported as is legally required, and that the income seems to be used for alcohol and drugs and not anything of actual value or related to work. Almost every way you look at it, it appears the contributed income is being used to perpetuate the lifestyle of Casey and friends rather than being put back into the organization. In fact at the moment Casey and his friends are all living in a sharehouse in Istanbul with the donation money paying for their food and travel. They don’t do any work, at least not that anyone has ever seen evidence off and get to lay around each do doing what they like. Clearly this is not how the people who donated money to CouchSurfing expected their donations to be used. There have been several allegations by volunteers and members that at collectives and CouchSurfing meetings there are dedicated “sex rooms”, something that was also mentioned in Bryan’s resignation letter. It is worth mentioning here the leaked minutes from a 2009 meeting of the CS staff. Nothing pertaining to CouchSurfing is discussed or how things could be improved. Instead ways to have more fun are discussed and given a priority. The suggestions for improvement include more pillow fights and to give each other more massages. The general managers only goal is to “find knobs to twiddle”. This is where people donation money is going. A search through the CourchSurfing mailing lists(as well as some of the discussions I have linked to) will show discussions on this point. Given how they conduct their meetings I don’t find that idea hard to believe, when in fact the notion should be absurd. To quote from the CouchSurfing About page: “CouchSurfing’s non-profit status legally mandates that all resources must be spent directly on achieving the mission”. This does not seem to be the case and I doubt that anyone who made a donation would approve of this.

Even so, the remaining net income does not seem to be being used in any meaningful way. Having it as an emergency fund is not good enough. There are problems that could be fixed, and this is where the money should be going. The rest of the expenses are dubious as well. The salaries for staff in 2008 more than doubled than the amount in 2007, despite the amount of staff not increasing. What did increase was the amount of contributed income which was also more than double than the amount in 2007. The greatly increased salaries for staff seem to correlate with this. Somehow the verification and postage expenses are more than $34,000. In 2007 the expense was only $10,000. Considering the user base has not tripled from 2007, and the costs of postcard production and mailing have not tripled, why have the expenses tripled? The cost for servers is some $50k, while hosting is a separate some $20k. Both of these expenses are not necessary…it does not cost $50k for servers where you would not have to pay for hosting, and it is doubtful the cost for hosting is $20k. Given how closely the expenses seem to use up the total income, I genuinely believe that these financials are doctored. I would expect expenses to increase somewhat with a user base, but not by the shown percentage when there has not been any additional work or staff intake. How can this not be considered suspicious?

Much of the material on the website appears to be written generically to satisfy authorities or investors without having any real relevant to how the organization actually works or what it is said to represent. No heart has gone into writing these texts and it is quite likely most people never read them. They have not been updated in a long time and no not reflect reality, but boy do they look good on paper.

The CouchSurfing Staff page(now mysteriously removed..) stated that “large salaries aren’t what it takes to find and retain talented team members. Instead, we’ve designed a system that gives our staff intangible rewards that can’t be found elsewhere”. Yet, the salaries are large, and they get salaries in addition to free rent, food and travel. There are numerous reports on the CS mailing lists that states that no works seems to be done at collectives. Nevertheless, this is the official development process of CouchSurfing, i.e. there isn’t one. Another point to consider is the treatment of volunteers. Again, there are many, many messages on the mailing lists with volunteers resigning because of the poor treatment they receive. CouchSurfing seems to recruit people with a genuine enthusiasm for the ideal, and secure in the knowledge that there seems to be a near infinite pool of volunteers to recruit from has no motivation to reward them or treat them with a basic level of respect. These are the people who mostly make CouchSurfing function, and they receive absolutely nothing for their work. Which is fine, it’s kind of what being a volunteer means, but they certainly should not have to put up with being dismissed and disrespected for all the hard work they put in. I have not talked about CouchSurfing’s treatment of volunteers in detail here but a cursory search will reveal many stories of woe which fit a recurring pattern.

Another point that is quite interesting is that CouchSurfing was pretending to be a charitable organization, a 501(c)(3) back in 2004. 501(c)(3) status is important for many reasons. It is what all charity organizations should eventually seek and shows that the charity has been vetted by the IRS and has been audited. CouchSurfing has already been rejected in their application for 501(c)(3) status, if and they do not gain this status soon they will be unable to remain as a charity in North Hampshire. This means CouchSurfing will no longer be able to accept donations or sponsor volunteers as they current do. There is a good discussion of CouchSurfing’s 501(c)(3) status on the Brainstorm: Redefined group. CouchSurfing claiming to be a 501(c)(3) was originally pointed out on the OpenCouchSurfing website which linked to archive.org. Now, for some reason, CouchSurfing has denied archive.org to archive the contents of the CouchSurfing website. There is absolutely no sound reason for CouchSurfing to do this, as archive.org is a free service and actually benefits the internet community in many ways. The only reason to do this, is because they do not want people to see what they used to say on their site, before the project was more famous. We can just add this to the pile of actions taken by CouchSurfing showing them to be deceitful and untrustworthy.

CouchSurfing as a charity organization should be working to further its cause, and doing charitable things(of which feeding its employees does not count). As a charity they have certain legal obligations which have apparently thus far not been met and may have been willfully violated. More than this they have a duty to the tens of thousands of people who gave donations and became verified in good faith not to abuse their donations. The organization has a duty to responsibly disclose its financial information and to ensure that its organizational structure including the board of directors meets the legal requirements. This may mean Casey and friends have to sacrifice their lifestyle of no work and travel, but it is the ethical and legal thing to do. I genuinely hope that a lot of the accusations that have been made are wrong and that there are perfectly good explanations for everything. Personally I think this is unlikely, and I hope to see the Organization and Casey be made accountable for their illegal actions and failing the community.

The Verification Scam

The CouchSurfing verification system is a scam and nothing more. It is fraud – plain and simple, and CouchSurfing should be held accountable for this. Both BeWelcome and Hospitality Club provides verification of all user accounts for free, and actually verify that users are real people (although not that they are trustworthy, which is impossible). There have been many untrustworthy people on the site who use the faulty verification system to their advantage to pose as trustworthy individuals. One recent and extreme example of this is the rape incident that occurred via CouchSurfing. Now obviously this is a problem that could affect any of the sites. The difference here though is how the other sites would react to the problem and how CouchSurfing reacted to the problem. It seems that the victim reported the offender to CouchSurfing in March, who chose not to react and left the profile enabled for many months until August. That really is unacceptable, and at the least an investigation should have been conducted. I am aware that the offenders profile was not verified, however if CouchSurfing cannot bother to remove the offenders when people actually report issues then how can they be trusted to vet new members of the community? There is an interesting discussion with more links on the OpenCouchSurfing website.

The verification system is completely useless as all it does is process a credit card payment and send a postcard. There is absolutely nothing stopping me from staying at someone’s house and using a stolen credit card sent to my hosts address. Unless that $25 charge is reported as fraudulent I will have been considered verified. Otherwise I could legally use a prepaid credit card at an address I was staying at and be considered verified? The system verifies nothing and scams users, however since it makes money for CouchSurfing it is treated as a priority. To quote from a volunteer who felt he had to resign because of the dishonesty: “The push to hit up members within their first few hours of joining is an attempt to raise funds, not to make the system safer. Period. It’s for money.” Casey wrote a statement as a follow up to Bryan’s resignation letter, a copy of which and subsequent discussion can be read here. To then quote from the CouchSurfing Terms of Service : “Because user verification on the Internet is difficult, we cannot and do not confirm each user’s purported identity.”. That seems reasonable and may be fine, except for the fact that every new user is pressured after joining and logging in to pay for verification, and informed that “Getting verified means that CouchSurfing has checked your identity and confirmed your location. It allows members of the community to feel more confident hosting you or surfing with you.”. Quite different from the reality and very obviously false and misleading. This is obviously fraud, the only question is whether or not it is intentional.

This is clearly wrong as CouchSurfing is charging for this service they should actually have a responsibility to provide a service. I genuinely hope they get taken to court at some point. Their verification system is nothing more than a way to enforce a mandatory donation veiled hidden under a false sense of security to suck in new users who are excited by the idea of hospitality exchange. People who don’t know any better will assume the CouchSurfing staff have actually done some verification, when all they have done is successfully process a credit card payment. I think the vouching system CouchSurfing has is far superior to their verification system and should be expanded, rather than defrauding naive users out of their money. It costs nothing ans is far more reliable than the verification system they try to push on everyone. Unfortunately at the moment it is very limited given the amount of members CouchSurfing has. It is also interesting to note the the verification fee is charged on a sliding scale. Oddly enough this does seem to have good intentions behind it, with the only problem being it is treated exactly like a donation rather than the safety measure it purports to be. If verification is going to be charged on a sliding scale then it should be based on the incident rate of countries that would affect travelers, not the countries PPP which is meaningless to individuals.

It is also prevalent on CS that some younger people will only host people of the same sex. This can be quite frustrating when someone agrees to host you and then has to rescind that offer because their roommate won’t host people of the opposite gender. There is nothing open minded or inviting about such a backwards attitude and it has no doubt developed because of the people that try to use CouchSurfing just as a dating or sex site. If the verification or reference system were worth anything, this attitude would probably not have developed on CouchSurfing, going by the fact it seems almost non-existent on the other hospitality exchange sites.

Privacy Concerns

One of the most disappointing things about CouchSurfing is their privacy policy. Their terms of service are remarkably abusive, granting CouchSurfing complete control of all of your private messages, photos or any uploaded contents for any use whatsoever, for the rest of everyone’s lives. It is bad enough that CouchSurfing will take control of your data this way, but what’s worse is that there is absolutely no warning or notification at all. If I upload photos to any site, I expect to retain control over them unless that is an unreasonable expectation, depending on the site. For a site like CouchSurfing, it is not at all an unreasonable expectation, yet they have unreasonably defied it.

What is more is that you have no ability to remove content once it is uploaded. There is absolutely no way to permanently delete messages sent on the site. People may have every expectation of privacy, when sending private messages to other members, yet there is no way to delete these messages and ensure that they remain private. It may be acceptable to retain messages for a fixed amount of time for legal reasons, but there is no reason CouchSurfing needs to retain your messages from 5 years ago. I have to wonder with all the financial fraud going on with CouchSurfing, if data is being collected just so it can be sold at a decent price.

I am aware of at least one instance where this became a problem. There was a user accused of stealing from a host who may or may not have done so. This user had a great many positive references and just this one negative reference. Despite no police report being filed, this user’s account was deleted. There was no right of appeal; the word of the user who made the claim was accepted regardless of any evidence. Now this user was left with his photo and name appearing in search engines accusing him of a crime, with no recourse to defend themselves. It was only by making legal threats under the DMCA and contacting CouchSurfing’s hosting provider that the damaging material was able to be removed.

If people have a problem with a user breaking the law they should go to the authorities, not sully their reputation with lies on a social networking site. I don’t blame CouchSurfing for the fact that some people will do this, however I do blame them for condoning and allowing this behavior. If CouchSurfing deletes a profile, then they should delete the profile in its entirety. Simply barring access to it and allowing for people to leave whatever references they likes is bad situation which basically amounts to slander. I have heard of many variations of this happening and it needs to stop.

The privacy page has obviously not been updated since it was originally written as it still refers to Netscape Navigator as a primary browser. Is this further evidence of money not being spent properly? Surely with the some $20k that goes toward legal expenses they could make sure to have an updated Privacy Policy? The Privacy policy states that “If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as your zip code), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavor to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us.”. This obviously contradicts the experiences of the people above, and more importantly contradicts the terms of service where information will be retained perpetually. If this a further example of fraud and misleading people, or just incompetence?

When a user on the site who does not know any better uses the site to send or delete a message, or upload a photo, they have a reasonable expectation that their message will be deleted or their photo will not be abused. I’m sure many people would be surprised and rightfully angered if they realized they had no way to delete messages, and that any photo they uploaded could be used any way CouchSurfing desired, against their wishes. At least a warning that you sacrifice all control when uploading a photo would be nice.

References and the lack of a dispute resolution process

Another large problem is the current referencing system. If it were left alone then it would be useful, as people would be able to judge a person based on the references left to them. As it stands however it is all but useless, as the ambassadors and volunteers will remove the negative references that any of their friends ask them to. Likewise if you are a new member with none or very few references and wish to leave a negative reference for an established member, it is almost a certainty that your reference will be removed while their negative reference will be allowed to remain. Despite all the talk of an open community this is the exact type of behavior that keeps it closed and untrustworthy.

There is a quite recent example of the problem I am describing here. In this situation a user with many positive references and an excellent track histories profile was deleted without any chance for appeal, and without bothering to hear both sides of the story. There is one idiot ambassador in New York, Rachel, who tends to delete profiles of anyone her friends ask her to, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she was at fault here as well. There is also a good example here as well as an interesting discussion about account deletions on CS. Basically the policy CS has in place is not to delete an account unless they have some notification from the police. To quote from the FAQ on member disputes: “If we receive a police report about another member, we are obligated to remove them from the community.”. This does not have to be a police report nor does there have to have been an actual investigation – all they require is that the authorities were contacted in some form. This policy shows all signs of being in place to protect CouchSurfing, not the members who invest time and money in the site. With the current policy anyone could go to the authority’s and file a complaint, true or not and this would be sufficient to have their account removed. There are a great many users who have almost all negative references and are a bane on the community, but people with many good refereces can be removed simply because someone made a nonsense complain to a police mediator? This is not acceptable – a community as large and dedicated as CouchSurfing’s deserves a proper dispute resolution process with a right of appeal.

Another good example of this is Thomas the Australian who was based in Edinburgh for a while who I am sure many people are familiar with. Thomas was verified and had many positive references. Thomas would tell anyone and everyone they could stay, because he was hoping to get many good references for an upcoming trip around Europe. When these people turned up and were turned away because he had nowhere for them to stay, or every girl got sick of him trying to have sex with them, they rightfully left a negative reference. However because Thomas was verified, and had positive references he managed to get these negative references removed. Here this faulty cash based verification has replaced the more natural and accurate personal reference validation system. If Thomas’ many, many negative references had rightfully remained then people would have stopped wanting to stay with him and having their trips ruined as a result. The cash verification system would have shown to be as useless as it is. This behavior is just unacceptable. How can anyone trust this site if all it takes is a convincing lie to get someone’s profile removed? How can anyone expect to take the site seriously without any kind of appeals or dispute resolution process? For a site with almost 2 million users that really is unacceptable, especially when many of them have probably paid something towards the site. The most recent example is from the 30th April. A female CouchSurfing member in Iceland had her profile deleted due to a misunderstanding, despite being verified and having a great many positive references and being vouched for. I contacted Sabrina who confirmed that she was not contacted or given any warning, and given no opportunity to give her side of the story and try to resolve any misunderstandings. To be so invested in a community to just be removed at a moments notice without any sort of due cause should not be acceptable. Sabrina’s account has actually been restored a few days later, in large part I believe because of the pressure my article has generated.

I also hate the hypocrisy of the current reference system that exists in part. Such a huge emphasis has been placed on the current reference system that people are encouraged to leave overly positive references for each other, even if they only talk for a few minutes. Collecting positive references has become some sort of obsession for a lot of users on the site. With positive references being handed out freely just for saying hello, and negative references removed as long as you know the right people how is the current system to be trusted at all?

There is no avenue of appeal. It is completely CouchSurfing’s right to run their website and community however they like. However simply kicking people out of the community for no other reason than because a high ranking member dislikes someone is just lame. This has happened in many instances, with accounts being instantly deleted without explanation, without any avenue for people to defend themselves or tell their side of the story. All it takes is one member to be friends with any of the volunteer admins and an account can be removed. Any community as large as CouchSurfing should have some sort of decision checking in place rather than simply allowing people to be kicked out for no reason. If I put time and effort into a community and get attached to some of the members of that community, I would like to think that my position is somewhat safe – which is reasonable.

Much of the community feels the same way and there have been calls for a long time now for a transparent and democratic organization. I don’t think that the organization has to be democratic to work but it certainly should be open and transparent, even more so if it is allegedly operating as a charity. A necessary part of having an open and transparent organization would be a trustworthy dispute resolution process. The current system of one person make an emotional opinion after hearing one side of the story isn’t sufficient, not for an organization approaching two million members. All parties must have the opportunity to present their case and the opportunity for appeal. However, CouchSurfing has consistently ignored the calls for these or similar measures to be implemented, which is another reason the alternative sites are so much more attractive.

Censorship

Recently in December 2009 one of the prominent CouchSurfing ambassadors decided to resign, citing many of the problems and dishonesty of the organization as reasons he felt he could not continue. In his original post he outlines many of the problems with the volunteer system, the abuse of funds, the useless verification system and the reference bias that exists.

This post above was basically deleted, with people being told it was moved to the Ambassadors Private section of the site while Ambassadors were unable to access the message. Only due to people’s outcry and the damage already done was the message restore. It is however a fantastic example of the organizations behavior. A great many more messages and people are removed if the organization does not like what they have to say, and all too often they get away with it.

Alternatives

There are three alternative hospitality exchange sites to CouchSurfing, each of which differ in significant ways while still sharing the same basic principles. I have had extremely positive and quite negative experiences with each of these websites including CouchSurfing, all of which had to do with the particulars of the person I decided to stay with. It is always important to note that the particular experiences you have with the people you host or stay with from one site are likely not indicative of the rest of the people on that site.

One point about all of these sites with the exception of BeWelcome is that they are all under the control of a single individual, or a very small group of people. CouchSurfing is under the near exclusive direction of Casey, while Veit runs Hospitality Club and Adam looks after GlobalFreeloaders. I don’t actually have a problem with this, except in the case of CouchSurfing – only because they are less than honest about it. If the project is going to be run by a single individual then do so, don’t pretend you have a legally composed board of directors who oversee things and make decisions for the good of the community.

Some of these sites are more in line with my own views and philosophies than others, but none of them force any view on you and you can meet people of all types on each of the sites. I tend to prefer the people on GlobalFreeloaders as in my opinion they are more down to earth, but then I have had great experiences with Hospitality Club and appreciated people who were excited to share their culture without forcing it.

One interesting thing to note is the age demographics for the different projects. CouchSurfing has a user base with about 70% in the 18 to 29 range(coincidently the ideal super-hippie age), while the rest of the projects have a far more diverse member base. While I generally do prefer to stay with people closer to my age, it is always a pleasant surprise to learn from someone quite a bit older, or teach someone quite a bit younger or vice versa. I somewhat feel this is less of a possibility with CouchSurfing as despite all their talk of meeting different kinds of people, it is the most vocal CouchSurfing members that are serving to recruit like-minded people.

What is interesting about each of these sites is that their popularity differs by region. CouchSurfing is consistently popular everywhere, simply because people hear about it more often. GlobalFreeloaders seems slightly more popular or equal to CouchSurfing in many cities in Australia and the UK. When I was in Greece a few years ago, Hospitality Club was without a doubt the most popular. Looking at the BeWelcome countries list they seem to be most active in Western Europe, with France and Germany alone account for almost a third or their entire membership base. I think it would be interesting to try and work out if there is any reason for this or if it is just dumb luck.

Hospitality Club

Hospitality Club was the first of the current hospitality exchange sites to launch in 2000. There had been other sites offering hospitality exchange before, but none of which were purely hospitality exchange focused as the current sites are. The site currently has 328629 members and has a very active volunteer base. Hospitality Club seems closer in spirit to GlobalFreeloaders then CouchSurfing while still allowing for more detailed profiles and people to be messaged individually. The web interface is very simple and gets the job done, although does seem out of date when compared to the newer sites.

The profile pages on Hospitality Club are quite detailed, allowing for a photo, residence and contact information as well as a short section on hobbies and interests. The majority of the profile is information that is relevant to staying as someone’s guest or meeting them, with the personal information being an indication rather than a life story as it is encouraged to be with CouchSurfing. One thing I would like to see added is that profiles become deleted or inactive if they have not been used for six months or so. If someone is not actively hosting or surfing then it doesn’t make sense to contact them, and at the moment that can be hard to establish.

The advanced search function of Hospitality Club works OK, but is nowhere near as flexible as the CouchSurfing search. It allows for you to search 3 fields at a time from a long list of fields, such as street, name, birthday…basically any of the fields in a users profile. This works well enough for finding specific users, but for searching potential hosts it’s pretty horrible. The way Hospitality Club interface is designed, it works much better to browse by country as users are listed with a short description. However, due to the lack of a mass mail option it can be tedious to contact users and establish if they are able to host you and if they would like to or not.

Hospitality Club does not have a reference section as such, but simply a comment section that can serve the same purpose. It works fine and can give people an idea how people perceive a particular person, without being divided into positive and negative references, as we have seen the problems that that creates. One thing I did notice was the password reset form, which is just a horrible design. You have to remember both your username and email address…if you forgot either one the form will not work, and you will have to wait several days to hear back from a volunteer.

One excellent feature of Hospitality Club has is that every registration is verified by a volunteer. This means that everyone on the sites is a real person with a real address. What’s more, you don’t have to pay anything to prove that you a real human being. Imagine that. Having said that, it was quite frustrating trying to sign up without a permanent address. Whoever was checking my input would not respond and I kept getting sent back a standard form reply regardless of what message I posted. I ended up putting an address I no longer used, so obviously the verification process does nothing more than satisfy the Turing Test. Honestly however, I think that is sufficient, with the members themselves bearing some responsibility for who they decide to trust.

Hospitality Club also has a unique feature in that there is a field for passport verification when you send a message to stay with someone. I’m not entirely sure what asking for the passport number is meant to do, and if someone is using a fake passport it will do absolutely nothing. However, in years of using the service and stay with people I have never once had anyone ask to check my passport. What might work better is if as part of the free verification process (which could go for the other sites as well), is if you must submit a scan of your passport or other ID upon joining. It is not a privacy concern, as no additional information is being provided, just authentication of information already supplied.

An interesting bit of side trivia is that when Hospitality Club initially launched they actually tried to merge with the GlobalFreeloaders project, thinking it would be better to have one large project. Personally I am glad they stayed separate and that a project like GlobalFreeloaders exists.

Hospitality Club also provides a very basic forum for members to post on although in general this does not seem to be very active. If Hospitality Club updated their website and had some more modern features and a nicer interface I think it would be a main contender against CouchSurfing and BeWelcome. While it may have a dedicated volunteer base it is inevitably going to be outpaced by the alternatives due to the easier to use interface and added functionality. I would like to see all of the websites become more popular and the different communities evolve and interact, but if Hospitality Club does not update their site I feel the prettier alternatives will replace them, simply because people tend to be superficial and the prettiest site will win.

It is important to note that many people have accused Hospitality Club of censoring information, specifically for a while removing any references to CouchSurfing or BeWelcome. Another main criticism is that everything is controlled by Veit, although I don’t think this is a necessary a bad thing. I have personally never had any such experiences when using Hospitality Club, so I cannot comment too much. I will however point out the OpenHospitalityClub website and allow people to make up their own minds.

GlobalFreeloaders

GlobalFreeloaders was the second hospitality exchange site to launch after Hospitality Club in 2001. GlobalFreeloaders currently only has 74455 members, calculated from here. That page also shows the different registered members per country, which is interesting to see. No doubt one of the reasons GlobalFreeloaders has the smallest user base is due to the simple interface and lack of media attention. In a world dominated by flashy websites and Web 2.0 GlobalFreeloaders seems out of date. Considering that the site works perfectly and the member base is considerably down to earth and friendly, I think it is fine just the way it is.

In my opinion GlobalFreeloaders is the most honest of all the hospitality exchange sites in some ways. It is a no fuss and no frills service that offers exactly as the name implies. An easy way to find people to stay around the world with for free. Along with this comes all the benefits of any of the hospitality exchange sites, but the emphasis is clearly on free accommodation. I really do like this site, and have made many great friends through it. One thing I do feel is an advantage of GlobalFreeloaders is that when friendships happen, they tend to happen naturally. Rather than reading MySpaceesque profiles and stay with people you think you might like GlobalFreeloaders encourages the type of friendships that occur by talking to them, not just liking the same things or having the same opinions.

One of the very best features unique to GlobalFreeloaders is the ability to mass-mail the people in a given city. The way the interface works, you read a short description of each person and check the box next to the name if you would like to try and stay with them. At the end you write a message which is sent to everybody you checked, and the interested people write back. It is a very simple system and works amazingly well. The other sites only allow for individual messages at the moment, while many people on CouchSurfing expect a individually tailored message.

This is simply ridiculous. In many cities there may be at a minimum, 50 people available to host that you think you will get along with. Are you really supposed to write a unique message to each of these 50 people? There are only so many ways you can rephrase your introduction and ask to stay with someone. Besides, nothing is gained over the mass mailing approach except that people get to feel a bit special. Some people may point out that if you are going to stay with a person then you should take the time to write an individual message. Nothing is preventing you from doing this with the mass mailing system, as it is only the initial “are you free to host” message which is sent. When people reply back a private conversation is started and people can get to know each other this way.

I really would like to see this system adopted as it saves a lot of time and cuts to the chase, without losing any of the advantages of private messaging. For those that have a problem with this an opt-out option could be made available. This really is the best of both worlds, as the people who prefer to mass mail the initial message are probably going to get on better with the people who don’t mind receiving a mass mailed message and wouldn’t get on with the people that need to feel extra special.

BeWelcome

BeWelcome seems to be a very promising alternative, with the potential to deliver a service with the good qualities of the CouchSurfing interface without the invasive terms of service or fraudulent and abusive behavior that has come to define the CouchSurfing organization. BeWelcome promises democratic decision making and financial security – quite the opposite of the other hospitality exchange sites .BeWelcome only has about 8000 members at the present time, however looking at their stats page this number seems to be doubling roughly every year. BeWelcome was originally started by disgruntled Hospitality Club volunteers and was later joined by members of the OpenCouchSurfing project. There is quite a good history of how BeWelcome started on the BeWelcome’s History of BeVolunteer page. As with CouchSurfing and Hospitality Club several serious allegations have been made against BeWelcome, although BeWelcome is kind of unique in that the allegations mainly comes from a rival hospitality exchange site. Since BeWelcome forked from Hospitality Club it did not leave the best impression with some Hospitality Club members and the BeWecome.info page exists to tell a different side of the story. As above I have no personal experience and so cannot really comment on the situation but by providing links to the various sites people can make up their own minds. One thing I will note is that on the BeWelcome.info page the website design and code is considered stolen despite the fact that all code is open source. Is there any technical reason Hospitality Club cannot still make use of the code?

Like Hospitality Club each new user account is verified by volunteers. This service is provided for free, and it actually verifies that it is a real person opening the account, and that they are who they say they are to an extent. This is a great advantage in that it is considerably less likely that there will be spammers or significantly untrustworthy people on the site. Of course it is not failsafe, but it is far, far better than verifying anyone who has access to a credit card.

The entire BeWelcome interface is very snappy, looking very aesthetically pleasing while being simple and clean. I really like the BeWelcome profile page for users. It is very simple, clean and effective. You can see a photo, accommodation offered, contact information and languages. There is also a comments system similar to that of Hospitality Club which lacks the positive and negative classifications that the CouchSurfing system has. This is a good thing. The extra functionality that the BeWelcome site offers really is quite impressive with support for a photo gallery, blog posts, a fully featured forum and trip organizer all of which are nicely tied into individual profiles.

The BeWelcome search is also very good. The advanced search allows for options like gender, minimum and maximum ages, how active users may be, and what type of accommodation if any they offer or if they are available to meet for showing around or a coffee or such. It also allows for sorting the results by various criteria such as last login or newest members. What I find amazing is that almost all of the functionality of the CouchSurfing search is replicated here in a much simpler and cleaner interface. The BeWelcome search page provides access to everything you would need to find hosts or guests while being remarkably simple and easy to use.

While GlobalFreeloaders and Hospitality Club have their own advantages, control of the projects rest with a few people. I don’t necessarily see a problem with this at all, however having an open community where changes can be voted on and implemented also has its own advantages. Out of all of the hospitality exchange sites, BeWelcome is the only service to promise this and it will be interesting to see how it develops.

Tripping

Tripping is the newest of the hospitality exchange websites having only launched in December of 2009. Despite this I feel that Tripping is the most interesting and promising of all the hospitality exchange sites. It has a very nice interface and feature set despite only being in beta, and best of it is completely fresh – It isn’t tied to any of the existing networks. The reason I feel this is a good thing is because the other sites have all mostly had their own political scandals and interactions with each other which can give a bad impression and subtract from getting things done. Tripping is completely independent and growing fast without any of the infighting or politics which have held back the other hospitality exchange sites from unleashing their full potential. They currently have approximately 2000 members and appear to be growing fast.

Tripping does not currently have any kind of verification system as with CouchSurfing and Hospitality Club, although this is not a bad thing. A verification system in the style CouchSurfing implements is pointless except as a fund-raising exercise. Having additional checks such as including your passport number with requests as Hospitality Club provide little additional protection in practice. The best way form of verification for any hospitality exchange community is to allow the community to vet their members. Tripping facilitates this quite well with members being able to leave references to each other that can be marked as positive, negative or neutral similar to the CouchSurfing system. Tripping has also implemented an innovative confidential rating system. What this means is that if someone has a bad experience they can report their experiences or the person involved without fear of consequence. The rating will not be publicly available which helps to protect against false reports. Tripping will take all reports seriously and will investigate each one. I am unsure what type of dispute resolution Tripping has in place, however I think it is likely that all people involved in a dispute would be able to state their side of the story without fearing a random and not necessarily justified account deletion. I actually hope that Tripping modifies their current system to just having a comment system for profiles without weighting in order to avoid the sycophantic attitude towards references on CouchSurfing recurring, where they are treated as a commodity to be exchanged rather than a useful indicator of someones trustworthiness. The confidential ratings system is sufficient for dealing with troublemakers, while avoiding all of the problems associated with CouchSurfing’s system.

Tripping is also implementing the TripSafe program. The idea behind TripSafe is to eventually have a 24 hour hotline available to help Tripping members in emergency situations. If someones host doesn’t show up or is behaving inappropriately then they can contact the hotline and Tripping members will do their best to help. At the moment the program exists just as a contactable email address, although this will eventually be expanded as the site and community grow.

The Tripping website is very aesthetically pleasing and efficient, embodying everything that is positive about Web 2.0. I especially liked the signup page as an introduction to the site. It was very short and to the point in a good way, and had an option to identify yourself as a nomad. As someone who travels a lot and doesn’t always have a permanent residence that is quite a nice feature to see. The impression I got from the site straight away is that it is very simple and easy to use which is exactly how such a site should be. Tripping also has a very nice forum section with different forums for places and topics. As the site expands I have no doubt such basic features as chat and a photo gallery will be added – and I can’t wait. I was also very impressed with the Tripping profile pages. It shows a photo that fits neatly in with the rest of the page, as well as short sections for basic info such as occupation and hometown and room for a personal description or list of places visited. The profile page has tabs so you can see a persons references, photos or friends. It states very clearly if you are available to host people or not, as well as your Tripping rating – although I am unsure what this refers to. Overall very intuitive and easy to navigate without having to give your whole life story.

The Tripping search function is very simple and efficient, allowing you to search by gender, age, location, name and to limit results to members with a photo. You can filter by recent activity, join date, age, name or country. This is a very simple search that works quite well for finding hosts. Tripping does not currently have an advanced search function, although I can’t really think of any functionality that is missing from the basic search. The search results show the members photo, gender, age and if they are available to host or not. It would be nice to have the ability to limit searches to people definitely available to host or not, but this is not essential. As with BeWelcome almost all the search functionality available in CS is available but in a much simpler and efficient interface. The one feature I do hope Tripping adds is the mass mail feature. It would be ideal to be able to check many similar people who may be available to host to see if they are interested, rather than having to contact them all initially with the same basic request.

Tripping is currently in beta which means they are still developing their website and community, and people are still joining. For a brand new site and community they are doing remarkably well, and I am excited to see where they will be a year from now. The site is very active with contests and charity work. A recent example is Tripping organizing aid for people stranded due to the recent volcanic activity in Iceland. It’s nice to see an organization actually coordinating this effort with the money they have, as with CouchSurfing where people do the work and the organization gets the credit.

I asked a query about Tripping using the contact form and got a reply in less than 24 hours, which was a very nice surprise. This may be due to Tripping being quite young and so it is easier to respond to individual requests, however given the existence of the TripSafe program I think it is likely fast responses to suers questions or problems will be a priority. I really am excited about what Tripping represents, which is an opportunity to be the most comprehensive CouchSurfing site out there. It’s a chance to do everything right this time, and to be everything that a site like CouchSurfing should have been. It’s definitely one to keep an eye on.

Crash at mine

I saw reference to this on the OpenCouchSurfing website, however I could not find any information on the project and it does not seem to exist in any meaningful way. It was said to be in development parallel to the BeWelcome project. From the name it sounds like it may have more of an emphasis on free accommodation in the same vein as GlobalFreeloaders, which I think would be a great thing. The more community and people orientated people could stick with BeWelcome and people more interested in saving some money and doing their own thing, while both groups would be part of a larger overall community.

Conclusion

Despite my criticisms of CouchSurfing I have had absolutely amazing experiences through the site and have met terrific people through there. It’s a certain subset of the community I have a problem with, and to a far larger extent the actions of Casey and the organization itself. While I may not be able to stand Super-Hippies, I can always ignore them. I can’t ignore watching people think they are paying for a service and giving to a good cause and just watch them be taken advantage of. Due to the lack of transparency and legal questionability it is hard to recommend CouchSurfing at this time. Unfortunately sometimes that is hard to do because the massive user base is just too attractive. In which case at least be careful how you use it. If you upload photos, upload photos with someone else in them who didn’t agree to the Terms of Service. Exchange and communicate via E-Mail or IM almost as soon as making contact through CouchSurfing. Don’t pay for CouchSurfing verification at all, and rely on references. Just say hi to someone at a gathering and you’re sure to get quite a few. If at all possible, use the other sites until the numerous issues that plague CouchSurfing are resolved. I really hope that it won’t be too long before I can make a follow on post celebrating the fact that all of the issues have been resolved, and I can happily recommend the site to everyone.

References

  1. http://www.servas.org – Servas Open Doors
  2. http://www.couchsurfing.com – CouchSurfing
  3. http://www.hospitalityclub.org – Hospitality Club
  4. http://www.globalfreeloaders.com – GlobalFreeloaders
  5. http://globalfreeloaders.com/memberlocations.php – GlobalFreeloaders members and locations
  6. http://www.bewelcome.org – BeWelcome
  7. http://www.tripping.com – Tripping
  8. https://www.tripping.com/about/help/volcano – Tripping organizaing aid for those stranded due to the Icelandic volcano activity
  9. http://www.walletpop.com/blog/2010/04/20/travelers-stranded-by-volcano-creatively-cope-with-lengthening-d/ – An article mentioning people getting help from Tripping while stranded due to Iceland’s volcano activity.
  10. http://www.opencouchsurfing.org – OpenCouchSurfing
  11. http://wiki.opencouchsurfing.org/en/One_page_OpenCS – A list of volunteers and their problems with CouchSurfing
  12. http://www.opencouchsurfing.org/2008/02/15/john-casey’s-style-indirect-manipulative-pulling-strings-from-behind-the-scenes/ – Interesting comments from a former volunteer about the organization and Casey’s influence.
  13. http://www.opencouchsurfing.org/2007/09/23/the-casey-fenton-show/ – Evidence of CouchSurfing pretending to be a 501(c)(3)
  14. http://www.opencouchsurfing.org/2009/12/01/verification-team-leader-resignation – The resignation letter of a volunteer, attacking Casey and the organization
  15. http://blog.steinwachs.net/index.php/2010/03/15/couchsurfing_a_terms_of_service_review – An interesting review on the CouchSurfing Terms of Service
  16. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1840044 – An example of someone experiencing the worse side of CouchSurfing
  17. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=1906&post=3916983 – An example and discussion of CouchSurfing’s account deletion policy
  18. http://www.couchsurfing.org/mdst_faq.html#complaint – The CouchSurfing FAQ for member disputes
  19. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=4446104 – A copy of Caseys statement in reply to Bryan’s resignation letter, and a subsequent discussion with many people calling out the organization for being the sham that it is. That entire thread in fact is worth reading as it shows many members being fed up with the constant lies.
  20. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=5423780 – Margaret explains CouchSurfing’s current charity and legal status on the Brainstorm: Redefined group in response to my original article
  21. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=5423780#post5521000 – Margaret talking about Charity Navigator and calculating CouchSurfings rating as per the Charity Navigator methodology
  22. http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=33 – The methodology Charity Navigater uses to evaluate charities, and which Margaret used above.
  23. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=4446104#post4450387 – A post from someone pointing out how useless verification is and the legal questionability of CouchSurfing’s actions.
  24. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=3926698#post4434383 – A detailed post talking about the legal concerns about the Board of Directors.
  25. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=4446104#post4461122 – A post talking about the way donation money is used to buy beer.
  26. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=3926698 – A post showing the frustrations of volunteers and their continued resignations.
  27. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=429&post=628471#post630656 – A message talking about CouchSurfing’s violations of New Hampshire law
  28. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=429&post=430011 – A message talking about illegal behavior and notifying the NH DA
  29. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=7621&post=3966676 – A discussion about CouchSurfing’s 501(c)(3) status on the Brainstorm: Redefined group
  30. http://www.couchsurfing.org/group_read.html?gid=512&post=5590686 – A very recent example about a members profile being unjustly deleted

Update 1 – April 8th 2010

I have substantially rewritten and expanded the article giving far more details on the criticisms of CouchSurfing as well as providing references where possible. I have also written more in-depth reviews of the alternative hospitality exchange sites.

Update 2 – April 12th 2010

I updated the article just to fix links that were corrupted due to non-latin quotation characters corruping the markup.

Update 3 – April 23rd 2010

I have updated the article to correct CouchSurfing’s status as a charity organization and to incorporate Margaret’s Charity Navigator results. I have also corrected the origin history of BeWelcome as diverging from Hospitality Club rather than being an initiative of OpenCouchSurfing and corrected the fact that Hospitality Club was the first of the mainstream hospitality exchange sites, not GlobalFreeloaders. I also reviewed Tripping as an alternative hospitality exchange site as I was not aware of it when I originally rewrote the article a few weeks ago.

Update 4 – April 25th/26th 2010

I have updated the article again – hopefully for the last time. I have made miscellaneous spelling and grammar corrections and added a review of Tripping, corrected the origin history of BeWelcome as well as including information on the allegations against Hospitality Club and BeWelcome. I also added more information to the fraud section based on Margaret’s postings in the Brainstorm: Redefined thread. I have added links to the original forms filed for CouchSurfing’s nonprofit status as well as further criticisms of the verification system. I also added a disclaimer about the term Super-Hippies, quotes from the CouchSurfing Terms of Service, information on the rape that happened via CouchSurfing, mentioned the “sex rooms rumor and added senteces mentioning the extended functionality of BeWelcome, Hospitality Club and Tripping. Lastly I added further information and an example regarding CouchSurfing’s account deletions policy and subsequent behavior.

I would also like to make a disclaimer. I did not post my article on any of the CouchSurfing groups – I had no need to. I had enough people searching for things regarding CouchSurfing who were finding my article that made it consistently one of my most popular. I don’t know who posted the article to the CouchSurfing group but I thank them, as it resulted in a lot more traffic and an interesting discussion as a result.

I noticed that on one of the groups someone referred to my use of the term Super-Hippies as an ad hominem attack.; I think this person needs to read my Stupid uses of English article.

I also found it interesting that many people were simply dismissing my article as someone who had had a bad experience and needed to vent. I think that this is just sad. I make several points in the article and I have a pretty clear divide between my opinions and the facts I present. To dismiss what I say because you simply dislike what it implies or what the truth may be is the exact behavior I attack in my article as being a problem in the CouchSurfing community. Just because someone does not like something does not mean they don’t have valid reasons to attack it – how does that line of thinking even make any kind of sense? I have to wonder if the people who defend CouchSurfing as soon as anyone says anything remotly bad about it are just suffering from horrible confirmation bias. They have invested either time or some amount of money in the site, and can’t allow anything to threaten their current view of the site. For some of these people the cost of even considering the site is not what it appears far outweighs the benifit of being able to continue thinking positive thoughts, and that’s just fucked up.

Most of the CouchSurfing groups had some very interesting discussions and input, and it was interesting see what everybody thought. While many people did not agree or felt I was wrong on some points they did so in a mature way or gave counter-arguments. Unfortunately this cannot be said for the New York group. The New York group acted in a very childish manner simply dismissing what I say and resorting to attacking me personally.

The worst thing about the New York group was that the general attitude can be summed up by one of the posters in that discussion: “I wouldn’t care if the founder of CS uses all of the money from verifications to buy cocaine. What I do care about are the amazing friends I’ve made from this website.” It saddens me that people cannot see what is wrong with that line of thinking. It seems that as long as everyone gets something good out of the site they don’t care how many other people get conned or disadvantaged. It is amazing how people can appear so selfless and trusting but when push comes to shove, it is shown they are only interested in what is good for them. Which is just a shame.

Update 5 – April 30th 2010

I have updated the article to include a reference to yet another case of an account being deleted without any due cause or process, despite this member having done nothing wrong, being verified and vouched for and having a great many positive references. This was mentioned on the Iceland CouchSurfing group on the 30th of April. A few hours after I updated this page with a link to the thread an ambassador posted a response stating that while it was regretful what had happened, fair warnings had been given months in advance and the safety team certainly does not remove accounts without really investigating things first. Going by everything that I have seen and heard, I find this really hard to believe. The person who started the thread is adamant that the user was not adequately warned or given a chance to tell her side of the story. Regardless of if the account removal was justified or not the user should have been able to give her side of the story. It would be nice to ask the member howself if she had a chance to give her side of the story and if she felt she had been warned or not. This example shows again why there is a need for proper dispute resolution available to CouchSurfing users. At the moment it is not enough to simply take the word of CouchSurfing that they thoroughly review all cases and give warnings given their past behaviours and everything else weighing against them.

Perhaps it is time to start a CouchSurfing Watch or something….

Update 6 – May 2nd 2010

I have modified the article to reflect the fact the the last example of an account being deleted is no longer accurate, as the account has been restored. I know that this is not the normal behavior for when an account gets deleted and I would like to think that part of the reason this happened is because my article has generated some pressure. It is worth noting that I contacted Sabrina herself( the owner of the deleted account) who stated that she had received no warning and her account was simply deleted. After creating a second account to try and explain the situation, this account was removed also. If I had not written this article, then I think it would be unlikely that Sabrina’s account would have been restored.

I also added a link to the allegation of “sex rooms”, updated the details of the rape incident with a more specific timeframe and removed the contest refer request for Tripping.

Update 7 – May 4th 2010

I have given a link to Casey’s reply to Bryans resignation latter directly after where I mention it in the article text. I removed the link from the OpenCouchSurfing website titled “Why sponsoring CS doesn’t work”. The account given as an example is available for viewing here and is clearly not verified at all. I could have sworn it appeared to be when I included it but it clearly is not now.

I also posted a single message to the Europe group on CouchSurfing. Many people have been creating fake profiles to post my account, and I was sick of the allegations that it was me. I have posted a response to some of the claims made against me, and used the opportunity to correct some misconceptions about myself or my intentions and to respond to some of the negative claims made on the groups in general.

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205 Comments »

  1. That’s a shame about what can happen sometimes. I didn’t realize that verification thing was just for show. Figures!

    Comment by mywaterdr — January 24, 2010 @ 3:52 am

    • I guess there is not much you can do in those situations.

      I am more concerned with CS getting themselves marked as a charity, making profit from ‘verification’ and having no concern for privacy.

      I also wanted to spread the word about GFL and HC.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — January 24, 2010 @ 4:34 am

      • Oh.My.Gawd. Really, ‘allthatiswrong’? Your ‘posting’ alias is an indication of your cup being “half-empty”, rather than, “half-full”. Although, you’ve been quite expansive in outlining the reasons behind your opinion…your “opinion” is just that! Like a-holes…all of us have one. I’m a CS “Pioneer” from back-in-the-day when there were only about 50,000 members. In my opinion, Casey (we’ve never communicated) started something awesome back then. I have to agree with the New York group: “I wouldn’t care if the founder of CS uses all of the money from verifications to buy cocaine. What I do care about are the amazing friends I’ve made from this website.”

        In any situation…there is always the ‘bad apple’. I AM one of your so-called, “Super Hippies”, and will only host/surf with ‘verified/vouched” members. A one-time fee for a lifetime benefit, is at least SOME sort of safety mechanism, and an indication of the member’s intention to let others know that they’re attempting to be real.

        I hope that in the two years since you wrote the ‘manic’ post…that your life is, now, filled with nothing but positive energy. Back in the day…that’s what CSing was all about. I am not clear on what is has become, because I’ve not logged-in to the site in over seven years…but my CS “friends” are still active members. Surely, things have changed with the expansive growth. But, for those of us ‘old-timers’ still on the site…our lives have only been enhanced by being CS members.

        ~Nameste~

        CS user: Dani6757

        Comment by Dani — March 21, 2013 @ 12:20 am

        • I apologize for the tone of my reply, but I’m frustrated after dealing with foolishness all day.

          Look at what you wrote. You try to dismiss my opinion simply because it’s an opinion. Really?

          You can be a super-hippie. It means you’re too stupid to understand that verification is a demonstrated scam and are just throwing away money while depression real couchsurfers of an experience. Although they are probably better off not staying with a self-proclaimed super-hippie.

          Last point? I’m certainly an old timer and my life was enhanced by being a member. That doesn’t justify a scam.

          Comment by allthatiswrong — January 11, 2014 @ 10:05 pm

  2. these sites are becoming a problem atleast in the us. men are looking to house only women because they are looking for a one night stand. They claim to say that why would she have to sleep on a couch when she could be more comfortable sleeping on a bed, etc. it is really dangerous everyone. I have a few friends who don’t use these services because of their safety but also to be mistreated by people thinking they could take advantage of backpackers. SICK.

    Comment by Richard — February 15, 2010 @ 3:40 pm

    • There will always be those who will take advantage of people and services such as these. I suppose it is a problem not to specific to any of the sites, although it probably occurs more frequently on CS because of the larger userbase and similarity to myspace.

      I do remember hearing about one Australian guy in Edinburgh hosting people…trying to sleep with every girl he could and refusing people he had said could previously stay…

      I guess the best you can do is to keep your options open so you have someone else to stay with, or a hostel, or if you are female stay with other females perhaps.

      I think the people that use the sites only for this are a minority, and I do think the concept is cool, and should not be wrecked by a few bad people giving it a bad name it does not deserve.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — February 16, 2010 @ 10:03 am

  3. Well,

    i’m doing some research on those hospitality websited those days, and what i stubled over “BeWelcome”. The design and the functions seem way supiriour over CS, Global Freeloaders etc.

    Why does nobody know about it? Well… Casy Fenton is the Lenin of hospitality, he knows how to lead “the masses” of users and volonteers. Unfortunatly a social-web-application can only have success with a lot of users – and CS did so successfully introduce their “language” in our minds, that even at “Global Free Loaders” people use the terms “surf a couch”.

    Even the Logo, the Brand of BeWelcome is better then CS. This thing has been aroung for 4 years now, and almost nobody knows about it. How is this possible?

    Well, they have a super-democratic process – which obviously is good for coding – but they don’t seem to like “marketing”.

    Their lag of success shows, that you have to be a bit evil (make money with ads or registrations) to do larger good (creating more free accommodation).

    What do you think?

    Leo

    Comment by Leonid Sokolov — March 14, 2010 @ 12:28 pm

    • Hi Leo, Thanks for your comment.

      I only recently learned that there were a few other sites, BeWelcome among them that I had not heard of.

      I will update my article soon to mention these other sites, but it will be more on their functionality as I will not have used them.

      As for CS and Casey….I think it is a shame his site is the most popular and that he profits from a scam..but at the same time no other sites have anywhere as near a slick interface or functionality.

      I don’t think it is just marketing…there has been a lot of work put into CS…but it is a shame he took the project in an “evil” direction.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — March 14, 2010 @ 2:31 pm

      • It’s interesting how in one place people admit that there has been a lot of work put into the website, and in another – that it’s a total scam ripping poor stupid people off… Someone has to pay for that “lots of work” on the site – so the “verification” process does, as it explains when you apply for verification.
        Additionally, it’s optional to get verified or not…

        Comment by CSer — April 15, 2010 @ 3:19 pm

        • Hi CSer,

          A lof of work has been put into the website, and the verification system is a scam ripping people off. Not stupid people, since they are being deliberaty misled. The two are not mutually exclusive.

          As someone with quite a lot of work in the industry, I can assure you that the profit earned from verifications is greatly in excess for what it would take to develeop the CS website. There is a lot of evidence showing that the money is used irresponsibly to perpetuate a type of lifestyle.

          Yes, verification is optional, but when it is advertised as actually verifying people when it does nothing of the sort, and when people are pressured into paying for it as soon as they login…then I don’t think this is right.

          Comment by allthatiswrong — April 15, 2010 @ 4:41 pm

          • I think the way the CS optional verification process is labeled a scam in this blog is unfair. And I’m sorry to say, but source citation here needs some work. In the last year and a half I’ve moved three times. And as promised, CS re-verified me after each move and never asked for more money than I originally donated.

            Comment by Ilias_H — May 16, 2010 @ 7:21 pm

            • Hi Ilias,

              It’s a scam because it claims to verify peoples identities and make CS safer by doing so. It doesn’t do anything like this.

              The fact that they send you out a postcard each time you move doesn’t mean it isn’t a scam, it’s just evidence of donation money being poorly spent.

              Comment by allthatiswrong — May 17, 2010 @ 7:29 am

  4. I have joined couch surfing because I plan to travel to India in the next few weeks. The majority of Indian people on this site are using it for the reasons mentioned above. They claim on their profiles that they are sincere, helpful and welcome all however this is all to the contrary. Most of them only accept women. Look at their profiles…this place is accident waiting to happen. I have followed the rules of the site and been polite and concise. I have never asked for a couch Just for help in each location with trains etc and most of the people who claim they are helpful have not emailed me back or if they have it has been curt and abrupt.

    I believe this site needs to be shut down. In third world countries something bad will eventually happen.

    Comment by henry gale — March 29, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

    • Hi Henry.

      I don’t think there is any problem with the idea behind these sites in general, just CouchSurfing. The verification system cannot be trusted at all..

      On every other site the behavior you describe would not be tolerated, and the members would be banned from rejoining. On CouchSurfing as long as they paid their $25 or know one of the ambassadors they won’t have a problem.

      Don’t be discouraged as there are many wonderful people on these sites, just not where you are going in India apparently. Perhaps have a look at one of the alternatives, which have proper verification systems and don’t tend to have the problems that plague CouchSurfing.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — March 29, 2010 @ 8:29 pm

  5. I have substantially updated and rewritten the article, giving far more details on the negative aspects of CouchSurfing(quite a bit of which is just personal opinion) and also a far more in depth review of the alternatives.

    Comment by allthatiswrong — April 8, 2010 @ 11:31 pm

  6. Excellent article which has ‘enlightened’ me as to the existence of these other – previously unknown to me – hosting websites… :-)

    Comment by Keith A — April 9, 2010 @ 4:43 am

  7. hey, excellent article. i have a lot of the same criticisms you do towards CS. despite having hosted about 700 people so far through CS, i find the CS “mantra” to be terribly misleading. you don’t see those “mantras” in any other community (i’m a part of all others). unfortunately, CS plays the ego card very well, and everyone is encouraged to be a star and treated like one, when in fact, like you say, it’s just a free place to stay. this fantasy goes both ways, and to some extent, leads to a lot of people not getting a place to stay because they did not recite the “mantras”.

    i host mostly people that do not read my profile, that fail all the CS “mantra” items, have empty profiles, have negative references, yet i’ve found no significant difference between someone that fits the CS “good member” and a “bad member”. it’s all about how much of the “mantra” you buy into and how long you’ve used the system. countless assholes are experts at “professional CS request writing”.

    i run stats on the reality of hosting vs. the stuff claimed by the website, and they all confirm your opinion. my data set is huge (over 2000 requests, 700 stays). i run my stats on a smaller data set.

    take the mantra of reading a profile being important. only 25% of people do it. 75% do not care who they are staying with. but that means that if hosts are encouraged to deny requests to whoever doesn’t read their profiles (the “mantra”), CS will effectively make 75% of its target audience outcasts. many will be denied accommodation, some because they were stranded in a cybercafe, some because they are terrible at writing and reading english, some others because they just didn’t know.

    if you are strapped for cash and really need a place to stay, CS says you shouldn’t mention it. but isn’t that one of the biggest issues when we travel? shouldn’t that be embraced as a call for help? who needs CS the most? the guy that’s stranded with no money on his last 5 minutes on a cyber cafe, or that trustafarian writing a wonderful request on his laptop while drinking his latte? CS protects the educated, entitled and privileged, not the people that really need it. global freeloaders, on the other hand, caters exactly to the people that really need it. it’s this bubble of “CS culture” that is making it seem less and less like a charity/non profit and more like a private club.

    CS is also extensively used for sex. i ran a small study on how many girls got hit on by men and it was alarming. we’re talking about 30-60% of men hitting on girls (i don’t have enough data for a smaller margin of error).

    also, the tendency to only leave positive references means they are mostly useless. if 99% of references are positive, then what are they for? should they be 100% positive? that is certainly unrealistic, and i have found that people will write positive notes even when they don’t like you, just out of reciprocity. experiences are a bell curve, from the bad to the good. what we get in CS is only the upper side of the bell curve, with the bad side hidden (people leave no references, do not accept your friend request, etc)

    also, i’ve found that references in general are useless. i’ve hosted regardless of what’s written, hosted several “problematic” users (a lot of negative references) and NEVER had any issue. unverified, no pic, clearly troublemakers. no difference.

    what CS is promoting is a major confirmation bias trip. everyone is high on the CS “mantra” and nobody is trying to verify their claims. if you follow the link to my website, you’ll find the studies i ran on my last CS house. i basically disproved nearly all claims on the CS pages on what’s good CSing.

    this is not complaining though. CS has done a tremendous good all over the world, and the net benefit of this community is positive. i do think it needs a bit of a reality check. if it’s a million members, it’s bound to have rapists, murderers, robbers, etc. it should be at least acknowledged. and that the reference system doesn’t work.

    i know that it’s hard to design other systems. i’ve worked on that extensively and developed a user script for that. but overwhelmingly, we are all clueless on how to protect people using online information. there is insufficient data and studies on this. all that’s being done is unscientific (to say the least), and it only worries me that these “mantras” are becoming “dogmas” without being questioned.

    i do not know where most of these “mantras” came from, but they do seem to be just plain unverified common sense. and they’re mostly wrong.

    maybe with all that money, a couple of sociologists and psychologists on the team would be good. but frankly, i don’t care. it works with its shortcomings, and i’m more concerned with helping the alternatives, because i do not see this formula changing at all. if anything, it’s becoming a “culture”.

    i think CS will never be held accountable for the crimes it facilitates, for the personal damages or the emotional distresses. if anything, it is just allowing for the human fuckedupness to show through. but how can any community be any other way once it gets this big? there are no optimal solutions, and CS is good at doing what it stands for. it’s about meaningful connections, not charity or public good.

    again, congrats on the post. it’s nice to see critical thinking every now and then.

    Comment by João — April 9, 2010 @ 6:34 am

    • Hi João,

      Wow, thanks for your comment! I had no idea comments could actually be that large until now ;)

      I think the mantra thing you are talking about is what I tried to cover with the section on the spirit and super-hippies. Different names for the same thing.

      I had a look at your stats and they certainly were interesting. It would be interesting to see if we could show some correlation with fairly obvious supper-hippies and their host/surf ratio.

      Thanks for your comments,
      Cheers

      Comment by allthatiswrong — April 9, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

  8. I’ve personally had serious issues with the way CS is run. But still
    I think it’s better to have an official organization than a one-person business.

    I have respect for Veit for being clear about his dictatorship, it saved me from volunteering for his club. But compared to the cases of censorship in CS, it’s sick what happened in Hospitality Club, where messages merely mentioning “couchsurfing” used to be deleted without notice – and where mine and other people’s profiles have been removed merely for mentioning “BeWelcome”.

    About the rest, I don’t agree with everything you write but you’re spot on with some of your observations. Thanks for the article!

    Comment by Kasper Souren — April 9, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

    • Hi Kasper,

      Thanks for your reply.

      I don’t think it matters too much if it is an official organization or a dictatorship or a community run thing, as long as they do the right thing and people are happy.

      In CouchSurfing’s case they definitely do not appear to be doing the right thing, so any advantages that may have come from them being an official organization disappear.

      If you could provide any references to what you say about HC I would be most interested. I had no idea and have not encountered any such behavior when using the site, but would like to update my article to mention it if it is prevalent enough.

      Cheers.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — April 9, 2010 @ 9:37 pm

      • I’ve never been a volunteer or insider in HC so cannot give many specific details, but some problems were quite evident even for an active user. Most of my observations are from years 2006-2007 (I’m still a user, but was more active back then).

        Censorship was commonplace, messages unapproved by the management would be silently removed, and profiles could mysteriously disappear. As Kasper said, even mentioning any other hospitality exchange site was banned, so it that sense it was still more paranoid than CS.

        Like CS, HC didn’t have a real verification either, but as you wrote, they were doing it for free and didn’t advertise it in a similar way. Instead, safety features were comments and voluntary checks of members’ passports during hosting or meetings.

        The main income source for HC was advertisements on the site. As far as I understood, the money was going to Veit and it was mainly him and a few close friends who were deciding how to use it.

        A group of other volunteers were asking for more democratic decisionmaking and establishment of a non-profit organization to run the site. Veit wouldn’t agree, and eventually the situation culminated with quite a few key volunteers resigning. Some of them went on to start BeWelcome.

        Unhappiness and bitterness resulted. Some of the ex-volunteers were promoting BeWelcome and bashing HC at the same time, while people from HC attacked back (see e.g. bewelcome.info, which seems to be behind a password now but can still be found in Google’s cache). It was hard to say which of the accusations of either side were true and which weren’t, but clearly a lot of energy was put into the whole thing. The situation also didn’t encourage new volunteers to join either HC or BeWelcome.

        After the big disagreements and volunteers quitting, HC website development stagnated and there were also technical issues (downtime). At the same time, CouchSurfing thrived and became the most popular site also in Europe where HC had previously been the most widely used.

        Although both CS and HC had their issues within the management, it wouldn’t directly show to the average user. The user experience was defined by hosting, surfing and (sometimes) events – and all that worked quite well. Therefore they had little incentive to join BeWelcome or any other new site which didn’t have a large enough user base.

        Now it seems that even some new competitors are popping up again – see for example tripping.com.

        I’ve occasionally become sad and cynical while observing all these problems and reading messages written by disappointed ex-volunteers. However, the idea of hospitality exchange itself has never ceased to appeal and it has opened my world view a great deal during the last 5 years. So I continue to be a happy user and try to focus mostly on the positive things.

        Comment by Arto Teräs — April 10, 2010 @ 12:00 pm

        • Hey Arto,

          Thanks for your comment. Some interesting, and saddening stuff there!

          Thanks for letting me know, I will try to research it more and update my article to include this negative piece of history, as well as a review of tripping.com

          I agree that most issues would not show to the average user, but with CS they directly affect the user. When the user is scammed/pressured into paying for verification, and not getting anything like what they would reasonably expect…then I think some action should be taken or at least people made aware.

          I agree, I continue to be a happy user and focus on the positives…, I still felt I had to write this article however. It seems to have raised a bit of awareness, which is all I wanted.

          Comment by allthatiswrong — April 10, 2010 @ 12:52 pm

  9. Yes, I agree with raising awareness. On the other hand, I still like the sites very much and am willing to recommend them to new users. So I’m sometimes divided on what to do.

    When mentioning hospitality exchange for the first time, many are suspicious. “Letting strangers to your house, isn’t that dangerous?” Talking about verification scams and other problems too much may scare new potential members away for good.

    Usually I’m explaining the idea generally, telling about my experiences and mentioning a few sites, not raising one of them above others. The comments feature is available on majority of the sites and it also seems to comfort people most. Despite the issues you mentioned, I also still think comments are the best security related feature currently available. I have no problem hosting or surfing at members with zero comments but can understand people who are more cautious.

    The most interesting info for me in your article was that GlobalFreeloaders is still alive and doing well. I had somehow always discarded it although it’s one of the pioneers.

    It’s mainly a psychological thing. I actually came across GlobalFreeloaders already in 2003. It sounded interesting but I didn’t join: Freeloading had a negative tone to it and perhaps the whole concept was a bit scary too. So I forgot it for a couple of years.

    In 2005 I heard about Hospitality Club which sounded immediately more attractive. Hospitality rather than freeloading – great. So HC was the first site I joined and quite quickly got drawn in. I still somehow feel closer to HC than CS, although nowadays I’ve had more guests and hosts through CS.

    Just took a new look on GlobalFreeloaders. I like the straighforward and honest approach on the site. Free accommodation is not the most important thing for me but it’s refreshing to have one site openly focused around that.

    Comment by Arto Teräs — April 10, 2010 @ 6:05 pm

    • Hi Arto,

      You make a good point. Enough people do think the idea is strange of letting strangers into your home and staying with them. However I think the hospitality exchange programs are an emerging trend, and as they become more popular this fear will dissipate. There will always be those who don’t like the idea and won’t be open to it, and these people won’t change their minds, which is fine. For others though their concerns can be mitigated with awareness.

      I think the best approach is to talk about the general idea, and then to talk about the different sites and their drawbacks. I think people should be aware of the money costs and privacy concerns with CS before joining in. Many will not care because they probably won’t be affected, and can use the site without caring about the behind the scenes stuff. However others may care and they should be aware of what they are going into.

      It was my intention with this article not to scare people of, but to point out some of the problems and let people know of alternatives(which most do not). I hoped to advocate hospitality exchange because I do think it is amazing, and if people have concerns with one service then there are others available.

      It’s interesting to hear your view of GFL. It was the first one I started using many moons ago when I started traveling, and this was when I actually had very low cash. GFL allowed me to make more of my trip, see more and meet more interesting people than I otherwise would have. I also thought it was an amazing idea that it was based on reciprocating. I always thought it was very honest, and there was no CS Spirit or mantra stuff in existence at this time. I found HC to be quite similar to GFL, just with more users and more of a focus in Europe. The free accommodation aspect was still there and not hidden…just less emphasized.

      It seems when CS started to become popular the whole idea behind free accommodation started to be frowned upon(by damn Super-Hippies), despite Casey actually stating it was one of the primary functions of the site. I get that free accommodation may not be a part of it, and that people can meet for a coffee or something or could stay at a hostel if they wanted to…but to deny it completely as much as many people on CS do just has to be false.

      As João says above…, it’s generally the people on these sites who travel around and are going to need more help and some charity accommodation. Exactly like the example he gave of someone on their last few bucks at a cyber cafe…I have literally been in that situation and I am sure a great many others have. Yet many of those same people will deny they use the site for free accommodation.

      It’s important to note that while GFL seems focused on free accommodation, it is very far from just a hotel like service. I have had great conversations with people, and experience great hospitality and had amazing experiences. It’s just that when that happens in my opinion, it happens naturally rather than due to pressure or an obligation.

      I just wish more services would implement the mass mailing feature. It saves time, is more efficient and is just a good idea all round.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — April 11, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

      • Thanks for your comments.

        I certainly support the idea of free accommodation and I think it’s essential to keep it free for hospitality exchange to work. However, putting the emphasis on money and calling it freeloading initially backfired in my case. I had enough cash for hostels and train tickets, combined with an “I’m independent, I work enough to pay my bills” mindset. So my thinking of GFL was something like “I can afford a hostel so I don’t need to be a freeloader” and I didn’t see the other benefits.

        Therefore I like the way HC presents hospitality exchange: free accommodation is one of the primary functions but not the only and perhaps not even the main reason to join – depending on who’s joining. Nowadays I would probably feel just as home with GFL, but I might have never joined any network had GFL been the only one.

        I also think there’s much more to reciprocity than hosting as many members as visiting (as GFL suggests in the new user info). A traveller who is constantly on the road can entertain hosts with travel stories, help in household work – or simply sit back, enjoy all the hospitality and some other day offer help to a person in need on the street. That’s where the beauty lies: no one-to-one reciprocity, and not even within any certain network, simply a give and receive relationship with the world in general.

        One of my favourite essays is The Universe Is Conspiring to Help Us by Kevin Kelly (see http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18463814 ) which tells about the art of receiving generosity. In order to learn how to give, it’s important to experience being in a position to be helped.

        P.S. Allthatiswrong, would you mind to drop me an email? I wanted to send you something privately but didn’t find any contact info on the site.

        Comment by Arto Teräs — April 11, 2010 @ 8:36 pm

        • Hi Arto,

          Thanks for your reply. Valuable insight with a lot of truth behind it.

          I can see how an emphasis on free accommodation may turn some people off, but hopefully having a lot of these sites will allow different versions of the same thing to form each with their own pros and cons, rather than them all just being copies of one another.

          I will definitely check out that link a bit later, thanks for sharing it.

          Comment by allthatiswrong — April 11, 2010 @ 10:21 pm

  10. I have fixed all the links in the article, I am certain.

    Every time I kept fixing them they would revert, due to non-standard quote characters being in my text somehow and causing havoc.

    Please let me know if any do not work.

    Comment by allthatiswrong — April 12, 2010 @ 5:42 pm

  11. What a post! While you do, on occasion, raise good points, for the most part your writing reeks of bitterness and is rife with generalizations and stereotypes. You say, “I can’t stand willfully ignorant people,” and for the record, neither can I. Otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the time to address this post. This diatribe displays an obvious lack of thought, and a viewpoint that is glaringly narrow-minded,

    It’s one thing to attack the way an organization does business; that’s perfectly fine. But to spend so much time attacking
    a self-created and self-named stereotypical subset (“super-hippies”), and using that attack as justification for what is wrong
    with the larger organization, is outright laughable. As I was reading your sloppy and often careless critiques, I couldn’t help but notice that many of your lines shine like diamonds with their self-reflexiveness.

    “entirely lack the capacity to think critically and see that one persons experiences are likely not representative . . . These are the types of people that will assume that if the windows where they stay are double glazed, all the windows in that country or city will be double glazed. If the kebabs they purchased tend to come with chili sauce, then typically all the kebabs have chili sauce.”

    Considering the nature of what you’ve written, this is terribly ironic. You do a fine job here of critiquing fallacious logic, and even offering two mediocre metaphors, but unfortunately you can’t spot the same fallacious logic present within your own writing. Is it “blatant close-mindedness” perhaps?

    “While it is great to be open-minded and want to learn as much as you can about new cultures and places, it is even more important not to limit your knowledge to assumptions based on your personal experiences. Keeping an open-mind requires critical thinking, and not simply accepting everything people say at face value. I just can’t understand people who would take a single view as authoritative rather than developing the skills to assess what they are told critically.”

    This is too good. This could basically sum up what someone needs to tell you about your careless assumptions and stereotyping.
    Oh, and here’s a little more advice for you, straight from you:

    “Educate yourselves. Engage in debate and try and back up your viewpoints, don’t simply dismiss anyone who questions them. Engage in debate and actually learn new things about yourselves and others, and most of all be honest. As amazing as you consider the world to be, it has layers that you have not even imagined that you are missing out on while you continue to limit yourselves.”

    In addition to all of your good, though misdirected, advice, you bring up a great point:

    “The organization and community need to be open to criticism because it is the only way to move forward and grow.”

    So true. However, it must be said that in order “to move forward and grow,” the criticism being leveled must be legitimate. Unfortunately for you, the dismissal of an entire organization based in part on a meandering attack (heavily peppered with vast generalizations and stereotypes) on a small portion of said organization doesn’t qualify as legitimate by anyone’s measure. You make a few good arguments, but some of your writing is so out-in-space that it detracts from your meaningful comments.

    With all of that said, I must also wonder what your fascination is with Couchsurfing’s financial business…why do you care if their legal status is non-profit, charity, or a banana republic? Why does this concern you so?
    (Disclaimer: I do not know, nor have I ever met Casey Fenton.)
    The way I see it (and I’m quite certain you’ll disagree) is that Casey created the website and was courteous enough to let us use it. If he wants to charge every new member $100 each, and then spend it all on hookers and cocaine, what business is it of ours? What gives all of the bitchers and moaners a right to have ownership and control of something that they had no part in creating?

    After dragging myself through all of your drivel, I was surprised to get to the end and find the following:

    “It is always important to note that the particular experiences you have with the people you host or stay with from one site are likely not indicative of the rest of the people on that site.”

    What a way to wrap up. After everything you had to say about “super-hippies,” (and there was plenty) and how they make Couchsurfing worthy of “super-bashing” (that’s mine), you drop such an enlightened bomb…
    Fortunately, of the nearly 2 million members of Couchsurfing, the vast majority are not one of these “super-hippies” as you so eloquently coined them. Since much of your anti-Couchsurfing rant is directed toward them, it then follows that much of your rant is negated. I would explain this, but since you dropped the kebab/chili sauce analogy earlier, I’m presuming you’re familiar with the ins and outs of logical discourse, though it doesn’t necessarily reflect in your writing.

    So what do I think about this post?

    “Much of the material on the website appears to be written generically . . . and does not reflect reality.”

    Bingo. Sounds to me like a writer who’s bitter over something much larger than Couchsurfing, who decided to project his suspicions and jadedness onto another entity.

    So you don’t like Couchsurfing? So what. It sounds like it wasn’t a good fit for you, which puts you in a very insignificant minority. Why the insistence on the “super bashing”? Why all the vitriol? Why the desire to tear something down? Move on. Move on to your other hospitality networks and your other travels, and make this world a better place, however you choose to do so. Or is that too “close-minded, naïve and unrealistically optimistic”?

    Comment by Ralph — April 13, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

    • Hi Ralph.

      It seems you took personal offense with my article, since your response is based primarily on child-like insults and unsupported accusations.

      I assure you that my article contains no careless assumptions or stereotyping. I identified a subset of the CS community that most people agree exist, even if they disagree with the term I have chosen to refer to them. Likewise there are no “careless assumptions”, just speculation inferred from the evidence available to which I have provided references. Some of what I write is based on personal observations and experiences which I cannot provide references for, and while you may doubt their veracity this does not make them “careless assumptions”.

      You say: “It’s one thing to attack the way an organization does business; that’s perfectly fine. But to spend so much time attacking a self-created and self-named stereotypical subset (“super-hippies”), and using that attack as justification for what is wrong with the larger organization, is outright laughable.”

      You may want to examine your critical reading skills. No where do I attribute the people I refer to as Super-Hippies as being responsible for the problems with CS. I think they are a negative aspect of the CS community and talk about them before talking about the actual problems with CS. You can see this from my headings and the structure of the document. I talk about free accommodation, then Super-Hippies….and then finally the problems with CS. In a separate section.

      I also find it quite ironic that you quote me saying that CS and the community needs to be open to criticism, but that the criticism needs to be legitimate. You may not have realized it, but you have actually dismissed my argument because you found it uncomfortable, rather than reading it and responding to it properly. In fact, you could almost say you appear to be exhibiting some of the characteristics of the Super-Hippies I describe above…

      You then ask why CS’s financial status should concern me so, and what my fascination is with it. You point out that since Casey is the founder, surely he should be able to charge members whatever he likes and reap the benefits. Well, I agree, except for one import point: CouchSurfing is a charity organization. Casey, or rather CS, is not charging people for using the site; they are pressuring and misleading people into giving sizable charitable donations under a false pretense, and then using this money in ways the people who give the donation are not aware of and would likely not approve of. If CS was a corporation and actually honestly charged people for using the site, there would be no issue and I would not have a problem.

      You obviously didn’t read the conclusion, where I clearly state I like CS. I don’t like a particular subset of the community and don’t want them to become the stereotypical CSers, and I also think the many serious problems with CS detract from the general amazingness of the site. I have no desire to tear anything down, bur rather to raise awareness and inspire people to take action or pressure the problems into being fixed. Apparently that went over your head, and you couldn’t get past my attacking the Super-Hippies, since that is what your entire rant of a reply is attacking.

      Your reply appears to be that of someone who was personally offended and wants to strike back with low blows, and lacking an actual counter argument has resorted to placing words in my mouth, strawman arguments and insult upon insult. I think that is a shame. Perhaps you should take a deep breath and a step back, look at the actual arguments made for problems with CS while ignoring any commentary (just the facts), and then if you think my arguments are still “fallacious” then you can make a dignified reply.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — April 14, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

  12. Interesting (and *very* extensive) article! Most of it seems to be fairly well researched and assessed correctly.

    There are only two points where I would weigh in (not a lot considering that the article covers almost all aspects of hospex):

    1. The first paragraphs (the whole discussion about “free accommodation” and “Super-Hippies”) is – I think – a wrong assessment of how hospitality exchange actually works. While the notion of “free accommodation” is obviously one of the primary reasons people sign up for these services, it decidedly _not_ relevant to how traveler-host match-up happens. The “free hosting” is assumed (and enforced) by the service itself, so there is no choice for either host or traveler there. What it comes down to is how much one “trust” and “likes” the other person. For me to host you, I will make a decision on whether or not I “like” and “trust” you enough to host you and pretty much everyone makes exactly the same choice. However, for some people the threshold is much, much lower, for some much, much higher. That’s why you see people either putting great emphasis on references, profiles, vouches, etc or (the extreme opposite) just saying yes to everyone. Something like a mass-email for hosting is only relevant for the extremely low threshold “like/trust” people, which is why it doesn’t work for the general community. For a lot of people (myself) included a well written and personal request adds significant amounts of “trust/like” and will make it much more likely for me to host you. (In essence, you “pass the threshold”.) Not understanding the dynamics of trust systems and the individual differences between people in that regard is a serious impediment to understanding the basics of hospex. Things like references and “hobbies” on profiles are much easier to interpret if you understand this basic equation.

    2. BeWelcome (to which I am tightly linked) indeed doesn’t have a high number of users (yet). There are three reasons for it that are not due to “bad marketing”:
    I. It was voted as a non-priority. More precise, the consensus (currently) within BW is “quality over quantity”. This colors a lot of decisions within BW, amongst which the low importance of marketing.
    II. Every profile is screened, which means that those 8000 people have real names and real addresses attached to their profiles. Considering the fact that you were able to register and post as “What about the article?”, this gives you and idea of how many bullshit profiles there are probably floating around on the “bigger” sites.
    III. BW is still pretty damn young, which is also a reason why it’s not that big yet. (But, keeping point I. in mind, you should _never_ expect the kind of extremely rapid growth that CS has experienced, nor is it necessary.)

    As a reference, it is notable that Servas doesn’t have a high number of members either (less than 20.000 if I’m not mistaken) and they have been operational successfully for decades!

    (This comment is also present almost exactly the same in the associated CS brainstorm ~ redefined discussion thread.)

    Comment by Thomas Goorden — April 15, 2010 @ 9:49 am

    • Sorry to reply to myself, but point II.b (second sentence) is obviously not relating to this post, but to the reposter on CS who was able to post under a bogus account.

      Comment by Thomas Goorden — April 15, 2010 @ 9:52 am

    • Hi Thomas,

      Thanks for your well thought out reply. I would like to address both the points you have made.

      1. I think the point you are making here is not true for hospitality exchange sites in general, and differes with each community. It’s what I tried to address by saying all the sites have a different emphasis on free accommodation. GFL for example does not have the trust system you describe…it’s a lot more casual and most people trust each other automatically…to an extent.

      I really disagree that exchanging long personal emails is necessary, or even useful in building trust. If I had an ulterior motive in using such sites I could take the time to write detailed lies and give an illusion of trust. It doesn’t prove anything, although I can see it would allow people to feel more comfortable with who they let in their homes.

      Generally, I write shorter emails with a bit about who I am and why i am where I am and if I can stay….and I have met many people on CS for who this is fine. We get to know each other when I arrive….we don’t have to try and work out if we can trust each other before I arrive. In fact, I would say that goes against the principle of the idea in general. I am referring to building trust via communication, not checking references and vouches and such which I do think is useful.

      While all people have different thresholds and opinions, it is my experience that people who have been doing it for a while are less likely to need to establish trust. As long as the person has some positive references and seem OK, this is generally good enough. I do think a mass mail feature would work for most of the community…as I point out above it does not prevent further communication from taking place.

      Also, the reason I wrote the section on free accommodation is that it is an undeniable part of these services. I just couldn’t stand people that deny it is any part of why they use the sites, however minor a part it may be when this is clearly untrue.

      2. I was not to familiar with BeWelcome and certainly not any of the internal discussions or decisions, and so bad marketing was just a possible reason. I do think it is great that the emphasis is on quality which is why other things such as marketing are lower priority.Thanks for providing your insight on BW here.

      I agree a large member base is not necessary for great succuss…but it has the advantage that you will be more likely to find a host in different parts of the world. I have not actually used servas, but from cursory searches on BW, GFL and HC, the majority of members are in bigger cities. Trying to find a host in remote areas could be harder with a smaller member base. Not necessarily, but perhaps likely.

      I would also like to point out that I did not actually create a user account on CS and post a link to my article. I had no need or desire to do so, and enough people were finding the article by itself. I can certainly understand someone wanting to post it anonymously given CouchSurfing’s behavior however.

      Thanks again for your comments.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — April 15, 2010 @ 5:40 pm

      • Hello allthatiswrong (it’s unfortunate you are anonymous in this conversation, but ok),

        It seems that you missed the fundamental point of my first remark: different people simply have different expectations towards trust/like. I am not arguing that your personal preference is better or worse (on the contrary: good for you!), but it is certainly a mistake to project your personal preference on to other people. I have been hosting and traveling for well over 4 years now (which is a long time in this community) and I am much more selective and personal than you in the way I approach it. I know I’m certainly not the only one who feels this way and you should respect that. Looking at it from that perspective, I think the “mass-email” idea would be OK as long as it’s an individual choice to participate in this way (I would personally opt-out, but it is probably worthwhile for others).

        By the way: Somebody pointed out that you wrote that BeWelcome originated from OpenCouchsurfing. This is simply not correct. BeWelcome was originally started by “disgruntled ex-HospitalityClub volunteers” who were later (1,5 years?) joined by “disgruntled ex-Couchsurfing volunteers” who had indeed united under OCS first. It’s an easy mistake to make (a complicated history).

        I was fairly certain you didn’t write the article on CS. It was a mistake I made while copy-pasting from CS.

        Comment by Thomas Goorden — April 16, 2010 @ 10:48 am

        • Hi Thomas,

          Thanks for your reply. I am sorry, but I did take your original comment in a different way. I thought that you were saying it was one way common to all hospitality exchange sites, which as you say is not the case.

          I agree with everything that you wrote.I do respect that people will have different levels of trust and have different requirements for hosting/surfing with people. I also agree that a mass mailing option should have an opt-out function.

          I am aware of the mistake concerning the origin of BeWelcome and plan to fix it in the next update of my article. I think there was a post on OCS somewhere that stated BeWelcome was started by disgruntled CS people while failing to mention the HC aspect of it’s history.

          Anyway, thanks again for writing, and check back in a few days and everything should be corrected, as well as a review of Tripping.com

          Comment by allthatiswrong — April 16, 2010 @ 3:33 pm

          • Hey,

            Great updates, it shows how serious you are about these things.

            As an aside, I think you might be interested in a phenomenon called “confirmation bias”. (There is a pretty good Wikipedia article on the topic.) You’ll find that the sort of reactions to this sort of commentary is not only completely predictable, but oddly enough arguing against it even tends to “strengthen” peoples beliefs. (This is called polarization.) A disconcerting notion, I know.

            Comment by Thomas Goorden — April 28, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

            • Hi Thomas,

              Glad you liked the update, I think it is pretty accurate and complete now and I shouldn’t have to take it again.

              Alas, I am all too familiar with confirmation bias. I actually mentioned it in “Update 3″ as we are obviously seeing it in response to my article. I think its sad every single time I see it in action, without exception. I don’t think there is anything to do about it except to move on to people who are actually open to new ideas and/or the truth.

              Comment by allthatiswrong — April 28, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

      • CS does have a mass-mail feature now, which greatly saves time in copy/pasting the basic request. I also like that people can send me a specific request, stating why they think my humble home would be a good place to stay. If they want to hike the parks, depending on the time of year I can give advice regarding bears, elk, mountain lions etc. So in a way the upgrade to the site is good, but in other ways it’s a major inconvenience.

        I do believe the type of charity designation CS received is different from the 501 c.. and they stated they really had to change their ways. Possibly still disagree that they are a charity at all.

        Comment by Brenda L — October 9, 2013 @ 9:48 am

  13. I agree about the first goal of people are the free accomodation and the cultural exchange are just a positive consequence of it but I don’t see any pb of people hypocritical saying the contrary, that is one most common human behavior.

    all about CS politic, charity or not and all your blah blah, I really don’t care if it’s right or wrong, I just can do nothing for or against and that doesn’t change my daily life, CS is a tool, I use it as it’s set, I’m not the founder.

    I give each year a donation and will do it for as long I will be a member, just to help the website even if is true that we are not really seriously verified by the donation system, but I don’t care about that, I pay to help.

    I think you loose your time in this post and Don Quichotte war.

    Luv & Hugs, Michel Le Nomade

    Comment by Nomad — April 16, 2010 @ 6:45 am

    • Hi Michel,

      Thanks for your reply.

      I disagree than you see no problem with people being hypocritical and denying they are using the site for free accommodation (and I know that not everyone does). Most people don’t lie and are not hypocritical is this context, and there is no reason to do so. It is a minority of people who are dishonest and behave that way. It is not one of the most common human behaviors at all.

      I also have to say I don’t understand your viewpoint at all as far as giving money is concerned. I just can’t relate to it at all. You say that you give money each year and that you really don’t care what they do with it. You are convinced that the money you give is helping the project when their is a lot of evidence to the contrary. Yes, CS is just a tool, but that doesn’t mean you have to support the organization behind it when it is likely they are using those funds illegitimately. The issue just isn’t that they don’t actually verify people, it is that they actively say they do and then much of this money goes to providing free food and rent for a few people rather than helping the community. When you pay to help, you’re most likely paying for an extra case of beer.

      In fact, I actually have to say I find your comment hypocritical. You state on your CouchSurfing profile that you are not happy with the way your government is using tax money and don’t wish to support it, but you have no problem supporting CouchSurfing? The French Government arguably does a lot more good with most of the money they get then CouchSurfing does with the money they receive, but because you have personally had good experiences with CouchSurfing you are happy to continue supporting it regardless of how the money is used? Instead of ignoring my article and dismissing it, it might serve you to actually read it and at lead look at the questions even if you still disagree with my conclusions.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — April 16, 2010 @ 3:16 pm

      • French tax are mandatory, CS donation not, all the difference is there. You cannot understand me on many point coz our brain are not set in the same way. I think you are like Don Quichotte, you waste your time in a war 100% not useful. I never do a war, I flee, I enjoy something or flee, never fight… out of some verbal fight like here. Cheers

        Comment by Michel — May 5, 2011 @ 3:09 am

        • You used taxes as an analogy originally, I agree it isn’t terribly accurate.

          The difference is while you may not like how your tax money is being spent, at least you know, more or less. CouchSurfing intentionally deceive and mislead people to generate income and then lie with how they use that money.

          You’re a nice guy and feel that since you get something out of CouchSurfing you should give something back. Except, it isn’t that simple, and you are actually enabling there illegitimate and immoral actions.

          Oh, and don’t say our brains are two different, as that is just bullshit. If your argument has any merit you can support it with logic and/or evidence. If you can’t do that and say I just can’t ‘get’ you, it means your argument has no merit at all.

          As for the Don Quixote comparison…., I’m not fighting a pointless war against an imaginary enemy, I’m highlighting the deceptive, immoral and possibly illegal actions of an organization many people assume is charitable and trustworthy. Quite a different thing, kiddo.

          Comment by allthatiswrong — May 16, 2011 @ 1:24 pm

  14. I have finished updating the article again, adding in a lot more info with a review of Tripping, information on the allegations against HC, corrected the origin of BW, further criticism of the verification scheme and more info on CouchSurfing’s status as a charity.

    Comment by allthatiswrong — April 26, 2010 @ 10:44 pm

  15. You should make this into a documentary – Contact Michael Moore and gets some tips. – this would be a great to get Casey and his CS cronies to speak up and tell the truth on the reality of these allegations!

    Comment by agent_orangepeel — April 30, 2010 @ 1:49 am

    • Unlike Michael Moore I have presented factual references, and have not twisted peoples words to fit an agenda.

      A documentary is quite a good idea though…and there is certainly enough material to fill an hour and a half or so…

      Perhaps one day :)

      Comment by allthatiswrong — April 30, 2010 @ 4:06 am

  16. I have updated the article to include a reference to yet another case of an account being deleted without any due cause or process, despite this member having done nothing wrong, being verified and vouched for and having a great many positive references. This was mentioned on the Iceland CouchSurfing group on the 30th of April.

    Perhaps it is time to start a CouchSurfing Watch or something….

    Comment by allthatiswrong — April 30, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

  17. What happened in CS or HC is what happen to all community when they grow. It will happen to bewelcome as well if they grow as much as HC or CS. One day people will leave and create their own new authentic community, until it grows too fast as well and that the majority of the members no longer share the same interest that the original founders.

    That’s just how things work since ages. Good luck to people who try to build something better, just be aware that the good is not the opposite of the bad, i.e. that’s not because you are against something bad that you are doing good.

    Comment by Leo — May 1, 2010 @ 12:36 pm

  18. find some student film maker, they can make it!

    Comment by agent_orangepeel — May 2, 2010 @ 2:26 am

  19. oh wow. as being involved in one of the cases you erroneously present as a member being removed without due course (there most certainly was) your article loses all credibility for lack of research. you simply assume that since a person or 2 claim that something was unjust then it must be a huge travesty and couchsurfing is bad. i´m sure at least most ppl have issues with cs but try try looking deeper into examples before pointing and saing “see!” typical yellow journalism.

    Comment by james — May 3, 2010 @ 1:35 am

    • Hi James,

      Which case are you referring two? There are four cases in total, two of which were in my personal experiences and so do not have evidence, one from a forum post and the most recent one from the Iceland list.

      You would have to have been involved in either the one from the Lonely Planet forum or the Iceland one, as you wouldn’t know which the other two were.

      Now it’s possible that in one of those cases that the allegations do not resemble the reality of the situation at all. In the Lonely Planet thread we have the user themselves saying their account was deleted. As this mirrors my own experiences that I have witnessed, I think it is absolutely likely.

      I know nothing more than the Iceland list example than what was posted, although I prefer to take the word of the original poster who was obviously in communication with the person who had their account deleted, over that of CouchSurfing who have shown themselves to be untrustworthy time and time again.

      If you could help clarify the situation, I would appreciate it. Even better I would hope to be able to contact the user who had their account deleted, to hear their side of the story.

      Even if these examples of accounts being deleted are not accurate, they are accurate examples of the lack of a proper dispute resolution process. Should their not be a right of appeal, or some proof that their side of the story was heard?

      A common complaint when an account gets deleted is that the person owning the deleted account was unable to say their side of the story. If it were the exception we could brush it off, but it seems to be the rule which is why their is reason look at the situation critically.

      If you could provide any clarity to the situation I would appreciate it.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — May 3, 2010 @ 1:57 am

  20. The author makes a simple and ignorant simplification.
    I stopped reading after this excerpt: “I cannot stand these people. I can’t stand willfully ignorant people. I can’t stand fake or phony people. I can’t stand blatantly hypocritical people. I can’t stand liars. These people may not mean to be these things intentionally, but it doesn’t change that they are. The “CouchSurfing Spirit” does not exist except in the minds of close-minded people who like to pretend that the reason they all use the site has absolutely nothing to do with free accommodation.”
    I would like to tell everybody that I host people in my house 90% percent of the time I get involved with CS.
    I question why the author needs to put his opinion so in such low level language in order to defend it’s point of view.
    I’m not saying that CS doesn’t have it’s problems, but surely I won’t get associated to a community that the focus is free accomodation.

    Comment by Miguel Garz — May 4, 2010 @ 6:04 am

    • How can so many people be so thick,

      I have nothing against people who don’t use the site for free accommodation. I have something against those who blatantly do and deny it.

      I have personally met many of these people on CouchSurfing, and as evidenced in the comments above and on the CouchSurfing groups so have other people.

      This is quite a bit separate from the problems I point out that exist with CouchSurfing, it it doesn’t really make sense to dismiss an entire article because you disagree with a single point…

      Comment by allthatiswrong — May 4, 2010 @ 6:46 pm

  21. Thanks a lot for the article and for your time to have it updated.

    I made a donation to CS, and I had never thought about how it would be used. I just wanted to give something back to the community for giving me so many good experiences in CS. Now, when I see how my money migth be used (we don´t really know because the lack of transparency) I´m very dissapointed. If I had the chance to get my money back I would do it. As u say, if CS didn´t claim to be a charity organization there wouldn´t be a problem at all (with the donations), and I would probably had donated anyways. But I don´t like being lied, and that is what CS in doing.

    I also think that I have some traits of a superHippie, I found your arguments very logical and I´m gonna change somethings of my ways of using CS.

    Thanks a lot again.

    Comment by Pepe — May 7, 2010 @ 5:33 am

    • Hi Pepe,

      Thanks, I am glad you got so much out of my article :)

      I completely get the desire to want to help out and I think it is a shame CS is abusing peoples generosity.

      Hopefully this article, or just pressure from further people will force CS to release the information they are obligated to, and we will all have a better idea of what is going on.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — May 7, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

  22. [...] The effect of CouchSurfing and other hospex community on these people is very bad, it gives them a fake feeling of confidence in finding a couch everywhere, but maybe getting in unpleasant situations because they don’t have second options, as they don’t even have money for a hostel (see here for more details: http://allthatiswrong.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/a-criticism-of-couchsurfing-and-review-of-alternative…) [...]

    Pingback by Is CouchSurfing sustainable??? | OpenCouchSurfing.org — June 16, 2010 @ 11:55 am

  23. Whoa. I came across this article by chance and I think I met the infamous Australian Thomas of Edinburgh! When people would ask me if I ever met anyone bad on CS, I would say, “not bad, really, but there are definitely some I wouldn’t hang out with except in group activities,” meaning Thomas. He was boisterous, fond of drinking and taking his guests on tours, and always seemed to have about 10 Eastern European girls staying in his flat. I always wondered how he managed to do that. I thought he was just enthusiastic.

    I just tried to look him up through some mutual connections, and it appears his profile has been deleted.

    Comment by Former Edinburger — July 6, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

  24. ‘cmon! If u want people to read u,write shorter! It took a half lifetime to read all this, however i’m interested in. U write almost everyhting twice! All this text can be half as long without excluding any important thoughts.

    Comment by qwertz — July 14, 2010 @ 5:55 am

    • I write clearly, and accuratly. I have a lot to say on some issues, and so it is important to clarify my arguments and support them.

      I don’t repeat myself, but I do reference the same issues repeatedly, as necessary.

      I will never write articles for people who can’t be be bothered to read properly, and want everything simplified so they won’t have to think about it.

      If that is what you are after, look elsewhere.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — August 3, 2010 @ 11:40 pm

      • Actually, that guy is right. I don’t shy away from books and long articles, and I think your text was tedious.

        It’s like you don’t have this hunch, about when to stop elaborating. I understood half way through what you were saying (and actually, I agree with most of it), but then you just kept repeating the same.

        Comment by Ilya — April 15, 2012 @ 6:56 am

        • Redundancy =/= making people think. A little more conciseness could be useful. It reads as though you were trying to review every thought at least twice.

          Interesting article. I did skip over some sections, though, as I got your point. You did manage to keep my attention (curiosity) better than most overly long articles, however..

          Comment by Andrew — May 17, 2013 @ 3:33 am

  25. Interesting read, thanks for researching all this. I agree on a couple of points:

    - There is significant pressure on the site to “become verified”. I ended up deciding to pay for it, on the basis of it being about the same price as a night in a hostel – couchsurfing saved me that much money, so I figured I could give it back to them.
    - Some people do seem to be a bit crazy about the “couchsurfing spirit”. I certainly see the use of encouraging that sort of “hippy” behaviour, and I think an easy way of meeting people adds to the travel experience, but I’m not going to argue that my primary goal isn’t to save money on accommodation. :)

    That said, I do have to disagree with your conclusion that you can’t recommend anyone sign up with couchsurfing. The vast majority of people will never been affected by these problems, either bad hosts or bad admins.

    As much as I hate to push the “fix it yourself” line, I suspect that this is one instance where it’s the best option. External criticism only works well when it is loud, ongoing and from many prominent sources. Surely in your travels you’ve met people who rank fairly highly in the community and the organisation – are you able to use your contacts to enact change?

    Comment by Gary — August 29, 2010 @ 5:22 pm

    • Hey Gary,

      Thanks for your reply.

      I agree, most people probably won’t be bothered by the negative things…, but I definitely think they should be aware of them.

      I can’t stand the couchsurfing spirit people….they are so goddamn hypocritical, and a bad thing for the community in general. Personally, I enjoy welcoming anyone to a hospex community, but these spirit types openly say they would only share the secret with likeminded people. Openness and free thinking by surrounding yourself with likeminded people….right.

      In my travels…I really have not met many people in positions of power, and certainly none who see a problem with the way things are.

      What it comes down to, is that humans tend to be stupid and selfish. Individual people on the site may not be affected by problems, and can justify paying the money in many various ways, so don’t see it as a problem, despite it obviously being one.

      Honestly, that’s the thing that bugs me the most….is that people are paying sums of money in good faith, and instead of using it for the betterment of the community, use it to pay rent and buy food.

      The staff are basically crooks, and I honestly don’t think it will be too long before they get their comeuppance.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — August 30, 2010 @ 5:37 am

  26. Wow, could you be any more bitter about Couchsurfing? Did you have a bad experience with them?

    I love the way you pretend to be objective, then spend page after page whining about Couchsurfing, while ignoring the same problems that other sites have. In the end, your rant is just a big yawn.

    I almost read your article “Stupid Uses of English,” but decided not to after reading so many run-on sentences, seeing multiple improper uses of apostrophes, and so many other glaringly obvious examples of incorrect grammar.

    -R

    Comment by Robert Edwards — December 12, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

    • Go Robert !!

      Yes, yawn, yawn indeed. I’d be inclined to comment further…but don’t see the point.

      However, one of the most impressive bitter diatribes I’ve come across…

      Comment by Chelsea — December 14, 2010 @ 6:59 am

    • Yeah, I and many others have had a bad experience with the hopeless and deceptive staff.

      I make no claim to be objective although I have provided many references – the facts speak for themselves.

      As for my English…I am still learning to write and hope to continually improve. Instead of pointlessly criticizing, I would appreciate it you could point out some of my errors so I could fix them.

      Thankyou.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — December 15, 2010 @ 4:43 pm

    • Hi Amit,

      Thanks, I will check that out, although I do think hospex communities are better served by a full webpage rather than a Facebook app.

      Will Travel Book be expanded into a full website?

      Comment by allthatiswrong — December 16, 2010 @ 11:25 am

  27. This report is impressive, and really interesting. It s exactly what I was looking for.

    I joined CS few days ago because HC is dying a bit more every days. I ve been using HC for more than 4 years and having more than 100 guests. I used it only in Europe so I don’t know how it s used in other part of the world. I was waiting that late to join CS because I ve heard there was a controversy (not knowing exactly what) and HC was working fine for me so far. Last year I was living in Paris and I had really few requests for hosting via HC. BeWelcome, where I have a profile also didn’t do much better. So once my profile full filled in CS I started to google for “Couch Surfing controversy”. Here I am!

    I m about 100% agree with everything you wrote but in my case I would write Hospitality Club instead of Couch Surfing except for the legal part about charity status and the donation promotion. But instead HC core management ask volunteer to invest time while they make profit with it through advertisement on the website.
    My host/guest experience says that more than 80% of HCers have a profile in CS. The community is the same. Same people, same problems. Same super-hippies saying they use the system only to meet people and not for free accommodation.
    All of them answered me NO when I asked them if they would use it if they would have to pay the host the price of a youth hostel.
    The volunteer verification doesn’t mean anything in HC, you can create a profile for someone else even if you don t know the correct address (I ve done it). I ve hosted a couple in witch the man had his profile deleted, and to experience censorship you just need to use the forum to see the posts on “hot topics” incremented like 1,2,3,5,6,9,10,…

    In HC the security works with the comments you can add on member profiles but 99% of them are positive so it s useless. The problem with the comments is that people use it as a popularity level. More you have, more interesting you are. And in fact if you have more comments it s because you use HC services more. I ve seen male profile hosting a lot with 95% of girls comments, does it mean that women travel much more than men?
    Personally after several guests I was not reading the profiles anymore, neither the request messages. Just looking the photo to have an idea but knowing that many times I hosted ugly girls with beautiful pictures or nice guys with scary pictures. My decision was always made before receiving the request asking myself, do I want, or not to help someone with accommodation next week end?

    In general, I had better experiences with bad profiles (no picture, no comments or less than 5, quite empty profile) than good one (picture, a lot of comments, …). Once I challenged myself and hosted a couple with one sentence in their profile, no pictures, no comments and using a copy past request. They were at my place for one night and they were OK like many others I have hosted before.

    I had really great experiences with HC but as it s not working anymore I had to switch to CS. I personally think that all those community are the same even if the structure and politics behind are different. Fore sure, people will find in those community what they will bring into. At the end it’s just a tool and so far it can be use for dating, meeting people, helping people with accommodation or traveling with free accommodation. Is it good, is it bad? I don’t know but it’s the way it is.
    I wish BeWelcome and Tripping good luck to become more popular.

    Comment by benoit — December 17, 2010 @ 11:27 am

    • Hey Benoit,

      Thanks for your awesome reply and sharing your experiences.

      I hope that eventually BeWelcome or Tripping take over…I think it is a matter of time until CouchSurfing gets shut down due to their charity status problems, and then hopefully one of the others will flourish.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — December 17, 2010 @ 11:58 am

  28. My answer to you is this:
    Dont use it.For those that do use it, they are happy doing so.
    This is just a negative outlook at something that encourages more social interaction than anything.
    Anything Web based is bound to have its bad side, but thats human error. You always get your bad ones.
    Dont taint it for the rest of us.

    Comment by Sarah — December 18, 2010 @ 9:09 am

    • Wow Sarah, you just miss the point don’t you?

      Not using CS is not any kind of solution, the problem is that many people who use it are basically being exploited and scammed, and there is not anywhere the type of security(in the sense of not having accounts removed arbitrarily) for members that there should be for such a large community.

      It’s people like you who contribute to the problems because you would rather keep your head in the sand than admit there may be issues.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — December 18, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

  29. Hey dude
    Nice post, I’ve only just found out about this kind of hosting, and about CouchSurfing and love the idea. I didn’t realise there were all those other websites, so I’m glad to have found a bit of info on a few of them in one place! Will definitely check them all out, glad I hadn’t paid any money on CS =P
    Cheers

    Comment by Nis — December 21, 2010 @ 11:51 pm

  30. All that is wrong with many people is they dont understand the CS community is like the real world, a big melt pot society with bounches of good and bad folks.
    I am not saying the site is safe or perfect, I am a current member and a pity, had a problem weeks ago someone took another user account and wrote lies about myself and another members but this incident wont ever make me think all the whole comunity is shit.
    If dont like the site, dont use it .

    Comment by cathy — December 22, 2010 @ 10:58 am

    • Sigh.

      How can you miss the point?

      Lets use an analogy. I don’t like Scientology and so I don’t go near them. That doesn’t make the problem go away.

      Putting your head in the sand is never a solution.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — December 22, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

  31. Thanks for the post!! CS’s lack of transparency is disconcerting, so I’m grateful for your post. How do we get CS to become more transparent and accountable to the members?

    Comment by TransparencyIsGood — December 27, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

  32. Thanks for this detailed and informative article! I was totally unaware of these issues with CS until today. Nonetheless, for the timebeing I’ll continue to use the site (I almost exclusively host), as I’ve had many positive experiences through it. So far I don’t think I’ve encountered any of the Super-Hippies you mentioned.

    It’s strange that so many of the hospitality-exchange sites have these problems — what could be the reason for that?

    I hope like you that CS will be investigated and delivered to better hands, or that another site or sites will grow and take its place. That’s why it’s so important that you put these ideas out there and raise awareness. In the meantime, I might check out one of the other sites.

    Comment by Yankl — January 28, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

  33. Hello anonymous writer,

    thank you for carrying together so much information of criticism about the Couchsurfing project. I found the examples and facts named here very interesting.

    Three things I’d like to point out are:

    1. It seems a bit unclear where you are going with your article. The facts are there but so far it just seems like a bullet point list what’s wrong with CS. Are there any advantages in CS for you? For me the huge userbase with mostly nice people is. It also helped me a lot to meet new people when I came to a new city. Furthermore you don’t really point out if or how the flaws can be fixed. I think you could tell with your experience.

    2. Well, it’s a bit much about stereotypes. To be honest I also like personalised requests. Getting them are just a little indicator that the person is also a bit interested in me as the host and might be willing to share something. I am not sure if I would be hosting if it was just about freeloading. I probably wouldn’t have joined at first if I heard about it – just as you described in your article. Maybe that’s the super-hippie in me, I’m sure I have one as most people.

    3. I left HC for many reports about Veits absolute leadership and resulting abuse and the lack of user-friendlyness. As I recall all requests were being checked by volunteers. Once a request got to me two months after it was sent. Another feature I didn’t like too much was that you could see who checked your profile. The intention of avoiding stalkers etc. is fine but as I see it could also promote the Myspaceish egosurfing.

    I actually came to this article because I wondered about another topic: in my previous experience with CS (about a dozen surfs/hosts and quite some meetings) I’ve noticed that couchsurfers tend to be well educated (by school, not manners ;) or on the way to getting there. I’ve seen few workers etc. Do you have any opinion on this or any idea how it is on other sites?

    As a final point I’d like to state that I’m happy to use CS. I’m verified but I don’t know if I’d have done that after reading your article. One thing I’ve learned is that references are just like work testimonials: you have to know how to read them to get the relevant information. The positive/neutral/negative is just as useless as on eBay for the reprocity you mentioned.

    Again, thanks for the article. Best regards
    Benjamin

    Comment by Benjamin — March 9, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

    • Hello Benjamin,

      You’re making some good points. I’ll leave answering mostly to the author of the article, but here’s some further information about email checking at HC:

      All requests and other messages in HC were – as far as I can recall – by default checked by volunteers. Now the default seems to be “semi-automatic filtering”. They say it is to prevent spam. However, you can choose in your profile preferences to receive messages directly. There is apparently still some kind of automatic spam filtering, but it solves the problem of getting the requests too late.

      Also CS states that messages are stored and may be monitored to prevent abuse. So from the data protection point of view I don’t see any major difference between HC and CS.

      Arto

      Comment by Arto Teräs — March 10, 2011 @ 5:50 am

    • Hi Benjamin,

      Thanks for your well thought out response.

      I will try to answer each point as best I can.

      1. The first half is my subjective experience and the problems I have observed with it, and that bring down an otherwise amazing thing for me personally. The problems with CS section are objective problems that affect everyone and CS should rightly be criticized for their actions. As I say I do get a lot out of it and continue to use it to this day….but even as much as we get out of it that doesn’t mean we should excuse lies, deceit and the other problems that prevail. As for telling them how to fix the problems? Many have, but they show absolutely no interest in doing stuff.

      They know what they are doing is wrong and like doing it.

      2. Not so much a stereotype as a generalization. It’s somewhat unreasonable at least to me to write a truly unique message to 50 people or so, when you are saying essentially the same thing anyway. It isn’t about if you freeload or host or both that makes you a super-hippie, but the fact that they are willfully ignorant and dictate how everyone should use CS.

      3. I think Arto has done a good job of explaining the CS/HC differences. I don’t have so much experience with HC, but the fact that you don’t have any control over your messages in CS upsets me quite a bit.

      As for the general education level of people in the various hospex communities? I think its just a mix. Out of all the services I’ve met very educated people, as well as very willfully ignorant people. I think it depends on where you are more than which network they are on. For example, most people in and between Portland and Vancouver tend to be more ignorant than other parts of the world in my experience.

      Glad you use CS and continue to use it, just as I do. I don’t want to turn people away from it, bur rather bring attention to the issues so they can be fixed.

      Thanks again for your reply

      Cheers,
      atiw

      Comment by allthatiswrong — March 10, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

  34. my profile have been deleted,the second time

    http://coupleonline.blog.sohu.com/168474895.html

    http://coupleonline.blog.sohu.com/167971489.html
    i’d like to talk to your or just take a mail interview.
    do you mind I put this article on
    https://www.xing.com/net/prif03805x/couchsurfing/security-emergency-member-experience-ombudsman-issue-etc-283581/a-criticism-of-couchsurfing-and-review-of-alternatives-35878427/

    take care

    couplewang

    Comment by couplewang — March 11, 2011 @ 9:18 am

    • Hi Couplewang,

      I’m sorry to hear that, but I can’t say I am surprised in the least. Were you given any indication of why they closed your account? Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a review or appeals process, like any decent community should have….

      Feel free to talk to me on here, although I don’t really understand that article you linked…as it is my article, just copied on another site…

      Comment by allthatiswrong — March 12, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

  35. The problem is somehow even more complex and some shallow good willed oppinions just hide the rocks. Yes, the scam side is real and is acknowledged by the main team as very important – just saying in a conversation on the Ambassadors’ private group that registration is a scam got my ambassadorship removed and one guy (Gadget) theatening me that I’m under scrutiny if my behaviour is Okay for CS. But there are some more things. Couchpotatoes (and not surfers) go on and on about the spirit while from the newcommer to the highest echelon the spirit and hospitality means nothing. Just before I was stripped off the special rights of an ambassador there was a discussion on the private group written by one of the oldest members from Germany who went to a collective only to be welcomed in an agressive mode, left to wait for hours, given a few evasive answers by some guy who was upstairs all along (the same collective that billed the pool repairment and had a maid hired from the sucker money). In the end it was late, too late for the bus, but in the CS spirit the guy was told there is no way for him to crash on the floor of the large day room, they called him a cab and pointed the nearest hotel. While the newcommers are suckered into giving. Obviously most of them give without being too much aware of what’s going on leading to some obvious bitterness and the huge list of demands you mention in your article.

    But above that, the site used to be broken. Maybe you weren’t long enough on the site. There was a CS, let’s call it a version 1. That version has crashed because Casey was too busy counting donations and forgot to buy a backup plan. Most data was lost in that crash and the CS seemed doomed. A handful of volunteers started everything from scratch and built what is called CS 2.0. CS 2.0 is still alive if you mean by that the database. The interface and functionality has changed quite dramatic in some sections. Yet, the paid members are only the Casey gang which deal with PR and parties. I remember noticing back in 2007 that on the hot profiles section Casey’s brother was always on. Him and Casey’s party twin (forgot his name), the one with a red inflatable couch. So while the PR is strong (part because of the willing ignorance of the regular members and ambassadors alike) the tech side is down and proportional with the reported spendings. Imagine a community that is invented to live and thrive in the online and which spends less than 10% on the actual site. To me it looks like a bricks and mortar regular retail store spending to have an online presence.

    About the PR side: it stinks. The first team (lately I don’t care about the site) when they redesigned the corporation and skinned the site with this orange theme was only of sales people. They had no CS experience, no willingness to travel further than going to the so called Base Camp and than back and forth to the bank to cash in the cheques. All their friends and hoarded vouches were from among them and a few who were so delighted to have some masters to serve they gave the reviews without even meeting them. The events manager was a girl, with no practical experience, seems like fresh out of college, who never organised a CS event and when that was pointed out repeatedly in the Ambassadors’ private group she came up with a public street party never organised by CS, which wasn’t mainly CS, and for which nobody offered a place to stay or a transportation mean to share. That Gadget guy also did (for experience I guess) something like that with some zombie party in the exact same conditions. And that came after bashing members that parties and events have to be in the CS spirit: giving and giving and nothing comercial. Yet the hired team did the exact opposite.

    Gadget (forgot his name, but who cares?) started up very high and was quite active at that time always asking for feedback. When feedback got negative he started weaseling out about how difficult is for him to find out which guy in that house (paid by the sucker donations) is or should be responsible. Of course he never came back with an answer, but if you insisted he would start to joke about the issue and than never answer. Like that new Pepsi bottle made of grass, he started explaining how he bought from the donations some sort of solar panel screen and that after the tests (?) were over would provide power for the mobile phones of the people living in that house meaning both a more ecological aproach (with a pool?) and a reduction in power costs. There was no follow up of course, like with everything this guy started. Just another smoke screen.

    At one point I have just asked why in the whole world they settled in San Francisco. It came after some girl bitching about the hard life of having all expenses paid by the suckers and how they had so little pocket money (from the donations again) instead of a real wage that they had to go out only on Friday nights and that only for a pizza or something else very small. She started complaining about how expensive Frisco is and how people should stop bashing them about having expenses paid by the CS organisation. So I asked why one of the most expensive cities in the World? Why not La Paz – one of the cheapest cities in the World at the time. Of course there was no answer. Yet, people do not live in caves in La Paz, and there was proof Internet and telephone were available. The proof was brought by some friends who travelled through South America.

    Also, you have not mentioned there is a private group for the ambassadors where things are talked far away from the users’ eyes. And there is a public group for the ambassadors where public means the users can subscribe and read the group – only an ambassador can write – making it a ridiculous initiative as the ambassadors talk only among them with no feedback from the rest. It’s even worse – there was a small tempest after some guy published part of the story of the german guy to the CS collective in the public group and Gadget was one of the more agressive types – I have no idea how that ended for the guy who brought that experience to the public.

    Speaking of safety. The only safety that core group is guarding is their social safety and maybe some retirement money. At a time, there were some cases of thefts (proven!), one documented in a group that I used to moderate. The CS wanted to cover all that up and the prompt reaction was to hide (the links still worked!) the groups discussions related to those issues system wide. The answer in my group’s case was awaited for 9 or 10 days and it was a girl babbling something about their internal safety procedure. It means that if you are robbed, raped, whatever in relation with the CS you ARE NOT ALLOWED to spread a bad light about the site. The second rule goes that you are not allowed to put some user in a bad light as they assume (no legal counsel on that!) that user can sue the site for defaimation and get some from Casey’s bag o’money. The third rule is that you have to go to the police and get a complaint. Only after the police confirms the case you can contact the site through the contact us menu and tell them the story and their team of uninformed and unqualified volunteers can have a brainstorm on what to do. You still can’t make public your story and the only thing you can do against the user is write a negative comment and wait for the law to take its course.

    At the time of the change in the Core team there was also a change in policy which was not reflected in the published policy. While at the beginning everything should have been free, or at a low fee for CS and CS alone (like join us and see what you can scam yourself), after that everything is allowed as long as it does not hurt the shallow and obtuze american values. So you can’t publish a BSDM event. Although all members must be over 18 (and they’re not) nothing directly related to sex is allowed. Maybe some obvious Ponzy scheme would be forbidden too. But asking people to come to your paid even would be ok (although not in the hippie sense) as it would generate traffic. From a strict CS policy unless mentioned in the group description (say a local junk exchange group would be ok to exhange junk) it shifted to anything that gets trafic. Parties in some city you never visited and where you’ll never go, but, who knows? maybe somebody will. Searching for a living arangement, or just asking people to answer a quiz and give some oppinions so you can graduate college, anything goes.

    Scam, yes. At each revision there is one more piece of text ready to help you pay Casey’s retirement fund. And they are more invasive. Also, on each scam related page there is implied that would make the site safer and the user sexier. And things are shifting that way – used to be people knew better what to choose, but the people who joined in the last 2 or 3 years are suckered into thinking they would be more interesting to the hosts, and when they act as hosts they aply the same reasoning in reverse. Sure, like with google adverts, you can score higher on some lists if you have paid, but your own message to the host will be listed according to the timestamp and not in relation with that big green checkmark. Also, those idiot-proof safety measures can be tricked – you can doctor an image to show the green checkmark, you can push their precise sign of donation somewhere close so a careless user would not notice the difference.

    Speaking of safety. They do record everything on you and they never came up with a legal answer of what body is in charge, what does it do to protect that data, how is it going to be used and abused. Facebook got a lot of bad light lately for some agreement changes which were somewhat milder than the all encompasing CS licence. And while it’s easier to erase an account than with Facebook, nothing is said for the said records which are filled with private data – phone numbers, addresses, interests, user connections and for the suckers bank account details.

    Going on on safety, although they moved the login to HTTPS (meaning it can’t easily be read by someone sitting next to you in some cafe) all the rest of the traffic is in plain view for anybody sharing the same network or wifi hotspot. Yes, private data are of no concern for the Casey gang as long as they have it nicely clasified in their private database.

    About the suckers, Casey and friends are pushing actively to build up city/region/country guides which according to the licence are all owned by CS Inc. In the last few years there have been voices who asked for publishing of tourist information for a profit from what is gathered in the groups and wikipages.

    Compared to the above the guy behind hospitality club is an angel. There is no scam, the privacy issues are about the same, yet he does not raise an army with the motto: “feed me!”

    Comment by Ion Ion — March 21, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

    • Thanks for your interesting reply Ion Ion. Sorry for the delay in approving your comment.

      Cheers,
      atiw

      Comment by allthatiswrong — March 21, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

  36. I am sorry for the long message. I would have liked to have alltogether a list of rights and wrongs and no need to exemplify. But that site is a mess. Yet, the people are ok. The only way I see to write it short:

    There only risk a user might have with CouchSurfing would be to ignore his or her common sense which is rooted in his or her own life experience and fall for the sense of false security given by buying some badge/icon.

    Comment by Ion Ion — March 22, 2011 @ 12:36 am

  37. One might make a short list of things that are allowed, yet, besides the right to refuse, I’ve never found them on the site.

    1. One might go for a special email account (gmail or fastmail.fm are both free and offer secure connections) just for this enterprise. In case it feels complicated, the email can be shared between hospitality sites.

    2. One might route all contacts through email. That is easier with Hospitality Club than with Couch Surfing. No logical reason, just an observation made over the years. After all, there is not one example I am aware where communication storage and supervision has helped a “surfer” so one might have an interest to use his or her own email and telephone. Once past the initial shock the other one might have, as most people only go through the site, people would feel better (safer? hahaha).

    3. Do not donate. Do not buy CS emblasoned junk – if you do like it just go to your local gift shop and make one at a lower cost. You will have to trust me on this one, but so many people volunteer for this project – most ambassadors, quite a few non-ambassadors, etc – and, in the end, none get anything more than the satisfaction of job done. People go out of their way, at their own expense just to help you, yet a few get paid to sucker you into paying them for nothing.

    4. Have a backup plan. And the resources to support that backup plan. Than go for the new members or emptier profiles. I’ve had my best experiences with them as they are less inclined to have caved into that couchsurfing spirit and preaching about something that does not exist. Also, they are less inclined to have had bad experiences (in the sense that the other one does not shower, or if he or she does – forgets to clean up after). Use your common sense as with any new aquointance, and hope they’ll do the same.

    5. If you are not looking for a facebook with a travel theme, than probably the groups are not the best place to wast time. Groups are for general questions (more or less the equivalent of mass messaging) and for those who want to help with those mass questions.

    6. Expect your data to be public. Because anybody with a free email can make an account. That password to see the profile is for google and yahoo.

    7. Expect everything to be read while on WiFi or on a public network. It’s like having someone standing right behind you, only a little bit worse as the virtual man standing behind you can’t see the password you are typing on the screen.

    8. Just like in real life: things even out. If you make a just too welcoming profile freaks might knock at your virtual door, and if you keep it cold and impersonal some of the nice people might not notice you. It comes with the large userbase.

    To give you an example for a few of the points above – it happened in one of the largest European cities. I was stuck as the plane was arriving just in time for the last shuttle bus, yet not for public transport both in city buses and trains to my final destination. From the whole city (a few hundreds!) I barely received some ten-twenty negatives. I mean, I received those negative responses (like “I’ll be out of town those days, sorry”) at the time of the writing. Today, more than 4 (four!) years later I keep receiving answers (like “today I am reading this, hope you had a good time”). The backup plan was on, and only a couple of “if you find nothing, I’ll try to fix you somehow”. And one positive answer from a girl with an almost empty profile, no pictures, no precise location, one of those “suspect” accounts that are just created and have no connections and no refferences. I was coming with a friend who was not registered on the site (another thing against the couchsurfing spirit for the purists). And, because I had to change planes, in the airport I have befriended a girl coming for a masters degree at the university of that metropolis. Not only that “freak” with an empty profile offered to come pick me and my travel companion from the airport althought she was waking up early, but when she heard that my accidental extra friend was going for the campus at that late hour she offered to drive her to her residence than go home with the two scheduled guests. And it wasn’t short or easy – the surfer had not studied at that university and the traveller was there for the first time.

    Another time I reached a retired teacher and her girlfriend. The location was wonderful – just to the side of the city’s beautiful 13th century cathedral (only issue was to carry some of the luggage because cars were not allowed in the historical district). And the company was even better. I was acompanied by two girls, both unregistered with the site, and the next day we have lost more than half a day of driving because we simply could not leave: there was too much to talk about.

    Enter another European metropolis. This time someone with a complete profile that even a taliban surfer could not complain against. Again, I was not alone, and my companion was not registered with the site. It started out bad as there were a few options so I have ignored the backup plan preparation. I remember one guy living in a huge appartment downtown who refused for that night alone as he was booked with one surfer and offered to host me and my friend the second night. I remember making a list with people who said they are not able to host, but they are going to go out at a certain time during the evening/night. And there was the phone number of my host. I call the host and she tells me that sorry, I am working late today, but why not go for some drinks around midnight. I say Ok, and think about the bad preparation. I start calling someone from the list that might help and surprise (!) it’s the same number my phone tells me. Can’t be. Two different hosts living in different parts of town and the same mobile number. I had made a mistake! My kind host gave me a lot of answers, yet she forgot to give me a contact number. And I have copied the phone number from another answer. I was lucky to be in front of a net cafe – I logged in and sent a quick message. And I was lucky a second time as she gave me an answer in the 30 minutes I hired the computer. She was also working, but had some friend pick us up. To simplify a complicated story, in a small appartment with three rooms, one of the three people living there was back home. So in the extra room we were lodged, and a third (an american girl speaking no word of the local language) stayed with the host. After a quick meal all 5 of us went for a concert in a pub to join a larger group. Days later I have found out that the american girl was going across Europe with a friend. That guy I told you about in the beginning of the story told them he can host only one. This way one of two friends the same age ended up with the “safe” guy all alone in a large appartment and the other one went with the “hippy” and shared a room with a stranger who barely spoke English, yet we were a live party of 5 and also joined a larger group to wonder the streets after the concert.

    And as you can see, I can go on and on about the good things once the bad is clear.

    Comment by Ion Ion — March 22, 2011 @ 1:55 am

  38. Wow, that is an excellent and accurate condensation and overview of the entire sordid tale, complete with footnotes! Wow, nice work, and thank you for your effort! I also happen to enjoy “long form” blog posts, so I found your entire blog quite valuable.

    Comment by reader — April 10, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

  39. Has anyone noticed that the couchsurfing.org website’s statistics are incorrect?
    If you look at the number of couchsurfers for a city in the statistics page. Then go to the search page for the same city, you’ll get much smaller number. They may only have around 700k surfers, but still a lot compared to other sites.

    Comment by niknah — May 1, 2011 @ 11:12 am

    • They always cheated at numbers. Deleted accounts, either by the user or by the admins, are always counted. Also, identified duplicates, they get deleted, yet they make it in the statistics. Keep in mind that there are a few who keep an account for themselves and a second account for themselves and their boyfriend or girlfriend as “several people”. Also a few are inactive and haven’t touched the account in years.

      Comment by Ion Ion — May 1, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

    • As Ion Ion points out, just more evidence of deceptive practices by the admins.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — May 3, 2011 @ 11:45 pm

  40. very good post.
    I personally had great experiences with CS but as you wrote, the spirit and the main tribe of CS is ruining it, making it a place where to find places to crash, rather than free places with people worth meeting.

    In my opinion, go with Tripping.

    Comment by Apo J. Bordin — May 31, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

  41. After months of attempts in trying to find a balance between having no people at home or having too many of them due to the incredibly high number of reserving people that did not come, nor inform me, I enforced some regulations on my profile so that guests were only accepted freely if they reserved in the last week. As a consequence CouchSurfing expelled me as I were a woman harrasser and notwithstanding the big number of good reviews I had.
    I am thus looking for an alternative web site that gives a bit of support also to the hosts and not just to the couchers as it is currently in CS as I am still interested in hosting people if only I were not left looking at a glass sphere to know if an evening I could go out or remain at home to welcome the reserved guest with a reasonable secuity of not been left waiting in vain…!

    Comment by Fabrizio Bartolomucci — June 8, 2011 @ 9:19 am

    • I’m sorry to hear that. My profile specifically states we need a week’s notice on requests because we are a family and it’s often difficult to coordinate schedules. I’ve had no problems with that.

      Comment by Brenda L — October 9, 2013 @ 9:39 am

      • In the case of a family or many other cases, I don’t see that as an issue and it makes a lot of sense.

        Comment by allthatiswrong — January 11, 2014 @ 10:07 pm

  42. [...] I did some research.  There may be some questionable accounting of the donations that go to this “charitable non-profit.” More importantly to me, some total creepy person may show up on your doorstep- literally.  You can research and make your own decision for yourself.  (Click here for a link to a comprehensive criticism of couchsurfing.com). [...]

    Pingback by How To Stay in Paris (or Anywhere) For FREE — June 18, 2011 @ 8:52 pm

  43. Hello, wow — you have given this great thought. Well, I have not had most of the problems you mentioned — OK, i am only in double digits of hosting — I don’t surf myself. I want to respond to some of your statements and add a little perspective — adult talk.

    1. I don’t surf because I can afford a hotel everywhere I travel and I don’t want to stay in other people’s homes for any reason. I never read that people surf primarily for a free stay but I never thought otherwise. I just gleaned from all I read that, yes it is a way to meet people, feel welcomed, etc but it is about free lodging. I think most educated people would and don’t drink the Kool-aid otherwise. With so many people the vocals always speak the loudest but are almost always of a minority. This is not new in any large membership operation. Think Tea-Party as the last best example.

    2. Non profits are companies. The difference being how one reports income. I disagree wholeheartedly that CS would not qualify for non profit status. It definitely is a public service operation. Public service and non profit are not equal to “no pay”, “no fringes”, “frugality”, etc. Remember the Red Cross and United Way stories of high 6 or low 7 figure salaries… not very charitable. I remember for years that the highest paid non profit exec in the US was the head of the Grammys. I think it a stretch to be held as out a non profit — charitable organization — given the lavish life style of the top executives and mediocre public benefit, but still a 501 [3][c]. It seems your disappointment with salary and perks adds up to very modest expenditures for an organization this size, that runs at it does, even if it disappoints you in so many ways. Much of what you report is the costs of delivering the actual service and therefore wouldn’t generally fall under “administrative”.

    3. The fact that you can decide to be verified or not does make it a worthy marketing ploy to raise awareness. Certainly more so then many religious non profits that are not supposed to be political. With that said, it seems sketchy at best.

    I could go on, but I think the best thing your accounting does is provide members, potential members, etc. with good credible information. Thanks for that. Then they can make the decision to join or not. Surf or not. Bitch or not.

    I can not agree more that it is about free stays. I am not disappointed as much by this because I never thought otherwise. The bottom line for me is as with you — there is far more benefit, and for that we participate. When it is no longer I won’t.

    As an aside, I found your site from the polar opposite of a super groupie. I can’t think of a name for him but can only say he is sleeping down stairs now. He arrived at 1 yesterday, left at 1:15 and said he’d be back at 10. He came home at 12:30 and wanted to talk. At 3:00 I finally lost my ability to tango with him anymore about “what’s wrong with CS”. Oh my, just about everything you mentioned, but his perspective was he was of feeling cheated. After all he donated $80 to CS. I asked him how many nights he has surfed. He said over 100 times, couldn’t say how many nights. He then said his biggest beef is that hosts don’t understand that he is a business man. He is traveling on business and he needs to be at a meeting in a certain place at a certain time and how dare people change their minds, cancel, not be home, etc. Why would he want to buy food or take a host to a meal and pay for him, he might as well stay in a hotel then. [I am thinking: do you hear yourself?]. I said: if this is such a big problem, wouldn’t you be more comfortable in a hotel with a confirmed reservation? He said no, I want to meet people — that is what CS is all about.

    To make this long story short — I kept trying to change the subject because it was clear this guy has one perspective — his way, his needs, his, his, his. So I finally get him to politics and within the first 5 sentences he starts trashing people who are lazy and just want to take people’s money who have worked hard, feeling entitled as if they don’t have to work hard or at all for their money. Doesn’t matter if it is for health care, education, poverty, etc. I, as you, refused to sit there and agree with him, and said but isn’t that exactly what you are doing by sponging off people willing to open their homes to you, no matter their objectives? Which are you, the one working hard and in fear of giving up your money — or, the entitled feeling $80 gets you to consistent hundreds of free home stays? he said, no — I paid $80 for it — I expect it. I said good night, and “tell me again what time are you leaving tomorrow”? I have to think who is the fraud?

    Be cool, I love your passion.

    Comment by Michael Ludin — June 25, 2011 @ 10:33 am

  44. You say you don’t know a single one who consideres him- or herself to get the spirit who is not a super hippie. I dare and challenge you to be your first! Unless I have a distorted definition of the spirit. Anyway, great article! Stole loads of my time ; )

    Comment by Sarah — July 7, 2011 @ 12:50 pm

    • Hi Sarah,

      Thanks for your reply. The problem is the spirit is not anything unique to CS – and I want no part of the stuff that is. The hospitiality exchange spirt I’ve had for many years, long before Casey established CS and was deceiving countless people.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — July 9, 2011 @ 2:32 am

  45. What do you think of LocalGuiding – a website to find local tour guides and arrange personal tours.

    Comment by LocalGuiding.com — July 8, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

  46. I’ve hosted a lot of people based on the books and movies they like. To me, it’s important. It helps you figure out how their character will be. I payed 20 euros to get veryfied. I assume it’s not cheap to host the website and to hire a staff to do the maintenance. I didn’t like your biased, which I think is biased and way more based on personal opinions than on a deep understanding of what couchsurfing means and envolves.

    Comment by lluis — July 16, 2011 @ 5:25 am

    • If you wanted to donate to Couchsurfing that would be one thing, but by enabling the verification your are enabling a scam. It’s misleading a great many people, which you’re a part of. Good job.

      I guess not much could be expected from someone who surmises the character of a person from their taste in entertainment.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — July 16, 2011 @ 6:02 pm

      • Hey…wait a darn minute! “By enabling verification…” you are NOT enabling a scam! It’s the only way for the organization to try and “prove” your identity. At least it’s SOME kind of safety mechanism! Those who are not willing to pay the $25 “one-time fee for a lifetime” benefit”, should just go somewhere else! I’ve a female CS “Pioneer” from back-in-the-day when there were only about 50,000 members. My couchsurfing.org experience has been “priceless”. With it’s growth to more than a million members…most who don’t see the value of getting their identities, “Verified”, CS has, certainly changed from a small, traveling “community” to a social-network. Those who ‘don’t bother getting verified’ won’t be “bothered-with” by experienced CS members!

        Comment by Dani — March 20, 2013 @ 11:09 pm

        • Agree. I think Enabling verification is NOT enabling a scam.
          I have been verified in other IT related business and it works just fine.
          The fact that having a picture of your face and a copy of an original ID makes it much harder to make a scam. And if so, why should you go all the way to forge IDs for CS?
          If you are NOT able to pay $25US to be certified, and don’t want to be certified, go somewhere else.

          Comment by josekun — March 20, 2013 @ 11:43 pm

        • Did you have blinders on when you read what I wrote? Verification doesn’t verify anything. You can use anyone’s credit card, and the mailing address doesn’t have to match the billing address. I could stay at your house, steal money from you and get a visa gift card, and use your address to be verified. What then?

          Comment by allthatiswrong — January 11, 2014 @ 10:10 pm

  47. I have been zombified by the articulated words of a mad man. By madman I mean holy crap thank you. By that I mean, I wish I could write smart stuff too. By that I mean, by the end of this response to the whole shebang of writings my brain may be to fried to ever go back to Couch Surfing again. By that I mean way to save me from my own stupidity. I almost uploaded a provocative picture of me, a donkey, a ballerina, and a pitcher of dirty martini’s. How embarrassing that would have been to be the companies new ad campaign to promote in Guam. In conclusion I will have to quit my night job of text sex on Couch Surfing due to the fact they may never get deleted and the thought of my precious dirty words out in the world for all eternity bothers me. Not because I am ashamed but could you imagine the trama I would suffer if my own words were used on me in the bedroom during sex? Wow! Good save and thanks again.

    Comment by Andrew — July 17, 2011 @ 1:38 am

  48. As an experienced CS I have to leave a comment that you start with the wrong premiss about CS. It’s not about the furniture, it’s about the people.
    But ultimately, don’t like it? Don’t use it! It’s not for everyone.
    No need to state that someone should bring CS to court…

    Comment by Tiago — July 22, 2011 @ 8:34 am

    • How is it not surprising that someone who thinks their personal view represents all of CouchSurfing also failed to see the reasons CouchSurfing should be held accountable for defrauding people?

      Comment by allthatiswrong — July 24, 2011 @ 3:13 pm

  49. [...] Masama nga ba talagang magtiwala sa kabutihan ng tao? Isa ka na bang matuturing na engot kung ganun talaga ang pananaw mo sa buhay? Table of Contents Introduction Free Accommodation The "CouchSurfing Spirit" and Super-Hippies Problems with CouchSurfing ……..Fraud and illegal behavior ……..The Verification Scam ……..Privacy Concerns ……..References and the lack of a dispute resolution process ……..Censorship Alternatives ……..Hospitality Club ……..GlobalFreeloaders ……..BeWelcome ……..Tripping ……..Crashatmine Conclusion References Introduction Fo … Read More [...]

    Pingback by Ang Kapintasan ng “CouchSurfing” at pag-aaral sa mga alternatibo « Living Out Lod(Rose)! — August 25, 2011 @ 3:48 am

  50. With Couchsurfing now a corporation with $7.6 million in funding from Venture Capitalists (who will want a good return on their investment) now more than ever we need a non-profit ethically run alternative to what couchsurfing has become:
    http://techcrunch.com/2011/08/24/couchsurfing-raises-7-6-m-will-users-cry-sell-out/

    Comment by Apple — August 26, 2011 @ 10:01 am

  51. Besides user data they have nothing to sell.

    Will they sell the software to some corporate intranet? Puhlease! Will they sell it to bewelcome?

    Will they ask freeloaders to pay for the hotel and write a review too?

    Will they expose themselves with the publishing of the user-made travelguides which are partly ripped off some other published guide?

    At the same time they have nicely shelved real and verified addresses with real and verified names (what Google dreams of with their Google+) and real and verified bank accounts. And somehow insurance companies badly want to know if a client engages in extreme sports or anything deemed risky.

    Comment by Siddartha — August 27, 2011 @ 5:17 am

    • You will note that CouchSurfing has not verified anything. They have a list of names without any requirement that they correspond to addresses or billing information for credit cards. What they have is a shitload of money by scamming people who don’t know better, or are too dumb to care.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — August 29, 2011 @ 1:03 am

  52. By helping with the travel guides, by making this community great, and by having your real data into the CS International Inc databases you have raised 7.6 Millions of US Dollars!

    By searching more info on this deal I have stumbled upon this old article about the shortcomings of the CS and the rather weak competition.

    Myself, I am glad Casey has come out of the closet and renounced the lies about the non-profit and data privacy. He is cute with the jacket on and I’m sure the necktie and crew cut will soon follow.

    I would like to congratulate the man with a vision (Casey) and the people who made his dream come alive (the CS volunteers)!

    Well done team!
    Sidd

    Comment by Siddartha — August 27, 2011 @ 5:39 am

    • I’m guessing you didn’t mean to post that here….otherwise why are you linking to the article to which you are replying?

      Comment by allthatiswrong — August 29, 2011 @ 1:02 am

  53. Thanks for the extensive article. I read all of it and feel much more informed now, especially after many people´s expectations came true and CS is now a corporation.

    I think everyone who has spent more than three minutes reading about the verification donation scheme already knows it is a scam. So do I. But I had no idea about how much money they actually made and how they spent it.

    Honestly, I believe that Casey and co had good intentions in the beginning (the road to hell is paved with good intentions…) but unfortunately it seems like they were simply too naive. I expect most people to migrate to the alternative sites.

    I think the key issue will be how CS will manage to make profit to its shareholders. If they simply put Google ads on it, the “consumers” might not mind it that much, but if they start charging for premium membership, most people will quickly migrate to another site. Why would anyone pay for something which is offered for free elsewhere?

    In any case, I expect the investors to push for an even faster increase in users, but CS is not Facebook. In my experience, most mainstream package-holiday people out there still find it strange to let strangers into their houses or sleep at strangers´ homes. A massive expansion of the active user mass might prove difficult, so in my opinion Casey will have a difficult job from now on. Who knows, maybe he just got enough of the partying and now wants a real job…:))

    Otherwise, I have only one point where I disagree with you. A couple of times you say you don´t mind it when a community is run by one person. In my opinion this is a dangerous situation. No one is perfect enough to take so much responsibility. I still haven´t had the chance to use any of the other sites, to be honest, but I seem to sympathise mostly with BeWelcome only because it is open-source and I see this as a guarantee that the platform could never be used to make profit. We only have to see which of CS´s alternatives will get most media attention and positive attitude within the community, but I hope it is the open-source one.

    Comment by tihomirr — August 27, 2011 @ 12:47 pm

    • Hi tihomirr,

      I don’t believe that CS will lose too many users because of the switch to a corporation. Certainly some purists will quit and a number of disappointed volunteers will stop volunteering, but most of the users will not care. Local volunteers such as city ambassadors will continue because organizing weekly meetings and other events is fun – the site is just a tool in it. Volunteer coders are more likely to quit or demand compensation, but that can be fixed with the new investment money. Overall, the corporate structure with both investment money and guidance will help CS to run the site and respond to user wishes and complaints more professionally.

      The verification money stream of CS will dry up so they will need to find something else. Sure, they may still do verification (perhaps a real one this time), but they cannot charge twenty bucks and label it as a donation any more. My guess is that they will sooner or later start some kinds of advertising. People are very used to advertising on other sites (e.g. Facebook) and will tolerate it much better than having to pay for using the site. Advertisements such as “Didn’t find a host? You could book a hostel in the same city through this link” could even be attractive for users who are mixing hospex and other kinds of accommodation on their trips.

      I agree that starting to charge for features offered for free by other sites could easily cause users to migrate away. However, premium membership is not necessarily access to extra features on the site, it could be something else which requires a company and employees (thus more difficult for competing sites to offer for free). Two examples coming to mind are insurance for premium member hosts a la airbnb (monetary compensation in case a guest causes damage), and free phone hotlines helping premium member guests to find alternative accommodation in case their host does not show up. In other words, features which will not make much difference for the hard-core hospex enthusiast but may make the average new member feel safer.

      There are legal risks related to the switch to a corporation. For example some ex volunteers may try to challenge them saying that their work was inappropriately transferred from a non-profit to a for-profit entity. I don’t have enough knowledge to evaluate the legal risks, but if CS successfully avoids them my guess is that they will be successful with the new model.

      Bewelcome will most likely get at least a small boost, but it remains to be seen if that’ll be enough to increase active userbase to a level that the site would start to fly. Most users will not switch to BW (or to any other hospex site) because of idealism, they will only switch if the site will be better and/or the community more active and welcoming.

      Best chance would be if BW and Hospitality Club could finally settle old disagreements and join forces under a new legal non-profit organization. HC still has a large member base. Many of them have been inactive for a couple of years but could become active again if there’s a new, attractive, user friendly site up and they get an email reminder suggesting to log in. There have been a few positive signs lately with HC founder Veit admitting having made mistakes and one of the BW activists Kasper Souren suggesting co-operation. However, old wounds still seem to run deep, as can be seen from the comments in this conversation on opencouchsurfing.

      Whatever happens, I’m sure hospitality exchange lovers will find their place. The alternatives (HC, BW, etc.) are viable enough to accommodate them and carry on with the hospex idea in case CS deviates too much from the original concept.

      Comment by Arto Teräs — August 29, 2011 @ 10:04 am

  54. I’d like to add a comment here pertaining to an issue that wasn’t discussed in enough depth in your argument. The issue of harassment of women. You spoke in general of a “super hippie” world view and I am not sure what that means. What I am sure of, from having talked to hosts and fellow surfers, is that couchsurfing (more so than other hospitality sites) is used a lot for sex – not necessarily because women are coerced into anything, but because hosts and surfers like each other and things happen. So much so that couchsurfing is also called ****surfing etc. I guess it’s fine when there is mutual consent. Where this gets complicated, as someone stated here in the comments, is in developing countries, where host and surfer might not have the same cultural norms, where host and surfer might construe everything differently, where a cser sending a couchrequest might be seen only as a potential customer at the host’s shop or at the host’s brother’s hotel (where a “cheap” room has magically materialized in the lamentable last-minute absence of a free couch), or where a female surfer might be construed as arm candy (someone to take around the village, a conquest to take photos of and show off to the guys) or worse (“loose” and “easy”).

    As a woman who cares about women’s rights, this bothers me immensely – what if a woman comes from a traditional culture where a man wouldn’t dare come on to her, and where interactions that in the west are “innocent” would be perceived as wrong, as invasive? How would she feel about a male host flirting with her, being uncomfortably close to her? Will she be headstrong enough to say no, to leave a negative reference? And what if a host belongs to a traditional culture in which a white woman traveling alone is “fair game”?

    The point is, couchsurfing is not something to do for fun or for kicks, it’s not a game, and the trust aspect of it is hugely important. Unfortunately, the couchsurfing platform as it is today cannot ensure trustworthiness and doesn’t even try – to be honest, the carefree, lighthearted (maybe “hippie”) mentality that’s all over couchsurfing is harmful. Couchsurfing isn’t carefree or lighthearted. It’s a serious thing.

    Comment by student — August 28, 2011 @ 6:51 am

    • Hi and thankyou for your reply.

      The issue of women being harrased in the way you describe is a huge problem and something that we should all take steps to prevent. I wonder though, is there any indication it is happening on a large scale? I am aware such issues tend to be underreported, but I don’t think it is as big an issue on CS. The main reason being that most of the CS population tend to be in big cities or developed countries, where there tends to be less risk. I can’t say that for sure but I would think this is the case, and looking at the demographics of CS would probably support this.

      In the next few days I’m going to publish a very large article on feminism and womens rights, and would appreciate your input on that article as well.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — August 31, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

  55. “Unfortunately, the couchsurfing platform as it is today cannot ensure trustworthiness and doesn’t even try – to be honest, the carefree, lighthearted (maybe “hippie”) mentality that’s all over couchsurfing is harmful. Couchsurfing isn’t carefree or lighthearted. It’s a serious thing.”

    If you treat it that way, the solution is simple – don’t join then ;). CS is a platform, community and – most recently: a corporation. The rest: security, customs, cultural differences – are left to maturity of the CS users. “Caveat emptor”.

    Comment by CS User from 2008 — August 28, 2011 @ 4:00 pm

  56. I recommend Hospitality Club.
    I’ve been a member since 2005 and I do like it very much.
    I’ve also been a member a CS, but it has turned out a corporation :-(

    Comment by Maria Nunes — August 29, 2011 @ 5:14 am

  57. I have met so many amazing people through Couchsurfing and I have only surfed maybe 3 times but I have hosted at least 50 times. I don’t do it because I’m getting anything out of it besides meeting people and being able to show them a different side of my city. I don’t put much info on there so I really couldn’t care what privacy issues there are and so what if they are making some money. The website is there and thats fine.

    I agree with “If you treat it that way, the solution is simple – don’t join then . CS is a platform, community and – most recently: a corporation. The rest: security, customs, cultural differences – are left to maturity of the CS users. “Caveat emptor”.”

    And even if a profile gets deleted.. who cares?? join another site or just don’t do it.. Its not something that means life or death. Get Over It.

    Comment by JMA.. CSer since 2007 — September 10, 2011 @ 12:02 pm

  58. This certainly sounds like a wake-up call! *shakes her head in disbelief* Who would have thought I came across this article while seaching for a Vistor Counter to be used on my CS profile?!? *LOL* I certainly didn’t think about checking up on reviews on a free social platform and when introduced by word of mouth from a friend… *rolled her eyes*

    Now I am getting worried because I am travelling to Tokyo next month and hoping to finally get my first taste of surfing a couch! I joined CS only last November and got active since May 2011 when my tenant moved out (had a spare room now so why not?). So far have hosted about 8 times and pretty much enjoyed it! (^_^) I pretty much relied on the references and their profiles to vat for my CSers, so that is what’s worrying me now.

    A note to mention, I did join the CS meet-ups once (sorta coerced by a friend into it) and a 2nd time when accompanying my CS-ers. As much as I enjoyed hosting and meeting new people, I find these meet-ups or any networking session… pretentious. Perhaps because I am stepping into a “mid-life” crisis *LOL* I didn’t felt very “30ish-friendly” when I was there and basically sick of small talks. Smaller groups of meetup in my opinion or for a certain activity, other than drinking & eating, are much more enjoyable *LOL* It’s like going to a movie for your first date, feel the vibes, if good, you may want to have a coffee/drink afters, otherwise its just like having a company for a movie, that’s all. No hard feelings! (^_^) I also don’t like it when it feels like there’s a cult thing going on (ie: the CS spirit?!)

    However, before reading your article. I have this strange notion that hosting might be safer than surfing *LOL* just because I am at home ground and it is my turf! Anyways, life is about experiencing and keeping my fingers cross, let’s see if anybody will respond to my requests! Will be finding hostels/budget accomodation as backup for sure as always! (^_^)

    By the way, its a good read and I think you are pretty factual about it and not being too biased. It is almost like reading a mail from a concerned brother! Keep on with the writing! (^_^)

    Comment by Maddie Madwolfie — September 17, 2011 @ 1:37 am

  59. Maddie, I haven’t posted here in ages. I think you wrote a very stunning reply. By stunning I mean you get it — balanced, thoughtful — and likely have deduced without saying it that some things some will like, other things others will like. There are inherent dangers in this lifestyle and inherent good times to be had and people to meet. Going forward it is great to know about the potential for negative experiences, better to have back-up plans and evolve with regard to what you like and don’t like as you have each new experience.

    I agree! And, I also agree hosting is better then surfing — just not for everyone. Have an adventurous journey.

    Comment by Michael Ludin — September 19, 2011 @ 8:56 pm

  60. Hi Michael and Maddie,

    Thankyou both for your excellent replies and Michael, sorry I didn’t reply earlier just have been busy.

    CouchSurfing has taken an interesting turn now since it has gone for profit and it will be interesting to see how the community reacts or if indeed any advantages come from it.

    Hopefully BeWelcome will just take over with CouchSurfing and Casey’s fraud being a distant memory.

    Comment by allthatiswrong — September 19, 2011 @ 11:37 pm

  61. I’m a regular CS user, and believe in what they’re trying to do. I am not a “super-hippie,” either. A large portion of why I surf is to save money while traveling. A large portion of why I host is to pay-it-forward and to help other people (the other part being to meet new people and exchange ideas).

    I think your right on some of your critiques, but it seems you are focusing on almost entirely the negative. Sure the system isn’t perfect, and yes, you admit that in short disclaimers that it does okay, but 98% of your article seems to just bash CS.

    I have problems with this for a number of reasons. People who may read your article looking for information on CS may be turned away. I think that people are already so scared to jump into something like CS, that as someone who has used such a system, you should realize this.

    I’ve had over 50 surfing/hosting experiences on CS, and I cannot say enough about it. There have been a few neutral (no bad by any stretch of the imagination) experiences, and yes they were ones where I just didn’t add them as a friend or leave a reference. But just because I didn’t get along with them, doesn’t mean other people won’t. I also don’t think this means the reference system is broken. I think you can find out much more about what’s written about a person than from what he has written in his profile.

    As for the verification system, it IS a misnomer. However, even as I realized this, I gladly forked over a bit of cash after I got home, got another job, and made a little more money- AS A DONATION. I think they made it pretty clear that it is a form of donation apart from being purely a “verification.” I’ve saved an enormous amount of money from the site, met incredible people (most are insta-friends, and some of them will be lifelong friends), and believe that the end result of the site is GOOD. I think people should be encouraged to open their doors to others, whatever their reasons may be. Its shortcomings are minor.

    I am not a hopeless optimist, either. In fact, I think pretty negatively about many things in the world: our government, education system, where our culture is heading, our economy. Nor do I think I merely gloss over CS’s shortcomings. However, overall, CS is one of the good things in this world. I suppose I couldn’t have expected much else from a blog detailing everything that is wrong in this world.

    Comment by Alan — October 1, 2011 @ 10:05 pm

    • Hi Alan,

      I think it is important to separate CS the organization and CS the community/experience. Probably 90% of my CS experiences have been positive, yet this does not excuse the organization. The organization provided the means for people to have good experiences are apart from that are not can not take credit for the good experiences that people get out of it. Yet, they constantly defraud and mislead people, abuse their power and fail to act responsible as people in charge of such a huge organization. So yes, this is an attack on CS the organization and one that I feel is justified. This post is to raise awareness and ideally not have CS shut down, but have the people at the top replaced with people who actually care.

      Something unlikely to happen now that they have gone corporate.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — October 2, 2011 @ 9:33 pm

      • I think that CS going corporate is actually a good thing. It’s better to be a corporation than claim to be a charity. Now that the status is clear, I believe the management of the organization might actually improve even if exactly same people will be involved in it. It also creates a healthy diversity in the hospex scene: other competing sites now appear more clearly as alternatives for people who prefer to use non-profit based services. More in my blog:

        http://ajt.iki.fi/blog/main/2011/09/06/couchsurfing-corporation

        Comment by Arto Teräs — October 5, 2011 @ 3:41 am

  62. [...] There are many other “hospitality” websites, but CouchSurfing is by far the most widely used and well-known. The other popular ones are Hospitality Club, Global Freeloaders, Be Welcome, and Stay4Free. There are several controversies between these accommodation exchange sites, and particularly about CouchSurfing and its management. You can read more about this here. [...]

    Pingback by Surf’s Up: Are you down with CouchSurfing? « paradingpangea — October 2, 2011 @ 9:08 am

  63. I was in CS for one year and, probably in that I live in Rome and for the content I had in the profile, I had over 200 guests and perhaps three times as much requests. The problem I found absolutely not addressed in CS is the guests’ reliability. By that Imean the hosts of people that spam tens of people in their desired destination to later choose the best offer often not even informing the discarded hosts. This all translates in handling each day practically all the guests coming to Rome perhaps to host just a few. The problem is of course that it is not easy to accept the actual people that are about to materialise! I tried all sorts of devices to make up for this problem: from accepting everyone and so having 10 complaining people in my small home, to requesting some pocket mobey in advance to reimburse me for the time I spent for the reservation. Still some people complained and CS forced me to choose whether do it freely (without of course giving me any alternative suggestion) or be expelled for the good. Now I read CS is going commercial…

    Comment by Fabrizio Bartolomucci — October 2, 2011 @ 10:13 am

  64. I’m a regular CS user, and believe in what they’re trying to do. I am not a “super-hippie,” either. A large portion of why I surf is to save money while traveling. A large portion of why I host is to pay-it-forward and to help other people (the other part being to meet new people and exchange ideas).

    You’re a liar too. Below you say you have donated. Most users haven’t. Also, as CS terminology used to be verified user and now they keep the cute little badge of pioneer or something. I personally find this mercantile aproach disgusting. It used to be about breaking from the cold embrace of the so–called hospitality industry. All I read lately is about rich brats making schemes how to save some of their pocket money. Sure, I can bet, you’re petty enough to think about all the stuff people on TV have and you don’t and never think about the 2 billions not sure about their next meal.

    So it should not be about paying forward. It should have been about being human. It should not be about you getting to have your planned trip AND a new iPad or whatever other gadget tickles your fancy. But it is.

    In short, your kind has won the site. What I don’t get is why should you control everything else too?

    I think your right on some of your critiques, but it seems you are focusing on almost entirely the negative. Sure the system isn’t perfect, and yes, you admit that in short disclaimers that it does okay, but 98% of your article seems to just bash CS.

    Actually, it is entirely negative. Or it’s as good as MacDonalds, in the sense it is a good expression of free enterprise and nothing more. CS Inc. does pull forward at the time (2011) because of all this Web 2.0 concept, meaning there are enough people to find some sort of profit on the side of the main business. But, again, a Metallica concert where they let you sell your own merchandise at the entrance doesn’t make Metallica any more angelic than they are, isn’t it?

    I have problems with this for a number of reasons. People who may read your article looking for information on CS may be turned away. I think that people are already so scared to jump into something like CS, that as someone who has used such a system, you should realize this.

    So you feel that your enterprise might get less customers. You should take this to Casey as he’s in charge with the marketing.

    From another angle: in the site is all good marketing making people enrol without understanding that they are giving their personal data to a company they do not know and probably do not trust. This is another point of view. A wise buyer should make his own decisions.

    I’ve had over 50 surfing/hosting experiences on CS, and I cannot say enough about it. There have been a few neutral (no bad by any stretch of the imagination) experiences, and yes they were ones where I just didn’t add them as a friend or leave a reference. But just because I didn’t get along with them, doesn’t mean other people won’t. I also don’t think this means the reference system is broken. I think you can find out much more about what’s written about a person than from what he has written in his profile.

    Brainwashing all the way. What’s a neutral encounter? Neutral was the word safe enough to make it in the rating. So you don’t have a bad experience with the site. It’s a negative. And it’s not a good experience. As well as there isn’t an exceptional experience. It’s a positive. When people start talking in company talk makes me feel a cold hand on my back.

    As for the verification system, it IS a misnomer. However, even as I realized this, I gladly forked over a bit of cash after I got home, got another job, and made a little more money- AS A DONATION. I think they made it pretty clear that it is a form of donation apart from being purely a “verification.” I’ve saved an enormous amount of money from the site, met incredible people (most are insta-friends, and some of them will be lifelong friends), and believe that the end result of the site is GOOD. I think people should be encouraged to open their doors to others, whatever their reasons may be. Its shortcomings are minor.

    Again. This is true for you. And this is true for the majority of the CSers as it seems. But not everybody is a chartered accountant. There still are people out there looking for the experience, or the thrills, or anything but the money. I see your point. You are an ebay scamer, only that this site does not take a cut out of your profit. So you felt it would be a nice thing to give them something. You are right. This article is about the people who aren’t like you.

    I am not a hopeless optimist, either. In fact, I think pretty negatively about many things in the world: our government, education system, where our culture is heading, our economy. Nor do I think I merely gloss over CS’s shortcomings. However, overall, CS is one of the good things in this world. I suppose I couldn’t have expected much else from a blog detailing everything that is wrong in this world.

    An optimist would estimate that everything is pink. You are a realist: you have seen all the money you saved to have some myspace/facebook page filled with your pictures from all that travel you could not have afforded. As for the things you put there on your list they are all yours. Because the government, education, culture and economy are the product of greedy little people acting on profit. John Nash’s wet dream come true.

    Comment by John Smith the Sailor — October 3, 2011 @ 9:00 am

    • First off, I meant “regular” as in “often,” not in the meaning of “normal.” You should probably try and understand what people are saying before you go around calling people liars. I realize I’m in the minority of people who have given to the organization.

      Brainwashing, please… I use the word neutral because it is an apt description. That it happens to be used on the site doesn’t mean I’m brainwashed. The neutral encounters (2 out of 50+) were NOT bad. I just didn’t connect with the people. They were both nice and friendly encounters, nothing to complain about. But would they be my best friend? Probably not. Both of them had great experiences couchsurfing elsewhere. Why shouldn’t they continue to have more?

      “Sure, I can bet, you’re petty enough to think about all the stuff people on TV have and you don’t and never think about the 2 billions not sure about their next meal.”

      This, along with other comments you have made, are ridiculous. Get off your high horse. You don’t know me nor have any idea about the way I live my life. It’s easy to make unwarranted assumptions about others when you have the internet to hide behind. I could say much more, but it’s not worth the time.

      Comment by Alan — October 6, 2011 @ 12:02 am

    • Wow, you have a serious problem with name-labeling. Your opinion may have weight, but classifying someone entirely off of small paragraphs they wrote in response to a detailed criticism is extremely lame.

      Comment by myanmarflow — January 13, 2013 @ 10:00 am

  65. [...] to at times as hospex. After more in-depth thought and review of a very comprehensive blog: http://allthatiswrong.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/a-criticism-of-couchsurfing-and-review-of-alternative…, I am a bit torn with this [...]

    Pingback by Would you ever seek or share free accomodations? | The Travelers Connection — October 12, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

  66. Your a rambling, jaded IDIOT !!

    You have had great experiences with c
    CS, then turn around & stab us.

    Fuck-you,
    Dylan *_*

    Ps; Your beef is with Casey & I personally thank him for his insight & brilliance. Nobody is perfect, and you are at the bottom of that pile

    Comment by Dylan — October 13, 2011 @ 3:34 pm

    • I had a great experience because of the community, despite the administration who defrauded that same community and abused their position.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — October 16, 2011 @ 5:37 pm

  67. Dylan seems to be the righter of wrongs of CS, anywhere you talk about CS he is here to defend it, like a fly on a warm turd, people need person like you, we all need Zorro, but u won t put out of my brain that you ve crooked people with ur verified and donations . U ve made a lot of cash on the digital hippies. And still people continue to support that same old song, a bit like Windows, nobody likes it but everybody has it.

    Comment by Ours — October 28, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

  68. As a long time user of hospitality sites like couchsurfing, I must say: I feel immeasurably stupider for having spent the time reading this article. Can I have those 30 minutes of my life back please?

    Comment by Bob Joe — November 14, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

  69. Try Mingle Trips – http://www.mingletrips.com.
    It doesnt have all the “stay at our place” thing – just meet interesting people while traveling.

    Comment by travelleray — November 27, 2011 @ 2:07 pm

  70. I think you are a bit over-critical. Sure couchsurfing has faults – it’s made up of human beings, some of whom may be hypocrtical at times as they can be in all walks of life. But personally I find couchsurfing has more + points than negatives. And I don’t deny that getting somewhere free to stay is one of the major plus points, but it is also a lot more than that. Otherwise I wouldn’t bother to host people, to organise events, to meet up with people for coffee etc. etc. I also know a lot of people who use it for the social side rather than hosting or surfing. The main advantage for me is that it has enabled me to visit places that where it would have been very difficult or even impossible without a host, and to meet locals rather than a just travellers in a hostel. I am not hard up and could afford to stay in hotels but I prefer to stay with people – it makes it much more of an adventure, especially if you have time to share with your host and see a different side of the place you are visiting. Sometimes, it has actually cost me more to stay with couchsurfers – e.g. in India where hostels were so cheap anyway – and I had to pay more for transport to get to the Csers place. But generally it made it a better experience. I also enjoy being able to give something back by sharing what I have with others. This is what I think people mean when they talk about the ‘couchsurfing spirit’ and I think you are wrong to be overly cynical about this.

    I can’t comment on alleged abuses of the referencing system. As far as I know you cannot get a reference deleted unless you can show the reference is in breach of the guidelines – e.g. it is abusive or irrelevant. I know the referencing system is not perfect and it is unusual that people ever give negatives. However, if you take the time to actually read what people have written you can get the general idea, so I think on balance it is definitely useful.

    At the end of the day, couchsurfing is a tool and you get out of it and give into it what you want. If you think some people are fake etc etc. that is your perception, but it is certainly not been my experience for the most part. I have met some of the most genuine and amazing people through couchsurfing – and not all hippies! You don’t have to subscribe to any mantra or be any particular type of person to be a couchsurfer – and if you don’t enjoy being a part of it you don’t need to be. Simple!

    Comment by Laura — December 5, 2011 @ 11:50 am

  71. Guess you don’t have the Couchsurfing Spirit. Where would you expect donations to go, other than administrative costs. I’ve had great experiences with Couchsurfing, but certainly it’s not for everybody, and you need to exercise some care. To me the beauty of Couchsurfing is that you can make it whatever you want it to be. If you only want to host same sex surfers I respect your right to do that. Everyone is free to choose who they want to request a couch from, and who they want to accept as surfers. Sure, you can find problems with any organization operating on this scale, but to me your article seems petty, vindictive and jealous.

    Comment by Dick Schroth — December 15, 2011 @ 10:11 am

  72. I would say that the Host Then Profit is a legitimate opportunity and I would not have a problem with anyone joining as far as it being legit, and with what they offer.

    Comment by Host Then Profits — December 19, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

  73. nice blog , congratulations

    Comment by Wil Righter — January 19, 2012 @ 1:24 am

  74. Thank you for this wonderful text! It pointed on many things I was unhappy with! Good Luck!

    Comment by Jens — February 6, 2012 @ 5:12 pm

  75. Een formidabele delen, I simpelweg gaven deze op een collega die aan het doen was een beetje evaluatie op dit punt. En hij in feite gekocht ik het ontbijt omdat ontdekte ik het voor hem .. glimlach. Dus laat me herformuleren dat: Thnx voor de te gaan met! Maar ja Thnkx voor de besteding van de tijd te debatteren dit, ik voel echt het gevoel sterk over en de liefde studeren meer over dit onderwerp. Als mogelijk , zoals u worden deskundigheid , zou je denken gedachten het bijwerken van uw blog met extra gegevens? Het is zeer nuttig voor mij. Grote duim omhoog voor deze blog zetten!

    Comment by letselschade advocaten — February 9, 2012 @ 7:55 am

  76. Thanks – really interesting, and the length, detail and updating show your commitment and concern. The fact that you’re still getting comments after over two years speaks for itself (and most ARE positive, even if the negative scream more loudly!). I just registered with CS a few days ago, not having even heard of any of the alternatives, and blissfully unaware of any controversy, earlier or more recent. Expecting my first surfers shortly, and looking forward to it…

    I Just want to add my pennyworth from a particular “minority” perspective. At 55, I know instinctively that a lot of younger surfers – and hosts in particular – will be wary of such a dinosaur (well, when a stranger, anyway. My children’s friends/friend’s children find me fine as host and guest :) ) So, out of curiosity, I skimmed a large selection of profiles of the – relatively few – more mature members. (This was after reading your post.) Before that, I would have gauged your “super-hippy” points a little harsh, especially as I’m a bit of an old hippy myself. However, I was alarmed to see exactly what you mean quite prevalent, at least among the older age-group. Unlike with younger members, the spirit thing sounds almost oppressive here. Like a desire to devour anyone encountered. Maybe some of them have nothing else to do.

    Before everyone jumps on me – don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of hosting – I’d bend over backwards to make people feel welcome – of surfing and of socialising to a certain greater or lesser degree, depending on how the flow goes, as you yourself have suggested.

    However, one can have too much of a good thing. I would always respect people’s need for a bit of space as well as interaction. I get the impression that too many of the mature members sound threateningly smothering. I so, so hope that experience will prove me wrong. And maybe, the oldies aren’t dismissed out-of-hand by younger members, either. But just in case, if you or your followers can give a recommendation for a site more friendly to normal, non-obsessive, mature hospitality exchangers, please do let me know!

    All the best, you sound like a really engaged kind of person (ha-ha, that sound like a bit of a mantra – but I mean it, really!) I love a critical mind – “critical” NOT necessarily meaning “negative”, as some of your “critics” seem to assume

    Comment by Old Hippy — February 23, 2012 @ 12:18 am

  77. hey wake up ! nothing wrong with sex while couchsurfing . you want to travel and enjoy . so go ahead ! have fun in bed …

    Comment by Armia — February 29, 2012 @ 6:39 am

  78. This is the best website for anyone who desires to find out about this topic. You notice so much its nearly onerous to argue with you (not that I truly would want…HaHa). You undoubtedly put a brand new spin on a subject thats been wrote about for ages. Nice stuff, simply nice!

    Comment by Scottie Gouker — March 24, 2012 @ 3:33 am

  79. Its probably a good blog post – I just can’t stand reading lots of stuff on a computer. I just hope its not a smear campaign to advertise related websites.

    Comment by backgroundchecksusa — March 29, 2012 @ 6:33 pm

  80. I had never gone couch surfing or heard of CouchSurfing but after reading your article and seeing the Investing Ed review of it the other day (http://investinged.com/All/86.php) I am going to be sure to check it out now.

    Comment by Richard Johnson — April 10, 2012 @ 6:58 pm

  81. On the surface, I tend to agree with you — the free couch aspect is masqueraded behind layers of make-up. This probably stems from a western taboo about money, but lest we dwell on it, let’s just say it’s somewhat annoying. That’s why I openly say on my profile that I welcome copy-paste messages.

    But wait, is your beef with the “Couchsurfing spirit” (whatever that may be) or with Couchsurfing International Inc.? Cause gradually you start discussing CS politics, and I wonder if this is your way to vent about specific people and your personal disagreements with them?

    Comment by Ilya — April 15, 2012 @ 7:22 am

  82. I have to be honest. I stopped reading after this sentence “One of the most disconcerting things about CouchSurfing is the pressure to hang out with people when you would not otherwise want to do so.”

    If I didn’t want to hang out & get to know the person, why the hell would I want to be in his home?? That sounds like the most selfish attitude possible.

    Comment by Roy Marvelous — April 26, 2012 @ 4:11 pm

    • I do thoroughly agree with this, but I also believe your opinions have a lot of weight to them when concerning the administration.

      Comment by myanmarflow — January 13, 2013 @ 10:03 am

  83. To me, CS is just a tool to meet and stay with people. I’ve always frowned upon the “CS Spirit”, which turns certain gullible members into religious fanatics of CS. Internet is cool but would you rave and rave and rave about it ALL THE TIME? All this CS meetings and gatherings are so pointless. The fact that we are couchsurfers does NOT mean we would automatically get along, and there are many kinds of couchsurfers out there. Personally I avoid thee CS hippies/meetings at all costs, because they add nothing to my human experience. I much prefer spending quality time with my host or some other member over a meal/drink.

    Comment by tess — May 16, 2012 @ 3:45 am

  84. I agree with the comments saying criticism is a bit too harsh. For me CS is mainly a fascinating internet phenomenon – it’s actually a very simple idea that was made possible by the development of world wide web. Another interesting aspect is the commercial couchsurfing offered by sites like airbnb.com. Again, there is a lot of criticism here, but I think it’s exaggerated. It’s the natural development of a certain idea. Next steps in this development could be a more national focus like this site in my country http://wyrkostop.pl, founded by a friend of mine and a long-time couchsurfer. Personally, I would welcome more ‘thematically focused’ couchsurfing type sites (paid, or free), e.g. one for soccer fans, or rock fans – I’m travelling sometimes to big events and it’s always difficult to find a place to stay (expensive, that is).

    Comment by Ala — June 12, 2012 @ 4:43 am

  85. How can you not like CS? Oh well, to each his own.

    Comment by Johan Karlsson — June 23, 2012 @ 3:57 am

  86. Wow. You are bitter and obsessed. I am truly sorry that you have seemingly dedicated so much time to this. How can you advocate opening your home to someone you know nothing about over hosting someone with similar interests? I wouldn’t ever deny someone based on their profile, but I’m veryhappy that I know what to expect.

    Comment by Steve Elliott (@BLZebubba) — June 30, 2012 @ 10:22 pm

    • It’s the not sharing your home with people with dissimilar interest I don’t understand. Why only host people who think like you do? It just seems odd to me.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — December 11, 2012 @ 5:15 am

  87. here is an article I translated from a french news site; because i couldn’t see this info in the “couchsurfers carebears news” of CS:
    http://secretfatty.net/An_engineer_from_Marseilles_found_his_prey_using_the_Couchsurfing_website

    Comment by franck — August 13, 2012 @ 8:35 am

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  89. [...] For a detailed understanding of this issue, please refer to http://www.opencouchsurfing.org/ and http://allthatiswrong.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/a- criticism-of-couchsurfing-and-review- of-alternati… . It is to mention here that BeWelcome (a newer and more promising hospitality website) was [...]

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    Pingback by The “Couchsurfing-Spirit” « laclaro — September 7, 2012 @ 8:22 am

  91. I have just registred and because of the verification they wanted me to give my gredit card info so I gave them this info, I thought why not, I knew the page said that it is not paid so I did not know that they will charge me 18 dollar as ” secure payment” or what is it called.. I think it is just another name for donation or for registration payment, how else would they get money if not this way… Does someone know something more about BeWelcome or Hospitality club or any other similar website ? Thank you for the info :)

    Comment by Katka Cvachova — September 14, 2012 @ 7:18 am

    • Hospitality Club (HC) is FREE; I have been both in CS and in HC; I am on HC since 2005 and I am very happy with HC.
      Hope you will also join :-)

      Comment by Maria Nunes — September 14, 2012 @ 8:41 am

  92. This seems like a lot of bitching and griping to me. So Couchsurfing is not perfect….so what? To date I haven’t run into anything in life that is perfect. Why should this be an exception? You have an issue with a $25 donation to Couchsurfing? Don’t make a donation then! There is no advertising on the site as far as I can see, so somebody has to keep it running. If it isn’t the users, then who should it be? You don`t want to spend time with the people who give you a free place to crash? Then rent a place you cheap cunt.

    Comment by Howard Sharp — October 4, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

    • It’s more than that. I have a problem with CS misleading and defrauding people by promising to make them safe. Maybe if you had managed to comprehend the article, you wouldn’t need to resort to insults.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — December 11, 2012 @ 5:08 am

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    Comment by Penny — November 3, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

  94. Hi! I´m from Sevilla (Spain) and I have travelled with Couchsurfing 6 times. At the begining I was very happy with the system, but then I realize they must look after the profiles, because I have found a lot of people with false profiles or houses that were not like the description. Now I´m still using couch surfing but fewer. I have discovered The Hometrotters thanks for a friend. I have not used the page yet (I will use it the next weekend on a trip to Valencia ) but I think that it´s like couch surfing . I hope It could be an alternative. I will write my experience when it have finished. Thanks!!

    Comment by Juanjo — November 12, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

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    Comment by Damion — December 10, 2012 @ 2:24 am

  97. Hey,
    First off: I agree that CS should be more transparent, that Casey should be more upfront with his choices, and that the verification system certainly doesn’t do what it claims to do. On the social side, I don’t like super hippies, and I don’t like the mantra.

    Second, after reading your response to other negative comments, I understand that you are not trying to warn people off CS, nor that you dislike CS.

    But — and I know this is just my experience and opinion (and obvious) — the points you’ve raised haven’t affected me, and some of them seem to be more a matter of taste than of principle, tastes that I perhaps don’t share with you.

    I’m repeating what various others have said, so I haven’t gone into great detail below: I don’t think the internet is the place for an argument. I just would like people to see that the topics raised in your article and the comments below might not impact negatively on someone’s experience of CS…

    Community/Profiles
    For example, I prefer it when people read my profile, and I always read other people’s profiles carefully: it’s the only way of ensuring that you don’t stay with someone you don’t want to stay with. I would not like to be a part of a mass mailing system, although I would agree to an opt-in system (more choice is almost always a good thing).

    Money
    I think that regardless of where the money goes, the $25 is worth it. I think that many charities have huge admin costs, and pay their CEOs huge salaries — I’m fine with that (so I don’t donate to charities which have huge admin costs). I don’t think the verification thing makes CS safe, but that it does make it safer. The only way to be sure is through the comments/references of a person. I have high standards of safety, so that’s what I go for.

    Super hippies
    And I’ve never met, stayed with or hosted a super hippy on CS. They annoy the hell out of me. I think that this shows that you can use CS and get from it the experience you want to get from it. Finally, I don’t believe in, don’t agree with and don’t care about the *mantra*, so I’ve never used it. I seriously don’t think that has affected my CS experience!

    In General
    As a journalist, a filmmaker, and an author who’s writing a politically motivated satire about the free market, I think my personal credentials, schooling and interests allow me to have a critical eye (my brother would disagree). So, I think my views may be shared by many others on CS. And as long as people are educated about CS — perhaps they’ve read your article, or some of the other press around CS — there’s no problem. That’s why I love what you’ve written! Thanks.

    Comment by The Busking ProjectNick — December 13, 2012 @ 7:03 am

    • “I prefer it when people read my profile”

      Why do so many people want me to read their profiles carefully?

      Say I decide to send you a couch request and I have not read every single word on your profile. However, after viewing a few photos, reading a few sentences of your description and seeing that you have 100 positive references and none negative, I have decided that you are an interesting and cool person (and safe enough). How would it affect your safety that I did not read the whole list of films and books you like or I did not include that code word? It is your own responsibility (or decision) to read my profile carefully if you want to host me. After all the final decision is with the host. Then it is my responsibility to ensure that my hosts are safe/interesting/cool (… you name it) enough. But my decision should affect yours in any way.

      Everyone on CS claim to be “open-minded and easy-going”, yet it sometimes seems like some people just want their ego fed in exchange for a couch or floor space.

      Comment by tihomirr — December 13, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

      • Tihomirr, I understand where you’re coming from, and I’m sure I’d have fun hosting you.

        However, my desire to have people read my full profile has nothing to do with safety or ego.

        My profile states that I don’t want to be a tour guide, that I won’t host people without references, that I won’t host people for less than three nights, and that if you want to stay with me on week days, I won’t be able to party late into the night. And yet I’ve had couch requests from teenagers without references asking me to host them for one night on a week day, where they want to see the town and go clubbing.

        You could say that that’s me not being open minded. But I’ll give you a list of things I’m not open-minded about: racism, sexism, homophobia, violence, wilful ignorance, extremism of any type, and a lack of attention to irony. Another thing would be the lack of courtesy in asking to stay with me without bothering to read the profile I wrote for you.

        It’s not your responsibility to ensure that I’m cool. It’s our responsibility to ensure that each other s cool. Your disregard for what I’ve written shows something about you that I wouldn’t want to host.

        That’s just my opinion. But that’s why I care.

        x

        Comment by The Busking ProjectNick — December 13, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

  98. I can understand your motivation for writing this article. While I haven’t had the same issues as you, I knew some of these issues existed and most of them didn’t bother me enough to leave. However, with all the new changes happening to CS and the staff’s blatant disregard for the users and CS community, this article kind of gave me some background on the issues and with my own research have figured out my own stance on these “great new changes” that Tony and Sam have in store. Despite all the trolls and general a**holes on here, I’d like to thank you for writing this.

    Comment by torie — December 16, 2012 @ 5:55 am

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  100. So called people who talk about “couch surfing” spirit also think that couchsurfing should happen only outside countries.

    Meaning, no couch request within your country/province.. and I was like WTF?

    I once happened to ask some people if they’d be interested to crash on my couch and let me crash on theirs during alternate weekends (although we’re from same city)
    and may be learn/teach each other, exchange ideas (since I’m into startups .. and you may be into something that I can learn.. or may be I show you my game and see if I can get feedback etc)

    And the response I got was .. in exact words (pasting from the message):

    “Couch surfing is not a social network to be used to find friends in your own country/city. This is a portal which makes people to travel to different destinations.
    If you want to just ‘get away from home during weekends’ then do that but don’t spoil couch surfing spirit in this way.”

    I was like WTF! .. who said anything about finding “friends” ….. people just “assume” that people are dying to be friends with them?
    Don’t “spoil” couchsurfing spirit this way? FTW.

    Anyway, I wrote back a polite reply .. (to which the person never replied.. and I consider that rude)

    Here’s my reply —

    Heya,

    I think I gave you the wrong idea here.
    Since I’m just starting off on couchsurfing (although my friends in other countries are very regular couch surfers), I was looking on to meet fellow couchsurfers in the city inperson and strike conversations on culture, food of different places they’ve visited etc.,

    That way I make a list of places to go and then I start travelling somewhere mid for this year. (Held up by some work till then)

    Anyway, I’m sorry if I gave you a wrong impression and thanks for responding.


    And since then, I make sure whenever anyone says “couchsurfing spirit” .. I keep away from them :)

    Comment by krish — December 31, 2012 @ 7:45 am

  101. One os the most great alternatives is http://www.thehometrotters.com It´s like Couchsurfing but more serious and flexible

    Comment by davidde — January 5, 2013 @ 8:03 pm

  102. This is so true. Couchsurfing is a great concept that is being handled WRONG.
    There has being amazing problems with it because their policies are bad, their follow-up is dumb and so the administration.

    I hop someone will come-up with a good alternative.

    Comment by Jose Kun — January 7, 2013 @ 7:34 am

  103. Hi
    Just wanted to say that your article is great and has answered a lot of questions that I had about CS.

    Comment by nomade — February 1, 2013 @ 6:27 am

  104. {

    Comment by homepage — February 3, 2013 @ 12:03 am

  105. Your point being exactly about…? TL;DR.

    Comment by caio1982 — February 6, 2013 @ 7:35 am

  106. Cor blimey! What a mouthful. A friend of mine is concerned about me Couch Surfing through Europe so he forwarded this article to me. Verification leaves a sour taste in my mouth – By law (in my country) any “non-profit organisation” has to have its books open to the public allowing transparency. Also, the only common blurb that bothers me is the term “open-mindedness”. This is EXTREMELY common on profiles. Alarm bells start pealing. Just how far does this “open-mindedness” stretch?? mmmmmmmm ………. Other than that, my 3 other travellers will trust the “C/S” spirit in October. (oops, I just couldn’t resist that!).

    Comment by Sonja — February 12, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

  107. I wanted to thank you for this good read!! I certainly loved every bit of it. I have got you bookmarked to check out new things you post…

    Comment by iliving app — February 19, 2013 @ 3:36 am

  108. Reblogged this on kelbeid29 and commented:
    I feel like an idiot. Grrr. Hope to get back to normal soon and forget I feel for the biggest scam in history. On the west coast and broke with a dog still!!! Girrrrrr.

    Comment by Kimberly Elbeid — February 21, 2013 @ 5:44 pm

  109. This was really a very interesting article.
    It also changed my way of seeing CS, but I must confess, that I will still use it as I have done before… But I also try to dissociate myself from this “read my profile first – have your own fully filled”. This is something about orientation on CS. Your are reading other profiles of people that have hosted already a lot of CSer. And then you think that you have to write the same phrases so that somebody can trust you and send a couchrequest… I also see those endless discussions how a emergency couch request should look like… now I see more clearly how stupid this is. so in this case you have opened my horizon and I really thank you for that.

    Comment by Katze — March 8, 2013 @ 5:17 am

  110. Great article. Touched on a few points that I wholeheartedly agree with – the fallacy of “open-minded” people, and how people tend to ignore the elephant in the room regarding free accomodation being the primary purpose of the site. I wish there was a different service available for people willing to exchange accomodation for services (like helpx or WOOFFing), but with a more developed profile page like these services have. That would be great.

    Comment by edwardrobe — March 28, 2013 @ 6:06 am

  111. Hi Anon,

    I just stumbled upon this post and while I appreciate it was written back in 2010, I believe a lot of the points you made are still relevant, if not exacerbated by the recent privatisation of Couchsurfing and the subsequent changes they are marking.

    My name is Krissa Curran and I am the CEO and Founder of a new travel marketplace and social network called “Friends of Friends Travel” – affectionately called “FOF Travel” for short. I’ve been reading through your articles and reviews on Couchsurfing’s rise and fall, and the nostalgia that is very much evident in you and the “old school” Couchsurfing community.

    http://www.foftravel.com

    Funnily enough, I decided to set up FOF Travel with one of my bestest friends, and one of my dad’s oldest friends, to address one of the reasons why I never got into the whole “Couchsurfing thing”. Mainly that the quickest way to access free, safe and cheerful travel opportunities has always been, first and foremost, through existing friends, family and friends of friends (hence the name!).

    Secondly, every traveller knows that free accommodation isn’t the only thing people need help with (though it’s certainly a biggie!). What about just a safe place to leave their stuff? Travel tips and advice? A chance to make new friends and reconnect with old ones? – Those are the other services we enable our members to offer each other for free.

    We also have partnerships with some of the best travel and lifestyle brands like STA Travel, Hostelworld.com, Rough Guides, World Nomads, etc to give our Premium Club Members access to exclusive travel deals to try and make the whole travel process as cheap and safe as possible. We’re essentially a freemium service so there’s a FOF Travel experience for everyone. That way you can rest assured you can always use the site for free, and have the option of upgrading your account if you want to unlock extra features or make the most of our travel deals.

    Most importantly, both DJ and myself are avid travellers and Third Culture Kids (TCKs). We’ve grown up all over the world. And while helping people exchange basic travel necessities like Roofs, Lockers, Coffees and Guides form part of our basic offering, they are a means to an end. Because what we’re actually trying to do, first and foremost, is allow people to “Travel the world, one friend at a time.” In other words, the first problem we wanted to solve was how to bridge the gap between “Opportunity Givers” (people with a vast, international network of friendly, philanthropic and trustworthy people) and “Opportunity Seekers” (people who want to travel more and open their horizons without breaking the bank).

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, and whether you think FOF Travel could be a new home – or at least a second home – to traditional Couchsurfers like yourself and everyone else reading these posts.

    Feel free to email me using the contact details on our site/attached to this comment.

    Meanwhile here’s a link to our site and Facebook page:

    http://www.foftravel.com
    https://www.facebook.com/foftravel

    All the best,

    - Krissa :)

    Comment by Krissa Curran — May 21, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

  112. I wasn’t totally sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I can see where you’re coming from- yes, there are some bad people out there. I’ve been a member of CouchSurfing for a little over a year now. I’ve never surfed myself, but have hosted a number of different people from different countries. As of yet, I have not had a single bad experience. All the surfers have been lovely people, and I don’t feel like I’ve been taken advantage of simply for free accommodation. We just ask that the surfers cook us a meal or something, and so far all have been more than happy to do so. When I receive a request, I do read the profile thoroughly to get a general vibe of what the person is like. I’m also more likely to take more notice of a personal request than a generic ‘ask everyone’ request.

    From what I can tell, as long as the users of Couchsurfing are sensible in their decisions on where to surf or whether or not to host, there should be few problems.

    Comment by Vanessa — May 23, 2013 @ 6:50 am

  113. Very interesting and I enjoyed reading this. I loved the “super-hippie” as I find lots and lots of CS’ers to be that. I try to share CS with my older friends — many of whom seem terrified of even the idea of it. That just cracks me up and I try to explain it to them. I would love to see many more older people join. I have loved my experiences with CS, and made lots of great friends. Since we are older (63 and 67) I wonder how many times if we have denied due to our age. We have had a blast with everyone we have stayed with. I can’t imagine hosts who would feel that you had to do what they wanted you to do and luckily we have not run into that. It is funny too when traveling to see some groups that are very active and some do nothing. I have enjoyed CS for what it is to me, but will look into some other groups you have mentioned. We are lucky and do not “need” to CS, but occasionally like do to make new friends. Thanks for your thoughtful article.

    Comment by Gena Cameron — June 1, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

  114. A little more on the subject?
    What the author wrote is quite false.
    Makes no sense at all.
    Cs WAS, really, an honest website for at the same time interchange of help between travelers, and a way to know other people (not a dating site).
    People were NOT “forced” to fill their profile and it is so f…ing arrogant to say that. You do NOT have to use CS if you do not like it, so stop saying “forced”.
    People were invited, because in CS people liked to be able to know something of the personality of who they were gonna decide if to host or not.
    In a site as CS, people could decide if to accept people with empty profiles and host whoever, even those who clearly want to just save money and do not give a s..t about knowing new people and living the REALLY pleasant experience of being host at home of somebody instead than going to a hostel. Or to reject them and accept only those who they find interesting.
    Which is legitimate, Actually right.
    CS put together the two things.
    Unfortunately, CS is not a corrupted website sold to a for profit organization which makes use of its fame (its0 of CS) to make not a better world as they say (which is actually their name) but a better wallet for themselves.
    You find now there dozens and dozens of groups for singles, commercial spams, and ANY incredible amount of groups to discuss of any possible idiot topic.
    It is the worst social network ever seen on this planet.
    No form, no personality.
    No dignity.
    Personally, I would never host somebody who has a empty profile, unless he writes me a very beautiful message and I understand he is a nice person.
    Believe me, start hosting people for a certain time, and you will see that in general you meet very nice people, but sometimes you meet such assholes who really uses you without any respect, just as a free hostel.
    I do not want that. I would do that only if the person was in serious difficulties. But not with an asshole with no respect and no interest on me under any aspect not even for a sincere talk.
    My house is my house. I decide to whom I open it.
    CS WAS good in that. You could see, from a profile, references, friends, vouches, who you were going to host.
    So, at THAT time, your article was completely WRONG.
    Now it is still wrong, but somehow right, because now CS is corrupted.

    Comment by Anti-CS — June 30, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

    • Way to miss the point. No profile no personality? Fair enough. Quite different from minimal profile no personality.

      And you’re flat out wrong. CS as an org was corrupt for a long time, and there was plenty of proof of that.

      It shows a lot of your naivete that you think CS is only corrupt now that it has been privatized.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — January 11, 2014 @ 10:18 pm

  115. […] Couchsurfing.org – and some criticism […]

    Pingback by Couchsurfing on a Feather Duvet | No Pension, Will Travel — August 16, 2013 @ 6:02 am

  116. I want to thank you for the links, the reviews of the various sites, and your opinions.

    I belong to CS, and adopted a lot of their philosophy. As my family and I live in a tourist town we get to enjoy the least of it, so hosting allows us to travel vicariously. We don’t babysit, we don’t tag along, and we do trust our surfers in the house alone (some even have a key of their own because they’re so regular). We do like to possibly enjoy a meal together, if possible, and definitely enjoy visiting at the end of the day to hear of their adventures and offer some insights. Maybe that puts me in your ‘dislike’ folder; I like to think not. Either way it matters not.

    While I agree that a life story isn’t necessary in a profile, I do like to see what a person is about before welcoming them into my home. I’ve done the party routine, and am grown way past it, so if somebody wants to smoke up my house I probably don’t want them around. Common books can be a great ice breaker, although I find greeting them with a hug works equally well. I see your points, and am really glad I was unable to work at those satellites.

    I would like to see any other updates you may have, especially on the other hospitality sites you reviewed.

    Comment by Brenda L — October 8, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

    • Brenda, that sounds entirely reasonable, and nothing I wrote was meant to be critical of hosts like you.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — January 5, 2014 @ 10:02 am

  117. Wow, super in depth article. Thank you for collecting/organizing all of this.

    Curious if you are still following the topic given the recent organizational changes?

    Comment by Drew Meyers — October 13, 2013 @ 11:21 pm

    • Not really, I know they became a charity somehow. I assume since the same people are running it, it is still corrupt.

      Comment by allthatiswrong — January 5, 2014 @ 10:01 am

  118. […] But don’t listen to me. Listen to the Couchsurfing community members (and here and here). […]

    Pingback by Can Couchsurfing Right their Sinking Ship? — October 14, 2013 @ 11:14 am

  119. I agree with much of what you have written in this article. Has anybody else found the new “plan a trip” section on couchsurfing a pain? I am going to travel the world long term starting in may and it seems like it used to be easier, more simple to do a basic couch search. What does anyone think about that?

    Comment by Hitchiking Colorado — October 31, 2013 @ 10:46 pm

  120. […] with strangers) — just don’t give them money, as this evil, now-corporate entity has defrauded its members on a massive scale, and has exceptionally abusive policies claiming to “own” all of its users’ […]

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  122. Reblogged this on talya2312 and commented:
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    Comment by talya2312 — March 26, 2014 @ 11:38 am

  123. […] the ideology of the organisation or not. A site intended to connect travellers has been used for promotion, sex, fraud and relationships to name a […]

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    Comment by Expo Display Systems — April 16, 2014 @ 7:06 pm

  126. thanks for a great opinion piece backed up by some interesting info, and also for a sound overview of the ‘place to say sites’ … i joined CS primarily to offer people a place to stay for free, and a way to pay back some karma points to the many many good people who gave me a free place to stay when i was a young hippy touring the planet long before it had any electro-web. I’ve hosted a few people and have mainly enjoyed the experience; i do though have a problem with the effort it often involves, and the mentality of some people on cs. so glad your article has pointed me in the direction of globalfreeloaders and bewelcome (other folks on the travel circuit punting these sites as well) … anyways, to have a moan about (some of) the cs ethos –

    – i am offering a free place to stay, people are welcome to stay, i like to meet people and be helpful but please note that does not mean -
    - i want to exchange numerous emails with you (there’s a map, address, my phone number to call if you get lost .. really it doesn’t need discussed …)
    - i will wait at home on a weekend evening until you turn up (my weekends are precious, i don’t run a meet and greet service – the key is under the mat and the fridge and kettle in the kitchen)
    - i will necessarily regale you with fantastic insights into my local culture (read a book, pay a guide; i’ve had a hard week i’d rather talk about fishing)
    - i want to be your best friend (nice to meet you but i have good friends thanks)

    i guess what i’m saying is that it seems cs is turning into a global ‘community’ of would be super-hippies when all i really want to do is give folks (ideally those who can’t afford anything else) a free place to stay. we have a saying this side ‘too hippy to be a hippy’ , shame cs is going that way …

    Comment by silver darling — April 18, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

  127. Never ever heard of a steam shower enclosure until finally I came across
    this site, so glad I did want to have one right away and
    finance permitting will probably be going to get one soon

    Comment by Kareem — April 20, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

  128. […] In the course of looking around for these types of sites, I also found a review of CouchSurfing and three alternatives: Hospitality Club, GlobalFreeloaders and BeWelcome. Instead of reinventing the wheel and reviewing these sites, I’ll just provide the link to the original author’s review here. […]

    Pingback by Airbnb Alternatives - Going Down the Accommodation Rabbit Hole - Life in a Sack | Life in a Sack — April 23, 2014 @ 12:21 am


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