The Rise and Fall of Couchsurfing

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Last year, after finals, I decided to take a break and attend the weekly Couchsurfing meetup in New York City. Though I was an active traveler before, Couchsurfing in Europe and Asia and hosting and organizing events in San Francisco, here, in New York, school and roommates kept me less involved than before.

Before the event, I joined some surfers for dinner. Immediately, I noticed this was unlike any other Couchsurfing meetup I’d ever been to. One girl had never used the site as a guest or host, only to meet people to go drinking with. The guys had barely traveled, weren’t interested in talking with me, and didn’t actively host in New York. None of them seemed like real Couchsurfers.

At the meetup, it got even more strange. Upstairs, in the dark, loud, and unfriendly room, was a group of nearly two dozen guys, all American, and a single girl, surrounded by guys. No one came up to welcome us, and the atmosphere felt stifling.

“Man, where are all the girls?” said one of my dinner mates.

I left only 20 minutes later. That didn’t feel like the Couchsurfing spirit, not at all. Little did I realize that site which had changed my life, had itself changed for the worse.

Couchsurfing trip to Sequoia National Park, 2008

Couchsurfing trip to Sequoia National Park, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Couchsurfing has gone from a modest start as an attempt by a traveler to find a free place to stay in Iceland, to become the largest travel social network online. It now boasts five million members, and the growth shows no signs of stopping. For six years, I’ve been a member of Couchsurfing. I’ve met several of my best friends through the site, and found it to be an epitomization of the true spirit of traveling.

That things change is a central facet of Buddhist teaching. Couchsurfing is no different. With growth comes challenges. Natural spread through word of mouth has become media-driven growth.

With that, I no longer feel I can recommend a traveler to use Couchsurfing, and no longer plan to use it much myself. Here is why.

More Members, Less Community

The first meetup I organized was in back in April of 2008, a few months after moving to San Francisco. A potluck at a park.

Nearly 50 people came from all around the San Francisco Bay Area; experienced surfers, newbies, recent high school grads and retired professors. Locals and travelers from all around the world intermixed, and there were even children, playing on the rare, beautiful San Francisco spring day. It was what I always imagined – an open community of all ages. We’d done a potluck to make it as open to as many people as possible, even set up carpooling so that more people could come. Everyone brought what they could, and there was more than enough food to go around.

I still remember how amazing it felt that day, to be around other like-minded Couchsurfers, people mixing freely, nearly everyone having come on their own. Several of the people I met that day remain my friends, and two ended up getting married. We truly felt we were part of something.

Today, and I’ve tried, but events like those of 2008 and 2009 in San Francisco seem like the fading glory of the past.

There are still good people on Couchsurfing. Just as there are good people anywhere. But the sad part is, the community that was once so powerful has lost its focus. My new home, San Diego, tells that story as well as anyplace else.

Four years ago, there was a vibrant community, active, friendly, and with an incredible array of events taking place. Art gatherings, bonfires, a weekly meetup at a bar, cafe gatherings, potlucks, mimicking and exceeding that of San Francisco.

Now, San Diego is quiet, a weekly bar meetup the only regular activity, the message board sparse, my attempts to organize events getting little response. Any men who post on the boards get no responses, while any girl, not surprisingly, get plenty. In San Francisco, the weekly meetup I started has disappeared, the potlucks, which went on for nearly three years unabated, long forgotten. Despite millions more members, the community seems to have disappeared.

Gender and Couchsurfing

Since its early days, Couchsurfing has had a gender imbalance, with more male members then females one. But it was not really an issue then, and more a reflection on the fact that men, unfortunately, have more freedom to travel then women.

Despite that, my first host back in 2006, when I was living with two other men in Granada, Spain, was a solo traveling female from Australia. Initially, I was shocked. Why would a girl want to stay with three single men, with a brand new profile, and no references? So I asked her.

“Couchsurfing, to me, is safer than hostels. Even if you have no references, at least I know who you are through your profile, versus in a hostel, I could be sharing a room with mentally-insane strangers.”

It made perfect sense. The thought of taking advantage of a guest, male or female, was unthinkable. Just as I knew a guest would never take advantage of our trust and steal anything – which, to this day, has never happened. It is that trust that Couchsurfing is based on, and it was enlightening. The potential of humanity to share and grow. It fulfilled a need within me, to connect with people and share.

That was the point of travel.

Today, would anyone stay with three men who had an empty profile? The sad truth is, I would tell a girl never to do that, because it would be too risky.

Those first three years, I never heard of a single bad experience – everything was positive, evidence of humanity’s good. Then, it began to change. Slowly, more negative stories began to pop up – aggressive hosts, dirty places, uncomfortable situations. Now, its a 180 degree shift. Girls tell me about how when they arrive in a city, they often get random messages from local males, often with suggestive, flirty content. It is not uncommon to see hosts in major cities whose entire wall of references is only girls. According to an ambassador in New York City, girls posting on the message board in that city can get 50 message from males, most of whom have empty or near empty profiles.

It was those people I saw the so-called Couchsurfing meetup in New York. The girls they’d sent those messages too probably had been too scared to come.

The new open couch request feature demonstrates the problem clearly. It is a place where references matter little. I’ve been shocked to see men with 40+ references still seeking a host, while girls with no friends, no references, and bare-bones profiles getting 3+ invites.

Is that the Couchsurfing spirit?

For Profit Couchsurfing

Why has Couchsurfing become so gendered? Why is the community weak? I think the blame lies in an organization that has decided to focus on growth over building a community.

The site went for-profit last year, and now, following time-honored corporate practices, is focused solely on growth. Membership growth. Quantity over quality. The more members they have, the more valuable the site becomes to potential advertisers, or, as some rumors have it, to potential buyers.

Lost beneath this frenzy of numbers are the disappearing quality interactions, those which can’t be quantified. In my first four years of hosting surfers, I only once had a surfer flake on me. In the past two years, its happened several times. Just a few weeks ago, in Singapore, I had a host flake on me for the first time, the day I arrived, forcing me to stay in a hostel. Years ago, this would have shocked me. But now, it was almost expected. The trust on the site has diminished. A contradiction; more members, less community, less positive experiences.

I used to say that Couchsurfing was Globalization done right, where ideas and exchange mattered more than money or status. When you met someone who said they were a Couchsurfer, it meant they had a different viewpoint on life, that they knew how to share, and were culturally open-minded.

Back in the day, we used to test travelers to see if they were worthy of Couchsurfing. I remember meeting a friendly Malaysian in Bulgaria, and shared a train ride with him. Couchsurfing was so new back then, that there were actually only a handful of hosts in Bulgaria, so Noel had never heard of it. But I felt an innate openness, and warmth, within him, so I told him about Couchsurfing. He joined, and quickly became an active user, and later, an Ambassador, in the site’s true early spirit. That seemed like natural, organic growth, spread through word of mouth, introduced by people who shared the same ideals. If you were meant to be a Couchsurfer, you would find it. If not, it would remain apart, a subculture in a world of diversity. With time, society would be ready.

Unfortunately, we live in a society obsessed with growth, and the Couchsurfing management team fell into this same trap. The millionth member joined in 2009. Now, there are five million users, mass media coverage, and even mentions in Lonely Planet. Was it inevitable? Probably. Could it have been done in a way that respected the values that spurred Couchsurfing’s initial organic growth. Definitely.

Several of the members I met four, five, or six years ago, as a surfer in Europe or at my potlucks, barely use the site anymore. Some have stopped hosting due to bad experiences, others find the site no longer has the values its once did. It strikes me as incredibly sad. Couchsurfing has lost its base, and is now dependent on only one thing, growth, new membership, at any cost.

There is no turning back once you make a deal with the financial devil.

I loved Couchsurfing because I felt it was a true social network that created positive interactions and make the world a better place. I still believe in that dream, that we can turn the internet into the amazing, transnational, cultural tool for social change. Unfortunately, Couchsurfing is no longer that platform, and may no longer even a good site for travelers anymore, especially women. Will another site, such as the open-source, community run BeWelcome? I hope so. The people who made Couchsurfing great are still there, waiting for the opportunity to transform travel and the world once again.

Other Critiques

Mechanical Brain – A Sad end to a Good Idea

Quirky Travel Guy – Couchsurfing Backlash

114 comments
couchsurfingmemories
couchsurfingmemories

Aquaphoenix could you

please contact

providenceprod@yahoo.fr

for a documentary and a collective case.

There is no safety team because they gave the

support team to Concentrix, and this Concentrix might

be based in India or anywhere. 


This is one women are not protected on CS because for example 

working in India it is often male Pakistanese engineers or Indian male engineers and the women's rights are not the same in those countries.


We have the copy of a mail saying that the safety team being given to Concentrix had been a trial period.


You also have maybe to help us to open up this petition at the White house asking for the transparency of the support or safety team.


It is Ok to have a Yemenite man in charge of the safety team for women, but it has to be transparent, it cannot be signed up from a Caytee pretending to be in United States when in fact it is a guy based in a coutry where women's rights are not the same at all, and the perception of the women's surfing in a man's place not the same.


For example in Dubai, women being raped are jailed, but it is impossible to inform on the CS wall, the flags are deleted and the CS embassadors nearly all men coming from countries where women's rights are an issue. Plus those men work on CS a lot as engineer in computing and hacking could be very easy for them.

If you want to create a women's hosting women group they will do everything to destroy it especially in countries where women's rights are an issue, where you cannot report a rape. They will suspend the women creating those groups, deleting their account, sending them threatening mails all this with the help and benediction of the safety team acting as the one deleting the account for feminist activism, we got the mails.


All this will end up in a collective case. As a woman you are in right to ask for at least one million dollar,  CS is based in United States and the lawyers are paid on the percent of what they owe. And CS is rich enough to pay for this. It might make them fall in bankrupcy but at least it will be a lesson for the next website of this type.


Now why you did not go to the police to complain about this man? Did you go?


To put drugs in women's drink is quite common  sometimes, sto force women, to make them drink.


It is a sad reality, the safety team should be run by women social workers, psychologists, lawyers based in United States and active in women's rights but it is the contrary right now.

aquaphoenix
aquaphoenix

I left the CS community 3 years ago when I was raped by my host. He had over 30 positive refrences from single female travellers. After I posted a negative review he retaliated and publicly wrote in detail what he had done to me that night, except he said that I wanted it. I believe I was drugged, as one of two memory I have of that night was fighting him off and saying no.

The CS team refused to take down his comments because they "didn't breach their terms and conditions". I have never been so humiliated in my life. They don't support their members at all. I had been with them before for 4 years surfing and hosting but when it came down to it, they don't care about you as a person.

MichaelHenning
MichaelHenning

After years of hosting and some surfing ..I cant recallhow many people Ive hosted  but its hundreds, Im inclined to agree with this Ive met some awesome people but now I see to get a lot more free loaders and Ive got tired of feeling used and Im thinking of quitting

FilipeTeixeira
FilipeTeixeira

I agree. Same here. I hosted 100 couchsurfers in one year, long time ago. Now I barely get requests and when I get them they are from people in need of a free place to stay. Some even tell me that they bring everything and that I don't even need to be there for them. WTF? Couchsurfing used to be for people meeting each other and for exchanging experiences. Now it's just a bunch of horny guys trying to get laid, and a bunch of others searching for a free place to stay.

justannotherone
justannotherone

I have noticed the same thing.  I first hosted in 2010.  Since the "invite" button was added couch surfing changed.  I used to host about 5 times over the summer due to my proximity to Niagara Falls (Buffalo.)  This year none.  I mainly leave my profile up because of past surfers and the possibility of one of their friends wanting to stay on a reference.  I won't ask (invite) someone to stay because it is my view if you are looking for a place to stay you should make the request, it is the least you can do.  And there in lies the "new couchsurfing" the author speaks of.  Seeing a pretty woman getting several invites says it all.  I have set parameters if I ever host another surfer.  You need to have been a member for some time, not just become a member because you need a place to stay on a trip and joined for accommodations.  Chances if you are not from a foreign country I am not going to host you.  There are a few others but you get the idea.  So yes, I also believe a good thing is on its downfall.  Couchsurfing has gone from great cultural exchanges to hosting true freeloaders to now it seems just another social meeting site.

justannotherone
justannotherone

I have noticed the same thing.  I first hosted in 2010.  Since the "invite" button was added couch surfing changed.  I used to host about 5 times over the summer due to my proximity to Niagara Falls (Buffalo.)  This year none.  I mainly leave my profile up because of past surfers and the possibility of one of their friends wanting to stay on a reference.  I won't ask (invite) someone to stay because it is my view if you are looking for a place to stay you should make the request, it is the least you can do.  And there in lies the "new couchsurfing

diegonofx
diegonofx

Helpful point of view about couchsurfing... I'm still there but also I tried new things like cocksurfing lol I know sounds rude but actually it is a community, like couchsurfing used to be. Just this one is gay.

MihelAlda
MihelAlda

Couchsurfing is still great but there is 10% men being a problem on the site. In Dubai for example, if a woman is raped, she would be jailed for this. It is like in Pakistan where 80% of the women jailed are jailed because having being raped. The same law applies. Every time I try nicely to inform women about this, as I surfed not knowing, and took stupid risks, the men on the site, mostly from Pakistan, always delete my comments. And the thing is the safety team seems to always be on their side, saying no women rights activism. In fact it was so obvious the last letter I received from the safety team from a certain Caytee, that I started to have doubt about this Caytee being a woman and being based in United States. As we all know a lot of companies locate their on line services in India. And in India, a lot of workers are from Pakistan as well. So I thought but would it be possible Caytee would be a Pakistanese man, based in India? And if yes, so is it legal from Couchsurfing to pretend to have a safety team run by women in United States when it is in fact men based in India? Which would explain the lack of banner and information in Dubai and the will to not inform women about their rights. 

niknah
niknah

I'm trying to start hosting again after a similar amount of time away.

The search is broken, I'm not appearing on the search even though there're lots of people who aren't hosting appearing there.

There is no way to filter people to only those whom are hosting.


AnnFoo
AnnFoo

I've just started hosting again after 18 months of inactivity and I've noticed... I'm ONLY getting requests from new members with 0 friend connections or verifications. Did the old users with history just totally flee? Or have they figured out that I'm the bleeding heart that accepts the poor bastards with no friends and crap English whom no one else wants to host?

olodgyrrd
olodgyrrd

I'm midway through reading and in agreement so far, but want to point out a language (or math) quibble. Instead of "a 360 degree shift", don't you mean a 180 degree one, meaning a reversal or an about-face?

RickiMcKenti
RickiMcKenti

Hello everybody!!!!
Here you will find the truth about Couch Surfing and their disgusting behaviour with blind people.
Below you'll find an article of my blind friend who had a lot of troubles with Couch Surfing and finally his profile was deleted by Couch Surfing.
 

Hello,

My name is Idji and I am blind. I am half French, half English in my education but I have a French passport.

I am so sorry to be blind. On Couchsurfing it is even dirty and forbidden! Yes, I tried to open a profile on Couchsurfing and I have been deleted two times because I AM BLIND.

The first time I have been deleted because I was asking my friend to write for me. I was dictating my text but she was writing and I specified in my profile that I was doing so. Then Couchsurfing deleted my profile, explaining that my girlfriend having already a profile it was  a fake profile from my girlfriend because one is not allowed to write for somebody else!

So the armless people, paralysed people, blind people you can forget Couchsurfing. Like in Germany in the past, the handicapped people are not welcome.

As I don’t give up quickly I wrote a second profile… well… more exactly the same one, where I was specifying that I used “Jaws”, a system that allows blind people to write on the internet. This time I wasn’t going through somebody else to write my profile but as unfortunately I’m still blind it stayed dirty and I was deleted again so that Couchsurfing stays clean of handicapped people.

And that is not all. There is a guy called Sam from Rome who behaved in an obsessed way with my girlfriend because he wants only sex . He went with my girlfriend on bike to visit Rome. They were supposed to go away for two hours.  Of course I stayed in the house. How could I join? And it makes me happy to leave my friend visiting Rome in a different way. After two hours I started to worry and my friend was asking to go home to respect the time of two hours.

And Sam said, yes, yes, we are on our way. But my friend was lost in the middle of Rome and Sam went on lying to my friend, wasting time. Finally after a lot of arguments, my friend came back to the house more than five hours later.

During this time, of course, I worried more and more. In the house where I was, i.e. in the house of Sam, leave also two old women (his aunt and grandma, I think). As Sam has a mobile I said “Could you call your grandson to know if everything is fine?” and she answered “I call no one, you go back to your room and you say without moving”.

As a blind person I was absolutely kidnapped. After more than four hours I could find the door out, which is not easy for a blind person, and I could escape the house. I was in the corridor, knocking on every door and asking to call the police. Some neighbours tried but it was always engaged. You know, that is Rome. After a long time in the corridor my friend arrived from her five hour tour and guided me back to Sam’s house.

There my girlfriend and I we had a big argument against Sam to whom we said “Ok, we call the police”. He was there, afraid and very apologetic, and he said “Please stay home, I’m so sorry. I will do everything to be apologetic”. The next morning ,very early, we left.

 And when we try to leave a bad reference to Sam, each time I am deleted because in spite of the darkness of this man, I have something even more disgusting; I am blind!

This Sam is on the two websites: Couchsurfing and BeWelcome. On BeWelcome we left a clear negative reference and everybody can know who this man is. But on Couchsurfing this man is highly protected.

In spite of his protection he has quite a lot of bad references where a lot of girls are specifying that this man is obsessed about sex. So the girls can stay, but me as a blind person, despite this horrible story I am not allowed to write anything because I am worse than Sam, I AM BLIND!

Here is what the leaders of Couchsurfing wrote to me:

“ Idji's profile was deleted because it directly breached our Terms of Use. Let me explain this in greater detail. Profiles in our system can only be created and used by the person they represent (in this case that would have to be Idji). I don't say that Idji is not a real person, on the contrary! But members are not allowed to create or use a profile on behalf of somebody else. Since you were the one who created that profile for Idji, our Terms of Use were directly broken (even if you didn't mean to)”

Isn’t it disgusting? It reminds me the SS during the war.

In France, which is a democratical country, the blind people are respected. There is a national association for the protection of blind people and when I am going to be in France I will go to this association to sue Couchsurfing for discrimination against handicapped people.

On Couchsurfing and BeWelcome, when I travel I always try to be friend, but even more to help a lot. In Romania there is a guy, Costel, that I helped quite a lot and he did a film about me, spontaneously. I leave here the reference of this film on YouTube so that everybody can see how I behave when I travel on Couchsurfing or BeWelcome.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMVdEGI8MMg

Well… today it will be only BeWelcome. So that you can see through this little film that in spite of being blind I am not a stinking piece of shit that deserves only a couch in a concentration camp. I think that this story is absolutely incredible in darkness but it is really the truth.

About Sam and my blindness we kept every dialogue we had with Couchsurfing that will be of course part of the file to sue them. I am ready to send it to anyone who wants the file that we have about this story.

I am happy today to be on BeWelcome where it seems that the handicapped are welcome. Thank you to BeWelcome to exist because in spite of being blind I feel like going on to exist, to have friends, and to help other people.

Thank you for your reading.

Here is the link to my profile:

http://www.bewelcome.org/members/IdjiUsmu

Here are the links to Sems profiles on couchsurfing and on bewelcome:

http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/s5m/ (in the meanwhile his profile is as well deleted)

http://www.bewelcome.org/members/S5MROMA

Adam Halliwell
Adam Halliwell

Anecdotal evidence that my own anecdotes would completely shatter.  I was let down in the early days by hosts and had people not turn up, that also happened half-way through my tenure and lately?  Never had someone flake on me.  Your experience seems solely of American meetings and boards, so what?  Iran is extremely hospitable and that's reflected in the CS community - lots of people turn up for debates, there's never any weirdness towards women, and so what if people feel more comfortable hosting girls - women feel like less of a threat to most people, hence why some girls only host girls.

I can't take away from Casey that he wanted to sell, it's his to sell and do with what he wants.  Regardless of what you want, that's his right - he's worked at it for a long time, he deserves to make his money.

JennyGkiougki
JennyGkiougki

i agree with your opinion...unfortunately :( it is time to move on from CS, which also provided me with many beautiful experiences and nice friendships the world over... it is sad to see it fade away, and it is also a challenge to cerate the same in another platform, to start anew... but as the travel bug within dictates, there seems to be no other option! take care and thanks for sharing what is on the minds and hearts of many of us :)

Ineedawee
Ineedawee

I read until I found "the mentally insane strangers" then all the seriousness of the article went down the loo as it "made perfect sense" to you. 
Just because you had a profile it meant you could not be mentally insane strangers? Very clever! 
And also, if they had been physically impaired would they have been a danger too?? And we all know that people with mental illnesses don't stay in homes or with their families or close to the nurses and psychologists and psychiatrists who try to help them live their lives as normally as possible, no! They just go from one hostel to another trying to hurt pretty aussie girlies. 
I agree with the rest, CS has become a big time piece of crap full of people who only think about going out to clubs. But to be honest no matter how long you've been a member after that comment, it means that your open mindedness that you think you have is probably not that open? Watch what you say next time.

dariodrz
dariodrz

Mostly agree with you, unfortunately cs has changed and there's a lot of crap and sexism coming in. I've traveled thanks to any possible European youth mobility program, and I've found some of them "bad", in this very way CS is being consumed. AIESEC, where many people know for the first time about CS, is one of those.I remember when I entered CS in 2009, I wanted so much to travel that I've found the site on myself, signed up, read its philosophy, read treads about it all before start using it. 

Now, there are people with an empty profile posting this as private message (copy-paste): "hi Dario I and my friend in 7 jun going to Coimbra can we use your couch/floor for 1 Or 2 night ? In 9 june we go back to Porto We are very Fiendly. Pleas Give Me You Answer"

just sad

abricot
abricot

I disagree

I have been an active member of CS for some time now, joined in 2010 , so maybe I never really knew this "real spirit" that you describe, but I've read the Community Guidelines, and don't understand why you speak so much about city events.

If you're looking for a site that would bring together a community to organize city events, you've picked the wrong site haven't you ?

The very caracteristics of the site make it ill-designed for that kind of use imho.

I personnally don't really participate in nearby events, and am not engaged in local CS activity, but I live in a very toursitic spot and am welcoming surfers almost everyday.
Why should I expect any higher standards from my guests exept those of the Community Guidelines ?

xabitubbi
xabitubbi

WOW.

I can't recognise my experience with CS in what you have just said. I have never been interested in having new friends or in going to pubs, but in hosting and being as kind as I could with people traveling around the world. Help others, no myself. The culture of sharing is what attracted me to CS, and not a social network to have new friends or boyfriends or girlfriends or whatever. 
CSurfers quality decreased? Don't agree with that. After the 20 first guests the passion for a new, wonderful experience is not as thrilling.. yet I have hosted great people over these 5 years and I still did last month. As good as the first day. 
The new website a shit? Sure! And the old one! How easily we forget all the problems that came with the old website and how its design was everything but welcoming!
Finally: am I the only one who never tried to flirt or have sex with any of my couchsurfers? I am shocked after reading what you have written. Shocked. 

MikeCaron
MikeCaron

It's unfortunate, Nithin. I've been a couch surfer since near its inception because I think it's the best way to travel. My wife and I were able to host a surfer here in Madison on his way back to college; we gave him the best meal of his life and took him to UW where he juggled for the crowds, what a great stay! We then traveled to England, surfing in London and Cambridge. As a father of three, my outlook on surfing has changed considerably because I'm pretty protective of my kiddos, but it disheartens me even more to learn about the direction CS has taken :(

mitchellroth
mitchellroth

Thank you for writing this Nithin. I am a long time couchsurfer (as in I joined 4 years ago). I just got my own place 2 months ago. After reading this an much of the comments, you've convinced me I need to not be lazy and switch my availability from "not available" to "maybe". I don't know why it took me this long!

AndaGreeney
AndaGreeney

I fear we recall old CS days as halcyon while scrutinizing our new experience in contrast to what CS was once. Things have inevitably changed--though I find CS just as compelling, even if for different reasons.

I too attended this 2008 Sequoia camping trip and too was marvelously impressed. To this day, under "couchsurfing experience" on my CS profile I still reference this trip. But more for its sexy impropriety " "My most memorable [CS] experience was hanging out naked around a fire in Kings Canyon National Park with two guys, and three girls; though oddly from the waist down it appeared that three guys were present."  This amusing scene devolved into other distraction, surely inappropriate but too good natured silliness. And of the five of us warming ourselves by the fire, at least two were not profile carrying couchsurfers. I don't recall how many other non-surfers were among our group this camping trip. But I do recall that other CS camping trips that 2008 had many non-members.

The spontaneity, new friendships, open arms and open values defined the CS you and I remember from 2008. And it is precisely the same values I continue to find today. Only last night, an American (me) a Korean and a Costa Rican cavorted around Amherst, MA from cafe to bar to house party over many hours. CS introduced us and mutual hunger for both diversity and good, old fun cemented us.

Much has changed, much remains the same. Though as we inspect the past, recall with circumspection what drove the magic. Here's to the old days! You treated us well.

thebasehit
thebasehit

I am one of those rare couchsurfers who doesn't have facebook.  I guess that makes me a rare human actually....  :-)   For years I've been told I need facebook to keep up on local events that I've missed.  And now even more events are being posted on FB instead of CS because of the lack of interface ease on the website. (no conspiracy theory here, i swear.....:-)  However it does seem more and more couchsurfing links are being directed to FB.  For years I've been asked why I'm not on facebook and my answer was always, "Couchsurfing is my facebook.  It's possible to have five thousand friends on FB and have never met one of them.  On couchsurfing, every friend you have is someone you've interacted with."   The day Couchsurfing takes another step towards Facebook and offers 'couchland' with virtual couchsurfing, I"m truly done with CS.  That is the scariest part of this 'going profit' to me.  The slow inexorable slide towards 'virtual interaction'.  


Couchsurfing is changing, but the longtime members are changing as well.  Several of the original members I met at coffee meetups, potlucks and happy hours two and a half years ago, don't come anymore for the simple reason of, "I don't know anyone anymore".  Which to me is the most incongruous thing a couchsurfer can say.  That's the point, meeting people.  They became ingrained in the "community" they joined and change is difficult.  In Seattle we have seen many of the things stated in the article and the comments, but the core community, especially the new people who engage and become active, still has the same spirit of engagement and discovery.  As long as it doesn't become a facebook virtual event, I'm in. 

undertowphoto
undertowphoto

Hey, everyone. I was about to "get verified" on CS. I made a profile a few weeks ago. I want to host because I can't travel, but love practicing foreign language. If CS is no good, can someone suggest another site that has some of that spirit that you said is now missing from CS. Send me a message at [email protected] Thanks so much!

juminako
juminako

Hello Nithin, 

Same thing happened here in São Paulo, weird guys searching for girls, and weird girls searching for "gringos".

My first experience surfing was in nyc halloween of 2011 in a guy´s place with no references and a few pics, I trusted him and had an amazing time living "american experiences" such as beer pong, parties at rooftop, meeting a lot of csers, since then I startes attending the events here, hosting. In august 2012 I went to NYC again, sent some messages, but no reply. CS seems dead. At least there.

But don´t let this beautiful spirit die!

There are good people!


tripping1
tripping1

Hi Nithin,

It is disappointing when something you identify with strongly changes so much! We'd like to think that those values still exist and that there is still a lively community out there with a hospitable spirit.  We're trying to revolutionize the free homestays at Tripping to include additional safety features and emphasis on cultural exchange. We hope you'll check us out! bit.ly/13dsOZY

ElieDumas
ElieDumas

Very intersting reactions, I totally agree with you.

But to me, this decrease in quality is not only the fault of the massive non-cs-spirited growth, but also due to the new website : 

- a facebook-like wall makes CSers use the website like Facebook itself (chit-chat rubbish talking, only beers and clubbing) ; 

- the past organized "threads" are now mere "comments", less prone to build rich communications ;

- the structured groups and subgroups are now irrelevant "Place Pages" where all topics are dealt indistinctively ; 

- everybody can spam so easily any city "Place Page" with advertisements, commercial activities, etc ; in the good old times, at least you had to "join" the group (and to tell why)


I'm also active on www.bewelcome.org ;)

neurator
neurator

This article resonates with me.  I'm a bit of an old timer myself, and first heard about CS from my college friend who went to high school with Casey Fenton.  I had some amazing adventures surfing in Mexico, SF, Montreal, and all over Europe.  I attended various meetups in SF, including an awesome Big Sur camping adventure and an invasion to Arcata.   Met some incredibly memorable people too.


I started to see the shift while living in Montreal, when the host of an initially super fun monthly potluck got burned out by the sheer volume of attendees.  Women at the event complained of awkward men vying for their attention.  In 2010 I travelled in Europe, and met more phenomenal hosts.  However, my attempts to connect with people via large meetups seemed to fail.  Except for one very fun gaming night, each event involved some kind of bar costume party or pub crawl, and I just never felt comfortable amid all the drunken pretense. There was definitely a hookup vibe in the air, that I just couldn't jive with.  


That said, I did successfully find cool folks to attend festivals with in Krakow and Dresden.  I think the key to making real connections is to reach out in the forums and seek out people who have specific shared interests.  Events attempting to fill as many people in a bar as possible really aren't going to be that fun.  But shouting out to see who wants to rock out at an electronic music festival, or ride bikes in the Critical Mass ride, or whatever, allows a connection to a specific subset of people who are likely to resonate with your nature.  But honestly, aside a hosting a few random nice surfers in the past two years, the scene seems very stagnant to me.

AnnFoo
AnnFoo

Most of this post is spot on, but I have something to add to the 'gendered nature' of CS.

The experience you had at the NYC meet up was not a reflection on the changes going on CS. It's just a reflection on NYC. I considered couchsurfing when I first arrived and decided against it because none of the profiles seemed to be from interesting people - also, they were mostly men, 30+. This is suspicious, and basically suggests that they are men using the site like a dating site, to meet loose :) , young, travelling women like me. I was also trying to contact people about work opportunities in film, and had a coffee with one guy. It was a dull conversation so I don't remember it in any great detail, but I do remember him saying something that rubbed me the wrong way, about meeting girls on CS.


Secondly, couchsurfing in USA is different to other parts of the world. It's used much more like a dating site, or to socialise. I believe this is not to do with CS, but to do with the fact that USA is a sex-obssessed culture, whereby all activities (professional, social or recreational) are simeoultaneously used to seek either sex or a spouse. Apologies, I don't mean to offend anyone, and it's not even a bad thing. It's just an observation - sex occupies a much larger chunk of society in USA than anywhere else I've been. Anyway, this is why if you're a female, you're much more likely to get a male host, and vice versa, compared to europe where my hosts were pretty evenly split. Look, I'm not going to get on my high horse about it because I can be just as superficial as anyone else. If I had a choice between the hot european guy and the 50 yr old woman, I'd probably choose the hot guy. But I'd still host the 50 yr old woman once the guy had moved on. 

I only had 3 hosts in USA - 2 in New Orleans and one in Miami. I slept with one in New Orleans and slept with the friend of my second host in New Orleans. In Miami I didn't sleep with my host but he tried (not in a sleazy way - we had many great conversation that lead to a feeling of closeness he might have misinterpreted). Compared to in Europe where I had hundreds of hosts and only slept with one. The american mentality seemed to be that it's the couchsurfers responsibility to understand they might get hit on, whereas the european mentality seems to be that the host feels like they are taking advantage if they try, so they are generally very respectful. The problem with the american mentality that it's the couchsurfer's responsibility to understand that sex might happen is:

1. It is untrue. CS was not set up to be a dating site, so people should not be made to accept responsibility for unwelcomed attention

2. It is problematic with cultures like Japanese, where it is considered extremely rude to refuse. I'm SURE this has happened at some point - someone makes advances on a japanese woman and they don't feel comfortable refusing. But, this is basically rape, due to the lack of consent. Even if the perpetrator is unaware, it's still rape.


In NYC I hosted a really cool german girl and her kid brother. Together they were making a tour of north america. She told me some horriffic experiences of other american hosts - once, her host had taken her and brother to a bar, then met a friend in the bar and took the friend home. They proceeded to fuck very loudly all night, with a german couchsurfer and her 16 yr old brother in the living room. The host also didn't provide sheets or anythign, and didn't tell them they needed to bring a sleeping bag. The concept of hospitality seemed a little lacking. We both shared the opinion tht couchsurfing in USA has a different agenda, and different purpose, than other countries. 

My host in miami never travelled. He told me he joined the site because a friend told him it was a good way to get girls in bed. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out that way for him, but he still loved it because it was like having new people to party with all the time.

Not that this sort of thing doesn't goon in other countries, it's just the mainstream in USA. Last year In sydney I rescued a 19 yr old belgium newbie that I met at a CS meet. He was staying with a 50 yr old gay man who was getting a bit sleazy - apparently this guy only hosted young boys, took them out, paid for everythign. But when the touching started, the couchsurfer thought it was time to move on.

Sorry Nithin, this is a bit of a tangent! But I did want to point out that the CS community is always going to be influenced by the dominant culture from country to country. I personally feel that US (and to a lesser extent, Australian) culture is not very hospitable, so things that I expect from a guest (being considerate of the space, cooking dinner now and then) might be second nature to europeans and asians, but aren't neccesarily the kind of things that americans or australians think of.

Getting back to the original post, I rarely use the site anymore and am always very careful about who I chose, because there are a lot more uninteresting and inconsiderate people on CS than there used to be. With my strict screening process, I've met womderful people still, like the 19 yr old newbie who remains a dear dear friend. But, like one of my old CS friends from circa 2006 said, "It was always going to happen. It couldn't stay small and controlled forever."

bestcapetownSA
bestcapetownSA

Hi Nithin,

Funny enough, I just learned about your post through an old-time CSer who I first met in Cape Town 2010.  He tagged a bunch of us on his FB status, and I am glad he did!

Literally spent the last hour reading through ALL the comments below - and it is great to see there are so many CSers who are still passionate - enough to post their thoughts and comments.  

Down here in Cape Town, South Africa, I am afraid to say we are feeling the same impact. I joined CS in 2010 when I moved to the city, and CS literally saved my life as I didn't know A SINGLE SOUL in the city.  The local community was warm and welcoming, and I met 90% of my friends through the group within the first 6months.  As a woman, it took me about 6-9months before feeling comfortable enough to venture out and try surf / host.  That's after hosting regular gatherings in the city, and meeting tons of people.  When I did eventually surf, it was the most incredible experience and my hosts were stunning. 

I took a bus to Port Elizabeth, literally jumped off the bus and was picked up by another CSer, who handed me a bicycle no questions asked, and then met up with Matthew Blake (British CSer who cycled around the rworld: www.worldwidebikeride.com/) and cycled 60km to Addo Elephant Park through one of the largest townships/ slums in the region.   At the park, we met up with another CSer (with a car) and went on a safari drive!  When i returned from the trip, I was bright-eyed and ready to give back to the community and started hosting.  Never had a bad hosting experience, whether it be male/female/couple/ age groups.

These are the type of CS experience I miss most -of people who come alive at the thought of traveling, hearing others' life stories, sampling new cultures, venturing off the beaten path....

I am still holding out hope, and host regular dinner meetings in my city now to connect with fellow travelers.  It is a different crowd now, but the type of event/activity almost serve as a filter for CSers.  With drinking-hole parties, you will get a specific vibe/demographic. With hiking/ exploring the city's culture, you are more likely to find people who still embrace the CS spirit of sharing experience & learning about a new culture.   I  don't think it has to be EITHER / OR , perhaps rather BOTH/ AND. Mix and match the various sites out there (CS, BW, Warm Showers , Hospitality clubs...) and cross-pollinate the good ideas.

Thanks for this post, and for sparking the passion within =)

ronniegatsby
ronniegatsby

Hi Nithin,

I agree with your a hundred percent - funny, I thought I was being an elitist prick by "testing the waters" whether a traveler was a fit with the CS vision and mission then. In the end, I still believe that I don't have to sell the idea, my role is to explain the idea, then leave it to the person to decide it is a fit for them or not.

There is an additional point I'd like to raise. Not only has the CS site been focused with growth recently, but the tools that used to be present to keep a community in order and sustainable have been removed. Moderator functions, minimal as they are, are no longer there. The functionality was simple, flag relevant community-related activities, and provide a simple landing/welcome page for the new joiners. What we have now is a collection of "conversations", leaving little flexibility to retain a semblance of an active, thriving community. What we have is a series of trivial thoughts that immediately get buried, thereby removing the backbone to help the little groups relevant. Oh well.

Many thanks for writing the article, I've been trying to collect words to articulate my thoughts (with much difficulty!), and your piece here hit the nail on the head.

safe and happy travels,

Ronnie

aquaphoenix2
aquaphoenix2

@couchsurfingmemories @AnnFoo@aquaphoenix  @nnnnnnn

Yes I went to the police. They laughed in my face and told me that nothing could be done because I had voluntarily stayed at his house, and also the judges are all male and would take his side. (Their own words) There was no such thing as decency or justice in this country. I fail to see how 30 other female travelers have not reported it...I believe some did they were just all silenced.  if they have already deleted a persons profile because of misconduct why they couldnt delete the comment. I had already proven that he had committed a criminal act...they just refused to remove the comment for their own power and control. the comment did nothing to serve the community because he had been removed! 

nnnnnnn
nnnnnnn

@aquaphoenix  They're not going to take off a comment cause people have the right to defend themselves.  But you should be able to reply too.

You can contact the other people he's hosted and ask if they've spotted something strange.  These things go unreported a lot of the time.


AnnFoo
AnnFoo

@aquaphoenix Did you take this matter to the police? An incident as serious as this goes way, way beyond the petty squabbling of Couchsurfing and should be addressed in a criminal court. 

AnnFoo
AnnFoo

@excinit @Ineedawee @dexjerkon

For fuck's sake, it's time to chill out. (I had written 'for christs sake' there, but deleted it in favour of 'fucks sake' so as to not offend christians. I figure if anyone wants to be offended by the word 'fuck', at least they will be equally offended and not offended on religious grounds).

I believe I am the girl Nithin quoted making the 'insane' comment (was I? who the hell remembers, it was like 8 years ago.)

Firstly, that comment has been taken out of context. I use that kind of language, JOKINGLY, and being knowingly meldramatic, as it was my first meeting with Nithin and I wanted to establish myself in his eyes as a quirky character so I could therefore behave any way I pleased in front of him without worrying about being held to high moral standards. (that was a joke just then, in case you missed it.) If I am talking in person amongst equals, I feel no need to censor myself to standards of political correctness - indeed, doing so would feel insincere, even! If I'd known that comment would end up on a public blog in written form, I might have used different language (actually... no. That's a lie.) That's not to say, Nithin, that I'm upset with you for posting that comment. In fact I find it hilarious what people choose to get offended over, considering what a cesspool of racism, sexim and homophobia the internet is.

Secondly, I sincerely apologise if you really were offended by that comment. It was not my intent. However, I do not apologise for the comment at all. There is absolutely nothing wrong with what I said. I used 2 descriptors and a noun - mentally insane strangers. I believe if you were offended by this, it's because you were imposing your own bias on the term 'mentally insane'. Did I, at any point, imply that ALL mentally ill people are insane? No, I did not. That is your misinterpretation and jumping to conclusions. I was never talking about the mentally ill - YOU were the one that brought that up. I was only talking about insane people. And yes, there are a few of them in hostels. 40 yr old men who declare they're in love with me after 3 days? Drunk women who leave plastic bags full of water lying around the dorm room? Kleptomanics who couldn't help stealing other's things? Yes, these are all people I've met in hostels. Did I say everyone staying in hostels were like this? Of course not. Did I say no one on CS was? Of course not. However, the fact remains that if someone is coherent enough to put together a decent CS profile, I have a much better chance of not winding up sharing a room with someone who randomly fills plastic bags full of water and hoards them in the dorm than I do at a hostel.

Inedawee, since you seem so keen to talk about the mentally ill, let me first start by saying that the term 'mentally ill' is on the boarder of becoming an offensive term, for the way that it polarises notions of mental illness and the mentally healthy. Mental Health is now described in terms of a dynamic scale upon which we inhabit different points at different times, but which is not static and therefore avoids labelling such as 'mentally ill' or 'mentally deficient'. 

Now that we;ve cleared that up, I'd like to address your comment:

"And we all know that people with mental illnesses don't stay in homes or with their families or close to the nurses and psychologists and psychiatrists who try to help them live their lives as normally as possible, no! They just go from one hostel to another trying to hurt pretty aussie girlies." 

You live in a fantasy world if you think the majority of people with mental health problems are priveleged enough to be able to afford nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists. The underlying cause of most homelessness is mental health issues, so trust me, theres more people with psychological problems on the street than in hospitals. Ever been in the YHA Seattle? Talk to the staff. There are homeless people who stay there even though the hostel has a max 2 week limit. They leave for a week and come back for another 2 weeks. I'm not saying I have a problem with this - my point is that it's a known problem amongst hostel staff. There ARE people with mental health issues living in hostels. With constant government cuts to facilities, where else do you expect them to be, or did you not bother thinking about it? 

Not that I have a problem with living in a psychologically diverse world. I have nothing valueble for the klepto to steal, and as long as I didn't take the bags of water, me and the drunk lady were fine. I'm quite the nutter myself. Note for all readers (since it seems I have to spell out a lot), The characters I'm describing were not really dangerous, just colourful. (just wanted to clarify that before someone else tries to put words in my mouth.)

"Watch what you say next time"??? 

PLEASE.

How about you read properly and not impose your own bias on other's words. 

dexjerkon
dexjerkon

@Ineedawee 


I think he means that he realized people trusted others on CS unconditionally back in those days. As for the girl's comment about mentally deranged strangers in hostels, it was her pov, wasn't it? Not his.

excinit
excinit moderator

@thebasehit i also don't have FB! i find this a troubling aspect of the entire internet...too many things (like Kickstarter, Zimride, etc) require FB. not good for CS, nor is it good for the internet.

FilipeTeixeira
FilipeTeixeira

@AnnFoo I agree with you almost 100% :P. 2 weeks ago I hosted a really nice couple and honestly I think it will be the last time I'll ever use couchsurfing.

When I was in Portugal, some years ago, we barely had any problems at all. The community respected the older couch surfers, and by older I mean with more experience, and it stayed like that.

I met amazing but I say truly amazing couchsurfers, including girls I fell in love for, people who cried when they were about to leave, good friends I still stay in touch with, people who truly changed my life forever. One of them changed it so much that I've ended up quitting my job, selling my car and to go and travel with her around the world.

It was a nice community with a lot of respect and that was what I loved about it.

Then I came to Belgium. I'm devastated with it. The community doesn't accept that there are rules on couchsurfing and most of the time they say that it's a free community so if people want to be here for dating, or for whatever they can do that. Some people even say that if you get a girl drunk enough to have sex with her, that's not raping. I'm sorry but for me even if you use a girl in a way that you'll leave her vulnerable to do things she doesn't want to, that's raping. Some girls get to a new place and for sure that if a guy makes a move at 2am and they have nowhere to go, they will do whatever they need to be a bit protected. Even if that means having sex with a stranger. It's hideous and I don't understand how and why those things happen.

The problem with CS is not the corporation status, or money or whatever. It's that some jerks started to use CS and unfortunately the core community didn't have enough patience to stop them. I still think that we could do something about it, but honestly I already have lost my hopes on it.

excinit
excinit moderator

@bestcapetownSA i was just in Cape Town a few months ago! But I stayed at the apartment of a former CS guest of mine, though she wasn't there, her roommate, though, was one of the most thoughtful people I've ever met. Only a true CSer lets someone stay when they're not even there!

didn't notice many events on the boards, though, but i was fairly busy too (only had a few days and then a conference in stellenbosch). I agree about creating self-filtering events...i used to organize Sunday morning Thai-temple brunch in SF, which kept all the riff-raff out (only those truly interested in cultural events get up at 8AM to get brunch at a Thai buddhist temple). but the new interface really makes it harder...no one can see my events anymore, and the invite feature is impossible to use :-/. 

AnnFoo
AnnFoo

The police you spoke to were lying to you. It doesn't matter if you voluntarily stayed with him, rape is rape. Police will say anyhing to dissuade you not to report this, because they are lazy and they don't want to do the work. If you want to report this, you need to go to police station and insist that you want to make a complaint of rape. Insist that it is your right to do this, and they, by law, have to follow through. I don't know what country you're in, but if you still have difficulties, look for some women's support networks or legal aid who can help you. Don't expect anything from Cs community - they are useless in the most simple problems, let alone a big problem like this, which is really a legal issue and hence needs to be addressed by law, not by a silly Internet travellers network

excinit
excinit moderator

i agree NYC is a special beast...(and amazingly no one has come to defend it) but it also fit what i saw in SE Asia, and people in Berlin, Paris, etc, said its similar to what happened there. so i think the problem is more widespread...i think culture is part of it and you know my own opinions on NYC (though in SF 5-6 years ago, we certainly didn't have predators and never, back then, heard of a girl with a bad experience - that all changed by 2010) but the site becoming more mainstream and allowing members who didn't understand the spirit everywhere was more at fault. And the site turning into a party-network.

aquaphoenix2
aquaphoenix2

@AnnFoo how stupid do you think I am? You have no idea what I went through - I was hours and hours with different police, embassies and womens rights communities in the area. There is the way the justice system should work - and the way it does work. Bottom line is they dont give a shit because nothing can be proven in the end. It was my word against his. There is no such thing as law. There is no such thing as justice. He was a tour guide and after reporting all this to the police, embassy and the tourist information community...guess what. HE IS STILL A TOUR GUIDE. You have no idea what you are talking about or how it actually works in the real world.

excinit
excinit moderator

@dexjerkon @excinit the perils of hitting post too soon! i had to delete her response, though. I'm open to real criticism but calling me a racist/sexist and an "inexperienced writer" was going too far.

dexjerkon
dexjerkon

@excinit @Ineedawee @dexjerkon 


lol, I SAW that. Anyway, I'm not offended as I said, addressing the comment didn't contribute to the point you were making. I'm bewildered as to why it's so easy to offend people these days.

excinit
excinit moderator

@Ineedawee @dexjerkon I meant it made sense that CS can be safer than hostels as it allows you to know who you are staying with - a trust that existed much more in the early days. It doesn't meant that i agree verbatim with her choice of words. my apologies if you were truly offended.

dexjerkon
dexjerkon

It only means "The thought of taking advantage of a guest, male or female, was unthinkable [Just as I knew a guest would never take advantage of our trust and steal anything – which, to this day, has never happened.]" 

That he didn't say anything about the mentally deranged comment doesn't mean he supported that comment. It merely indicates not addressing that side of the comment (because it's unrelated and not to serve any point he's making). So I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt. 

AnnFoo
AnnFoo

@aquaphoenix2 @AnnFoo I understand you are angry about what happened but please don't take it out on me. You never said you took action, and many people aren't aware of the services available, so I was suggesting those things because I was trying to help. I know exactly what I'm talking about and how things work in the real world - I've been through something similar, locked in a cabin by a crew member on a ferry in between Greece and Italy and I also reported to the police, authorities, etc etc to no avail, Greece claimed this was Italy's problem, Italy claimed it was Greece's problem, everyone said it was my own fault for trusting a crew member on the ferry when he told me I had to go with him, and this was also apparently my own fault for travelling alone (the company was called Superfast Ferries) so I know what you mean when you say the system doesn't work. However, even if the system did not work for you or I, I hope that it works for some people and that is why I try to make people aware of services they might not know about.

FilipeTeixeira
FilipeTeixeira

@aquaphoenix2 You are right. Unfortunately I have a friend who was raped by a couchsurfer in South East Asia, and the authorities did nothing about it. He drugged her beer and then well the rest you can guess it.


Unfortunately couchsurfing became this. It's a place for easy dates or for rapists like those already mentioned here before. I believe that with the growth of couchsurfing, something should have been done to improve safety of those who are hosted and those who want to host. And spare me from bullshit such as that women should know better, and that it's their responsibility, etc, because it's not. It can happen to any of us and there's almost nothing we can do to avoid this. And I'm a man supporting women in this subject.

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