Is Couchsurfing.com still the right place for us?

A statement of the organizers of the Hamburg Invasion and other Hamburg Couchsurfing events related to the new Couchsurfing.com-membership fee.

What happened?

On the 14th of May 2020, the management of Couchsurfing.com shocked the community with a surprising announcement. As of this day, the use of Couchsurfing.com is no longer free but requires a fee of 14,29 $ / year or 2,39 $ / month. It is argued that this is needed to “support Couchsurfing through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, and to continue keeping this community safe.”[1]. The access to users’ accounts is blocked until the required “donation” is made, however, some “unbanked and developing” countries are exempt. Some users were affected immediately, some users, who already paid lifetime verification, have a grace period of one year.

Even a small fee is not possible for everybody. It excludes people who are on a tight budget. But even worse: It discourages people who contribute to the community by hosting or organizing events just for the sake of the community.

The way Couchsurfing.com is communicating and imposing this “donation” destroys our trust in the platform and its management. No warning period. No options. No discussions beforehand with the community. Couchsurfing.com-support wasn’t available for any clarifications until they published an article one week later which justified their decision[2].

In 2012 it was very controversial if the transformation to a for-profit cooperation with major investments by Silicon Valley Venture Capitalists was the right move to secure the future of the platform[3]. Since then much trust was lost by the community in the headquarters. The overnight shutdown of the very popular City Groups[4], also without warning, lead to a major outrage in the community. Even some outspoken members of the community were censored and critical groups shut down. Breaking the most prominent claim, that ”the CouchSurfing features that you use today will continue to be free”[5], once again shutters the little remaining trust in the reliability and honesty of Couchsurfing.com. To calm down the community, Couchsurfing.com was always quick in delivering new promises after such events, but also in breaking them.

The tendency that Couchsurfing.com doesn’t involve the community and makes all decisions top-down as well as that they poorly communicate before such heavy decisions, shows us that Couchsurfing.com doesn’t really understand its strongest asset: Its community.

Our stance

We are convinced that a cultural exchange and hospitality network/platform

should be free for everybody,
is based on trust and mutual respect
and has its foundation in a vivid community.

As organizers of big Couchsurfing events like the Hamburg Invasion with more than 200 participants each year, we fully understand that expenses need to be covered. But with the recent developments and in a conclusion, we think Couchsurfing.com shouldn’t be any longer the primary home of our hospitality and cultural exchange and no longer be the platform of choice for organizing our Hamburg events.

We still deeply care about the original spirit of Couchsurfing and for the community which evolved from it. Couchsurfing as its core is an active community. We still want to keep this community alive and want to organize events like Hamburg Invasion in the future, but we don’t want to rely on the Couchsurfing.com-company as a partner in our infrastructure.

What to do now?

Our call for action to the community therefore is: Keep the spirit alive. Keep contributing to our community. But consider changing the platform for all this.

There are many non-commercial alternatives. We can not provide a full evaluation of them all[6]. The biggest drawback of most of them is that they are relatively small compared to Couchsurfing.com – until now, as the recent Couchsurfing.com-changes might have a huge impact. We already find a lot of our friends and pillars of our community transferring.

We organizers support the idea of www.bewelcome.org. The features compared to couchsurfing.com are almost similar. On top of that it provides the infrastructure, sustainability, transparency, and values we seek. Therefore we will shift our focus to this well-known alternative hospitality-network. In the future, we still will try to be present on all relevant platforms (including Couchsurfing.com), however, we want to make our own community and our organizational efforts less dependent on the Couchsurfing.com-platform and call upon you to follow us.

You can always find the latest information regarding Hamburg Invasion and other events we organize on https://hamburg-invasion.de/ or connect with us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hamburg.invasion/.

A note about the Hamburg Invasion 2020

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there will be no regular Hamburg Invasion 2020. We will try to be back in 2021. If you are interested in joining our fulminant crew you can contact us via info@hamburg-invasion.de or via our Facebook page.

Weekly Drinks are back and go Online

For the time of Corona the weekly Drinks in Kosmos go online and we started a Discord-Server which will also be online in between our weekly meetings
. Please join us at 👉 https://discord.gg/53zBCar anytime, but especially every Monday between 20-22h we hope for your visit. Grab a drink and log in.

Further information

If you are interested in learning more about the history of Couchsurfing.com you can learn about it on Wikipedia[7]. There are many people discussing this Couchsurfing.com-policy on the internet in several Facebook groups like “Save Couchsurfing.com” (private) https://www.facebook.com/groups/2564127410520086/ or the “Let’s move from Couchsurfing to the free BeWelcome community!”-event https://www.facebook.com/events/3396960000331577/ and opinionated articles on Medium[8]. For sure there are many, many more. We can not list all of them.

If you want to stay connected with us personally, most of us created a profile on bewelcome.org and will try to keep their Couchsurfing.com-profile running for a while.

Footnotes
[1] https://blog.couchsurfing.com/couchsurfing-needs-your-help/
[2] https://blog.couchsurfing.com/we-hear-you/
[3] http://techpresident.com/news/24498/couchsurfing2
[4] see [3]
[5] https://blog.couchsurfing.com/a-letter-from-co-founder-casey-fenton/
[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CouchSurfing
[7| https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CouchSurfing
[8] https://medium.com/@jameshopest/the-death-of-couchsurfing-a87d9537edf2