I didn’t want to write this article at first, I was planning to write one about my very first impressions of Mexico. It would have been a happier article, maybe. But today I was using the website version of Couchsurfing to plan my next trip, and man was I disappointed. Even a bit furious.
For those who haven’t heard about Couchsurfing, it’s a worldwide community of people who will open their homes to guests at no charge. Couchsurfing aims to bring like-minded, travel-obsessed people together for the sheer good of it – the cultural exchange, the personal connection. And one of the benefits is that you can obtain insider, locals-only travel advice before you leave home. Here is a pretty good guide if you want to learn more about Couchsurfing.
I love Couchsurfing. I have met many wonderful people through it, participated and organized a couple of events with other Couchsurfers. Amazing experiences, unforgettable memories, true friendships. And a dreadful website.
A dreadful new website, actually, which they released two weeks ago. The previous one was okay: a little slow, a little old-fashioned, but totally usable, with plenty of features.
The new one has many changes. But the thing I really dislike is that some of the core features disappeared in the new version!
This one is a big one. Why did they remove this feature?
Ok. I know this system used to be a GREAT system, but has lost a lot of its old meaning recently. A vouch used to be a valued thing. Vouching for someone meant you really trusted a person, that you would stake your reputation on him or her. Then it became just another thing to collect, there was intermittent word of vouch-exchanging parties happening and vouches were loosing their significance.
That said, I believe that today it still means something. I mean, if it meant nothing, people would have nearly as many vouches as positive references, which is not the case at all. People usually have less than 10% of their references which are vouches.
Plus, knowing who vouched for who keeps the system consistent. I used to look specifically for vouches on my hosts’ profiles, look for who vouched for them, and read the voucher’s profile as well as the reference which went with that vouch. At least that would filter out those “He’s my best buddy” vouches, the vouches without any reference attached, and the vouch-exchanging parties vouches.
Today, we can only rely on references. It remains an excellent system. I believe it’s liable, you can trust a person by looking as his references. But in my opinion vouches add something special to the profile, it makes you say “Wow this guy really knows the Couchsurfing values” instead of only “Okay he’s fun and trustworthy I want to stay with him” while reading the same profile.
The thing is, people tend to easilyput positive references, even when the experience was okay. I had some Couchsurfing experiences which went good, but I didn’t have the opportunity to talk with my surfer/host (because (s)he or I don’t have the time, for example). I still put a positive reference, even though I actually don’t really know the person. This kind of reference has the same “positive” power as those I write for some of my excellent friends I met through Couchsurfing. They are both “a positive reference”, but the latter have so much more meaning. Ok, you may challenge me by saying that the content of these two references will be radically different, and that is what really is significant. And I totally agree with you. But the truth is, personally, I don’t read all the references when there are 15+ of them.
That’s where I think vouches can add something. It’s like a more-than-positive reference, an excellent reference one may say. Seeing the number of vouches (and the vouchers’ profile) will let me know this guy DOES HAVE some excellent references, and I’ll scroll through all his 300 references to look for those vouched ones, without actually having to read the content of the 300 references to look for the excellent ones.
I take the vouching system very seriously, and I’m sure a lot of other Couchsurfers do too. It’s losing its value, but it still has a lot of value. And we should try to make it more meaningful instead of deleting it.
A lot of information on your profile disappeared. The one I really liked is the last login date and location. If I see that a Mexican host logged in in Australia two hours before, I will think that’s he’s traveling right now and won’t bother to send him a couch request. A definite time-saver.
Another feature which is removed is the “How do I know [insert name]”. It was cool to know if I had mutual friends with the guy/girl whose profile I was reading. Plus, we used to put how we knew each friend: was it through Couchsurfing, or other, were we very close friends or only Couchsurfing friends (or both!) etc.? To be honest, I don’t really see the point of friends anymore in Couchsurfing, references seem to be enough.
Another detail, now you either are fluent in a language, or are learning the language. There’s no middle-way. I’m learning Spanish, but my Spanish level is 100 times higher than my German level which I’m learning too, yet I’m not a fluent Spanish speaker. The old system with beginner-intermediate-fluent levels of knowledge of a language was perfect. Especially for a travel website, where communication is a very important aspect.
The Couchsurfing team also removed the ability to see a member’s groups. That was a great way to see how involved in the community a member was.
And right now, you can’t see references you left others if the other one hasn’t written one for you. Hmm…
The Couchsurfing team promised some of these features would come back, so I guess we’ll just need to wait. But I do hope they come back soon.
One of the main reasons the new website is being created is to improve the user experience, i.e. to make the website simple and intuitive to use. Unfortunately the Couchsurfing team didn’t succeed as expected.
Ok, the website now looks like a real 2014 website, pretty nice, pretty slick, pretty elegant. But first of all, I think that the website feels less warm and friendly then the previous one. At some places even a little cheap. Plus, there are still some bugs which make the experience a little annoying.
For example, it’s impossible to look for very old messages. This is pretty annoying. The old system let you filter your messages by selecting the names of the members you had interacted with most on the site. With the new site there is no way to look through your old messages in a systematic way. You can only look through your old messages 10 messages or so at a time. If you want to contact a friend you haven’t messaged in a while, you’ll be going to have a rough time.
The dashboard isn’t very intelligently thought neither. Here’s mine:
I mean, I won’t be in Tuscany nor in Bordeaux nor in Napa Valley in the near future. Ok, it shows nice pictures on my dashboard, but it’s a lot of wasted space on my screen I will never click on. The “What’s Happening Near [my location]” part (which you can partly see on the bottom part) is already 10 times more interesting, and should be more valued.
The new website is mobile-friendly, but also became a little desktop-unfriendly I think. For example, the text boxes to write references or couch requests are way too small.
I would rate the new design and usability 7 out of 10. It’s an improvement from the old one, but it still remains cheap and hardly usable at some places. The mobile version seems better though.
Of course, I don’t hate the new Couchsurfing website. Yes, I lied in the title. I will continue using it, as I love the Couchsurfing spirit, and even with the crappiest website of the world I will still continue using it.
I just hope that the Couchsurfing team takes into account their users’ feedback, and roll out new features –and some old ones- pretty soon. There’s a petition to roll back the website to the previous version; I won’t sign that petition. I believe this a clean, sane start for the new Couchsurfing website, but it needs more work on it, and it shouldn’t remove some old features which were very useful.
Couchsurfer friends, please comment right below if you have any thoughts on the new Couchsurfing website!