How to help struggling open source projects?

I’ve recently learned something new and interesting regarding volunteering and inspiring others. This is a story on how to help struggling open source projects by example and inspiration.


These days much of the programming work is based on open source libraries. Often they are small packages someone somewhere made for free, on their free time.

Often times packages die away, unmaintained. Sometimes that’s just because there is something better. Often original maintainer just got busy or moved on to work on something else.

Sometimes these abandoned pet projects are rather big and important, relied upon by many fellow developers and other libraries, which then in turn are used by many developers and so on.


So I stumbled upon one such unmaintained library recently. We’ve used Agenda extensively at And we’re far from being the only ones: Agenda has ~45K downloads a month, 74 other library dependents and over 3K stargazers on GitHub.

Instead of switching to an alternative or programming all those features we needed by ourself, I’d rather see Agenda being maintained again. So I hopped in for a week/two.

I started replying to issues and poking bug reporters to submit back code fixes. I managed to inspire a bunch of people to work on the project, arranged moving the repository from original developer’s personal account to an organization, arranged moving another related package under that same org, triaged a big list of issues into manageable actionable list, together with others who had stepped in to help.

Basically I just kept repeating “Could you help with this or that?” -message. Action inspires more action. People are willing to help if you show them direction and arrange them power and means to work.

Original author Ryan Schmukler was more than happy to pass access to his pet project, now collaborative effort to create best scheduling library for Node.JS. There’s a plan for new documentation and website representing the project, new Slack channel and even a sponsorship deal was mentioned.

Just look at that mountain of activity this summer!

Contributor activity on Agenda


Thank you so much for niftylettuceOmgImAlexislushcjoeframbachemhagmanmichelem09and others for your help & activity! And of course thanks to rschmukler for letting us help.

Agenda - A light-weight job scheduling library for Node.js


Looking for working on open source projects but don’t quite know where to start? Hesitant with your programming skills? You can help out in other ways. It’s as rewarding to help by replying support messages and just simply inspiring and supporting others to do the work.

What’s with unauthorised CouchSurfing verification payments?

What’s with unauthorised CouchSurfing verification payments? Verification system was never community’s favourite but this time there’s something more to it.

So this is how CouchSurfing currently operates: CS tells new members they can get added benefits by “verifying” their profiles. Verifying your identity is done using credit card. CS forgets to clearly mention it actually costs. CS just grabs your money every year from then on, if you ended on having an annual plan.

That’s pretty much what’s been going on for the past few months. is really making an effort hiding away all the mentions about verification not being free.

The price is actually mentioned, but it’s hidden until you click little shopping cart icon which brings a dropdown with the price written in small grey text (via PayPal) or if you pay via Stripe’s credit card popup, the price is visible in small grey text only when entering the card information. Click images to see them bigger. The price is never mentioned anywhere on the actual verification page.

CouchSurfing verification via PayPal, screenshot
CouchSurfing verification via credit card, screenshot

Current CouchSurfing’s get verified page (visible only for registered, non-verified members), or just see screenshots from June and August 2017.

CS verification page screenshot as of August 2017

So there are multiple setups of verification going on, depending on which A/B test group you might fall into. Prices vary between 19$ and 75$ as they’re testing different sums to find optimal price point. Visuals of that verification page might be different to different users as well. Sometimes it’s pay once for lifetime fee, sometimes an annual fee. Tests like that are fine and normal, but just in case you were wondering different prices being mentioned here and there.

While it might feel that giving by your credit card information online will get you charged, we absolutely should restrain from victim blaming. The the price should just be upfront visible, the only reason not to do so is to trick people into it.

I reached out for comments from Stripe and Paypal as this surely goes against their service agreements. Stripe commented back:

I can say with certainty that all appropriate actions will be taken and we will follow up with the owner of this business as necessary.


Twitter is full of complaints from people who ended up losing their money. Here are just some:

…and there are many more.

CouchSurfing, you really think this is a great way of doing business?


If you verified and want a refund refunds, you can fill a form but it will take a while before they’ll get back to you.

Here’s a better idea:

You indeed might be better resolving this via PayPal’s buyers protection or you could open a dispute via your credit card company. You could also contact Stripe and explain them the situation. Stripe is CS’s credit card payment gateway.


Now I’m in a bit tricky position to write such an article, because I’m working on a similar project to CS. Typically I’m retraining from stirring too much negativity into air around hospitality exchange, because I think we have better things to concentrate on. This time I just felt this was important and after watching this happen all summer, I just had to point it out. Needless to say, I encourage you to give a try to Trustroots as an alternative (I’m co-founder). We’re a non-profit foundation and good people you can trust.

If you still prefer using CouchSurfing, please let them know this is not okay.

Feel free to share this article!

What do we not know, and where can we make progress?

Physicist David Kaplan gives an excellent speech about why we shouldn’t always be measuring the economic gain.

A documentary “Particle Fever” about the Large Hadron Collider — the largest and most complex machine ever built — is a very thoughtful and entertaining film. This was my favorite bit from it (or check it from the video):

The question by an economist was, “What is the financial gain of running an experiment like this and the discoveries that we will make in this experiment?” And it’s a very, very simple answer. 

I have no idea. 

We have no idea. 

When radio waves were discovered, they weren’t called radio waves, because there were no radios. They were discovered as some sort of radiation. 

Basic science for big breakthroughs needs to occur at a level where you’re not asking, “What is the economic gain?” You’re asking, “What do we not know, and where can we make progress?” 

So what is the LHC good for? Could be nothing other than just understanding everything.

David Kaplan

I wish someone could summarize it so nicely also when discussing about arts or free-economy.

How does Trustroots compare?

Why should I join you guys and what’s the difference?

We hear this question sometimes and it often includes phrases like “—why don’t you help BeWelcome instead?” or “—what’s wrong with Couchsurfing?”. Complete reply would be lengthy and complicated, but I’ll give you some food for thought.

About Couchsurfing many have written much better than I could and one of the latest good reads comes from Nithin Coca: The improbable rise and fall of Couchsurfing. Check it out.

I made a simple Comparison of Hospitality Exchange platforms to support discussion.

Gary gave us some valid feedback:

It still doesn’t really answer what the difference between TR and BW is and why people should use TR over BW if they were to choose one. They both seem pretty similar to me and good alternatives to CS with their open source, non-profit ethos. This would potentially fracture a community needlessly by setting up something that isn’t dissimilar to BW and would essentially be targeting the same audience with similar values. If it had been exclusively for hitchhikers then that would be a different story(like WS is for cyclists) but you seem to be marketing it in a way now with the addition of “and other travellers”, that I don’t see the distinction myself between what you have decided to create from the ground up and what BW has dedicated their time to already. Why not continue support their cause instead and help them to grow?

Kasper’s reply:

BW is a great project, great people, great community. Unfortunately it’s very static because of the way it’s governed and the initial code base. I and quite a few other people (many coders) got the impression there’s no way to move BW forward in a significant way after trying for 5+ years. Personally I want to pick up what CS dropped in 2007 (by refusing open source), when there was amazing momentum to change the world in a significant way.

We did our best. I spent over a year trying to improve things; it was time to move on.

I and others still support BW and help them if they need our help.

In my comparison I included CouchSurfing, HospitalityClub, BeWelcome, WarmShowers and Trustroots since these are the sites that are — or in the past had — a change to become non-profit and open source. That’s the only sustainable way of running hospitality exchange networks in our opinion.

All this said; we wouldn’t like to think Trustroots as an alternative to anything specifically. As Carlos said to me earlier, it just doesn’t compare well on many aspects. In our FAQ we write:

Trustroots isn’t on purpose an alternative to anything specifically. There are many people to whom Facebook, CouchSurfing or other tools aren’t suitable for multitude of reasons. We encourage using any tools you wish in parallel. We are trying to make it easy to gather your contents from these sites also to Trustroots.

Free-economy Quotes of the month

I’ve recently stumbled upon some pretty smart articles about traveling, free-economics and share-economics. Here are some bits I enjoyed the most.

From The Hobos of Instagram at Vice:

“I grew up with the internet, and sharing has always been a part of my life because of the age that I am,” she said. “It’s the age that I live in. It just feels normal to share photos of what I’m doing.”

“Unfortunately, we do have a younger generation that’s never not known the internet, so that does kind of lead to what we call on the website ‘spoon-feeding,’” he said. “People come on the website and occasionally demand to be spooned information, because they think that’s what the Internet is. They don’t understand that it’s like a community you participate in, and you can learn incredible information from, but you’ve got to participate.”

“I had been working so much and was planning to buy a [new] car,” Steele said, “but instead of buying a car I just quit my life and started doing whatever the fuck I wanted.”

From Homeless Millennials Are Transforming Hobo Culture at Newsweek:

Where there used to be “jungles” and “hobohemias,” now the Internet is the place present-day hobos—many of them millennials—go to connect and build a community.

“I’ve become a professional vagabond, and this is the lifestyle that I love.”

From Can hitch-hiking survive the ‘sharing economy’? at TheEcologist:

Hospitality does entail risk, but it is no less worthwhile for that. By subjecting it to the treatment of screening and profiling, by attempting to eliminate that risk, we end up by eliminating the hospitality itself.

Being able to rely on strangers, on communities, on trust, are values that are worth preserving, and if we destroy them we are perversely destroying things that can truly keep us safe. As one driver put it: “I wouldn’t pick up hitch-hikers either. I’m not nuts. I do that to protect myself. But protecting myself has no value to society.”