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. CouchSurfing.com 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.

PEOPLE ARE ANGRY

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?

HOW TO GET REFUNDS — #CSGIMMEMYMONEYBACK

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.

ALTERNATIVE

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!

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.

Trustroots in action

First months live for Trustroots has been tremendous! In this very short time over 5000 members have joined the community. The feedback we’re receiving is very encouraging.

(Trustroots is our latest non-profit project — read introduction.)

We’ve kept quite low profile so far to sort of beta test the code and see how it performs. All the early issues are now pretty much fixed and as a next step we’ll want to build some features that help the site function better with larger user base.

So far Trustroots has been the most barebone and simplest thing we could imagine that still works well for hospitality exchange. Already in early days these guys and many more had good experiences:

In March we established the Trustroots Foundation and during the winter we’ve been gathering feedback and figuring out how to facilitate hospitality exchange in new ways.

Recently Kasper, Callum and I were interviewed by Marlene Göring. She was writing an article about hospitality exchange for a renowned German newspaper.

Our more established projects were mentioned this month also at Vice and Newsweek.

While these projects get more attention, there has always been plenty to do and fix. I would love to see a few talented programmers join our teams at any of these projects. I guarantee loads of fun times and interesting challenges. Drop me a message if you’re interested and I’ll tell you more!

PS. This winter’s Hitchwiki rewrite has not been forgotten — just dozen other things have taken mine and other’s time this spring — I’ll try to hurry up a public demo as soon as possible! Hold on tight. 🙂

Life outside the Big Blue Box

It’s not that everyone needs to stop using Facebook but those who actually communicate with friends, participate in communities and organise real life meetings really should start using something else as well. The rest could spend less time looking at stream of pictures and random blurbs, but for that Facebook is really ideal. Just like television.

I wrote what Facebook means to Trustroots on our blog.

We see Facebook as a possibility (and a threat) to our new travel network.

Presently about 70% of the users have connected their profiles to Facebook and/or Twitter. We also received some criticism from the loud minority for this feature and thus I wanted to elaborate a bit more reasons behind our thinking.

Read more about Trustroots.

Introducing Trustroots

I’m excited to start a new project for hosting hitchhikers. My friends, let me introduce you Trustroots!

Me and other hospex activists are creating a new volunteer based gift/free-economy project. While hosting will be at the core of Trustroots, it’s not limited to it.

This project started from an idea to create “Hitchwiki Hosts”. We were frustrated with CouchSurfing and later with BeWelcome not really moving forward, and thus we decided to act.

For now Trustroots is very simple. You can create a profile and see other travellers willing to host or meet on the map. Map format works great for hitchhiking and for rural hospitality.

Eventually Trustroots will be “suitable” also for broader audience but at first we’re focusing mostly on hitchhikers. In the future you could join other communities such as “geeks”, “digital nomads” or whatnot. You could choose to host travellers from, say “hitchhikers” and “geeks” only. We’ve been running something called “hackercouch” for geeks inside GitHub. It’s a fun hack but shows well how there’s a need for all sorts of specialized hospex platforms.

Trustroot is a non-commercial OpenSource project with strong ideals, just like our other projects HitchwikiNomadwiki and Trashwiki. While our wikis are projects for collecting knowledge, Trustroots will be the community platform for them. It’s not a startup.

Our aim is to create a more solid non-profit legal base later down the road. Hitchwiki is backed by German hitchhiking club Abgefahren e.V. and Trashwiki/Nomadwiki are independent projects run by Kasper, me and Philipp. Kasper and Philipp started Hitchwiki back in 2006 — I joined the gang in 2008.

We will need a lot of help from everyone to test, code, design, plan, organise volunteering and legal base structures, and so on. Please let me know if you would like to help in any way!

For those wondering why I’m not helping BeWelcome anymore; I’ll be elaborating more about this later. In short; we were doing our best volunteering for BeWelcome. While it’s an awesome project, it has its problems behind the curtains. After a year or so me and many others left the project. We thought we can be way more efficient on our own.

I wouldn’t like to call this an alternative for CouchSurfing or BeWelcome (although it de-facto is), because it sets a little bit negative and rebellious tone for the project. Additionally in the future Trustroots might be more than just a simple hospex-map. I’m thinking in terms of combining data from our other projects, free ridesharing, borrowing bikes etc. But that’s the future and I have my long term vision:

Somebody said: “I would love to see hitchhikers leave CS and FB for their chats”. I promise to work hard to make this happen. Might take a year or two but eventually, slowly. (via)

Subscribe to my newsletter or RSS feed to read more of my thoughts.

Now go ahead and try Trustroots!