Looking beyond Alaska

August 20th, 2008

The Alaska Collective is in its final days. People are packing up, cleaning has started and others are still hammering away at their computers to finish off projects. So as this Collective draws to a close, its only appropriate that we share what is next for CouchSurfing.

This year, with both the Thailand Collective and our current Alaska Collective, CouchSurfing has benefited from the help of 15-20 full-time volunteers and staff for over 8 consecutive months. Several of these talented professionals have volunteered for CS that entire time, working without pay for the love of CouchSurfing.

In Thailand, we began to build our expert volunteer teams, we made many new tools for volunteer productivity, and we made our website scalable for the 1 million CS members we’ll have by the year’s end. In Alaska, we’ve focused on improvements to member features, such as the reference system improvements, a new chat system, improved safety features and soon-to-be-released communication news channels.

With this Collective ending, CouchSurfing was faced with the question: what’s next? Great ideas are pouring in from members and we have so much on our to-do list. How can we retain the talented full-time volunteers we’ve enjoyed for these many months?

Now it’s time for CS to take the big next step.


Currently, our very talented scout, Pinkfish, who found our dream location in Pai, Thailand, as well as this amazing house in Homer, Alaska, is searching for a living and office space to house fifteen full-time volunteers and staff for the next 12 months in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.

We’re calling this location ‘Base Camp’ because it will be our long-term volunteer training base and launch spot for future CS Collectives around the globe. Base Camp will allow us to recruit the best talent in the world, ensure that CS is right for them, then send them off to join Collectives already in progress. Base Camp will also provide a stable place to plan and support the remote Collectives. We’ll be able to start one Collectives as another ends, and we will eventually maintain multiple continuous Collectives on several continents, accessible for most CS members.

While Collectives inspire the commitment of volunteers and staff members who want the adventure of traveling the world for CS, Base Camp will also attract those who have families or jobs and who need a stable location to participate.


We are an international community, and that’s why we will continue to hold international Collectives. CouchSurfing takes place in home around the world, and Base Camp will be just one of our centers of activity.

California offers CS many resources for a long-term location. The SF Bay Area is known worldwide as a center for innovative web companies as well as charity organizations that are changing the world – which means CS will fit right in. We’ll have help from some of the smartest minds who have already made the SF Bay area their home, and many free recourses for non-profits.

Another advantage is all of the CouchSurfers who live there. Of the cities with the largest total number of CouchSurfers, San Francisco is in top ten. And of all large cities, SF has more CouchSurfing members per capita than any other city in the world. Did you know that 1 in every 200 San Francisco residents is a CouchSurfer? SF loves CS!


The first step is to find our new home. Pinkfish has already enlisted the support of the SF Bay Area community to help us find the right location and set it up. Before we move in, we’ll post the available volunteer roles at Base Camp and at the next Collective that will most likely begin in November. Maybe one of these roles has your name on it!

We have so much we want to accomplish, and Base Camp will allow us to do those things more efficiently than ever before. Adding new features, building community, bringing much more information and stories to members, supporting large member events such as this summer’s CouchCrash in New York City, making it easier to surf and host, and giving our Ambassadors more support.

With so much to do, we’re excited for the opportunity to continue the progress we’re making in Alaska without break through the next year and beyond.

CS Tech Release 5 – Eagle

August 16th, 2008



The CS Tech team has put out the final release of the Alaska Collective.  Included in this release:

Features & Fixes


• Menu options on each page are now centered.
• Removed some old links from the footer of the website.
• Front page picture has changed.
• Gaps in the index page have been removed.
• Removed the character counter input field from references and show the characters left just as plain html text.

Changes in groups

• Added subscription settings button on navigation menu.
• Subscription page is under group tab.
• There are now different colors for different type of groups: normal groups are beige, cs organization groups are now green, teams are blue and communication channels are yellow.
• Tabs and submenu don’t disappear anymore when you go into a group.
• An organization group doesn’t highlight the info-tab anymore and stays under the group tab.
• Redundant buttons in groups have been removed and the group tab with navigation menu stays open (almost) everywhere.
• Added PAGING to the groups!
• Fix group digests not being sent out bug.
• Leave group button on group page.
• Fix bug in where square brackets couldn’t be used in group posts without causing problems with the text.


Volunteer Team Changes

Events Team

• Lets event approval team know the length of time between when the invite was created and when the meeting is scheduled to take place.
• Meetings list is now paginated instead of just showing a few of them.
• Page admin_meeting_view.inc addded to list of deleted meetings that was created for events administrators.
• Corrected weird formatting with meeting invitation email that invitees receive.
• Fixed crucial error that was preventing meeting messages from being approved.
Verification Team
• The verification team can see a list of all members needing letters and edit their addresses from one page rather than from the sending page. This also marks an address as being edited and removes it from the list. Doing it this way helps divide up the growing tasks by the verification team between those who edit the addresses to ensure that they are correct and those who just send them out.
• Changed the word ‘project’ to ‘team’ in email going out when getting verified as per request from the verification team.
• Refined the way addresses can be edited before sending letters to help the verification team.
• Added checkboxes to edit address for verification letters/postcards going out page to mark multiple ones as being ready to print instead of just one at a time.

Contact Us Questions (CUQ) Team

• CUQ team can see what member’s privacy settings are at when diagnosing user problems.
• Removed accidental ‘localhost’ from link for CUQ team.
• CUQ team can undelete profiles again after mysteriously not being able to anymore since the last tech release.
• CUQ team can reset passwords with one click instead of previous confusing and unnecessary interface.
• CUQ team can validate emails without having to click on user profile pages.
• When a CUQ team member manually validates an email address, an email is now automatically sent to that person letting them know.
• MDST/CUQ team can see more information about member accounts (like if they have selected not to receive any emails at all from our system) in order to further diagnose member issues.

Member Disputes and Safety Team (MDST)

• MDST can change someone’s user_name without logging in as them anymore, if necessary.
• MDST can only edit information on other people’s profiles because they have the appropriate permissions. This saves us in case someone figures out the exact url needed yet doesn’t have the permission.
• The ‘mdst read messages’ tool has been significantly restructured in order for greater versatility/functionality, and more sophisticated logging to keep team members accountable.
• MDST can change some account information for members, if necessary. Every action is logged.

Profile & Edit Profile

• All buttons used for navigation are highlighted now when you are on the page it refers too!
• Instant messaging options are now only shown to friends. Skype & MSN are now on top in the list as they are more common than the other instant messaging account options.
• ‘Optional contact method’ under couch information has been removed.

Communication Channels

• Integrated the communication news channels into the groups functionality.
• Integrated tinyMCE WYSIWYG editor into the communication channels groups (can be available everywhere on the site).
• Made a Yahoo! pipe RSS feed that takes all feeds on the channels and integrates it into one.
• Created page to make it possible for users to send article proposals into the communication news channels.
• Added a functionality on communication channels posts to help volunteers manage the status updates on articles through the drafting process.

Temporary changes

• Disabled image processing to keep webservers alive! It is currently set at six image uploads per member per hour, but we are slowly increasing this limit and watching the web server load to see how much we can handle.
• The search database server has been overloaded recently. We have temporarily disabled the radius search functionality to keep search working.
• Added another database server to split the load search generates.
• Added three more web servers to help with the site load while we investigate longer term solutions.


• We’re testing out memcached on all web servers.
• We’ve setup our own, internal, software package distribution repository.
• Greatly enhanced our code approval and deployment tool.
• Rewrote radius search to use a distance table.
• Rewrote some security checks in edit pages.

Bug Fixes

• bug 1807: internal comments on CUQs are now available on a history page that they were missing from.
• bug 1425: previous CUQ history is always shown when answering a question whereas before it was dependent on them replying in a very specific/non-uniform way in order for it to happen. Now it always shows previous history if the email address is the same.
• bug 1427: now makes really long URLs in CUQs behave like they do in group posts and trim them down.
• bug 1679: takes care of poorly worded information about how to change your address based on what level of verification you’re at, corrects link to right place to change it.
• bug 1797: fixed bug concerning date issue on past meeting messages that were approved.
• bug 1759: rearranging notice boxes for both internal CUQ team and ‘current known issues’ boxes are larger, in better positions, and have more basic functionality like who updated it last and at what time. This also lets people who view this information on contact.html to see when the last time we updated our ‘current known issues’.
• bug 1770: TBM icon was showing up on every profile in couchsearch/greeting page because of missing brackets.
• bug 1776: removing duplicate words in an error message.
• bug 1772: if in ‘people’ or other sub-folder clicking on site logo goes correctly to root directory.
• bug 1784: while our current policy prohibits members from searching out accounts by email it wasn’t clear until now how to find your friends that you’re trying to refer when they are already in the system.
• bug 1802: made ‘you are currently logged in as…’ information clearer.
• bug 1765: Tweaked email validation message to allow for 15 minutes to receive validation email rather than 5 minutes.
• bug 1808: removes duplicate ‘persian’ entry from list of languages, allows us to remove options that aren’t needed.
• bug 1121: people were able to add bogus friends where the id didn’t actually exist. Now it checks to see if the id brings back a valid profile before proceeding. Friend connection info only counts if both the ‘to’ and ‘from’ friends are valid


• Changed ‘CouchSurfing’ is a service mark of CouchSurfing International, Inc.’ to ‘CouchSurfing’ and ‘CouchSurfer’ are registered and unregistered service marks of CouchSurfing International.’ as per request from our lawyer.

CS Tech Release 4 – Denali

August 1st, 2008



For the fourth release, these are the changes that have gone live on the site today!

New features:
A new chat system has been created! Check it out at www.couchsurfing.com/chat.html

Volunteer team tools:

Verification team can see links to all regions of outgoing letters at the top of the screen instead of clicking to another page.

CUQs now have direct links to contribution/verification logs on member questions instead of having to click through so many links

The verification team can see a list of all members needing letters and edit their addresses from one page rather than by doing it from the sending page. This also marks an address as being edited and removes it from the list. Doing it this way helps divide up the growing tasks by the verification team between those who edit the addresses to ensure that they are correct and those who just send them out.


The event invitation approval team can now organize lists of meeting invitations to be approved by order that the events are happening so they can get to the ones that will happen the soonest first.

Now meetings that have already passed before the meeting invitation was sent out can’t be approved, only rejected.

mission_stats.html – this is now fully translatable by the translation team.

Made the link in the verification log viewable by members to the Contact Us team, rather than the volunteer’s profile who performed the action. This will ensure that members will contact the Contact Us team to inquire about their verification, rather than the volunteer directly.

Improvements to back-end and performance:

Aggregated all web server error logs
Improved logging in access logs for debugging
Separated php.ini files for web servers and smtp servers
Enhanced some folder access permissions
Merged the new header class into the main development trunk

The Tech Team focused on squashing bugs this past week in Alaska. Check it out!

Bug fixes:
– General —
0001730: First argument should be an array in /var/www/html/lib/access.lib on line 513
0001728: http://www.couchsurfing.com/ stays blank
0001466: Error in the exposed procedure for printing CS business cards at Vista Print
0001045: Vista Print information out of date
0000742: Clicking "logged in as x" link adds user’s own "profile views" count
0000248: Main page testimonial snippet cannot be expanded
0001050: Wrong link in policy_faq page
0001202: Turkish Currency
0001641: Strange symbol on The Phoenix Story page
0001719: Need to tweak the text here: http://www.couchsurfing.com/traveling_bands_musicians.html
0001221: Help make CouchSurfing more secure! Broken link
0000595: Print view is not working any more
0001070: Broken link to contact Tech Team
– Email —
0000890: Emails with wrong user name as sender
0000701: Showing mail sorted by sender works only for the latest 15
0001638: Wrong link in friend update emails
0001539: Couchsurf messages no longer forwarded to my yahoo account
0001581: All Emails Sent, Greetings and Couch Requests from 01/24/0 to 05/20/08 Disappear or not listed.
0001592: emails_replied_to.html page is not displaying message subjects
– CouchSearch —
0001661: Cities not listed alphabetically
0001724: Option to search for Couch Availability does not work
0001686: New City Ambassadors not listed in CouchSearch
0001697: Missing alt text for profile icons
– Images —
0000557: Deleted folders for pictures still in pull-down menus
0001097: Moving images doesn’t work
0000881: Images randomly ‘deleted’
– Greetings —
0001590: Sent greetings are not accessible
0001583: Greeting: Priority selected "Remember?" No Greeting Templates
– User Profile —
0001645: ICQ, Skype and Yahoo user names appear twice in the list
0001033: Birthday miscalculation
0001102: CS request to yourself not counted for reply-rate
0001756: "Quick link" to edit couch information missing when no couch is available
0001716: Print profile shows incorrect logo
0001749: Profile map
0001748: Ambassador home link not appearing on my profile
0001434: Male default preferred gender
0001733: Suggestion to change text on the page for editing the Contact Method field
0000946: Age does not update automatically after the birthday
– Meetings —
0001758: Meeting Message Approval
0001600: page for sending out meeting invitations doesn’t work
0001698: Send notification when a meeting is deleted
0001753: No access for any event approvers to approvers menu, some earlier events – invitation system not fully functional
– Groups —
0001742: Clicking "Make Private" on a group fails
0001014: Cannot leave archived group
0001067: Group moderators of private group cannot add new member
0001100: Deleted group still visible
0000368: Group post link does not link to that post, but to the top of the thread
0001364: Archived groups must get posting function disabled
0001516: Deleted users still getting some posts from groups
0001707: "Create a new group" from the page "Edit Communication Settings of Groups" doesn’t work
0001506: A post doesn’t appear on the Buenos Aires group
0001496: Formatting missing in the Mumbai group
0000889: New user joined group emails not sending reason
0001652: Deleting group posts – post count not updated
0001071: The page "Delete cities" invoked from admin_geofix can’t load
0001582: "Promote to moderator" link doesn’t always work
0000582: No error message is displayed when user attempts to join private group with no password
0001006: Private group shown to people that are not members
0001258: Cannot edit groups
0001543: Each time I try to create a group, I get a SQL error
0000733: URL group redirection not working correctly
– Admin —
0000849: News items deletion handling
0000836: Need log of when verification system is down and working properly
0001739: Meeting message approval past history does not properly paginate
0000801: Needed: Verification Upgrade Button
– Ambassadors —
0000469: Additional field on /amb_where_hear.html needed to be displayed
0000832: Greetings: Greeted members still show with greetings count 1 or higher + show_more not working for city/country
0000740: Greetings: after sending a greeting, more options for return
0001219: 2 bugs.
0001686: Fixed a bug where some ambassadors aren’t found because they live in a different town than the town they are listed as a city ambassador for. Now shows ambassador managers a list of people that are city ambassadors in different cities than their profile locations.

– Contact Us Questions —
0001744: CUQ stats page says ‘commented by’ not available before July 17 even after July 17
0001700: Link to member profile disappears when answering a CUQ and in the stats page
0001649: The Mantis new issues feed no longer updates on the CUQ page
0001754: Clarifying language for CUQ team on a CUQ team tool
0001743: Internal comments don’t get automatically put in the blank when answering CUQs and therefore don’t transfer over to the stats.  Now they do. Updated a CUQ team link to the correct one
0001738: Added more categories for CUQs

Other CUQ changes:

Fixed a bug that changed the id of the team member that answered a question as well as the date it was answered when commenting on previously answered CUQs.

Updated name of CUQ team function to more accurately express what it does to avoid confusion.

Updated the correct time when leaving a comment on a previously answered CUQ.

Created system that shows who the last one to leave a comment on a CUQ is on both past and current CUQs.

Made it so the message about missing new functionality only appears on statistics that came before the functionality existed.

Changed another link to the correct one for the CUQ team FAQ.

Updated internal comments information asking them to please preserve previous comments as per the CUQ team leader’s request.

– Other —
0001309: Contact disappears
0001391: Too many connections on bug tracker mysql
0000128: Last logged in location not always shown
0001732: Reference labels missing in "my friends"
0001667: Email verification feature doesn’t work
0001611: Users with deleted profiles able to enter chat
0001745: Primary navigation active "folder tab" is pushed up and looks broken
0001050: Fixed wrong link
0001466: Fixed business cards ordering page with updated info
0001732: Fixing weird reference display behavior on connections.html page
0001737: Confirmed email addresses when signing up like we do with passwords
0001733: Reminds people to use the optional ‘contact info’ in the couch info part of edit profile responsibly and to encourage the use of our established communication channels rather than external ones that our MDST can’t help with
0000701: Messages sorted by sender will now paginate properly
0000849: Admin news items can’t be completely deleted anymore

0000441: enabled the entire friend connection page to be translated

0000248: Fixed testimonials

0000742: Clicking on your own profile no longer increases your "profile views" count

0001700: Link to member profile is now available when answering a CUQ and in the stats page when the user writes without being logged in by their email address is in the system (and linked to a profile)

0001697: Shows the alt text for profile icons on both the profile and the mapsurf pages.

0001638: No more ‘/profile.html?id=0′ broken links in reference update messages

0001679: Message is clearer to verified members about why they can’t automatically change their address and how to do it properly

The CouchSurfing News Channels – Coming Soon!

July 25th, 2008

A lot of effort is occurring in the background by volunteers working remotely and at the Alaska Collective to establish our very first centralized news page on the site.

Members on the Communications Team are creating guidelines and preparing for the launch of this news page, including developing all the technical specifications for our Tech Team to build this new functionality and making the moves to recruit more volunteers to help manage these channels. Members will be able to subscribe to the channels of their interest by email alert or RSS.

So what can you expect to see on this news page? Click the link below to check these channels out!

Member Stories

The Member Stories news channel will provide the official space for CouchSurfers to write and share their most memorable CouchSurfing experiences – whether surfing, hosting, or meeting CouchSurfers in other capacities. You can expect to hear about not only successful hosting and surfing situations, but the fun CouchSurfers have experienced at gatherings, excursions, events, and activities that inspire, inform, entertain, and motivate members towards furthering the CouchSurfing vision and mission.

Surfers Making Waves

This channel will showcase CouchSurfers who are embarking on particularly unique journeys. They might have a unique story that helps promote the CouchSurfing mission, through a series of unique and interesting couch experiences, be pursuing a project or ambition that is particularly unique and news-worthy, or using CouchSurfing to further a particular mission they are embarking upon.

CS Organization

This is going to make our volunteers and Ambassadors lives so much easier! A centralized channel for all CS organization-related information, to help keep interested members up to date with the latest information regarding the running of the CouchSurfing organization. You will be informed of new projects as they are developed, new volunteers and Ambassadors, new systems implemented, goals that will pursued, policy and finance information when its released, and any other information that Team Leaders want to share about the work of their teams.

CS Technology

Currently this is the Tech Team News Feed, and this channel will continue to inform members of the technical changes that are being implemented on the CouchSurfing site.

Wanderlust Newsletter

A quarterly newsletter that aims to inspire members to what the CouchSurfing vision and mission means on a personal level, and get members thinking about how they can live the CouchSurfing vision every day in their interactions and travels. This popular newsletter is coming back after a long sabbatical and you can expect to see big news items and old favorite sections such as “The Savvy Surfer” and “I want to surf with…”.

Events Newsletter

Another quarterly newsletter to inspire CouchSurfers to get involved with their own communities and other CouchSurfing communities when they travel. By showcasing some truly distinctive events that have been put on around by CouchSurfers around the world, and getting a preview of some to come, we hope to get members excited about actively participating and meeting new people from around the world.

Safety Newsletter

Appearing every six months, this newsletter will be the one stop shop for the most updated information regarding safety in the CouchSurfing community. Members will be informed of the latest safety features that have been implemented to improve member safety, general safety tips, along with information regarding known scams to help make members aware.

Press Spotlight

The CouchSurfing Press Spotlight is managed by our hard working Public Relations and Media team, who keep members updated with the articles that showcase CouchSurfing in the general public. This page will be easily accessible from our news page and will continue to highlight the stories that feature the CouchSurfing community.

Members will have the opportunity to submit article ideas for different channels and our Communications Team volunteers will make the news happen! Not all channels will be available immediately upon the launch of the page, but you get the idea of where we are heading. The next step after this page will be to determine an effective way for members to give feedback and provide ideas and suggestions on what is going on within the CouchSurfing community. The Communications Team is keen to make sure that community news is a two-way street!

If you are an experienced editor or writer and want to get involved in volunteering with the Communications Team, then please visit the Community Communications Group to stay tuned for the recruitment announcements!

Let the Swatting Begin

July 22nd, 2008


Bug week has begun. The CS Tech Team is working hard this week to eliminate as many bugs as possible from the system. They started yesterday, and have fixed an impressive number of bugs already.

List of bugs fixes as of this post after the jump.

CS2 - 2008 Alaska Bug Week
- 0000540: [groups] When a new user join a group, a message is forwarded to moderator, sometimes user name is not written (GrandVizier) - resolved.
- 0001434: [user profile] Male default preferred gender (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0001733: [user profile] Suggestion to change text on the page for editing the Contact Method field (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0001732: [friend connections] reference labels missing in "my friends" (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0001466: [general] Error in the exposed procedure for printing CS business cards at Vista Print (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0001045: [general] VistaPrint information out of date (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0001638: [email] wrong link in friend update emails (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0001724: [couchsearch] Option to search for Couch Availability does not work (cyrilg) - resolved.
- 0001707: [groups] "Create a new group" from the page "Edit Communication Settings of Groups" doesn’t work. (GrandVizier) - resolved.
- 0001730: [general] Warning: array_push() [function.array-push]: First argument should be an array in [] on line 513 (cyrilg) - resolved.
- 0000557: [images] Deleted Folders for pics still in pulldown menus (cyrilg) - resolved.
- 0001097: [images] Moving images doesn’t work (cyrilg) - resolved.
- 0001641: [general] Strange symbol on The Phoenix Story page (http://www.couchsurfing.com/story_cs2phoenix.html) [^] (walterheck) - resolved.
- 0001686: [couchsearch] New City Ambassadors not listed in Couchsurch (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0001697: [couchsearch] Missing alt text for profile icons (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0001700: [contact us questions] Link to member profile disappears when answering a CUQ and in the stats page (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0001719: [general] Need to tweak the text here: http://www.couchsurfing.com/traveling_bands_musicians.html [^] (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0001728: [general] http://www.couchsurfing.com/ [^] stays blank (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0000742: [general] clicking "logged in as x" link adds user’s own "profile views" count (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0000248: [general] Main Page Testimonial Snippet Cannot Be Expanded (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0001202: [general] Turkish Currency (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0001050: [general] Wrong link in policy_faq page (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0000801: [admin] Needed: Verification Upgrade Button (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0000836: [admin] Need log of when verification system is down and working properly (redcouchguy) - resolved.
- 0001506: [groups] A post doesn’t appear on the Buenos Aires Group (GrandVizier) - resolved.
- 0001496: [groups] Formatting gone AWOL in the Mumbai group (GrandVizier) - resolved.
- 0000889: [groups] New user joined group emails not sending reason (GrandVizier) - resolved.
- 0001611: [chat] Users with deleted profiles able to enter chat - resolved.
- 0001652: [groups] deleting group posts - post count not updated (GrandVizier) - resolved.

Caribou Tech Release

July 17th, 2008


The CouchSurfing tech team has just released their third update of the Alaska Collective. Dubbed “Caribou” after the animal and the Alaskan town, this release adds functionality across the site.

Some of the most noticeable changes have been made to the reference system.

Here are the changes you’ll see:

  • Simply Positive, Neutral or Negative!

We know, we know… that time you surfed with those kids in the Philippines during Chinese New Year and ate tarantulas with the village grandmother or when you met your best friend three years ago when you hosted her last minute in Portland qualify as EXTREMELY positive experiences. However, it seems to be the trend that less members distinguish between truly “extreme” and “positive” experiences. Now members will just choose to rate the experience as "positive", "neutral" or "negative". You can pay homage to the extremity of your experience in the body of your reference. All current references will be automatically changed, so "extremely positive" and "extremely negative" references will be changed to "positive" or "negative", respectively.

  • Bringing them together

To help you get a clear picture of both sides of the CouchSurfing experience, you will be able to see the references that two members have left one another, grouped together. Yes, that’s right – you won’t need to scroll through the entire reference list to see the corresponding references a member has left! References you have left others, that don’t correspond to a reference left for you, will still appear at the bottom of your reference list.

  • Stationary updates

Updated references will stay put. They won’t move to the top of the reference list, but the member will receive an email with the reference changes. Now you can keep track of all the changes in your references, but others won’t be able abuse the system by constantly updating references in order to keep them at the top.

  • Identifiable icons

To make it clear under what situations members have met each other, each reference will include icons that show whether a member hosted, surfed or traveled with the other member.

  • How close are they?

When looking at references, there will be a dot to show you how close the members are to each other. Just as in the "How do I know?" section on profiles, you can easily see by the darkness of the dot, the strength of the friendship link. The darker the dot, the closer the friendship.

  • KISS: Keep it short and simple!

We don’t want you to have to read an essay to understand the message a member is trying to get across in a reference. There will be a capped limit to how much you can write in each reference, but don’t worry – it’s capped at 1000 characters so you will still have plenty of typing space!

  • Keeping things private for members

On publicly viewable profiles, references left for others will not be displayed unless you’re logged in. This is to respect the privacy of members whose profiles are not publicly viewable.

Some of the other visible changes include the addition of a safety page under the home tab and the addition of city and country of origin for every meeting member.

For full details, check out the release notes.

Alaska CSC Talent Show [Video]

July 17th, 2008

In case it is not clear by now, there is not much “nightlife” out here in Homer, Alaska, save for really bad costume karaoke, playing pool at a scrubby but charming pub, bonfires with Chubby Bunny contests, Scrabble, “Netflix Night”, and the hot tub. Therefore, we at the Collective have to be very creative about our leisure activities. So inspired by the show “American Idol”, we hosted our own in-house, home-made Alaska CSC Talent Show last Thursday, July 10. It was a surprising success!

Despite being poorly organized by Mandie and myself, and in typical CS-fashion (meaning everyone does everything at the last possible minute!), we managed to come up with eight outstanding acts! In addition, we asked three colleagues to play the roles of the American Idol judges: Weston played “Randy”, Rachel played “Paula”, and then Cam played “Simon” (with incredible accuracy.)

Act One: Joel (our visiting French Chef) taught us all how to make Les Bananos Flambees in the kitchen…which involves rum-soaked, flaming bananas (with a side of fire extinguisher.)

Then we moved into the Dining Room for…

Act Two: “Times 11 and a Beer” was a nail-biting, audience-participating, high-math contest between Cyril, the Human Calculator, and Patricia, operating a regular calculator. Cyril not only beat Patricia on the calculator, but finished his beer!

Then we moved to the Living Room for…

Act Three: “Bear Belle’s Bellydance”, which was performed by a visiting Dutch CSer named Eline. Eline dressed up in her super-sexy belly-dance gear (bells and all!), with hunting-spear in hand, and simply hypnotized the crowd.

Act Four: “Slam!” Charish, our gleeful, enthusiastic PR Team Coordinator, surprised our audience with some DEEP poetry she composed, then twisted us around completely with an interactive, giggle-inspiring poetry slam.

Act Five: Named “Masala”, Shonali and Dougie whipped out the Banghra beats and did a flawless spoof on the Classic Bollywood Couple Dance Scenes…and if you know anything about Bollywood, you would know what a perfect job they did! (None of us knew Dougie could dance!)

Act Six: Laura and Andrew, known as “Flannel Flapjacks”, did a poignant guitar-duet. Laura shocked us all by exposing a beautiful unique, singing voice, and Andrew did such a good job on the guitar that we barely noticed Laura was just doing air-guitar!

Then we all moved to the Piano Room for…

Act Seven: “The Soul Man Show”, which featured Nick “The Blick”, our tee-totaling cook on piano, dressed like Elton John in the 70’s (fur coat and glasses, holding two bottles of booze), and Me, playing the role of the sexy sassy back-up singer, performing our own lyrics to “The Midnight Hour” (“I cannot wait until the Collective’s Over, and no one is around….”) which basically poked fun at everybody at the Collective.

The final act of the show, took us all outside to watch…

Act Eight: Weston showing off his soccer (or football) tricks, while Ben did some kind of juggling with fancy sticks….

However, the Talent Show Judges are the ones who really stole the show with their improv skills! Weston, without even seeing the show “American Idol” before and with a little direction from Trip and I, played “Randy” possibly better than Randy himself! Yo dog! And Rachel captured a highly sentimental, overly enthusiastic, alcoholic Paul Abdul, which naturally inspired Cam to channel a caustic, highly critical Simon. In my humble opinion, one of the best nights at the Collective thus far…we had no idea how much talent was lurking among us!

Who Are We?

July 15th, 2008

One of our goals at this collective is to enhance the user experience of a CouchSurfer. A general goal, but an important one none the less. When we began discussing different ways to accomplish this goal, we realized that we only had a vague impression of who CouchSurfers were. Sure, from profile polling we could tell that the average age is 26, most of us speak English, we all like to try new things, and we like to meet new people. What we were having difficulty figuring out was where people were having trouble with the site. We knew where we were having trouble and what processes are complicated, but finding what was complicated to users of different experience levels was a challenge.

Enter the User Research Team! Created during the Thailand Collective, this team is made of of people around the world who specialize in user research! They have come up with some incredible solutions for us to find out how and why surfers use the site in the way they do. The team has just started an audience research project that will help us define our group of users. We can see who is just joining the site, and how they manage to find what they are looking for compared to the site use of surfers who have been active since the birth of CouchSurfing – and everyone in between.

Knowing who we are helps in every aspect of CouchSurfing. The goal is to simplify everything, and allow people to find what they are looking for without having to think about searching for it. We will be able to identify groups of users, and present them with tailored navigation options that offer no more and no less than what they want.

Recently we posted a news item with a survey for focus groups, and the response has been incredible. The strength of the CouchSurfing community is evident in the number of people who are willing to donate their time towards the improvement of the experience.

Tech Team Alaska Collective – Release #2

July 8th, 2008

The Tech Team has released their second tech brief of the collective. This is a culmination of the work of many people, both here at the collective and in remote teams around the world.

View Tech Release #2

Thanks much to everyone involved for making this possible!

Ready, Aim, Blitz

July 3rd, 2008

I arrived in Homer late Sunday, and am excited to again be a part of the Collective atmosphere: the productivity, the camaraderie, and the inspiration of volunteering alongside so many driven professionals who are devoting their time to this project. The setting here is absolutely stunning–who wouldn’t want to look out over snow-capped mountains when pondering an e-mail? That said, I’ve had little time to explore beyond our backyard (although see the picture below – its nothing to complain about!). the office

Since my arrival, I have been busily working on several exciting projects. Firstly, it’s an exciting week on the news front! As many of you are aware, CouchSurfing recently surpassed 1 million positive user experiences worldwide. For the Public Relations and Media Team, that means a media blitz: sending out our first worldwide news release this week. It’s an enormous task, but a thrilling one! The distribution of this news release will help us examine our process and identify areas for improvement. I’ve been absolutely amazed at the professionalism and dedication of the many volunteers who comprise this team; what a gift it is to volunteer with them and learn from them. Logistically, a distribution plan like this one is difficult–the press release must be translated into many languages, then each core team member must research media outlets to which this should be sent, which can be a time consuming process. Developing an international media list requires ongoing dedication, but I have no doubt this team is ready for the task!

Secondly, I attended a presentation on the new mission, vision and values of the organization and the anticipated new visual identity, the result of a long, organic process which began during the Thai Collective. It was much to absorb, and as our Identity team collects and incorporates feedback, it’s exciting to see how the collaboration of so many unique individuals brings the vision into focus. Of course, Public Relations is dependent upon the outcomes, so I eagerly await the final results, which will be incorporated into countless facets of CouchSurfing’s external communications.

In addition, we’re working on a strategic plan for both internal and external communications for CouchSurfing; a plan which will drive our direction for the next two years. We’re starting from scratch, which makes it both a thrilling and challenging time to be a part of this community.

Over the next 11 days that I am here, I will also offer media training to key members in leadership in the organization, giving them the tools they need to deliver the messages we want the world to hear. The training helps interviewees focus their thoughts, gain experience in front of a camera, gather constructive feedback about their interview performance and hone their interviewing skills. My hope is that if the people representing CouchSurfing in the public get cold feet, it’s because they’re standing on a glacier…not in front of a television camera.

It’s a whirlwind of good work to do and good people to do it here at the Alaska Collective!

Charish (Public Relations & Media Team)