Archive for the ‘Syndicated Posts’ Category

Glaciers, Trails, and Seldovia | The First Two Excursions

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

In rural areas of Alaska like Homer, cabin fever has been known to drive even the most peaceful of souls to hysteria.  So with the sanity of our volunteers dear at heart, we’ve been focusing on excursions that get us out of the house and into the Alaskan wilderness. 

Just over a week ago, Casey and Andrew led half of the Collective on our first trip across Kachemak Bay.  This was a momentous occasion, as the hefty cost of a water taxi ($75/person!) had kept us snug on our side of the Bay for the first part of the month.  Luckily Casey and Andrew managed to tap into a deal with the National Park Service, allowing us to do park cleanup in exchange for a discounted ride across the way.  So we woke up at the ungodly (yet sunny) hour of 6 AM, piled into our respective water taxis and cleared a ragged trail for the first four hours of the day.  As terrible as all that might sound, the view from the deck of our water taxi as it charged towards the opposite shore justified everything.  Wind and adrenaline in the morning put coffee to shame.   image
Glacial Ice
Photo by: Andrew Otto

After our park cleanup duty, we hiked to a nearby lake and the sight of my first glacier hit me right in the face.  Words don’t begin to suffice here; slap your cheeks a couple of times and dump a bucket of ice over your head, and the effect should be something like what I felt.  We attempted to walk around the lake to the glacier, but dive-bombing birds and the setting sun put a stop to our plans.  We hiked back to the yurt we rented for the night.  There, I realized that I had ingeniously locked the key inside the yurt, so TTT pulled his first yurt break-and-enter.  It was pretty nifty.  We made a fire, had a face-making contest and slowly dozed off to sleep.  The next day a couple people hiked all the way to the glacier, and ran into two bears on the way!  The bears ran away, and Andrew  swears he “wasn’t scared at all.”  Mmmhm. 

This past weekend another small group celebrated summer solstice with a trip to Seldovia for the folk festival.  Seldovia is a tiny town with a slick marketing plan (the site advertises it as “Alaska’s best kept secret” above a plug for “UFO Day”) (  It turned out to be a stunning little seaside ditty with 300 locals and a few tourists (a local told us there would be 3,000 people in town for the festival…I’d estimate there were 350.  Total.)  During the day we went to various workshops on harmonizing, playing the didgeridoo, and understanding music.  Afterwards we found an awesome island-like oasis at the edge of town.  It was inexplicably warm compared to the rest of Seldovia, so we played and napped until the evening.  The festival itself was fun, and we spent the night roasting apples, singing and playing ukulele on the beach.  We camped out on the black sand next to the bay. 

Photo by: Andrew Otto

Our return to the collective house was greeted by our new chef Nick’s first meal, which was delicious, to say the least.  Things are speeding up as the week begins, and I’m rejuvenated and excited for the future in our little cottage.


Collective Week(s) in Review

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

It is the beginning of my fourth week, and a lot has happened since I arrived. We rolled out a tech release package, launched group RSS feeds,  witnessed several great presentations, started several of our large projects, and welcomed several new members to the house.

We have been joined by Miri, who is heading up the CouchSurfing CARES program, and Wendy, a member of the User Research and Design team. Miri is with us for a month, and Wendy leaves tomorrow. Susy has returned from Holland and got an incredible visa! Ten years, with intervals of  six months, multiple entry!

We also welcomed our new cook, Nick, who will be taking care of our appetites for the rest of the collective. He cooked a fantastic pasta dinner with garlic / tomatoe / cheese bread and salad on Sunday night.

We have also enjoyed getting to know the local population. From weekly soccer and Frisbee matches to weekend barbeques, we have been integrating ourselves into the community. If we tell a group of people in Homer that we are volunteering with CouchSurfing,  someone inevitably says “Oh, you’re the new guys up on the hill right?”

The weekend before last we went on an excursion across the bay to hike around some glaciers, and then this weekend a group of us went to the Solstice Folk Music festival in Seldovia. Laura will write about that soon as I wasn’t there! Walter and I hitchhiked up to Hope, AK for some remote camping.

From a project standpoint, things are starting to move smoothly. The first few weeks were all about getting things set up, and now that everyone has tasks to accomplish and goals to achieve, productivity has continued to rise. We are using a new online project management system, thanks to Camtastic, and Jeff is working on a project matrix.

We also had  presentation from Shonali, Casey and Mattthew that will begin to help us discover CouchSurfing’s identity. With an organization as spread out as we are, this is a challenge we look forward too!

The tech team has been hard at work as usual, and has recently added three new remote members. We will also be adding eight new servers in the near future, and phasing out five old ones. This will help the performance and stability of the site.

More updates from the Great Northwest in the near future!

How to use RSS with CouchSurfing groups

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

RSS feeds have made their way to CouchSurfing! Your group posts can now be viewed by RSS subscription. The RSS links are at the bottom of every public group page, and are also available in your Communication Settings page.

Here is a quick tutorial on how to use the feeds for easy management of group posts. There are two video tutorials at the bottom of this post if your Internet connection is fast enough.

RSS can be found on your Group Communication Settings page, or at the bottom of every group page. (you can click the picture below to take you to the page on the site)

Group Communication Settings

Individual Group Pages

To get the RSS feed, click on the RSS Icon image next to each group. This will take you to an RSS feed in your browser.

It may look different than the one below depending on whether you use Internet Explorer, Firefox or a different internet browser, but they all work in a similar way.


You have a lot of choices when it comes to managing RSS feeds!

If you select “live bookmarks” then a button will usually appear at the top of your internet browser for the group and you can see the new group post titles. To read the posts, just click on the title and it will take you to the CouchSurfing site to see the entire discussion thread.


Or you may want to set it up that your group RSS posts go through to a separate page on the internet, usually called a “reader”.

A popular option is “igoogle”, as shown in the examples below.


If you use a different RSS service that is not listed, you need to copy and paste the address out of the RSS feed page into your reader.



Those are the basics. If you have a fast Internet connection, the videos below can help show you more about what RSS is, and how it works.


If you are unfamiliar with RSS feeds, here is a short video in plain English describing what they are and how they work.

Here is a more detailed example of how to use RSS feeds with CouchSurfing.

The example uses Google’s iGoogle reader, but the process is similar for any RSS feed reader.

What are we trying to achieve?

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

To help give our members an insight into what it is we are working towards achieving, not only as Collective participants, but as an organization, check out the priorities page of this blog.

Click here for the CouchSurfing Project Priorities

International CouchSurfing Day

Thursday, June 12th, 2008


Happy International CouchSurfing day everyone! Get out and connect with your local CouchSurfing community!

Today we are going to be heading to Turnagain Pass to throw some snowballs at each other. What are you doing?

To see what is going on in your area, check out local events or the wiki.

Tech Team Alaska Collective First Release

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

As part of this Collective, we have changed the way we release tech updates to the site. For the first time ever, we are rolling updates into release packages. This makes it easy for everyone to see what has been updated, and it allows us to notify everyone before the rollout occurs.

Click here for the Tech Team Alaska Collective First Release

Some of the updates are visible to the public, some are useful to volunteers and Ambassadors, and others are behind the scenes. It is worth to note that some only make sense if you are fluent in tech speak!

One of the most visible updates is the addition of RSS feeds for groups. RSS means Really Simple Syndication, and it is a useful tool for the automatic dissemination of information. See the little RSS icon in the top of the sidebar to the right on this blog? We now have the same deal for CouchSurfing groups. We expect this is going to make it much easier for members to keep updated on posts in their groups, by giving them access to group posts without flooding their email inbox.

I will be posting a training video on some ways to use RSS to enhance the CouchSurfing experience. I will be able to do this once it is live on the system. We will also be posting a general news item to let all members know about this new functionality for groups tomorrow.

Thanks to the tech team, who worked around the clock (literally) to get these things accomplished!

Kelly’s Two Pesos (Notes from the Fundraising Guru)

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

(NOTE: Yes, Kelly is writing in the third person. But don’t get used to it!)


This past Monday, June 9, 2008, Kelly of the Pattersons (aka, “KellyKarma” on CS) held an intensive fundraising workshop/exercise for all ACS Collective team members. Collective volunteers were strategically divided into four teams:

  • Leadership Team
  • Two separate Tech Team groups
  • PR/Communications/Events/Identity

The overall objectives of this event: to assist all teams in long-term planning, identify prospective team needs (resources) over the next 3 years, as well as to assess general team knowledge of fundraising tactics, while simultaneously serving as a research tool to measure CS team members’ fundraising perceptions. This event also served to demonstrate how fundraising plays a role in all the CS departments and must ALWAYS be aligned with CS’s core values and mission.

The workshop started with Kelly’s (Infamous) Fundraising 101 Analogy:

“Fundraising is a lot like dating…there is you (CS) and you obviously think you are sexy, unique and brilliant, and you are trying to find either your soul mate, a Sugar Daddy/Mommy, or just a slut. And like dating, there is a lot of awkward dinner and movie dates (we actually use the term “dating the funder” in the industry), in order to establish an intimate connection, before you bust a move.

And as in dating, you would never even SUGGEST or imply sex unless you were confident there was some interest. The only difference in fundraising and dating is that in fundraising the ultimate goal is money or resources; whereas, with dating, we seek sex …in my experience, the money is much more reliable than good sex. However, ideally, CS will find its soul mate.”

Kelly explained, using her best “pre-school teacher voice”, there is a myriad of ways to fundraise, depending on what exactly you are raising funds for…these are the most common ways:

  1. Grants (specifying the four categories of grants: private, corporate, trusts, and government grants)
  2. Fundraising events/benefits (such as AIDS Walk, marathons, Tugela River Raft Race)
  3. Direct mail/e-mail solicitations (those annoying appeals in the mail or those that flood our email boxes)—trends in online fundraising (pay per clicks like the Hunger Site,, e-advocacy, etc.)
  4. Income generation ideas—Shonali’s photo idea, blogging (for money), production creation and sales…RED campaign, or just buying something and then selling it (girl scout cookies, the school candy bars)
  5. Private donations
  6. Membership fees
  7. Corporate sponsorship/advertising (Red Bull events—think of sports stadium)
  8. Capital Campaigns: specifically for real estate, pool, buildings, etc.
  9. Donation drives (think NPR and PBS)
  10. Gifts in kind (gifts of labor or materials/office equipment)
  11. Endowments

Kelly, then, introduced the universal process of writing a basic grant.

Basic Grant-Writing—ironically, 70% of grant writing is RESEARCH.

  • Research potential funding bodies
  • Identify potential funding bodies
  • Query potential funding bodies
  • When you get the green light—write a grant proposal

What exactly is a grant? In business terms, a grant is an investment with no economic return. A grant is a substantial, usually long-term or time-bound, commitment of funds, resources or gifts-in-kind from one agency (trust, company, etc.) to a non-profit organization. In order to secure a grant, one must perform three essential tasks:

  1. Research: Research potential donor agencies and identify a “match.” For example, one could expect Tobacco Companies to consider funding Cancer research; however, one could not expect the Elton John AIDS Foundation to consider funding Cancer research.
  2. Query: Once a “suspect” donor agency has been identified, the grant writer must “query” the potential donor. This is usually a single page letter or email that briefly introduces the non-profit organization and requests grant application guidelines, forms, instructions, and general criteria.
  3. The Proposal: Following any instructions of the potential donor agency, the grant writer must clearly communicate with the non-profit employer, and then compose a comprehensive proposal to the donor agency with the sole objective of “selling” the cause of the non-profit employer and securing the funds/resources/gifts-in-kind requested in the proposal. Proposal styles and formats greatly vary, depending on the guidelines or application forms of donor agencies; however, there is a universal format.

The second half of the workshop involved an exercise of (what Kelly calls) the “WISH LIST” game. The idea is to imagine (were money/funds not an issue), what human resources, equipment, practical tools, supplies, programs, etc. would each team need in order to be sustainable and self-sufficient, with no extra cost to CS members.

This exercise optimizes the concept that each team knows its own team strengths, weaknesses and needs best. This also serves as a primer for long-term planning and prospective budget development. And selfishly, Kelly needs a long-term plan and budget in order to engineer a comprehensive, sustainable fundraising strategy for CS.

In conclusion, after much discussion about each team’s WISH LIST, noting team WISH LIST similarities and differences, Kelly collected all the WISH LIST’s and agreed to draft budget spreadsheets for each team based on the data collected from the workshop/exercise….and lastly, assigned team leaders to complete budget forms by a clear deadline. And believe it or not, this is actually a fun exercise!

Kelly of the Pattersons (Fundraising Guru)

Playing the numbers game

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

I admit it – as much as I love spontaneity in my personal life, I absolutely love a good plan when it comes to anything I am pursuing at work. So you can imagine my relief of finally getting my hands on the priority list for this Collective. It is comprehensive, and I can now see why it took the key members of the Leadership Team so much time to nut out the details.

Things have been separated into priority A and B. I love this method – priority A projects are highlighted so all teams know what projects are the most important.

For example, from a member communications perspective its fantastic that developing news feeds channels and creating the one central page for these channels is a priority A project. It means I don’t have to do any personal bribing/coercing/begging with the tech team to get support for implementing this project. No, it’s been done from the perspective that CS leaders have looked at overall what CouchSurfing needs (largely from input and strategies already developed) and defined those into priorities. Now it’s the task of the teams here to start implementing.

How do we start implementation? Well, it all starts with planning…so all team coordinators have gone through the list of projects and allocated the amount of time it will take to complete their proportion of the project. At the end of exercise, when all numbers are gathered up again, we will know whether this list of objectives is realistic (i.e. is there enough hours available to us in this Collective to do what needs to be done?).

This is the first real step of project planning I have been involved in here at CouchSurfing and it’s exciting to see this progress made. From my perspective, it makes me aware just how valuable every minute of my days are here – I am booked solid! And I want to make every one of those minutes count the most so that at the end of my time here, I have made a visible difference to CouchSurfing and its members.

I am still working with the rest of the team here to work out the best way to present these objectives to general members. These will be released as soon as we can.

Down Time, Groups, and New Members

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

You may have noticed that CouchSurfing was having some problems over the past few days. If you got the "Site Temporarily Down" message every other time you tried to visit the site, you weren’t alone.

The start of the Northern Hemisphere Summer (traditionally a high travel time) combined with the new member load (we are at 8000-9000 new members a week!) put some sudden unexpected stress on the system. To fix the problem, we shut down group postings for a while, taking a large load off of our main database system while we handled some issues. Casey stayed up until 4:30 am making sure that everything went smoothly, and he was replaced by Walter who took on the rest of the night.

Things are running smoothly now, and we are still working steadily on more ways to speed up the site.

Below is a graph of weekly signups for the past four years… We are growing at an exponential rate! Keep passing on the word and enjoy the Surfing Season!


More detailed statistics and cool information can be found at:

Collective Work Shifts Into High Gear

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

Hey guys, I’m Ben Hanna, the new Web Content Coordinator for I will be helping Mandie out with member communications, organizing what you see online, and working on various other content oriented projects, like this blog.

The collective house is now almost full of full time volunteers, those of us who will be here until the end of the summer, and we will begin welcoming the short time participants in the near future.

Yesterday marked the official start to the collective, and we began with house meetings and team assignments. Laura, the house manager, organized a great session of “get to know each other” games and activities. Since we will be 24 large by the middle of the summer in a relativity small space, it helps to break the ice quickly so that personal issues don’t develop into problems.

westonWeston helped jump start the work process with a tech presentation outlining the technical challenges, projects and goals for the summer, as well as the basic process for submitting projects to the team. The tech department is essential to much of what we do here (go figure, we are an online organization) so budgeting their time and prioritizing projects is a necessity. Almost half of the collective participants are tech team members, but they still have only ten people here and the same amount working remotely to do the work of many more.

The evening wound up with a presentation from general manager Mattthew Brauer (aka TTT) outlining the basic form and function of the collective, followed with a list of prioritized projects that each team has to work on over the summer. (Our priorities will be coming out online soon, we just need to put them in order first!)

We have two separate areas where people can work, one is inside the main house, and is a common area with couches and tables, and the other is a separate office with tables, routers, a printer, whiteboards and other office equipment. We split our time between the two, and it seems to be working.

9000 people joined CouchSurfing last week!
Our largest single week ever!