Posts Tagged ‘General’

Alaska CSC Talent Show [Video]

Thursday, 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?

Tuesday, 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.

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!

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!

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!

Welcome to the Collective!

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

Welcome to the Alaska Collective blog! This is going to be our informal communication channel to let everyone out in the CouchSurfing world know what is happening as the team of volunteer participants work their summer away in Homer, Alaska. We will give you a glimpse behind-the-scenes of what it means to hold a Collective, the work being undertaken by the participants, some of the fun things we get up to when we need a break, and what the Collective means to the participants.

This is officially the tenth day of the Collective. It is in the warm-up phase, as we have returning participants trickling in over a couple of weeks, in preparation for the Collective being in full swing by 1 June (which is when new participants are arriving).

Front of our Homer house

Susy was the very first participant – she has spent the past couple of months in Alaska, scouting for the location of this Collective, along with helping to recruit for new members of this Collective. She did a great job! We have a house big enough for all of us, complete with a hot tub…and she coordinated the set-up of enough bedrooms (including bunk beds – it’s reminiscent of summer camp in this place!) and the completion of a shed on the property that will be our office.

She managed to get this place for us, despite it not being on the market for tenants. The owners are trying to sell the property, but when they heard about our needs for such a short time frame, they were eager to help work out a solution – for a very special bargain price just for CouchSurfing! I have to admit that I am grateful for the modern conveniences that Alaska is providing…the fact I have a proper bed, is a step up from the mattress on the floor in Thailand!

It has been exciting to welcome back the family members of the past Collective back into my life. There have been excitable hugs exchanged, and a general atmosphere of anticipation for the great things we can accomplish together while we are here. It is a feeling that I have always craved from work colleagues as we work towards a common goal – I love it!

Laura, our House Manager, arrived late last week and has already launched into helping Susy coordinate the rest of the “set-up” things that are required. You know, the really exciting things like the chores list (which she managed to develop by surveying us on our favorite chores – its times like this that you appreciate everyone being different and liking different things!), and mass bulk food shopping in Anchorage. She has also been working hard connecting with local businesses to try and get discounts for things for the Collective. She told me how supportive and excited the local people are about CouchSurfing and the fact we chose Homer to hold the Collective – they definitely want to do all they can to help. We have already been gifted with free curtains, a multitude of things left in the house from the previous owners, and we have a lot of group discounts at local stores.

Jim and Weston have been busy working with Mattthew and Casey (who are currently driving on route to Alaska…last I heard the pair had just crossed the Canadian border), to confirm the organizational priorities to be worked on this Collective. The four of them have spent hours (honestly, one day their conversation went for four hours!) working through each team’s possible priorities. They are working out what is going to have the biggest impact for the majority of our membership base, ensuring there is balance between the teams, and examining the most appropriate time frames for completion of these goals. Team Coordinators will have the chance for input into these priorities and then we will be posting them on the Alaska Collective web page (there is a link from this blog page).Homer house bedroom

We also have Jeff and Doogie (aka Douglas/Ultraman) in the house. Jeff just returned from working in the wilderness and Doogie got here on Friday night. Jeff is busily working at setting up his new tech team buddy, Patricia (yes, the tech team will not be an all-male event this Collective!) – making sure she knows how to access the tools she will need in her role, including working with getting her some work as she has requested to get a head start (thanks Patricia!). Jeff is also going through the bug system to try and squash a few, and working on some extra things he identified as needed for phase one of the Project Matrix (which is going to be our integral project management system to help us manage projects from inception to completion). Doogie has just installed his development environment in preparation for all the work he will be completing this Collective and is getting started on sorting out some bugs that are in the translation tool.

Rachel got here on the first day and has been continued working with her team on issues that arise. She is also working on consolidating our safety information so members can find it easily in one place on the website, which includes creating some more documentation. As well as starting to clarify and write policies for different situations that might arise in our member disputes and safety area.

Shonali arrived on Friday evening. Her main focus for the next little while is the creation of our identity book. This will contain all the CouchSurfing visual identity elements – vision, mission, values, communication tone and manner, and colors. It will be given to all working groups to help guide us on effectively on creating consistency for the things we develop. It is also a key document in centralizing all the information related to what CouchSurfing is all about.

I am personally pleased that Weston was one of the first people here. He has been working on getting our internet connections running as optimally as possible. In preparation for over twenty of us working online during most hours of the day, he spent time sorting out the satellite internet connection that Susy organized. He also arranged this blog as a last minute request – thanks Weston!

Oh and me? Well, other than setting up our comms channels for this Collective, I am going to spend some time connecting with my new team members in the Member Communications team this week. The new team members have already started conversations on many topics, eager to get started on improving communications within CouchSurfing and I am happy to have the chance to help get them get up and running.

I know this was a long blog entry – hope you are still tuned in! Most entries won’t be this long, but I wanted to update you all on the past week and a bit. Others will contribute to this blog, to give you different perspectives during our time together. I look forward to keeping you connected with this Collective through this blog.

If you have any questions, feel free to submit them via the Alaska Collective Frequently Asked Questions page.

Bye for now!

Mandie (Member Communications)

ps – the photo at the top of this blog page is courtesy of Doogie, and is taken from our backyard!