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Tag Archive for 'verification'

“Mark in the verification icons going away”

A good day for CouchSurfing! Leadership is still listening to members. Gadget made the announcement Ambassador’s Public:

Yes, true! We have listened to your comments on the ? Mark that was in the new verification iconography. We agree that it is not the best way to represent a persons image or character, so we are removing it Monday. We ‘reload’ the site with all the weeks updates every Monday, so you will notice the change then.

Verification ticks on images

Today I noticed that a green tick now appears on the images of CouchSurfing members who have paid for verification. I notice these ticks on groups, I assume they’re all over the site. Wherever you see a thumbnail picture of a person, it marks who have paid and who have not.

This continues what Jim Stone started back in New Zealand all those years ago. A campaign to drive verification revenues ever higher. Given that you only need to pay once to become “verified”, CouchSurfing International Inc rely only on a continual stream of new members to make “donations”. If they can increase the percentage of people “donating”, more money for the coffers.

Perhaps we can subvert this new feature by framing our own profile pictures and adding a different symbol to donate that we opt out of the so-called “verification” system. We could even combine that with a real verification system based on the verification of actual identity and physical location. Food for thought… :-)

Money talks – creating funds

People ask, how can they support OpenCouchSurfing? Likewise, I often meet people who support the ideals, but also want to support CouchSurfing. They might have paid for verification. They don’t totally agree with the way CouchSurfing is run, but they want to support the organisation anyway.

My idea is to offer people a way to support CouchSurfing financially, while also supporting the ideals of OpenCouchSurfing. That’s the basic premise.

I think it could work as follows. We create one or more funds or trusts. These funds are clearly constituted. They exist to support the work of CouchSurfing, within certain conditions. Rather like the government supports universities in the UK, but the money comes with requirements. The universities must behave in a certain way to be eligible for the cash.

A simple example might be server costs. We could create a fund to pay for CouchSurfing’s server costs. So long as CouchSurfing International Inc submits invoices for these costs, the fund would reimburse the expenses. This is just a simple example.

The underlying concept is to give members a way to financially support CouchSurfing, while still upholding the principles of OpenCouchSurfing.

We could also provide a mechanism for members to display and verify their donations. For example, images which could be inserted into the user’s profile, showing how much that user has donated. This might help to spread the message amongst members. In effect, we would be creating an alternative to the CouchSurfing verification system.

This is very much an idea right now. It needs considerable research and discussion before being implemented. Please share your thoughts at this early stage. Can you see merit in the concept? Would you be willing to donate money through such a framework? All feedback will be appreciated.

The trouble with CS finances

No, is not in financial trouble… Yet.

On June 19th, I published a analysis of the CS finances (sheet) , predicting that CS (technically it’s actually just Casey) would be able to hire 3 to 5 extra “employees” by the end of this year. It happened a lot quicker than I thought however (Jim Stone and Mattthew Brauer got hired as well as a thus far unannounced and unnamed developer). This is the part where I say “See! i was right!” and continue speculating.

Let’s have a look at where this money comes from. As far as we know, there is only one source of income for Couchsurfing: donations. This is logical, since there are no banner ads, no paid subscriptions or anything and Couchsurfing has been unable to register as a 501(c)3 organisation in the US so far, which excludes the organisation (actually, just Casey and his friends, since there is no officially elected board) from US government money.

But! Surely people that (mostly) like to travel cheaply cannot afford to collectively donate over 150.000 $ a year (projected for 2007)?!? You’re right. They aren’t donating, they are “getting verified” at 25$ per person (or less if you can prove you live in a poor area of the world). Verification is essentially proving to CS that you are who you say you are and nothing talks like money. If it was just verification they were offering, money wouldn’t need to be involved. I’ve heard of CS meetings where you could bring a passport and 25$ to get verified by an admin. Why would you need to pay if you could just show your passport and be done with it? Because, of course, this verification/donation scam is the main revenue stream for CS. Yes, a scam. If CS was genuinly interested in getting people verified for “security reasons”, a showing of passports would be more than enough. However, I have thus far never met anybody who was able to get verified without paying cold hard cash. The administrative cost of sending you a “verification code” is also negligable, a 2$ “donation” would be much closer to the actual need since all the physical posting is done by volunteers anyway.

In and of itself, this verification/donation scam is mostly harmless, even if the “sliding scale verification” is pretty cynical if you really think about it. (We’re asking people to pay as much as they can affor, so they can “prove” their identities and get the same benefits as those who can afford it, how’s that for intercultural understanding.) I mean, even I fell for it and payed to get verified. Then why is it such a problem?

The trouble is that verification money scales directly with new subscriptions to CS. This in turn means that CS can only continue to afford paying people like Jim Stone if people keep registering (and verifying) at the current rate. This definitely explains why there is so much “verification spam” on CS (visible when you haven’t “verified/donated” yet). If at any point the amount of new users starts to slow down, verification/donation money will automatically slow down as well. If CS ever hits the peak of possible subscribers, income will fall, rapidly. Subsequently, Couchsurfing cannot afford it’s employees anymore and soon it will be in real trouble.

How likely is this? Well, Hospitality Club seems to have hit it’s high point already, with subscriptions slowing down significantly. We can only assume that it’s only a matter of a year or 2 (at the most) before the same thing happens to CS, since both organisations tap more or less the same userbase.

At that point – as they say – things will start falling apart. CS will be practically forced to work with volunteers again at the “top of the food chain”, which no doubt will cause enormous amounts of stress on the tightly formed group that is privately running CS right now. Note that Casey is not preparing “his” organisation for this. It doesn’t appear that any of the donation money is being saved (for instance by not hiring Jim and Mattthew but opening a savings account) and long-term thinking doesn’t appear to be a strength of the organisation anyway. Couchsurfing is technically running on “borrowed” time, on finances that will only last as long as new users keep coming in.

An organisation like CS almost has to run on volunteers, unless it drastically changes its business model. So, either we see banner ads, “payed subscriptions”, “golden accounts”, regular “donation drives” or whatever or we’re going to see a financial breakdown. When that happens, and it most likely will, we’ll be here to pick up the pieces.