CouchSurfing

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Couchsurfing
Stationary envelopes.png
Type C corporation[1][2]
Founded April 2003 (New Hampshire non-profit); January 2004 (launch); May 2011 (Delaware for-profit corporation)
Headquarters San Francisco, CA, United States
Area served Global
Key people Matt Cohler, Casey Fenton, Dan Hoffer
Industry Hospitality service, Hospitality exchange, networking
Website www.couchsurfing.com
Alexa rank 2,999[3]
Current status The non-profit Couchsurfing organization was formally closed in December 2011.

Couchsurfing International Inc. is a hospitality exchange and social networking website. The website provides a platform for members to "surf" on couches by staying as a guest at a host's home, host travelers, or join an event.

Couchsurfing International Inc refers to two separate legal entities. The first was founded in 2003 as a non-profit organization, and was liquidated in 2011. Its assets were sold to the private for-profit corporation Better World Through Travel, later renamed Couchsurfing International, Inc.,[1] which defines itself as “a mission-driven for-profit corporation”.[4] As of August 2012, the company has raised $22.6 million in investment capital, while reporting no revenue.[4]

Etymology[edit]

Couchsurfing is a neologism referring to the practice of moving from one friend's house to another, sleeping in whatever spare space is available, floor or couch, generally staying a few days before moving on to the next house. The term pre-existed the website in vernacular usage; for example, "Couch Surfer" was the title of a song by Bran Van 3000 written in the 90s.

The company, its website, and the general culture of hospitality exchange it is meant to support are all commonly referred to as "couchsurfing". The "c" and "s" are sometimes capitalized, giving "CouchSurfing". Participants frequently refer to themselves as "couchsurfers" or "surfers". "CS" and "CSer" are used as abbreviations.

Membership and site[edit]

Registration is free of charge, but payment of an annual fee is a factor in user access to services. CEO Billock envisions increasing the number of services available only to paid members.[5] Members are asked to provide information and photos of themselves and of the accommodation they offer, if any. More information provided by a member, and other members, may affect the chances that someone will ask another member to be their host or guest. Members looking for accommodation can search for hosts using several parameters such as age, location, and gender.

Homestays are consensual between the host and guest, and the duration, nature, and terms of the guest's stay are generally worked out in advance.

Demographics[edit]

Cities with over 4,000 registered couchsurfers as of 3 January 2011
Countries with over 500 registered couchsurfers as of 3 January 2011

As of January 2013, there were over 5.5 million registered profiles at Couchsurfing (all profiles ever created, including duplicate, dormant and deleted profiles).[6] Couchsurfing currently claims it is "a global community of 10 million people in more than 200,000 cities".[7] Founder Casey Fenton stated in 2011 that approximately one-third of the profiles registered at that time were active. As of August 2014, Couchsurfing Incorporated states that 400,000 people log-in over a period of one week.[8] According to information on the Couchsurfing site, since 2011 a significant number of fake membership profiles have been created with the intention of inflating membership statistics. In March 2012, 65% of New York City profiles were intentional fakes. The systematic creation of fraudulent membership profiles has continued through August 2014, with numerous locations across the globe registering rates of 50% or more.[9]

Ownership and management[edit]

Jennifer Billock, CEO of CouchSurfing from October 2013 to October 2015

Couchsurfing International, Inc is a privately owned for-profit corporation, incorporated in 2011 in the State of Delaware by Casey Fenton and Dan Hoffer.[1] It has also been a certified B Corporation since August 2011.[10] As a privately held corporation, Couchsurfing chooses to not publish any financial data, nor information about its stockholders, majority or minority. After the corporation purchased the assets of the previous non-profit organization in 2011, according to company press releases, a $7.6 million first-round investment was raised by Benchmark Capital,[11][12][13] with the ambition of going public at a future date.[14]

In August 2012, Couchsurfing received an additional $15 million in funding from lead investor General Catalyst Partners, with participation by Menlo Ventures, as well as existing investors Benchmark Capital and Omidyar Network. The additional funding brings the company’s total funding raised to $22.6 million.[15]

After replacing Dan Hoffer, Tony Espinoza stepped down as the chief executive of Couchsurfing in October 2013, amid layoffs constituting 40% of employees.[16] Considerations included an $800,000 monthly expenditure rate, which could be difficult to control, considering revenues.[17] He was replaced by interim CEO Jennifer Billock.[17] In August 2014 she was designated permanent CEO by a renewed Board of Directors. Her tenure ended in October 2015[18] without any replacement being announced. According to The Kernel on May 2015, the Daily Dot's week-end magazine, « Couchsurfing has burned through most of its VC money ».[19]

History[edit]

Conception[edit]

The Couchsurfing project was conceived by Casey Fenton in 1999, according to Fenton's account.[20] The idea arose after finding an inexpensive flight from Boston to Iceland. Fenton randomly e-mailed 1,500 students from the University of Iceland asking if he could stay. He ultimately received more than 50 offers of accommodation. On the return flight to Boston, he began to develop the ideas that would underpin the Couchsurfing project. He registered couchsurfing.com the same year.

The site was launched with the cooperation of Dan Hoffer, Sebastien Le Tuan, and Leonardo Silveira,[20] although none of these except Fenton was a member of the original board of directors. The project became a public website in January 2004. Former CEO Hoffer stated that when Couchsurfing first started, he made sure to write up a contract between Fenton and himself that detailed what would happen if CouchSurfing were to ever go for-profit, as he suspected it one day would.[21]

Initial growth of the site was slow. By the end of 2004 the site had just over 6,000 members. In 2005, growth accelerated and by the end of the year, membership stood at just under 45,000.[6] As of October 2011, shortly following its privatization, Couchsurfing had over 3 million active and inactive members (Fenton stated the number of active members was approximately one million)[citation needed] and was the most popular free accommodation site.[22] As of October 2011, the site had an Alexa Global Traffic Rank of 1,729, but by September 2014 had descended to 3,178.[23]

2006 database loss and relaunch[edit]

In June 2006, the project experienced a number of computer problems resulting in much of the database being irrevocably lost.[24] A Couchsurfing Collective was underway in Montreal at the time and those in attendance committed to fully recreating the original site, with users to re-enter their profile data. "Couchsurfing 2.0" was announced early in July 2006, with the intent to be operational within 10 days. The initial implementation of Couchsurfing 2.0 actually launched after only four days with the current Couchsurfing slogan "Participate in Creating a Better World, One Couch At A Time".

Couchsurfing collectives[edit]

From 2006 through 2011, development of the website was run in large part by Couchsurfing Collectives: events which may last days or weeks, bringing groups of Couchsurfers together in a chosen city, to develop and improve Couchsurfing. Collectives have taken place in Montreal, Vienna, New Zealand, Rotterdam, Thailand, Alaska, Costa Rica and Istanbul.[citation needed] The collectives ended with the privatisation of Couchsurfing in 2011, given that the use of volunteer labor is forbidden in commercial enterprises by the US federal government.[25]

2011 incorporation[edit]

Couchsurfing International Inc. was formerly a Nonprofit organization registered in the U.S. state of New Hampshire.[26] In August 2011, Couchsurfing announced its change of status to a for-profit corporation incoporated in the U.S .state of Delaware.[27] Couchsurfing International Inc refers to two separate legal entities. The first was founded in 2003 as a non-profit organization, and was liquidated in 2011. Its assets were sold to the private for-profit corporation Better World Through Travel, later renamed Couchsurfing International, Inc.,[1] which defines itself as “a mission-driven for-profit corporation”.[4] A $7.6 million investment was raised by Benchmark Capital,[11][12][13] with the ambition of going public.[14] The site had previously been financed by donations from members and revenue from the voluntary identity verification service. Second and third rounds of investors contributed another $15 million.

The announcement that Couchsurfing had become a for-profit corporation has raised serious objections from members.[28] They were opposed to founder Casey Fenton and CEO Dan Hoffer making money from selling to investors with a huge benefit assets which had been financed by donations and benevolents' work (i.e. CS was in their eyes the community's work).[29][30] Also, they hinted that Fenton had known from the beginning that CS' 501c3 charity fiscal status would be denied in the end by U.S. tax authorities [1] [31] and that he remained intentionaly very vague about the nonprofit dissolution, the buying back of its assets and finally the selling of a stake to investors.[32] The Couchsurfing corporate blog tried to refute those claims.[33]

Place Pages[edit]

In December 2012, major changes were made to the Couchsurfing website when the Place Pages system was instituted, replacing individual city pages.[34] The Place Pages were felt to have many user security and safety issues, geographical and technical problems, be difficult to navigate, and to encourage misuse of the Couchsurfing website.[34] For instance, at first and for quite some time, city pages forums– which had been private  suddenly became public when becoming Place Pages, thus revealing members' information such as mobile phone numbers and enabling search engines to index them.

August 2014 security breach[edit]

According to the Couchsurfing Community Support Team, on 15 August 2014 “the part of Couchsurfing’s system that sends email to members was breached and an email was sent to approximately 1 million members.”[35] According to a CS Ambassador and IT consultant, the email contained malicious code, an XSRF attack (a Cross-site request forgery), including “embedded on-site action calls loaded as an image”,[36][37] which would have erased reader’s membership data and deleted member profiles. By design or by accident, the action calls were deactivated in the original code. Couchsurfing censored some posts on the site referring to the incident and generally refused to explain how the breach was made.[38][39]

Safety[edit]

Given the nature of hospitality networks, based on inviting strangers into private homes, safety is a concern.[citation needed]

There have been mechanisms Couchsurfing Inc claims increase safety and trust, with safety related information visible on member profiles for potential hosts and guests.

Members used to have the option of leaving reciprocal comments on their experiences with other members, and mark them as positive, negative, or neutral.[40] Each profile had specific links to make all negative references easily readable in one place. Negative references were occasionally removed by the site when they were deemed to have been done in a retaliatory or unfair manner.[41] As of 2016 the website no longer allows to label references as negatives, does not permit viewers to retrieve negative references, and does not count them.

A personal vouching system was discontinued in November 2014. Now qualified members who have been vouched for can no longer vouch for others in turn. [42]

Crimes committed using Couchsurfing[edit]

Several Couchsurfing International, Inc. hosts and travelers in several countries have been convicted and imprisoned for rape and theft carried out on victims found through the Couchsurfing service. Some sexual assault convictions, including those in Leeds (UK, 2009),[43] Marseille (France, 2012)[44] and Padua (Italy,2014),[45][46] have received extensive coverage in the international press.

Controversy[edit]

Terms of Use controversy[edit]

In September 2012 Couchsurfing updated its terms of use. These were criticized by many members of the community. The former German Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, Peter Schaar, publicly criticized the terms of use and informed the US Federal Trade Commission about the serious shortcomings in the Terms of Use.[47] Schaar has stated that these terms would be inadmissible under German and European data protection law.

Claims of censorship[edit]

People unhappy with the new Place Pages voiced their concerns on group message boards. In late February 2013 a prominent ambassador in Chicago was banned from the site by having his profile and posts deleted. In early March 2013, a well-known ambassador in Berlin was banned as well.[citation needed] The banning of the two ambassadors, in addition to a third person, was perceived by their supporters as being motivated by the company's desire to silence its internal critics and thus was the result of censorship. The company maintains that the two users violated the company's Terms of Use and that the deletions were not the result of censorship.[citation needed] A Facebook page, "Censorship on Couchsurfing" was launched by unhappy members.[48]

Dating and Hookup Site[edit]

While Couchsurfing tells members, "Don't contact other members for dating – we will consider this harassment" the site has been described on the Internet as a dating site.[49]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "State of Delaware corporate entity search - enter "couchsurfing"". 
  2. ^ "Deep link to corporate records". 
  3. ^ Couchsurfing.com on Alexa.com Retrieved 2015-06-9
  4. ^ a b c "TechCrunch Article". Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  5. ^ "A rough ride to profit for CouchSurfing". Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  6. ^ a b "Statistics". Couchsurfing. Retrieved 29 January 2011. 
  7. ^ "About Couchsurfing". 
  8. ^ "Job Openings". Retrieved 5 August 2014. 
  9. ^ "Robot Creating Fake Profiles". Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  10. ^ ""Couchsurfing International | B Corporation"". 
  11. ^ a b "B Corporation". B Corporation. Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  12. ^ a b Tweney, Dylan (24 August 2011). "Benchmark plops down $7.6M to make Couchsurfing into a for-profit". VentureBeat. Retrieved 11 September 2011. 
  13. ^ a b "Couchsurfing Moves from NGO to B-Corps: Bona fide or Bogus?". Triplepundit.com. 2011-09-28. Retrieved 2012-02-22. 
  14. ^ a b "El jefe de Couchsurfing asegura que su objetivo es salir a Bolsa" [The Boss of Couchsurfing ensures that his objective is to be listed on the stock market]. El País. 13 September 2011. 
  15. ^ "TechCrunch Article". 22 August 2012. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  16. ^ "CouchSurfing CEO steps down amid layoffs, uncertainty". Tnooz. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  17. ^ a b Ingrid Lunden. "Tony Espinoza Steps Down As CEO Of Couchsurfing, Jennifer Billock Steps Up As Interim As Startup Lays Off Staff, "Doubles Down" On Mobile". TechCrunch. AOL. 
  18. ^ "Jennifer Billock". LinkedIn. Retrieved 7 January 2016. (registration required (help)). 
  19. ^ "The improbable rise and fall of Couchsurfing". kernelmag.dailydot.com. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  20. ^ a b "How CouchSurfing Got its Start, and Landed VC Millions". Entrepreneur (magazine). December 9, 2011. 
  21. ^ Txakeeyang, Lindsey (22 January 2011). "Couchsurfing Co-founder and former CEO Daniel Hoffer Discusses Leadership at the Stanford Graduate School of Business". The Daily Dish. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  22. ^ Baker, Vicky (22 January 2011). "How to stay with a local". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 January 2011. 
  23. ^ "Couchsurfing.org Site Info". Alexa Internet. Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  24. ^ Fenton, Casey (28 June 2006). "Help! - Innodb and MyISAM accidental DROP DATABASE - 112 tables gone forever?". forums.mysql.com. Retrieved 29 January 2011. 
  25. ^ "elaws - Fair Labor Standards Act Advisor". United States Department of Labor. Retrieved 20 November 2014. 
  26. ^ "Business Entity". New Hampshire Department of State. 25 August 2011. 
  27. ^ Perlroth, Nicole (24 August 2011). "Non-Profit CouchSurfing Raises Millions In Funding". Forbes. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  28. ^ "After going for-profit, CouchSurfing faces user revolt". GigaOm. 1 September 2011. Retrieved 17 November 2011. 
  29. ^ "Users Revolt After Hippie Couchsurfing Site Goes Corporate". Gawker. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  30. ^ "CouchSurfing CEO steps down amid layoffs, uncertainty". Tnooz. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  31. ^ "Couchsurfing Dilemma: Going for Profit". Inc.com. 2012-05-29. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  32. ^ "CouchSurfing "conversion" issues". Couchwiki. March 24, 2015. Retrieved Jan 18, 2016. 
  33. ^ "Myths and Facts: Couchsurfing’s conversion to a B Corp | Couchsurfing News Blog". blog.couchsurfing.com. Retrieved 2016-01-18. 
  34. ^ a b "How to Lose Funds and Infuriate Users: Couchsurfing, a Cautionary Tale From the". techPresident. November 7, 2013. 
  35. ^ "Official answer". Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  36. ^ "Security Breach". Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  37. ^ "IT security consultant". Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  38. ^ "Security Breach". Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  39. ^ "site improvement email from CS". Retrieved 19 August 2014. 
  40. ^ "References FAQ". Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  41. ^ "One Couch at a Time". Couchsurfing. Retrieved 29 January 2011. 
  42. ^ "What’s changed on Couchsurfing?". couchsurfing.com. Retrieved November 20, 2014. 
  43. ^ "Leeds couchsurfing.com rapist jailed". Yorkshire Evening Post. 29 October 2009. Retrieved 2 August 2010. 
  44. ^ "Il piégeait les étudiantes qu'il hébergeait". Europe 1. 17 July 2012. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  45. ^ "Couchsurfing, carabiniere arrestato per violenza sessuale". Il Mattono. 30 March 2014. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  46. ^ "Couchsurfing rapist Dino Maglio escaped investigation for months". theguardian.com. The Guardian. 29 May 2015. 
  47. ^ "Schaar kritisiert Backpacker-Netzwerk Couchsurfing". ZEIT.DE. Die Zeit. Retrieved 2 March 2015. 
  48. ^ Payal Arora (2014), The Leisure Commons: A Spatial History of Web 2.0, Routledge, p. 165, ISBN 978-0415887113 
  49. ^ "Couchsurfing’s Sex Secret: It’s The Greatest Hook-Up App Ever Devised". businessinsider.com. Business Insider. 

External links[edit]