A strong sense of community increases a sense of safety, trust and accountability

Hey all, I read a bunch of posts on this forum and wanted to add my 2 cents, but there are so many things i could reply to, that I just thought I’d start a new discussion thread (sry if that was just the easy way out)

To me, people are accountable to the communities they are a part of.

Creating a strong sense of community (online and offline) increases the chances of bringing people to account for shitty/predatory behavior. The less anonymous someone feels they are, and the more accountability they feel they have, the less likely they will feel they can get away with engaging in shitty/predatory behaviour. This leads me to think a good way to increase safety and accountability is to implement features that build a strong sense of community and reduce anonymity (online and off).

Back in the golden days of CS (10+ years ago, before they sold out and became a corporation) there were quite a few features that increased the perceived sense of community and reduced anonymity.

These golden days of CS were great! In Melbourne at least, there was a great community online and off, and although i don’t believe harassment or abuse were eliminated, there was certainly a sense of trust. I had way more trust for someone i had just met if i knew they were active on CS. …I say this as a cis male though, so I acknowledge others have different experiences. But in those days, there was such an excitement around CS, people were even kind of evangelical about it. I’m not sure exactly what that ‘special sauce’ was, but I’m pretty sure it was to with this strong sense of community and trust.

Some of the (safety) features that were removed when CS became a corporation and contributed to the decline of the community include:

  • ‘degrees of separation’ or ‘friends of friends’ feature showing how many degrees of separation you are from any specific profile on cs
  • the Vouching system (you can only vouch for someone else once you yourself have been vouched for 3 times or more)
  • the original ‘city groups’ (i cant remember exactly what it was called) which acted like a knowledge base, discussion and event organising forum, and online meeting place for people new to the city, all in the one spot
  • City Ambassadors
  • the Volunteer driven nature of the platform
  • other kinds of ‘badges’ like the musician or ambassador badges etc
  • filtering profiles by keywords or groups, and other features that allowed easy site navigation and searching

For me couchsurfing as a community died when these features were removed, not to mention the countless hours of volunteer contributions that were lost.

Anyway, sorry for this somewhat disjointed post, so back to the point…

What I’d like to see for this Couchers project is a return of some of these key features that reduce anonymity and brought people into community more, namely the degrees of separation, vouching, and a kind of online city hub/discussion forum like the original city forums/groups.

I would also suggest an invitation system (not invitation only tho) where it shows publicly on your profile who invited you to join the platform and publicly who you have invited. This would add a little more transparency, trust and integrity, similar to vouching. It could still be open to ppl joining without an invitation, but those profiles would have less ‘credibility’ (or ‘standing’ if you like) than those invited by someone. Similar to vouching, the person who invited the new person would then have some responsibility in participating in any accountability processes for the new person if they do behave shitty. The person invited/vouched for will feel they have some responsibility to the person who invited/vouched for them to behave accordingly and not be shitty/predatory/abusive. This, to me is a part of building that sense of community and trust.

The bottom line, next to the reference system, verification system and ‘community standing’ score… I think features like invitations, vouching, the ‘degrees of separation’, and public local city discussion forums/groups would increase member connectivity, ‘community feel’ and sense of trust, reducing anonymity, and increase the chances of people feeling responsible to behave appropriately, and not predatory/abusive.

That said, some people are going to behave shit no matter what, but I do think its a responsibility of the hospex platform to implement measures that makes it hard for those people to behave shitty, stay anonymous and avoid accountability, and its a responsibility of the platform to respond accordingly and seriously to reports of abuse.

Soz for the long post… I’ll stop now

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I’d like to say that I’m extremely heartened to read this list, because most of the features we’re designing right now correspond to these points :wink:

Incorporating invitations into the community score is an interesting concept that requires further discussion I think. As it is, all members are supposed to start out with 50% community score (which goes up or down depending on your actions on Couchers). Maybe we can increase that starting score by a proportion depending on the community score of the inviter - sort of like “vouching” without creating a whole 'nother system and complicating the user profile more.

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Thanks for the long post! Also agree with Kelly, feels great to see that we are actually working on most of the suggestions already :slight_smile:

Regards strengthening the sense of belonging and being responsable by having invitations, I also totally agree and had brought it up already as well. To elaborate a bit more on it here, to me this approach is technically implemented very well on the forum:

  • When users reach Member trust level (see Understanding user trust levels), they can invite others to the forum.
  • All invites are publicly visible, on both the profile of the inviting user and the invitee (actually on the invitee’s profile it’s generally visible; the invites a member sent out are only visible to other members)
  • Inviting is rewarded with badges. By default, there is 3 badges on the forum on this:
    • Promoter: invited another user
    • Campaigner: invited 3 users that became basic users
    • Champion: invited 5 users that became members

Overall the approach is not so essential right now on the forum. It’s also not much used, as one can see on the badge pages… But the way it is set up makes a lot of sense and imo indeed something we should look to implement and adjust on the platform. Could work very well if we establish a Connections section, as discussed in Does anyone really need Friends? (The feature).

If we’d connect it to the score, I think it makes most sense with regards to the “quality” of the invites. Say, whenver you invited someone who has then attained a certain score, it also reflects a bit on your score. Could get very complicated though… badges or some rewards seem already good to me!

I think the ‘special sauce’ was local communities.

In my opinion the biggest mistake that people have made while trying to build other hospex platforms is thinking they are traveler centered platforms. CS was different because in the core it was a local communities centered platform. As a traveler you are pretty much anonymous, you mostly don’t stick long enough to one place to be really known. And also the judgment is lighter (“I’ve only seen this person once, it was a bit weird, but maybe it’s not like this all the time and it was a misunderstanding” kind of feeling). But with local pairs you can’t get away with things. They will know if it was just one odd interaction or if something is a repeated attitude. Also: locals are the ones that will warn travelers about weird people in the community, and keep them safe. Also: locals are the ones keeping events and activities running so you have a community to insert yourself into when you get there.

I think there should be focus in growing and keeping local communities strong. All the tools centered around traveling are nice, but we also need to find ways to bring locals togheter into a community. Without them, all the rest falls appart.

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I really like it. That way we can have a benefit of recommendation benefits without closing the community as it would be with invitation-only.

Its great to hear you are working of these kind of features. Makes me more excited for this project :slight_smile:

Although i really like the community standing score as a single parameter reflecting someones references and the real world experience others have with you, i don’t think things like invitations or vouches would need to be worked into the community standing algorithm to reflect credibility. To keep it simple i would keep the community standing score as purely a reflection of references so that it is clear to someone looking at a profile what the score actually represents. If there is a complicated algorithm and I don’t know exactly why someone has the score they have, i would be less likely to trust it, than if it strictly reflects other peoples experience of you via the reference system.

Rather than influencing the community standing score, I would just have the invitations, vouches and ‘degrees of separation’ as well as ‘connections’ (friends) publicly visible as hyperlinks on each profile. These features would speak for themselves… you could just click through to see the standing of the person who invited or vouched for them, or their friends etc. This would give more transparency to the community and show whose connected to who and to what degree. These features could be below the ‘last active’ status on each profile for example… and IMO it wouldn’t complicate the user profile… it would add useful info to a user profile that would help someone assess their credibility and whether to host or be hosted by them.

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This Exactly!!!

When I used to use CS 10 years ago there were strong local (city) communities (online and offline) of hosts and people that wanted to meet travelers, socialise , organise activities and go to events etc. And this local community enabled travelers to almost instantly make friends, be a part of and be accepted by a community where ever they went.

Maybe would good to make it a requirement for new members of Couchers to join their local city or regional group, which act as online local community hubs where members organise offline events/activities etc, have forum discussions etc. that would help bring locals (esp new members) together into a community.

(as a side thought though…I kinda have a feeling that cs ‘special sauce’ worked so well a decade ago because it was before the days when every traveler had a smartphone with facebook or airbnb on it…)

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I think that’s a central argument to keep the score simple!

Yes! So why not show it all on a Connections section? In my view this section could develop into a true community connections area, both for the particular user, as well as for the community. Though it would sound a lot like moving towards a social graph. I’m no developer and have no clue what kind of implications that would have for the architecture?

On a different note, there has been so much praise for local communities, that I feel it can take a bit of caution as well :wink: I think local communities as a secret sauce are in no way a guarenteed formula for success. Because yes, they can be great! But they can also be very disfunctional. And on cs, there was hardly a blueprint in place how to guarantee or foster some basic standards and guarantees.

In my view, that’s a central task when trying to revive local communities: How can communities be independent and self-governed? While at the same time follow some common values and guidelines, that we believe are central to the project’s identity? Because these common values shape the actual sense of community.

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I just want to throw this out here since vouches were mentioned several times in this thread:

I personally loved the vouching system CS used to have, but I learned that they removed it because it was being abused pretty severely. Some countries were much worse than others: for example, in Italy there were hundreds of users that had over one hundred vouches each even though most of the vouches came from people they never actually met in real life and didnt have references from. In Italy and many other countries the concept of vouching became meaningless for it’s original purpose and morphed into a competition of who could get the most vouches.

I liked the sense of community that vouches brought when they were used correctly. I’m sure we can think of a way to create a vouching system that works, but that is a discussion for a different topic/discussion thread.

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Well, I don´t thing this is a real problem in this particular case. I mean: we are not building a community from the scratch. We´re all already CSurfers and it´s clear that we are trying to revive and keep alive the good CS values. So I think in this case it would work and it would self regulate through references, because most people are not new to the experience. Of course, this is a personal opinion based on nothing certain, just on my subjective and personal experience interacting with csurfers, so take it just like that.

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