How do we offer documentation?

I think documentation about how the platform works and information on hospitality exchange in general are also content that attract new and probably the right kind of users from the outset.

When I look at other hospex sites, I feel this easily ends up scattered in different places and sections over time and then puts effort on the reader to put the whole picture together. I also feel it’s lacking a bit of creativity when just being presented as FAQs.

So I thought it could be helpful to collect ideas on how to approach, organize and present this part of the platform. :slight_smile:

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Personally I would favor a more literary introduction instead of just faqs. Probably a handbook/booklet that could be downloaded as well? I still love the “Valve Handbook for new employees”, to share an example:

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I think this is a great idea.

I think it’s important to have a clear explanation of what the point of Couchers.org is to those who haven’t stumbled across it elsewhere. The problem might be that it’s a very different thing for different people :P.

Yes! Though in this context I wouldn’t think of it as the problem, but the essential quality to appreciate and build on! :hugs:

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My ideas:

  • Introduction: In the process of registration, the new user could have to watch a short explanatory video about values and ethics of hospex in general and couchers.org in particular
  • Documentation: A handbook as proposed by @nolo is a good idea, but it should be in html, not pdf. Then, for example, the “how to send a good request”-section of the handbook could be set as a link next to the request text field.
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A short video might be nice if you include people from different cultures to explain that in each culture some things are perceived differently. Will also show new members that doing some research into local costums might be a good way to start a trip.
Also some basic general rules everybody has to stick to, like no sex-requests, being polite in posts/forum, always have a back-up plan (just in case you don’t find a couch), once you have country pages a small wiki like on public transport, currency, food, drinks, rules, laws, … that might be important for couchers.
I did help create a video called “One Couch at a time” about the spirit behind Couchsurfing and other time/space sharing websites. Sharing food, time, spaces, idea’s, … and what it might mean for you and your hosts.

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I actually really like this idea. This could be a good way to make sure people making accounts are engaging with us consciously and purposefully from the get-go. Forcing new users to watch a video as part of the sign-up could, of course, deter people from completing the sign-up, but those people might be the ones we want deterred anyway… :thinking:

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Continuing the discussion from Running/attending a regular meetup:

I love this idea! I had suggested handbook as a a general introduction to the platform and I generally think it would be so much nicer to have some handbooks, instead of faqs or a wiki. I think we’d also have the community that would love to contribute and collectively write some handbooks!?

Who else loves handbooks? :partying_face: :sunny:

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Handbooks can be great, but they are more effort to write, and can be daunting to read. I like the wiki format, which allows you to grow as needed, starting from a FAQ and ending in a handbook if you desire.

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That’s also true! But in my experience, once you start a wiki, you always end up with lots of abandoned and half-made up pages. Or, in the case of faqs, a lot of links and redundancy.

I’d prefer to see a bit more focus with documentation, probably like a Wikibook. So it’s collaborative and open, but it’s also more focused on specific subjects.

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I agree with this! I think a wiki could be very helpful, but we should probably limit who can edit it (or at least edit some pages). I share @nolo 's concerns about a sprawling wiki with half-completed and/or outdated pages. I’m not too familiar with Wikibook but it seems like the right direction. Hopefully we can make the interface a bit less clunky and more streamlined haha

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Not sure if I understood this correctly.
If is about the front page, that a person sees when they land on the website, from my perspective is very important to convey what Couchers.org is about. It can be a person that has no idea what the term “HospEx” means, a person that has never heard of Couchsurfing, BeWelcome, WarmShowers, HospitalityClub, You name it. I am talking a person that is totally new to all this. The website, through its main page must convey what is it about. As clearly as possible.
This is a good example which from my point of view (also because I am a member of it) does very well through its main page: https://www.helpx.net On the main page is clearly written what the entire concept is about, what people that join can do thanks to it and what to expect.
If Couchers.org manages to convey clearly through its main page to everybody what is all about (not only to those that are already familiar to hospitality exchange) then will be a great achievement from the start because the people that will join will have a clear idea also about how to use it and is likely that they will then use it as WE mean it and so many “side-effects” will already be prevented from the very start.

Really like the approach on the Black Lives Matter site. They have a section Resources where several toolkits are presented and offered for download: https://blacklivesmatter.com/resources

I think this approach helps a lot in having to define what are the central issues and actions and how to support good practice around them. As: organising events (or building local community in general), naming and handling harmful behaviour (or building and sustaining trust), expectations around hospitality (could call it a hospitality pledge)

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We mentioned the FAQ/guidelines in How do we build strong healthy communities?

Maybe let’s discuss what they should be like? And should it be one text, or maybe there could be formal guidelines/rules for do’s and don’ts and a more informal and detailed FAQ for tips and tricks?

I saw this FAQ in a Russian hitchhiking group and liked the tone and the examples, so thought I’d translate and share a part of it. I’m not suggesting, of course, to use it as it is, but maybe it could be a starting point for a discussion. Is it a good idea to have smth like this?

How to attract attention to your request and increase your chances of success?
To get answered and accepted, tell about yourself and your plans in detail.

  1. Mention the dates, number of people, purpose and duration of stay:
    :heavy_check_mark: Hi, I’m Vasya. I’m traveling with my friend Olya (profile link). We are two quiet students on the way from Murmansk to Baku. We’ll be in Tambov on the night from 8th to 9th November. Could you host us? We’d be very grateful for a chance to get some rest from hitchhiking.
    :heavy_check_mark: Hi! I’m going from Minsk to Baikal lake and writing about the trip in my blog (link). I’ll be in Krasnoyarsk around August 2nd and would love to see the city. Could you host me for 1 or 2 nights?
    :heavy_multiplication_x: Hello Moscow!!! Have a couch???

  2. Tell them what a nice guest you are
    :heavy_check_mark: I smoke outside, make awesome biriani, and don’t snore at night.
    :heavy_check_mark: I’ll bring sweets and tell you about my last year trip to West Africa over tea.
    :heavy_multiplication_x: I’m actually a nice fellow, but my empty profile is all I have for you.

  3. Carefully read the host’s profile and write a personal message. Show that you are interested in your host, not just in a free place to stay
    :heavy_check_mark: I checked out your blog and saw you were in Portugal last year. Me too! Would be cool to share our stories and lifehacks =)

And to the recent discussion on bedding and towels :joy:

It’s good to have a sleeping bag with you (and a towel! – cheers, Douglas Adams!). That way your host won’t have to look for bedding for you and wash it after you leave.
:heavy_check_mark: I have all the sleeping appliances with me and would be grateful for two square meters of your floor.
:heavy_multiplication_x: I just came from the Southern hemisphere and it’s summer there now. I hope you have a spare jacket, hat, and pants?
:heavy_multiplication_x: Ask “And where’s my bed and my towel?” the moment you entered the house.

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At the moment this text shows up when writing a request: "Share your plans for the visit and include why you’re requesting to stay with this particular host”.

I like your suggestions about telling your host a little bit about themselves and the emphasis on reading host’s profile (and writing them a personal message). The biggest problem I have as a host are low quality generic requests that make me uninterested in hosting.

Here we go with towels again :smiley:
I would rather let hosts decide about the towels and sleeping bags themselves. I at some point had to “ban” towels from my household because I had recurring problems with them. Sometimes towels do not dry fast and if people travel with damp towels in their luggages or do not wash them regularly… well…they stink. When such towels are left in my bathroom if often makes me gag. I kid you not: in the past I used to have a house rule on my profile: “Guests are not allowed to use their own towels” :smiley: I would rather wash one more towel than have a stinky apartment. Like for real! I do not mind sleeping bags/own bedding (as long as they didn’t get stinky from the stinky towels :smiley: )

While some people require their guests to bring their own stuff it can be considered extremely rude for other people to not offer bedding to guests. “Check with your host if you need to bring a towel or a sleeping bag” would be better than “it’s good to bring sleeping bags/towels so your host won’t have to wash it after you leave”… I also actively offer my guests to do their own laundry at my place and the last thing I want my guests to feel is that extra laundry bothers me. It really does not. This can be different for every single host. However we shouldn’t assume that bringing bedding/towels is something what all hosts would be grateful for. If that would be the case, I am bringing my old house rule back :smiley: !

I still believe that sleeping bag/towel information should be directly on host’s profile on their Home page.

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Haha no no, this one I just found funny. Not saying everyone should have a sleeping bag with them. Basically, I liked how this FAQ is informal, detailed and has examples, and was wondering if it’s a good idea to put smth like that. Of course Couchers is not a hitchhiking group, and needs different advice.

I also don’t suggest using Russian names and cities everywhere, just in case :)))

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Every case is particular. Every host and every traveler, and every trip are different (someone may have a sleeping bag when taking a long trip and not when taking a short one) so it would be nice to encourage people to not assume anything. Do not assume your surfer will have a towel. Do not assume your host will provide one. Specially if you are traveling to a different country where culture may differ.

I like the example @phaula showed. It’s friendly and super clear.

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Yeah, I agree. It can be a more general point, including wifi, keys and so on.

If we are talking about content, here are a few other ideas.

After you get accepted

  1. Say thank you to everyone who answered. Exchange phone numbers with your host, ask their address and how to get there. Keep them updated if you’re getting late or changed your plans. If you were writing them a long time before your arrival, send another message 1-2 days before you are actually coming. If you are hitchhiking, it’s a good idea to send one more message when you get a ride to their city.

  2. It’s good to have a plan B – another host or an address of a hostel/hotel - just in case.

  3. It’s always nice to bring your host a souvenir from your city/country or some treats/sweets. However, if you are thinking of getting alcohol or meat, first ask how happy your host will be about that.

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We could also have hints for hosts. Like “once you accepted a request, provide your contact info, address and info on how to get there”

I have a pretty lengthy message I send all my surfers that includes:
-my adress
-link to Google map with location
-ways to get here from the airport, from bus to taxi with all the details about where to get them and how to pay for them (you need a card for the buss and the taxi is half price through an app) with links.
-safety basics till they get to my home (looking full gringo with all your luggage and taking selfies on your new iPhone on a train station may not be the best idea, duh)
-at what time I’ll be available to receive them.
-other tips about being here, like “visa is more widely accepted, mastercard not so much, so if you have the option bring a visa” or atms exchange rate and commission vs in person exchange rate because you basically get ripped off in the atms, that sort of things you don’t know till you arrive to a country and can make your life easier. You can include here any other rules you want to make clear about staying in your home too, like “don’t wear shoes inside” or “please keep your shoes on” (in my country most people keep them on, and it’s super weird for someone to take them off unless is invited to. I don’t mind tho, I’m barefoot all day.) Or “keep your towel close” :blush:

As said: mine it’s a lengthy message, but these are things I’ve learned over time that people don’t know and find useful, so I’ve compiled it and send it all.

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I thought of it too!
And also another set of rules&hints for everyone, maybe? Like from no flirting to fill in your profile. Or a short list of strict rules that you need to accept when signing up and a list of tips&hints separately.

I guess hints for hosts could also have smth on how to tell a good guest from a bad one (like check references, host people who send good requests and have their profile filled in). And what hosts are supposed to do (I guess basically let people sleep at their place and spend some time with them) and what’s sweet to do but is totally ok not to (show around the city, cook meals… provide towels :joy:).

And for surfers, I guess, it’s good to also have “how to choose a good host”, “when to start sending requests” and “while staying” parts.

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