Why were people reluctant to leave negative references?

Lots of discussion on this in other threads, thought it would be good to summarize why people would not leave a negative reference and what we can do to fix each reason.

  • Afraid of revenge reference - difficult to balance the ability to leave anyone a reference (whether or not that influences their community standing) and not allowing this. Reference replies are a good start, possibly being able to request a mod to remove (but that puts a lot on their judgement call).

  • Not wanting to be harsh - I think messaging is important, even just a message like “Don’t be afraid to be honest with your experiences, future Couchers are counting on you!” On the other hand, you don’t want too much negativity in the messaging.


I haven’t had any super bad experiences like robbery or violence, but still there’s always something that could be negative for other surfers, and I would like them to know about it. Now I have to write a positive reference and be subtle about the negative and wrap it in nice words in a reference.

An example of such negative side would be to smoke outside even if I have a ban for smokers at my home (visible in my profile).

I feel the anonymous keywords (Clean, Wants to hang out, etc) that couchsurfing have added could work. A little bit like hobo signs https://www.we-find-wildness.com/2010/05/hobo-signs/

I’ve also thought about autonormalizing the references you give; if you have given negative references, your positive ones will be weighted up. Getting a positive reference from someone that always tend to be on a positive side is not worth as much as one from a grumpy one :smiley:


I find it hard because I might have liked them as a person but just found them to be a little less than a great CSer (weren’t helpful, left a mess, made too much noise, etc). I always found it hard to leave a negative reference because I figured then I’d lose a friend.

I’ve often thought I could to be more direct in person, but it can be hard when you don’t want people to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. It’s a very tricky balance.

Overall though, I’ve had plenty of negative experiences when I didn’t say anything in the reference because I figured it was personal to me, i.e., someone else might not have a problem with that but I found it inconsiderate.

It’s delicate and I’m not really sure there’s an easy solution, but I do like the idea of being able to leave anonymous references a little later on. Someone mentioned that in another thread.


You can call me rather straight forward and fair in my references and response I think.
But we were not happy with the CS reference system:
sometimes we don’t wanted to select “would host again” but with a good reference.
Some people are just fun to have just once, that’s it.

Well, if it’s little annoyances, I rather use a PM and don’t make a fuzz in public.

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I think that it would be helpful if references would not be binary (like "good or “bad” ), but rather a number between 0 and 100 how much you enjoyed it or smth like that.

I also love the ideas of @kalvdans! 1) that positive references should be weighted up by having given negative references. 2) that anonymous negative keywords would be quite helpful!


I feel like this is such a huge issue and will be extremely difficult to get right, I don’t think we should worry about it that much, just try as many things as our developers feel like implementing and hopefully find something ok. The core idea is still there and Couchsurfing as much as it sucks as a company is a great idea and worked really well even with all the problems including the references system…

What if references don’t have a “score” (which I think would be silly), but do include a series of simple questions, varying from ones where you’d hope the answer is always yes, to ones where it might be no and that’s fine?

  • I never felt unsafe with X

  • X was friendly

  • X was interesting

  • I got on really well with X

  • I was always comfortable with X

  • I found X to be flirty

  • I was flirty with X

  • X had a clean place

  • I think I will keep in touch with X in the future

These would all be anonymous. Then, theres a bunch of things you could do with the info - use it for moderation in case of dispute, help calculate the safety/trust score, decide if references are positive or just neutral…


I think this could be an interesting idea to toy with but will still need a lot of thought, do you agree @lucas? Two points which scare me already are, 1.how do you rate safe? does flirty mean less safe? 2. User friendliness with all those questions…

I really like this idea! To prevent them from being able to pinpoint who answered yes or no for these questions, we could implement some parameters: for example, show it on their profile only if >70% of surfers answered yes to “This person made me feel safe”. And probably only show this after some time/a minimum amount of responses/activities. (Ummm maybe this can be refined further)

I’d really appreciate a tag like this on a host’s profile as a female solo traveler, for instance. It wouldn’t be a 100% accurate for sure, just cause everyone’s internal safety meter is subjective, but I’d sure as hell request to surf with someone who had a “Respectful” tag over somebody who didn’t.


Definitely, just the first ones I thought of.

I think safe doesn’t need a definition, in that even if people have slightly different definitions they should just go with what they feel and the reference should reflect that.

And flirty doesn’t have to be bad. For example, if they said they were always comfortable with X and X was flirty, that has a very different meaning to they weren’t always comfortable and X was flirty.

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I can share my experience as an ambassador in Coimbra, Portugal. What we did at a certain point was having a short text on the page of the city, stating that if someone had to leave a negative reference, and didn’t know how to do it, or was afraid of doing it, that they could contact the ambassadors first.
That assured that things ran smoothly and that we could understand the full story (e.g. often talking to both host and surfer), before having a ‘reference battle’. It was an easy approach which used several moderators (e.g. the ambassadors) to make sure that nothing would go terribly wrong. One thing it was important was to have ambassadors from different groups (e.g. of friends or communities), so we wouldn’t end up having a strict group of friends excluding other people who didn’t follow what we believed in.

However, in Ghent Belgium I had a different experience as the ambassadors group was strictly managed by a group of friends, and it was absurdly hard to break that circle (e.g. report racism).


Love the idea! I would say it is a lot easier to not be specifically positive then to be specifically negative.

I only left once a negative reference on Couchsurfing. A traveler asked for a couch and I offered a place during a free weekend of mine. We agreed to meet at the local station around a certain time.

I was there like 20min in advance, because I hate being late :wink: , after more than 2 hours waiting, and no message (not on email, not on the Couchsurfing website, not on my mobile: I always gave my number, never know when there is no internet to connect) I decided to head back home.

When I got back home I did send a message to this female traveler asking if everything was ok, maybe her plans had changed or she was in trouble with something and I could help out. No reply.

After 2 days I asked again, “He, you ok, we agreed to meet up, you didn’t show up. Everything ok, in any problem? Can I help?”

After 5 days still no answer I did see she signed on in a different town. I did send a new message asking how she was doing, and telling that a little warning her planes had changed would have been appreciated. She got angry with me for sending that message, saying she didn’t have to tell me anything. I told her, “Hey, I arranged my free time to host you, meet you at the station, and than you ghost me for several days. Not very polite is it?”. She did leave a negative review for me the next day. So I did the same, leaving a negative review.

I understand plans can and will change, sometimes last minute. But be a polite surfer and let the waiting host know than. If she would have send me a message I would have know she changed her plans and could have used the almost 3 hours I waited and the free weekend for other plans.


I guess if someone had an issue with me I’d prefer they tell me outright rather than find out afterwards. But It puts people in that awkward position to give negative feedback to someone they get along with, especially if they didn’t do anything overtly negative. Usually it’s things having to do with communication, time management, and cleanliness.

Didn’t couchsurfing have a feature where you could add tags to a person’s profile, like “clean place”, “friendly”, “wanted to hang out”, etc…?
Maybe the negative feedback are tags like this, but they aren’t seen by the recipient or to others. Instead they add up and trigger periodic reminders to host or guest of things to consider before the next visit. Like “looks like you got another guest coming, when was the last time you vacuumed”, or “have fun on your trip, don’t forget to let your host know of any changes”.


For me, it is hard to give a reference whith a negative score too, because this rarely covers the whole experience. When you give a negative score it feels like telling: “this is a negative person”. And we know that it only applies to some aspects of the behavior of a person during one visit. So we look for more diverse ratingsystems, with more questions to be answered. If we continue this we wil eventually come to observation-lists, behavior-rating scales and forms for behavioral observation. Like psychologists try to do. I know this is a little exagerated. But I recognise the drive to do so: don’t pin anyone totally down on one mistake in a reference with a negative score on it.

Just asking: is it really necessary to use a rating system? Why do we want to score a visit or a behavior anyway? Is it because we can get statistics about someone? That we don’t have the time to read profiles and references, but instead prefer to rely on numbers? Don’t get me wrong, in some cases these rating systems are very helpfull. When you look for an answer on Stackoverflow, or when you read some stuff on Reddit, or even here on this forum, the ratingsystem can help you distinguish between important and less important things. But for choosing a host or accepting a surfer in real life?
I also want to point out that with this rating system we will have another (social) score associated with our person in a “permanent record”.

Not all people can express themselves very well when writing a reference or a profile. Especially people who are not used to writing in English. I would suggest a translation option to make it easier for people to write in their own language and thereby enhance the quality of information in references and profiles. I know it costs. But it is a suggestion.


Hopefully people would! But that’s about the vibe you give, too. If you don’t seem defensive or easily angered, it would be simple. Trouble is, a lot of people get really defensive and hostile when you criticize them, even if you’re being constructive. An anonymous element of references gives people that space to say “something wasn’t right” without any fear of retaliation.

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