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The improbable rise and fall of Couchsurfing

The improbable rise and fall of Couchsurfing


Since 2011, Couchsurfing has tripled its membership but lost sight of its core, unique value. City searches now return results pocked with empty or inactive profiles. The company does not share traffic or user data; the change from to, along with a host of localized domains, makes it hard to gather historical traffic data.

Couchsurfing has burned through most of its VC money, laid off much of its staff, and appears no closer to monetization than when it went for-profit (though it has recently introduced advertising). All those Couchsurfing friends I made six, seven, or eight years ago barely use the site anymore. Some stopped hosting due to bad experiences; others because the site no longer fits their lives as it once did. How many of the now-10 million Couchsurfers are disillusioned members? According to a spokesperson, 1 million members log in “at least once a month”—meaning another 9 million don’t.

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With the redesign, the interface just didn’t lend itself to interpersonal connection-making.

The tools active Couchsurfers had used to self-organize—group pages, event invites, and a wiki—were all removed. Since then, more redesigns have simplified the interface, most notably turning city pages into a newsfeed.

“The site has become more of a Facebook clone and a place for people mostly looking for free places to stay and for socializing in,” says Mike Gazbacho, who recently closed his account. “It disappoints me that most members don’t host at all.”

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