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Member growth and retention

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Member growth and retention

This is a highlight of some issues raised in feature request #437.
Please add any comments or insights related to the topic of membership
growth and retention to help generate ideas and form a consensus of
what might be the best path for the future.


Given the growing popularity of other hospitality clubs and exchanges,
both gratis and paid (i.e. AirBnB), it would be important to keep WS
relevant and competitive. The audience is inherently limited as it is
and without a critical mass of sustaining members, it risks slowly
sliding into obscurity like the original email-based list did.

Member growth here hasn't abated at this point, but the point is still
valid. All this space changes rapidly. Some basic stats on member
growth can be found at https://www.warmshowers.org/country_count,
but it would be good to see metrics such as requests for hosts per
month or something that would indicate use rather than just sign ups.
Initial messages and answered messages my be good proxies for
requests. There's a related discussion here:
https://www.warmshowers.org/node/75032.

Looking at a plot of the membership data (attached), exponential
growth has ended as of this year, so there should be a concerted
effort on ensuring that members stay active and continue to derive
some sort of value from the organisation.

Personally, I've hosted a few cyclists in the past 6-12 months who
have been relying on multiple apps for finding accommodation, even
meta-apps which search several clubs at the same time. If cyclists
indiscriminately searching for free accommodation becomes the norm,
then the value inherent in cyclists hosting cyclists begins to
deteriorate and the value to hosts, who actually pay in terms of their
time and hospitality, becomes less valuable.

As hospitality has gotten easier (i.e. the site is larger) there may
be a very few people who use it far more than was ever intended. Most
of us see it as a free way to break up a long string of camping
nights, but there are those (about a third in my experience) who are
trying to get a free place and a meal every night.

WS Üyesi WS Üyesi kullanıcısının resmi
The true tourist will always

The true tourist will always appreciate this site. With so many hospitality organizations, we will probably see a wide variety of people choosing to make living off of others their nomadic way of life. I believe this is inevitable as a new grid of housing is being laid. I don't think WS needs to be competitive, only that it remains unique and for the bicycle tourist.

I tried to book AirBnB on my recent trip in France. I am myself an AirBnB host with excellent reviews, but was turned down by every request. No one wanted to deal with housing anyone with 2 touring bikes. So, I found my accomodations in campgrounds and WS. I believe the Facebook WS page to be INVALUABLE! I found my host in Paris through the Facebook page, and my guest tonight found me the same way.

This concern about membership may be a bit premature.

WS Üyesi wsadmin kullanıcısının resmi
Great thinking

I really appreciate your thinking, and have been considering myself whether we should open ourselves to possibilities outside the "hosting and hosting only" realm. We've had to stick to that for years because with just a few volunteers, we don't have any way to expand. But it's possible we need to raise more donations and begin to be able to apply a more consistent effort to some new initiatives.

I would love to see a crowdsourced route information service that would allow travelers to give current updated info about routes. It would work great for Adventure Cycling routes, and I think for many other routes around the world.

Geographic management and organization of a huge database of local information would be a great thing as well, and might just fit perfectly into that.

And a member has suggested that we find some way to allow members who are traveling to find each other and find nearby cyclists.

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filtering ws

i would like to see ws add a few more filtering aspects to a host search, similar to 'couch surfing'. my example is my own situation- i live 20 miles outside of the nearest town, and am not a suitable spot for people hoping to arrive late and leave early, nor have good internet access.
i appreciate you folks being so forward thinking, and steering the site into the future. many thanks!

WS Üyesi WS Üyesi kullanıcısının resmi
Growth / retention and new features

Am I correct in thinking that we currently have no way to measure how many people are actively hosting at any one time? That would be a terrific data point to have on hand.

Having a means of updating route information would be excellent. I suspect that it would be most useful for established, mapped, routes such as the ACA routes. I don't know how effective it would be for routes people create themselves UNLESS those routes could be kept in context of the ACA routes, maybe?

I don't know how we can address the "free room and board" moochers. They are there, no doubt, but it's usually too late to act after they have arrived.

We've been discussing, locally, the idea of a wiki-ish route creation / editing thing but I don't have the tech chops to actually create / maintain such. It would be very helpful.

I know that members have been making all kinds of suggestions for the sign-up form. Seems to me we're up to around 30 things people want added to it. I think that's too many things but I may be an outlier on this one.

Others have suggested local WS get-togethers. That might work IF we can find local folk who will do it. No way can we do it from a distance.

WS Üyesi WS Üyesi kullanıcısının resmi
Member growth and retention

I know I'm a retro-grouch, and I don't get the attraction for all sorts of computer-assisted data-crunching. I'm a member because I like bicycle touring and am willing to host other bicycle tourists. So far all the bike tourists I've met I've enjoyed meeting.

I can see having some sort of "forum", or something, where members who wanted to could place information about routes, conditions, LBS's, eateries, etc. And I do not miss having such info available to me from this site. I'm coming from the assumption that we all ascribe to the motto, "get on yer bike & pedal". More than that is icing on the cake, as far as I'm concerned.

my $0.02 worth,
Gerhardt

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Data crunching

Most of the data we're discussing is helpful to the admins when we get queries from the media about Warmshowers. We have occasionally gotten queries from researchers as well.

They both want to know "the details" such as how many members, how many are currently hosting, how many do not host . . . all that jazz. At the moment we can't answer these queries with anything but general assumptions.

Some members would benefit from the wiki idea in that they could read about routes, get the latest information, and feel more secure in their decisions. Not everyone would, as you have pointed out.

And, you are absolutely correct in the "get on yer bike & pedal." It's just that some people pedal differently than others. ;-)

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Functionality before growth.

Cyclists indiscriminately searching for free accommodation is already widespread and will continue to become more common here. This is a fairly natural progression common to hospex sites; the ratio of members who are prepared to give to the community in some way (through hosting, donating money or time) tends to diminish over time as the site becomes more functional and popular. Conversely members who view the site in more utilitarian (parasitic?) terms tend to become more widespread as word spreads and they join up.

Those of us who have been involved for some time in hospitality exchange have seen a decline in functionality of two of the more well known sites due in part to this process (admittedly in addition to other factors such as the greed and megalomaniacal tendencies of their founders) to the point where they have alienated many of their most productive members.

I will quote from another thread, this was written by another WS member who sums it up better than me:
"Most network deteriorate over time: A bit over 5 years ago I toured the east of the US. I found a host almost every night and very often i was their first guest ever. This has clearly changed. Bike touring is becoming much more popular and hospitality networks are mentioned often in the media. The result is that many new members sign up, but the amount of active available hosts stays behind. Hosts become over asked and get irritated. They start hosting less and there you have your vicious cycle."

For this reason you will have to excuse my reticence when I see the words growth and competitiveness being used in relation to WS. I think the degree to which the site can enable quality interactions between hosts and touring cyclists would be a more suitable yardstick. The inherently limited audience if anything gives me hope that the process described above will not be as damaging as it was on other sites.

Here is a tale of two WS members: A member signs up in a large city after hearing about WS to check it out properly sometime later when he goes on tour - he fills in a bare minimum of information and does not mark his location. A second member signs up eager to host cyclists in the same city - she fills out her profile fully, uploads a photo, and marks her location. However she lives 10 km from the city centre and so appears 40 places down the list on a host search for the city. The other member by way of being marked as 0 km from the city centre even though he has no intention of hosting is listed first. 1 year later the second member has lost interest in WS as she has received no requests - the first member has received 15 and responded to none of them. This is what's happening in my city (and others) now.

Why are we rewarding the first member? Why are we making it hard for guests to find hosts like the second member in populated areas? Without hosts no hospex site can exist, so shouldn't we be looking after/encouraging those people who are prepared to open their houses to complete strangers?

I think we could enable more interactions and keep more hosts (and thus guests) interested and active with the following changes:

1) Enable smart sorting and filtering on host searches (ie: give priority to a randomised list of hosts with > 50% response rate and a last login time of less than 1 month at the top of a list search, allow list sorting by last login/response rate/amount of feedback/percentage of positive feedback. This would make it easier to find active hosts in populated areas, whilst still giving new hosts a turn at being at the top of the list and provide an incentive for hosts to login and respond to messages.
2) Make new members unavailable by default - they could receive a popup reminding them to change their status to available if they want to host each time they login until they tick 'Don't show me again' (and let's make the current member status more obvious and easier to change - why not a big ugly button at the top of the page that changes from red to green?). This will remove what are increasing numbers of false positives - people who signed up with little interest in the community and with no intention of hosting but are marked as available by default and thus still appear in searches.
3) Inactive members can be sent warning messages when the time since their last login reaches 11 months and have their accounts removed after 12 months - make this a rolling process instead of doing it all once a year and allowing for an accumulation of inactive members.

I like the ideas for wikis, and geo data etc but with a limited number of volunteer hours available for coding I would prefer to see that effort go into improving the functionality of the site so that it does best what it set out to do from the beginning.

WS Üyesi WS Üyesi kullanıcısının resmi
Re: Functionality before growth.

I couldn't agree with you more. I hope I didn't imply by the thread title that growth is the goal. The impetus for this discussion came from some thoughts I had that might make life easier for hosts by reducing duplicated effort in providing a place to stay which, ideally, would help ensure that hosts continue to derive value from the experience. As you said, without hosts, there is no reason for existence.

Some ideas would include a booking system so that guests didn't have to manage that on their own, shared profile fields to avoid duplicate information, reminders to guests to leave feedback (only about half of my guests bother to leave me feedback), etc.

WS Üyesi WS Üyesi kullanıcısının resmi
Feedback

Not all members give feedback to guests/hosts/others, which really makes their profile inaccurate. I have had the best of guests; very sincere and nice people, who have never left a comment. I have also had hosts who have not commented. My bio is not a true reflection off my involvement in this community, and I am sure this is true for many many others.

AirBnB has a great way of promoting feedback with follow up emails. I know WS sends out an email announcing feedback and encouraging a return critique. Would it be possible to send out a second email, following the first, just asking, "Have you haven ________ feedback yet"

For folks with language barriers and lack of Google Translate, could the site make a generic feedback template that could be translated into different languages? Simple yes or no questions like; "Communicated arrival time" "Was respectful of house rules" Would you host this person again".

Just my thoughts here...

K

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agreed, and

As I commented in a related forum post, the feedback needs to be 'blind' so that one cannot see the other's feedback until one has left feedback. A couple times I've hesitated to leave negative feedback because I was mooched by a non-biker and feared he would retaliate by leaving negative feedback (boy does that sound negative.....in fact most guests have been great!.....but.....)

WS Üyesi wsadmin kullanıcısının resmi
Double-blind feedback

Double-blind feedback is on our work list for the coming year. Thanks! https://www.warmshowers.org/feature_poll.

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I agree with you on most of

I agree with you on most of your propositions.
But not to removing a profile after a certain time of inactivity.

I'm on several hosting sites for years now but rarely/never received any requests from potential guests because (for the regular traveler) I'm a bit in the middle of nowhere. Still I would be consternated if my profile were removed just like that- an auto-generated E-mail quickly lands in spam...
And I have contacted members (who also lived in the middle of nowhere) with years of inactivity + no previous experience and they were eager to host...

WS Üyesi WS Üyesi kullanıcısının resmi
It happens once a year

It happens once a year anyway. Every January they purge members who haven't logged in for a year I'm just suggesting it becomes a rolling process. If someone signs up a week after the purge and doesn't sign in again it will be two years before that member is removed - this is leading to the lists in large cities like mine clogging up with inactive members.

It's generally considered good form in hospex just to log in once in a while to show you are active - someone who doesn't log in for an entire year and then doesn't respond to 2 or 3 warning messages leading up to their account being cancelled is well and truly inactive in my book.

Certainly with better search options this wouldn't be so necessary but I'm glad that WS does it once a year at least - it's a demonstration of honesty and resolve that this site continues with a firm non profit ethic.

WS Üyesi wsadmin kullanıcısının resmi
Funding proposal

People following this topic may be interested in the proposal about funding I just posted, https://www.warmshowers.org/node/78970 - Looking forward to your responses over there.

-Randy

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removal from list

Paul, I was with you, till you posted number 3.

3) Inactive members can be sent warning messages when the time since their last login reaches 11 months and have their accounts removed after 12 months - make this a rolling process instead of doing it all once a year and allowing for an accumulation of inactive members.

I host since 1996. I have moved several times, and lived in areas where no one came by. I don't check in very often, but do when I get a host request.

I would hate to be deleted, just because I have not checked in here on this site.

Yes, I have had moochers. People that rode well out of their way, just because there was a host, 80 miles away, rather off their route. I have also resorted to taking feed back off, after an unpleasant experience with a guest.

Please, don't delete me, just because I don't check in here regularly.

Moni

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Again, this already happens

Again, this already happens once a year in January - is logging in once a year much to ask for (and if you forget, then responding to a number of warning messages?) - considering that you have been a member for 15 years without being removed I would have to conclude no.

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Logging in

We are trying to find ways to keep people connected to Warm Showers even when not touring or hosting. We do not wish to be out of sight, out of mind; at least for those members who are serious about being an active part of this community.

Very soon you will all be receiving the first Warm Showers newsletter! We are hoping that a news letter sent out 6+ times a year will help to keep active members active. So, be looking to your email...!

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in response to the email about a newletter coming forth

Hi WARM SHOWERS

I LOVE warm showers as a whole. Been hosting for so long, and from so many locations. I will continue to host, as it is feasible for me, as far as expenses go. The only reason I am not marked available at the moment is: I am "hosting" my grand daughter (age 6) for the summer.

As it turns out, it is specially good that I am not open for other guests, as she is currently sick with the chickenpox. Yes, she was vaccinated! But... that was the diagnosis.

Feel free to send newsletters, I can always unsubscribe if I find them superfluous, or "bothersome".

Ken Francis I personally REALLY appreciate all you do for WS!

Moni

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The key to success is the host

I have been quoted above by Paul. Still I would like to contribute to this important discussion.

Warmshowers is by far my favorite hospex site, because it is not 'competative' and doesn't 'grow' quickly. The profiles are simple, there are few features, etc. And it works perfectly well!! Also for me the words growth and competative ring an alarm bell, and also I have had a very bad experience with other hospex sites that were sold or deteriorated, as mentioned above.

Let the site become obscure again like the paper list it once was. As long as real touring cyclists know how to find it that is perfectly fine. I think the people running the site are doing a great job and I wouldn't change much. Especially not if the risk is that this volunteers get to much work to do.

The key to success is clearly the host. If anything has to change, then let it be something that improves hosting experience. We have to cherish the hosts!

I have also noticed differences between guests. Some arrive with lots of food and prepare huge meals for us all. Others contribute little and seem to travel from host to host, which makes their trip almost free. I don't mind. People are in different phases of life, from different backgrounds and travel on very different budgets. I like this diversity. If some young hippie can travel only by being a kind of 'freeloader' then I am more than happy to help this person make his/her dream come true. If a millionaire likes to use warmshowers because he/she likes to meet people and gives me 50 euro when he/she leaves, that is fine too. Who am i to judge?

Keep up the good work!

Peter

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Who is browsing in our browser and why?

I've been interested in the large amount of growth in WS over the last two years, and why people took the time to fill out a profile. I'm sure there are many reasons, but I doubt too many people simply join to take advantage of a free dinner. Perhaps so many are joining because there is real interest in the notion of non commercial travel, on our own steam, into the wonder of nature, trails and trial's. I don't sense a decrease in this and predict it will grow, and that WS should encourage this growth. People will continue too seek something real in their lives that doesn't contain a financial transaction, or an element of fabricated commercialism alike Club Med, Disney, Hilton World.

For me, I unapologetically want Warm Showers to rise up out of the commercialism of the web, and become a source of inspiration for non commercial travelling freedoms. I love and want people out there on bikes meeting other people on bikes, talking to other people about what they have seen and experienced. I want this because no-one can push up and down hills for us. Adventure cycling is a story only experienced and told by ourselves. We can't pay someone to do it. It is in every sense a living journey, for some even a right of passage, and in this ever increasing controlled world, bicycle touring is a much needed escape mechanism. A tour can change a life, I believe, for the better.

Warm Showers represents more than just a hosting club for touring cyclists. When I was out on tour, no matter who came along the other way, if they were on a bicycle adorned with panniers, we both stopped to meet each other, sometimes just for 5 minutes sometimes tea and kettles came out. The growth in popularity must represent a need for something to the 60,000 people who joined in the last few years. What is it? It can't just be bed and dinner, because a popular service already exists that has this covered: Couch Surfing. I don't think we know who is here with us in this global community all that well. Maybe not knowing is our greatest weakness.