Couchsurfing Web Redesign
I worked with Couchsurfing to redesign their search, event, and member profile pages to include mapping and location services. Couchsurfing connects open-minded travelers with one another through events, in-person meetings, and by arranging for surfers to experience new parts of the world through staying with a local host.
Couchsurfing is a website which deals primarily in travel, a domain in which location is clearly important. However, the site did not offer map and location-based search options, and they asked me to incorporate them into the site.
Couchsurfing has two main user scenarios to consider. The first is as a surfer seeking accommodations while traveling. Surfers want to be comfortably accommodated in a convenient location. The second is as a host generously providing free lodging in their home. Hosts want to be respected, to be viewed as more than a free hotel service, and to maintain their privacy until they've agreed to host someone. Both users share a primary goal - personal connection to other travelers and places.
Given the importance of location to surfers, how could I provide some control over location, but in a way that didn't prioritize convenience over connection with the host?
In order to support the core user goal, while also providing the locational information surfers wanted, I designed a system whereby surfers could search by host location, but with a twist. Since different neighborhoods mean different things to each host, all searches can be filtered by various types of neighborhood experiences through the use of user generated data, ensuring a good lifestyle match between surfers and hosts. Additionally, users could now search events and meetups by finding hosts planning to attend, and also those nearby.
Competitive Analysis Takeaways
- Online travel services and apps are common and varied, though few exist for private residences.
- Competitors focus primarily on transactions and locations.
- Couchsurfing's nearest competitor is AirBnb.
- Hosts are often absent during guests' stays and thus uninvolved in the experience
- Since hosts are paid, there is a financial incentive to "market" their location.
What sets Couchsurfing apart:
- Primary focus is connecting people.
- Hosts are integral to travelers' experience.
- Events and meetups are part of the service.
- Hosts provide accommodations for free and thus have no incentive to "market" their listings.
- The experience is unique, authentic and personal.
User Research Takeaways
Since this project had such a short timeframe, direct user research wasn't possible. Instead I spent time combing through the site to glean insights from profile text, neighborhood descriptions, and reviews.
- A main pain point for hosts was surfers who didn't want to connect with them as a person.
- Hosts in popular areas shared multiple warnings that their availability was very limited.
- Many hosts showed their fatigue by requiring special procedures be followed by surfers in order to filter out spam requests.
- Surfers' most positive reactions centered around the local experiences and insider knowledge generated by connecting with their host - the actual accommodations were rarely mentioned.
Key Changes to the App
My Neighborhood Section
I added a new page to the site to showcase the neighborhood information supplied by hosts.
- Hosts are asked to choose the top three aspects that they love about their neighborhood from a list.
- Surfers can search by neighborhood aspects.
- Regardless of the actual location that the host lives in, surfers can find hosts who value the same experiences.
- Hosts are also asked to list their three favorite attractions in the the neighborhood.
- Surfers are able to see what they'll experience with a host.
- The area containing the attractions also provides the scale for the neighborhood map displayed in the profile.
- Host's home is not displayed on the map for privacy, but surfers can tell what they need to know about the hosts location.
- Surfers can locate specific events on a map.
- Surfers can search for a host near the event's location.
- Hosts attending the event are listed first.
- Below attendees, hosts are ordered by travel time from the event, instead of by distance.
- Travel time can be shown for foot, transit, and auto.
Location-Based Host Search
- Hosts are initially listed by references and response rate.
- If a surfer desires a location search, they can select the map at right.
- Hosts are shown on the map by circles containing the number of couches available within their radius.
- Host addresses are kept private, but general location is revealed.
- If no hosts are available, then surfers are shown available couches in nearby neighborhoods with similar experiences according to the hosts who live in them.
- Host results are color coded to match map pins for clarity.
- User testing.
- Card sorting to determine what the list of neighborhood aspects should be.
- Explorations to encourage hosts to supply the content needed for the design to function at its best.
- Integrating neighborhood search with activities and interests data in order to better rank host search results.