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s 3679-New reference system

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Current situation

The comments feature (also called "reference system") on BeWelcome allows members to leave comments about their experiences with other members which will then be displayed on the other members' profile.

Writing a comment

When writing a comment members have to select an "experience quality label": positive, neutral or negative.

Additionally they need to give some information about how/where they met the other person (free text field) and how well they know the other person. Possible options are (multiple selection allowed).

  • He/she was my guest
  • He/she was my host
  • We met on a one-time occasion (party/meet up/etc.)
  • They belong to my family
  • He/she is one of my best friends
  • We never met in real life

Finally they have to enter a text (the comment) into a free text field

Display of comments

The latest 3 comments a member has received are displayed (partly) on that members profile page in the section latest comments (on the left side, below accommodation and family and close friends).

The sort order of all comments is determined by the date of the last update to this comment (an updated comment will go back to the top of the list, even if the original comment has been left years ago).

Only part of the information entered when writing a comment is displayed in the "latest comments" section:

  • The experience quality: good (for positive), neutral or bad (for negative).
  • Information about who wrote the comment (profile picture and username with link to that person's profile) and when (date of the original comment). leoalone - Tue, 11 Dec 12 20:32:26 +0100i would see better if the date were the one of last modification. for example if you meet again after some years, for an extended period.
  • The first 250 characters of the comment text. If the comment text is longer than 250 characters it will be truncated and a link "more" is added.
  • At the end of the list of comments (max. 3) there is a link "Show all comments".

There is no information about how they met and how well they know each other in this section.

The links "more" and "Show all comments" both lead to the comments site of this member (general link: http://www.bewelcome.org/members/username/comments) where all (not just the latest 3) comments for this member are displayed fully. There, the information about how they met and how well they know each other is also available as well as the date of the last update of the comment.

Additionally, the comments page also shows all the comments this member wrote for other members.

Problems with current situation

Comments as safety feature

The comments feature is often used as a safety feature. Members read the comments or just have a look at the quality of experience ratings (good/neutral/bad) on other peoples' profiles to decide whether it's safe to stay with/host/meet this person.

Several members have pointed out (see links to respective threads at the top of this page) that the current comments feature is not ideal as a safety feature. Opinions about how problematic the current feature is range widely:

  • Some people say that the comments feature is basically OK. Maybe there could be some minor improvements to make the comments feature even better but in general there will always be some ambiguity no matter how great the technology is.
  • Others say that the current comments feature might actually be undermining safety: Comments can give us a false sense of security and, thus, might be luring us into potentially dangerous situations. How so? People tend to only write positive comments but no negative ones (even if their experience was actually negative). So, if we accept all the positive comments as valid and interpret the lack of negative comments as a sign that no-one ever had a negative experience with anybody else, then the comments feature sure isn't supporting safety. Instead, it's actually doing the reverse: We start to trust people based on positive comments although there might have been negative hospitality exchange experiences with this person before which we just don't know anything about.

Other problems with the comments tool

Several members have pointed out (in groups and by sending e-mails to the Support Team) that the current categories for how well one knows the other person are not sufficient. Especially the gap between "best friend" and "met at a one-time occasion" is too big. People end up choosing options that aren't true.

Analysis of the problem

Why do people write so many (not very informative) positive comments?

The current comments feature is not only used to publish safety related information but for many other purposes as well, for example:

  • It's the only public place to say "thanks" to your host or "hi" to your guest. Many people like to do that.
  • It's the only feature to connect with new acquaintances and friends (who are not family or close friends).
  • It's used as a reputation system and people "collect" positive comments to increase their reputation within the network.

Why do many people refuse to write negative comments?

Reasons why people would not want to write negative comments:

  • A person who is emotionally negatively affected by a hospex experience might not want
    • to prolong the negative emotions by writing about the experience and publishing it;
    • to put these emotions on display and thus increasing the possibility of being attacked for them (e.g. by a retaliatory comment);
    • others to know about how he/she feels (emotions are something very private and not everyone wants to share them).
  • Sometimes people are deeply ashamed about what happened to them, especially in cases of sexual harassment and assaults. Such experiences are often deeply humiliating and it has been shown many many times that the public (on the internet but also offline) does not always react respectfully towards the victim in such cases. Rape victims are being called "sluts", harassment victims are called "crybabies" or "pussies" and often you can find that people try to reverse the story, saying the victim was actually the attacker. This is not a trivial issue and its not always possible to see who's right just from reading the comments.
  • People do not want to be ungrateful towards a host: This is a specific problem if the host did something inappropriate. The problem can be intensified by cultural values: In most cultures it's considered to be rude to complain about a person from whom one has received hospitality. It's much easier to do so if you pay for a service or if you (by any other means) have a sense of entitlement. However, hospitality exchange is private hospitality (not a service anyone is entitled to) and all cultural values regarding hospitality automatically apply.
  • People do not want to be rude towards their guests and even less towards their hosts: This is probably not a general issue but can be in some cultures. Putting a negative comment on your guests profile can interfere with cultural values about how to treat guests, even if they misbehave. polyglot Gratitude for having been given accommodation adds to the reluctance to leave honest comments for hosts when the experience was unpleasant.
  • Some people think they might just be too sensitive or overreacting: You need a strong personality or to be very self-assured to always feel sure that what you've experienced emotionally is valid and important and relevant for others. Maybe it was just a weird personal interaction between you and the other person. Do you always feel 100% sure that this is something others should know about?
  • Writing a relevant comment requires a lot of thoughts and time. Not everyone is prepared to invest this.
  • Some people find it difficult to put things in writing, especially in a language other than their mother tongue
  • Some people do not feel it's their responsibility to make the community safer. They participate for their own enjoyment, not for taking any responsibility.

Why do people misinterpret comments?

As outlined above it can happen that people misinterpret the lack of negative comments as a sign that a member is "safe" as a guest or host. The reasons for such misinterpretations are:

  • Some people do not read the comments in detail but just the comment labels. That's how they miss relevant nuances expressed in the more detailed comment text. Sometimes not-so-positive aspects are mentioned there even if the general label is good or neutral.
  • Inexperienced members (and maybe also long-term members who haven't had any problematic experiences) might not be aware of the fact that writing negative comments is difficult and thus often avoided. They might really believe that the lack of negative comments means that there has never been any bad experience.
  • There isn't much additional information available to get a sense for how safe an interaction with a specific member might be. Because of this lack of safety-related information, members just interpret the little information they get.

Suggested solutions

Several solutions have been suggested. The solutions in the section "labeling" are mutually exclusive, the "other ideas" can be combined with each other and with any labeling solution.


Rating instead of labels

Offer a rating system, e.g. a 5-star system, in addition to the comments (instead of current labels "good", "neutral" or "bad"), to allow a rating of the overall experience or different aspects of the experience.

Pros and cons:
+ It's easier than leaving a comment because it doesn't requires so much thought.
+ People who don't want to invest a lot of time in writing a negative comment might be willing to leave a simple rating though.
− Ratings are typical for business interactions. Many people strongly object to the idea to rate private hospitality.
− A rating might even increase the problem that people do not read qualitative comments any more (which contain a lot more information) but just look at the rating instead.
− It may also lead to even more positive ratings (because it's so easy to give one) which doesn't help to identify safety-related information.

Differentiate types of negative experiences with colors

Let members choose between different colors for not-so-good experiences: red for safety issue, yellow for "didn't work for me but that's personal", purple for a problem with the place.

Pros and cons:
+ It helps people to be more specific about what was negative.
+ Writing a "negative" comment might become a bit easier because it does not automatically give the impression that there was a safety problem.
+ The coloring makes it easier to find relevant information which is safety-related.
− Makes the comments system more complicated and thus harder to understand and use.
− The separation between thing (e.g. the place) and relationship is a very "western" idea and is not suitable for an inter-cultural platform.

5 instead of 3 labels for the quality of experience

Add "very good" and "very bad" as labels to the existing 3 labels (good/neutral/bad)

Pros and cons:
+ Allows members to differentiate more clearly how they felt about their experience.
− Most users would not use more than 3 labels as has been shown very clearly on CouchSurfing. They used to have these 5 labels and the vast majority of users only used 3 of them..
ppec Some members are not comfortable with and or strongly oppose to differentiating between "good" and "very good" labels (not to hurt people with whom they have lived a good experience "only" by labellings differentiating them from people with whom they have lived a "very good" experience).
polyglot We have a history of ratings which would have to be redone if we change the scale, which doesn't seem realistic.

Remove labels (and add a separate safety flag)

The labels for the quality of experience are being removed. However, members can tick a separate safety flag if they would like to give a warning about this person. The safety flag(s) is/are displayed separately on top of the comment section if needed. If there is a safety flag (or several ones), members know that they have to find the comment(s) which describe(s) the experience.

Pros and cons:
+ It's easier to immediately see the safety flag(s).
+ Some members think that human non-profit connexions shouldn't be labeled as "good" or "neutral" or "bad".
+ Members are forced to read the comment text instead of just believing that everything is good or bad because of a label (some comments labeled as good describe experiences which might be considered as bad by some other members).
+ Hopefully increases reports of negative experiences.
− If the labels are removed, relevant information might be harder to find.
− A warning flag without qualitative information attached to it directly would work like a safety rating and some people might only look at that and not read through the comments.
− Warning flags are even more stigmatizing a member than a negative comment because there is no information about why it was given and no possibility for the receiver to write a comment explaining the situation from his/her own point of view.
− A warning flag could easily be misused to damage someone's reputation intentionally.
leoalone - Tue, 11 Dec 12 20:32:26 +0100 2 warning flags on 5 experiences are a real warning. 2 ones on 500 are physiologic. but people would look only at absolute number, so penalizing more expert people.
leoalone - Tue, 11 Dec 12 20:32:26 +0100 A warning flag could be left for real problems but also just for personal incompatibilities or even for very minor problems. It could also be a real problem, but appearing only when hosting or being hosted. beside this people has different thresholds about what a negative is.
leoalone - Tue, 11 Dec 12 20:32:26 +0100 Should also be a "recommendation flag" to recommend some one. This would help too, but would be the equivalent of the five level, with the three middle collapsed to one.

Offer custom labels

When leaving a comment to someone, members have to fill in

  • a general overview (title/label): shorter than 30 characters (random number; to be discussed), just to sum up their experience very quickly )e.g. "Good experience", "that was fun", "I'll do it again", "Didn't feel really safe", "weirdo guy");
  • a detailed comment: the actual comment (like now).

Pros and cons:
+ Offering custom labels is a way to avoid that members don't leave a comment at all just because they don't want to choose the label "negative" (or "bad")
+ Custom labels are easy to understand and already widely used online (e.g. for reviews).
+ The labels allow to get a quick impression about the experiences.
− It can happen that custom labels are not very informative.
ppec Summarizing and experience into 2 or 3 words can create some hurting misunderstandings.
− Custom labels would make it impossible to offer a comment summary (i.e. the number of positive/neutral/negative comments) or a respective filter. -- JonJon I think a 'comment summary' could be easily achieved by listing only the 30-character labels in a column of, say, the 20 latest comments on members' profiles. Each label would have a button next to it for expanding the label and displaying the associated detailed comment text(s). The most recent three comments could be fully expanded by default.

Other ideas

Educate members

Display the information clearly (e.g. above the "Latest comments" section of the profile) that a large majority of not-so-nice experiences are never commented. Also educate members about how and why they should leave comments.

Pros and cons:
+ Hopefully increases the number of comments in cases of negative experiences.
+ Helps members to avoid misinterpretation.
+ At worst this information is ignored but it would probably not have any negative effects on members..
− Difficult to teach all users how to use references. Most of them do not read the FAQ.beatnickgr
− Displaying the information clearly that a large majority of not-so-nice experiences are never commented might lead some members to feel even less responsible in case they choose to not comment a not-nice or not-safe experience.
leoalone - Wed, 23 Jan 13 15:13:37 +0100 would wast some screen-real-estate. just a link on the explanation of the comment area.

Improve categories for "How long have you known ...?"

''Offer one or more categories between "best friend" and "met at a on-time occasion", for example: "friend" or "we met several times"; other additional categories that have been suggested: "We traveled together.", "We have been introduced by a common friend."

Pros and cons:
+ Currently many categorizations are inaccurate because there is no fitting option. Additional categories could solve this problem.

juju2 27/01/2013 Need to precise if surf/host/meet (on this, CS has more precise options)

  • beatnickgr If 2 people met for 1 night 4 years ago, it would look like they know each other for 4 years. This info is completely misleading.

Filter for comments

Give users the possibility to filter comments, e.g. allow to select comments from hosts or guests only or to only display comments from those who know the member very well (for this an option between "best friend" and "met at a on-time occasion" would be important as well!). If labels are kept, a filter for labels (e.g. "only show negative comments") would also be possible.

Pros and cons:
+ It becomes easier to find relevant comments.

  • filtering about "friendship type" is not useful, since level of friendship is very personal and after all reflect a sort of personal evaluation.
  • filtering only for positive o neutral or negative comment should be done "cum grano salis" . Otherwise a small number of negative comments over an huge number of good ones could taint reputation, and selecting only good ones could hide some problems. i would suggest to allow any selection only if there are more than 10 comments, and allow selection for negative or non positive reference only if these are at least 5 or 15% of total. one nicety could be the option to select by "virtual" continent of referrer.

juju2 27/01/2013 I would say filtering based on positive/neutral/bad or rating or label is essential to ensure visibility. Eventually, you could add a small message to warn user to take comments in context / cum grano salis. continent could be interesting filter.

Safety questions

When members leave comments also ask them a few specific safety-related questions like: "Would you host (or stay with) this person again?" (yes / no) or "To which people would you recommend this person?" (everybody / my friends / my BW friends / no one). The answers to these questions should not be public at first. But if someone consistently (e.g. 8 out of 10) receives a "no" it could become public. Same for question 2. The details of what could become public can be worked out at a later point, and meanwhile the Safety Team will already have very useful data if there's an issue with a member.

Pros and cons:
+ Additional information for Safety Team
+ When displayed publicly this would be a strong indicator for a problem with this member.
− The answers could be misleading. Sometimes a person wouldn't want to host the other person again even though there was no safety issue but just because they didn't connect with them.
− It takes a long time until the information is made public - so the potential "warning" might come far to late. juju2 27/01/2013 question, do you trust this person?

Anonymous comments

Allow users to leave comments anonymously.

Pros and cons:
+ Members do not need to fear retaliatory comments anymore.
− Comments could come from new members who didn't get the meaning of HospEx. When somebody gets a comment on his profile, it should be trackable to see if it's from a new or an experienced member beatnickgr
− Anonymity regarding comments or ratings on BeWelcome is an illusion. Nothing is anonymous if you do not host all the time. If you have a guest and 3 days later you have a rating on you profile, it is of course not anonymous, even if there is no name next to it. So, anonymity doesn't help at all.

Separation of comments for different aspects of the experience

Ask people to separate their comments for different aspects of the experience. They can comment on the place, the person, the surroundings, etc.

Pros and cons:
+ It helps people to be more specific about what was positive and what was negative about their experience.
+ The new structure of comments might make it easier to find relevant information which is safety-related.
− Makes the comments system more complicated and thus harder to understand and use.
− Writing a negative comment would not get any easier.
− The separation between thing (e.g. the place) and relationship is a very "western" idea and is not suitable for an inter-cultural platform. leoalone - Wed, 23 Jan 13 15:13:37 +0100 however would avoid penalizing people that want to host but have poor accommodation although good personal relations, when trying to get hosted.

Improved display of comments

On the profile page add the information about how well the commentator knows the person he/she wrote a comment about. Also show the comments fully (at least more than just 250 characters) and display the comment that was left in return as well (like on the comments page). Additionally, show more than just the 3 latest comments and do not change the sort order if comments are updated.
Pros and cons:
+ More relevant information becomes visible without an additional click.
+ The view where both comments (the one received and the one left) are shown is more balanced.
+ If comments remain in the sort order of their original date, retaliatory changes of comments do not always show up on top of the list of comments (this was a huge problem on Couchsurfing until they changed that.) leoalone - Wed, 23 Jan 13 15:13:37 +0100 actually the date used could be, if BOTH the comment have been updated (for example since they meet another time), the older between the ones of the two most recent comments on the two parties. This would allow to "consensually" update a comment

  • leoalone - Tue, 11 Dec 12 20:32:26 +0100 however showing the update time (date is not enough) you can see which ones could be retaliatory ones ....

− Too much information on the profile page.