Who The F–k Is Sam Houston and Why Is He Messaging Me!?!

A belated explanation

(Please note, the author in no way agrees with or endorses personal attacks on Sam Houston or any other CS employee or user.)

Sam Houston is a 25-year-old Community Manager at Couchsurfing the company who started working there in mid-November 2012. Prior to beginning work at CS, he had relatively little experience with CS, which he joined on October 22, 2012 as indicated by his CS profile. It appears that he has had prior work experience as a community manager.

Prior to several weeks ago, few Couchsurfing users had probably heard of him. He likely would’ve been mostly known among the CS ambassadors who posted in and read the Ambassadors Group, a CS message board that he moderates along with three other CS employees, and users who followed now deleted Feedback Forum. He also would’ve been known to the CS users he privately messaged regarding their promoting of BeWeclome on their user profiles and on CS’s message boards.

Over the past several weeks, the name “Sam Houston” has drawn a lot of curiosity, because he has been posting on non-CS owned websites and social media accounts in an apparent effort to offer company responses to CS users who are dissatisfied with CS the company and website. This is likely an unusual step for a company to take, both from a customer relations and a public relations standpoint. Rather than restricting company responses to its own website and social media accounts, Sam has been identifying himself as a CS Community Manager and responding to CS users posting on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and now Quora. At this time, it is unknown if he has been responding to CS users in an official capacity on other social media websites or if other CS employees have been directed to use their personal social media accounts in the same way as Sam.

In addition, it does not appear that CS the company has addressed users’ concerns through their Facebook page or blog, beyond the initial two posts denying that the two banned ambassadors were deleted out of censorship, posts that were created on March 1st and 7th. Instead, it appears that CS the company, through its employee Sam, is following and responding to users as they post elsewhere on the Internet. This has confused many users, drawn the ire of others, and a few view it as stalking. As a result, Sam has become the butt of jokes and memes, as well as the target of angry personal attacks, both on the CS website and elsewhere, to the point that CEO Tony Espinoza confronted CS ambassadors about it in the Ambassadors Group.

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Full bio on CS’s blog: “Sam Houston is a community manager at Couchsurfing, with a past life in the music and video game industries. He lives in San Francisco, where he enjoys cycling, listening to music and going to concerts.”

Bio on About.Me: “Community Manager at @Couchsurfing. Music Lover, Gamer, Socializer. Passionate about online communities, people, social media, music, connecting brands with fans, and having a good time. Living in San Francisco and loving it – from the Midwest/Ohio.” … “Prior to Couchsurfing, I was Community Manager at several different technology companies. I was the Community Manager at BandPage, Electronic Arts (Origin, Playfish), and gamerDNA. At Couchsurfing I’m working hard to shephard the amazing and passionate community of travelers, helping transition from the company’s old site and technology into our new platform that will bring about the next generation of Couchsurfing.”

CS Profile: http://www.couchsurfing.org/people/samhoustonsf/

Reddit: QforQ  CS Community Manager (See http://www.reddit.com/r/couchsurfing/ for posts)

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Quote from Sam Houston’s response to the question “What is happening on Couchsurfing,” posted on Quora.com on 3/22/13:
(For the full post, please see http://www.quora.com/Sam-Houston/answers/CouchSurfing)

“Couchsurfing is going through a tough and awkward transition, from an old site that was coded by volunteers years ago, to an entirely new site that is coded and operated by a corporation. To some people, that transition (both technology transition and company transition) is not something that they are OK with, and they are upset. Others are upset because some programs have been shut down, or various features haven’t been created/finished yet.

There’s also a group of people that have attempted to bombard Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc claiming that Couchsurfing is censoring and deleting members that “speak out” against Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing isn’t doing this – and I offer as proof the fact that people have started to attack me personally, as well as Couchsurfing’s CEO, and those people haven’t been deleted. There are a few groups on the site that basically exclusively talk about how terrible Couchsurfing the organization is, but those people haven’t been deleted either. Simply stated: Couchsurfing is not deleting people because of what they say about Couchsurfing.”

Excellent Quora Q & A: “What is happening to Couchsurfing?”

(The post below is taken verbatim and in full from http://www.quora.com/CouchSurfing/What-is-happening-to-Couchsurfing. The author of the post is anonymous and while his/her post is an opinion piece, as opposed to objective, I think it’s a good summary and explanation of what’s been going on. I recommend checking out the link above to see how other people, including the author, Peter, of “Couchsurfing: The Meltdown Continues” and CS employee Sam Houston, has responded.

Another good opinion Quora post is here.)

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Question prompted by this critical piece: Couchsurfing: The Meltdown Continues

Benchmark Capital is trying to turn a bottom-up social phenomenon into a top-down, professionally managed Internet “Product”.

The old Couchsurfing thrived with a very haphazard and underfunded management structure precisely because local volunteers around the world believed they were part of a cause bigger than profit. Local collectives were highly tied to their local communities.

The “bottom-up” folks aren’t happy about this. In the grand scheme of things, management doesn’t care. Management will say they care, but they only care to the extent that they can transition smoothly.  An organization where the ground-level decision are made by autonomous volunteers is not compatible with a high market valuation.

The goal is to manage PR well enough to avoid meltdown long enough to get rid of all the noisy troublemakers, while growing userbase enough to show the market the numbers they want to see.

The ultimate goal will be to be acquired or go public right at the peak of user growth, just like MySpace. VC and MBA types are clueless when it comes to judging the true health and stability of a social network. They understand “metrics” not “quality human interaction”. But that doesn’t matter as capital markets and large acquiring corporations are even more clueless.

The technical architecture of the new systems is much better, but paradoxically the “professional” product development process fixes things that were broken on purpose. In other words, Couchsurfing evolved around certain quirks and inefficient processes that actually became critical to the health of the social trust platform.

All of the original staff and founders have been fired or placed in gilded cages. They did not leave voluntarily. The most active volunteers in the organization are the most upset. A newly hired “community manager” is tasked with managing blowback on all social media platforms. That should tell you what is really going on.

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