freecycling is one of the best ideas to hit the internet in recent years. unfortunately, it’s become a victim of its own success.

background

freecycle was created last year by deron beal as part of his work for a recycling program of a tucson-based non-profit organization. it was made very simply: he created a mailing list on which the members could offer items they owned but didn’t need or want. anyone who wanted them could contact the posters privately to make an exchange. for a small, local program, this was perfectly adequate.

now, the freecycle idea has been copied all over the world. there are 1,297 official freecycle mailing lists as i write. they’re all based on the tucson model, but each has its own rules. some of them cover huge metropolitan areas and regularly split into smaller spinoff groups for specific neighborhoods or suburbs. because they’re simply free-form mailing lists, it’s impossible to keep everyone using the prescribed format for messages. discussions frequently erupt, wander off topic, and go down in flames. those on the losing side of the argument leave and create their own splinter group.

people trying to reach as wide an audience as possible join all the groups they can find in their area and crosspost to them all. the same message goes to six groups with different guidelines; it’s acceptable on four of them, spurs 17 flames of indignation on the other two. three of the lists are moderated, and by the time the message is approved and reaches the members of the moderated lists, the item has already gone to someone on the unmoderated one. someone gets tired of this and creates freecycletopekaksnomods. the original poster remembers to tell two of the lists that the item has been taken. members of the other four lists continue to write him for days, getting no reply.

it’s a trainwreck.

disclaimer

i don’t mean to say that freecycling isn’t doing good. even with all its problems, i see it doing great things every day. i just want to say that it could be so much easier and better.

before i make my suggestions, i want to point out that i’m very much on the fringe of the freecycle community. i’ve been a moderator of freecyclebaltimore and a member of various area groups for a month. there are many people who have been involved in the project and working as moderators for much longer. my opinions don’t have the authority of a long-time moderator behind them. i’ve just been bothered for several days by thinking about the wasted potential of freecycling, and wanted to write down my thoughts.

how it could be

my suggestion is just this: freecycle has long outgrown the mailing list model. it should be centralized and web-based.

i’ll explain why i think this is so by describing how it could address the problems freecycle faces.

problem 1: getting onboard

freecycle is getting a lot of press these days. someone who reads about it in a newspaper is sent to freecycle.org. she finds the clean, nicely-organized list of groups. let’s say that, like many people, she lives outside baltimore, maryland, and works in washington, d.c. she joins the lists for her town, glen burnie, her metropolitan area, baltimore, the area where she works, washington, and the town she passes through on her way to work, bowie. she spends weekends with her boyfriend in annapolis, so she joins that list, too. she starts getting messages which tell her about two smaller groups near her. she joins them.

she now has to manage subscriptions to seven mailing lists. she has to learn and try to follow the conflicting rules for what is acceptable on each of them. she receives the same messages over and over and over as people post what they want to one list, then another and another.

what i think should happen instead is that she should go to freecycle.org, register an account, give her address, and specify that she would like to be informed of offers and/or requests within 5, 10, 15, 20, or 25 miles of her home. that’s it. nothing more complicated.

problem 2: managing what you receive

as it is now, members of a freecycle list have to receive whatever messages the other members want to send them. if the list is moderated, there’s at least some quality control, but everyone still has to receive:

  • offers.
  • requests for items.
  • notices that an item has been taken (whether or not the item was of any interest to the reader).
  • messages from bob saying he lost joe’s phone number and asking him to send it again.
  • clarifications of earlier offers and requests.
  • any discussions the moderators allow.
  • all the malformed messages from people who can’t remember to use appropriate subject lines.

it’s too much. people should be able to just check off whether they want to receive offers, requests, or both. they could then choose whether to receive an email message each time an appropriate item appears or just log in to freecycle.org whenever they want to see what’s new.

centralization would also make it possible to offer announcements by other means, such as rss.

problem 3: opening and closing offers and requests

someone who makes an offer now has to post a message offering it, then post another to say it’s been taken. those following the transaction have to see the offer message, then look for a “taken” message in the list’s archive to see whether or not they should bother the offerer about it. hopefully, the subject lines will be clear. even if they are, this is too much work.

what should happen is that an item appears in the list of offers. once someone has replied and been picked as the recipient, it’s removed from the offers. if someone gets a message about it too late and goes to freecycle.org to reply, she’ll be told it’s no longer available. if the transaction falls through, the offerer can just mark it as canceled, and the item will appear in the list of offers again. there’s no need to post a message offering the item again, as is done now.

requests can work the same way. an item appears as wanted until it’s fulfilled. there’s no need for anyone to keep posting her list of wants once or twice a week to be sure people see it.

problem 4: transferring items

once an item has been offered or requested and someone has replied wanting or offering it, the offerer has two jobs to do:

choosing who gets it

currently, the offerer has to manage all the email from people who reply, try to organize it, pick someone to give the item to, backtrack and try to find the mail from the other people who replied when that exchange falls through, etc. this is unnecessary.

the offerer should just get a page with a list of everyone who’s interested. this page could
offer several ways of helping the offerer decide who gets it:

  • it could be sorted by time, so the first responders are at the top.
  • a note from each responder could be included to say something about why the person wants it.
  • each username could have a link to the responder’s public profile for more information about her.
  • there could be an indication of the distance from the responder’s home address to the offerer’s (without giving the addresses).
  • there could be a marker showing the responder’s freecycle rating.

by “freecycle rating”, i mean that there could be a rating system in place like those people are used to using on ebay or amazon. a week after an item was promised to someone, freecycle could remind the offerer to mark the transaction as either canceled (reopening the item) or completed. if it were marked completed, both the offerer and receiver would be asked to rate the exchange on a scale of 1 to 5 and give a brief comment about it.

this would solve the problem of people worrying about complete strangers coming to their homes; they could look at the responders’ ratings and the comments other freecyclers have made about their interactions with them.

another common problem is that items just go to the first person who replies because offerers don’t want to be bothered with sifting all the mail. those who don’t sit in front of their computers all day never have a chance. this could be solved by making the list of replies unavailable to the offerer until 24 hours after the offer is made. this would also solve the problem of moderators abusing their privileges to take items first. even if all posts were moderated, the moderator’s reply to an offer would reach the offerer at the same time as the others. contacting offerers privately before the replies are made available would have to be forbidden.

arranging the exchange

once someone has been picked as the recipient, a web-based freecycle could offer tools to facilitate the exchange. the offerer could have the option of having her address and/or phone number automatically given to the recipient. the address could come with a link to a map site showing directions from the recipient’s address to the offerer’s.

if the offerer didn’t like giving recipients her home address, she could specify another address (such as her work address or a public place) as the one which should be given. if the offerer were worried about spam, she could choose not to give her email address to the recipient, and make all communication through freecycle.org.

once an item was marked as promised but not yet completed, the list of responders could be greyed out. if the exchange were canceled, it could become available again, and the offerer could pick another recipient from the list.

problem 5: moderating

moderating a freecycle list can be a very time-consuming process. it can also involve a lot of thinking about whether certain offers and requests are acceptable, and (sometimes unpleasant) discussion with list members and moderators of other lists to get their opinions.

a centralized freecycle would remove this duplicated effort. sitewide policies could be decided, and that would be that. the rules could be posted, and posts which violated them would be removed. the burden of reviewing posts for violations could be distributed to all of the site’s users, removing the burden from the moderators. each offer and request could have a “report violation” link like those on craigslist. it could lead to a list of the rules with a link next to each. clicking the link would report the item as in violation of that rule. if more than one user reported a problem with an item, it would be flagged for review by a moderator.

many moderators are exasperated by list members who can’t or won’t follow the guidelines for how to write their messages. each message is supposed to have a subject line which begins with “offer:”, “taken:”, “wanted:”, or “admin:”. some members can’t or won’t do this, and everyone has to open their messages to see what they’re about. when submitting their items through the web, the only mistake people could make is to mark an offer as a request, or vice-versa. everything would be formatted in a consistent way because people would be filling in forms.

also, many lists ask their members to include certain information, but people ofter forget to do so. we ask people to give their location, for example. this would be handled automatically, because the offerer’s zip code would be displayed. we ask people to describe the item’s condition, but this often isn’t done. offerers could be required to choose from a list such as “like new”, “good”, “well-loved”, “needs repair”, etc. a web-based system would also allow people to upload photos of their items.

one of the biggest headaches for moderators is trying to keep discussions under control. someone offers a puppy, someone complains about offering animals, ten people jump on each side of the issue, a dozen more jump in to complain about the discussion, and the moderators heave a sigh. some spam gets through, and it starts all over again. removing the possibility of public discussions from the method of exchanging items will put an end to this.

objections

i can think of several objections to this plan.

it will take too much work and money

someone will probably offer the most basic objection:

“it’s not worth the trouble.”

i think it is. freecycling is a terrific idea, but the system established for a single community has not scaled well to an international movement. the problems i’ve described have nearly torn several freecycle lists apart, have led to flamewars both on the local lists and on the international moderators discussion list, and have caused many good participants to unsubscribe.

yes, it would be a lot of work. the system i’ve described is not trivial, but it’s not rocket science or anything very original, either. any competent web programmer could do it, and it doesn’t all have to be done all at once. i’ve just brainstormed many features here; they could be added a bit at a time once the basic mechanism is in place.

“it would cost too much to make it.”

there are lots of ways to get it done. the simplest is just to ask for volunteers. it’s a worthy cause and has a high enough profile that people may be interested in giving their time to it. if volunteers can’t be found, we could try schools. college students might be found who could work on it for credit, or a professor willing to assign it as a project. the non-profit could take a student as an intern.

if someone has to be hired for the job, there are plenty of capable, underemployed programmers these days. there are said to be 420,982 people in the official freecycle groups today. there should be no problem getting enough in donations to pay for the work and the ongoing cost of maintenance and server fees.

if worst came to worst, advertising space could be sold.

the horse is already out of the barn

“it’s too late for this now. the mailing lists are already established, and no one’s going to want to change.”

i think the advantages i’ve described are enough to make both users and moderators want to switch. nothing would stop those who prefer the mailing lists from continuing to use them, and they may eventually decide to join. in the meantime, momentum will grow from new people coming to freecycle.org for the first time and opening accounts.

it will destroy the freecycle community

“centralizing freecycle will ruin the local community we’ve established.”

there’s no reason this has to be the case. discussion can still go on, it just has to be kept separate from the day-to-day business of transferring items so that those who aren’t interested don’t have to read
it. there could be discussions organized by zip code or state so local conversation can continue. it could be as simple as adding a third item to the subscriptions: “offers”, “requests”, and “comments”. by checking “comments”, the user would receive any public comments posted by anyone within the area she’s chosen (her home address plus [x] miles). again, she could choose to receive comments by email or just read them on the site.

moderation could continue to be done locally; people could volunteer to moderate items posted in their own zip codes. the difference would be that moderators would be more accountable to the members. the system-wide rules would provide the parameters within which the local moderators could operate. if the members felt the moderators were overstepping their authority, they could appeal to the freecycle administration. if the moderators were found to be at fault, the administration could replace them.

a centralized, web-based freecycle could offer many more means of fostering community, both locally and globally. in addition to local discussion, sitewide discussion lists could offer the opportunity for anyone to share her ideas and help shape freecycle’s policies and direction. each member would have a public profile page on which she could reveal as much or as little about herself as she liked. user ratings and feedback would minimize the interference of spammers and scammers. the administration would have the ability to send messages to all users announcing site and policy changes, etc.

i believe that, paradoxically, moving freecycle from many small, scattered groups to one site will bring the community together in the cities, not just as a whole.

conclusion

freecycle and its many members have a lot to give. i believe it’s reached a critical point at which it can either continue to suffer from trends it’s developed or, with a bit of elbow grease, greatly increase its ability to do good.

i’ll welcome your thoughts and comments about this.

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31 thoughts on “freecycle's future

  1. These are all good and valid points, and I totally agree with all of
    them, but perhaps you have not researched the possibility that the
    suggested improvements are not already beginning to take place within
    Freecycle. According to some posts on the modsquad, I am led to believe
    that programming has begun on a new central system such as one you
    describe, or at the very least, is planned and volunteers are being
    sought – there is a database file on the modsquad homepage that is a
    “sign up” form for volunteering skills to be put toward this effort of a
    centralized, web based freecycle program. It would be nice to have some
    sort of progress update/stages info from modsquand and perhaps I should
    to request that.

    Mars
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/RosedaleFreecycle/

    1. According to some posts on the modsquad, I am led to believe that programming has begun on a new central system such as one you describe

      i caught a whisper which sounded like that, too, but no substantial news. it may be waiting for when deron is in town again. if it’s true, it’s great news. i hope my thoughts can provide an idea or two for it! 🙂

      1. I just found your post. I realize it’s old but if I found it, someone
        else may as well! It’s true. It’s in the works. There will be a
        web-based system soon. We’re introducing it to members in June 2007.
        Keep an eye out!

    2. I agree with all your comments! I have actually been a very loud voice to Deron about getting away from Yahoo. In fact, I have been critisized for it!?!? Has there been progress? Nope! Is something going on behind the scenes? Honestly, I seriously doubt it. I would love to be more optomistic, but I have been a techie for 7 years, and a freecycle mod for 1 year. I simply don’t think Deron is surrounded by the right kind of people, nor does he have the basic technical street wise to be forward thinking about this issue.

      Check out http://www.freecycle.ca
      these guys did it right. I don’t know them at all, but they eliminated the crap model Deron has tried to embrace.

      Thanks for being another voice on this subject none the less! However, I think its a bit too late for Deron at this point.

      – Ed

  2. I agree with all you’ve said about it reaching a critical mass, but
    wanted to add an additional thought.

    I think freecycle is becoming a victim of it’s members. Greed is
    becoming a problem. How many posts do we get a day for “Wanted:
    Computer system – needs to be Pentium 4 3.2GHz or better”? Ok, I’m
    exaggerating a little – but not much. As news of freecycle is spread,
    more people hear about it – and think “Gee, I wonder how much free stuff
    I can get”. Greedy people will always take advantage of someone else’s
    kindness/generosity. I can’t see a good solution for this, but I see
    more and more people who are only looking for free items – and less that
    are giving of items. In fact, I believe it is turning some good users
    away. My co-worker is one of them. He has offered a number of items,
    and recently decided to leave freecycle – due to the volume of mail, and
    the “wanted”. Don’t take this wrong, but to him it sounds like people
    begging outside of a train station.

    Limiting the number of “Wanted” requests people can make in a given
    time, would be beneficial (and can be easily automated – outside of a
    mailing list). Having to deal with greedy people – I think having a
    rating would help, along with “How many items this user has received in
    the last month” field. This would only work if the giver reports that
    the item is taken by – but it could work. I certainly wouldn’t give
    someone a TV set, if I knew they received 40 other high priced items
    this month.

    As a side note – I in the process of counting up the wanteds and offer
    messages for the group I co-mod on. I’m curious what the ratio is –
    maybe it is just my perception, but I believe the numbers have gone up a
    lot.

    1. Greed is becoming a problem. How many posts do we get a day for “Wanted: Computer system – needs to be Pentium 4 3.2GHz or better”? Ok, I’m exaggerating a little – but not much.

      you’re not exaggerating at all; i’ve seen people ask for cars, houses, and boats. and for people to pay their bills.

      I believe it is turning some good users away. My co-worker is one of them. He has offered a number of items, and recently decided to leave freecycle – due to the volume of mail, and the “wanted”.

      i’ve heard the same. the ratio of offers to requests on freecyclebaltimore is pretty good (i haven’t looked, but i have a feeling it’s about 50/50), but even there, i’ve had to configure my mail reader to mark all “wanted:” posts as deleted by default so i don’t have to keep hitting “d”. i scan the subject lines to see if there’s anything i can provide, but so far, it’s always either been something i didn’t have to give or just “late model laptop wanted” nonsense. we’re losing good members over this. they have to be given the choice of not having to see it all.

      Limiting the number of “Wanted” requests people can make in a given time, would be beneficial (and can be easily automated – outside of a mailing list).

      yes, if people are only allowed to make, say, two requests for each completed offer they make, it will go a long way toward stemming the tide. and the list of wanted items could be sorted by the requesters’ ratings, so those just trying to leech off the system settle to the bottom.

  3. I agree with much of what you have to say. You are very, very perceptive. And in such a short time. I for one with a very small group only allow my members to post wanted’s for two weeks at a time. I also think when a moderator is going to mod a group someone needs to make sure they know how to do that. Trial period or something. Consultant is not my line of work but maybe we need to see about having volunteers check to see how things are going. If they aren’t going well that volunteer or another volunteer step in for a short time and get them back on track. This will prevent owner’s from just throwing their hands. After all we are representing an organization. Right? Don’t volunteer to moderate over 100 people if you can’t do it. Good, bad and the ugly.

    Would you let someone program your pc if all they ever did was flip burgers and never touched a pc? Not I.

    I also think it needs to be looked into rather thoroughly how many cities or towns are going to be in that group. I am in jeapordy of being denied my group because I am so close (40 or so miles) to other groups in other counties. However, my county serves 8 very, very small towns. I may be telling my members they have to use someone else’s group.

    Good job, if I had nothing else to say I would atleast say I commend you on your research and your perception

  4. Las Vegas has already split from the yahoo email list slam and made our
    own community – http://www.lvfreecycle.org

    we can monitor who gets what, who makes ridiculous requests, whos an
    idiot, and take measures . . our biggest problem is getting slammed by
    the yazoo bunch . . .

    I can help anybody set up a similar site for your community!

    tony

        1. We’ve got a pretty good wheel going on, as a matter of fact. Check out
          http://www.reuses.com, or one of our other sites, such as http://www.2good2toss.com,
          (which has 11, 000 members) in Washington State.

          Please note that we are not copying freecycle, as has been suggested before, as
          our first site was set up in 1999, in Canada. I know that many people are
          unfamiliar with the concept of materials exchanges, but they’ve been around
          since the 1970’s. (of course, they tended to be photocopied lists, back then)

          In general, I agree with your commentary, Jeff, although I’m not sure that
          centralization is the way to go. I like the grassroots nature of freecycle.
          Local groups make it very resilient, unlike the potentially unwieldy structure
          of a large, centralized organization. Also, it seems to me that what works in
          one community may not be what works elsewhere. Finally, I would say that
          diversity is a good thing, as some new concept or strategy which is very useful
          may pop up in a local area if there is some autonomy to set local strategy which
          might not happen through a larger, more centralized structure.

          James Ruttan
          i-WasteNot Systems
          http://www.i-wastenot.com

          1. thanks for the background, james; very interesting.

            even if a single site isn’t the final answer for freecycle, i hope a system
            becomes available which can be installed and maintained by groups in
            communities, providing the same features everywhere under a common brand name.
            otherwise, there will be too many competing and hard-to-find forums. freecycle
            is “the name” now, and where almost everyone goes. similarly, you could post
            your items to sell on joe’s auction site, but why do that when you could reach
            thousands more people on ebay?

            1. Thanks for your reply, Jeff.

              A Reuses system could be available to any community which desires one. However,
              you’re right about the “name” (and it’s an awesome name!). We first contacted
              Deron Beal in 2003 when freecycle was in it’s infancy about possibly uniting the
              two organizations in pursuit of a common goal. (2 great tastes that taste great
              together..our software and the freecycle network) We still hope to work with the
              freecycle network.

              Best wishes,

              James Ruttan
              i-WasteNot Systems

  5. FreeCycle is the name for today, FreeSharing is the name of the future.
    FreeSharing.org is just getting started. There is no central management, no fancy web site, and no corporate (or other) sponcers.
    All groups in the directory have complete local control, and the only qualification for being listed in the directory are the 3 basic rules: Free, Legal, and Appropriate for all ages.
    FreeSharing.org

  6. I agree FreeCycling really needs to have a centralised system one that works a
    little like eBay but has a geographic component so that we can get away from
    specific local groups to homogenous communities, perhaps countrywide. All users
    should enter their postcodes as part of their set up on the system, items on offer
    could be listed nearest first, from searches or category listings.

    Unfortunately I can’t see this being developed or hosted on a volountary basis, it
    would need some kind of sponsorship, government or corporate, to make it happen.
    In the UK the movement does not appear to be very mature yet, so for now I’m going
    to hang in there with the FreeCycle group, and try to get it up to a critical
    mass.

  7. Jeff,
    I’ve only recently read about the freecycle movement in a magazine and thought to myself,
    “This is the same idea that I had!”. I’m glad that I checked your comments about the
    problems that have been developing with it. I’m sure that if I had initiated a similar
    network I would not have foreseen all of these glitches. Too bad that a simple good idea
    can end up like a can of worms. I hope that your recommendations are eventually
    incorporated into freecycle making it much more user friendly.
    R,
    Steve

  8. Have you seen FreeForAll.org?

    I think it has all benefits of Freecycle, without the problems we have with Freecycle?

    What do you think?

      1. Maybe not enough people know about http://www.FreeForAll.org thats why there is little exchange. Is there any way we can publicise it? I think people will like it, I was very impressed with the FreeForAll.org system.

        All The Best,
        C. Freeds

  9. I just unsubscribed from Freecycle today.

    One member, inparticular was abusing the system by posting literally
    hundreds of offers. Then she would post 100’s of takens. I pay by the
    kilobyte to get things on my phone – one or a few emails with these
    offers combined would have sufficed, especially seeing since some of the
    offers wre for $3 or less items.

    A central database would also be able to limit the number of posts one
    could make in a given week.

    The person who was posting all this stuff ONLY did it so she could
    appear to be benevolent to post an onslaught of wanted ads.

    I emailed the person in question, she was extremely rude, telling me to
    report her to the moderator. She’s best friends with the MOD!

    I have also found that the mod seems to sometimes “take the good stuff”
    – as I have investigated who is picking up the majority of “good items”

    A central database would also cure this problem – crooked Mods.

  10. With Mr. Covey’s permission, I’ve spent the last 8 month’s persuing
    taking his ideas from paper to reality. My version of this concept can
    be seen at http://www.freexchange.org.

    I agree with Jeff that fragmentation is sad to see, but due to the
    reality of Freecycle’s inability to manage itself and it’s growth, it
    was bound to happen. I wouldn’t have gone forward with this if I thought
    freecycle was dealing with it’s growing pains in a constructive manner.

    One argument against doing this was cost. I’m a tightwad, and I tried
    many avenues, including Jeff’s suggestion on using college students. I
    eventually used a talented web guy with knowlege of ASP.net to get this
    off the ground. He gave me a good deal, but it still wasn’t cheap. I’m
    staying away from ads and hoping if people like it, they will support
    it.

    Was it worth it? Success or failure, it was. It took me stepping out of
    my comfort zone to go forward with this. Many times fears (founded and
    unfounded) would creep into my head and make me rethink my decision. I
    think I’m a better person for it.

    OK, I’m done using this board as my therapist. I feel better though.

  11. Visit http://www.2good2toss.com to see how Washington State
    works with i-WasteNot Materials Exchange Systems
    to divert residential waste, and raise awareness
    of the value of reduce, repair, reuse and recycle.

    Starting with 0 members in 2003 and approaching
    20,000 members end of 2005, with over 418 tons
    of waste diverted in 2004, and over 573 tons diverted
    in 2005 (with about 75% of counties/cities reporting).
    (Not all of the material moved on the site would have
    been thrown away; however not all counties are reporting either).

    The system comes with a local administrator’s control
    panel; it can be set up in less than a day, and provides
    all sorts of options so that the material exchange meets
    local needs.

    The system can restrict items to FREE but the
    Washington State system doesn’t; research shows that
    there is a large volume of material going to landfill that
    is too expensive to advertise, but 2good2toss. And some
    people won’t be bothered listing if they can’t get a bit
    of money for it.

    With our experience at this hosted, multi-community system
    we are now enlarging the advertising supported Reuses Network at http://www.reuses.com

    The Reuses Network (see http://www.vancouver.reuses.com or
    http://www.rideau.reuses.com ) is intended to be non-profit,
    advertising supported (or with a fee to avoid ads),
    open to environmental groups or individuals, and contains
    many of the features and functions of the full-featured
    i-WasteNot Systems. Local administrators follow some network
    rules, but are free to set their own local policies to fit
    local conditions as well.

    Contact me at the email address listed for more information
    on either a municipally or privately funded i-wastenot.com system
    or an advertising supported Reuses Network System.

    Norm

  12. I have created a website which provides an answer to all the problems which have come to plague the freecycle network! GreenGonzo provides a searchable database of items which people are giving away, meaning that you simply need to enter a keyword and find the item you need. No mailing list subscription is required. If you wish to post things, you only need to register which just takes a momement. Go on and give it a try today!

    Here’s the link once more – http://www.greengonzo.com

  13. I’ve been reading all the comments and I couldn’t agree more with Jeff Covey – FreeCycle is just out of control, I just unsubscribed. I’ve also looked at all of these other sites people are promoting – unfortunately, you guys are also missing the boat as well. Data needs to be centralized and quickly accessible – people do not want to have visit 10 different exchange web-sites within Washington to find what they are looking for. Also, to just have long lists of items on a web-page is a usability nightmare (which is very similar to the sites above).

    There is a startup emerging out of Vancouver, BC Canada which is catching a bit of buzz. It is called MaterialLove (www.materiallove.com). The application is still in Beta so I’m not sure what all features are still in the works – it is not really an exchange, but I think something like this or similar to this would work out better than freecycle.

  14. I heard about these guys who have been talking to freecycle users about
    what they want and are building a brand new service. You should check em
    out. I signed up to be a beta tester. Their site talks about what they
    will have to offer. Sounds cool.

    http://www.gigoit.org/

    – peace

  15. Hello,

    In response to Karen’s comment concerning Washington State’s system at
    http://www.2good2toss.com

    With respect, I disagree that people don’t want to visit 10 different
    sites. I’ll explain why.

    Research from the U. of Tennessee shows that most low-value material
    (potential waste) will travel less than 50 miles from provider to
    recipient. Which makes sense, because transportation costs (driving,
    shipping) will mean that it’s not worth going to get the item even if
    it’s free or low cost.

    So a regional, state or national materials exchange only makes sense for
    high-value items. And this is the sort of stuff that is already handled
    by services like Craig’s List, Buy/Sell.com etc.

    However, there are some circumstances where you might want to see items
    from outside the local area. So…in the case of the service in
    Washington State, the County/City is the home base, and you can then
    search the whole system if you prefer to see items from outside your
    local area. And we are now preparing to provide an integrated
    local/statewide system so that the user can choose the area to see
    listings from.

    The same system used in Washington State has now spread to British
    Columbia under the http://www.bc.reuses.com name, with the support of the
    Recycling Council of British Columbia and the local municipalities.
    Services are available in Vancouver, Surrey, the Okanagan, and
    Thompson-Nicola (Kamploops) with more coming in several other areas in
    2008.

    We also supply the Recycling Council of British Columbia with
    professional grade software to run the British Columbia Industrial
    Materials Exchange (www.bcimex.ca ) and the British Columbia Electronics
    Material Exchange (www.bcemex.ca ). In addition, we provide the
    Vancouver Coastal Health Authority with a service to encourage/faciliate
    waste diversion between hospitals and clinics.

    Our software also runs Industrial/Commercial Waste Exchanges such as the
    Pennsylvania Materials Exchange (www.materialtrader.org) and the
    Pennsylvania Manure Exchange (www.manuretrader.org) along with the
    Chicago Materials Exchange (City of Chicago-internal waste exchanges)
    and the State of Georgia (www.scrapmatchga.com). We also provide the
    I.T./software for the Calgary Materials Exchange service operated by
    Clean Calgary Association (www.cmex.ca )

    Residential service is also now available in Madison, Wisconsin
    (www.madisonstuffexchange.com ) and Newton, Massachusetts
    (www.wastenotnewton.com). We have services under the http://www.iwastenot.com
    name in Davis, California (www.iwastenot.com/davis ) and Arcata,
    California (www.iwastenot.com/arcata ) . For a complete list of
    residential services visit http://www.iwastenot.com .

    Ontario is another node where local services are becoming available, for
    example in Hamilton (www.hamilton.reuses.com ) and soon in other
    cities/areas.

    In addition to materials exchanges, we also provide Recyclopedia which
    is currently bundled with the waste exchange service. This is a local
    A-Z Recycling Guide by type of material. For a good example, visit
    http://www.wastenotnewton.com .

    We also bundle a Recycling Business and Non-Profit Directory with the
    local service. So that people who want things reused, repaired or
    recycled can find someone in their local area who does that sort of
    thing.

    Our service also includes ‘metrics’. The weight of each item is
    estimated, and from that we are able to report on waste management
    savings by municipality, or in the case of Industrial Waste Exchanges by
    company. We also provide information on Greenhouse Gases reduced through
    the materials exchange service. Plus metrics on ‘awareness’ value of the
    websites.

    More to come in 2008 with new services expected in the Northeast U.S.
    and Canada. And new ‘community environmental services’ under
    development, so that people who want to do the right thing, can access
    good local tools and information to help them reduce their environmental
    footprint.

    Norm Ruttan
    iWasteNot Systems
    http://www.iwastenotsystems.com
    1-800-630-7864

  16. Hi Jeff,

    You have summed up the reasons why we created http://www.ReuseMoose.com perfectly so I thought I would respond to your article.

    After trying to use Freecycle here in Melbourne Australia, it was obvious the system used by Freecycle is way out of date, difficult to use and the number of rules mind boggling.

    I discussed these problems with a friend of mine (We are both involved in the IT industry) and we decided to try and create a better platform.

    Many, many hours later we had created ReuseMoose – Free online recycling for anyone.
    http://www.ReuseMoose.com can be used anywhere in the world so there is no need to sign up with multiple communities anymore.

    We are committed to make it as easy as possible for anyone to recycle and will keep improving this free service based on peoples feedback.

    Considering your history with Freecycle, it would be great to get your feedback.
    Happy recycling!

  17. Everyone with a new freecycling like site seems to be posting here so I thought I’d do the same 🙂

    I’ve created a site that makes existing freecycling groups on Yahoo Groups easier to use. It’s basically a custom webmail system that addresses a lot of the issues you raised. You can check it out at http://trashnothing.com

    I’ve also built a map-based directory of all the freecycling groups around the world at http://finder.trashnothing.com

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