Fighting for freerecyling

Dear Moderators of freecycle, crunch time is coming. Get your crunch time contract now!

Bear in mind I am totally NOT advocating to anyone or any group that they should leave TFN. I absolutely don’t want my group to leave, for example. BUT, and yes this is a big but. This is as big a but as it comes. You have to decide what kind of future of freecycling you want.

For many owners and moderators they just keep their heads low and get on and do what they always love. This is

  • promoting your group
  • moderating posts and users,
  • seeing unwanted items go to new homes that need them and
  • thus reducing landfill, and
  • overall feeling a very positive part of your local community.

That’s it isn’t it. If I have missed any major points please let me know. That is the sum total of what drives a moderator or owner.

Let me take the first point only. We all use the “freecycle” word in our group for one reason only – it is a magical word. If the word was “reducelandfillnow” then I am sure most groups would run a mile and not identify with it. But the word freecycle is 100% gold. It is a better word than Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and others. You may not have known that but believe me it is worth its weight in gold.

And the reason it is worth so much is because:

  • everyone, and I mean everyone loves and understands it
  • it is a very positive name
  • easy to spell
  • oh, and a hundred other things

(That means that, dear Deron Beal, you and your colleagues if you do this right you could justifiably and could honourably net yourself the biggest, highest value Internet Domain name sale ever, without exception.)

BUT for the domain name to be worth anything it needs people. It needs people like you and me. It needs freecycle groups like yours and mine. It needs moderators and owners. That’s what we have now. But very sadly it is at very serious risk of going wrong. So why is that?

Many moderators and owners just get on with their daily freecycling jobs. Some decide they want to know more. They want to improve their skills. So they go to the TFN website and on there they can find pages and pages of manuals. Absolutely brilliant. Many many pages of moderator manuals. Lots to digest.

And if they have more questions, as human beings so often do, these pages refer them to join specialist moderator groups such as OIDG and various ModSquads, mine being the UkModsquad. Modsquads are naturally more focused at questions and issues around posts. They are learning forums with a lot of peer support. Each country and US state and many regions have them.

But let us focus on OIDG – Organisational Issues Discussion Group. Just think for two seconds what that group is about.

For me it is about how groups relate to the core organisation, TFN. Actually it gets blurred in non-US countries where there is a local company such as in the UK we have a Freecycle UK. I would recommend we ignore country companies for now, they are there primarily for tax purposes. This is an important question so let me list the kind of relationships might be in place between groups and TFN

  • a franchise: a group owner “buys” the right to run their local group and run their own territory as they see fit,
  • an affiliation: where a group might already pre-exist and simply wants to ride on the coattails of the freecycle name,
  • fully owned: where a group is run and managed and to all intents and purposes seen by all parties as something that TFN owns.

A further complication is who decides what the relationship is. Do you, as a moderator and/or owner? Does TFN decide unilaterally?

Well with any normal organisation there would be contracts in place at the outset of a relationship. In TFN’s and the freecycle groups instance the only “contracts” are the addition of copyright statements on the group’s home page. So that means actually you do not have a contract with TFN. None.

Bear in mind that according to Yahoo Groups rules you can change everything about your group including its name, its address, its home page in an instant. You could if you so wished remove the word freecycle from these parts and in so doing not break your contract with Yahoo.

Yes you do have a contract with Yahoo Groups. When you sign up as a member, when you create a group.

Ah, yes. Who actually created your group? That is a very good question. That I think would make a defensible position in a court of law. (Bear in mind here I have no legal training and am not offering legal advice.) If a full-time TFN employee created the group, then I think they could claim the group was fully owned. If someone other than a paid TFN employee created the group then I think the choice is between a franchise and an affiliation.

The difference between a franchise and an affiliation generally speaking is one of commitment. And by golly are we all committed. As I indicated above generally franchises cost money to buy into. But of course no money has changed hands in the setting up of groups. Not one dime. Hmm. Anyway whether it is an affiliation or a franchise is not so important.

What is important is what you, as owner and moderator, think about your group. And more specifically what commitment you have shown to your group. If you have spent time and energy promoting your group. Perhaps you have even spent your own money on adverts, then think why did you do this. Why did you spend all that time, energy and possibly money on your group?

Is it because you felt a sense of ownership?

Yes, as either affiliated or franchise operations you, YOU THE OWNER (as Yahoo Groups defines in its contract with you) are the person who owns the group.

Let me ram this home with an example. Suppose a group goes really wonky. Perhaps against all human principles it starts exchanging very, very hardcore porn. And suppose you the owners and moderators do nothing to stop this. What is going to happen?

You are going to get a very legal letter from – guess who – Yahoo Groups of course. They will send you a letter telling you to stop it. And if you do not comply and bring the group into order it will be Yahoo Groups who will delete your group very very quickly. No-one else has the right to delete your group.

So your current contract is with Yahoo. That is about to change and very radically and totally and irrevocably.

TFN are quite rightly building a new website. (If you want to look at some semblance of the specification then check out NetSquared website for their elevator pitch.) This project is maturing. The stated goal of the project is to move away from Yahoo Groups. I simply ask you to think about what other goals will also be achieved.

I think one primary and unstated goal is around ownership and control of your group. If you sign up lock stock and barrel to the new website and transfer your group over then you must expect this to be a one-way process. There will be no going back. Even if TFN developed a tool for groups to revert it would not be in their interests to have it used. What works for TFN is for the new website to work, work, work. What they cannot afford is for groups to suddenly jump ship.

But I ask you do you want to get on this new ship? I, and my group want to stay with TFN, 100%. But before that happens I want to know what contractual relationship we have got now and what contractual relationship we will have.

Once the new website is operational no longer will Yahoo Groups terms and conditions apply to TFN groups. I ask you what is going to replace it? And I say until there is something that is acceptable I will not be recommending to my group to move.

If you and your group move over without any contract, then I very strongly suspect that there will never be a contract and that your role as owner and moderator will be marginalised, and arguably into non-existence. And without any contract you will have no say in that marginalisation.

And to me what is good and unique about freecycling is the sense of community. I absolutely adore that sense of community. Please do not lose it. Fight for your freecycle community. Join OIDG and demand your contract. If you find that your membership request is not accepted or subsequent posts are not taken, then as a moderator you can join IFMS where similar debates happen. If you think that TFN is not necessarily the way you want your group to go then as moderator FCNEXT is a group that may offer advice.

But whatever you do, don’t do nothing. Fight for your community, your freecycling community. This is your one and only chance. Demand your crunch contract time now.

(Watch this blog for a putative contract coming soon if I can get my finger out.)


July 2, 2007 - Posted by | fcnext, freecycle, OIDG


  1. Well, if you live in the UK and are fed up to the back teeth with all this hullabaloo and clap trap about money and are just interested in running a yahoogroup dedicated to shifting surplus items to a new home, other than landfill, drop by to

    If a group doesn’t exist in your area, create one!

    Comment by Realcycle | July 2, 2007 | Reply

  2. Worth looking at the new trademark classifications too here are the old & new for comparisson

    TM Number Mark Text Type Date Status Classes
    E4287553 freecycle DW 14.02.2005 Registered 42
    E5722723 FREECYCLE WO 28.02.2007 New Application 35 38 40 42

    Comment by Saddened | July 3, 2007 | Reply

  3. Well, if you live in the UK (available soon in the us) and are fed up to the back teeth with all this hullabaloo and clap trap about money, drop by to

    Comment by I-recycle administrator | July 3, 2007 | Reply

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