Fighting for freerecyling

A change from Org to Network or Website

If you look at the links on the right I have broken down entries from “freecycling org” into two groups. Freecycling networks are those “organisations” that support a range of forums, each for their local community. Wheras freecycling websites on the other hand have a single website where you might put in your location such as zip or post code and then the website returns results close to you.

Normally I would not blog on such a change but it is worth understanding the distinction and why it is drawn. Freecycling only makes sense if it is local. Thus there is a strong thread on this blog and elsewhere on the merits of keeping freecycling a local facility. In this I prefer freecycling networks since they have a very strong bond with the local community. They are run by local people, who are therefore answerable to their community, and excepting the case of The Freecycle Network only to their own community.

A freecycling website has greater difficulties with this. Firstly the need and use for local moderators is diminished, and in many cases there is no concept of a moderator. Also one has to understand what the definition of local is.

We all think we know what local is. But locality is a funny word. It is, rightly, mixed up with concepts of neighbourhood. It is also mixed up with towns and cities. It could also be said to be a region defined as say, 10, 20 or perhaps 30 miles surrounding the home you live in. It also depends on transport links. It might also be tempered with local geography such as a mountain range or very wide river with no bridges. Or perhaps man has built a major road such as a motorway that divides what was once a single community. Finally what is local depends as much on the people you interact with.

And this final statement is perhaps the key. The ONLY acceptable definition of local is what you the individual feel is local, in context of your friends and family, your business colleagues and other acquaintances that live close by. It is these mixed with all the above that give each one of us a very personal definition of locality.

So when we sign up as a member of a freecycling group that is or is not part of a freecycling network we are asking ourselves, “Do we identify with this group?” There is little point in posting an advert for some candles on a freecycling group a 100 or more miles away, or even responding to such an offer. But if we see such an advert for someone who only lives a walk or bus ride away, then that qualifies as local.

When someone starts a freecycling group they think to themselves, “I will name this group XXX and serve that area.” However as people join, depending on the local demographics the definition of XXX may change. It may expand as word of mouth spreads across villages and communities. There is no one in control of that expansion. All that can happen is that the group’s owners suddenly decide they must limit it, say because the number of members is growing too large, or there is increased frustration of posts offering items too far away.

All this discussion around locality, this sense of local identity can only take place in a freecycling network. It does not take place in an anonymous freecycling website.

A freecycling website is much easier to run. One person could almost create and manage the website for a whole country. But there is no sense of community. The only criteria is your home address and a circle around that.

But even that has its problems. For privacy reasons, since it is not necessary for a freecycling website to maintain or even know your full address they tend to restrict themselves to your postcode or zip code. This is potentially flawed, more so with with zip codes since they can cover larger geographic areas. For example two people may share the same zip code and yet live 75 miles apart. (Such a situation is unlikely with post codes, since an exact post code is only meant to cover around 100 homes.) 75 miles is far too far for anyone to travel to pick up the majority of items that offered on a freecycling group.

Finally it is rumoured that TFN are close to the stage of revamping their facility. A long standing rumour has been that they intend to move away from Yahoo Groups. When they revoked finder the need for that kind of functionality has meant they are more likely to change to a website away from a network. If that happens it will be a very sad day.


October 7, 2007 - Posted by | freecycle

1 Comment »

  1. Andy:

    I like the tone of your thoughts. “Local” defined by locals. Consider adding “community” to this equation. In Ottawa / Eastern Ontario, Canada, we’ve had freecycle-like groups with various flavours and brands spring up higgledy-piggily based on geographic locations, but also based on “communities of interest”. We have two very successful Plantcycle groups — Ottawa_Greenthumb and Ottawa_Plantcycle; a “craftcycle” group; and a “foodshare” group.

    I would encourage you and readers of this blog to broaden their thinking and consider the value of “community” based groups which might be broader, geographically, but focused on a narrow interest.

    Eric Snyder

    PS: I don’t see among your “network” or “website” groups. FullCircles also has a Facebook group and a support group for Freecycle moderators who have had enough and want to explore alteratives.

    Check out: and to see what we’re up to in Canada!

    Comment by Eric Snyder | October 7, 2007 | Reply

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