Fighting for freerecyling

Freecyclers are VERY patient people

They must be because the new website has been promised for soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo long. Yes we now have a new website, but does it deliver anything of real value so far? Well, does it? The only time this website will deliver value is when TFN is able to support their own mailing lists and leave Yahoo Groups behind.

Computer projects fail, that is a fact. Let’s see how this project measures up. Please, can anyone tell me when the new website project was first initiated? I think we are talking about 2005. So let us see, 2005, 2006, 2007 and now we are nearly in 2008. That’s a long time.

Now I know that TFN was run on a shoestring initially. But it went down the open-source route. Now don’t get me wrong, I love open source. However the sales pitch at the time was that this was a cheap and cost-effective solution. Open source is never that. Open source is damned expensive and needs very serious computer geeks, especially if what you are trying to deliver is a world-class mailing system that is going to be multlingual, in 76 countries, reaching 4 million users. How many years are we talking about again?

I am not saying the open-source route is wrong. I am saying the sales pitch made to moderators was wrong. I am also saying that TFN overstretched itself. If someone has another explanation why the years have rolled by while TFN moderators had to wait so patiently, then state it now.

Let me explain what I mean by overstretching just a little more. Like moderating a freecycling group, building the website must at times have been a thankless task. Not least now, when this blogger looks on from the outside and pulls it apart.

Well begun is half done. I do not see evidence of a well discussed and widely debated project. If there had been proper debate then the Finder fiasco might never have been.

What I also see evidence of is a number of false starts with different project teams, and probably led by Deron. It would be easy to say that some of the blame is Deron is not a good website project manager. Likely as not the current architect Richard might be the best person to know that, but he is probably too close to the subject matter and right now he is “heads down”.

Okay, Andy, what would you have done, since you are so almighty in your pronouncements.

What I would have done is NEVER started trying to replace Yahoo Groups with my own solution. That I would have fought against to my dying breath. Yahoo Groups is not perfect, but one law of the Internet is that a better solution will arrive tomorrow – and it will be free. Just look at innovations like facebook and youtube. Look at all the absolute plethora of social networking sites that are all offering services for free, absolutely free. No development cost, no hosting cost, no server costs, no management cost, no running cost – all adds up to no cost.

Best of all if Yahoo Groups crashes (as it does) we can all blame Yahoo. With a bespoke website replacement the only people we can blame when things go wrong will be – Deron and Richard and the rest of the team. And I pity them when it does go wrong, and I mean when. This is not a criticism of Richard’s skills just a fact of computing life and with 4 million users shouting at you then it is not going to be fun.

I still reckon that for freecycling Yahoo Groups takes some beating. Now that Yahoo are putting money behind it (at last) you never know what the next generation might look like – except that it will stay free, zero cost.

I would have spent time with my harshest critic face to face and worked out what the real problems were and got to the bottom of them. Not that I would have agreed with my critics, but at least I would know where they were coming from and why.

Then I would have broken the problem down. What seems to have been a three year project must by definition be too big a project.

I would have looked at the Moderation Plugin and asked if there was any help we could give there, since that is obviously delivering real value to moderators. Perhaps even a contribution towards the development costs, perhaps for specific developments.

The core thing that is important about a freecycling network organisation must be that it is the hub of communications. So I would have put my energies into communication, especially with moderators. I would have been possibly the most prolific poster on OIDG.

I would have revamped the moderators manual time and time again, looking for holes and filling them.

I would have even spent time and money on a complaints system so that the feedback from that would have built a better network.

I would have looked at the issues of scaling a large multi-national organisation, and from that again I would have said stick with Yahoo Groups for as long as possible, preferring to build out the way the organisation is managed. For example, Deron is a great speaker and I would have given him the remit of marketing TFN.

Instead TFN has dug itself into a hole, a technical hole. And it does not even know how many groups will actually use the new website.


October 13, 2007 - Posted by | freecycle


  1. Very well put Andy.

    Comment by Dave | October 13, 2007 | Reply

  2. I would have also made sure I picked people for whom a position of authority was not a narcotic. People in whom I could lay my trust not to become petty dictators and in the same vein, I would try to make sure I did not do the same thing. I would surround my self with people who were not yes men, instead were people who I could trust to tell me I was overe the edge when I was and when I was not working for the betterment of the movement.

    Unfortunately, Freecycle is broken, from the top down. What could have been a thing of beauty and inspiration has instead, turne into a sad dark shadow of its potential. The administration has become a mean spirited clique, determined to silence the dissenters…in fact the very people it should be listening to, It really is a shame…and sad.

    No matter what platform, or hosting service is used, no matter what programs are running in the background or how big and bad the servers are, without a reliable team oriented admin behind them, the project is doomed.

    Comment by Jeff | October 13, 2007 | Reply

  3. One of the non-technical things you haven’t mentioned in your analysis is the fragmentation of the reuse movement. It has splintered into a plethora of pieces without a unifying umbrella to pull it all together.


    Comment by Eric Snyder | October 13, 2007 | Reply

  4. As you know Eric, I’ve talked about that several times on fcnext and there isn’t any interest. I wish it were otherwise as I feel a unified organization would put us leaps and bounds ahead of what tfn has to offer, not to mention the publicity it could and would generate.

    Comment by Judy | October 13, 2007 | Reply

  5. RE: #3

    Eric brings up a fine point here. Fragmentation will occur in any new grouping of individuals without a central hub which holds true to the basic principles on which the group was founded.

    TFN started along that high road, but slipped off the edge and deteriorated to a corporate mentality of ownership of the principles which were its grassroots foundation.

    The freecycling concept is still present, but groups no longer have a unifying organization to fall back of for support when things get out of hand. We may not need this as groups, but individual moderators sometimes need reassurance, no matter their level of competence, and this is what is the current problem in the movement.

    What the movement needs most, at the moment, is not some high and mighty authority figure to hand down rules, but a mother figure who is able to take a moderator with problems and tell that moderator that everything will work out for the best eventually. This must also include telling the moderator where mistakes were made that could have led up to the problems, and giving suggestions as to what might help solve them.

    Comment by ed schwarzmann | October 13, 2007 | Reply

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