Leicester Freecycle group decided to leave TFN. To protect themselves from trademark infringement they relabelled themselves as realcycle, and so their group website is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Realcycle-Leicester/ and so I guess that should have been the end of the matter.
However it seems that TFN has greated an astroturf group called leicester-freecycle and have automatically “joined” 11474 members since the group’s creation on August 14th, 2009, just 3 days ago.
Now creating a group is one thing. Adding members en-masse is something totally different. From my memory, Yahoo terms and conditions explicitly forbid using the joining approach to adding new members without their permission. So to invite members to join would be acceptable, but to actually add them is – again, in my opinion, not.
One thing this blog has blogged about is AstroTurfing, another is delisting. What these are all part of is a concept of group reorganisation through top-down control. This is a key example of where TFN has got it wrong.
Let me try to explain the problem in context of my home county – Oxfordshire. The epicentre of Oxon (another name for Oxfordshire) free recycling simply has to be the excellent OxfordFreecycle group. As one of the largest groups, globally at approaching 15,000 members this is not a group to join for the faint-hearted. But if you want an item then every day 100’s of items are posted and if you are quick…
OxfordFreecycle ostensibly serves the city of Oxford. But in fact a lot of members come from the surrounding towns and villages in the county and I am sure a lesser number of other members are from outside the county. To help alleviate the pressure on OxfordFreecycle a number of other groups formed and are growing. These include my own CherwellValleyFreecycle also one that covers Witney, Bicester and possibly another 10 TFN groups. And I am sure if you or I look then there will be non-TFN groups covering the same or similar geographic zones.
These groups and their memberships overlap. I, for example, belong to nearly all of Oxfordshire’s groups. Similarly I am sure that most members who live outside the City’s boundary will similarly belong to at least one other relevant group. It may also be worth noting that non-city groups also overlap geographically.
Members understand quickly which groups suit them. Which groups grow, grow fast depends on how well they are managed and whether the membership identifies with the group.
All of this works nicely. If another group appears it is not a particular problem for anyone. It certainly does not need any outside (Oxfordshire) influence, an “independent arbitrator” to decide which groups stay or go. It does not need some outside “expert” to say that a particular group needs splitting or astroturfing or delisting.
In my opinion the best model is the free-market model. The good groups will succeed and bad ones will go to the wall. And good and bad here is defined purely by the membership. If the members like what they see they will stay and post more offers. If they don’t like what they see they will leave.
The reason for this post is that TFN does not agree with my approach. It thinks it can control the future and so it embarks of a mission of designer groups. Well I do not like being designed, and I guess a lot of other “everyman” members will take a similar approach and prefer a free reorganisation model.
And, so TFN and all other free recycling groups such as free sharing and resuseit and whoever – be very wary of trying to implement a top-down approach – it just ain’t grassroots thinking.
I have direct evidence of at least three freecycle groups on Yahoo that are under attack by TFN with Cease and Desist letters. I suspect that a widespread purge of any group related to freecycling is in progress. Remember just because your group is officially listed on the freecycle organisation’s website counts for nothing. If you or your group is approached what should you do?
Well to begin with I would:
- reread the Yahoo terms and conditions
- save your membership list
- read this blog in detail
- visit the many links on the blogroll and then
- decide in your own mind where you want to go.
If you decide that TFN is right in its approach then obviously you could ask them how you could correct the situation. Typically they have not been very good at entering into a positive dialogue that will help you, but perhaps in this purge they will behave better.
If not they could join your group under a known id or under some alias and try to ascertain their own impressions of what your group is about. Elsewhere on this blog I have talked about ErsatzFriend and its issues so I won’t bore you by repeating those warnings.
Whatever you do, do not yield to pressure to allow a TFN person to become either a co-owner or moderator. If you need a co-owner create an alternative email address for yourself (always with a different email provider, eg firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com) and use that. If you need another moderator go though your normal procedures. Be very wary about taking on fresh moderators that you cannot at least verify as living locally. Do not expose your membership list to all members – ensure only moderators can see it.
If TFN takes a dislike to you and/or your group then typically anything you say or do not say, do or not do will not have any positive effects.Be very wary about joining any groups such as Ready2LeaveFC, IFMS, FCNEXT or asking any questions in any formal TFN groups. All this will do is highlight that you and your group are a bigger risk. If you need to do research and an email address is required then do it anonymously under a temporary email address and never reveal what group and country you are from.
Unfortunately while a purge is in progress I would strongly recommend that you do not run a poll of your members. If you do then it will immediately flag up to TFN that you are considering your options and they are likely to make an unilateral strike against your group. This may include
- Create an AstroTurf group
- Populating it with YOUR members list
- Adding their own owners
- Getting new moderators in
- Delisting your group and replacing it with their new group
- Instructing Yahoo to delete your group, without notice.
This will happen. It is happening now. That is a fact.
I am not listing the groups I know about because that in some perverse way may help TFN in its purge. All I can say is be vigilant for AstroTurf groups that have names like yours. You need to search daily on Yahoo Groups. If you find one then act quickly to protect you and your group.
This all sounds very paranoid. I wish I was making this up. Spread the word about this blog to other moderators and owners. You have been warned.
Really TFN, get a life.
I cannot keep up!
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Broomfield_Freecycle/ created on May 26th, 2005 with 855 members
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BroomfieldCOFreecycle/ created on 1st July, 2007 with 8 members.
And now the battle is on in London, Ontario. Check out http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FreecycleLondonON/ and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FreecycleLondonontario/. Both look like they are service the same place. The latter has over 4800 members and was created in 2004, the former was created yesterday and has 2 members. Why are these new groups appearing?
If you find a shadow group then please let me know immediately, time is of the essence.