Fighting for freerecyling

I feel sorry for Janice

I am not personally acquainted with Janice, but according to Deron she spreads fear and chaos. On Friday the 3rd August he launched a personal tirade on her because, previously she had elected to attempt to add a measure of free speech into the OIDG, TFN’s global moderator forum. What Deron wanted was any controversial posting to go through his eyes first so that he could vet it, in his words, “please not forward such posts to the OIDG or other boards, but rather to forward them to the leadership.”

Because Janice did not know this rule or think it applied in this instance, he decided it was appropriate to chastise her publicly with words such as, “now we have a huge mess with spammer with malicious intent.” I did not know that Janice was a spammer, and in fact I am sure she is not. Whatever, I feel it is unequivocally wrong for Deron, in his role of Executive Director, someone who should show significant management skills to publicly chastise either a volunteer or an employee.

Of course I must be taking phrases out of context and twisting them. But if I was Janice, then that is what I would have done at the time. I would have felt that Deron was venting his power with a total non-charm offensive aimed at me personally. If I was Janice (and I do not know her) and was not an assertive person I would crawl back into my cage and never speak again. Certainly not on OIDG.

Of course it is right for Deron to feel angry if someone has done something that is not right, but to publicly chastise them to all her peers, that as THE MOST SENIOR OFFICER of The Freecycle Network is not acceptable.

September 22, 2007 Posted by | finder, free speech, freecycle, OIDG | 3 Comments

I am sure this is an oversight

I am sure that TFN simply has not had time to update its moderator’s manual. But it is STILL promoting the finder email address.

September 6, 2007 Posted by | finder, freecycle | Leave a comment

Within, without, keep moving

One question that has arisen from the beginnings of individuals and groups leaving the fold of those who follow Mr D. Beal, is whether they should continue to work from within or without the TFN organisation. Perhaps the full weight of this is exemplified by the two most prolific groups that provide unmoderated discourse on freecycling. They are IntlFCMS and FCnext.

Both groups are aimed at moderators of free recycling groups who wish to exert their freedom of expression. Typically much of that vent is around subjects close to the heart of this blog, viz the issues that pertain to the TFN oligarchy.

To be a member of IntlFCMS, however you must be a moderator of a TFN compliant group. There is a refinement to that membership qualification. This is that a group may have been deemed by TFN as fully compliant with TFN and yet TFN may since then have “disagreed” with the owner and moderator team in some way and thus delisted, astroturfed and the rest.

On the other hand, FCnext has no such complications.

The main external perception of difference of debate between the two is whether TFN as an organisation can be reformed, or whether it is better to ignore it and “move on”. On the ground however the debate still works on very similar themes.

From my perspective is that there is no right answer here. Working from within as a kind of 5th column may seem attractive. You can perhaps illuminate new people who have risen up through the ranks to replace you and are now attempting to ask exactly the same questions that you asked. You can also glean inside information that explains where the corporate road-show is heading today, almost at first hand. You may also perhaps have the hope that by staying “inside”, somehow you will have influence to affect TFN for the better.

Very few FCnexters hold out such hopes. They tend to damn everything that Mr. D. Beal’s powerbase does, citing the vociferous actions that TFN hierarchy made from the early days back in 2005 and indeed continue to make unabated, as ample evidence for corruption that is unlikely to change.

The continued assertions that come from TFN that it is not going to change, especially when mixed with evidence are very interesting. There is no evidence to support TFN devolving its control away from one single person. There is no evidence of TFN allowing any form of internal critique process.

On the other hand the evidence is piling up that the kind of acts that some might ascribe in an over the top moment as “man’s inhumanity to man” will not stop.

TFN has lost one battle. That was for its finder email id which harvested personal data from groups all across Yahoo Groups. Finder is dead and long may it stay buried. Later this month the US Ninth Circuit will come to its decision on TFN’s main tool for control – its trademark claim. Another battle which TFN is losing is ErsatzFriend, which it has abused. And so the list goes on.

Where does it end? Interestingly no matter how many groups leave TFN the statistics portrayed by TFN of staggering growth of membership goes on unabated. The staggering free publicity which freecycling groups all over the world give the freecycle brand obviously work their magic.

So it is unlikely that TFN will die. Why should it and arguably no-one wants it? Mr D. Beal is welcome to run his company they way he sees fit. If group’s find that the ways of TFN are “difficult”, then Mr Beal is on record several times, of stating that they are free to leave.

For me, the only end-point is The Freecycling Charter. The Freecycling Charter will be the standard bearer for organisations that enable free recycling groups to operate in a healthy atmosphere. Against its yardstick both TFN and all other free recycling groups will be measured. And those that do not measure up – well they will be named and shamed.

September 5, 2007 Posted by | finder, freecycle, intlfcms, yahoogroups | Leave a comment

Distributed centralisation technospeak

If you are not a computer geek then I recommend switching off. Distributed computing is the principle of sharing around things like control, processing and storage to several computer systems and locations. Free recycling groups that use Yahoo groups are at least good for that in terms of control. Each group individually controls their membership 100%.

On the other hand centralisation in computing terms is the ability to use the economies of scale of storing all data and centralising control in one place.

In the world of computing these two ideologies are at the opposite end of the spectrum and very rarely do they meet up, and if they do meet then getting that meeting to be harmonious is an interesting challenge.

So a key question in TFN’s strategy for their new website, especially now that finder is dead is how they intend to proceed regarding these two poles. As far as I know they have employed a MySQL database and given their resources I would suggest they are going for a centralised approach to everything. If anyone can validate that or contradict it then now is a good time to speak.

Why does this matter? There are a number of key issues here.

  1. Control. If a central database for all TFN groups is used then de facto, Deron has total control.
  2. Data protection. Moving user data out of Europe into the USA is strictly controlled. A website that does this for 3/4 million users is a big ask. Do that without their explicit permission is even bigger. Do that again for countries like Australia and again you run into problems. The bottom line here is that NO group owner can proceed to migrate to the new website without express permission from each member.
  3. Reliability. If Yahoo Groups has problems then I guess we might expect one or two rumbles over time from any new TFN website.
  4. Performance. Similarly Yahoo Groups has run into performance issues of emails being delayed. I would not want the headache of managing the TFN show for all 4,000 odd groups without a decent salary, including a pay deal to cover out of hours work including bank holidays.

From what I have read from Deron, he really does not have a handle on the technical issues. Richard, I believe is paid on contract, so not being salaried implies he could walk off the job at any instant. Imagine if all groups moved across and these two guys fell out.

September 3, 2007 Posted by | finder, freecycle, MySql, yahoogroups | Leave a comment

Tip No 4: Pesky Public Postings

For a while now I have had a number of alerts running through Google for words like “freecycle” with the aim of helping me keep abreast of the industry. One alert that has arrived in my inbox that has caused me to write individually to the owners of various free recycling groups that I do not belong to. Having done a few of these I now wish to share with you what I have been doing and perhaps it may help another moderator improve life for their membership.

What triggered me to do this was in fact the finder fiasco in which this blog has played its small part in revealing and correcting. Finder, as regular readers will remember was regularly taking all the details of all members posts in a private yahoo group and collating that information inside TFN’s databases. This gave the potential to reveal some or all of that information to the TFN website, which would be in conflict with Yahoo’s terms and conditions. TFN have now done the honourable thing and revoked finder – forever. And all I can say to that is – well done to TFN for seeing sense and acting sensibly.

Now back to my tip. What I realised is that TFN were not the only source that was, and is breaching Yahoo’s terms and conditions. It seems that some members are joining groups and privately reposting daily digests, or parts thereof onto websites such as blogs. One persistent and repeat offender is Games-9, running on This blog regularly provides daily digest information from the windsor-maidenhead-freecycle group. One effective way to ensure any such blog is stopped is to at least ask the poster to stop posting. Sometimes blogs are done anonymously so a moderator might have difficulty knowing who is actually behind the offence, and therefore hampered from solving the problem.

One further aid is possible with all blogs and that is to complain to the blog company. They may not act, but at least they have the opportunity of investigating the problem on your behalf. With marking a blog as having a problem is relatively easy since at the top of each blog page is a “flag” button which you can click and this immediately raises the blog as having questionable content.

Finally you could notify Yahoo. They have an interest in protecting the data of their members and may, just may be interested enough to speak to the problem.

So in summary:

  • Run a news alert such as Google Alerts with a keyword like “freecycle”, ensuring this includes blogs.
  • If an alert arrives indicating that your daily digests are being reposted then
  • Chase down the poster and at least ask them to stop. Possibly ban then from being a member.
  • Also perhaps complain to Yahoo and/or the blog company.

Good luck!

September 3, 2007 Posted by | finder, freecycle, google, yahoogroups | Leave a comment

My final word on finder?

To quote Deron, ” We are *not* using the finder addy to reproduce any Yahoo content on our site so there is no need to remove finder from any local groups.”  The question one should ask is what exactly WAS finder doing?

Finder was being used to collect centrally data from each and every TFN group, and with the launch of the new website this became a critical issue in that any group that did not include finder was not allowed to be part of TFN anymore.  What Yahoo were saying is that in order to collect that data with the consequent possibility or reality of publishing that data then that would be in breach of Yahoo’s Terms and Conditions.

Just make sure you understand this right.  As a member you sign up to a particular group.  When belonging to that group you accept as part of the requirement to join, as defined in Yahoo’s terms and conditions, that any data you post is shared within the group.  Since ALL TFN (and non-TFN) groups by definition do not expose their email archives then the exposure is limited to other members in the group.  Explicitly or implicitly this may include, as well as the items you are offering or collecting, your personal data such as:

  • name (and nick-names),
  • email address,
  • yahoo id,
  • IP address,
  • time of posting,
  • location of your home probably down to zip cod /postcode (or even directions and/or full address if you inadvertently post those)
  • and telephone number (if you inadvertently post that as well)

Exposing anything on the Internet is a risky business, and one that anyone should not take lightly.  Note that many free recycling people are new to the Internet – these are at least one group of people that freecycling attracts.  People who are fresh to the Internet are unlikely to be skilled at hiding key information.  By joining a Yahoo Group you sign up to sharing some or all of the above data to anyone in the group.   And providing you are careful then that is generally considered acceptable.

What you never signed up to was some other person or company that is OUTSIDE the group harvesting your information.   You never signed up to this because there is nothing in the Yahoo TOS to support this kind of question, nor is there anything on the TFN website to support this kind of question.

Now, there is a subtle point coming, so read carefully.   Assuming TFN and all its groups (including owners, moderators AND members) were wholly AND properly owned, with formal contracts, and just for the sake of argument lets also assume that everyone is an employee.  In that case your company employment contract would mean that they could harvest your data for whatever purpose.

But you do not have a contract.  You do not have a contract with TFN if you are an owner.  You do not have a contract with TFN if you are a moderator.  You do not have a contract with TFN if you are a member.

The only thing(s) that join you to TFN are tenuous things like the name of the group, being listed on the TFN website, TFN information on the group’s home page.  I say tenuous since all these can be changed in an instant, by either owners of groups, or TFN.  For example, TFN have “delisted” groups and other groups have change their names.  All done in an instant.

So the reality is that each and every group, owner and moderator has such a loose connection with TFN that the best definition of that relationship is purely voluntary.

If, then it is a voluntary relationship with no contracts that in itself does not in any way give TFN any rights at all to collect your data.  But that is what finder was doing.

And now to the subtle point and sorry for taking so long to get there.   Yahoo describe in the TOS that any collected data cannot be published on the Internet.  They say that because that is manifestly something easy for them and anyone to see as evidence of abuse.  They do not want to go chasing into companies everywhere on the off-chance they are collecting data. In fact they probably cannot afford to investigate each and every company and individual.  So they limit themselves to what is easily seen on the Internet – other websites.

But anyone who understands Data Protection, it is all about collecting and storing other people’s data on computers owned by a company, regardless of what they do with it.   And Yahoo simply use “website publishing” as an easy zero-cost implementation of the notions of personal Data Protection.

Richard Wallman understood that fine point.  Deron Beal did not.  That’s why Deron until the very end said finder was ok, and yet Richard did his due diligence of understanding the implications of collecting personal data and storing it on computers – without have the express permission of that person.

So it was Richard who set about killing finder off for good and let this sorry saga be a lesson to us all.

August 30, 2007 Posted by | finder, freecycle | Leave a comment

Finder ain’t dead yet

Even though Richard, working from the epicentre, has worked hard to remove finder it seems that there is a lot of momentum to keep finder being added to groups. Even just yesterday a posting went out saying that groups would not be allowed to be part of TFN if they did not have finder as a member. Oh, the woes of running a decentralised organisation – Deron I feel for you.

August 28, 2007 Posted by | finder, freecycle | 2 Comments

Dear Richard

First of all can I offer my heartiest congratulations. I am sure what you did took some guts, possibly out of some serious frustration. But you got there. You found a better way.

As chief architect over the last year or so you have put your heart and soul into the new freecycle website. You have understood the specification pretty well, you have done exactly what was asked of you, and much more. And until now the website looked like it was going to be a runner. Just one small problem remained – YahooGroups.

You realised that YahooGroups was never going to change its mind about TFN’s finder no matter how many times Deron went and had his little chats. I realise that sending an unsubscription email for finder to all TFN’s remaining groups was a chore to check and double check the program technically. But a bigger challenge must have been to write your comments into the Australian modsquad. Gosh a modsquad with teeth, now there’s a thing.

And so as YahooGroups refined its Terms and Conditions to indicate that finder was possibly ok, you realised that in fact it would never be ok. In your heart you knew that what TFN wanted from finder simply was not going to be delivered with a YahooGroups solution for TFN. TFN needs a finder that would scrape information from members’ posts on their groups and make that available on a central website. Watering that down just is not a runner.

YahooGroups now was clearly putting a line down that finder could run, but, and this is a big but, providing every new and existing member signed up to it. And you realised that getting every new member signed up to YahooGroups was a big enough chore for some people, to add the finder restriction on to that was going to be impossible….

Just imagine getting 15,000 written assents from just one large group. Just imaging trying to keep a record of, how many is it 3.5 million members wishes that finder is, or is not acceptable to them. Each member to be treated according to their personal wishes. As your post indicates, that is a BIG ask.

You must be so sad. I feel, as a fellow techie, desperately for you. In your finest hour you have been cheated. Your flagship project is now in danger of slipping away.

But in this hour of what must really be some distress I must say that I am so very jealous. You have the very distinct honour (perhaps one you did not seek) of being the first person to use a TFN organisation group to talk straight and open. No fluff. You were asked a question and you answered it straight from the heart, openly and honestly on behalf of TFN. And that does you immense credit.

Thank you.

PS.  Since I wrote the above I have been informed that Richard is not in fact a member of the OZ modsquad.  Therefore he could not have in fact posted onto that group.  I am chasing down what actually happened, and where Richard posted.  If anyone can quickly help illuminate then please feel free to comment.

August 25, 2007 Posted by | finder, freecycle, yahoogroups | 2 Comments

A change in TFN’s terms and conditions

I have just realised the full implication of what Jami Heldt, Groups Community Manager for Yahoo on his Clarification on Yahoo! Groups Guidelines post when she says, “If moderators want to add the Freecycle Finder email address to their groups, and that address is then used to re-post messages to any other site, the moderators need to get consent from every group member whose content is being re-posted, per our guidelines.”

Not wanting to teach Jami her job, it seems to me that Jami is ignorant of the detailed way a freecycle group operates and is rather restating Yahoo’s general policy.

To really understand this you need to understand how a freecycling (aka free recycling) group operates.  Consider a person called Tammy joins a free recycling group at 12.34pm.  At 12.36pm she posts an offer of her old sofa on the group.  At 12.38pm that post is distributed widely across the Internet automatically via the finder email address and the auspices of  Tammy is totally unaware of the existence of this reposting.  As far as she is concerned she has just posted to the group’s members.

Tammy has never been asked – as Jami demands she should.  And so The Freecycle Network is in flagrant abuse of Yahoo’s terms and conditions.  I would argue that for each and every post that is ever made on a group that has the finder email address that TFN is totally in abuse of of Yahoo’s T&C.

What made me think of this was recently rewatching The Firm, original story by John Grisham and a famous film starring Tom Cruise. The storyline is one where Tom’s character Mitch is in a power-play between the Mafia and the FBI. If he goes one way he gets shot, if he goes the other he goes to jail. His solution which I will not spoil here could be said to have similarities to TFN’s problem with finder and with every owner and moderator who continues to have finder in their members list.

I have blogged before that one way round this is for the group to run a poll of members very hour, day or week. But really I cannot see Tammy ever understanding the question andd potential impact of the poll never mind actually participating. No, the only way is for groups that are forced (as many are) to use finder, or use finder out of choice is for them to formally ask each new and existing member the question, “Do you wish to allow your posts to be splattered across the Internet?” If they answer no – then membership of any freecycle group simply MUST be rejected.

Yes, this must become part of TFN’s terms and conditions.  It must become part of each group’s terms and conditions.  Each and every existing member must be asked.  Every new member must be asked.  Anyone who says no – must be ejected from the group and if they have posted already then ALL their previous posts removed.

Of course that is not what TFN will do.  What they continue to do is to force groups to use finder, or if they do not use finder then delist them – or even worse instruct Yahoo to delete them.

August 21, 2007 Posted by | finder, freecycle | Leave a comment

Yahoo finds out about finder

Come on Deron, what’s your reaction to this official statement by Yahoo’s Group Community Manager on the flagrant illegal use of your finder email address that you instruct every TFN group to use?  For myself, I have stayed pretty clear of commenting on finder – until now.  The issue for anyone who is not aware is two-fold.  Firstly any owner or moderator who adds it to their group is in flagrant breach of Yahoo’s TOS.  The second is a very, very serious issue of breach of Internet privacy that is being promoted and perpetuated by The Freecycle Network.

To understand why you have to understand the nature of a free recycling group as defined by TFN, compared with a default Yahoo Group.  All TFN free recycling groups have open membership, by definition.  This means that the membership at any given instant can be a very fluid thing.  Members can freely come and go as they feel.  This is different to many groups where membership can require approval and where members often join but rarely leave.   That’s what I mean by fluid.  And a key aspect of the fluidity it is fully controlled by the member and not by the ownership and moderator team.

This means that a key point raised by Jami Helt can never, ever be met.  That point is that one way in which finder could be acceptable is if every member was balloted.  But if you have a fluid membership then you would have to re-ballot daily, weekly or at least monthly to make any sense.

The second point is a general matter of privacy.   How on earth can anyone have the audacity to republish what will inevitably contain people’s email addresses and possibly names, telephone numbers and even house addresses willy-nilly across the Internet.  The other key design aspect of a TFN free recycling group is that to read posts you must be a member.  By allowing the finder email address to repost information OUTSIDE the group to other places on the Internet that can be freely read by ANYONE is just so totally out of order.

August 13, 2007 Posted by | finder, freecycle, yahoogroups | 5 Comments