Smile Politely

freecycling is great, The Freecycle Network™ is evil

Last weekend, I unloaded a toaster oven, two VCRs, a box of teaching supplies and a turntable. I was happy to see them gone. Fellow citizens gave them new homes. They were happy to get the items.

No money changed hands.

We connected via freecycle-Champaign-Urbana, a Yahoo! Groups community which labels itself with a distinctly lower-case f.

Yes, fCU is still up & running, despite the dire news, first announced on March 19, that the group would shut down.

Upon reading that announcement, fCU member Stuart Levy founded a Google Group to supplant the dying Yahoo! version. It’s here.

The following week, a second closure-oriented email arrived.

And then… nothing happened. The Yahoo! group continued to process members’ emails, as usual. A few people joined the Google group, and some (myself included) followed a directive to join a mailing list approved by The Freecycle Network™.

This week, TFN’s salaried director, Deron Beal, used those addresses to email two solicitations for money. He wrote

By June 30th, we have to raise at least 10% of our annual donations from you, our members, in order to not lose our charitable status due to IRS regulations on the percentage of donations that come from you, the public.

You’ll notice there’s no claim that freecycling will end without your help, only that he’ll lose his tax shelter. Here’s the letter in full. (The AT&T ad is part of the original.)

Was freecycle-Champaign-Urbana ever in danger of shutting down, or was the threat of closure merely a ploy for gathering up-to-date email addresses? Did Beal research the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 before proceeding?

Beal’s money grab is only the latest outrage in his sordid career as “founder” of the freecycling movement. NPR’s Ted Robbins profiled Beal, glowingly,  in 2006. But even that piece noted Beal’s insistence on exclusive control over his claimed trademark.  His attempts at empire go back at least ten years

Blogger Cat Johnson published a detailed history of Beal’s freecycling dictatorship in 2013. It includes a list of the least popular aspects of Beal’s system

FreecyclePlus founder and “CFreeO” David Rogelberg designed FreecyclePlus based on what wasn’t working at Freecycle. He sifted through 10,000 posts from Freecycle breakaway group FreecycleNext members to find out what issues people had. The most popular ones included not having “wants” fulfilled; not being able to communicate directly with other freecyclers; no personal accountability for no-shows; and a dislike of the first-come, first-serve approach which rewards those who can spend all day sitting at the computer.

In Beal’s defense, there’s expedience in consistency. Doing things the same way, everywhere, made Ray Kroc a billionaire.

And Beal’s list of rules is not illogical. Keeping religion & politics out of the discussion, prohibiting appeals to poverty rather than environmental concerns, impeding metal scrappers and puppy farmers; these are worthwhile goals. But they aren’t worth stifling improvements in the system.

The worst aspect of Beal’s iron grip might be its tendency to stunt innovation. In Silicon Valley terms, The Freecycle Network™ is ripe for disruption.  You can help. Join freecycling communities that aren’t The Freecycle Network™, and use them.

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