Civil disobedience


From: Tim Oey <>

Date: Thu, 18 Aug 2005 23:36:40 -0700

Subject: [freecyclemodsquad] Civil disobedience...

Hi all,

First my sincere apologies! I have had a significant role in a number of Freecycle directions that I now see are leading freecycle down a path that is not quite right.

Which directions were those?

Ersatzfriend (came partly out of my efforts to see that groups have backup owners/moderators -- one of my bicycling friends was killed by a drunk driver -- leaving his popular and well run bicyclingadvocacy group hanging without an owner -- it took Herculean efforts to get Yahoo to create a new owner for that group)

Freecycle trademark (Freecycle wanted to protect it -- so I contributed considerable energy and expertise, I was the main original author behind the current trademark guidelines)

Freecyclenext (Many could see that a much better system was possible, I'm a software developer, so I helped lead the charge)

I see two reasonable paths for Freecycle.

One is the traditional corporate style path that requires trademarks, money, lawyers, money, insurance, money, and strong controls. Trademarks are expensive. 24x7 systems supporting millions of users around the world are expensive. Lawyers are expensive. Insurance is expensive. But if you start raising enough money to support all of these, you become a target and need lawyers and insurance, etc. It's quite a treadmill.

The second less traveled path is one where freecycle goes back to its roots, lets go, and becomes, again, a true, open, grassroots movement. Some optional, helpful guidelines, but no absolute rules and no one telling anyone else what to do. This may not perfectly fit anyone's ideal dream. But it may just be good enough and much less resource intensive.

Here is my alternate vision for freecycle:

1) Allow ersatzfriend to be optional for those who do not otherwise have anyone else they can trust to be a backup owner. If a group has a 2nd backup owner then great -- that's super! If they choose not to have a backup owner, oh well, they are setting up their community for possible outages but they are adults and can take responsibility for this.

2) Abandon the Freecycle trademark pursuit and let all freecyclers do as much freecyclin' as they please. This will force the term into the public domain such that no one can trademark it. This action would be very natural, it would be free, it would be fun, and all freecyclers everywhere would help enforce it. Furthermore it fits well with a "viral" marketing approach to freecycle. People hear about it and want to know where it came from -- which will lead back to The Freecycle Network without strong trademark enforcement. It will also generate lots of goodwill.

3) Abandon the effort to create a new freecycle system. A big industrial company like Yahoo has trouble enough keeping its servers stable and running. Having freecycle create such a system puts a considerable burden on it and also introduces a significant single point of failure -- if the freecycle system goes down, all freecycling on it stops. Yahoo Groups has gotten freecycle very far so it obviously works. It may not be perfect but it seems to be good enough (like VHS, qwerty keyboards, Microsoft, and tons of other examples).

4) Do maintain the trademark on the full name "The Freecycle Network" (this should be fairly easy) and do take credit for birthing freecycle.

5) Do have The Freecycle Network become a 501(c)3 nonprofit and allow individuals and corporations to make donations to support the gentle expansion of freecycle -- enough to keep Deron and a few others gainfully employed -- and up -- but not enough to make it a target for those who might want to sue to win money. After all, freecycling is an open movement -- it's like trying to sue the weeds that grow in the wild.

6) Drop strong enforcement of many things so that GOAs won't seem to be like police to some or enforcers to others but a genuine helpful set of people that may be able to come in and help a moderator out with their group -- make being a GOA easy and fun.

7) Welcome back all the freeshare and splinter groups and allow them to use the freecycle term freely. Plus most of the people who have left including Nancy, Lynnie, Judy, Deanna, Pastor Ken, and others are very good, thoughtful people.

8) Do keep a freecycle directory on but make the only requirements to be listed be:

- everything offered on such groups must free

- exchanges keeps stuff out of landfills

- centered on a single geographical location.

Everything is free is freecycle's major attraction. Let members report groups where the moderator has disappeared or is allowing selling/trading/spamming (non-freecycle stuff) to go on. Let members vote with their feet as they choose which group they wish to belong to. No group would own a territorial lock on any region -- rather they would win and keep members by serving them better than their competition. Have all groups establish a geographical center point so it is clear to everyone where that group is located. This will naturally cause groups to stay smaller. Most Freecycle guidelines would basically stay as is. It can be at group discretion how tightly they are enforced -- do they want to attract or repel members?

9) Make the NGA job fun and easy. Allow NGAs discretion to tune their areas where they see obvious needs for more groups (high population areas). The goal of NGAs is to see that there are as many successful groups in their area as possible -- they don't want just a few monster groups -- they also don't want millions of teeny groups that can't get enough critical mass to be effective.

10) In general make all freecycle volunteer roles fun and easy (not work!).

11) Make the organization very transparent and easy to understand so that everyone can know what's going on. Document everything publicly.

12) Give moderators a more direct voice in the future of freecycle. Establish a mechanism so that all moderators who choose to vote, can vote on changes and directions for freecycle. Having a discussion group focused on The Freecycle Network organization is critical to this. Moderators of this group could run it more like a "meeting" -- where there is a bit of process to introduce a topic, that one topic is discussed and debated until some options emerge, and then it is voted on. Decisions that are made in the past can be re-visited -- it is ok to change as we grow, no need to be stuck with past mistakes. The Freecycle Network then has a good way to perpetuate itself as a system.

There are undoubtedly a number of other fine additions and refinements to my suggestions above -- the overall goal should be to make freecycling light, easy, self-sustaining, resource efficient, and fun for everyone!!! If it's causing lots of stress, something is going wrong.

Like my Ben & Jerry's bicycling jersey says "If it's not fun, why do it?"


Tim Oey


Former California NGA

Current Sunnyvale CA co-owner

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