19 Nov 2009

Freecycle, Freegle and whats going on?

The excellent Ecologist website carried an article recently about Freecycle - and where it all is now - you see changes have been afoot and I wasn't understanding where this Stroud Freegle came from and why that had replaced Freecycle - now all is clear - well you can find the article here or I've taken the liberty of copying below:

What went wrong with Freecycle in the UK?

Sarah Lewis 30th September, 2009

The recycling network has seen its UK groups halve in number after members lost patience with its 'autocratic' US leadership

Since its inception in 2003, the online world of Freecycle has looked to many like a paragon of an environmentally conscious grassroots movement. But over the last month, simmering tensions in the network have boiled over, resulting in more than 40 per cent of the 510 UK Freecycle groups breaking away to form an independent network called Freegle.

Freecycle is, in essence, a giant internet-based swap shop, made up of thousands of localised groups allowing users to give away stuff they don't want any more, and receive stuff they do want. The rules are simple: whatever you give away must be free, and you can't keep taking without giving.

The aim is to keep useful things out of landfill, and although there are no official figures as to how much waste the network has kept above ground in the last six years, with nearly 5,000 groups in over 70 countries, and a total membership tipping 6.5 million people, it's hard to deny its success.


So why has it all gone wrong? Cat Fletcher, one time moderator of Brighton Freecycle and creator of replacement group GreenCycleSussex, says the founding US network was becoming increasingly 'autocratic and unreasonable'.

'We'd been trying to negotiate with the Americans for years but it wasn't successful. The guys in the US just didn't reply,' she says.

The Freecycle concept began innocently enough. A man called Deron Beal started the first group in Arizona and as the idea spread, anyone was allowed to set up with the name Freecycle using the Yahoo Groups messaging service.

Just over a year later, in August 2004, The Freecycle Network (TFN), which acts as a central administrative body for all Freecycle groups, filed an application to trademark the word Freecycle and imposed stringent rules on its usage. Genericisation in any form was forbidden. Anyone claiming to be an 'active freecycler', or to be in the process of 'freecycling some old stuff', would be guilty of trademark infringement.

In 2006, groups on Yahoo using the word freecycle, or any similar sounding word, were targeted and told to shut down. Yahoo itself deleted one group on the request of TFN, but Freecycle Sunnyvale retaliated, bringing a trademark opposition lawsuit against the network, which in turn responded by bringing a law suit against Freecycle Sunnyvale owner Tim Oey for trademark infringement.

The rulings in both cases said the word 'freecycle' could be used generically. But Beal kept this quiet, with Oxfordshire moderator Andy Swarbrick insisting no one was told about the court decisions and strict rules as to the use of the word held in place.


While all this was happening, moderators who contacted the American network to question decisions or make suggestions for improving Freecycle in the UK - such as implementing a Freecycle area at local tips - were told to leave their positions.

‘Any moderators expressing opinions not exactly in alignment with what the Americans wanted were being deleted from their groups and asked to step down,' says Fletcher. 'These people started groups out of the goodness of their hearts and devoted thousands of hours of time. All of a sudden they were told to go, just for expressing an opinion’.

Neil Morris, who resigned as director of the UK Freecycle Network in September, and is now an active member of Freegle, says: ‘Volunteers were being told they didn't fit within the organisations. I didn't think it was right. You just don't do that. I had more or less managed to prevent people being forced to leave, but when I scaled back from being so active to work on my PhD it became very clear that the people filling the space were going to work the way Deron wanted them to, rather than to speak for the autonomy that had been building up.'

Brighton breakaway

Tensions came to a head when a combination of internal and international politics caused Cat Fletcher to feel she had no choice but to delete the Brighton Freecycle group and invite its 16,000 members to join GreenCycleSussex.

Fearful that Beal would delete their accounts and ban their free-recycling activities, and buoyed by the actions of Fletcher, moderators across the country began removing their groups from the Freecycle Network. The following day, a group of moderators decided the exodus of some 190 groups was large enough to warrant creating an independent network - Freegle.

The future

Morris insists Freegle wasn't premeditated, but a logical response to an immediate need.

‘Everyone tried to stay within Freecycle,' he says. 'The people who left were the people who had taken leadership and grown Freecycle to make the UK the country with the highest proportion of freecyclers in the world. I quite honestly don't know why Deron has done what he's done. I'm actually gobsmacked that someone would allow an organisation that has such great potential to be run the way it is run. You need to enhance the enthusiasm and efforts of volunteers, rather than hold them back.’

By the end of September, Freegle had gained about 43 per cent of the original UK Freecycle membership and is continuing to grow. Deron Beal and the US Network made no comment.


Kay said...

What a great blog.
I am one of the ex freecycle moderators that was asked to step down, I didn't get the chance to reply as they deleted me from the group I was moderating.
Many, many times UK moderators tried in vain to come to an understanding with Mr Beal and The Freecycle Network but to no avail, the silence was deafening.
After many moderators were either deleted or asked to step down, Freegle was born.
It is a brilliant concept and I am saddened that those in the US could not see what a fantastic job was being done by the hundreds of volunteers and instead of encouragement they instead were told that they no longer fitted.

Freegle is fantastic, run by local people, a true grass roots organisation.

To find your local Freegle group go to www.ilovefreegle.org and join in.


Dfo said...

That's just how it was, Kathy.
I'd been active in the Freecycle movement for years, running Stroud Freecycle until I launched the Dursley group earlier this year. Many of us tried so hard to improve Freecycle. We started a professional organisation, as is our right under European law, hoping that 'they' would listen to representatives elected by hundreds of us. Those who were elected to this association were immediately removed from Freecycle. Dursley and Stroud rebranded while we could, and are very proud to be a part of the new democratic network Freegle.
Today Stroud Freegle welcomed its 5000th member; the much younger Dursley group is at 655.

Don't throw it away, give it away, with Freegle.



Philip Booth said...

Big thanks for comments and even more for your role in organising Freegle.

I have asked local press to cover the story of the 5,000 member and change to Freegle - we'll see - as I said to them this is such a brilliant idea that keeps loads of stuff out of landfill, helps folk in the recession and reduces our carbon footprint. It is amazing how still too few people know about this.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Philip Booth said...

A comment was left but as it made personal remarks against a person mentioned in the article above, so it has been removed.

I know little of the process of how Freagle replaced Freecycle but am aware there was disatisfaction with Freecycle that was unresolved for a long time - to see 43% of groups move to Freagle is an indication of a key level of unhappiness about how it was being run.

However I also know that many people have been happy with Freecycle groups and The Ecologist article didn't make that clear.

I hope that we will see this movement (can I call it that?) flourish - it has such a huge amount to offer our communities and I applaud all those moderators who help keep it ticking over.

I'd love to see FReagle or Freecycle areas developed at our tips and more - one of the Green party's previous recommendations locally was to have a Sunday when folk put stuff out on the pavement marked with a tag and anyone can take the item away. This is done in some German towns and apparently is very well supported.

Philip Booth said...

I am happy to print criticisms, concerns or whatever but am not happy about anonymous comments that could be considered libel - I do not know the facts and this is not the forum for that discussion. I have therefore removed part of the comment that was anonymously left above and print only part of it along with a contact email left by the anonymous comment.

The anonymous comment mentions what they call the 'hijack'- the article in The Ecologist explains why those involved felt the need to respond in such a way. It does seem disappointing that there are casualties in this fall out. I hope that all folk involved in this work can go onto further develop this idea of 'freecycling'....

Here is part of that deleted comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello again,

Yes indeed, what a surprize that my comments have been removed, as they have been with regards to Brighton Freecycle on pretty much anything relevant to freegle. "Name and shaming aside", the Brighton Group which I have run for over 4 years was shut down by my moderators without my permission so that they could hijack the group.

if anyone wants clarification email larry(at)antifolk.org