A Fond Farewell (Kinda, Sorta, Mostly) to Kansas City Freecycle

July 24th, 2010 9:40 pm by Kelly G.

Dear Kansas City Freecyclers,

When I first launched Kansas City Freecycle back in September 2003, I had no idea what to expect. At the time, we were only the 5th or 6th freecycle group in existence, and the term “freecycle” hadn’t yet become a staple of the green lexicon. Nearly seven years later, the group has grown in leaps and bounds, serving as a resource with which to rehome unwanted junk for tens of thousands of Kansas Citians (at its peak, the group boasted over 14,000 members). Dozens of smaller local groups have sprung up as well, catering to those living outside the KC metro area.

Though I moderated the group solo for the first year or so, I was lucky to have a number of wonderful, dedicated moderators pitch in and help out as the list matured: Ann and Bill. Shelly and Craig. Danielle. Carla. Brooke. Debra. Sheree. Susan. (And many more whose names escape me at this late hour!) Without them, Kansas City Freecycle would not have lasted as long as it did.

Over time, however, most of the first and second waves of volunteer moderators had to resign due to other commitments or simple burnout. It’s proven tough to replace them; each new call for moderators has generated fewer and fewer responses, even as the list’s membership continues to climb. (The number of chronic complainers and backseat drivers who stepped up to moderate when the opportunity arose? Exactly zero. Interesting, that.) So we’ve limped along, into and halfway through 2010, our resources stretched thinner and thinner. Somewhere along the way, I reached my own breaking point.

And so, with a mixture of regret and relief, I’ve decided that it’s finally time to say goodbye to Kansas City Freecycle. With no other viable options in front of me, I have chosen to delete the list. As of 11 PM, Saturday, July 24, 2010, the Kansas City Freecycle Yahoo Group will cease to exist.

Of course, I do have several alternatives available to me; but, after months of deliberation, I’ve decided that summarily deleting the group is the only course of action I can live with.

I might have tried to recruit and train additional moderators – but, as I’ve already implied, this would require more time, energy and motivation than I have left.

I might have handed ownership of the group over to another member – but this scenario involves a gamble that I’m not willing to make, namely: that the new owner will uphold those ethics and principles that I worked so hard to instill in Kansas City Freecycle (particularly in relation to the group’s no-animal policy, the enforcement of which is the sole reason why I’ve stuck around this long).

I might have given Kansas City Freecyle to freecycle.org and let them choose a new owner and team of moderators. Again, in this scenario I risk freecycle.org misusing my hard work to permit or even promote the freecycling of animals, a practice which opens the doors to all sorts of abuses. Additionally, I’ve grown increasingly disillusioned with freecycle.org and its founder, Deron Beal, over the course of my involvement with KC Freecycle; so much so that I’d rather spend another seven years moderating the group than allow Beal to appropriate my work and take credit for it. *

No doubt, some of you may see this as a selfish move on my part; maybe it is. When weighed against the seven years of blood, sweat and (at times) tears I’ve poured into Kansas City Freecycle, I think it a rather fair bargain.

Luckily, for those of you still interested in participating in a local buy/sell/trade/recycle/freecycle group online, there are plenty of options available. As I said earlier, many smaller freecycle groups exist in Kansas and Missouri; you can find a complete list at freecycle.org. Yahoo also hosts a number of local buy/sell/trade/free groups; we have a partial list on www.kcfreecycle.org (see the sidebar); and no doubt you’ll discover more by searching Yahoo, Craigslist, Google and the like. I’m also confident that another freecycle group – or two or three! – will quickly spring up to serve the cities of KCMO and KCKS, whether it’s hosted on freecycle.org, Yahoo Groups, or elsewhere. Maybe you’re the next Kansas City Freecycle moderator? (If so, no animals, mkay?)

Until next we meet, I want to thank the moderators of Kansas City Freecycle for helping to make the group such a success. And, to our many members, current and past – we couldn’t have done it without you.

Keep on (f)re(e)cyclin’,

Kelly G.
founder, list owner and moderator
Kansas City Freecycle | http://www.kcfreecycle.org
September 3, 2003 – July 24, 2010
 
P.S.:


 
 
* Most casual freecyclers remain blissfully ignorant of the behind-the-scenes drama at freecycle.org, so for those whose curiosity is piqued, here are the highlights:

- Under Beal’s leadership, freecycle.org has worked with Yahoo to seize local freecycle groups from those creators/owners/moderators who are vocal in their disagreement with freecycle.org.

- In order to defend a trademark which it doesn’t (yet) have, freecycle.org is pursuing legal action against groups and individuals for using the term “freecycle” as anything but a proper title (e.g., as a noun or verb, such as “freecycling”), or for using derivatives thereof (e.g., “freegal”). This litigation is still pending, with free speech advocates – including the Electronic Frontier Foundation – opposing freecycle.org’s attempts to regulate speech. (Remember that green lexicon I referred to at the opening of this post?)

- Freecycle.org has sued at least one ex-moderator, Tim Oey, for “disparaging” the group. (I call it “speaking the truth”; apparently the court agrees, as Oey eventually prevailed.)

- Freecycle.org has at times insisted (under vague threat of trademark violation and group seizure) that I attach a copyright notice to my own materials attributing them to freecycle.org.

- In 2005, freecycle.org entered into a controversial partnership with Waste Management – accepting $130,000 in the bargain – without consulting with any of its many volunteer moderators, who arguably make the greatest contribution to freecycle.org’s continued success. Since that time, freecycle.org has continued to accept donations, corporate sponsorships, and the like, with none of this money finding its way to individual groups and moderators (at least not that I am aware of). According to its own materials, freecycle.org has an annual budget and income of “about $140,000″ a year. Freecycle.org says that “90% of these funds are used directly for program expenses. The remaining 10% is split evenly between membership, fundraising and other administrative expenses.”

Given that 1) Yahoo can host freecycle groups for free and 2) group owners and moderators work as volunteers, for free, I wonder what freecycle.org’s “program” and “administrative expenses” might be, or why it sees a need to spend money making money in the form of “fundraising.” Freecycle.org did launch a centralized website in 2009 – after nearly four years of promises and (presumably) thousands of dollars in cost – but again, given the plethora of free options available online, this was money wasted. For a group that initially billed itself as “grassroots,” freecycle.org sure has swelled to bloating.

- Along these lines, I was appalled to see freecycle.org competing against other nonprofits in Pepsi’s Refresh Project in early 2010. In this round of the competition, there were four monetary classes – $5k, 25k, 50k, and 250k – into which an individual or group could submit his, her or its idea in order to win funding. Freecycle.org entered itself in the highest prize class of $250,000; in its project details, the group stated that $150,000 would go towards “Server upgrades, equipment purchases”; $75,000 would be allocated for “Engineer, Developer and tech costs”; and $25,000 would be used for “Server, Urls and Web hosting.” In sum: nearly $250,000 to pay for a website and associated services that Yahoo provides for free.

Some of the projects freecycle.org was competing against? Youth centers in inner-city neighborhoods, spay and neuter programs in rural areas, and community gardens in impoverished urban communities. (Many of these projects, it’s worth noting, were asking for considerably less money than freecycle.org!) You know, necessary and worthwhile stuff.

Upon learning of this, I was so appalled that I registered with the Refresh Project just so I could vote against freecycle.org. They lost.

If you’d like to learn more, there are plenty resources and commentary critical of freecycle.org available online; Google, for example, “freecycle + Oey,” “freecycle + breakaway,” “freecycle + lawsuit,” “freecycle + censorship” – you get the idea. I had a list of links saved on delicious at one time, but they’ve long since been deleted.
 
 

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