Note: If you’ve been disaffected by FreeCycle or their moderators, check out the comments below and add to the discussion!
I used to be a huge fan of FreeCycle. And I still love the concept – what a great use of the Internet!
For those not familiar with FreeCycle, it’s a program that was started in Tucson, Arizona by Deron Beal. Deron was, and probably still is, a huge fan and proponent of recycling. So Deron Beal had this great idea: let’s use the Internet as a way of getting together people who have stuff they don’t want anymore and people who want that stuff. The ultimate in recycling things so that they don’t end up in the dump, as landfill, and instead end up being used by someone who needs them.
Like I said, a great idea.
So Deron Beal founded FreeCycle, and it caught on like wildfire. From that first effort in Tucson, FreeCycle groups have sprung up around the country and around the world, with the current number of FreeCycling groups at over 3,500, and the current number of members over 2million.
These groups are run through region-based mailing lists, with people posting things they have to give away, and others posting things that they need. Many of the lists are run through Yahoo Groups. And most, if not all, of the lists have moderators.
And therein lies the rub. Because while it may be that all of the moderators started out taking on this task for a love of the earth, recycling and their fellow man, many (not all, but many) have come to treat their local FreeCycle group as their own personal fiefdom, and oh, what control freaks they are.
Recycling with organizations such as FreeCycle is supposed to be a positive experience. Everybody involved is (presumably) doing something for a good reason, and for a good cause. (Cf. CansForCritters.com)
But just as customer service reps make a company’s reputation (and shape a customer’s experience), so do the moderators at FreeCycle influence FreeCycle’s image, and shape the recycler’s experience.
Here is a case in point. There is a moderator in the San Jose FreeCycle group – let’s call him “Tom” (because, hey, that’s his name).
I personally have given away lots of things through FreeCycle, and have occasionally posted a “wanted” post as well. Such was the case earlier this week, when, due to some health issues, and an attendant change in eating style, I posted looking for an Excalibur food dehydrator (or comparable dehydrator) and a VitaMix or comparable blender.
Following generally accepted Internet etiquette, I posted one post with both items, rather than posting two separate posts and clogging up everyone’s inbox with two emails when one email would do. In my post I also explained why I was looking for these items – which are rather high end items – so folks would understand why I was asking for them.
My message was not approved, and I got back this response from the moderator, whose username was “firstname.lastname@example.org” (that right there should have told me something):
“You are allowed to ask for ONE item and we ask that you simply ask for the one item with no long reason why. This keeps the list objective. please review the policies of freecycle. Just ask for either one, only one, not to be repeated for one month.”
Now, I have asked for more than one item at once before..lots of people do. But apparently playgroundsuper and the folks in San Jose FreeCycle don’t like that.
Also, this rejection can be read a couple of ways – either ask for one item per email and keep it short (which is consistent with the “no long reason why”), or you may only ask at all for one item in a given month. Well, I’ve been using FreeCycle long enough to know that the latter made no sense, and besides, that would just be ridiculous.
So I gamely reposted a request for each item separately, keeping it very short (so short that to me it seemed rude, but if that’s what they wanted…).
And…I got back this reply from playgroundsuper (mind you, they did not sign their notes with a name, so that’s all I knew to call them), rejecting my Excalibur dehydrator request (and making no mention of the VitaMix request, which I therefore assumed had gone through). The post she had rejected was for an “Excalibur or comparable dehydrator”:
“My message strictly said pick ONE item. Wanted posts are for ONE item at a time. And the requested item cannot be repeated for a month.”
Ok, now, WTF? I had done exactly what she had demanded – I had posted just one item in my post. (I say “she” because by this point I was sure that I was dealing with some frustrated housewife, given both the “playgroundsuper”, and the fact that she was such a complete bitch). “One item at a time” means, well, just that – one item at a time.
And the “And the requested item cannot be repeated for a month” only reinforced that. After all, if you could only post one request per month at all, you wouldn’t then say “And the requested item cannot be repeated for a month,”, you’d say “And you cannot post any other wanted request for a month”. [Yes, I’m being a lawyer, hey, language construction is my job.]
Anyways, clearly a reasonable reading of all this was that you can only post one item per post, and you can not repeat a given request within a month.
At this point, despite her bitchiness, I decided to try and play nice – it’s worth it once in awhile to rub elbows with the hoi polloi after all. So I wrote back very politely:
“That was one item! I’m confused? I’m trying to comply with your request, but what did I do wrong?”
Came the instant answer:
“When I originally rejected your post I asked that you pick ONE item and post, not to post them in separate messages.”‘
Umm..no, you didn’t..you told me “You are allowed to ask for ONE item and we ask that you simply ask for the one item with no long reason why.” Given that most of FreeCycle has no problem with people asking for several things, the interpretation was certainly reasonable.
Ok, so now I figured I was dealing with not only a frustrated housewife bitch, but one who did not really have a clear grasp about how to write effectively. Clearly this poor underachiever, for whom FreeCycle moderatorship was probably her own domain of power, needed me to be polite and understanding not withstanding her own poor attitude.
Given her problem with the language, and given that the Excalibur post was the one at issue, I deduced that perhaps “Excalibur or comparable” was violating the “not two items” rule – or maybe she thought I was asking for a sword and a dehydrator, so I wrote back:
“I’m trying to figure this out…maybe you didn’t realize that an Excalibur is a certain style of dehydrator, so I was saying we needed one or one like it? Kind of like saying “I need a rain coat or a similar kind of coat”. Is that not ok?”
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And playgroundsuper wrote back:
“You posted for two items. A dehydrter AND a vitamix. You cannot post for two wanteds. Please see the other message I sent. And yes I know what that item is, in fact I know what both of them are. It is a matter of posting for two separate wanteds, whether they are in the same post or in two posts. One wanted post, one item. ”
Ok, now I see. Despite how ridiculous it may seem, it really is the case that you can only ask for one item per month (why she couldn’t have made it easy and said “one item per month” at the outset was beyond me – perhaps that sort of straight-forward language hadn’t, oh, maybe, occurred to her).
[Note that all of the quotes from playgroundsuper are exactly as they came to me – typo and grammar and all.]
Still biting my tongue – it’s not fair to hold someone’s handicaps against them after all – I responded with what I thought was a perfectly reasonable response and request – what do you think?:
“Ok, sorry, that wasn’t clear from your first message; it sounded like you couldn’t put more than one request per message. Does this mean that you approved the VitaMix, but rejected the dehydrator?”
..because Lord knows that at this point I sure didn’t want to post any more requests if she’d in fact put the VitaMix request through!
“It means pick one to post. No I did not approve either one. I need to make sure a member undestands.”
Got that? She needs to make sure that a member understands.
Ok, that’s when I lost it. And when I knew that I was going to write this post. So the point is not actually to help out, but to beat someone into submission. You bitch. But first I had to play this out to its natural conclusion.
“Yep, I understand now. Is there a way for me to delete the dehydrator post, so that the VitaMix one can go through? Sorry to have made your job a bit harder; I know you have thousands of members with which to deal.”
(Oh, how hard it was to write that reply!)
Came her answer:
“Neither of your posts went to the board. Neither one so nothing needs to be removed. And if one had been approved you could not post the other one. Only one item for a wanted.
I’m off to get some sleep now. I have an early day. You want to pick your item, let me know tomorrow so I can take care of it. It’s been a long long day. I’m deep in work, legal issues, helping a non-profit set up, finishing a security evaluation and moderating and I need a break. Just call it a night and let me know tomorrow. I need some sleep, please. Take time to decide what you want to post and let me know in the mroning.”
Ok, now I was stunned. This was no frustrated housewife, but someone who works in the legal industry. MY industry. This was one of those 97% who give the other 3% of us a bad name. She wasn’t just a bitch, she was a power-tripping bitch from my hood.
I responded to her gripes about her legal work, still being very polite, and trying to joke her out of her perpetually bad attitude while letting her know that she was not dealing with some – hmmm – frustrated housewife, but with one of her own:
“Well, that explains the tone; I should have recognized it, and at least now I can drop my own unnaturally conciliatory tone (grin). Have some good sleep.”
..and then I signed my full name and title (which she had not had up until that point).
It should have ended there. She should have at least been polite, or provided some professional courtesy, or something, but no…
“Ms. Mitchell, I sent you a short reminder of SJFC policies and I trust you will refer to that in the future. That is basically a shortened version of the welcome letter sent to each member when they join, and you have been a member since early 2005. As you can see if you review the short guide I sent, they are clear and simple. The rules of FC are what we agree to in order to be part of the network and they are also something members agree to follow when they join the lists.
Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I was wrong. email@example.com was not a frustrated housewife cum mega bitch. She was a he – a frustrated person working in some legal job (I can only hope he is not a lawyer). But still a mega bitch.
So, am I going to refer to the SJFC policies to which Tom “trusts I will refer”?
Heck no, I’m going to refer to the above exchange, and never deal with San Jose FreeCycle again.
Since this exchange I have learned that a lot of people have had problem with FreeCycle moderators – not just Tom at San Jose FreeCycle, although to be sure plenty have had problems there too – but in other FreeCycle groups too. There is apparently something about FreeCycle moderatorship which either creates or attracts control-freaks.
And the problem is not just limited to the local group moderators. It seems that the FreeCycle mothership itself, and its Deron Beal, have some issues. In fact there is a website, [Page no longer available – we have linked to the archive.org version instead], devoted to making public the dirty laundry of a lawsuit filed by FreeCycle against some of their former groups.
But wait! There’s more!
Editor’s update: Tom from San Jose FreeCycle just emailed me. Apparently somebody pointed him to this posting. In his email he said that he had known all along that I was a lawyer, and that he had looked me up because he was “trying to understand why someone who graduated from Law School and was a Professor could not understand something so simple.”
And then he goes on to say, and I kid you not: “And I never said you could only post one wanted a month, just that you cannot repeat the SAME wanted for a month.”
Ok, Tom, you said: “You posted for two items. A dehydrter (sic) AND a vitamix. You cannot post for two wanteds. Please see the other message I sent. And yes I know what that item is, in fact I know what both of them are. It is a matter of posting for two separate wanteds, whether they are in the same post or in two posts. One wanted post, one item. ”
And then you said “Neither of your posts went to the board. Neither one so nothing needs to be removed. And if one had been approved you could not post the other one. Only one item for a wanted.”
How, please, does that translate to “And I never said you could only post one wanted a month, just that you cannot repeat the SAME wanted for a month.”?
P.S. I got my dehydrator and my VitaMix.
[Note: If you’ve been disaffected by FreeCycle or their moderators, check out the comments below and add to the discussion!]
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