This is another article, salvaged with the help of the Wayback Machine, from my now-defunct first blog. Since 2005, Freecycle has only grown more awesome, and I have only grown more deeply obsessed with online tools that assist nonprofits and philanthropies in matching underutilized resources with unmet needs. Although Freecycle serves everyone, regardless of sector, there is certainly a soft spot in the heart of Deron Beal (Freecycle’s founder) for nonprofits in need. He is a member of an informal group on capacity mapping and resource matching that I facilitate, and I frequently point to his work as an example of success in using online tools to make the world work more effectively. I would love to see Freecycle-type tools for locating other kinds of resources that nonprofits need, and my big vision is to create a single sign-on, data sharing, and a consolidated project wish list for all such online tools.
Wed 23 Feb 2005 05:16 PM EST
The world does not have to be divided between beggars and donors; it can be divided between those who have a spare toaster ovens today and those who need them now. Tomorrow – or five minutes from now – these categories will be completely different. We all have needs and surpluses, but it’s hard to arrange for easy redistribution of goods on the scale of a cupboard rather than a planeload.
One of the things that really appeals to me about putting the world online is the possibility that nearly everyone in the community can both offer and receive resources seamlessly.
We are very far from realizing this ideal at the moment; there are many digital divide issues that must be resolved.
However, the Freecycling movement is an excellent example of internet-based community sharing that can work wherever obstacles to access have been solved. It has one central web site, and thousands of intensely local email distribution lists.
The process is simple: you begin by joining (or creating) your local Freecycle list. If you have one to give away, you post a message with the subject heading “Offered: Toaster Oven.” If you’re looking for one, you post a message with the subject heading “Wanted: Toaster Oven.” If you see a possible match, it’s up to you to take it off-list and arrange for a pick-up; various guidelines are in place to ensure that this is done in a manner suitable to civil society. For example, no payments or barters are allowed; anything posted to a Freecycle list must be freely offered and freely taken.
This is not a solution to all of the world’s problems or even a perfect instrument for fulfilling its modest goals, but Freecycling is an excellent way to combine the internet with community-building, recycling, and volunteerism.The potential exists for effective, local, pin-pointed giving that goes beyond – and complements – what institutions such as foundations and nonprofit agencies are able to do.
Now that Freecycle.Org has been invented, it seems simple and obvious. But that’s the way it seems with many innovations in information technology – after the fact!