Freecycle and reputation

Freecycle is a pretty good idea. Lots of people have stuff they no longer need; lots of people need stuff they don’t currently have. If those people could get together in local geographical communities, so that the first group can give stuff away to the second group, then more stuff will get reused rather than being filed away in landfill for a few centuries.

But the implementation of Freecycle is, shall we say, somewhat suboptimal.

First, there’s a central Freecycle body which imposes conditions that some would-be freecyclers find it hard to live with. (For the record, I’m inclined towards that camp, though I do make use of Edinburgh’s Freecycle group.) That problem’s solvable, in principle at least, without significantly changing Freecycle’s mailing-list model.

But it’s far from the only problem. Suppose you’re trying to give something away something; on a busy group, items of reasonable value will probably get quite a lot of interest. Using whatever criteria you prefer, you select a recipient out of maybe a dozen or so, contact them, and make arrangements for them to collect your item.

Then you make sure to be at home at the agreed time, and you wait. And you wait. And you wait some more, getting angrier by the minute. Or maybe you merely sent your recipient email after email, and they reply to nothing beyond your initial “it’s yours if you want it” message.

This is clearly incredibly rude behaviour on the part of such people — after all, you’re trying to give them stuff for free. But how can it be prevented?

One option is to go for what we might dysphemistically refer to as “Chavcycle”: take whatever you want to get rid of, leave it outside with a note on it, and hope that someone disposes of it for you. But that doesn’t seem ideal.

I think one of the problems with Freecycle is that you don’t typically know anything about the people you’re interacting with. Compare the situation with, say, eBay. You still have very few guarantees with eBay, but users do at least have persistent reputation, so if a user screws you around, you can leave them negative feedback.

This whole article is a fairly long-winded of saying something fairly simple: I think a Freecycle-like thing would be better if it tracked reputation. Freecycle users can be a pleasure to interact with; it would be nice to able to tell the world that “Fred Q. Bloggs answers emails quickly and politely, and turns up when he says he will”. And the inverse, if appropriate.