aku-aku: v.. To move a tall, flat bottomed object (such as a bookshelf) by swiveling it alternatively on its corners in a "walking" fashion. [After the book by Thor Heyerdahl theorising the statues of Easter Island were moved in this fashion.] source: LangMaker.com. Aku Aku also has another meaning to the islanders: a spiritual guide.
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Posted by dav at 2004 August 2 09:16 AM
File under: Geek

I like the concept of Freecycle, an online service that allows people to give away or receive free tangible goods with others in their local area. No trading/bartering/selling/buying allowed. I'm generally interested in alternative economies, and this is the first instance of an organized 'gift economy' that I've seen outside of Burning Man.

The implementation could use some work though. I signed up for freecycle eariler this year, but it was too complicated to use effectively so I had forgotten about it until today (when I saw it mentioned on Smart Mobs).

My suggestions:

The main page should have a lookup by postal code for rapid navigation to the freecycling group near you. Many (all?) of the groups are simply Yahoo! groups, which is fine for those who want to get every posting by email or eyeball the message board, but I think most people would prefer a well-organized online interface that they can consult only when they want to perform some activity in the system (like give away or get something).

Because of the message-centric nature of communication, participants have come to use the subject field of the message to hold additional meta-data. The subjects tend to have this format:

<status> <item>

Where status is one of OFFERED, WANTED, or TAKEN. For example, the message board might look like this:

554OFFER: 2-bag laundry hamper.mitee_737Mon 7/26/2004
555Wanted: Steel grate or storm drain cover or fire grateGordan G LawrenceMon 7/26/2004
556wanted: Mavis Beacon teaches typingsmokeytokiTue 7/27/2004
558TAKEN: 2-bag laundry hampermitee_737Tue 7/27/2004

The problem I have with this is twofold: there is no enforcement of this format, so the messages can be confusing or overlooked, and the WANTED/TAKEN relationship must be resolved by the reader. It's just more screen clutter to wade through, and we're all too busy for that.

What I would suggest is a database-centric format wherein people enter an item in a OFFERED/WANTED state and resolve it to a TAKEN/FULFILLED state. Users coming to the site could then filter their view on just active items. I would also allow users to set up alerts for items that match certain keywords. People who prefer the old email format can still get the items sent to them as messages, the only difference is that the subject formatting would be used 100% of the time. If items were required to include a zip code, then people searching the system would easily be able to use a range to expand or constrict the geographical area of their search.

The only thing I don't like about my fantasy re-factoring of the system is the centralized database requirement. With some more work, this could be overcome by using either a tight network of geographically dispersed freecycle servers that handle large-area searches via an intra-server protocol, or a a network that is tightly coupled to the user's social network. Some sort of tracked reputation system could be useful in the overall context of the system in any case.

I view Freecycle as a good idea that needs another development iteration in order to break into the next level of participation and user-value.


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