Earlier this year, I caught up with my old friend, Aaron Liepman, who’s currently a plant biology postdoc at Michigan State University. Aaron told me about this nationwide phenomenon known as Freecycle. He started two chapters in Michigan, including the first and largest in Detroit.    (1MN)

Here’s how it works:    (1MO)

  • Someone starts up a mailing list in their local community (often a Yahoo! Groups list).    (1MP)
  • People post offers on the list. Everything must be free (and legal).    (1MQ)
  • People respond to offers directly to the poster. When an item is claimed, the poster emails a notice to the list again.    (1MR)

You can also post items that you want. Aaron told me that one person posted on one of his lists asking for a DVD player. He scoffed at the post when he saw it, but sure enough, someone had a DVD player to spare and gave it to the poster.    (1MS)

I’m a reforming packrat, and I’m always trying to get rid of old stuff, so I subscribed to the Palo Alto freecycle soon thereafter. Since I recently replaced my laptop, I decided to give it a shot. This morning, I posted my offer. Literally a few seconds later, I got seven responses. This is for a seven year old laptop running Windows 95! If I hadn’t emailed a taken notice immediately thereafter, who knows how many responses I would have received?    (1MT)

What I love about Freecycle — other than the obvious environmental benefits — is that it’s a wonderful example of patterns trumping tools. First, it’s an innovative and efficient use of mailing lists. Someone could certainly design a custom tool to handle this exchange, but it’s not clear that the gains would be significant. Second, it’s easily replicable. Aaron heard about it and just did it. So did a thousand other cities. Third, it’s a community-builder, just like eBay — a way to discover folks close by with similar interests.    (1MU)

More articles about Aaron and Freecycle:    (1MV)

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