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On 13 Oct 09, Adam Vaughan wrote this Guardian blog post on alternatives to Freecycle which invites people to send in sites they’ve come across. He had subsequently closed the comments when, last week, he says he was sent details on GoodNewsForPolarBears.org and so decided to re-open the comments. Then he, himself, added a link to GoodNewsForPolarBears.org in a new comment.

He’s right about the site being busy – it’s just surpassed its 1000th registered member! Quite a milestone.

But the point is summed up perfectly in a previous comment by TeenzBeanz:

At the end of the day the important thing is to keep stuff from landfill, so however you choose to do it, good for you! Don’t throw it away, give it away!

Someone just asked me what’s the difference between Freecycle.org and GoodNewsForPolarBears? On the face of it I understand why the question is asked: they’re both places to give and get stuff for free, and they both therefore help people recycle more and reduce waste & landfill.  Please allow me, then, to elaborate a little on the similarities and differences

First thing to say is that Freecycle.org was one of the very important influences upon the creation of GoodNewsForPolarBears.org, the other was eBay.

Truth is, I found some big limitations and frustrations in using Freecycle.org, for example:

– I got snowed under with loads of emails (sometimes as many as 200 a day) about items being ‘offered’, ‘wanted’, and ‘taken’. At first it was great because I got to see items being offered that I didn’t even think I wanted until, that is, I saw them offered.  That’s great because it allows you to discover things opportunistically which I think is a great benefit (indeed we built a similar OPTIONAL alerts feature in GoodNewsForPolarBears.org)…

– … but, after a few days the volume of email started to bug me.  I’m busy, and I don’t have time to scan through so many emails, so I looked for ways to manage them.  What I found was that I could create a ‘sub-folder’ in my email account, and using a ‘filter’ send all the Freecycle emails into that inbox (it started to sound complicated).  That way I thought I’d be able to manage the problem, so I was happy for a few more days.  Problem now, of course, was I didn’t look at that mail folder enough, so I missed all the best stuff. In the end I simply unsubscribed from the emails, so I effectively became a non-user. (you can read more about this one in a previous post here)

– Searching for stuff on Freecycle is OK, but I felt it wasn’t as natural as searching for stuff on eBay.  I guess the problem is that the search simply finds all those emails that I still had to wade through to find anything I wanted.  Then, half the emails were simply people saying they ‘wanted’ or had ‘taken’ something.  Yeah, i just found it a little frustrating.

– Then there’s the question of photos.  When I was using Freecycle (and maybe they’ve hcanged it now) you couldn’t easily add photos to your posts.  Sure, you could upload your photos to Flickr or Photobucket or some other service, and then create a link in my post, but it just got so complicated.

– I recently moved from one area to another, so I joined a new Freecycle group naturally.  But the problem that created for me was I now had TWICE as many of those damned emails; the problem just got twice as big.  I think its great that Freecycle is area specific, but when some of the items (eg computer memory cards) are mere pennies to post why shouldn’t I have the option of a wider market of ‘wanters’ and ‘offerers’?  No, I like the idea of local communities, but I don’t believe it should be an enforced locality limitation.  Take a look at a non-free market for a moment, eBay for example, does’t work that way does it, I just search for stuff I want to buy (or list stuff I want to sell) then I can refine my search by distance IF I CHOOSE.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that all this got me to a point where I wished I had something that was a CROSS BETWEEN FREECYLE AND EBAY, and that’s what we created with www.GoodNewsForPolarBears.org

So what are the key points about GoodNewsForPolarBears?

For offerers For wanters
  • It’s like a free version of eBay, where you can list any items you want to give away
  • You list items in categories (up to two) to help people browse and more easily find what you’re giving away and what they want
  • It’s really easy to list items (much easier than eBay); it takes about 60 seconds (there’s no need for complicated guides that explain how you do it)
  • It’s simple to include photos with listings (up to four at present)
  • You get to manage your listed items in your ‘My GNFPB’
  • You can keep your contact deatils private until the point at which you want to do a deal, and people can ask you questions without you having to reveal anything
  • You can allow multiple people to ‘bid’ (ask) for your item, then decide on merit who you’d like to give it to
  • You can easily relist items that don’t go, with two clicks
  • It’s easy to search for items, wherever they may be (then decide for yourself how far you are willing to travel of if the item can be posted)
  • It tells you how far away items are (when you join (free)) it calculates how far away items are AND displays a map so you can see)
  • It lets you search outside of your immediate area (so small items that can be posted are also available to you), or refine search results to your immediate vicinity
  • You can set two types of email alerts: 1) keyword alerts to email you when someone is offering particular things you need, 2) an ‘in my town’ alert to get alerted to EVERY item listed in your town (this gives you the opportunistic view that we thought Freecycle did so well, but its optional)
  • You can ‘watch’ items (just like in Ebay), so you don’t miss a thing
  • Members can leave and get feedback for and from other members so you get to develop and see a sense of ‘reputation’ of others in the community
  • You don’t have to put up with Yahoo! advertising banners all over the site, like you do with Freecycle.org

Find out more about how it works here

Don’t get me wrong, I think Freecycle is brilliant, and it certainly has the advantage of volume of members at this stage, but it suffers from a number of limitations (by virtue of the fact that its based on an email group/list system [Yahoo Groups]) that can’t easily be addressed.  What I and others wanted was a cross between eBay and Freecycle – taking the best of each and leaving the less good stuff – and that’s what we’ve created with www.GoodNewsForPolarBears.org.

We have a big challenge ahead of us, and that is simply attracting members, but we hope that we can grow into a mighty oak with the support of those willing to try something new and wanting to do good.

GoodNewsForPolarBears.org is entirely FREE, voluntary, non-profit, and generates zero-revenue (we don’t even allow paid ads).  We’ll thrive only with membes’ genuine desire to do good and try a new way of working, and we hope there are enough of you to do this, and of course to tell others.

It doesn’t matter of you are in London England, or New York New York, you can use it now and spread the word.

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