The Freecycle Network

The Freecycle Network
The Freecycle Network

What is it?

An extremely popular, world-wide regifting movement, aimed at reducing the amount of material ending up in landfill. It has nearly 5,000 Groups worldwide and 7 million users.


My role:

Initially, I worked as a part-time contractor, designing and building the new platform for running their Groups. This involved creating a functional specification for the new system, agreed with the Executive Director, procurement of servers for the new platform, database design and implementation, coding of the new platform and the gathering and using of end-user feedback. I was responsible for the monitoring of the servers and improving the performance wherever possible.

Later, I assumed the role of Chief Technical Officer for The Freecycle Network. In addition to my previous tasks, I was responsible for the management of a small, distributed team of developers, using the ‘Scrum’ agile development methodology.

How I added value to the service:

The Freecycle Network used to rely on the Yahoo!Groups service – this service was not entirely suitable for the needs of The Freecycle Network, and as such volunteers had created browser plugins and helper web pages to add required features. All of these additional things still depended on the Yahoo!Groups platform, and in many cases required the scraping of data from web pages. This method was mostly successful, but would break if Yahoo! changed the format of the pages or if moderator volunteers hit the Yahoo!Groups request velocity check (which would block them from accessing Yahoo!Groups for several hours, potentially disrupting the smooth running of Groups). There is no public API for Yahoo!Groups (at the time of writing)

My work, in creating a new platform for the running of Groups, allowed much easier access to Groups and their data, for both Members and Moderators. It also provides the potential for The Freecycle Network to integrate the service and the data it contains with other service providers.

For Moderators, the new platform greatly reduced the amount of time they needed to spend on administering a Group – volunteers who were spending hours running busy Groups reported their workload was now handled in minutes – and provided much better support for Moderators who managed the Groups by mobile phone.

For Members, the new platform made it easier for them to find and join Groups, and to make and track their posts to those Groups. The new web interface allowed Members (and potential Members) to easily see the most recent activity on a Group, making the whole service more transparent and accessible.

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