Buy Nothing exploded on Facebook — now it wants a platform of its own

In the identical week, Katylin has seen a banana and a ship given away between neighbors, no strings hooked up. In her native Purchase Nothing group in Seattle, neighbors share what they’ve to provide — holidays, present wrap, symphony tickets, Airbnb lodging — up for grabs to whoever needs or wants it.

That is the essence of a Purchase Nothing group: as a substitute of tossing what you don’t want or shopping for one thing you do, attempt providing it up or asking your neighbors first. Bartering and buying and selling are prohibited, and customers are required to provide and obtain freely. Every thing given is value the identical, irrespective of the perceived worth. Bikes and boats are listed subsequent to dryer lint and rooster feces.

“The banana and the boat are each simply presents — they’re a technique to join along with your neighbors,” Katylin says. “They’re really equal.”

The Purchase Nothing Challenge is a uncommon success story of digital community-building on Fb that blossoms offline. Based in 2013, the mission grew organically, primarily by way of closed Fb teams, after which exploded in reputation throughout the pandemic, now counting greater than 5 million members. There are 7,000 particular person Purchase Nothing communities throughout 44 international locations, from a gaggle for New York’s Chinatown to a suburb of Reykjavík in Iceland.

After a lot success, Purchase Nothing is now dealing with a dilemma: whether or not to depart Fb behind. The platform allowed Purchase Nothing teams to unfold throughout the globe and simply join neighbors with surplus items. Nevertheless it’s additionally posed an rising variety of issues, from moderating sprawling, disconnected communities to reaching folks past the partitions of the extremely contentious social community.

To resolve these issues, the Purchase Nothing Challenge launched a cell app of their very own in November, which they’re hoping shall be a extra sustainable choice long run because it continues to develop. Challenge co-founders Liesl Clark, Rebecca Rockefeller, and new enterprise companions Tunji Williams and Lucas Rix fashioned a public profit company, ShareThing, in 2021 and raised cash from family and friends to fund the app’s growth. After years of being approached by potential buyers, Clark and Rockefeller lastly felt prepared to start constructing their very own platform.

Customers are inspired to ask neighbors for issues they want.
Picture: Purchase Nothing Challenge

The app makes an attempt to unravel complications and hiccups that moderators and leaders have handled whereas utilizing Fb. As a result of many of the teams exist on Fb, even understanding what number of Purchase Nothing group members there are is a herculean process. Volunteers like Katylin should hand depend membership numbers utilizing a spreadsheet, logging member depend for every of the 1000’s of teams. Admins of teams should undergo the steps of making teams, manually including new members, and developing with geographic boundaries earlier than folks can begin gifting and receiving gadgets.

However asking 7,000 teams to attempt a brand new platform presents its personal points. Although the 1000’s of Purchase Nothing teams comply with the identical guide and guiding ideas, in follow every is liable for itself. Completely different directors have totally different guidelines of engagement. For instance, Fb teams will lay out the precise boundaries of the place you could stay to hitch the group, however some moderators enable individuals who work or go to highschool within the space to hitch, or who’re barely outdoors of the neighborhood limits. Some admins have developed common group occasions within the neighborhood that may not exist in a close-by space.

The app dissolves these clearly outlined communities, making a considerably borderless expertise with the person consumer on the middle. As an alternative of being in a community in your city or neighborhood, the app makes use of an individual’s location and distance preferences to create a radius with different customers close by. The position of admins, too, is redefined — on Fb, they’re liable for even essentially the most tedious of duties, like troubleshooting tech points. On the app, anybody who takes a coaching course can change into a “group builder,” whose job it’s to mannequin finest practices and facilitate exercise.

The app presents three distance settings for users from “hyperlocal” to “surrounding areas.”

The BuyNothing app creates a borderless expertise as a substitute of clearly outlined boundaries that Fb teams have.
Picture: Purchase Nothing Challenge

This in-between interval, Clark admits, is a little bit bittersweet and awkward. Thriving communities would possibly really feel threatened by one more area with the identical mission.

“At occasions, folks will really feel that there’s solely room for one group,” Clark says. “However I feel that if we do that over and time and again, and follow it, then we gained’t even want an app, we gained’t even want Fb teams. We’ll simply be doing it in actual life.”

To date, most Purchase Nothing customers appear to be staying the place they’re: the app solely has 166,000 downloads as of late December, although Clark says it’s rising by 5 p.c week to week.

Eddie Chang, a moderator of a Purchase Nothing group on the Higher East Aspect in New York, says some directors really feel the addition of the app would possibly unnecessarily complicate a system that was already working properly. Increasing the mission requires the cash to cowl rising prices, probably placing it in a troublesome spot if funding dries up.

“You have already got a really wealthy product that you just created, and you’ve got individuals who have pores and skin within the sport as house owners of their very own particular person communities inside this umbrella group,” he says. “If [donations] dry up, and also you receives a commission by way of one other outlet, how does that change the philosophy?”

Though shopping for and promoting aren’t allowed within the Purchase Nothing universe, cash is a key query on this new chapter. Although it’s free to take part, Clark says any prices related to the mission — from creating sources for the general public, to hiring builders — have been lined since day one by herself and co-founder Rebecca Rockefeller. (In December, the Buy Nothing website for the primary time featured a banner asking for supporters to think about chipping in.)

The high-quality print at present permits for admins to have a “gratitude jar,” and Clark says she want to see volunteers compensated for the time and abilities they’ve already dedicated to maintaining teams afloat. However the matter of compensation has at occasions been contentious, with many directors deeply towards it.

“I feel there are the purists who imagine that an endeavor like this could all be free,” Clark says. “Managing that is full time after which some … We are able to’t earn a residing and simply give away all our time. We do have to feed our households.”

Chang, the administrator of the Higher East Aspect group, doesn’t imagine he ought to be paid for the work he does. Versus comparable group teams that enable sponsored content material, Chang believes that with out cash altering palms, Purchase Nothing can stay a protected, influence-free area. The reward, he says, is assembly and constructing relationships with the folks round you.

“Do I have to spend 40 hours every week on this factor? No, I don’t,” he says. “Nevertheless it’s a labor of affection.”

The center floor for communities has been to try to maintain each the Fb group and the app energetic, an choice that Clark and different mission co-founders encourage if it is smart for the group. Admins like Chang recommend members check out the app or crosspost gadgets and asks. From what he’s seen, most admins both say nothing concerning the app, or facilitate exercise on each platforms.

“We’re attempting to embrace it,” Chang says. “We’re not getting out of it but what we’re getting out of the group, so it’s not absolutely adopted. It’s nonetheless in early days.”

Different admins like Katylin are thrilled to start the transition away from Fb towards one thing customized constructed for the Purchase Nothing mission. The transfer has helped her put together to depart Fb, a platform she’s spent numerous hours on whereas constructing a group she believes in.

“On the app, I must educate folks the water is ok,” Katylin says. “You don’t know all of your neighbors but. However inside time, you in all probability are going to be comfy sufficient to point out all the perimeters of your self you confirmed in your Fb group.”

A recent platform owned and operated by folks devoted to Purchase Nothing appears like a clean slate to construct on, Clark says. As an illustration, she says the borderlessness is an try at correcting a phenomenon of Fb group boundaries that recreated historic redlined maps. Management is contemplating what it’d seem like to have individuals have fairness within the mission or how Purchase Nothing might companion with municipalities and states on instructional packages round reuse and recycling efforts.

Though Clark has excessive hopes for a way the app can evolve sooner or later, she says the much less social media platforms are wanted to do that work, the higher. And although she hears the trepidation from individuals who fear having one other platform might dilute the prevailing communities, Clark believes each can thrive — the purpose is that persons are uncovered to the ethos of a present financial system.

“What we need to do is result in behavioral change,” Clark says. “That’s our primary agenda.”

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Buy Nothing exploded on Facebook — now it wants a platform of its own

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