Does BookMooch need more rules?

I've been using BookMooch for about a year now and have found it invaluable in making the switch from desktop software guru to mythology & psychology grad student in preparation for whatever comes next. BookMooch works very simply: You post a list of books you want to give away and search or browse other people's inventories to find books that you want to "mooch." The transactions use a point system. The only out-of-pocket cost is the postage required to mail a book to a moocher.


BookMooch founder John Buchman asks in his blog whether the site needs more rules to define acceptable reasons for rejecting a mooch. He cites three recent incidents -- an author who rejected mooches of copies of her new book because she thought the moochers were selling it and two members who rejected mooches for political reasons related to the moocher or the moocher's country. Explaining why he and the other administrators have come up with a short list of acceptable reasons for rejections, John says:


I didn’t want BookMooch to become a free-for-all, where anyone could make up any personal reasons for accepting or rejecting a mooch. That could get nasty.


That's the point where I decided that I needed to respond, and so I've posted this response on the BookMooch discussion forum (or at least I've tried to; I don't see it yet):


John, BookMooch *is* a free-for-all, whether you want it to be or not, and that's what makes it so lovable. One of its most appealing features is that it is a simple concept that requires very few rules because of its overall transparency. The offer of a book and the acceptance of a mooch take place in an environment where both sender and moocher can see each other's transaction history. A sender who engages in a lot of unexplained rejections (or rejections for purely personal reasons) is eventually going to find that they're no longer getting mooches. I believe that the values embodied in the principle of free exchange of ideas will win out over those of repression, without the need to impose any detailed code of conduct.


That said, I would like to offer two action items for you to consider. There's no reason not to try to guide people toward the type of behavior that will further the free exchange of books. Therefore, I like the suggestion that another person made to add a drop-down list of rejection reasons, just as we have a simple drop-down list of ratings for a mooch. The rejection drop-down could include:


  • I can't afford to pay to ship that book to you
  • I can no longer locate that book (which should automatically remove it from inventory)
  • Other
The Other choice should have a box for entering an explanation, and the explanation should be required. That would end the issue of unexplained rejections.


I would not put "bad behavior" on the drop-down list, because that's a subjective judgment by one person of another. It deserves more of an explanation than a drop-down list choice would allow.

The second action item would be for you to consider publishing synopses of any instances in which a BookMooch member's account was terminated. The Terms of Service already allow you to do this with or without cause. If you want to highlight what abuse looks like in an objective fashion, providing information on these (hopefully rare) cases, would be one way to do that.


For the record, feel free to read my BookMooch history. I've rejected three mooches -- two because I did a bad job of managing my inventory and couldn't find the books when it came time to send them and one because the moocher had a lot of pending books to send. In the latter instance, I invited the moocher to try again when he'd cleared his backlog. You can see by reading the history details that he later did so. That's what I mean by transparency.


While you're there, maybe you should check out my inventory and mooch some of those old Microsoft Exchange books from me.