Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Friday, May 2, 2003day link 

 Xpertweb connections
Britt, Mitch and I have weekly phone meetings to plot the progress of Xpertweb. Today we were also meeting with Allen Searls who created Global Alive, which happens to be an online network of experts, who have conversations with each other, in turn rating the experience. There's some obvious potential for synergy there. Xpertweb aims at becoming useful as plumbing for all sorts of exchanges of value. And as a shared memory of the perceived value of past exchanges. All sorts of value-added activities and businesses can be built on top of such a structure. Mitch has a lot of excellent ideas about that. There can be a significant role for 'infomediaries', who use the information gathered in the network to connect up business.
[ | 2003-05-02 23:59 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 Fill the Chalice
picture One of the reasons I initially connected with Britt's talk of Xpertweb is that a few years ago I was also working on figuring out how to make a new kind of infrastructure that might help ordinary folks interact economically in a generative way. Julie Solheim and I were working on what we called the Chalice Network. Some of the positioning we used makes me cringe a bit today, and some of the explanations are a bit naive, but, hey, it was directed at an L.A. new agey crowd. Not to try to insult anybody. Anyway, one of the reasons it didn't happen is probably that I didn't quite succeed in getting the formulas worked out right. Another reason is that it wasn't peer-to-peer. It was a centralized thing one had to sign up for. As opposed to something that could spread pretty much by itself. Regardless, there were some key points made in the Chalice Network, which would be useful to bring up here.

People operate economically in many different modes and have different motivations. Some people are focusing on making money. Some people have certain goods, and want different goods, and are looking to trade. Some people focus mainly on choosing where they can best provide their services freely, to achive the best possible result. Which mode people are in might have something to do with how abundant they feel, but not necessarily with how wealthy they are. Rich people might well be very focused on making more money, and poor people might very well be focused on giving things away.

To serve several kinds of economic needs, the Chalice Network was envisioned to have three levels, or three entirely different ways of interacting economically. Anybody could exist in all three, but it is quite likely that a given person would find one of them to be the best fit. We gave each of these realms a romantic name, as follows:

Realm 1 - The "Avalon" Level - Free giving and receiving. You can choose what services and resources you would be willing to give freely to others, to what extent, and under what circumstances.

Realm 2 - The "Round Table" Level - Local Exchange System. You can exchange services and resources with others without any need for involving money. An accounting system allows you to use services that you need and to provide services where they are required, as long as the inflow and outflow remains fairly balanced.

Realm 3 - The "Castle" Level - Network Representation System. You can list services or resources you will provide for monetary exchange. You can also choose to act as an agent representing the services of others in the network, in exchange for monetary compensation. In other words, you can promote the services of others in the network to anyone you choose, and you will receive percentages of sales. In addition you will receive Local Exchange credit for using this system, whether it be as a provider or as a representative.

It would all be a directory of people offering certain services. They could take three drastically different kinds of payment. In Realm 3, the "lowest" level, we're talking about regular dollars, yen, euros, etc. People sell stuff to each other. And there's a system of pre-negotiated percentages that can be given as commission to others who help make exchanges happen. There was a bit of a multi-level thing there, to motivate people who are money-motivated.

Realm 2 would be a LETS system, i.e. exchanges would happen in an invented local currency, acting as a medium in barter exchanges. If you need something, you would be able to buy it, even if you don't have any dollars, as long as your account stays fairly balanced.

Realm 1 would be a gift economy. There would be a directory of services or goods available for free, and under what terms and conditions.

The hidden agenda was that people would be gradually magnetized towards Level 1. They might start by just wanting to sell stuff, but if they do well and the economic velocity increases, the dollars will matter less, but they still want some accounting, and some assurances that participants have balanced accounts. And if everybody gets used to easily and rapidly providing or consuming a greater and greater variety of services, eventually we might not even bother to count, but might just focus on most efficiently making useful services available as widely as possible.

Where I got stuck in the design was in how to build in an incentive for people in the money level to move on to the more ethereal accounting methods. I had some kind of bonus points in mind, but then it is a tricky problem how to make the accounting in each of the levels balance in and of themselves.

Anyway, back to what this has to do with Xpertweb. Xpertweb is at first glance like the third level described above. People offer stuff for sale, and there are various opportunities for building a business on brokering the information in the network. E.g. bring together some people who couldn't find each other before, or arrange cheap health insurance for everybody.

But, potentially, if the infrastructure building blocks are done well enough, the data structures and protocols are flexible enough, and the whole thing is distributed enough so that nobody controls it - these various economic approaches might simply be ways that people use the same basic pieces. Nothing would have to be inherently different if you want to pay your bill in Ithaca Hours or in Coconuts. You'd still want to be sure you're getting what you were looking for. Nothing would be inherently different if you were giving your service or your goods away. If your goods were scarce you would probably want to carefully compare the prospective recipients, and give your goods either to those who, according to their history, would make the most of it, or at least to those whom it would do the most good.

In other words, you can always make better choices if you have a good picture of the reputation and past history of everybody involved. No matter if it is dollars or good will that is flowing through the system, it will flow much better when it is no longer directed blindly.
[ | 2003-05-02 23:59 | 3 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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