Monday, July 1, 2013

community currencies and local governments

Recently there have been several comments and propositions - for instance Jem Bendell at a UN conf - referencing the significance of the local government as a potential focus for development activities, in contrast to expecting anything from higher levels of government.

There are many obvious reasons why local government may be more accessible than higher, and should be brought into the use of local and regional currencies, and why soon would be good. 

But if this isn’t done right it can be very wrong and three things are to be particularly avoided

  • bad currency systems,
  • local governments issuing money, and
  • the quest for local money tax acceptance. 

These are three negatives, but there's no problem - there are better ways to approach this.

0) Cash-backed “complementary currencies” are not a useful medium - they do nothing.  

This is item 0 as it applies across the board, not just to local government

Any currency project that tries to assure the value of their issue by promising cashout is going to end up holding their own paper when the cash is gone.

While this can be useful in some particular applications - for instance for short demonstrations - it can’t be a long term strategy.   

This should go without saying, and maybe one day it will.   And don’t take any wooden nickels either.

1) The issue of currencies by government institutions is basically a bad idea - that way lies madness.

Governments may use peoples’ money, and should do, but to set it up the other way is a recipe for opportunistic behaviour from an institution not know for taking responsibility.   No government should be encouraged or indeed allowed to issue any significant amount - any opportunity for local “quantitative easing” carries the risk of the usual political games.
Governments are however in the “business” of service delivery - often charging user fees - and so can in those areas project earnings with some reliability, which would in turn enable some limited issuance tied to those particular services.   

Candidates will vary from place to place, but may include such services as venues, facilities, housing, transportation, materials re-use and/or recycling, public education and public health, energy rationing, parking tickets and library fines.

Also, infrastructure projects could be very properly financed with local bond issues, where the bond were also a functioning currency in the community.

Some 20 years ago the LETSystem Design Manual had recommendations that still apply, and will do for some time.

2) Getting tax payments in local money will be hard.

While it must always be a core of any long term strategy, community currencies to pay taxes is almost certainly going to be just that - a long term strategy.   Does anyone think this is going to be simple, or easy or soon?   Given the variety of vested interests and institutions highly averse to change, what are the chances?

And who knows what concessions might be required to conform to their world?  Approval by the authorities isn’t easily gained, and is generally on their terms.  And given they have no idea what this is all about, it seems a procedural quagmire to play their game on their field.

Those who think this is a useful pursuit are of course encouraged to take on the task, of course, and to please report on progress.

But those who see government as a mountain not coming to us, see also that we have to take the game of currencies to them.  Local authorities need to be shown there are simple applications they can adopt now, without any legislative wrangling or bureaucratic tangles, that generate value in excess of any costs incurred.

There’s a basic premise that needs to be tested - that local governments can do more with their resources when they use circulating currencies (good ones, that is).   If there’s no clear tangible and accountable benefit, then there’s no point in pursuing any tax plans.   So why not do that first, and perhaps save a lot of time and work and confusion?

If a local currency system is well designed - for instance backed by local business undertakings to community causes, and therefore strongly assured - then a local government can certainly spend such money in their general budget.  They can then justify buying the local money from local community groups to double the effect of the tax $ or £.

And there’s no red tape.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

many moneys make work light

making payments in diverse economies

2nd International Conference on Complementary Currency Systems (CCS) 
19 - 23 June 2013, The Hague, The Netherlands

Much as I would have liked to be at this event, for the usual time and money reasons, it wasn't possible. However, as a contribution to the ongoing exploration and development in this critical area, we invite and encourage all attending (and any not) to take a look at the latest development work in open money software.  

At, in just three easy steps, you can -

request an account
respond to the confirmation email
reset your password, eh?

You will have a login identity, and a trading account already joined to a virtual currency - the “cc”.

If you know the name anyone else is using, you can transfer “cc” to their account.  And maybe others will send cc to you.

So far so good - a simple, free online recording service, globally accessible.

But open money isn’t the usual one-trick pony of the conventional cc circus.  With open money there are many ways to play.

You can have multiple trading names under one login and join any of those names to any other currency in the system if you know the name of that currency.

You can create currencies and invite others to join, or use them simply for internal accounting - let's count the ways.

You can create spaces - groups of trading names - for instance for regional, local and neighborhood communities, for churches, schools, or for internal organization and exchange within in a corporation or government.

It will help to refer occasionally to the user guide.

This platform doesn't support a "marketplace" or "profiles" - there are many other ways to support that aspect of a community process, and no need to use any internal accounting that might come with it.

This is a very early release - the web pages haven't been optimised for mobiles, or even for a desktop browser. It is feature poor and has minimal administration tools.

Nonetheless the open money namespace and the structure of this system places it in a class of its own, entirely distinct from any other initiative that we know in this field.

Soon there will be apps.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

more subtle than search


G. Spencer-Brown, Laws of Form (page 95, slide 121 of 190)

Douglas Rushkoff has written much about the origins and workings of our modern money system in Life Inc, and also, again on money -

Radical Abundance

"How We Get Past “Free” and Learn to Exchange Value Again. Here’s my keynote from the O’Reilly Web 2.0 conference last week. It is my clearest articulation yet of how we’re using an obsolete operating system for money, optimized for a pre-Internet economy. "

And -

Corporations as Uber-Citizens

"Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling was positive in one respect: it made law out of what was already happening...

...But I’ve got more faith in our ability, as people, to rebuild our society and economy from the bottom up, without the participation or approval of a corporate-funded and corporate-driven central government. We can rebuild local economies based on the abundance of our labor and resources rather than the scarcity of centrally issued currency. We can rebuild local agriculture based on the quality of the topsoil, the features of the climate, and the nutritional needs of people rather than corn lobby laws. And we can rebuild our mechanisms for making meaning based on our shared hopes and values rather than those developed by PR firms to make us compete for false, individualistic goals.

In short, I say screw ‘em. Let’s do this ourselves."

Late last year, Douglas and Jerry Michalski were kind enough to talk with me, at my request, for almost an hour (on blogtalkradio) on money and memes that might move it. We particularly wanted to get their response to the content and presentation of one such proposed meme set - the open money-go-round.

While it was a very amicable and interesting exchange, Douglas's closing comment (partial transcript) could be read as somewhat discouraging.

42:25 dr - yeah, I dunno, we'll see whether this is a situation where this and a subway token will get you on the subway or whether we actually are capable of helping faciilitate a new economic co-reality

This is not the most positive feedback, certainly not what we hoped to hear. However, it's not all bad. In fact it's good. Really good, really.

The main problems for Douglas (and Jerry) aren't with the core issues themselves or the end products, the community currencies. It was the presentation and method of the virus - the messaging of the memes - that left them cold. We agreed on all the parts, but we failed completely in showing them just what is the whole that we see these parts compose. And that failure greatly surprised us, and informed us even more. That's why it's good.

As the podcast and transcript show, on all matters of money itself that we touched on - how central bank money works, what it does to people, to society, to the physical world, what utilities it has - we are in agreement. As we also are on the value of community networks in general, and in some particular instances in that wide and varied field. Here there is some divergence - for instance, are "cargo cult" currencies (systems that look as though they do something while they actually don't) perhaps still a good thing if they attract media attention and raise some general public awareness? I say not, Douglas takes a more positive view.

But it's the whole thing that we aren't seeing the same way. However we are presenting our view of the parts, their relationships, what can be done and how to do it, it simply doesn't communicate to these communications gurus. And this is not a good sign for a core component of a communications strategy.

In follow-up emails, Douglas and Jerry agree on the substance of each of the three elements - that bank money is always going away, that community currencies recirculate, and they can work in many forms, with quantifiable outcomes, in theory and practice.

But somehow they didn't get why the distinction we draw between money that "goes away" and money that "goes around and comes back" matters so much as a fundamental property of money, and much less that it's the most critical factor in our present situation.

And naturally we also failed to give them a sense of the value of the open money-go-round meme, much less how this idea might be an almost irresistible unique selling proposition for community currencies in the mainstream, that the "money-back" guarantee of the medium gives "what's-in-it-for-me?" baseline benefits for users of all sorts and sizes.

The value of the communications strategy (and hence the business model) remained correspondingly invisible, insubstantial, unaccountable.

To paraphrase their response - "ok, maybe so - but so what? this isn't going to move any masses." This is very useful feedback, of course, but also very painful! What we've got here is a failure to communicate.

And the good news is that this is both reason and perspective to review and perhaps redirect our efforts - less on theory, analysis, abstraction and projection, and more on concrete actions. We should in particular stop expecting people to understand and appreciate what they don't even see.

Yet even in this dark tunnel there's some light. We were also told our closing question is good and could be more effective without all the preamble, that we might do better if we simply cut straight to it. After all, it must be the first and last qualification with any money - do you buy it? So here's one formulation of the core question -

In our world, we have a business backed community currency, the cw$, that we can buy from charities, causes and groups 1:1 with canadian $, and those cw$ are accepted at 65 (and counting) local businesses.

That's four benefits from each $ - we invest $ in the community when we exchange cdn$ for cw$, we keep our $ spending value, we support (buy local) the businesses that make this possible, and the new cw$ recirculate, enabling business and trading that builds a progressively more resilient economy.

If you could do this where you live, would you?

And if so, how much?

This isn't anything about politics, theory, technicalities, software, climate, religious belief or aesthetic preference. It's only about our individual and personal values and choices. Almost everyone claims to have the community at heart, but in truth are we willing to match money and mouth?

So, community money - do you buy it?

Are there any other questions?

Friday, January 22, 2010

virtual money developments for telcos

Recently I was asked (by a telco) some questions about likely directions for virtual money development, and even paid a nominal fee for my views. It's said you should never offer advice to anyone who isn't paying for it, but since those who did pay don't seem to be paying much attention, I thought to see if others who aren't, might.

Current attempts at creating community currencies are of little real value in terms of making a change, or having any real impact in how people perceive currencies and value. How are they going to change to a model where they are successful in driving change and making a real difference?

At present, most effort is badly misdirected. Most effort, by far, is presently going into devising something to sell to users - different channels for different settlements of conventional money, or moneys based on a different backing, phone credits for instance. While a more convenient or efficient or stylish wallet / payment system will attract users, and make a business case, the user is not fundamentally much better off. They don't have any more money, just other ways with whatever money they already have.

In addition, most "virtual money" in design is generally intended to be a token of value in itself, easily transferrable. That's generally seen as the core capacity of a money, that is has a stable value, independent of the buyer and vendor. It's the money that is valuable, the users just get to use it.

Such systems tend to form and perpetuate patterns of competition, extraction, retention and scarcity. In short, business as usual. Money will be made, perhaps, but with much competition and confusion, and the users, who will (or will not) ultimately drive adoption, don't get a lot of real value. For instance, this - - is good, but it remains merely a convenience, or an improvement in security.


“Coins and cash are cumbersome, but it takes only seconds to pay with Visa payWave and I don’t have to wait for change anymore,” said cardholder Lara Peng. “I work more than 12 hours a day so I need the extra time on my hands. Visa payWave makes payment faster and more convenient. It’s also safer as I don’t have to hand over my card to the cashier when I pay. I just wave it. The card stays in my hand. I’m in control.”

While this is obviously an attractive and valuable proposition in its objectives - improved service, capture of market share - it's still the same old money, and nothing of significance changes in the economic process.

By contrast, in a true network currency the idea of the money as a thing of value in itself doesn't apply. Network money only buys inside the network, is only as good the relationships and exchanges it enables and records. This money just marks the relative positions of the users. Clearly, any future value lies in the actions generated between users, a matter of what they are doing and who they are. The value for the group as a whole comes from the interplay and that, in its persistence, a form of common wealth is realised.

The benefit to the individual user is even more specific - access to new money that stays in the community when it is spent, and is always easy to earn. (Conventional money doesn't stay, and isn't easy to earn.) A network money has a "money-back" guarantee, it is, almost literally, a "money-go-round".

Network money of this form is a commons, an open context in which users can create and operate their own currencies, in principle, as easily as email subscribers can start and moderate email discussion lists.Network currencies can start from nothing, with no assets, and generally will. As transactions take place, account balances spread positive and negative, and quantify the total financial energy the system is at any time commited to provide. This may be an unstructured form of aggregate liquidity, the momentum in this sector of the community economy. However, where the system is initiated, for instance as at, with charitable commitments by the opening business accounts, the new community capital created is readily quantified.

The critical factor is the general satisfaction of the "what's in it for me?" condition - users realise clear benefit in self interest, and there are no particular politics, ethics, theories or agendas required. It's just money that goes round, it just works, and the users needn't know or care about anyone but themselves.

As these game changers emerge, there will be many substantial opportunities in this for carriers, operators, developers, but these will not be financed by the usual business model. There are no territories to be enclosed, no tariffs are applicable, but there are many profit opportunities. However, success in this sector will come not from seeking to maximise extraction, but rather from clear support for and participation in the empowerment of the users and the community they create.

What needs to happen for community currencies to come of age, make a real difference and be sustainable?
Nothing is particularly "needed". Enabling users to create useful money (apparently from nothing) has its own compelling logic, it contains and develops its own drivers. We are confident clear evidence of bootstrap economic development will encourage replication. Open money "mycelium" is already well deployed globally.

However, there are many possible "nudges" that will be very productive, and one that will be particularly effective in global and cross-cultural adoption is an open money phone based point of sale system. Something of this nature must already be in your plans in some form, but quite likely your form needs some review. If you aren't anticipating at least a million free standing independent currency systems, you need to adjust your sights.

The telecommunications industry, almost as a whole, are ideally positioned to influence and prosper in this field. The first major corporation to come out with open money can associate their brand with the new economy as firmly as Xerox with copying, Hoover with cleaning, Apple with style and performance.

We anticipate joint development ventures - initially in NA or EU, and then rapidly expanding into 3rd world markets.

What are the major barriers and how will these challenges be overcome?

It's not at all difficult to communicate the basic benefits - they are generally understood well enough. The problem is merely credibility, but that's a major problem. Perception is the major barrier, and since our perception is our reality, it has to be addressed. People (and most business) find it hard to believe they can create money - "too good to be true, there must be a catch." Some worry more because they can't see a catch. Business worries more than people, which is natural since a business can die very quickly if it makes a mistake.

So we provide entry level zero-risk programs, and games, and education - like beginner slopes at the ski hill, the shallow end of the pool, training wheels for the bike - and we find perceptions can change with experience. The core questions are - why not have another money? what are the risks? how are they avoided? if you do it this way, how can you lose?

When people are unable to place these ideas in their scale of importance or priority, we can try the 10% proposition - "you'll be 10% better off with open money, and sooner than you think." This tends to draw focus to useful questions - is yield of that scale really possible? do I want to know? how much do I want to know?

For a business turning over $500k pa, the proposition of a $50k pa virtual carrot will merit perhaps $50 of attention, maybe this year, if the prospect assesses it as 1,000:1 unlikely. And the incentive to explore is progressively less at higher odds. At 1,000,000:1 it might rate a nickel. It's not the proposition per se, but the presumptions of probability that matter most. And as so often, it's not what you don't know, but what you think you know that's actually not so that causes the problems.

However, this variant of Pascal's wager (risk of cost of inaction) gets more interesting with scale. While the cost of discovery - mainly time and attention - is much the same for a large organization as for any individual, or small or medium business, the possible outcomes are not.

Nota bene. (Not a lot of attention from the client at this point - the possibility of adding $5 billion to income was seemingly too improbable to merit picking up the phone)

Looking to the future, in the next 3-5 years, what role will community currencies play?

Leading. Our present culture and economy is desperately lacking in tools for intelligent growth and direction. For central banking systems, power is either on or off, and steering is left to invisible hands in a market mainly driven by the greedy and the blind. The effect of common community currency systems in our economy will be much like the effect of lasers in our technology. The effects of the application of pattern and information to otherwise incoherent mass and energy aren't easily predicted from the incoherence.

Three projections:

The transition from carbon based fuels is critically dependent on perceptions of equitable sharing - internationally, nationally, regionally, locally and by neighbourhood. Carbon counting, carbon costing and carbon rationing require the variety of open money. See for example.

With considerable local and regional variations, and at various rates of development, the part of GDP transacted in virtual money (not legal tender but entirely legal) will generally reach 30-40%.

The rapid and permanent elimination of monetary poverty. Poverty of materials, skills, time, space, awareness and spirit are other issues of course, but there's no reason why anyone on the planet need be short of money.

Who will be at the centre of them in terms of driving them?
  • in general- people who use money and could use some more. The "un-moneyed" are far more numerous than the "unbanked".
  • in cities - restaurants, high margin retail, entertainment for the discretionary spenders. Community supported agriculture, housing, car sharing, childcare for the socially / ecologically conscious Infrastructure for local governments.
  • in business - newer generations of owners / managers / staff & customers. Old thinking won't see this for some time.
  • in adoption - youth and women
  • in 3rd world - women
  • in delivery - first in gets the inside track

What other examples that point to the future of community currencies?

There are many instances that confirm the basic viability of the parts of the total package. There's the Irish Answer and some confirmation here -

For another instance, "commercial barter" operations in 1984 claimed to be transacting around $3 billion pa and currently report $20-30 billion pa. These and like operations bear much the same relationship to open money as did early on-line networks (CompuServe, AOL etc) to the internet - they demonstrate a little of the potential, but hardly indicate the full range, variety and consequence of an open protocol.

It has been said that developing the internet would have been easier if the internet had already been there at the time. The emergence of open money networks will benefit from that advantage.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

everyday digital money

Everyday Digital Money Workshop - Session 1, Alternate Monies

University of California, Irvine - September 18 and 19, 2008


Money 2.0

Innovation in money is really quite rare. While the carrier (the medium) is increasingly digital, almost all the money itself (the message) is still massive and substantial in nature, a commodity supposed to carry value in itself - limited quantity, goes anywhere, issued by authorities - money 1.2, 1.3 maybe, but still money 1.n. It's still simply stuff. And definitely "their" money, not ours.

The value in a 1.n money is intended to be in the money itself, not in the users. That's how it works.

But consider the consequent patterns. Our income comes from anywhere, our spending goes anywhere. The "original" sources and "end" destinations are all well out of our reach and completely beyond our control. And this is true for all - people and organizations alike - we don't know where the money we spend is going, and we don't know where it's coming from. Most problematically, we don't know whether it's going to continue coming. These are the realities of markets confined to money 1.n. It is not healthy that we are all so driven. Fortunately there are other possibilities.

As with web 2.0, so money 2.0 is emergent from the context of information systems. Money 2.0 is information, not mass or commodity. It measures, it moves and it is a social agreement. Both as individuals and organizations, we can create our own community currencies with each other - monies that will circulate within our networks, communities, associations.

And it's only "with each other" that community currencies can work. The private currencies proposed by Hayek and corporate currencies like AirMiles (m$ & goo$ maybe?) are going to succeed and/or fail not so much on the status of the issuer, as on the quality of the community of users. The most productive forms will be those most compatible with the medium, and the needs and purposes of the users will be much more important than those of the corporation.

The term "open money" applies to the field of opportunity for such community currencies, which will be realised / expressed in forms of socio-economic neo-tribalism.

Money cultures and technologies will co-evolve more rapidly beside and beyond the established structures than within them. Mobile technologies for money - MPESA, OBOPAY for instance - are establishing in the developing world where landlines and conventional banking are unrealistic. Before any such systems were released for "real" money between "real" users and "real" bank accounts, you can be sure they were tested on virtual users and virtual banks, and moved virtual money. Systems that can support "real" money can readily support other currencies in parallel - how long before we have chips with everything?

The ability to move discrete currencies through the supply chain will have many applications. It will for instance make agreements - such as that between Burger King and Florida tomato pickers for a retail price hike to pass through to the farmgate - much easier to implement and monitor, to "follow the money" and make sure it indeed goes where it is intended. Virtual currencies can also track the accumulation of carbon and other environmental costs, as in the BT Carbon Disclosure project and recent developments in product labelling in Japan and will likely provide the infrastructure for such urgent initiatives as TEQS.

From theory and projection to the matter of practical demonstration. The community way program - youtube / pdf - is a general application intended to not only do what it does - raise funds for community needs - but also act as ignition for local / regional open money development collaborations. It is designed for anywhere with a population over 100,000 (or less), for anyone with access to internet (direct or indirect), anytime they're ready (almost). All parts are well tested and the whole has been verified under adverse conditions, occasionally and briefly.

Until very recently, we could not provide on-line multi-currency accounting support to remote communities - local independent services and operations were required, with varieties of complications. And, until such independent networks can be linked, the benefits of applications like community way programs are mainly available to smaller businesses operating in single markets, as larger corporations are active in widely distributed markets.

However, recent open money systems and software development now provide for global networks, and so open many possibilities for major corporations. If time allows I will speak briefly about some of these, and particularly about community development funding models that bring the ethics and purposes of microcredit to the context of money 2.0.

Michael Linton, not formally educated as an economist, has been active in the development and implementation of virtual money systems since 1982 - LETSystems and related tools in particular.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Bank of Common Knowledge is a project of the Centre De Cultura Contempora De Barcelona.

"The Bank of Common Knowledge's mission is to create, protect and extend knowledge exchange and transmission spaces, in order to reclaim knowledge as a common good."

Some intelligent questions from the producers of burnstation -

- In our experience with the Bank of Common Knowledge, collective games make for perfect setups to teach a particular idea. And although LETSplay is pretty different from today's computer-based games, it uses the game format as a vehicle to spread certain ideas and raise awareness about the user/player's own economic reality. Can you talk about your intentions with that particular strategy and your own perception of that format as a medium?

Early in our development and propagation of LETSystems, and ever since with community currencies (cc) and open money, we have found that people are very careful in the beginning, like youngsters opening up their first bank accounts. It usually takes months, sometimes years, before a new LETS account will record the first transaction, and generally only for a small amount. However, a simulation game frees players to make imaginary trades with each other and their learning can be several orders faster and much more varied. It's an enjoyable group process where players learn from each other.

LETSplay isn't a competition with winners and losers. It's a co-operative learning experience that is ultimately highly rewarding. The players' choices aren't demanding or varied - the main outcomes emerge much the same no matter how they play as individuals.

You play LETSplay much as you perhaps first played the violin - more to get familiar with the instrument than to make beautiful music. It's about going through the motions to see what they are. Like taking a test flight with a pilot before going solo, it's simply intelligent research.

LETSplay provides the base for players to consider the questions, indeed to realise what questions matter, and also how much of what they might have thought critical doesn't matter.

The game, especially the online version, is also a way to propagate the open money meme (idea virus). For any meme to be passable the transmission should be small, quick and simple. LETSplay is easy and even quite enjoyable; it needs little explanation by the transmitter, little understanding by the receiver.

it can be hard to explain open money

the LETSplay simulation game is useful - a full
online game might take an hour in total, spread over a few hours, days or weeks as you like

you'll at least know whether you're going to look any further into open money

give it a try

This meme isn't any form of explanation of open money - which is where communication almost invariably fails. It's just an invitation, carried by the credibility of the recommender. The communication is of intent, not content.

Neither is LETSplay itself an explanation of open money, or an attempt to accurately represent the use of cc (community currencies). The game just demonstrates how two sorts of money - one limited supply and one open - support different behaviours and outcomes. The game is only a start to a person's understanding, but it's a start in the right direction, infinitely better than any start in the wrong, no matter how engaging or persuasive.

And if 1 player in 10 sees value in passing the invitation to 10 or more others, and so on, and so on recursively, then growth is potentially endogenous. Similarly if 1 in 100 invites 100. We are developing ethical incentives - NOT multi level marketing - to improve these numbers.

The imminent release of the open money software (see below) will add relevance to the LETSplay game, and vice versa.

- Do you know of other projects with similar aims, scope and format? Have you had any feedback from or collaborated with them in any way?

No - please tell us of anything we should know about.

- What other *alternative* communication mediums have you used or considered using for LETS and other projects?

Web has been our main channel for many years, but we also intend to use any others - print like lulu, flash like youtube, network like facebook, explanation like common craft, for example. Also blogging, podcasting, indymedia, film. All such channels are resource dependent, and need ongoing maintainance and development and we can't at this time do justice to any medium.

Viral marketing remains a core policy and virtual world games such as 2nd Life are immediate prospects.

- If you had to think of an offline version of LETSplay, how would you conceive it?

LETSplay was originally designed for offline application. In 1986, Vancouver hosted EXPO '86. For several months many thousands of people spent days wandering in a huge fairground and waiting in line-ups at the popular pavilions. Our plan was to sell a daily broadsheet of current EXPO information with the LETSplay game on the reverse and perhaps have hundreds if not thousands of players every day. However, we couldn't raise the financing.

Other formats we drafted at that time included a newspaper insert, a radio broadcast game with phone-in play, and a version suitable for an office workspace.

- The game requires a minimum number of users/players to work and be more entertaining, which is in itself a good reflection of the CC idea and other economy models. How large is the LETSplay user community, and what is its approximate growth rate?

As of 2007, nil and nil. In a few weeks, an open money software release will be supported by a parallel reintroduction of the LETSplay game, and growth rates will be (potentially) exponential.

A group game, on-line or face-to-face, is possible with 6 players, but begins to work properly with 10-12 or more playing at more or less the same rate. An individual can join a game but will be necessarily playing at the rate of the majority of players.

- Apart from LETSplay, you have worked for almost 2 decades on the CC concept in different environments and contexts (the Japan experience, the smart cards in Canada, Cybercredits, and probably others we don't know about). Which of these proved to be more effective when trying to communicate and spread CC? Why?

Actually, none have (yet) achieved much that merits comparison - as the progress from 1983 to this date clearly shows. The score remains: dominant paradigm 100% - open money 0%. No significant armour has yet been pierced, all break-throughs have been brief and self-healing.

Thomas Kuhn, in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", describes very well the problems of paradigm shift that have made it difficult for us to be persistently successful either in our home community - where local ideas are not trusted - or in others - where they wonder why we aren't more successful in our home territory.

However, we think the imminent release of open money ccsp (community currencies service provider) software will enable this idea to reach into the long tail of the internet community as never before.

- Even though you obviously believe in it, do you conceive CC as a utopia (a eutopia, if you want) or rather as a perfectly viable short-term reality (generalized, not based on relatively small communities)?

In my view the present global economic situation is a temporary dystopia - society's dependence on money as a thing of value in itself (therefore commodity in limited issue) and the almost total exclusion of all other forms is absurd, and has been for decades, arguably for centuries. Conventional money perfectly reflects and perpetuates the FUD - fear / uncertainty / doubt - that has run the world for so long.

It's not even about the form of that money - legal tender does what it does very well indeed, and will do for some time to come. Our oversight is not seeing how other forms of money are possible, and acting accordingly.

Open money circulates and returns, while conventional money doesn't. These are not selective conditions, they come with the form and function of the two types. When conventional money is spent, it's gone; spend open money and it stays around.

So we see no good reason why any person or any organization would avoid the use of open money in addition to their current use of conventional money.

Open money fits all. Viability is perfect.

- Atomisation on a large scale (such as in the Debian ‘apt’ packaging system) has allowed large software projects to employ an amazing degree of decentralised, collaborative and incremental development. But what other kinds of knowledge can be atomised,and how? How money can be atomised?

For money - the necessary (and probably sufficient) means to atomise is by implementation of open money principles, protocols and practice. Open money is at its core designed to be such an atomization of money, because it is a meta-currency system, that allows people to create currencies. It includes a currency specification language that allows for unlimited forms of currencies co-existing in a distributed money network, much like the Internet itself. That's fundamental, and that's how it needs to be, because open money matches reality, and nothing less is adequate.

For other "kinds of knowledge" - IP in music, software, text, etc - collaboration and decentralization will be greatly enhanced by open money. But that's another discussion, that's only going to be relevant when open money is

- Finally, it'd be great if you gave a general picture comparing LETSystems to other mutual credit initiatives, such as P2P Lending/Banking or time-based currency "banks". What differences and similarities would you like to point out?

The key distinctions between "old" and "new" money show when we "follow the money" to answer three questions:

where does it go?
where does it come from?
where was it created?

For conventional money - legal tender - it's like water cascading between buckets, water that goes anywhere, comes from those that have it, and is only issued by "them". Money that is open is like levels rising and falling, the cc money goes around, comes from the process of our trade, and we issue it.

While kiva / zopa etc are introducing a very useful service in p2p borrowing / lending they are still using old money, not creating any new money. However, there is much practical and ethical common ground with open money, and cc applications will greatly add much to the range and variety of p2p lending and microcredit.

Time banks are great for time - there's no possible competition in that field - and they deserve all the support they can get. But they remain quite costly to operate and it seems difficult to make a funding model that's sustainable without in some way also addressing the "money" side of life.

- What are the keys to success, in your opinion:

The key for users is relevance - money that buys bread (necessities) and beer (entertainments) is worth earning, and people will use it. A successful system will (and indeed must) have a significant level of business participation. This requires a professional quality of service, which generally means administrative competence.

- Why do you think LETS has become one of the most widespread local currency systems today?

LETSystems just fit best - they are minimally disruptive of the normal use and experience of money by people, business and government. LETSystems weren't designed in a vacuum as an idea needing to be laid over a community, but derived as a realisation of what patterns of economic collaboration were evidently possible and most compatible with existing financial systems.

A LETSystem also reduces almost to nothing the opportunities for administrative interference.

- How would you express these differences through a simple game/exercise for a non initiated audience?

It all depends on the audience - how many, in what place, for how long, with what expectation? Also on whether it's an interactive or broadcast / download connection. But in general, we expect the best value to come from explaining why it's worth playing the game, the ways to play, what it demonstrates, and getting people to do it.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

pshifting money at Gnomedex 7

These last few weeks have been different. BarCampBankSeattle, July 21-22, was both productive and entertaining. A few days later I was invited to speak at Gnomedex 7, Aug 10-11. Podcasts from the previous year clearly showed I had to change my usual game to play to this audience.

Diligent research discovered the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint on Guy Kawasaki's "How to Change the World" site. Good advice - only 10 slides, in 20 minutes and use 30 pt fonts. As it happened, I used over 60 slides, and spoke for nearly 40 minutes before opening for questions - a factor 12 variation from the Kawasaki model - so I certainly didn't do it his way.

However, as Chris Pirillo wrote later
" while Michael Linton’s presentation on Open Money was a bit less concrete. Both had roots in technology and community, but it seems that a large part of the Gnomedex audience wanted less high-level assertions. Asking Michael to sum up his studies and experience in :45 was an impossible task, and asking him to (likewise) summarize the concept in a simple sentence or two is tantamount to a developer trying to put a finer point on the complexities of any scripting language. “Sound bytes” do not do justice to incredible concepts - and in an age where microblogging is the norm, extended critical thinking often takes a backseat to incomplete satiation. "

I think that's very fair. I had estimated I would only make sense (this time) to 15-20% of audience, and I wanted to feed their thinking rather than try to move that of the other 80% (this time) out of the box.

When you're trying to move a mind (of self or another) there's shift, phase shift and paradigm shift. Shift itself isn't all that interesting - it's gradual at best, and the mind is "open" only within its usual boxes. Shift is comfortable, because it isn't a challenge to established views.

A paradox of pshift is the question what kind of pshift is happening. Phase shift is more exciting than shift, but it's generally reversible - solid -> liquid -> solid - perhaps a quick flash in the brainpan and then a fall back to devils well known. However, paradigm shift is subversive, disruptive and permanently marking - and that's what I was working for.

Reviews (google: gnomedex linton will get plenty) were every bit as mixed as I expected, but better than I feared. And, most importantly, several commented that although they didn't "get" it all, they sensed some sense in open money and intended to look further into it. That's what I was aiming for on the day, and will be supporting through this blog and other channels.

However, in the (interim) final analysis, it was the Kawasaki 30 pt rule that really worked for me. I found I could read my own slides on the prompt screen, and didn't have to keep looking back to see where I was trying to go. Thanks, Guy, you made my day.