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.

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