Recently I’ve had opportunity to reflect on why I’m particularly dedicated to the open money path out of all the many different community currency paths.
I offer it here not in the spirit of saying open money is better than other approaches, but rather just to share my understanding and what motivates me to work where I know I am best suited to contribute.
The short version: the open money approach focuses on providing a globally scalable meta-currency platform that can hold a plurality of interoperable wealth-acknowledgment systems for all types of wealth, especially for those forms of wealth that are non-tradable. Furthermore the systemics of the software and the human processes behind the open money approach are designed to yield both a platform that is held in the commons, just like writing (the alphabet) is held in the commons and is likely to spread virally.
The long version: As a geek, I am deeply influenced by two concepts:
- David Reed’s concept of the value of Group Forming Networks which is a formalization of what is often quoted as “pushing the intelligence to the edges” and is the deep value proposition for p2p and a fundamental motivation behind the “smart edges-dumb center” design of the Internet that Reed was a part of as a co-creator of TCP/IP.
- Ross Ashby’s law of requisite variety, which implies, among other things, that the controller has to encode as much variety as exists in the system it wants to control. To me it is crystal clear that a single form of currency, debt-issue federal currency, cannot represent the varieties of wealth that we must be able to acknowledge to thereby guide our activities as a global civilization.
These concepts, along with a programmers propensity to refactor and go meta in designing any system, had me convinced early on that a multi-currency platform was absolutely essential, also this platform not only had to be multi-currency, but that the forms of the multi-currencies themselves had to be able to widely tunable so that they could be acknowledgments of non-tradable forms of wealth. So far so good for requisite variety, but to achieve the pattern implied by Reed’s GFNs, the platform had to be a network platform, a platform that fundamentally provides a surface area on which currencies themselves, and the accounts that trade those currencies, can grow and form groups.
In essence I felt that what was necessary was to create the TCP/IP of money. That we had to strip away as much as possible from the ideas of what money is down to some bare primitives analogous to “packet transfer” and “routing” and from that build up all of “money” again.
This is the systemics of the open money approach, both explicitly multi-currency and network oriented. The systemics of this approach feel to me to be most likely to spread virally (i.e. without the need for huge launch effort) of all the approaches I’ve seen. And I think the open money mesh & churn and the currency specification language, actually live up to these systemic considerations, at least in principle.
Next… for me personally, the open source nature of this kind of fundamental social platform is absolutely essential. It is essential for a number of reasons:
- Transparency. Wealth acknowledgment is so fundamental to society that if it is hidden, it can’t be trusted. I’m not talking about at all about making the content of all individuals acknowledgments public, nor making any claim that all clients and all servers that run the open money protocols have to be open source. That’s silly. I’m simply saying that the base protocol, the alphabet itself of wealth-literacy, the capacity to create currencies (not the currencies themselves) must be fully in the commons.
- Security/Integrity. Everything I’ve ever read or experienced of software security is that open source is the way to go. It’s not that OSS is a guarantee of security, its just that its better than closed source. In my experience open source software is way less buggy that closed source software.
- “Virality”. It seems to me that open source efforts have a much higher likely-hood of spreading virally than closed source efforts.
- Fun/Community. I personally have experienced that writing code in the open source mode to be drastically more pleasurable. It’s where I want to spend my time. The kinds of relationships that arise, the speed with which things can happen, and just the spirit of it. It’s where I want to be.
Above are the positive statements of what I’m called to work on and why they led me to open money. There are also some considerations in the negative space that have pushed me away from some approaches. In particular there are two:
Markets: Most community currency software platforms include some kind of market making function. I think this is a substantial mistake from a systemic point of view. I learned from Art that markets are the result of currencies, not the other way around. Grades lead to a market for tutors and Kaplan services. Tickets lead to scalpers. More precisely, wealth-acknowledgment processes naturally evolve group settings that amplify their usability. Thus, systemically it is a big mistake to pre-specify what form those group settings should take. Don’t get me wrong here. I think that markets and market making are HUGELY important. But I’m convinced that they belong in a separate domain. The currency creator intrinsically doesn’t have the requisite variety to know what the market should look like. That is yet another function that is best served by pushing it to the edges, and not controlling it from the center. When you give currency creators control of the marketplace abuses also become tempting. I believe that market making needs it’s own equivalent p2p platform that will make cranking out a new e-bay just as easy as open money makes easy cranking out a new currency, and the way the web makes easy cranking out a new “publication”. We are in touch with some folks who are working on this kind of platform.
Security/Integrity: Though I mentioned security in the open source stuff above, I actually find that it is way over-emphasized. I am not drawn to work in contexts that focus on security in wealth-acknowledgment because I’m convinced that that is a hold-over in understanding currency as a thing of value in and of itself, and is thus a distraction. When currency is understood as information about a wealth related event, rather than a direct representation of wealth itself, the whole question of the necessary security is vastly different. I know that the problems of security have mostly been sufficiently handled elsewhere, and they will be able to be grabbed out-of-the-box as libraries for use with those particular currencies that need that high security. Most currencies won’t need security, they just need integrity, which is achieved by redundancy, transparency, and audit-ability. Those are things that I’m very concerned about and must be built into the very fabric of the system itself, which is why the Mesh looks like it does, and another reason why a distributed p2p platform is so systemically important.
So, to sum this all up, I have chosen to work where I think the systemics, the invisible architectures, will yield the most powerful results. The systemics of multi-currency & a general currency specification language yields requisite variety. The systemics of the network approach (the mesh) yields the value proposition of GFNs. The systemics of open source yield integrity, community, and a new commons. The integrated systemics of all of these yields viral spreading.
It is definitely true that all of the other software platforms (GETS, CES, Cyclos, etc.) are much more useable and attractive at this point than what we’ve got implemented. But I think that systemically that’s like comparing the Internet in 1990 (the pine e-mail reader, gopher sites, ftp sites, and mailing lists) to rich graphical content and interfaces provided by AOL, Prodigy, GEnie & CompuServe at that time. And this is not to put those things down. Note that AOL is still around, and it did an incredible and valuable job of introducing people to the Internet by providing a usability soft landing.
What I see is the potential for open money to provide the same viral tipping point for community currency that HTTP/HTML/Mosaic provided for the Internet. So that’s where I’m focusing my work.