Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

I've been a part of a number of 'experiments in money' over the course of time. The first one was as a member of a residential coop when I was 17. We had a group house where about 20 people lived. For a low rent we all contributed 'work-credits' intended to be the equivalent of about 4 hours of work a week. We bid on the jobs we wanted to do-- which ranged from picking up food for the group meals at wh***sale outlets outside the city to cooking meals, to washing the floors. Jobs that nobody wanted got a higher 'work-credit' value-- so that you could cut your work hours by doing something other people preferred not to do.

With the start of this 'money' mission I joined several other projects-- Riko's Evoke group on Kiva and Mark Mulkerin's Evoke Bank-- but I really wanted to explore other ideas outside of Evoke. None of the barter systems or alternate currencies I looked at really resonated with me-- until I came across this whimsical system inspired by one of Cory Doctorow's science fiction novels: The Whuffie Bank.

The idea here is expressed in the bank's motto: "In a world where reputation is wealth, only those who do good and well unto others are the richest." This seems to me to promise a return to one of the oldest principles of markets: to trade successfully with others you must be trustworthy. In the small groups in which people evolved, the kind of cynical 'looking out for number one' which our current system encourages must have been rare indeed, since losing your reputation for being trustworthy would have been a disaster for anyone in those mutually interdependent systems.

The Whuffie is rather limited for the time being-- it uses only Twitter to judge your reputation (based on the number of times your posts are retweeted and how much you spread other people's ideas by retweeting their posts). There are plans to add Facebook and other social media at some later point. What really appealed to me though, was that I could give some of my 'whuffies' to other people. It felt good to be able to finally reward, in this small way, The Utne Reader for being such an outstanding source of information over the years, or the excellent work of economist-blogger Mark Thoma, whose posts I've come to rely on heavily as a major source of independent economic thinking.

It's just a small step in creating the kind of world I hope to live in one day: one where people care more for their reputations than for money, and where their ambitions are engaged by making things ever better.

Views: 30

Comment by Patricio Buenrostro-Gilhuys on April 7, 2010 at 7:01pm
The Whuffie Bank looks like a really interesting idea!!! My only concern is: How do you really keep it fare for everyone and what mechanisms are needed so people don´t abuse the good will of others? How do you imagine the Whuffie Bank In the long term?
Comment by Sarah Shaw Tatoun on April 7, 2010 at 7:18pm
I don't really know, Patricio. At the moment it's only tied to Twitter and it sort of let's people 'vote' on how much of an effect you have on them -- because it measures how often people 'retweet' what you post. I don't really see how it can be abused, exactly, although it might not be very meaningful if people don't 'retweet' things that are very meaningful-- if they're 'retweet' gossip about a celebrity, for instance, or jokes, and ignore more important information.

Maybe a better model would be something like 'kachingle' that lets you give a certain amount of money per month and divides it up among blogs and other websites depending on how much time you spend reading there. It's a way to let people pay (voluntarily) for all the information that's provided free. Of course a lot of blogs also have 'tip jars' but I don't think it brings in much income for most of them. It takes so much time and energy to produce a good blog or news site. And the more it gets read the more expensive it becomes to run. I'm really concerned about what's going to happen to independent news production in the future.
Comment by Mark Mulkerin on April 8, 2010 at 8:13am
Hey Sarah, Very thought provoking - thanks. I guess my concern with a reputation based system is twofold. One - Tony Robbins is #2 today. Nothing against Mr. Robbins, but to what extent are his messages passed on because he is Tony Robbins - good looking, charismatic, etc. Sadly, people bias their opinions of people's reputations based on appearances and more.

Two - If everyone gets concerned about reputation, it squeezes out the wise fool, the would be prophet, etc. who is willing to say things that people don't want to hear.

I think it is worth pursuing, but we've got to do it while taking into account our all to human tendencies.

Comment by Chris Ke Sihai on April 13, 2010 at 12:01pm
Mark, I don't know if you've noticed but Tony Robbins is also very rich. It has been doc**ented that most successful business leaders are physically imposing men too. Charisma and leadership go together, and leadership usually equates to wealth in various forms. Sure, Tony Robbins may get more popularity points than you or I, but people will measure you by how many you have compared to them or compared to some minimum standard.

After all, I can be rich even without being Bill Gates. (In theory, anyway.)
Comment by Sarah Shaw Tatoun on April 14, 2010 at 1:53pm
Thanks, Ethan!

Mark- good points, all. With the Whuffie, I'd say it's somewhat less based on appearances than some things-- since it's not about the number of 'followers' you have, or the number of people who think well of you, but rather the concrete act of reading something by the person and passing it on to your own 'followers'. Of course the more followers you have to begin with the more likely your comments are to be 'retweeted', so it's not completely unrelated to appearance and other superficial factors.

The point about the 'wise fool' is really interesting. We don't seem to have any place at all in current Western countries, not only for the 'wise fool', but the 'whistle blower', the eccentric, the iconoclast, the madman, or any of the other disruptive sorts who can add something invaluable to a society if a role can be found for them to contribute without gumming up the works so badly that they bring everything to a halt. Other societies have done better. The King's fool spoke truth to power, when power was concentrated in one person. In England, most of the most brilliant and productive scientists and writers have been at least a little-- and often wildly-- eccentric. Most countries recognize the importance of the 'whistle blower' and make at least token attempts to protect them, but none of them does anything close to being enough. And no modern society that I know of really makes a place for the insane.

Chris- this is another possible drawback to the Whuffie. The wealthy, of course, particularly if they're celebrities, often have big followings on social networks.

I see the Whuffie as a parallel unit that at least attempts to give some weight to one of the things most of us value but have no way to measure. There are others. Maybe what we really need is a wh*** bunch of ways we could express our appreciation for qualities and activities in others that we think are important. Hmm. Have to think about this some more.
Comment by Katie Piatt on April 20, 2010 at 9:13pm
Thanks for the post - I also love the idea of Whuffie and have signed up. Will donate my whuffies to you as a thank you for the introduction (as soon as I figure out how ;-} )
Comment by Brandon Cline on April 22, 2010 at 6:51am
Great idea - I actually had this same thought about Evoke. Of course by power voting others` evidence, you in turn are more likely to receive power votes. For added incentive, perhaps there can be some sort of reward or acknowledgement for those who give the most power votes.
Comment by sunnydupree on April 26, 2010 at 6:23am
Very excellent Idea. I like this philanthropy stuff!


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