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Plans for CC interoperability

There is a lot happening right now, and I sense that for coordination purposes it needs presenting more widely. It is always tempting to plough our own solitary and often unyielding furrows, but I believe we should be looking around more and appreciating supporting and connecting to what works.

Complementary currency activists have been stupified as bitcoin came from 'nowhere', gained huge media attention, reached a market capitalisation of $1bn, and is now attracting investors and entrepreneurs and becoming established. Bitcoin serves libertarian purposes by evading central bank controls, but as the financial services build up around it, it increasingly resembles the old system. Some of us understand that any commodity currency serves the interests of the wealthy, so it remains to be seen if merely being interest free is enough to tempt those wealthy to value the social good.

I've been working for 5 years in community level mutual credit systems, in which (short term) credit is issued by members to members, interest free, as a way of keeping account and supplying liquidity to the community. There are a handful of free software platforms which are attracting increasing numbers of these projects platforms:

Most of these systems allow transactions between independently governed exchanges hosted on the same system, or even using the same software hosted elsewhere, as indeed most of the commercial barter software does.

Separately, there are services like the following, which aim to provide a single global timebank though the power of branding alone, probably governed by the web entrepreneurs and software engineers who created them.

As far as I can tell, none of these is working well; some make the obvious mistake of giving away free hours to new members, which sends an implicit message that it is easier to earn than to spend.

But how did it get this far without an interoperability mechanism emerging? After all, most of them are even trading in the same units - hours.

There are two reasons the problem may be more complex than in first appears. The first is techncial. Unlike most communication between web servers, with financial transactions you must be pretty sure that whenever one account on one server is credited, another account probably on another server running some software you can't really monitor, is debited. Otherwise we would already all be using OpenTransact.

Secondly there needs to be governance, (including possibly auditing) of all the accounting systems in the network to ensure, apart from possible accounting errors, that the unit of value, which is not pegged to any commodity, remains stable and sufficient. The same function is performed by individual exchanges when they set balance limits and arbitrate in disputes.

Attempts have been made though. CES, when it divided last year onto two web servers, created a rudimentary mechanism for logging transactions between servers. Also I published and implemented a prototype clearing system last year. Neither was done with any experience or awareness of how these things are done in the commercial realm.

Next year however the landscape will shift as CES moves to Drupal, the same framework used by Community Weaver and Community Forge. That means that the cost of making 1000 local communities interoperable will drop dramatically. (Of course as usual that doesn't mean this is even a penny allocated for that.)

The agency managing all this is Jnana consulting, which runs a credit clearing service of its own for ethical producers, EcoDirectory. I mention Jnana because it has worked no only on the accounting part of intertrading, but on a protocol for a common marketplace as well. While I've been banging on that we should all be using Sharetribe to store our offers and wants in the same global repository, Jnana has made a simple xml feed and mobile app which has much the same effect. Jnana thinks of payments and marketplace as the two facets of intertrading, and is seeking support now to finance that.

In order to migrate CES, we have to build and publish a drupal distribution, similar to Hamlets but supporting multiple exchanges per installation. CES will then at last be open source! Then there will be immediately around 4 different installations of it, anxiously awaiting an intertrading mechanism.

  • CES global
  • CES Australia
  • Timebanks New South Wales
  • Cooperative Integral Catalonia

Meanwhile Timebanks UK with NESTA money has recently put out a commercial tender to build yet another platform. But since the project has changed hands, I can't help but wonder if the open source part of the proposition remains intact.

Another network to watch is EcoSol in France. They have implemented several local currencies in the last few years but have been quiet since they ran into technlogy problems. They hope Drupal will help them rise again with small and medium sized projects.

I have been approached about connecting Cyclos to Drupal. That means that web applications built in Drupal could have the transactions stored by Cyclos. If Drupal is Intertrading with a published API then Cyclos could be intertrading through Drupal.

Finally a note on mobile apps. Many small initiatives are investing in apps but failing to see the big picture. Using proprietary systems or proprietary attituded, and looking only at their own success metrics, they are not bothering to work in an open way and their innovations are being lost. Knowing of about 3 other closed systems, I have published a basic basic API for community exchange, for any time bank, LETS or similar system. Can we stop putting all our money into single-project software?

All this is why Community Forge and Valeureux are calling a software sprint next month in France.


So you see how things are coming together? What other initiatives are there to make complementary currency systems interoperable, but whose plans haven't reached my ears yet? How can we save ourselves time & money simply by plugging in to existing initiatives?

Comments

This is great Matthew. We'll do what we can to help. Thanks for writing such a cogent piece, it helps a lot to have something to point people to.

Hi Matthew. I see that you comment on the Reconomy Global Timebank that it "doesn't seem to be working well for unknown reasons. We're just now configuring for launch, having reached our goal of 1000 persons signing onto the concept before beginning. Here is a link for anyone who might be interested in checking it out. http://reconomy.net

Best to you in all your good work.

Kevin
August 19, 2013

Hi Matthew,

I found this post from the p2pfoundation blog.

Thank you very much for the great resources here. I am considering starting a time bank for a local group and you have given me lots of options and considerations to think about.

Given everything you know, if you were in my shoes and about to set up a community group time bank from scratch, which software would you choose and why?

Thank you,

Chris

I'm interested in what you meant by using Sharetribe as a global repository for offers and wants. Are you saying that folks should use Sharetribe for listing offers and wants and then use one of the other programs for arranging the logistics of exchanges? Or what does that interplay look like?

Thanks,

Chris

Chris, yes that's exactly what I'm saying. We need to be able to search for things we can buy / sell outside our local exchange. The advertising space could indeed be a global space with geocoordinates, accessed via a REST API either by an AJAX application or by the local portal.
I looked at Sharetribe however and it required that every user have an account there. I didn't like that. Users have their accounts in local portals, and the portal's simply place the adverts in the global space.
So I've started work on my own REST server/client for offers and wants. If I get anywhere I'll publish the API here. Not to be confused with my mobile phone API.

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