Herding cats

The LETS world seems to attract idealists who start projects which are bigger than their ability to pursue them. Focusing on software, I only know of one project with more than one person working on it - Cyclos. There seem to be several one man initiatives which aren't going anywhere. And it's not like everyone is trying to achieve the same thing either, which explains in part why these people aren't working together. Here is a list of people and projects I have direct experience of:

  • Cyclos is a very powerful open source java application enabling communities to trade. Its funders however, are developing it for a very specific set of communities, and have given scant attention to making it accessible or adaptable other purposes. For example re-skinning it is very difficult.
  • The SANE project in South Africa has a very powerful system which is supporting thousands of people in a network linking tens of communities. The only way to get access to their software is by joining their network, though which means all the governance is done in South Africa by strangers - not very local.
  • Fourth Corner Exchange is a thriving scheme in US which wrote its own web trading application
  • Mary Fee of of LETSlink UK has deployed Fourth Corner Exchange's software for Norwich which which they hope to repeat for other schemes. She has also created a conglomerative scheme to link boroughs in London. This is based on my original code.
  • Michael Linton, the inventor of LETS, is now working in Canada on electronic local money - a sort of credit card system. I suspect it isn't catching on because it lacks the simplicity of LETS, and needs substantial investment.
  • Richard Logie has written software to facilitate barter. It looks quite powerful, but not very customisable, but unfortunately for most of us, it is not open source and he is making a living selling similar barter-enabled web sites.
  • John Waters is working with communities in Wales. His vision of the future of money involves a plethora of currencies representing all types of value in a single transaction
  • John Rogers has just written a book on all the governance issues which must be addressed when designing a currency and running a scheme
  • Laszlo Schwilgin owns unilets.org, at the moment it's just a directory of schemes, but he aims to help them coordinate in matters such as software development.
  • Richard Kay has written a highly detailed spec describing how different servers running currency schemes might trade with each other. An API I guess, However it's a technical document with little explanation for lay programmers like me.

Into this melange, (which is by no means complete) I am throwing myself. I've done extensive requirements gathering, and developed a system which I hope will meet the needs of hundreds of communities, called marketplace. It gets its power and universality from being based on Drupal, a fabulous social networking web site framework. That means, instead of being a devoted software package, which can do one thing only, marketplace is a module, or plug-in for a widely supported free social networking web site, which is improving all the time.
I'm no less of an idealist than any of the people listed above, but I'm hoping that by hitting certain strategic buttons, marketplace will emerge to lead this field.

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