One web site per community is too simplistic

I am working with groups who understand the need to re-localise our society and re-build community. In this context it is tempting to imagine pre-industrial landscapes where every village was mostly self-sufficient. But only a cataclysm would bring that about given that half of us live in cities, and our love of technology favours an economy with intense specialisation.

That's why, although I've been trying to extend it so for the last 2 years, the LETS model can't be the basis for the new economy. LETS and Timebanks are successful only to the extent that the members trade within these membership groups. Their best user-case would be a pre-industrial village, but because most people buy most things from elsewhere, using hard, portable currencies, these models are stuck in the economic outer margins.

There are two main approaches to make these 'closed' economies work better: Increasing the geographical scope of the community should allow a fuller range of goods and services to be available, but as the catchment area widens, the users and local communities have less control over their money, and the more room there is for pockets of plenty and parsimony within a single economy. A global model, like Superfluid, and some others, in no way favours local trade, local control of the money, or experimentation.

The intertrading approach (which I have been promoting for some time) attempts to increase the usefulness of a currency by making it easily exchangeable. But it creates problems. Each community has to maintain it's own balance of trade, and exchange rates are very difficult to set. My earlier proposal on mutual recognition agreements was thought to be too complicated to be workable; I estimated a month to work out the details, but it may turn out to be a rabbit warren of a problem.

In discussions with the leaders of the SELs in South and Central Belgium this week, I realised that while we are giving software to every discreet 'community', and they want governance on that level, when it comes to trading they don't want those borders. They started off as local mutual credit circles but they envisage a much more joined-up future. That act of joining up websites is hard. It is much more powerful to have one big space and support groups within in it. It seems to me that the Belgians want different kinds of groups with different scopes:

  1. governance and community organisation tools on a very small scale
  2. a global marketplace which prioritises proximity.
  3. regional currencies, or perhaps regional, local and national currencies.

This just isn't LETS, and LETS probably isn't the best starting point, technically, because joining LETS systems together, especially in a scalable way, is no trivial task.


1 We need an pluggable open architecture built on the internet, (or something less vulnerable to authoritarian choking); comparable to Facebook, but ideally less geared towards selling private data for profit.
2 It needs to understand geocoordinates and in particular, proximity
3 Posts need to have a location, and searches/filters should have a radius
4 It needs to have excellent group support. Groups should have
  • ability to nest
  • membership criteria
  • decision making / governance tools such as voting and other metrics
  • task management tools
  • accounting tools in the group's currency
  • rating / feedback / reputation systems

Not ready yet

While FaceBook seems to encourage narcissism it would be nice to encourage cooperation and collaboration instead by bringing groups to the fore. Some groups would be primarily trading blocs; they would determine their own governance.

A better starting point than LETS might be a global social network with an API for writing 3rd party applications like FaceBook. Not FaceBook itself however, because, without getting into ponerology, Facebook is evil. I know of only one candidate for this, Diaspora, but unfortunately it hasn't been built yet, let alone established itself as worthy of building on.

But perhaps this gives you an idea? How can we work towards a community software architecture that meets most of those requirements?


Interesting points Matt.

I am not a programmer and do not understand all of the technical ramifications of different solutions.

I think it would be helpful if somebody with the right level of technical expertise could undertake some kind of *independent* evaluation of the pros and cons of competing software proposals:
Marketplace for Drupal
Community Exchange System
Meta-Currency Project

Each proposal has strengths, weaknesses and potential for collaboration with other projects. A healthy mix of competition and collaboration should enable the emergence of optimal solutions that benefit far more people than the current generation of CCs: millions rather than thousands.

Thanks John, I would do the comparison myself but no-one would believe in my impartiality. In my article for the IJCCR I concluded that "Independent reviews should be commissioned/encouraged."

But my point in this article is that nothing seems to exist which even comes close to addressing the needs of communities to manage themselves and trade in the surrounding area with local currencies.


YES Mat ! Thanks for picking up steam on the discussion we had last month.

An intelligent Social Network geared towards Life, it's needs and exchanges. The one-in-all tool for community building; hosted and maintained for anyone around the world with basic-fit-for-all settings that can be customized by established local communities who take responsibility for their own local area.

On a single, worldwide platform, with a unit of exchange based on the basic work hour unit for both services and goods, the difference of rates and pricing for the offers and wants between regions balance themselves out as a ratio between lower price and distance (mailing costs/transportation) regulates automatically the best possible exchanges between areas.

From what I've been sniffing around, this new kind of platform should be OS, Modulable and flexible, hosted on several servers around the world for security (you actually understand this better than I), and incorporate 3 basic fonctions:

1) a trading-account tracking module. With all the basics of a MCC system and with such bangs and whistles as SMS trading, multi currencies, rating / feedback / reputation systems, etc...

2)a Bulletin-board of offers and requests, but also events and announcements that work similarly to SNs like FB. Meaning the profile of each user is complex and detailed and each can create their friends groups and broadcast to them. But most importantly this Bulletin board need to work on an advanced localization parameters and possess the kind of search engine that can have variable settings around the area for the searches.

3) a governance module that includes a wiki, blog type discussion forums and rating for relevance by readers, and a voting system.

The Drupal platform would certainly be a good contender to build such tool, and with the number of modules already available most of the needed applications would already be existing and would only need to be woven together.

How can we collaborate on such a project ? What do you need ? I recognize I have failed to follow up on the home work you had requested I get back to you with. And at this stage I would do better on some more brainstorming Skype calls to exchange and refine ideas...

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