Saturday, July 29, 2006

Social Money

image(altered)from Good Money

The browser crashed and I lost this post. I hate when that happens! What's so surprising is that while I remember what I wrote about, I don't have a solid memory of what I wrote. Oh well.

My new aquaintance didn't much like my blog, but his criticism was really more general. He wrote about the prospect of his writing:
Maybe someday I'll start a blog,but I don't want to until I have something important to say. I don't want to just express myself, I want to express important ideas and provoke
I must admit that my approach to putting stuff up has been akin to thinking aloud. I knew from the beginning that my idea for Bazungu Bucks was quite half-baked, but in the process of printing some up, handing some out, and writing about them, I've continued thinking---bet you thought I forgot about Bazungu Bucks.

Recently via the intrepid blogger Phil Jones I discovered BillMonk a Web site that makes keeping track of informal debts and repayments easy. The site even makes keeping track of books and stuff possible. It's easy to imagine many times when this service would come in handy. I thought back to my student digs with multiple roommates and how great it would have been.

Earlier in the month also on Jones' Platform Wars, Phil addressed the difficulty for Web developers have in monetizing their great ideas, here and here. He points out: "the economy is a communication network and money is its protocol." The Internet is a rival platform towards the same end as money. So he makes the observation that the really important question asked about sites like MySpace isn't: "Where's the money?" but rather "Why the money?

Gaurav Oberoi and Chuck Groom the developers of BillMonk helpfully answer the question about their site: "What's your profit motive"
Our service is free to use, and we're adamant about not selling your personal information to Evil, Inc. So what's in it for us?

We believe the "social money" market is huge; friends continually have informal debts and shared expenses, and money flows between them. But because of its informal nature, this market has been largely invisible. We intend to build a product so compelling that it becomes the method of choice for managing social money. With enough users, BillMonk could track millions of dollars in person-to-person transactions.

While the core use of BillMonk is and always will remain free, our revenue model will include collaborating with financial institutions to offer settlement services to this entirely new market.
I'm left scratching my head about specifically how they're going to make money with this really cool idea, but I'm quite certain that "social money" is going to be huge.

Phil Jones observes that TCP/IP (the stuff that makes the Internet possible) is a rival platform to money, and in a rival network to boot. I suppose that even rivals can play together when that suits them, and it seems already there are good examples like BillMonk where hard cash and social money are playing together.

I love Kiva, the Web site that allows lenders to lend to specific entrepreneurs in developing countries. No question if I ever find a way to make some extra money I'll set up an account at Kiva and start lending. In the meantime I simply pay attention to what they're doing and they make it easy to keep abreast through blog posts. This recent post at Kiva Chronicles and a related post at Into Context really caught my attention.

My friend Nathan in Iganga, Uganda is very interested to find ways to use new information and communications technologies to aid in economic development in his community. One of the issues that Kiva faces is dealing with the amount of time consumed by traveling to villages where the entrepreneurs live and work and then getting back to where the computer is. Intermittent electricity and Internet access also causes delays. Their thought is to use SMS from cell phones to send the information to the Kiva Web site, much like a handy feature of BillMonk.

Hash at White African has a really good idea to make cell phones a useful connection to the Internet. Here's the blog post where he introduces the idea and a large size PDF here. Zangu 'Africa's Web" is what they're calling it. The idea is so cool, the way that Hash is preceding to bring the idea into reality is cool too.

I've been intrigued by alternative currencies after reading about Time Dollars. Up on high ground in Western Pennsylvania, I still felt swamped when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. My heart went out in trying to imagine just how complicated rebuilding was going to be for everyone. It takes a lot more than money. A Time Dollar Network seemed it might be of assistance, so I dreamed about Big Easy Bucks. New Orleans was still on my mind when I began this blog and hence the idea for Bazungu Bucks.

Yesterday via Christian Long's think:lab I found Donor Choose a site that's a little like Kiva. Teachers post proposals and donors can choose to support specific proposals. The site allows you to sort the proposals in several ways. I choose to look at proposals from Louisiana. Those of you who don't know teachers may not know that teachers spend bucks from their own pockets for school supplies and are adept at "begging borrowing and stealing" supplies. Donor Choose is very worthwhile. Naturally, what many teachers in Louisiana want are books for their kids. Here's a great site for Harrison County in Mississippi, The Dewey Donation System.

Teachers everywhere want books for their kids. Books For Africa is a wonderful organization. One way to support Books for Africa is to purchase books at Better World Books.

Apparently now even Monopoly game players can now purchase properties with a debit card. Perhaps all of this doesn't quite hang together. But the thread I see are new ideas about money brought about by the platform rivalry Phil Jones alerts us to. Cool.

The way I imagine them now, Bazungu Bucks are a "funny" kind of social money. People can earn Bazungu Bucks, one BB for one hour of time in service to African people. The fun part is that people who have Bazungu Bucks might get time or stuff from people who might want Bazungu Bucks, almost like trading stamps.

So far nobody really wants Bazungu Bucks. The first problem is finding it hard to imagine ways to lend their hours of time in service to African people. A second problem is knowing who else has Bazungu Bucks and what they might trade them for. Phil Jones is a polymath and gave me a neat bit of software to keep track and publish who has Bazungu Bucks. That's a workable solution to the second problem. Now for the first, it's a matter of coming up with proposals for what people can do. I'm lazy, but I'll get around to something along those lines.

Social money is gonna be huge.

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