Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chaos Marketplace

I've been thinking about the idea of a next-generation economy. I don't really mean some kind of fancy revolution where we use unique keys as currency. I don't really mean anything built to replace the fundamental economies that make sure we have access to water and expensive coffee.

However, I think there's a place for a new economy, enabled by more powerful technology.

This has been running around my head for ages, ever since I saw Kickstarter. If you don't know what Kickstarter is, stop reading this and go there. Don't bother coming back to read this until you've funded some projects. I doubt it'll make any sense unless you understand that there is a hell of a lot of money available for small projects, self-funded by random members of the community. It is not uncommon to see projects get double or even triple the funding they ask for.

But, to me, Kickstarter is kind of... a first step. I feel like the idea can go further, especially if you combine it with other modern "opportunity media" concepts such as Twitter and Groupon.

See, Kickstarter's stated intention is to get you enough funding to get your project "off the ground". Get you "started".

There's obviously more money in the community than that.

A community like Kickstarter's can probably be easily adapted to being the primary source of funding throughout the lifespan of the project. (In fact, that seems to already be happening in Kickstarter's projects, if you look around a bit.)

IE, you don't need to really launch your project into the outside economy. Your project can, in fact, be sustained by the community itself. You'll still want to integrate into the outside economy as much as possible, obviously. If you're writing a book, you'll certainly want to sell it to anyone who wants to buy it. But it's become clear that there's enough cash in the community that you could probably get away with zero Amazon sales as long as there is community support.

I'm trying to make it clear that there's more money in these kinds of communities than most people really understand. I'm not saying that these communities should form walled-off economies and try to be self-sufficient. I'm trying to say that these communities can be used as an extremely strong and stable foundation for a project, radically reducing the risk and decreasing the amount of business acumen you need to succeed in modest projects.

Furthermore, with only a little bit of thought, it becomes possible to create a structure allowing people to help each other. If you have a lot of experience and business acumen, then maybe you'll do better helping non-business people with their projects. Instead of them having to search out through Craigslist or Monster or whatever, they just go to your profile page and read up on all the projects you've already helped with. Then there's some kind of helper function which makes it painless to negotiate some kind of simple (royalty-based, perhaps) payment structure that can be relied on not to screw either party over, especially with the might of the community to help fix any misunderstandings and negotiate settlements when things go screwball.

When I look at what these final projects look like, I see a few things that are similar to Kickstarter projects today: movies, books, and so on. But Kickstarter as it is now fails on the more long-term projects such as housing and farms and such. Oh, it funds the seed, sure, but after that... good luck!

The next-generation system allows interested people to track the project as it continues, add in funding as they see fit, subscribe to something if there is something of value being released, and in general keep up with things. This radically improves the community's ability to keep worthwhile projects alive, and creates an economy of personal responsibility and reliability that is quite distinct from the cost-savings consumer culture of our normal economy.

This would hopefully create a niche economy where a large community of reasonably well-off and/or hard-working people can support each other in medium- or long-term projects without being subject to the complexities of government grants, marketing to the masses, or just plain bad luck.

Hmmm... I would love to see that.

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