May 14 2008
Josien Kapma and I have been doggedly working in and around CPsquare on the question of how to put pockets and legs on small online communities for at least a year. By legs, we mean helping communities get places (usually requiring the expenditure of effort and or money). By pockets, we mean helping communities have stashes of money. A Facebook example follows. We’ve got a session accepted for the AoIR conference in Copenhagen. We’ve mostly tried to look at existing communities but recently thought we might learn more if we took a design fantasy approach.
Jean Lave’s ideas about how families manage their money have been very provoking for me because they help me get my head away from an accounting view and into a more informal and intuitive view. In Cognition in Practice, she talks about how families have many different “stashes” of money with negotiated, collectively understood rules for moving money between the stashes. Expenditures of a certain sort are made from one stash and not the other. This is like fund accounting in higher education. So a dollar is not a dollar: it’s value and meaning and usability depends on which stash it’s kept in. Universities, for example, can be in dire financial straits in one fund and be quite wealthy in another fund. Funds can borrow from one another, but they have to pay it back. This diagram suggests what some of the stashes and money flows in a complex family look like:
So to develop a Facebook example. What if there were a little “Facebook app” that were tied to a group (not an individual, where most of them are now). Imagine a group that would form around Bronwyn Stuckey’s “Community Capers” project. It has a Facebook Group (it’s so easy to join) and a blog (it’s so easy to follow) and a calendar (it’s so easy to add it to your own calendar so events show up). Why not a bank account and a little money management system? Here are some things it might do:
- Gather donations from guests, members or participants. (Might want to put limits on amounts of money, so it stays informal.)
- Provide a way to send gifts (gift certificates) to speakers or others who make a significant contribution (like send a specific book to everyone who contributes to an event). (Might want to limit payments so they go through Paypal.)
- Allow the group to pay for infrastructure like domain names, elluminate costs, phone conferencing costs (for people calling from France, for example), storage (lots of audio files, etc.)
- Allow the group to throw its weight around by giving a scholarship to someone, paying for travel, or do other good deeds (according to its values and goals).
The key is to make this kind of thing as easy as setting up a group. And to make it really transparent. That might mean:
- A group has a couple of different stashes which are clearly labeled
- When you give, you designate the stash it goes into
- Moving money between stashes is rule-bound and explicit
- Different people have different levels of control over different stashes
- All the transactions are clear to everyone, showing up on a group “Wall” or something.
- Imagine the possibilities: “groups like yours spent their $5 on items like …”
Jean Lave, Cognition in Practice: mind, mathematics and culture in everyday life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
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