Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Little Big Planet as a UI Model for Currency Design

I am doing another post on video games because I think there are some really interesting and relevant stuff brewing in that world. Recently, I checked out Play Station's Little Big Planet. Little Big Planet is more than a game. It is a game building tool that allows people to build their own game worlds and share them.

We'll forget for a moment that it is highly proprietary and operating in a closed network (there is no open game protocol that people can use without having bought the game). That aside, I think this may offer a glimpse of what the future of UIs for currency design might be like.

Little Big Planet's UI is graphic, simple, and intuitive, meaning you don't need to know code to express your creativity. I am sure there will be ways of doing this with currency design in the near future as well. I can imagine some kind of flow chart that would describe possible relations between different account types. I cooked this diagram up in about 5 minutes on OmniGraffle, but you begin to get the general idea. What if there was a currency UI that would spit out a set of currency rules that corresponded to any such diagram you make.

More importantly, however, Little Big Planet has a large community of collaborators who build and share levels. To me, one of the biggest issues in currency design is the highly centralized power of the currency designer. This is analogous to Blizzard being the sole designer in the World of Warcraft world (see previous post). For currencies to be more emergent, a decentralized process of building and sharing currencies is necessary. To me Little Big Planet begins to hint at this possibility.

Of course, for emergent collaborative design, Twitter is still my all time favorite. Twitter is the classic example of "paving the cow paths." Twitter's users invented most of what is cool about twitter, such as @ replies, hash tags, and so on. We need a currency platform that will allow for the same kind of emergence in currency design. An intuitive UI will be an important first step.

Friday, July 9, 2010

WoW as a model for 21st century work

Ok, I know this sounds over the top geeky, but hear me out. WoW (World of Warcraft) may actually provide a valuable model for how to run a post scarcity economy. After having watched and LOVED Jane McGonigal's TED talk, I realized how much those of us in the new economics world have to learn from WoW. I have never actually played WoW (no interest in goblins, ogres, or wizards), but I have talked to many who have and have learned quite a bit about how the WoW "workplace" is constructed. Here are some important parallels to the new economy.

Much like the real economy, WoW provides a series of tasks that can only be accomplished with a team. The difference is that there is no "employer." Teams spontaneously self assemble with the skill sets needed to accomplish the task. In the real world, we call these skills "core competencies," but in WoW each player has a special set of skills appropriate to their player class (healers heal people, wizards cast spells, etc).

The interesting part is that each mission requires a slightly different configuration of skills. One mission may favor fighters, and another may favor healers, and so on. This is quite similar to real life as different tasks in the real world require different sets of core competencies on the team. However, in WoW rather than being assigned tasks by a boss, teams self assemble based on prior experience, reputation, and a set of transparent metrics (currencies) about each player. WoW allows players to "level up," meaning that they get better, faster, stronger the more they play. More difficult missions require teams comprised of players at a higher level. What level you are on is transparent to those around you, so others know whether or not you would be an appropriate member of a given team. This transparency is what allows teams to self-assemble. It also allows for new comers to feel welcomed into the fold since people at lower levels can seek each other out for missions.

Also, in WoW there is NEVER a shortage of tasks to accomplish. This is of course true in the real world as well, but we have tricked ourselves into thinking there is a shortage of work (due to the chronic shortage of federal money). WoW does not have this limitation so there is always something VERY IMPORTANT to do with a team.

Even more importantly, in WoW the primary motivation for players is to "level their characters." The higher a level you attain, the more likely it is you will be asked to join a team for a really interesting mission. This is important because WoW is NOT about climbing a corporate ladder. It is about improving one's skills so as to get the most out of the experience. Think for a moment how radically awesome that is. Is this not exactly the kind of intrinsic motivation that spurs people to their highest potential in the real world?

To recap, in WoW, you don't need an employer because there is always work to be done, people can always connect with the right people to do the work, and the real motivation is in developing one's own skill set. And if you think this is too pie-in-the-sky to work outside the context of a video game, just remember how many young people are playing games like this for hours on end. They are in the midst of learning the skills for the new economy. Go future!

What platforms do you know about (and want to share) that are about taking this logic into the real world? How can we start building buildings this way? How can we start doing industry this way? I want to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

MetaCurrency Status & Future

Over the last week, it has been my privilege to have been a part many fine conversations around the question of project management and team building (Katin Imes, Zack Moser, Sara Garrett, and Jay Standish in particular). For the sake of background, these conversations have been largely in service of The MetaCurrency Project. Basically, I have been trying to figure out how to catalyze some dynamism in that domain, as my experience has been of late that The MetaCurrency Project has lost a lot of its early momentum. There were of course way too many things to fully report on, but here are a few highlights from these conversations.

1) Group endeavors must be open systems. They need a constant input of resources to maintain their cohesion. These resources could be monetary, and/or they could be resources of participation, ideas, feedback etc. Projects that are overly insular do not tend to thrive, especially in the new economy. With that said, it is important to have a clearly defined membrane, but a membrane allows resources to move through. The last thing you want is a virtually impenetrable wall (which to be fair was largely accidental in our case).

2) Short redesign cycles trump long term planning. Rather than figure out everything that needs to be done over the next five years, open source projects tend to work better when they are comprised of short term goals that can be realistically achieved. Having a short time horizon on goals allows for constant adjustment to feedback received from the environment. Basically, you want to learn from lots of little experiments rather than throw all your marbles into the ONE master plan. Think survival of the fittingest. This also allows for much greater participation and openness.

3) A group operating on a short term basis in service of a small and achievable goal will be more likely to experiment with innovative social architectures around decision making, task management, etc. Since no one is committing themselves for the LONG haul, there is less to lose if mistakes get made. Social architectures don't have to be perfect out of the gate. Constant redesign and feedback are the key.

4) It is utterly PARAMOUNT to have clearly defined rules and roles for these short term teams to function effectively (thanks Katin for that insight). By rules I mean agreements on how to operate as a group. Without these agreements there is no way of knowing how to coordinate and cohere as a group. By roles I mean roles that the individuals in the group must self-define in service to the declared intention of the project. Roles are critical because they allow for constructive criticism. Without roles, it is very hard to know how to assess the quality of a fellow team member's contribution or indeed how to serve them being at their highest potential. Since roles are defined in service to a shared intention, individuals are more likely to be able to receive feedback in a positive way.

There will be lots more to say soon, but I am trying to keep blog posts short these days. I would love to hear feedback. Thanks!