Sunday, 30 October 2011

Why should currency be common?

The more I think about the future of money; the future of rewards; the future of social media and the future of mobile....the more i think that we're talking about just one thing, not four.

Last week I saw WIRED's editor, David Rowan, deliver his trends talk at the IPA 44, and whilst it covered a lot of trends we've all been thinking about for a while, the sheer number of examples he gave of initiatives, start-ups, services and platforms that are already live and exhibiting these trends really bought home the sheer pace and acceleration of everyday change that we are now undergoing.

He mentioned Blippy which publishes your all your purchasing behaviour in an attempt to harness the idea of social currency and leverage it to encourage others who trust in you to purchase in similar ways. Swipely geolocates your spending on your cards suggesting new places and products to followers. And Whipcar, a neighbour-to-neighbour car rental scheme where you can set your own prices dependent upon whether you need to use someone's car for hours, days or weeks. No waste. No risk. No doubt. The common theme that I took away was that we are seeing a massive transformation in the very idea of value.

Now, add onto all that, the idea that we are giving away more and more personal data to platforms such as Facebook and Google, who will soon recognise our identity via face recognition, our personal mobile number, or our unique position in a social circle. As we start to barter for the best deals on products and services, and we use our data (and those of others) to do so - whether that is our location, our connections, our social influence, our monthly subscription, our user content generation...and lots more besides - aren't we developing our own currencies with which we trade?

The idea that currency should be macro seems to me to belong to the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, we are developing our own individual currencies.

For example, say I have a mobile on a carrier and i spend £45 a month, and because I use their location based service offers at least 10 times a month, and follow them on twitter and tweet to my 1,000 follows every time i redeem their promotions - I am worth something more as a customer to them than someone who has no social footprint, doesn't use services beyond calling, but still pays £45 a month on their contract. I have developed my own currency with which I should be able to trade with them. I agree to tweet every redemption if they cut my bill by 10%, for example.

Similarly, anyone starting to use an NFC transactional system on their mobile might leverage their purchasing behaviour (whether number of transactions or total value of transactions), their social footprint and the number of '1's they register across the internet, to earn them a better deal when it comes to purchases they might come to make through the Google ecosystem.

It's not difficult to see that every individual will have their own 'value' and will be seen as being of a different 'value' by brands. It's a new type of exchange in which we start to use our personal data and digital behaviour as leverage for a better deal. And brands use the same personal data to keep us loyal through rewards.

So the question is will each of us develop our own currency, that is uniquely tied to our digital identity? Will I become my own currency, the value of which is based on my social footprint, the way I spend money, the things I spend it on, the amount of sustainable purchases I make, the number of positive ratings and reviews iI contribute across the web? Will 'tracey-lou's be worth more or less than pounds or pence? and how will I rank against other individuals' currencies. And who will monitor the exchange rate of a tracey-lou v another currency? Google? Amazon? Facebook?

A world of 7 billion currencies is a difficult thing to contemplate but the more we do, the quicker we'll get to a world in which currency is no longer about commonality, but has individuality at its heart.


  1. Great post thanks I enjoyed reading that.

    I'm interested to know why you think a currency based on individuality rather than commonality would be a good thing?

  2. Hi Tom

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Well yes I'm not sure it is entirely a good thing. But I do think it is inevitable. The upside is that everyone gets exactly what they want for the right price without having to subsidise other people's choices. On the other hand it means that early adopters or enthusiasts of social media get better value than those who don't understand or aren't interested - and that makes for an unfair society, where those who are in most need of getting value have the least access to it.

  3. When you mention monetising your social footprint it feels like you’re extracting value for actions that you’re purposely making, but I think that what you’re actually doing is monetising your friends. That’s kind of the opposite of technology networks developed to connect people, to improve the ways and means of relating to each other. You’re effectively saying here’s all my friends, connections, acquaintances, colleagues, what are they worth to you? This, I think, is what your twitter example suggests. Douglas Rushkoff has some really interesting thoughts on this – he did a brilliant talk at Etsy that I can’t find the proper link for so here’s one to where I’ve hosted it:

    The other thing that occurs to me is that the “end game” of what you’ve envisioned is people’s behaviour becoming motivated as the generation of tradeable “value” that they can use to offset their cost of living.

    I guess you could argue that’s what we’re all doing anyway sat typing this as I am at a desk where I’m being paid to do stuff other than barble on on people’s blogs  (it’s lunchtime!) Is this any different to Nectar cards is the obvious reasoning? I don’t know, but it feels like ultimately a pretty depressing classification of or motivator for human behaviour. I don’t want my friends to monetise me through their social network, I don’t want my personal expression online (your reviews example) to be something motivated by an extrinsic value relation, I want to do it because I enjoy it.

    This kind of ties into some stuff I was pondering about the word consumer the other day that you can read here if you want, bit ranty tho!

    Fascinating stuff-sorry I’ve banged on at such length