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The End of Distribution

During a conversation regarding DRM and e-books (stemming from the recent release of the Nook client for Android phones which allows sharing your purchased ebooks with others), I was explaining my distaste for any lock-in technology and my desire for a utopian free-information model which motivates sincere effort rather than the product. Rather than paying for the final result of the effort, instead we focus on rewarding the effort itself. A marketplace which measures following, appreciation, and admiration for a thought or piece of prose. Call it dreaming, hopeful, or unrealistic but think of the number of Likes or Retweets you might generate in a typical day. We are already sharing our efforts and thoughts finding value and insight in small, consumable pieces. We pay for this information not with coins but with our attention and devotion; a currency which, as yet, isn’t very liquid or easily monetized at all.

Regardless of the lack of infrastructure, we are slowly moving in this general direction and have been experiencing the backlash for some time now. As distribution authorities of various mediums attempt to cement their place in the distribution model, many users are finding it hard to justify paying for a product which costs a negligible amount of effort to copy and share. This model made sense when the effort justified the end result. Now that distribution has changed, these authorities are trying to remain relevant but only by changing their channels instead of reinventing the model. Again, we decide their effort isn’t worth sharing our currency and seek better use of our resources.

This is why a meritocracy which rewards the effort is needed. Services like Flattr recognize this and are helping to bridge this gap by providing a hybrid of both worlds. Its users interpret currency as a medium of measuring effort (or social clout) and providing a way to distribute it more efficiently while still offering some of that old-school kickback that makes the world go ‘round. The important distinction with Flattr is that the reward is more closely coupled with appreciation than the product. This has incredible potential as it positions Flattr and services like it to create a pseudo-currency to eliminate the ultimate distribution problem: Money.

The end all and be all of commerce and capitalism. The holy grail of business. As more limitations of this medium become apparent, paper currency is starting to find itself less important in trade. The existing system of distributing this antiquated measure of worth around has only seen marginal improvements in the last century. And despite our gradual departure from physical currency, we are still chained to its shortcomings in artificial transaction fees and transfers as each party siphons their cut along the way. Companies like Paypal, Venmo and SquareUp are making headway, but are only achieving incremental results as they try to repair an eroding distribution model.  Until we find the technology, trust, or serendipity to remove the problem of moving around these bits (and bytes) of currency and begin sharing in the marketplace of social clout we will continue to have the power struggle of middle-men trying to remain needed.

If you like these ideas, I suggest reading For the Win by Cory Doctorow which uses Whuffie much in the way described. It asks similar questions and shows an interesting perspective on how such a marketplace might function. Technology is not yet in place to reward this type of thought-share marketplace. There are several problems which still need to be solved which allow a model like this to work. How do you verify authentic and original effort? Will a capitalistic marketplace allow effort to be subject to the properties of supply and demand to make it productive and profitable? How would this technology (computers or otherwise) work?