Designing Relationships

Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Doc Searls, in the must-read Building an Relationship Economy:

‘”All markets work at three levels”, he said. “Transactions, conversations and relationships”. Eric is an atheist. Sayo is a Christian. With those two triangulating so similarly on the same subject, I began to figure there was something more to this relationship business.’

Doc starts this excellent piece by wondering what we can learn about economy from open-source practices. A lot, it seems. When we look at something like the incredible creation of Linux, what does that tell us about what we value and why and how we get stuff done?

Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Doc Searls, in the must-read Building an Relationship Economy:

‘”All markets work at three levels”, he said. “Transactions, conversations and relationships”. Eric is an atheist. Sayo is a Christian. With those two triangulating so similarly on the same subject, I began to figure there was something more to this relationship business.’

Doc starts this excellent piece by wondering what we can learn about economy from open-source practices. A lot, it seems. When we look at something like the incredible creation of Linux, what does that tell us about what we value and why and how we get stuff done?

Well, for one thing it’s not always about the money, which, if you live in the U.S., you would be hard-pressed to believe. So much is about the money here that imagining great software being built by volunteers is mind boggling in itself.

This insight leads Doc to a wide-ranging discussion evolving around the idea that we’re just beginning to model interpersonal relationships online. That, when we stand back from our transaction-oriented mindset we realize that there is another level to economies that happens on the relationship level. We treat people differently based on our relationship with them, and it directly effects the economy when we make trades based on those relationships.

From a social design perspective this is right on. We’re continuing to model our social lives online, and while at the present moment all systems are transaction-based maybe they’ll be more nuanced going forward?

So, in the future when I want to trade something online I can set different transaction preferences depending on the strength of my relationship with someone. The relationship affects the transaction. If I’m trading with a stranger, they pay full price. If I’m trading with a Bokardoan, I trade half-price. And so on. This, as Doc points out, is how economies run on a personal level, in 3rd world countries, before they go global on the Web.

As Doc says, we need a solid identity framework for this to work, and given that just yesterday another giant (Digg) said they would support OpenID, that might be the framework that gets us there.

For Doc’s brilliant wide-ranging take on this, please read: Building an Relationship Economy

Published: February 21st, 2007

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