In his book Small Pieces Loosely Joined, David Weinberger observes that the web allows people to “try on” different personalities. Examples he cites include eBay sellers and web loggers. He suggests that trial and error lets people find the voice that works best for them
This is an interesting point that deserves more than passing notice. The point of this design study is to discover and code the protocols which best serve our collective, yet personal, economic needs. In the economy we love to hate, one is expected to be well educated, well rounded, well spoken and well placed. Like any superstar, it’s a rare person who has all those traits.
And that’s what should raise our hackles. The “real” economy is based on an unrealistic model of how people learn and grow. Further, it measures workers against an impossibly complete package for the employer – not the talented programmer, project manager or accountant the company needs, but the model employee that managers want to surround themselves with.
Since the Internet invites us to try out different personas – and possibly improving on each one, our economic design should provide that possibility. How does the Xpertweb mentorship model allow such variability?
The mechanism is twofold. Mentors are rewarded only to the extent their support is valued by their students, and each Xpertweb user may have as many mentors as they wish, creating a new Xpertweb persona each time. The only impediment to changing mentors is that, like any Xpertweb provider, each person’s new persona must earn a reputation from scratch. Until respect is earned from experienced purchasers, each persona must undertake an apprenticeship of lower income and volume.
This flexibility would be impossible if Xpertweb were a conventional enterprise. Mentors would be unwilling to allow their students to move on to other mentors and that preference would be formalized as policy – because they could control the payments moving through the system. The virtues of an unmanaged transactions system echoes the virtue of open source software – responsive because there’s no management to be unresponsive.