Ross Mayfield noted my Social Software post and added the important insight that what we’re doing, when web services start counting things previously uncountable, is like the arrival of coins in the days of barter:
Bingo! When things get too complicated, we need new counting tools to simplify through the language of a rating. This design study intends to implement a peer economy because clearly, the big-E Economy has grown too complicated. It’s complicated because complexity suits the purposes of people better able to make the rules and hire analysts and lawyers and accounting firms to follow, and bend, the rules. That’s why the stock market systematically moves funds from the less informed to the better informed.
Data is the Basis of Economic Complexity
As one of my favorite economists, Tom Robbins said,
That’s complexity at work. But just recognizing complexity isn’t enough for our design study. We need to get our hands around the choke point that’s preventing the right things from being counted. I suggest that the check point is who controls the data and thus the character of the data kept. We assume that data is always kept by the seller, but is that so?
In the first case, the data keeper is the seller, not the customer. In the second, though, the keeper of the data is the customer, purchasing the employee’s work. So it’s not about the roles of the players, It’s about size and who is the designer of the transaction. Data is the asset of the designer of the business agreement, and a liability to the other party to the agreement, who’s subservient to the keeper’s records.
I emphasize designer of the transaction because transactions are designed ad hoc, one-at-a-time, like component parts in machines before Eli Whitney invented standardized parts. Perhaps our economy has become too complicated to let transactions be designed for the sole benefit of whoever thinks it up first and has superior data resources.
Proprietary Data is the Basis of Tyranny
Perhaps we need a systems approach, where we conceive a model transaction, one that serves both parties equally, and removes the data dominance factor. Of course, that’s the purpose of our little design study. We think we’ve come up with the 6 essential states in every transaction (Discover, Identify, Specify, Negotiate, Invoice, Evaluate); and we think we’ve identified the Atomic Elements of transactions (People, Products & Tasks).
If we’re right, and our standard transaction model simplifies selling and buying, then it might lead to more and better buying and selling. In any event, we’ll be counting some things that haven’t counted before. Like Quality ratings.
You can count on it.