LETS marketplace from a feature ‘phone

This post follows on from a previous post: Alternative currencies – Simbi and the Flying Brick. Thinking about how alternative currencies can be designed to suit the particular circumstances they are intended to improve, I suddenly realised that it should now be possible to implement LETS in any part of the world where people generally have access to feature ‘phones – which nowadays includes many places where access to hard cash is extremely difficult.

LETS Stands for Local Exchange and Trading Scheme. LETS systems exists to enable groups of people who for any reason at all find trading with traditional ‘hard’ currencies difficult.

For instance: people without enough money, people denied access to markets, people who want to be sure that the results of their efforts benefit their community as much as possible.

LETS systems must be able to do four simple things:

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Trust Aggregation, reputation economies and privacy

Last night I listened to this feature on the excellent BBC World Service – Hacking the Vote – pegged on claims by companies hawking their services to political parties that they know enough about a great many individuals to be able to create specific pyschological profiles and thus enable carefully crafted messages to be shown to them, to get them to vote for the candidate paying for the service.

The shocking reminder of the extent to which data is being collected on all of us and put to murky use in the shadows prompted this post.

It’s not about data privacy, particularly – although I personally make my online life stupidly difficult by using a vpn, by installing the anti-tracking, anti java-script, anti adverts, anti-everything extensions I can find to my browsers in an attempt to at least put some road-bumps down for those who would treat my as a statistical profit centre. With the self-defeating result that half the sites I use won’t work unless I grant them freedom to do it all anyway.

It’s about a way that we, as individuals, might be able to use that data for our own purposes. If it’s all being collected and used to manipulate us anyway, why shouldn’t it work for us, a little?

Aggregated trust scores

There have been several attempts at building tools that provide reputation metrics, trust scores – think credit ratings on steroids.

The idea being that individuals will sign up to aggregator sites, and give them access to various kinds of trust/social standing scores. The aggregator sites will then publish trust metrics on individuals, to be used by all sorts of people. Employers, potential service users, lenders, contacts, dating matches.

If anyone manages to crack this (it’s not easy – see this dead indiegogo site for peeple), then individuals will spend more effort curating these than they do on their credit rating. Lawsuits will be brought over harsh ratings using defamation laws drafted decades before the internet was even imagined.

The trust aggregator metric that is itself trusted will be the locus of immense influence.  If that doesn’t already sound scary, there’s another big problem.

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Developing a Digital idea without Developers

This is in many ways a companion piece to my previous post it started out as a version for LinkedIn, but rapidly evolved into something with a different emphasis.

The internet revolution has changed the landscape of our lives, and yet the disruption has only just started. Existing ways of doing business are largely unchanged from the way they were 20 years ago. Hilarious disconnects exist all over, when ultra-slick digital-only processes crash into messy physical transactions.

There is a reason for this. Coders like to code – they like the safe, ordered, complicated-but-not-truly-complex world of programming. And coders are the ones who feel empowered to invent digital businesses. So, of course, the early digital businesses are the ones that can be achieved with purely digital workflows, and don’t require the startup team ever to leave their own world.

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Using FilemakerPro as a RAD platform just got more interesting

I’ve mentioned before that we’ve used FPro as a type of Rapid Application Development Platform. Building a fully functioning prototype using this high-level (largely graphical) database application has allowed us, as non-coders (albeit with a decent understanding of how a properly architected database should be structured), to develop our therapy-smarter tool in an iterative way, without spending large amounts of money.

Another benefit is that the product we are using remains fully accessible to us at the architecture and data level, and is largely self-documenting. FilemakerPro produces human-readable graphical representations of its database structure as a standard report and the functional scripts are basic-like in their use of real language, and thus easy to follow.

What this means is that, for a team like ours, without coders, the scary step of commissioning native code from people whose work we will ultimately not be able to judge in detail is made much less risky. When we judge that the time is right to take the system to the next level – when we need it to go faster and handle more clients, we will have to get the thing recoded – and this will mean bringing developers in.

For startup teams without coders, this is a terrifying point. How do you find the right person? How do you choose which framework, which language, which platform, which architecture? How can you even begin to judge the recommendations you are hearing? How can you describe the features you want?

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Fleep is the word … it’s got groove, it’s got meaning…

I’ve just read about, then immediately joined, then immediately fallen in love with…  Fleep.

In common with many others, I have hated email for years; such a clunky old tool, used, because of its ubiquity and peerless network advantage, for everything – even though 90% of the use cases are horribly inappropriate (can you imagine the nightmares engendered by a 4 year old ‘reply all’ email used for arranging an annual street party?).

I have used many other things – google groups, wikis, chat, groupware, application-specific commenting tools – some of which were rather better, some of which were rather worse than email – but each of them not email, and sometimes that was good enough.

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Tools – FilemakerPro

At a time when new web-based tools that help with one aspect or another of the development cycle pop up every other week, and when the number of free development environments is so large that choosing between them might be seen as a job in itself, it might seem odd to be promoting a database aimed at non-technical users as a prototyping environment – especially when it will be 20 years old next birthday. Factor in the cost – at around £280, it’s easily 100 times the cost of a typical app – and you might be wondering about my sanity.

But as I kicked around the options for getting a working MVP of our health/fitness app to the point where I can show potential users and investors something that actually works, and which will communicate the value of what we have imagined through hands-on use rather than verbiage, I was finding it hard to stay positive.

The options seemed to boil down to two:

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Tools – Prototyping on Paper

ClimateActivateMe Prototype on Paper

My friend Ross (an excellent illustrator and creator of animated shorts, by the way – look here – and here for more) suggested I have a look at POP – Prototyping on Paper. I did, and it’s fantastic. Very simple and intuitive to use, and you get testable results with clickable links, fast.

Here’s a proposal I made for the September 21 People’s Climate March (to which I hope you will be going – look here). Once I’d drawn the wireframes, this took about an hour and was my first real use of the app.