About a month ago, Eiso Kant and Mac Taylor released Twollars. Twollars is a twitter-based “thank you” currency that allows users to join by simply participating. To participate, you only need tweet in the following format: Give [amount] Twollars @[twitter user] for [reason]. The Twollars server continually searches the global twitter stream for text matching this description. It downloads the tweets (to prevent them being deleted), and tallies a user balance based on the tweets the user has given and received in this format. The user balance and transaction history is completely open, meaning anyone can see it. This helps prevents fraud. After all, how different might have Enron behaved if their books had been open?
Eiso and Mac have set the arbitrary amount of fifty twollars (TWs) as the starting balance for anyone participating. They have also proposed a non-profit fundraising component where Twollars donated to charity are matched by conventional money donated by a business once a certain Twollars threshold is reached.
However, what makes Twollars an important evolution in currency design are not the surface level details. Twollars is using a very popular existing platform (Twitter) for transacting and accounting. Most currency efforts to date have depended on a separate platform specifically designed for currency exchange. While this has yielded some limited results, people who want to participate have been forced into walled gardens. Twollars gives added functionality to an existing user identity thereby lowering the entrance barrier. There are numerous Facebook applications that make use of this principle, and many of them could be thought of as a kind of currency. However, few people think of them that way, and their use value is somewhat questionable (do I really gain any value from having a sheep thrown at me?).
Community currencies have frequently charged a yearly fee (in conventional money) for membership in their “currency club.” With the advent of Twollars, this approach has become outdated. Lowering the cost of failure for participating in a community currency will likely make the idea far more appealing for the potential user. The fact that Twollars is on an existing platform, where the use of the currency promotes the currency itself gives Twollars a viral quality that other currencies simply don’t enjoy.
Even more significantly, according to Eiso, they are close to releasing a version of Twollars that allows for user generated currencies. People would be able to define their own currency by simply defining a hash-tag for it. For instance a Portland based time-bank focused on the film community might use “#pdxfilmtb”. The Twollars server would tally transactions bearing this hash-tag separately from others. A simple mutual-credit architecture would give the power of a time-bank to any and all people willing to participate for free. Here finally we see the dawning of what many of us have been waiting for: a free, multi-currency platform that demystifies money / currency, and empowers the user to define their own economic exchange networks.
Eiso and Mac are also very wisely using the K-I-S-S principle (keep it simple stupid). Many of us (myself included) in the currency world have a tendency to over-complicate matters, especially when it comes to the user experience. Someday soon, we will need a nuanced platform that can describe any currency imaginable, but for now a simple mutual-credit architecture (like LETS or a Time-banks) will be able to engage a wide array of people who haven’t considered the possibility of using community currency before.
In addition, Eiso and Mac have both been very open to the ideas and input from other members of the currency world. By releasing their beta version and soliciting input from the community, they have adopted one of the key success strategies of social web innovators. I can’t overemphasize my enthusiasm for the Twollars project.