Friday, August 7, 2009

Portland Pursues an Open Platform

Very exciting news from Portland, OR! City Hall has declared interest in building an "open platform" to enable multiple different currency efforts. In the last week three currency related efforts (CEN|PDX, The MotiveSpace Coalition, and the PDX Timebank) have collaborated in drafting a document that defines some basic requirements for such a platform. The city hasn't agreed to these requests yet, but they want to know more. I will most likely be meeting with them next week to discuss it further.

However, even if the city doesn't end up supporting this effort financially, I believe this is still a significant step forward. These three efforts have very different missions and currency designs. And, despite these differences, all have recognized the potential in having a common, open platform upon which to build their systems.

While this specific effort is currently in Portland, I see no reason for it to be limited to any geographic area. I would like to see these basic requirements endorsed by a wide variety of currency efforts around the world, so we can build a strong use case for this approach. Currencies (in the broader sense of currencies) will be stronger when they exist in a global context interlinked in a rich ecosystem of processes rather than as stand alone clubs.

What follows is the text of our document. Please feel free to express support in the comments section if you think this approach would be useful to you.

The Challenge:

Dozens of groups around Portland, including CEN|PDX, the MotiveSpace Coalition, and the PDX Timebank, are developing innovative programs which measure and mobilize resources and capital. We refer to strategies, systems, or programs such as these as "wealth building processes" - that is, as innovative new processes which track the creation and exchange of value, within a specific community of users.

Examples of wealth building processes:

  • Buyer loyalty programs (such as choose local programs, point systems, rebate systems, etc.),
  • Reputation systems (such as user reviews, consumer ratings, etc),
  • Exchange systems (such as commercial barter, CEN|PDX, Time-banking),
  • Asset sharing systems (bike sharing, tool library, car sharing, office space sharing),
  • Cooperative asset building programs (such as MotiveSpace's Community Asset Funds program).
Each of these processes track flows of economic activity, and structure incentives which reward community friendly behavior. One of the largest costs common to all of these processes, is the development of a robust, secure, and user-friendly information infrastructure which enables their programs, and maximizes their reach.


To create public infrastructure (a Community Wealth Building Platform) for the city of Portland that reduces the technical costs for groups developing wealth building processes, and allows groups to easily interact with one another in a rich ecosystem of processes. We believe the city of Portland can leverage its interest in creating an open platform to the benefit of numerous groups by embracing the requirements outlined below.


  1. The Community Wealth Building Platform must be able to address the specific requirements of existing initiatives such as CEN|PDX, MotiveSpace, PDX Timebank, and others.
  2. It must minimize the cost of adoption by participants, in particular merchants and end-users, which implies leveraging mobile phone, POS payment, and web infrastructures.
  3. Beyond its initial development costs, the Community Wealth Building Platform should look to its own community of users for its administration and maintenance costs.

Basic Requirements:

  • Accessibility: An "open" platform is one where the means by which wealth building processes are created and transacted in are open to all, and not contingent upon participation in any given program. Any organization or individual wishing to devise and track a wealth-building process must have equal access to all Community Wealth Building Platform user interaction interfaces. These interfaces may include but are not limited to, magnetic swipe cards, smart cards, SMS, web interface, and RFID chips. Community buy-in will be leveraged by engaging a broad swath of groups.
  • Configurability: An Community Wealth Building Platform must encourage the creation of new wealth building processes rather than predefine the scope of what is possible. A wealth creation process should be defined by the types of accounts within it, and the relationships and interactions that are possible between those accounts. In the interests of making this platform as easy to use as possible, predefined options should be available, but users wanting to innovate must not be limited by them.
  • Skinability: Not every group will share intent, style, or values. It is therefore paramount that this platform allow groups to brand their use of it however they like, without forced association with other groups.
  • Integratability: Data generated with these wealth building processes should be able to be seamlessly integrated into existing portals.
  • Openness: In addition, the platform itself must be able to evolve to suit the needs of its users so that it can stay relevant in the long run. Making the platform open source and creating open APIs for third party innovation are key to realizing this goal.
  • Organic Cross-Referencing: In order to build the richest possible ecosystem, wealth building processes should be enabled for cross-referencing. In other words, groups or individuals should be able to build wealth-building processes on top of other wealth building processes through reference. For instance, one group’s reputation system measuring a business's performance in sustainability might effect the credit limit of that business in an unaffiliated commercial barter system. Users and groups can choose whether or not and how much of their data to make open. By allowing the users to define the way wealth building processes interact, a rich fabric of interrelated wealth building tools can emerge.
  • Group-specific authentication schemes: Access to the Community Wealth Building Platform should not be contingent upon hard authentication. Rather, authentication should be defined by the groups who use the platform. For instance, a user may be required to give their SS# or EIN# to participate in a commercial barter network, but not have the same requirement for joining a loyalty program or time-bank.
  • Integrated Marketplace Connector: Groups will have specific needs for enabling their marketplaces. For instance, a marketplace for a tool library will have different needs from CEN|PDX. However, these marketplaces should be connected using standard formats whenever possible. This would allow search between marketplaces. An API for third-party developers would allow data to be filtered in a variety of ways. The level to which an offer or request is open to the public should be up to the users.
  • Privacy levels: Data in the system should be able to be restricted to people who are participating in a specific process, or made be open for all to see. Choices about the openness of data should be left to the users and groups. Groups should be able to define multiple layers of privacy specific to their needs.
  • Dollar Cost to Users: Access to the platform should not be contingent upon a fee structure. Individual wealth building processes may have pay-per-use structures, but the platform itself must be entirely free and open to both users and innovators.
  • Maintenance and Administration: The Community Wealth Building Platform provides multiple avenues by which to remunerate administration, and maintenance of the platform. Contributors to the platform should be incentivized using the same processes the platform enables.
  • Distributed Architecture: The Community Wealth Building Platform should be resilient, in that if a single server crashes, this wouldn't affect other servers or the ability to interact within the system as a whole. Similarly it should be easy to add new technologies (POS, 3rd party add-ons, etc) to the platform without affecting other portions of the platform.

1 comment:

digiblade said...

I'm ready, lets (no pun intended) build this.