A social network that can develop into an economic system

Babbling Brook is a new social networking protocol that has been designed to develop into a full new socioeconomic system. It is a tool that can make a resource economy possible.

When I first started developing Babbling Brook, I was inspired by ideas about gift economies. I found lots of people talking about the idea, and I read a lot of the literature on how gift economies work in tribal settings. At the time I couldn’t see how a gift economy could possibly work on a global scale. The problem is that traditional gift economies only work on a small scale. Tribes that have gift economies always exist in bands of less than 150 people. The reason for this is known as the Dunbar limit and it is inherent to the reason that gift economies collapse at larger scales.

Gift economies work because all the participants know each other and are able to keep track of the relationships between each other. Not just the relationships that they have with others, but all the relationships between different members of the group. The reason this is important is not in order to keep track of who is giving; it would not be a gift economy if a score was kept. Instead it is necessary so that free loaders can be kept in check. When everyone knows everyone, we know the difference between someone who is genuinely struggling and someone who is being lazy.

Once a tribal band grows beyond a hundred and fifty people it becomes impossible for individuals to know who is taking advantage. As tribes grow larger than this they tend to develop big man economies, where one particularly productive family headed by a powerful individual (nearly always a man) gains more authority than others. As the tribe grows larger this tendency towards hierarchy increases until chiefdom tribes with 10,000 or so individuals arise, where the leader is often seen as a god and there is gross inequality between the top and bottom of the social structure.

If we are to recreate a gift economy in modern times we have to work out how to make a gift economy work on a scale of billions of people. Babbling Brook makes this possible by abstracting the economic relationships between individuals into a network of relationships that all members can access. Instead of relying on our brains to tell us if someone is taking advantage we instead rely on technology.

I’ve designed Babbling Brook to work as a social network. This has the advantage of appealing to a wider range of people on a platform that they are already familiar with. It can be made to work like any existing social network, with additional features built on top to make it possible for it develop into both a political and economic system. A gift economy is just one kind of economic system that Babbling Brook could be used for. It could also be used as a traditional free market or command economy. It can even be used in multiple different ways simultaneously. The type of market that is expressed depends on how the users use it.

There are three core features that enable Babbling Brook to become a socio-economic system. Firstly the network is distributed and bottom up. Anyone can set up a website to act as a data store and anyone can set up a client website that allows users to interact with each other. The reason this is essential is that it prevents the system from being controlled and corralled by a powerful few. If users are unhappy with the direction a Babbling Brook website takes, then they can join a different one without loosing their data.

Secondly, relationships in Babbling Brook are very important. Whenever you use a Babbling Brook website, your computer is busy generating connections with other users based upon how you are using Babbling Brook. These relationships are also bottom up; they are defined by the user and the websites that they use.  Relationships can be created in many ways with multiple relationships between the same users that differ due to context. This creates a network of connections between people that can be used in the third point.

Thirdly, content on many social networks can be up voted or ‘liked”. This is essentially places a numerical value against a post. This is taken a step further in Babbling Brook, where posts can be ‘liked’ conditionally. This makes it possible for posts to represent real world objects or services and where ‘liking’ them results in them being given the thing represented by the post. There are several different kinds of conditions that can be used. If Babbling Brook is used as a gift economy then you would have a condition that checks that a user requesting something is not ripping off the system. Exactly how that condition is calculated is up to the user who is giving something. Perhaps it checks that the user who wants something has given something themselves, or perhaps it makes sure the user is known to other trusted members.

To sum up, Babbling Brook makes it possible for us to build a socioeconomic system that is based on the relationships we make when we exchange resources. It is a very open ended platform which can be used in many different ways, including the ability to make a gift economy that does not depend on using our brains to keep track of relationships.

Hopefully I’ve whetted your appetite. I’ll be releasing the protocol and an open source software package to implement it after a crowd funding push in the next few months. Meanwhile I will be going into a lot more detail on the blog. Head over to babblingbrook.net for more details.