I've been researching alternative currency systems for the past decade or so, ever since I became convinced that a 21st Century economy simply can't be run on a 13th Century printing-press-era operating system. As most of us know, the centralized currency we use today is a legacy of the early Renaissance, when kings, threatened by the rise of a merchant middle class, made all peer-to-peer and local currencies illegal. Debt-based currencies helped monarchs centralize their power and the worth of their treasuries. And these currency systems worked particularly well as colonial empires expanded via their chartered corporations.
Nowadays, however, most of us have more value we wish to transact than there is cash out there to do it. (I personally blame the derivatives markets, which now are more predictive than derivative - their bets being placed before the so-called "real" markets have a chance to operate.) But whatever the cause, there are plenty of real people willing to work and exchange value; there's just not enough money available to do it.
I've been looking hard at many of the systems out there, from exchanges like LETS and TimeDollars to reputational currencies like Whuffie. The main obstacle - usually unacknowledged, but mostly just ignored - is the tax. And I think that's what sets Superfluid apart from the rest. They've got two sides - a "community" portal for people to do favors for one another in the way a LETS system might allow. And they've also got a commerce portal through which people can begin to sell merchandise or commercial services.
What makes Superfluid interesting for the Boing Boing community, I believe, is that its philosophy and methodology - as described in the video above - is so consonant with that of the programming community. It makes sense to me that a technology based in shared computing resources would be great for administrating the sharing of programming skills. And it also seems to me that the programming community is the more likely birthplace for a robust and legal p2p currency than the kinds of communities that have attempted to scale up their currencies in the past.
See what you think. I'll try to get the founders of Superfluid here to engage in the comments if people are interested.
Winner of the Media Ecology Association's first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff is an author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other's values. He is technology and media commentator for CNN, and has taught and lectured around the world about media, technology, culture and economics. His new book, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, a followup to his Frontline documentary, Digital Nation. His last book, an analysis of the corporate spectacle called Life Inc., was also made into a short, award-winning film.