Sunday, September 02, 2007

Virtual currency and the attention economy

Market mechanisms are being increasingly introduced for more efficient exchange of capital and other resources (example: P2P lending marketplaces), for knowledge or opinion sharing, reputation building and preference indicating (example: prediction markets) and for now value attribution and broadcast in their latest launch, the enterprise email venue.

Seriosity, the Palo Alto CA-based serious gaming startup, initially reported to be focusing on enterprise applications in a World of Warcraft-like setting has now launched a virtual currency for the attention economy. The attention economy refers to the modern problem of information overload competing for a person's scarce attention. So far, the serios can only be used with Microsoft Outlook email, the sender applying a number of serios from their finite supply to indicate importance to the recipient and/or to vote on ideas, projects, etc.

The Serio Economy in Practice
The purpose of the serio economy is two-fold, directly indicating value and preference and also allowing meta relationships amongst participants to be seen. However, the importance of email is already generally known, by the sender or by the sender indicating urgency. Having serios attached to email may actually exacerbate the attention economy problem by encouraging people to read and evaluate emails they traditionally ignored. An interesting use case for serios would be charging for emails sent, thus perhaps limiting the number of people cc'd on email.

Regarding visibility into meta-relationships, Seriosity has an early study showing that serio economy relationship webs are different from those elucidated in traditional social networking email studies but it is not clear what new information or value this provides. Unlike prediction markets which have been shown to contribute important new information when appropriately executed, such as with anonymity, the serio economy is not anonymous and so is likely to do little more than codify the existing importance hierarchy and visible power relationships. If observed, people are likely to vote more serios in support of a supervisor's idea or for anyone else with whom a game theory relationship exists.

Since Seriosity is the central bank of the serio economy, issuing serios to market participants, some interesting future situations could arise if serios are transferable between organizations. For example, an individual could finally hedge their job, their long human capital exposure by taking an opposing position in the serios of a competitor or industry basket, similar to the way regional interest rate futures now allow individuals to hedge their long exposure in home-ownership real estate. SEC-attention attracting situations could also arise as individuals take arbitrage positions based on inside information.

There are a myriad of other interesting uses for virtual currencies, for example...

1) Work assignment facilitated by micro-economies
Virtual currencies could help workgroup micro-economies to develop, where arbitrary work assignment would be replaced by an economy. Managers could post projects to the micro-economy with assigned serio loads indicating project importance, drudgery acknowledgment, timeframes and requirements. Individuals and teams could signal available time, skills and interests and bid for tasks. The market mechanism could also reorganize schedules dynamically as priorities shift. Not only would a micro-economy more effectively clear supply and demand for work assignments but would also provide the side benefit of transparency, offering visibility into the direction and progress of the workgroup, sub-teams and individuals.

2) More effective shared resource allocation
Individuals and workgroups could use virtual currency allocations to more effectively allocate scarce resources such as conference rooms, office seating, computers and other supplies, food and drink preferences, vacation scheduling, etc. in a bidding process. Interesting workgroup cultural attributes could emerge from allocation behavior such as the engineering team putting all of their currency towards new computer resources while the marketing team puts more emphasis on conference rooms.

3) Information modulated with value
Just as there should be a rating system for all Internet content, a digg or "Was this helpful?" functionality for all news articles, blog posts, reviews and comments, either as a binary yes/no or as a quantitative rating, so there should be a rating system for an organization's internal and customer support forums. Readers could evaluate posts and postings could then be sorted by value, providing a means of distinguishing the usefulness of information and navigating the ever-growing sea of content that includes forum posts, blog comments, etc. Information modulation would be a higher order step in resolving the attention economy challenge.

4) Preference indication on organizational policies
Having a vote on organizational issues would be an important step in increasing individual inclusion and agency. Virtual currency (anonymously voted or not per the user) on the intranet would be an efficient way to discover majority preferences on issues ranging from preferred holidays, vacation policy, travel policies, preferred health care plans, 401k plans, degree of organization-wide executive communications and supply ordering to more sensitive situations such as lay-offs and salary decreases.


wiki said...

This is John. One thing that a lot of people have missed in this recent economic down turn is the fact that in-game money for all of the massive mutliplayer online role playing games has not been effected. I guess it just shows how strong and stable the computer game industry really is.
Virtual Currency