As befits a coworking space, a business with strong associations to social enterprise, community building, crowdsourcing, and other contemporary social ideals, Locus has long been into the idea of local and other non-governmental currencies. At the same time, we've also been cautious and slow about embracing them with anything beyond the non-commital "That's cool!" approval. This is mainly because those of us involved in running the space just don't know enough about it to feel anything but irresponsible doing more, but also because--truth be told--there's hasn't been enough time in the day to think about taking it further. That has changed in the last couple weeks, first with the introduction of the ultra-local currency, the Locus Laugh (currency symbol: LOL), and now with the decision to start accepting Bitcoins for Locus membership. Here's a little background on both.
Locus now accepts BitcoinLocus has been lucky enough to have had one of Bitcoins great advocates--Slush--as a member of the workspace during a big part of his time developing the first Bitcoin mining pool (and during a big part of Locus's time as a coworking space). He taught me what little I know about Bitcoin and maybe two years ago we agreed Locus should start accepting this largely unregulated digital currency for small purchases (drinks and snacks). I decided not to accept them for membership in the workspace, mainly in response to Slush's admission that Bitcoin exchange rates are not without the occasional large fluctuation.
I never really took the time to announce it or make it accessible to members, but Slush himself bought drinks and snacks using Bitcoins (back when the exchange rate was a staggering $12 / Bitcoin, way up from the few dollars on the Bitcoin it had recently been and could easily return to). And so, without noticing, Locus collected some Bitcoins (1.191 to be exact). Now, Slush probably ate a couple hundred crowns worth of snacks, but with Bitcoin's success, that's turned into over 4.000 CZK for Locus (now with one Bitcoin trading at over $200). And now I ask myself what I was thinking not accepting Slush's membership payments in Bitcoin (a method of payment he said would suit him). It could have funded a new wing for the Locus library.
Well, today Slush stopped by Locus and we talked again about Bitcoins and membership. I decided to start accepting Bitcoin for any Locus related payment, including membership (maybe violating the sage investment advice to buy low and sell high; or to accept payment in currencies that are undervalued but not in currencies that are overvalued). So now Locus is one of the few businesses in the Czech Republic to accept Bitcoin for all its products and services. And proud of it! Thanks for the inspiration (and help), Slush!
Accepting Bitcoins for membership is exciting and just happened today, but I'm even more excited about Locus's other venture into non-government-backed, sketchy currency, the Locus Laugh.
Locus Laughs (LOL)
Another Locus member (Melvster, who confidently predicts the Bitcoin will soon trade at more than $1000 dollars to the BTC) has a broader interest in digital currency, working to develop web standards that would allow conversion and payment across all sorts of measurable values, such as Facebook Likes or time or whatever else you can think up that can be accumulated and awarded, including traditional government backed currencies (hopefully I've got the Melvster right). A large part of his interest has been in trying to understand less-monetary and more-psychological aspects of exchange relationships that could be built into his models and tools, something I'm interested in, too.
This has proven particularly relevant in running a coworking space and thinking about how to reward members for contributing to the community while keeping these kinds of contributions outside the domain of what the psychological anthropologist Alan Fiske would call market pricing (where exact quantitative values can be and are assigned to social exchanges), and helping to keep (or move) social exchanges into the domains of communal sharing (basically giving to others without concern for what you get in return, what is standard in some small-scale societies and is still common today in many family relationships), or at least equality matching (basically trading one kind of non-economic good for another without being concerned that they match up exactly on some numeric scale). The idea of a married couple trading ironing for cooking dinner (equality matching) goes down a lot more easily than the idea of each spouse paying the other 10 Euros for their respective deeds (market pricing), even if just cooking dinner for the family without concern for what you'll get in return (communal sharing) might seem the best marker of a healthy marriage. So how to reward community support without shifting the relationship among coworking-space members to one of market pricing, and even try to help move the relationships toward communal sharing?
Enter the Locus Laugh (LOL). Doesn't take itself too seriously, awarded somewhat freely for good deeds toward the community, but still with value, at least in terms of Locus goods. Laughs can buy Locus products and services and they can be traded among members (or non-members), so that one person who has some Laughs to spare can trade them for a service from another member who's positively Laughless. Of course it's just an experiment and we don't really know how it will work to encourage positive contributions to the communty or to keep those contributions out of the market pricing domain (or instead move good social deeds in that unfortunate direction). Locus Laughs after all don't really get out of the domain of market pricing. They have a monetary value, at least in the world of Locus Workspace, and they are priced in units (which happen to be directly tied to the Czech Crown). But hopefully they're far enough removed and take themselves sufficiently unseriously--you get rewarded for Laughable deeds, and a lot of Locus Laughs are Laughter--that they do a relatively good job of serving their function. And if nothing else, Laughs are fun. They make people smile. LOL.
Thanks Melvster and Slush. And check your LOL Ledger.