The innovation of money
Published on Jun 1, 2023
In my last post , I explained how I used ChatGPT to code a Framer component that was previously hand coded. Here I share another Framer component — a reconstruction of a concept I initially made for give.to.
I think a lot about gift economies.
Before the invention of money, in many cultures, goods and status were exchanged through gifts. Cultural conventions gave these gifts a significant role in society.
Nearly all software is dependent on open-source code that has been given to a community without direct compensation. Essentially, developers build components they give away for free. This is not dissimilar to the historical gift economies in which gifts were exchanged for status. In these open-source communities, the developers are often contributing code for notoriety. Contributing to social networks like Github and Stack Exchange can play a big role in career opportunities.
Code in exchange for status.
These exchanges create the critical underlying infrastructure that we use every day. In that sense, gift economies are as important as ever, but the gift economies that exist in open-source communities haven’t spread to many other internet users because most people don’t code. In both the historic gift economies and contemporary ones (code based) a specific good is exchanged for status. They don't utilize money.
But, global markets and contemporary culture couldn’t exist without money. Money allows everyone to capture value in an abstract way and exchange it for something else altogether.
Money’s innovation is the abstraction of value.
The global distribution of money is lopsided. These inequities pose challenges for everyone, not just the people who are on the side of having less. That said, large scale capital distribution is hard to do in our current economic systems.
If there is an intention to distribute capital it often ends up pooling in organizations or with people.
While the internet enables us to easily gift any amount of money from person to person, these conventions don’t exist. Money is only considered a device to obtain new goods or services, and if it’s given away, it’s often only to designated charities. But if money is a way to capture value, couldn’t it also be an expression of what you value? What if the thing you value isn't a good or a service, it's a song you hear in public. Or a perspective someone openly shares online? We Like these things all the time, but our appreciation has very little impact on the life of the maker.
Put your money where your likes are.
Give.to was an attempt to create a new convention for the distribution of money. Leveraging the emotional response of music, people gave money directly to the musical artists they valued. The artist’s profile was a public ledger of these gifts, revealing a chronological lineage of of their supporters. It was a status symbol for the patrons.
We imagined a ubiquitous give button on of the places where you consume content (eg: Spotify, Twitter, Medium). You would be able to support all your likes with a small amount of money and your actions would be captured in a central ledger.
When we built the first version of give.to in 2012, the only precedent for this kind of exchange was a "buy me a coffee" button developers would put near their open-source code. Give.to was operating before Patreon and Substack, before tip buttons, and before anyone was talking about web3. I have lots of thoughts about how these relate, but I’ll save those conversations for a future post.
Today (2023) tip buttons are everywhere, and there are many more ways to create revenue streams for people doing creative work, but the idea of exchanging money for status on the internet is yet to be fully realized. Perhaps it just needed a different form.
Utilizing Framers ability to embed coded components, I re-built a key interaction of the give.to service, the amount selector. This new button ties the action of "Liking" with the act of giving. Maybe it's still a stretch, but I think it's fun. Try it out, like this post and see what happens.
If you use Framer and want to do this to your own site, here's the code to do it yourself.