as ye sow… towards a reciprocal economy


as ye sow, originally uploaded by Shira Golding.
I have about five blog posts of my own stacked up in my mental queue, but I can’t resist pointing at Martin Weller’s latest. I really admire Martin’s gift for expressing complex and important observations in simple, often elegant terms:
I have come to believe that your personal learning network (it probably doesn’t need the ‘learning’, it’s just your personal network) is increasingly the most valuable asset you will have. And that’s valuable as in ‘adds value to your life’, not economic value. It will help you with work, socialising, personal life, interests, hobbies, entertainment.

To deploy probably the most over-used analogy around, it’s like a garden – you’ve got to sow, tend and weed it to get value from it. But it’s more of a country garden, a bit organic and unplanned rather than the highly structured garden. It takes time and effort and you have to give something of yourself to it.

Think about how your PLN is constructed. It probably centres around twitter, a blog, your blog reader, delicious, Flickr, a few wikis, and maybe some other tools where you follow people (eg Slideshare). There will be different types of reciprocity in this, for example most of the people whose blogs I read also read mine.  Similarly in twitter, I tend to follow people if they follow me. This is fairly standard reciprocity – do unto others as they do unto you.

But can we extend the notion of reciprocity? Continuing with the examples of blogs and twitter, I will give you my continued readership if you give me interesting and regular updates. We can then build on this notion of reciprocal, but not identical, activity for more subtle interactions, let’s call it shifted reciprocity. I can put out a lazyweb request on Twitter if I have either responded previously to such requests (standard reciprocity) OR I have given enough of myself to twitter, such that people feel well disposed towards me (shifted reciprocity)
There’s more… I’d love it if the concept of reciprocal economy took off. The notion of “attention economy” has always struck me as both crass and unfounded.

8 thoughts on “as ye sow… towards a reciprocal economy

  1. This is the concept of a virtuous circle of intellectual and social capital– an old (but good) idea/model. I first learned about it from John Seely Brown and have referred to it constantly since, as one of the drivers of non-commerce social network interactions I’m not seeing where the idea is being extended. Yet.

  2. The discussion of “attention” economy might strike you as crass– and, of course, in some circles it is– but it’s actually built on precisely the same point. Attention and social/intellectual capital are different sides of the same coin, and are just what Martin is referring to as far as I can tell.

  3. Chris, those are good observations, thanks. What I like about Martin’s post isn’t so much the sense it is breaking wild new ground, but that it’s a sensible and appealing way of articulating an idea.

    My association with “attention” economy is probably highly subjective… I think of a certain kind of huckster Web 2.0 type claiming that money doesn’t matter while at the same time relentlessly trying to monetize relationships.

  4. But there is always the problem that if you post too much, or some heartless cretins think your blog is a bit slow, you could actually lose that reciprocity and end up on a street corner begging for readers and followers. Even if you love them, they beat you down with their @ signs. They crush you with their tinyurl links. Believe you me, the web ain’t a garden, it’s a snake filled jungle with big hairy fangs that sink into your ankles that force you to cut out the venom with a penknife and sew yourself up like Rambo.

  5. If you are part of a supportive online community, you can probably find someone to suck out the venom…

    On an unrelated note, I wonder where the hell the Gravatars went from my comment threads…

  6. @Brian – thanks for the link love – you saw through my post which was a thinly veiled plea for reciprocation.
    @Chris – see, if you were still blogging you could really take me to task on this 😉 You are probably right, I’ll go and look at the Seely-Brown stuff. I think it’s the social capital element that is significant. It’s not just swapping ideas, but giving of yourself to an online identity that creates reciprocity. If you have made me laugh on twitter, I’ll feel well disposed the next time you put out a call ‘say hi to the folks in my workshop’. This isn’t intellectual capital, but is this the type of thing SB meant? It will be worth revisiting his ideas as they will have predated a lot of the current social tools, so we can see how they sit now. Now, if you were blogging still….
    @Jim – put down the flamethrower, step away from it with your hands raised.

  7. Brian – Your talk at Capilano University was really a gift. You stated so eloquently things I have always believed about sharing rather than hording and about the recipricol economy. You gave examples of people who have enhanced collaborative models without expecting any material gain.
    I was so inspired, I started a blog called Participatory Pedagogy that very day.
    So thank you.

  8. Sandra, thanks for your kind words. I had a blast at Capilano, and hope to come back.

    And coming from you, I am humbled, a bit of Googling turned up a lot of fantastic work that you’ve been involved with… The Capilano Review should have been referenced during my talk. I still think “Tributaries and Text-fed Streams” is one of the coolest academic treatments of syndication that I’ve ever seen.

    I look forward to seeing your new blog. Please pass on a URL when you feel ready.

    I’ll be reading and clicking.

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