Is Your Community Superfluid?

I was curious about the origins of superfluid, a social enterprise that offers a virtual currency that makes working together, well, superfluid. Here's what co-founder Nathan Solomon had to say:

At its core, superfluid simply provides a virtual currency to enable more productive collaboration within social networks (online and off); primarily in creative and technical projects. More than a year ago, we began the process of building superfluid, and while it only took us about four months to create the basic functionality, it took until now for us to produce the thing we really wanted. The big lesson for us in the process was about how critical and how difficult it is to create the ideal user experience for a new sort of transaction; even when your model is precisely defined and positively received. Just this past week, we released the first iteration that’s clear and compelling enough for people to really use.  

I had previously been involved in a variety of unusual transaction scenarios in the games business. So, when my girlfriend mentioned that a friend of hers had a local business in which small companies would exchange goods and services, using a “credit” system that seemed very like the virtual economies in which I was very interested, it seemed worth exploring. The business was a barter exchange, and it’s a somewhat common phenomenon in the U.S., with more than 300k entities participating in them. The downside of barter exchanges is that they tend not to be so well executed online or so scaleable, and are really enabled by an awful lot of legwork on a local level. 

My partner in superfluid, Branimir (Brana) Vasilic, had been involved in research at Penn, and holds a PhD in physics. He added an interest in the physics of economies, and a personal history of coming from Serbia at a time of turmoil and currency issues.

Another model that interestingly has somewhat similar constraints to the barter exchange, in generally not scaling and requiring a lot of legwork, is local currency, of which Paul Glover’s Ithaca Hour is likely the best example. We met with Paul after developing our model, and were pleased to find that we had a lot of thinking in common; he’s been pretty inspirational to us since that time.  As we developed our model, we came to see that what we’re about is much more like a local currency than it’s like a barter exchange; it, like superfluid, tends to have a focus on facilitating collaboration and growing communities.

The opportunity we saw was to make the benefits of social “rainmaking” ubiquitous; to build an engine that would facilitate everyone’s projects, not just those that have a charming and social networker tied into them. It took a while, but eventually, Brana and I combined the barter exchange, local currency, and concepts from games to create a real social currency, in superfluid. The idea was to take the friction out of getting people to work together and to increase the amount of work done and benefits garnered by adding reciprocity to the process of volunteering to work on a project. 

A lot of support that we received in the past year, prior to the latest release, was from people with a specific interest in currency. We had much constructive back and forth with some very interesting people, and even a mention of our project as a “next big thing” from Douglas Rushkoff in his Web 2.0 keynote.We enjoyed these conversations, facilitating them with a blog that gets into the geekier aspects of our thinking; primarily only of interest to us and some of this original audience. This led us to create the money meetup eventsthat will be launching this month in NYC and Philadelphia. These are also inspired by the barcampmoney events in Europe and on the West Coast.

We’re now more rapidly adding members to superfluid, and have relationships with larger communities that will be ramping up soon. That said, though, we’re still very appreciative of all participation and feedback, and eager to help projects find any resources that we aren’t available in superfluid already. Superfluid, like Ithaca Hours, is all about community, and should stay that way, even as we’re able to facilitate a much broader range of communities.

How superfluid Works! from Nathan Solomon on Vimeo.

Teaser image credit: Wikimedia

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