Christian Siefkes on Distributing Effort Through Weighting Labor

A continuation of the post on the material peer economy by Christian Siefkes, which yesterday described hint-based stigmergic systems. The full original contribution appeared in That full article also contains references.

Christian Siefkes:

“There are several ways of tying the contributions people are expected to make to the benefits they want from a project. The first decision a project will have to make is whether it wants to _correlate_ the amount of contributions to the amount of benefits.

If there is no correlation, the effort required to reach the goals of the project is shared more or less evenly among all who want to benefit, and every contributor takes as much from the outputs of the project as they like. I call this the _flat rate_ model since it resembles the flat pricing schemas popular, for example, for Internet access, where everybody who pays a flat price is entitled to using as much, or as little Internet connectivity, as they like.

Alternatively, projects can decide to correlate your contributions with the the benefits you’ll get (as BitTorrent does)–the more you want to take, the more you’ll have to contribute. If the effort required for production is about the same for all the goods produced by a project, this means that the effort you’ll have to contribute depends on the number of goods you want to get. All who want just a single bicycle contribute roughly the same effort (as in the flat rate model), but those who want _two_ bicycles now have to contribute twice as much, and so on. In this model (which I call _flat allocation_), the overall production effort is shared by dividing it by the number of produced goods, while in the flat rate model it is shared by dividing it by the number of participants.

If a project produces multiple kinds of goods with varying production efforts (bicycles, motorcycles, cars, and so on), they can generalize this model by taking the relative _production efforts_ of the different goods into account. If producing motorcycles takes (on average) three times as much effort as producing bicycles, everybody who wants a motorcycle will have to contribute three times as much as those who want a bike.

What if many people want a certain good and not all of their wishes can be satisfied, e.g., due to limited resources? For example, in a seaside community, more people might desire apartments and houses with sea view than the available space allows. One possible solution would be to distribute the available goods more or less arbitrarily, say by drawing lots. But it might be better to resolve such conflicting desires in a non-arbitrary way, by taking the respective strengths of people’s wishes into account–by asking them _how much they are willing to contribute_ in order to get the desired good. If there is more demand for a product than can be satisfied, the peer project can thus “auction” the product: it can raise the relative _cost_ (the amount of required contributions) of the product until sufficiently many of the prospective users get second thoughts. I call this the _preference weighting_ model since the preferences of people regarding the goods they want to get are “weighted” (similar to the “weighting” of different tasks in the _weighted labor_ model discussed above).

Note that it is the _relative_ cost that is modified–if the relative cost (expected amount of contributions) for one specific item is increased, the relative costs of all other items will automatically fall, since the overall production effort stays the same. With auctioning, the overall production effort is still distributed among all who want to benefit, but in a different way–those who get an auctioned good will have to contribute more, while those who want other goods (which can be produced in sufficient quantity) will all have to contribute less.

It is important to understand that no _exchange_ takes place between those who produce a good and those who use it: increasing the _cost_ (expected contributions) of a good won’t increase it’s _production effort_, and it is the production effort which the producers get recognized as contributions. If there was exchange, a higher cost for the consumers would go (wholly or in part) to the producers, but this is not the case.

Both the weighted labor model and these flexible allocation models ensure that everybody’s preferences have free play. Nobody is forced to do a task they do not really want to do or to live in conditions they don’t really like. You will hardly be able to get everything for free (as in free beer), since even projects choosing the flat rate model will probably have to ask for contributions to distribute the required effort. But with task weighting and preference weighting, you can freely choose whether you prefer more _luxury_ (and of which kinds) or more _laziness;_ whether you prefer spending more time doing the things you want to do, or working for the things you want to have; or whether you prefer living in a simple style or doing some “quick-and-dirty” tasks so you can spend most of your time in wholly other ways.”

For more information, read the book:

Siefkes, Christian (2007). _From Exchange to Contributions. Generalizing Peer Production into the Physical World._ Edition C. Siefkes, Berlin. Web:

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