Reporting from the Bay Area: and its thankyous currency

I have never been very good at live reporting, but here are a few words on the lecture tour in the Bay Area. My first lecture, after a one hour walk in the woods with Howard Rheingold and a British student in ‘cultural geography’, was the Santa Rosa Integral Salon, a most interesting collection of interesting people, where we talked about participatory spirituality. I have been staying at the home of Russian-Argentinian jewelry designer Sergio Lub, who has been working on a invitation-only social network,, for over 10 years already, making it a true pioneering effort. With about 15,000 plus members, it is an extraordinary collection of worldchangers and ‘cultural creatives’, not just from the Bay Area, but worldwide. Please note that the favors community is just one of 200 peopling the network. The sites uses a reputation currency, called thankyous. Several thousand people have used it and the transactions reflect a savings of nearly US$2 million. It’s an illustration of what Adam Arvidsson has been calling ‘currencies of esteem‘.

Here’s an article of the Contra Costa Times, reprinted on the website, which explains Sergio Lub’s activities and motivations for creating that unique network:

Good deeds hold more value than fat wallets in the tight weave of the Friendly Favors Web community. The free social network –founded by a Walnut Creek man before MySpace arrived on the scene encourages people worldwide to extend a helping hand whenever the need arises. In turn, the recipient of a “favor” pays it forward, furthering the creation of a global community built on trust and reputation instead of dollars and cents.

Favors draws its inspiration from an international movement that advocates alternative ways to exchange goods and services, such as bartering. Types of favors might be assisting a stranger in a strange land or providing a discounted service such as translating a letter into English.

Founder Sergio Lub sums up Favors as “a system by which you objectively check out the social reputation of a person.” Favors is a noncommercial site with no fees involved and no irksome spam worming its way past filters, Lub says with pride.

Lub and others use Favors to network socially, exchange services and help each other in a crisis. When his daughter Sonia had her wallet swiped in Nairobi, Kenya, Lub logged on to the site and located a highly regarded Favors member living near the city. Joyce Oneko helped Sonia find emergency lodging.

That event illuminates one of Lub’s favorite sayings: “Friends are islands in a sea of indifference.”

The native of Argentina learned about the importance of friendship from his father, a Russian immigrant who survived the tyranny of the Russian czars thanks to friends. His father also stressed the value of generosity over materialism. Lub, who designs jewelry at his Martinez office, launched the site in 1997 and has watched it blossom into a community of nearly 52,000 members in more than 177 countries.

As the site grew, so did the many social organizations it spawned, leading to the creation of a separate but linked network called the Living Directory. That site contains hundreds of groups ranging from one that highlights entertainment urging social change to another for women discussing hormonal health.

Not just anyone can leap aboard the altruistic online community, though. Existing members first must vouch for a person’s integrity so opportunists don’t mess it up.

Some East Bay residents join just to gain entry into the extensive lecture series held in members’ homes. Subjects swing from the topical to the esoteric and feature speakers from all over the globe. Upcoming talks include ways to live more sustainably and research on the use of psychedelic substances.

“Sergio brings people from all over the world,” said Robert Swatt, a Favors member and Emeryville architect living in Lafayette. “He probably has the world’s biggest Rolodex.”

For its 10-year anniversary, Lub and Favors’ webmaster and programmer Victor Grey want to expand its scope. Lub envisions literally putting Friendly Favors members on the map, creating a service that matches contact information and member biographies with points on a map.

Google Maps, Yahoo and MapQuest already pinpoint locations, but do it one address at a time. What Lub hopes to create is a map that would identify the location of friends so people can search by region.

Why go through all the hassle to do that?

“To find where the good people are,” Lub said. “

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