Econix: tools for free and open (source) grassroots economies

Long form


In a context of economic crisis, new economies are emerging in which groups and individuals dynamically plan and organize economic actions based on their own values. Tools adapted from and developed through the open source community can radically strengthen the efficient flow of information to support such grassroots economies. We introduce "Econix" as a meme for thinking this through, our three-pronged action plan, and an initial proof-of-concept aggregator using microformats and other open standards to structure user-driven values-oriented virtual marketplaces.


Economy in crisis

Old-school economies are collapsing, rooted in a breakdown of trust and information flow (ie. credit). At the same time our societies need to radically restructure themselves to address peak oil and climate change, but existing dominant economic actors — corporate or state — seem

The alternative is for a different kind of economy to emerge, in which grassroots movements and local (virtual) communities have the ability to dynamically plan and organize economic actions based on their own values. This is already happening, and we can support such emergence
using tools adapted from and developed through the open source community.

Economy as information technology

An economy is a way of coordinating needs and resources. Central planning does this by funneling information through hierarchical structures. Markets do this by translating wildly diverse kinds of
relevant information into one universal metric: price. (This is oversimplified, and actually existing economies combine these and other methods at all levels.)

The “real” economy has developed vast and top-heavy infrastructures of regulation, ratings, risk-management, financing, and the like in order to manage the information flow of its systems. That is, at least in principle, to get real needs met efficiently with available resources.
And it’s not working.

But information technology, and open source development in particular, has developed a wide range of functional approaches to such problems that can be ported over to the “real” economy. Econix is a tag for applying the lessons and tools of the hacker culture (ie. Unix) to the
broader economy.

Economy as semantic web

The web is already a vast economy — some of it monetized, much of it not. People make offers and requests for goods and services; people publicly or privately rate the reliability, coolness, eco-friendliness, etc. of economic partners; people schedule meetings, coordinate
projects, get things done.

But it’s (becoming) exhausting as hell to (most of) those who use it that way, and overwhelming to those who don’t. There’s too much information to sift through, too many platforms to engage, too much to keep track of.

As this information becomes formatted so that techology can read it — and microformats are already starting to help this happen — then we can develop tools that sort and prioritize this sea of information for us.

Economy as distributed user-driven values engine

Then, each user can define how they want their economy to function. Who do they trust? What do they value? What do they need? What do they have to offer? How do they want to make choices about what to work on when?

Tools can use preferences tuned as finely as desired to cascade trust networks and tagged ratings in complex ways, presenting the user with a fully customized, simple, prioritized list of likely-useful economic opportunities.

Introducing Swiftr: an Econix aggregator

We’ll introduce our initial proof-of-concept economic aggregator project, as an example. This is intended to work with existing data pools (using microformats and/or scraping), as well as new-model data exchange mechanisms like The Mine! project.

We’ll also discuss our three-pronged approach, combining deep engagement with grassroots organizing in Portland as initial user-base with evangelizing in the tech / data platform community, and open source development of a working tool.

And we’ll facilitate conversation on:

  • other existing projects that connect with the idea of Econix
  • other ways the economy can be galvanized using open source techniques
  • implementation challenges and workarounds

Speaking experience