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edeify.com » Blog Archive » Play It Forward: Gaming the Pittsburgh Gift Economy

Play It Forward: Gaming the Pittsburgh Gift Economy

April 5, 2009 – 4:37 pm

One reason I like attending conferences in Pittsburgh is that you never know who you’ll accidentally run into. With a relatively small and tight-knit tech/startup/gaming/social-media/etc community, you often run into the same faces time and time again. Like Nick said during his panel with Luke and Lynsie yesterday, it’s less than six degrees of separation, it’s often just one or two.

At Friday’s YII conference, I was talking with Tracy Brown (who I originally met at the ETC, but never got the pleasure of having a real conversation with until now) about gift economies and gaming startups, when the subject of Whuffie came up. I was a bit surprised that she didn’t already know about this semi-fictional social currency, but in hindsight it’s probably not the best idea to base your cultural references primarily from Cory Doctorow books (but since almost all of them are free to read thanks to Creative Commons, it’s not a terrible idea either). In the future I should probably use all the other words we have to basically describe the same concept, like karma, brownie points, kudos, guanxi, etc…

Perhaps explaining this concept will be easier now that I finally received my Akoha cards in the mail yesterday.

If the picture looks blurry, blame it on my iPhone

Akoha is also a bit hard to define, but I like Raph’s definition of “a social game for kindness.” If you wanted to be more specific, you might also call it an alternate reality game backed by Québécois social entrepreneurs that tracks and rewards positive behavior. But the best way to understand it is to get involved, which is why I’ll be running a little social experiment over the next few weeks in Pittsburgh using these cards.

Since my local circle of friends primarily work in the gaming, social media, and general tech startup communities, this card game should be a nice way of connecting those networks together. I intend to play as many of the 42 cards I received as possible, doing various random acts of kindness that will hopefully be “played forward” by my friends, encouraging more altruism while tracking the growth of the Pittsburgh gift economy. All I ask is that you try to follow a few simple rules to make this experiment run better:

1. If I give you a card, please register it on Akoha. Unless you use their tracking system, we won’t be able to gather any useful data and interesting stories. Plus, each confirmed card helps pay for a children’s reading room and lets you enter into their private beta for free.

2. Please try to play the card you received and pass it along to someone else (preferably local) as soon as possible. And don’t forget to explain the Akoha concept and how this game works.

3. If the two previous steps seem like too much work, then don’t accept the card. It’s fine, I won’t be offended. If it sounds like fun and you do accept the card, then I recommend that you make sure that whoever you pass it to will actually use it and not just toss it in the trash when you’re not looking.

Simple enough right? So don’t be surprised if next time you hang out with me, I randomly pull a card out of my pocket. So far, I’ve played two cards by going to a show with Carman and surprising Norm with some Chinese medicine, but I’ve accidentally done several card missions since arriving in Pittsburgh without realizing it just by doing normal nice things for my friends. In order to be inclusive, I’m thinking about retroactively playing those cards by either handing you the card next time I see you or emailing you the code if I’m not sure when I’ll see you next.

What do you guys think? Any suggestions or feedback for this little experiment are appreciated.

  1. 2 Responses to “Play It Forward: Gaming the Pittsburgh Gift Economy”

  2. It’s almost been a week since I started this experiment, so here’s a little update:

    So far, I’ve successfully completed 10 missions, 3 of which were confirmed on the Akoha site and one of which was passed along to another person. A little bit disappointed by those statistics, but maybe they’ll improve next week.

    Besides, failures can be amusing too. Here’s a short story about a mission I failed to complete, which Akoha doesn’t really provide a space to list.

    “How Jia and his friends failed to buy Ben Roethlisberger a drink.”

    So last night I was salsa dancing with some friends at Bossa Nova when we heard our favorite Steelers quarterback walked in. Naturally, I go over to the bar and ask if it’s okay to send him a drink, hoping I’ll also be able to play my “Invite Someone for Drinks” mission card. Bartender says yes after conferring with the owner, so we’re totally psyched to order Ben something awesome (virgin Shirley Temple?). However, just before we decide on what we want Ben to drink, the waitress comes back saying, “Sorry, you can’t buy Ben a drink, he already has five.”

    I pause, think for a moment, and reply back, “Well, how about we make it six for Sixburgh then?”

    When even this compelling argument fails to convince the waitress, we give up and resume dancing.

    Moral of the story? It’s probably pretty awesome to be Ben Roethlisberger since you always have more free drinks than you can finish, but it kinda sucks for the people trying to buy you drinks. For Asian American Heritage Month (next month), I’m only buying drinks for Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward.

    By Jia on Apr 10, 2009

  3. Hi Jia,

    Thanks for your post & enthusiasm about the Akoha beta. Your advice on introducing Akoha properly when playing a card is great. We’ve learned a whole bunch of little tricks on how to introduce the concept that make it more likely that your cards will be confirmed.

    Much of this learning will begin to show up in the product over the coming months making it easier to increase your confirm rate & teach new players about how to play it forward.

    Would love to continue to hear any feedback you have for us as you continue to play with the beta.

    Best,

    -Austin Hill
    (Founder of Akoha)

    By Austin Hill on Apr 12, 2009

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