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Jan 12, 2009



One thing that neither your post nor the website clearly explain is what happens to serios you get sent. Do you accumulate them, being able to spend them on mails you send yourself?

If that's the case, then it opens the whole game up to serios (haha) inflation issues. After all, each participant is issued a number of serios per week, and there's no proper drain.

Worse yet, that sort of situation allows for serios farming: send me a message with 10 serios, and I'll send it on to it's destination with 100 attached - all I want is a half a dollar through paypal. I just need a certain amount of email addresses (and the allowance associated with them), and those are dirt cheap.

If there is no such accumulation, and serios drain as you send them, then what will you do if you need to reach someone but have already spent your allowance? Well, the above business still works... I could pay someone a dollar to send it.

I see so many problems with this, it's unbelievable... how about automated notifications sent to your IT staff? Does the account for that receive an unlimited allowance, to be able to react to the worst case? How does that prevent anyone from hacking the system, if there *is* such a thing as an unlimited allowance?

How about mailing lists? Should I pay for every recipient to the mailing list, or is the mailing list itself the recipient I pay - but with what amount does the list forward each mail to the end user?

How about spammers - what prevents them from attaching thousands of serios to a spam mail? You just need email addresses to get enough of them...

Add to that that the system only allows participation if you're a Windows- and Outlook-user (they want to improve on that, of course), and it makes for a very dystopian picture.

It's not that I'm outraged at the idea of attaching a price to a mail... on the contrary, I've long toyed with the idea of postage costs for email as a means of limiting spam. But these ideas just don't work outside of very specifically limited scenarios.


Honestly. Do you think someone would set up a system like this without worrying about stability of currency value? I don't write about it because it's implicit that there would be no point at all in doing this if the system allowed infinite accumulation of Serios. I wouldn't commit my Inbox to all of this if I thought the currency wasn't stable.

So here's what I know based on my own involvement. There's a Serio monetary authority not unlike the Federal Reserve tasked with the job of keeping the currency value stable. I'm on it. The faucet is set up so that people cannot get unlimited Serios but rather only a fixed allowance per week. There's a drain in the form of a fee for very large account balances. There is no tax on sending Serios. The board will adjust faucets and drains to make sure the Serio retains a stable value. No effort is being made right now to restrict the growth of Serios because of network theory: as the number of people using Serios (N) grows, the communication links grow by N^2. Hence the demand for the money is growing more rapidly than the number of users; no need now to put in a sink.

Bots cannot get Serios: in the enterprise context, it's easy because only approved emails get Attent accounts. Now that Seriosity has opened up something on the web (and they haven't talked to me about this, but I am sure they've thought about it), it should be easy to use funky-letter human-only identifiers. Typepad does it. Or you could charge people a dollar a year per email address to be in the system. The only reason these things aren't being done now, I assume, is a business strategy issue related to the system being in beta with a critical mass tactic.

Your criticisms are very true, but they hit the agenda in the second 10 minutes of discussion about the entire idea. No one in their right mind would continue beyond that point without knowing that they would have to be taken care of. If all this isn't obvious on the website, I guess they would want the website to make it more obvious, so that's a valid criticism.


So you won't answer emails from anyone who doesn't use Outlook? No Mac users, no Linux users, no one who for any reason eschews Outlook?


I have to agree with Alan on this one. I'm one of those people who receives a deluge of email, but I've managed to figure out several ways that helps me pay attention to the important stuff. I receive well over 100 legitimate emails a day, but probably 4-5 ever see my "inbox." I use Gmail combined with a designed set of filters and labels.

But because I use Gmail, I can't send you anything with Serios. I would have to go out and buy MS Outlook to use the product. Perhaps they're working on an Outlook Express or OS X Mail plugin, but I'm still tied to a client.

What about journals/publications that send out review requests with automated (non-Outlook) systems?

There are a million reasons why you're right that something is broken with email, but I'm not quite sure that another proprietary system linked to proprietary software packages is the way to go.


I see potential business models for Serio, but i simply do not see enough value for the majority of consumers. You are asking quite a bit of your friends, family, and business associates to adjust their habits (by using Serio) so that you may sort your in-box easier. Should posting to this blog, or to carry the concept further, reading it, carry similar virtual costs?

~ Dao


This post his my RSS feed but since it had no currency attached I couldn't be bothered to read it past the first few 'graphs.

The About page for this blog says:

"Terra Nova is a weblog about virtual worlds. Virtual Worlds are also known as synthetics worlds, MMOs, MMORPGs, Social Worlds, MUDs, MOOs, and MUSHes"

Trying to understand where email fits in...


So if bots cannot get serios, there goes it's usability for me. 90% of my mail traffic is from bots aka mailing lists. The majority of my outgoing mails goes to mailing lists.


To clarify the above: I'm not worried about the stability of the currency value per se, what I'm worried about is people gaming the system on the one hand, and me not getting any use out of it on the other.

I'll not get any use out of it as the majority of my mail traffic is to and from mailing lists, which apparently aren't supported. I also have a very good spam filter, which is trained very easily - http://dspam.nuclearelephant.com/ in case you're interested. I mark everything as spam that I wouldn't read anyway, even if it's not spam in the strict sense of the word. Works like a charm.

To put some perspective on this: not being a manager, my *personal* email still reaches about a thousand per week, and I get three times as much unwanted stuff in the average week that I just filter out. At work, I get a fair amount more (but don't have the same nifty statistics tools, so I'm not going to guess at numbers).

So what do serious gain me over that? Instead of relying on my personally-trained heuristic filter, I have to rely on other people's decisions as to how badly they want my attention... uh, no, that's not how it's supposed to work. It's supposed to work based on what *I* want, not based on what someone else wants.

If it's based on what someone else wants, someone, somewhere, *will* find the means to send me what I'd classify as spam - i.e. unwanted, uninteresting, a waste of time.

I don't see serios preventing that - and at the same time, they prevent the traffic I *want*, i.e. from mailing lists.

On top of that, if everybody else used them, I'd be forced to use them as well - whether or not they're useful. Sorry, mate, not going happen.

The whole system relies on participants playing fair to some extent - and if they did, serios wouldn't be required anyway.


If I want to have Oprah read my fan mail I'll get Serios but I wont use them until I got many enough to make sure I'll have her attention?

Email writers have a somewhat limited audience most of the time. They belong to a restricted network with a high level of trust and confidence in the quality of emails originiated within the network. It is only rarely that anyone within such a network needs to fire up a new node, and the currency will not be needed for communication within the network.

A lot of Oprah fans may be stashing up on Serios until they have about half of the reasonable maximum anyone who uses the system is capable of attaching, and Oprah will be flooded as badly with Serios as without. Or at least thats what I would expect gamers to do with it.


More than just the problem of "if other people use them, then I have to", there is an issue with exchange rates. Because if this idea does take off, you can guarantee there will be at least two, if not a dozen, providers of a similar service.


Edward, you must get a lot of emails from individuals who you don't know that well. The Serio solution is intriguing but, I think, unnecessary for most people. I think the wording of emails suffices just fine in most cases. For example, for the person I actually know, I can use my knowledge plus the text of the email to determine how important the email is to the sender. Any attempt to exploit that by putting in false flags (IMPORTANT!) may work once, but will result in a general degradation of the attention given to that person's emails -- my impression is that most senders don't do this with people they know. Your example -- spam advertisements -- just confirms this. Spammers don't care at all about their reputations, and will use any trick they can to get you to open the email. But most spam emails are obviously spam before you even open them. No evaluation problem to be solved there, either.

If, however, you receive a lot of emails from ordinary, non-spamming individuals who you don't know but whose emails you might actually be interested in, well, then I see the problem. But that's a pretty limited market, I would think.


I'm not sure that taking an open system and turning it back into a walled garden is really the best approach.

Further, how someone values their time when writing an email might be worth considering, but ultimately it doesn't match 1 to 1 with how I value my time. I'd much rather use a system like GTD that lets me determine the priority of a message based on my own criteria. After all, when people send out those "impending doom of the day" emails without checking Snopes to see if they are looking at something bogus, they are often very sincere about their concern. If they are concerned enough that they don't think they have time to check their sources, they might just be concerned enough to attach some serios to make sure that you get the warning. Are you going to read an email from former Nigerian royalty that happens to have serios attached before an email from your publisher which doesn't?


I wonder how much of an investment Castronova has made in this service? This whole post feels like a bad sales pitch more than anything...


I responded (mentally) negatively to the email as well. I don't know when I'd next have occasion to want to contact you, but the principle of the thing was offensive.

There's practical matters--it means people have to go through whatever rigmarole to get set up with Serios in the first place, but it's more a matter of principle.

So, first the overarching principle, and then the details.

Matt Mihaly's blog post mostly captures the problem. He said, "I don’t pay people I have relationships with to talk to me." You didn't address this matter in your message above. There is an enormous range of activities which are considered off-limits for the price mechanism, not because people are too stupid to see the light or because they are under the illusion that something is free, but because the price mechanism isn't always the best one.

When I ask friends to help me move, I generally don't offer cash; I offer pizza and beer, and the understanding that I'll be available for babysitting. When I as a colleague to look over my paper, I don't give them a token worth 2 hours of my tutoring time; I offer them thanks and the understanding that I'll be happy to spend time at the whiteboard hashing out their ideas later.

There are explicit exceptions to such rules. When I get help from a friend in their professional capacity, we may want that exchange "off the books" of our friendship, in which case, I'll insist on paying their going rate.

Money (and virtual or whatever doesn't matter, it's fungible) has a crowding out effect on other motivations. A nice study was done of daycare centers by Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini. A fine was introduced on parents who arrived late to pick up their kids--as a result of the fine, MORE parents started picking up their kids late. After all, they were paying for it. Prior to having a price, the come-on-time rule was a matter of courtesy within a relationship. Once the price was introduced, coming late became a service.

By applying a price to reading an incoming email, you make your reading of the email a service. That changes the nature of things. As someone sending the email, I now have expectations that you'll read it and reply promptly, regardless of what foolishness it contains. If you don't, then I'm less likely to want to cut you slack because we aren't in a slack-cutting relationship. I PAID YOU to read that email.

A more practical matter--by paying a price I want to know what that price means. As a practical matter, I should get information on what the price level is for getting my email read, or at least information on what you've read in the past, so I'll know what's a good amount to attach. Asking people to bid blindly in an all-pay auction for your attention doesn't match most people's idea of a "price".


For sale: 100 Serios I can't use because I have a Mac. Serio-us offers only.


P.S. While I think adopting Serios for personal correspondence is foolish, (a) I understand the motivation, and (b) thanks for motivating an interesting conversation.


TED>> I will not be responding to emails that have no Serios attached.

Me>> I will not be sending Ted any email.

Ted, you've totally missed something critical - you've attempting to quantize social costs. Bad call. I've spent time and real money in an attempt to establish a relationship with you in part so that you will pay some attention when I wish to speak/email with you. That investment is already made and with your statement above, you have totally dismissed it.

Very, very unliateral and disappointing.



Something about all this smells fishy to me. Might Ted be having a big laugh at all our expense?
Certainly, if he wanted to know how such an economic idea would strike the brightest thinkers around he's done an excellent job. Far more engaging than a "what if" scenario or someone less interesting to email suggesting the idea.
If Serio wanted brutally honest, easily motivated, feedback on their system...well, they got it.
I'm still suspicious...Is something rotten in the state of Denmark?


The main flaw of the entire model (besides working only with MS Outlook) as I see it is that the _sender_ decides about what's important for me. That should be the receiver's decision.

I has already pointed out in the linked blog posts, that the general valuation of e-mails regarding importance and information value tend to differ widely between sender and receiver.
Hence if at all, the model should be reversed: if I receive important or informative mails, I should be able to send some serios back to the sender. Dunno if that would financially add up though ...

And Mr. Castronova being somewhat involved in the company might not be entirely unbiased.


Randy's point reflects a whole line of research about how the introduction of money sours social relations. I've always viewed that work as descriptive. Given current social mores about where money belongs and where it doesn't, using money where it "doesn't belong" is bad. But social mores about where money belongs can change. 100 years ago, no one had to pay money to go to the bathroom. Now one sometimes encounters pay-per-use stalls. Evil?

What if we all decided that we didn't care about the difference between getting my friend's attention using dollars versus getting it using a bottle of wine. End of norm, end of issue.

How many of you gave gift cards or money during the last holiday season? How many of you that got a gift card thought it was better than those baskets of dusty apples and crusty chocolate that you get every year from sixteen law firms?

I'm not arguing that this or that norm regarding money is good or bad, I'm arguing that the norms are epiphenomenal. Deeper things determine which norms sustain themselves. What people need affects what they have norms about. The anger here and elsewhere reflects a perceived offense against a sacred cow. But we don't *have* to be angry and offended. We could look at this as not a normative issue but as one of management of a non-normative time allocation problem.

Maybe the Inbox is a proper place to maintain norms of social relations. I'm not convinced.


And as for the accusation that this is a sales pitch - yep. Hey everybody, send me $1,000 right now and I will send you an email that has "Hi" in the subject line. Send $2,000 and I will write something in the body too.

I guess I'm defending the Serio because I helped design several parts of it. My emotional interest is a lot bigger than my financial interest. I've had many opportunities to expand my earnings by adding my name to grab-cash-and-run gamer startups. I don't do it because I know that my family is the main source of life quality. I've worked with Seriosity mostly because I like the people who run it; they make fun business meetings.

Setting that aside, let me comment on an unstated assumption at work in some of these accusations. Why do we assume that everyone with a financial interest in something is also a liar? What about the possibility that a person in business could actually be honest, a person who makes claims about the products he's involved with that are actually true? If I own stock in Coke and I write "Coke tastes great!", is it not possible that Coke actually does taste great?

As far as the Serio goes, if you're not persuaded, that's OK with me. The quality of my life won't be affected, right? What do I care.


ted> Maybe the Inbox is a proper place to maintain norms of social relations. I'm not convinced.

Ironic language given your demand of changing the normative behavior of my Outbox. You wish to impose new norms upon us, those who know you and already have existing relationships with you and you explicitly are devaluing our friendship.

We don't care if you're not convinced that the old ways are better. The burden of proof is on you that things need to change the way you say they should.

Some of us are refusing to playing along because you have not made a compelling case for a significant social change. Instead you made a proclamation that you were going to make us play with your Inbox the way you wanted.

Bad play, plain and simple. You didn't ask, you didn't test, you didn't float a trial balloon, you didn't demonstrate value, you didn't convince.

You demanded.

I'm refusing.

I know others are going to do the same thing.

I'm no more wrong or right than you. I'm using the exact same tactics you are: all or nothing - to make a point.

You can view this as success (you'll now get less email) or failure (you've burned pile of professional reputation), your choice.



Ted>>What if we all decided that we didn't care about the difference between getting my friend's attention using dollars versus getting it using a bottle of wine. End of norm, end of issue.

We pay for a lot of things now which people didn't pay for in the past. To make it very intimate: People pay for many, many more prepared meals than they used to, because they used to eat more at home. People pay for a lot more childcare, etc. But that isn't because the non-cooking non-childcaring members of a family put the cooking childcaring members on a salary.

There are different norms now about what we pay for, because different products and (largely) services have moved into the formal monetized economy. But it's not that the same things are occurring, only now more efficient because of money helping to allocate scarce goods. Different services are being provided. My kid doesn't get the same daycare from a good daycare center that he'd get from an aunt (better in some ways, worse in some, but definitely different).

I'm hard-pressed to think of something which has become monetized while retaining the character it had non-monetized.

All that said, I think it's possible that for internal corporate communications, this could work. Largely I think that's because the corporate culture would create extra-"market" norms for the use of Serios which people would follow because it's their job.

As for getting a friend's attention--I might bring a friend a bottle of wine, but I'd certainly be taken aback if I was welcomed when I brought one and turned away when I didn't.


Ted wrote:

What if we all decided that we didn't care about the difference between getting my friend's attention using dollars versus getting it using a bottle of wine. End of norm, end of issue.

To claim that gift-based reciprocity is, local mores aside, equivalent to a market economy (as if it's just the form of the valued goods that changes) is simply wrong. Matt was perhaps the first to point to the crucial difference: reciprocity in the gift sense (a) depends upon its lack of precise values and (b) on its ongoing, never "settled" quality (the two are related, obviously).

Social ties based on reciprocity are moral in the way that market relations tend not to be because of this open-ended, imprecise quality. I don't know what I may have to ask of my friends and intimates tomorrow, because the world is uncertain. Similarly, they cannot anticipate what they may ask of me, perhaps until the moment they must. This is a key point of distinction from (usually) over-and-done-with market exchanges.

Does social capital exchange sometimes become so formalized that it starts to approach market exchange? Yes. Do market exchanges sometimes become marked by the imprecision of reciprocity (your local butcher who gives you a little more than the pound you asked for, but doesn't charge you)? Yes. But that spectrum of modes of exchange is not equivalent for the purposes of this conversation for being a spectrum.

This is of course related to what the problems are here. It is not simply the arbitrary difference of the material of exchange -- it is the kind of exchange itself (roughly, precise and alienable vs imprecise and non-alienable, as in shows of concern).


I sat at my keyboard for 10 minutes and tried really hard to think of a reason to like this idea. But I couldn't.

I then went to shave and brush my teeth - thinking about this idea and wanting to like it. But I just couldn't.

The first problem I thought of was the potential of a rival currency being developed. What if my friend accepts only emails with alphas attached - but I use betas as my email currency? Would there be some sort of email currency exchange depot? Who sets the exchange rates? The free market? Isn't this a lot of trouble to send an email?

Next I started worrying about limitations on 'free' speech. I use quotes there because I know there is a cost to sending an email. But generally speaking those costs are so low that I can send as many emails as I need without worrying about using up my bank of serios.

I also worry 'drama' that could arise when 2 friends find out that one gets more serios than the other when sent an email from a common friend.

Overall, I find the idea novel but the system clunky. Way too many potential downsides for very little upside. At the end of the day, just because an email has 1000 serios attached doesn't mean its important. It only means that the sender had 1000 serios to use and you might have been the only person they mailed this pay period.

On the other hand, I think this system would be perfect for leaving comments on blogs. Different websites could establish different costs for leaving comments. Because there is a cost involved it would be less likely someone would spam or troll.


As a few people have noted, there's an interesting literature out there about commodification and the relation between currency and social relations. I've enjoyed Viviana Zelizer's work and there's an interesting book that updates some things Peggy Radin said about this issue a while back. And the relation between money and social networks comes up in discussions of open source and free software a lot as well.

But anyway, in response to Ted. I probably won't sign up for Serios (seems too complicated), but it's your call on how you manage your media. I'm not outraged or anything. As I see it, you're off the email grid by choice. That's okay. I will now make a mental note to use either a telephone or snail mail or a comment box on TN. :-)

p.s. And btw, wow, what a long post!


Can you publish a list of your email rates? How many Serios to have an email read and replied in an hour? a day? a week? If people are going to pay for the privilege of having you read their emails, they need to know how much each level of service costs.


Most of us professional, desk-bound, keyboard jockey yahoos type around 60 words a minute. We read about 600 words a minute. That means it takes me 10 times more time to write an email to you than for you to read it. That assumes you read the whole email before deciding you're done; you don't have to read it all, though. I do, however, have to write the whole thing.

It seems, to me, on first glance that the time-to-value ratio is heavily weighted towards the recipient: 10+ times more time was spent writing to you than you need to spend to read it.


I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.




I have to agree with Randy. This is the Bush Doctrine extended to email... it's nutty.


Perhaps we need Serio to allow people to bribe - er economically encourage - blog readers. For $5 I'll click the "read more..." link and for each $1 after that I'll read a paragraph. My time after all as a blog reader is very much in demand, and frankly I don't have time to read every post from every blog - except Bartles.

Mind you I'd love to discuss this further but I use gmail and thunderbird so I'm SOOS.


It would be interesting to apply this idea to politics. Essentially the more currency you pay a politician, the more they will listen to you. What an interesting concept. Monitarily based democracy!


I don't like the idea either. Most of the points I wanted to make against it are already covered above, though. My personal reaction was simply, "I don't email him anyways," and then I stopped thinking about it until I dropped by TN.

I do agree with your argument, but not its conclusion. The problem is real, and it does exist (though it does not affect me: I deal very well with information overload, and a couple hundred emails don't faze me at all), but the solution is wrong, and it goes in the wrong direction.

The people who study information overload and the quality of life keep getting things like this wrong, and it's slightly aggravating. Information isn't just about attention. Very frequently, I say things without expecting much attention paid to them. Sometimes it's just an observation; sometimes I'm passing along a point of interest; sometimes I'm wishing you a happy birthday. How many Serios should I assign to such messages? I don't care if you see them, but you might appreciate it. Should I assign them a minimal amount, to express the low importance of your attention to these? In that case, I'm pretty sure you'd ignore them, so why send you anything at all? What do I care? I lose nothing by failing to share with you something you would care about.

That's the social cost you're missing. Serios present you as self-centered, whether or not you want to.

Is there a problem? Yes. I acknowledge that. But the solution doesn't work, either. Currencies need to be accepted by the entirety of a society in order to be useful.

I mean... how many Serios does your wife attach to her emails to you? How about your buddy from high school you lost touch with and who just found you via Google?



Also, how the hell do comments work on this blog? I can't figure out how to get to page 2.


Just on the costs. You said that the cost of mail has fallen to zero. Is not true. I pay to send emails. I pay my ISP who bills me for this each month. So is not zero for me to send email or anyone else really. Is certainly a lot cheaper than landmail but is not free.

@thoreau who said "I think this system would be perfect for leaving comments on blogs. Different websites could establish different costs for leaving comments. Because there is a cost involved it would be less likely someone would spam or troll."

Be a nice little earner as well for lots of people. Kinda like paying people to pimp an inworld parcel on their Picks. Pimp my blog and I send you some Paypal dollars or something of equal value.

Serio does have a place though. I can see it working very well in large organisations as a way of controlling the vast amount of junk their own employees spam around to each other. Serio allocations to employees would soon put a halt to that. Can imagine what a CEO going to say when he misses an important communication because the CFO wasted all his Serios on spamming the office with party jokes =)


Greg Lastowka just let me know that something has gone wrong with the comments on TypePad. If you're having trouble commenting, please be patient while we try to find a fix.


Years ago, I developed a similar system for MMOGs

I took loot that drop in a game and assigned a certain currency to it that I called "dollars." I then proceeded to put those items up for auction on a place I called "Ebay" assigning these "dollars" to the items to determine their relative worth.

I remember someone complaining about it, but I can't for the life of me remember who that was.


There are a host of things wrong with this idea of "serios" as I and others have written about already. It's a poorly reasoned idea that has been promoted in an unfortunate way. Aside from the devaluing of relationships by fiat, Ted, I do wish you'd come straight out and said that you were an advisor to the company and had a financial interest in it; not doing so gives the appearance of being less than completely forthcoming about it.

Rather than repeat all the issues of security, gaming of the system, etc., that have been mentioned here and elsewhere, I think one snippet from Ted's post above gets to the root of the issue. He said:

The Serio makes things better. It does not put a price on a thing that was formerly free. That thing, attention, was never free. Rather, we did not have to actively manage access to our attention...
It's true that attention has never been free. What you seem to have missed, somehow, is that my attention is mine, not yours. You cannot put a value on my attention by sending serios (or dollars or cheerios or whatever) along with an email; it's simply not yours to determine. When I send an email, I have no way to determine the attention-value of that email to the recipients; it may be vital to some and trash to others.

What serios try to do is allow the sender to put a price on the recipient's attention -- in effect to demand attention of the recipient. I don't care how valuable (in terms of serios or anything else) you think your mail is; I will have to determine how much I "pay" for it in terms of my attention -- and the number of serios you put on it does not change that.

As Randy has already said, by telling others that our mail is no longer of interest to you unless it comes with serios attached, you have just devalued our relationships and shrunk your world (I guess when the Macarthur Grant people or your University President emails you, you won't be reading their email either?). Moreover, you seem to think that if you attach a bunch of serios to an email to me (or to Oprah) that it will magically become more valuable.

No, it won't. You and Seriosity appear to have completely misconstrued the nature of value in attention and relationships, including how, and by whom, such value can be assessed and applied. For a company whose product's value rests entirely on an understanding of human relationships, that's not a great start.

I hope you and the company are able to turn this around and turn serios into something useful rather than something that comes off as an obnoxious imposition. At this point it's an unfortunate beginning, possibly even a cautionary tale.


Ted>> Interesting idea, though I must say, I fell into the *negative reaction* crowd when I got your e-mail. What happens to the departmental e-mails then? Student e-mails? Administrative e-mails? E-mails from the dean? Should I make sure that my secretary purchases Serio to make sure you make it to my defense(which is coming up in several months)? What about the places to which I sent your name as a reference? Will they have to purchase Serio to ask you about me? Maybe you got all of this worked out (hopefully).

But I dunno, seems like an interesting experiment, but I can see if flopping horribly.


You know, a much more elegant system for personal e-mail would be a context-sensitive Outlook add-on that allows you to 'rate' incoming e-mails based on their word content, as well as an automatic value that you assign the sender. Sort of like a keyword system for e-mail.

For example, receiver-side, you apply 10 'serios' to F. Randall Farmer as an author, and based on the message content, your e-mail add-on applies another 15 for a total of 25 serios.

Whereas from Dr. Whatits at Whatsits University, who has an initial value of 0, gets 8 applied to his e-mail based on message content, for a value of 8.

Spammer McSpammerfarm, an initial value of -5, gets -10 applied to his content, for a total of -15.

No tech barrier for sending e-mail and the nasty social implications of commodifying social communications gets avoided.



Ted wrote:

As far as the Serio goes, if you're not persuaded, that's OK with me. The quality of my life won't be affected, right? What do I care.

Are you unemployed or do you not actually have to communicate with other people via email in your job?

Some of us (most business users, presumably, at which Serios seems aimed) actually have to communicate with people whether or not they are using Outlook, whether or not they have Attune installed, and whether or not they've bothered they are paying the user to read the email in Serios.

The idea that anyone with actual responsibilities could just say, "It doesn't affect my quality of life if I refuse to reply to emails that haven't opted into the Serios scheme" demonstrates a certain level of naivete, honestly. This idea is so bad that there's zero chance of widespread adoption and all people who insist on using it dogmatically do is set themselves up in a little bubble (or ivory tower in this case) away from the rest of the world.



Fascinating discussion on a number of levels. I have some comments/questions on the pure economics of this.

First, I can see how this system deals with ensuring that what you read first is of greatest import to the sender, but how will you know if the message is of any value to you? How much value are you losing due to boycotts of your system? Where's the clever system of credits that ensures that YOU (rather than others) allocate YOUR time with the greatest efficiency? There's a demand for your attention to each email, but you have no clue how much to supply. By relying on serios, you are losing major signals of a message's expected value to you (for instance, name recognition).

Second, I wonder what the regulatory implications are for this further commodificiation of your attention to others? What is the structure of the market for your attention? The nature of your work suggests that you are an oligopolist if not a monopolist who, with the advent of the serio, is engaging in honest-to-god price discrimination. You don't seem to have any competitors producing easily substitutable goods. Since you face no competition, you are a supplier in an imperfectly competitive market and, therefore, a candidate for regulation. What sort of regulation do you think would be needed to ensure that market for your time is truly free and fair? For instance, how can I be sure, if I spend all my serios to get you to look at my email, that you will actually give it the attention that I paid for AND that you will not use something like name recognition as an adjudicator of a message's value?


Most of my incoming email is spam, of course. But of the messages I want to read, most are either from people I communicate with regularly, mailing lists, or automated messages from bots (e.g. "your password has been recent to vcdshsdhjshj")

I can whitelist my regular correspondents and mailing lists in my spam filter. That leaves the problems of:
(a) How do I get the first message from someone, before I know their email address to whitelist it?
(b) What if my correspondent's email address changes?
(c) People I've never spoken to before who have a serious reason to get in touch with me. This happens several times a month, at least, but is rare relative to the total number of messages.

These kind of "pay for email" schemes possibly help with these remaining case, especially (c). But I wouldn't use them for regular correspondents, and they're clearly impractical for mailing lists or bots. (Sending to a large mailing list will be very expensive if you have to pay for each recipient. With bots, there's usually a way I can cause the bot to send me a message, such as resetting my password. If this costs the bot owner money, and I can write a program to do it lots of times very fast, the bot owner has a problem)

I find it interesting that Terra Novans pick up on the social problems with these schemes (e.g. is it socially acceptable to charge a friend for reading your email) rather than just the technical and economic problems, which are also significant. (e.g. how do we deal with multiple pay-for-email schemes? If there's only one in the world (either by regulatory fiat or by capturing the market), what's the economic consequence of giving a single organization a monopoly on email? Will the government have to regulate? Will the government-regulated monopoly provider of email let you send email to politically subversive people, etc.)



btw, I figured out that it's possible access Page 2 (though if there's a page 3, I may never know) by going here:


This is an intentional munging of the URL to which I was redirected after posting a comment; it works fine as provided. You may want to tell people this trick as a temporary workaround. *shrugs*

Also, this comment comes with 5 serios.


I think many responses have hit on the key points that went through my own mind on receipt of the email.

I start by objecting to the unilateralism. E.g., this isn't a contractual negotiation about switching to a system whose merits can be agreed upon in advance. States and institutions can impose upon me in fairly unilateral ways, but that's partly because there's an asymmetry between them and me. This is especially important in the context of existing digital usage. Right now, I accept various labor costs that are the consequence of other people and institutions with whom I wish to remain in contact using applications or modes of communication which I do not personally prefer. I deal with files that require extra work on my part in order to read them, I learn applications in order to collaborate for a short term, and so on. I do this not just out of self-interest but also so that my own preferences can continue unabated. You are unilaterally imposing a labor cost on me to remain in communication with you: I must adopt a standard you prefer, learn its functioning, and retain an involvement with it. There is a problem with process here: it is something of the equivalent of a digital Smoot-Hawley tariff.

If you prefer to think that pricing makes things rational, what it does is price you out of my communicative labor. Most of the communication I have which I like to think is mutually beneficial is much cheaper in terms of the labor cost to me. Maybe this is the intent, but it would be easier in this sense for you to simply send around an email saying, "Don't call me, I'll call you." I've heard rumors that this is how it works in Hollywood. But it only works if you're confident that you're the big shot and everyone else is the little fish--and confident that you can stay that way.

Another issue raised in previous comments is that most of us have been around the digital block a few times, and so we've seen Serios come and Serios go, so to speak. E.g., we've seen evangelists promote a new standard or process, insist in strong terms on mutual adoption, and then seen the first-adopters get burned badly when an easier, simpler improvement that lowers transaction barriers comes along later which happens to be incompatible with the earlier technology. You don't even bother to try and convince people that this particular standard is not the latest version of that story.


I notice that, although he's made some effort to answer some of the objections here, Castronova has completely failed to even mention one of the biggest problems others have pointed out: the fact that his pet project requires anyone communicating with him to use Outlook.

I know if someone I thought I knew suddenly said to me, "Dude, switch to Outlook or you're not my friend any more", it would take me about five microseconds to choose option B.

...or I will go crazy.
Typo? ;p

извините, не понравилось


When you have a hammer, the world's problems all look like nails... Edward likes economics and virtual currencies, so serios look like reasonable solutions. I agree completely with the break down of the problem space here, but as many posters have pointed out, there are way too many cons against this possible solution.

Email may have exacerbated the problem of communication overload for everyday people but celebrities and CEOs and "Oprah-caliber" targets of correspondence have always had to filter their mail, packages, and the mobs of people who wanted a bit of their limited attention. This is NOT a new problem space that is localized to email.

A personal assistant (remember secretaries? yeah, they are the original "mail filters" employed by high-demand recipients) might be the most common-sense solution for someone like Edward who is inundated with communications which may or may not be worth his time (which he can't possibly filter or identify without spending personal time sorting through them).

This serios stuff makes for interesting monopoly-money social experiments (like all well-thought-through virtual currencies). But it rests on some very flawed assumptions about the way people send, value, and use email. The market (email users) does not want a solution like this and I will be extremely surprised to see this catch on. As an academic exercise, this is fabulous food for thought. As a consumer-facing product, serios suck. Even the name is awful.

I also completely don't understand how serios-style currencies would HELP an internal closed system of users. Anyone who is in a company or social group already has to play by the practical social rules of who and what is important. These rules are complex, but intuitive, because we play by them constantly in all facets of our social lives. Our boss signs our timecard and directs our work activities-- emails from the boss are read and replied to promptly. Our admin assistant pings everybody with important info that we can quickly scan just in case it applies to us (if YOU lost your $800 earring in the bathroom YOU would certainly consider it important and want to know right away if someone found it and was willing to return it to you). Our friend in accounting can send us pictures of her grandbaby and we can tell by the title and attachment that it's not "important" for work but we intrinsically understand looking and responding with a kind word IS important for our relationship (which is likely helpful in our work too). Basically, people in organizations already share social currency and the addition of some wonky virtual currency is the kind of "feature" which sounds terrific to the designer but is a completely un-fun and counterintuitive pain in the ass for all the users.

Also, as we've seen with every virtual world currency online (particularly gold in MMOGs), duping and scams happen. It's gross arrogance to presume that this company has created an air-tight system and audacious to suggest prospective users should just automagically realize all the wormy security and valuation issues were fully vetted in the "second 10 minutes" that these geniuses considered the problem space. BS on that. If people are going to change how they use/send email to accommodate this new system, the least they could do is spell out (in reasonable detail) how the system integrity, interoperability, and value will be maintained in the real world (and in the face of other virtual email currency competition).

Personally, I think reputation-based systems are going to be more aligned with the intuitive social currency we all know and use daily. Sadly, one fault of rep-based systems is illustrated well in Edward's post above: even exceptionally reputable people will occasionally send messages that are useless and "low relevancy" to the people who trust their words. As someone watching virtual worlds, did I want a pitch for serios in my reader feed today? Nope. But I read it because Edward posted it, and I am interested in what he has to say.

Was it disrespectful of him to use this particular communication channel to promote something that is only of peripheral interest to terranova readers? Would he pay serios to email this same message to me, or to you? Of course not. :)


Seriosity, the company, has to make money somehow. Are they guaranteeing that no-one, ever, will be able to buy Serios for real money (ie. no RMT)? Or will there, at some stage, appear a "premium" service, or a dual currency? If I need to tell you I can't make dinner tonight because there's been a traffic accident, can I buy the thousand Serios I'll need for it to show up at the top of your mail box?

If they do sell Serios for real money, will you still use them?

If I can buy them on the SeriosExchange from people who have more than they need, will you still use them?



If you're selling me your attention, I want to know the price in advance.

Suppose someone gave you $10. Is that a lot of money? Not to you, maybe, but to them it could be a fortune if they lived in the wrong part of the world.

Suppose someone gave you $10,000. Is that a lot of money? To you, maybe, but not to Bill Gates.

Suppose an email arrives with 10 Serios attached, or 10,000 Serios attached. You have no idea whether that is a little or a lot for the sender; you only know how much it's worth to you. Yet your argument seems to be that Serios are a measure of the message's importance to the sender. Well maybe they are - but only the sender can measure that importance, the recipient can't.

If everyone sent and received the same number of emails, and you could fix the RMT problem, OK, maybe this would work. You might get it to function in a closed environment like a company, for example (if the CEO can affix a "times 100" weighting to emails he or she sends out). However, in the real-world environment, people will become Serios-rich and Serios-poor, and when that happens there's no way to know how much to attach to an email.

Besides, who wants to use a currency that sounds like a breakfast cereal?



Test post.

(No serios were harmed in the creation of this post.)


Cannot read comments to this thread. I am sad. :(

The design principle, however, reminds me a little of this: gynecological instruments for mutant women , which was also, I note, based on theory (and I've been trying to work into a discussion of mmos for some time) and about which Jeremy Irons (as Beverly Mantle) sez "There's nothing wrong with the instrument, it's the body!"


The scarcity of spectra was a reason for regulating broadcast television, then the Internet came along with its unlimited spectra, which is why it remains generally unregulated(putting aside the issue of the recent auctions of 3G spectra). Now, as a result, there is a scarcity/shortage of attention. Does that mean that some new form of regulation addressing the attention scarcity issue is needed? Are serios a market-based form of such regulation?



The scarcity of spectra was a reason for regulating broadcast television, then the Internet came along with its unlimited spectra, which is why it remains generally unregulated(putting aside the issue of the recent auctions of 3G spectra). Now, as a result, there is a scarcity/shortage of attention. Does that mean that some new form of regulation addressing the attention scarcity issue is needed? Are serios a market-based form of such regulation?



I use Eudora. Perhaps someday I will user Thunderbird. I will never use Outlook, except perhaps if an employer insists that I do so, and even then, I shan't use it for personal mail.

So, you know, Ted... If I need to get hold of you, how do I do that?

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