Incentives, tools and challenges for Social Cooperation

As I continue working on “Aba” (news peer-to-peer) and Sintu (Crowdsourcing of African Oral Literature) I realize some challenges and promising incentives in getting people to participate ( social cooperation). Both these mobile apps rely on the users’ participation. The strength and utility of the mobile apps increases the more users adopt the apps. For any change to be done in society, for new discoveries to be made there must be incentive — but how is incentive created? Are there models for creating incentives? Can one incentivize society into a radical change?

Some incentive models involve rewarding participants with money — but that’s not sustainable. In some African countries, during elections the voters are incentivized to vote for certain parties by free food or clothing distribution — this isn’t sustainable either (history clearly shows). In pyramid schemes it’s the users at the top of the pyramid that benefit the most. The above incentive models are misaligned with any long term goals. If there is an ideal incentive structure I believe it must be one where participants benefit from the strength of the network. Every node in the network must benefit from the full power of the entire network (unlike a Ponzi scheme where the 1% benefits entirely from the 99%). This is essentially a “zero-cost incentive structure”.  Let me explain.  The incentive for ZH is that users can efficiently access news online (low data requirements) or get the news for free from nearby devices that have the news. A user joins relying on other users to have the news. The incentive is that other users will have the much desired news. However by joining the network and receiving news the newly joined user increases the strength and attraction of the network because they now become a news agent.  With each added node the reach of the network grows — the more users the more outlets for news.

When the network itself is the incentive, in this case an infrastructure-free network, no costly incentive models are needed. The network itself is incentive enough. With Sintu I’m still experimenting with an ideal incentive structure. The incentive I’m currently using is that of self-survival and that of good-will. The preservation of a rich historic culture (Literary) is not only a good deed but it preserves a people’s customs, traditions and beliefs. Participants can in a way or another guarantee their stories and lessons to continue and benefit the next generation. In a way they can continue to live beyond a lifetime. The greatest challenge now in the participation of the story tellers I’ve asked is time. It’s not as urgent to some and as a result not a top priority. At first I was concerned I might have to pay certain professional story tellers for their time, some have made themselves freely available and some due to other commitments haven’t done so.

More so than self-preservation I think as social beings we intuitively have a desire to belong, connected, or matter. We want our thoughts, ideas, and images to matter AKA the “likes” on Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and ReTweets on Twitter.. And we want to express what’s important to us as individuals. If “Sintu” can add this social aspect, it may be a stronger approach/incentive for more participation. A crowdsourcing with social networking aspects.

At this point in time I’m hoping to use a zero-cost incentive structure — in this case would be to really enrich the network: continue collecting quality and diverse stories from different regions. Perhaps it’s naive, but as more users adopt the app I’m sure some will be incentivized to share their unique stories. I mean, afterall, it worked for Wikipedia.

And if it worked for Wikipedia, can it work for society? Can a network be used to successfully solve other problems & challenges? Could education, democracy, economies benefit? Kofi Annan’s October 2015 speech “How technology can improve the state of the world” still rings in my heart. Using viral tech (cheap, easy to setup, infrastructure-free) society can cooperate and participate together to address large scale problems — like small scale farmers in Africa being competitive by accessing live crop prices in the market through their inexpensive cellphones. With proper cheap incentive structures society can work together as a whole and individuals can benefit from the strength of functional and vibrant society.