Home What E.T., Facebook and Social Currencies Have in Common with the Cloud

What E.T., Facebook and Social Currencies Have in Common with the Cloud

There is this concept of virtual currency in the cloud that we explored back in May. It came from IBM and its use of tokens as a virtual currency for customers to use software in the cloud.

The concept draws on the fundamental belief communities work in a social manner. Each member of the community participates through the exchange of currency that has a specific unit of value.

Now, according to IEEE Spectrum, a group of researchers is advancing the concept of a “social cloud” which would ease the sharing of information, hardware, and services by using the computing resources of a person’s online community. A person’s friends would be the basis for a social cloud that would consist of storage and computational capabilities.

The researchers contend that social networks like Facebook may prove to be a framework for resource sharing. But it’s the market dynamics in the equation which gives the concept a certain degree of meaning. According to the researchers, the model only works when the social networking component is combined with market factors such as financial payments, social ranking or credit that can be traded.

That gives it some similarity to the concept of tokens, being advanced by the IBM Rational software group. Under that system, tokens are purchased and can be traded to use different tools in the Rational software framework that is available through the IBM cloud.


The other component consists of volunteer computing. An infrastructure would be in place that would consist of methods for pooling storage and computational capabilities, similar to that used by SETI@home. SETI as you may know is the scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). People may participate by running a free program they download. By pooling resources, scientists can use it to look for signals from outer space. In the social cloud, volunteer computing would be the foundation for how resources are distributed.

Virtual Credits and the Social Cloud

In the preliminary model, the user accesses the social cloud through a service like Facebook. The resources are made available in online marketplaces. According to IEEE Spectrum, users acquire resources by exchanging virtual credits.

Here’s the catch. The researchers say for it to work you cannot buy additional credits. They can only be earned through participation. It’s a virtual economy and it acts as an internal control. The goal being to share resources and prevent overuse.


Plenty of skepticism to go around on this concept. As one scientist said, the goal for many is to get as many friends as possible on social networks. That would throw a wrench in the model.

From IEEE Spectrum:

“….”the more friends you have, the better,” says Maik Lindner, who studies cloud computing at SAP Research CEC Belfast, in Northern Ireland, with funding from the European Union. This the-more-the-merrier mind-set is “contradictory to having trust derived from social networks,” he says. Also, Lindner says, the fact that the social cloud operates on the premise of mixing business with pleasure could spoil the friend network, a possibility that may detract from its appeal to potential users.”

Researchers counter that this is a preliminary model and filters exist for these kinds of issues:

“However, in response to skeptics who argue that most online friendships do not translate into trusting relationships, Kris Bubendorfer, professor of computer science at Victoria University, has an answer. “We don’t assume that all members within a social network have the same level of trust,” he says. Rather, the social cloud relies on existing Facebook friend-sorting mechanisms, which group people according to the type of association they have with one another and could be used to assess different levels of trust between users, says Bubendorfer. Social cloud users would also be able to define the limits of their resource sharing, choosing to make their documents and services available to different groups depending on the perceived level of trust.’ ”

The concept of shared computing gives even more credence to the idea of an open cloud. A place that is truly fueled through participation. But a picture emerges if you consider some basic outcomes.

For instance, the idea of the private cloud could evolve into exclusive, social clouds that provide more to the wealthy, giving disproportional resources to the few, not the many.

But what a cool look into the future of the cloud. The concept of market forces has to play into the future of cloud computing. Currencies we now use to drive economies may have no meaning in the decades ahead. It is conceivable we will use new forms of currency or credit to purchase the storage, compute and services we need to manage our lives.

What this also means is an advancement in the concept of the interface culture. The desktop is a metaphor we used to give some meaning to computing. The cloud defines the concept of services we access through the Internet. In the future, virtual currencies may be a basis for how we define our culture and how social interactions correlate to market forces.

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