Banking on knowledge: Website redefines values

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By Roger Snodgrass

The restless energy of the World Wide Web continues to carve out new spaces and inspire new journals, tools and experiences. One quality they seem to have in common is the creation of novel communities with unique shapes and dimensions.

A few highly successful Internet communities like MySpace and Facebook have become daily accessories to the real world, offering platforms for self-expression with strong social overtones.

Others, like SecondLife, are rooted in a virtual world with a peculiar emergent life of their own.

World Knowledge Bank, created by Ann Racuya-Robbins with Blackrock Networks in Los Alamos, has its feet in the real world and its head in a kind of utopian idealism that the so-called real world has tended to ignore in the era of globalization. The bank calls itself “a virtual democratic country.”

The website, at https://www.wkbank.com/ had its grand opening Mar. 30 and is dedicated to a number of unusual propositions for this day and age.

For example, as Racuya-Robbins said in a recent interview, “We have way underestimated the value of human life in terms of its ability to contribute to the world.”

The bank’s revenue model is not based on the magic of advertising, relied upon to fund so many streams of media, but something more like the micro-credit movement pioneered by Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Yunus’ Gramen Bank began providing small grants to people who would normally be too poor to qualify for a bank loan and the movement has now touched the lives of tens of millions of people in developing countries.

Similarly, Racuya-Robbins has in mind another body of knowledge that has yet to be appreciated by the rest of the world, knowledge about such micro-topics as how to get along with people and how to be a human being.

“It could be the first new source of income in a long time,” she said. She believes “people knowledge” has value in its own right and income earned will create new markets.

“I’m interested in how communities work,” Racuya-Robbins said in a recent interview. “I’m trying to encourage people to contribute what they know, their life experiences – what they know about daily life, community life.”

The World Knowledge Bank has been inspired by Racuya-Robbins’ own experiences as an artist and her work with the Global Fund for Women to prevent sexual trafficking of women.

One thing she has noticed: “Most creativity, while it is most of what people have to offer, is not valued and not retained.”

She has been developing the concept and the website for more than five years and has made it into formal intellectual property.

Her international patent application will be published in June of this year. She has trademarked the knowledge bank in most of the countries of the world, including South Korea, Norway, Australia and Syria, as well as the European Union.

She has trademarks pending in other countries, including Singapore and India.

Calling it “an applied complex system for social justice,” and “a life’s work,” she acknowledges that it will take awhile to attract attention and to get the “currency” or knowledge flowing through the bank and to develop appropriate governance processes. The bank also deals in its own tender of credits and exchanges.

“The bank has a constitution, a bill of rights, system of justice and enforcement,” she said. “If you violate the rules, your account can be closed. One rule is that you can’t deposit someone else’s knowledge.”

Her plan is to start by asking different kinds of questions, and offering to pay for answers – $5 for a new way of counting to 100; $5 for describing a new class of emotions; $2 for “what you have learned about people from the job of cleaning houses, offices or hotels.”

She said the bank has been created like a work of art, not just by thinking about it, but by thinking and doing at the same time.

The knowledge bank accepts deposits in a variety of media, including text, images and music.

It’s a work in progress. In its intended community, it might also be a work of progress.