Get ready for a new ‘Wisdom Economy’ – Knowledge has a Price

The knowledge economy is an economic system where people give their knowledge in exchange for monetary value or some kind of alternative reward. It’s been around forever. Humans have always shared knowledge in return for rewards so nothing new there. Historically though, the knowledge in question was usually distinct things like books, articles, or consultancy. These are the types of things we can quantify and already have a model for pricing. The online version has been around for a while too. In fact knowledge sharing on the internet happens every second when someone likes or comments. But we have an opportunity to create a new system where anyone can get fairly rewarded for even very small amounts of knowledge.

The new knowledge economy is better described as a ‘wisdom economy’ because it’s one step up from simple knowledge. It’s the kind of high quality insight you can’t just get from anyone or any thing and it’s unlikely to be returned in a search. This type of knowledge is different and so is the size of the information to share. It will be micro and apply to just about anything where a little wisdom comes in handy. Think of these little bits of wisdom as useful advice e.g. specific and unique recommendations, tips from people who’ve been there and done that, contacts you wouldn’t find via a typical search, and advice based on first hand experience.

It’s already starting

This new ‘wisdom economy’ has a lot of yet untapped value just waiting to be unleashed. Perhaps it’s an antidote to the underwhelming ‘knowledge’ coming out as a product of artificial intelligence based algorithms. Being able to harness a human powered wisdom engine instead could be the next big thing in the information age.

The wisdom economy is starting to appear between friends on social platforms today. I’ve recently come across a few recommendation apps services among friends. The primary purpose of these apps is to aid decision making like choosing movies or where to go to eat (remember when we used to do that?). There are a few systems which tried to do this already like mechanical turk that’s been around for a while. Although this can include ‘knowledge gigs’, it didn’t quite go mainstream. Not yet anyway.

It isn’t just decision making where the wisdom economy is starting to appear. Wisdom doesn’t need to be real time and on demand. It could be ‘best’ or ‘top’ lists that stick around and are regularly updated and refined. While there are top or best lists out there, they’re often sponsored by someone on the list so it’s hard to trust them or know they’re up to date. There’s usually no way to update those lists as a user either. The benefit of having these evergreen recommendation lists is they provide plenty of value without the user ever having to add anything or requesting responses. As long as they know where to find the wisdom when the need it, they can trust that the information is curated and up to date. As a passive user, the wisdom economy offers value with the minimum of effort.

Why a ‘Wisdom economy’ will happen

You could argue we already have platforms where this can happen. We have big established networks like Facebook or LinkedIn after all where knowledge is exchanged constantly. However, they have a fatal flaw when it’s comes to providing wisdom in a timely and dependable way. The ‘feed’ systems on these big platforms apply a timeline where requests easily disappear and become outdated within minutes. The apps are also busy and noisy making it easy to be ignored. The bystander effect is high on these platforms. If it’s posted to a large audience, bystanders (people idly scrolling through their timelines) often expect someone else to respond. No, this type of new economy probably needs a new interface.

Knowledge needs peer review. This might be a through a wikipedia model of editing or the upvote/downvote mechanism of Reddit. However it manifests, the request or question that inspires the wisdom needs to be easy to browse. A user needs to be able to locate the wisdom they need easily, trusting that there is one single place it resides. It shouldn’t have posts quickly disappear and can only be found through searches. Often in those platforms, the same question is posted hundreds of times over causing confusion as to which one is the best. This new model needs a stable home where wisdom can reside. For example if you were building a repository of most helpful books to boost your career, you want a single place to host that list. People can check out the list, benefit from the wisdom of the crowd who have read and genuinely gained value from them. If they wanted, they could add a recommendation of their own. There should be an algorithm (human generated) for the list order that isn’t only based on popularity or most recent.

To this end, I started an experiment of my own that works a little like a wisdom platform. It’s an MVP (Minimal Viable Product) so it doesn’t have all the features but you’ll get the general idea. You can view the first list here and add your own recommendation – the request is for books that had an influence of your career.

Will it be a ‘gig’ economy?

People are always looking for ways to make money. The gig economy was very physical but since covid, this has reduced in scope to mainly delivery services, with less emphasis on travel or hospitality gigs.

A new ‘wisdom gig economy’ is simply about what you know and how much it’s worth. That high quality advice or wisdom that is unlikely to come from a machine or algorithm or simple search. It’s a wisdom that you know and can charge to others at a price.

For the person sharing the wisdom, it could be just something they happen to know through years of experience. To the receiver it might be pure gold dust. The wisdom gig platform, whatever that ends up being will make that value exchange happen quickly and easily, minimizing effort for the requester or receiver. There are signs that consumers are looking for this type of wisdom service. Airbnb, one of the companies most impacted of the gig economy, quickly brought out a ‘online experiences’ feature that allowed experts like chefs or musicians to share their wisdom with paid for online classes. These types of services that will continue to grow but will become easy to provide and receive – and of course come in small packages.

How it happens is important. To make it valuable, it needs to scale so that a ‘user’ can easily find the wisdom they seek. People who want to request wisdom from others should be able to do it quickly and in a way that it reaches the right audience. In some cases sharing with a ready network of friends or work colleagues will do. In other cases, the request needs a response from strangers who are experts in the field.

Other features you could include in a potential ‘wisdom economy’ platform:

  • People can ‘agree’ on wisdom. Instead of ‘like’ other people can indicate they ‘agree’ on it.
  • Set a value of wisdom – a simple recommendation gets you X, something more complex gets you Y.
  • Feedback – if the wisdom is really good, the compensation should be appropriate
  • Boundaries to stop over use – it needs to be ethically sound.
  • Invitations to experts or friends
  • Target people if it’s likely they’ll know (without pressure to answer)

Wisdom has always been a difficult thing to define but of all the information out there, it’s the most valuable and powerful kind among humans. There is so much opportunity to help others if we could find a way to channel the right wisdom to the right people. Although we can get great knowledge from AI, wisdom is likely to come from ourselves.

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