Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nerd Word of the Week: Whuffie

bookcovers+whuffieImage by miss_rogue via Flickr
Whuffie (n.) - A form of currency based on social status, rather than tangible wealth. The Whuffie originated in Cory Doctorow's science fiction novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Whuffie has since become an insider term for online reputation, with such non-fiction works as The Whuffie Factor taking the word mainstream. In Doctorow's original novel, Whuffie (which is the plural and singular form) replaced money as the means of acquiring wealth, though "wealth" in that setting meant something very different. Down and Out is set in a post-scarcity economy, where necessities and luxuries are so easily and cheaply produced they have no practical cost. Thus, the economy was based on status rather than property, and complex systems were set up to upvote and downvote your every action, such that every activity becomes a public political performance. If you think that's an unlikely future, please say so in the syndicated comments below this posts, and/or downvote (using the controversial new dislike button) the Facebook note version of this blog. Possibly using your always-on Internet phone. Which is itself a status symbol. The point (and the sarcasm) should be evident by now.

I bring it up because: The Oxford English Dictionary declared the verb unfriend 2009's Word of the Year. When removing someone from your virtual social circle is so commonplace and mainstream as to get pub from the OED, you know that virtual, pervasive reputation management is here to stay. Combine that with the relatively ballyhooed debut of LoveMachine, a real-life antecedent to the Whuffie, a virtual reputation-management system created by Second Life founder Philip Rosedale. Granted, The Whuffie Bank already got there and already has the Whuffie name. Also, the PenguinCon science fiction-slash-Linux convention has recently experimented with an in-con virtual reputation currency called a Whuffie, though in practice it worked a bit more like Slashdot's karma system. That may be a distinction without a difference, but I'll leave it to my Whuffie score to sort it out.