Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Monday, July 27, 2009

Commercial: What price friendship?

I'm sure some of you know Bud Caddell, the ultra hip, ultra sharp thinker out in New York. Well, his latest experiment is giving me a slight cause to pause.

It is, at root, simple. He'd like a new PC. He doesn't want to shell out on credit or borrow to get it. So he's selling stuff to his friends.

So far so good. Here's a list of some of the services he has available:

’ve gotten pretty handy with Wordpress, need an update? need the design tweaked? need a plug-in installed and implemented?

I blog. I could guest blog for you or something else blog related.

I make killer mix-cds. Have a store and need the perfect soundtrack? I can be your musical Cyrano de Bergerac for a special someone.

I can help you move.

Getting your wisdom teeth out? I make an awesome nurse.

Need your apartment cleaned?

Spot one that might cause you any trouble?

It was the mix CD one for me. Now I know these are almost redundant in the age of Spotify anyway, but I still cleave to the notion that these are an expression of a deeper level of friendship, or would-be friendship. So while I can intellectually see the justification for charging someone running a shop to construct a playlist that appeals to their clientele, charging someone to be their aural ammunesis while a woo-ing? That's just odd.

Of course, this squeamishness about the commoditization of friendship could just mark me out to be a stick in the mud. After all, Burger King has successfully exploited the notion that one can exchange something for your online friends. And isn't that whole idea at the heart of Facebook's business model?

Still, it doesn't mean that we're not losing something; moving a category from the gift economy into the paid-for one, I would wager, means that that object loses a social value while gaining a fiscal one. And at another level, you could argue this has been the whole problem in the development of market economics over the last 30 years - commoditizing things, relationships, processes, systems which intellectually, morally, socially, we're not ready to see sullied or destroyed by cash.

Still, it does rather prove what Tyler Cowen says about there being markets in everything.



Blogger Bud Caddell said...


Thanks for the perspective. I think what I should make more clear is that that random list of things was just a way for me to dump out ideas on stuff I could offer. But ultimately, I can only help when someone needs something. If its mowing lawns, I'm fine with that. You see, the idea isn't to monetize my friendships, it's to do something of real value for the people closest to me, and not give my money to a credit institution. I personally have a lot of disdain for credit card companies, and this was borne from that. But if you don't dig it, I understand.

1:33 pm  
Blogger BetaRish said...

Hi Bud, and thanks for stopping by.

Completely understand your desire to bypass credit institutions, and indeed find other ways of raising the capital. And to be honest, all the other items on your list of things to do strike me as particularly uncontroversial things to offer. (Although, be aware that monetizing things previously thought of as favours can make people uncomfortable - you know, paying people for help with a move whereas previously you might have offered pizza.)

But it was just that mix CD one that pulled me up short. If, for example, I'm trying to woo someone, at an early stage of the relationship, would I outsource that you, however close we were? I know you'd be answering a brief I'd set, but would that not at some fundamental level be a betrayal of the person you're trying to woo? After all, you assume that the locus behind the CD as a gift is someone's personality. If it is a gift, shouldn't it be your own? And if it isn't, can the success (or otherwise) it brings truly be considered yours?

Economics of these intimate vectors can and do throw up these sorts of conundrums which I think we might need to step around more lightly than we do.

2:55 pm  
Blogger Bud Caddell said...


Understood, but people who know me more closely, (but not just my first tier friends) understand I'm a little silly, sarcastic, and a bit strange (hopefully in a good way).

The offer was never meant specifically for any random passerbys.

I've already received one donation and many requests, so we'll see how this goes!

7:21 pm  
Blogger BetaRish said...

Indeed, and glad that the scheme is bearing fruit for you.

But I think it's very existence (and it's public existence at that) throws up some very interesting issues which lurk at the heart of a lot of what passes for modern marketing, not least the manipulation or otherwise of word of mouth, and the notion that social media networks are grappling with - how much is a friend worth? And I think that touches on some very deep issues in our society, economy and culture.

7:55 pm  
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