We did not begin with barter, discover money, and then eventually develop credit systems. It happened precisely the other way around.” – David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011) What the famed anthropologist and Occupy intellectual David Graeber is arguing in the quote above is not that barter never existed before the invention of money and then credit, but that communities and societies based around barter system economies didn’t emerge before money. Barter systems, he says, were something pre-money peoples used in dealing with strangers – outsiders to their community – who they couldn’t trust very well and were often likely never to see again. Turning a key founding myth of modern economics on its head, Graeber helps us envision community-centered barter systems as a progressive evolution beyond our current crisis-ridden
currency-and-credit-based economy. TradeYa believes that their platform will be the first platform to efficiently and effectively harness the power of Web 2.0 networks, online communities and algorithmic agents to support community-based barter as a smooth, streamlined, user-friendly process – one which will be available and practical for a wide range of audiences interested in exchanging all kinds of goods and services. At the heart of making this happen is Lean UX design and Customer Discovery experimentation. Starting this holiday season and for the month of January 2013, Jaime Levy and Jared Krause (both co-founders of TradeYa) will be running a crack team of apprentices – mostly junior-level UX and Lean Startup bandits – through an intensive, hands-on testing of TradeYa’s Beta MVP, using Jaime’s transposing of the Lean Startup principles onto User Experience Strategy methodology. Within 72 hours of JLR Interactive’s “Help Wanted: Lean UX Apprentices” post blasting through the Twitterverse and LinkedIn, all 8 spots were filled with qualified individuals hand-picked for this challenge (plus one project blogger). This intrepid group comes from all over Los Angeles and includes professionals with advanced skills, degrees from MIT, Cornell, NYU, University of California, etc. PLUS decades of experience in architecture, marketing, film, psychology, and more. While some of the apprentices already have an understanding of UX design and the Lean Startup approach, we expect that it’ll really be the cross-pollinating catalyst effect of their diverse expertise and backgrounds from outside of UX – thrown into the deep end of MVP hands-on testing – that will generate the most valuable insights here.
The apprentices’ tasks will draw on a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods. These will include test-driving the TradeYa experience by engaging in real
barters, Guerilla User Research interviews across LA, wireframe development for immediate deployment, learning to use the Funnel Matrix method to measure TradeYa user conversions, and brainstorming unconventional Customer Acquisition strategies. This first week all the apprentices will be rapidly on-boarded as they get to grips with the project’s Google cloud-based collaboration process and the TradeYa bartering mindset. They’ll also be reading required materials such as the free sample chapter from Jeff Gothelf’s “Lean UX” book (due out February 2013) and a draft sample chapter from a book called “User Experience Strategy” that Jaime hopes to get published. I’ll be helping out by documenting this pioneering Lean UX experiment and its thrills and spills through this 4-part series of blog posts. I’m excited about this first-hand opportunity for me to observe and hope that you will join me.
– Zhan Li, USC PhD Student, Researcher and Project Blogger.