No Cash or Credit? Try Dibits, an Alternative Currency
There’s a place on the Internet where you can arrange for an hour-long massage, a ride to the airport, and a tour of the haunted parts of Seattle, all without spending a dollar.
Dibspace, a relatively new Seattle startup, makes this possible by creating its own currency, the “dibit,” by which people can barter goods and services, either by direct trading or in exchange for dibits—which can then be used to purchase something else offered on the site. In a recession, when cash is scarce, barter and barter currency makes a lot of sense.
Chief executive Dominic Canterbury started work on Dibspace a year ago with the idea that small businesses have a lot of productivity they are unable to use up. After running his own marketing agency for four years, Canterbury decided to make a place where that extra capacity could be advertised and bartered for in exchange for other services. Although originally designed to help small businesses, many of Dibspace’s users now are individuals with services or goods to offer.
“Dibspace makes it easier to trade since money is in short supply,” Canterbury says. Each dibit is worth the equivalent of a dollar, so people used to thinking in those terms adjust easily, when a straight trade occurs; dibits are the currency used to even out any disparity in value. This economy within an economy was launched about four months ago and already has more than two thousand users. Currently, the value of all the offers on Dibspace is about $110,000, and the equivalent of about $55,000 has been traded since the site launched. Canterbury says that massage, yard work, and Web design are among the most popular offers.
The site is free and without advertising, but “Dibspace is revenue driven,” Canterbury says. “We have at least four plans to generate money,” he adds, although he cannot reveal those plans yet due to non-disclosure agreements. Currently, the startup is supported by undisclosed investors.
Even as the mini-economy develops, Canterbury and the two other members of his management team remain in ultimate control of it. People have to identify themselves to the site’s owners before making offers and bids, which makes the site safer than e-commerce sites where anonymity is allowed. The management team also monitors the offers and requests in case of inappropriate, illegal, or even just flaky posts that they don’t think belong.
Because dibit generation comes from them, the Dibspace team is essentially the Federal Bank, the Mint, and every other regulatory agency rolled into one. Though normally they earn dibits like anyone else, via consulting or other services, Canterbury says that he used the site to generate dibits to pay the consulting fee of an attorney and to get business cards made. Essentially, he controls the mini-economy more closely than Alan Greenspan ever dreamed, and even acting responsibly and for the betterment of this tiny economy, he has the opportunity to acquire anything on the site for free, with just a few keystrokes to give himself more dibits.
Although this kind of barter currency might sound like something the government would discourage, Canterbury says that because services and goods sold are still reported and taxed as income, there is no problem.
Dibspace is not the first to create an alternate currency website, and there are others with somewhat similar projects, even in Seattle (Divvy and Kashless come to mind). Such sites may have been successful even in a healthy global economy, but there is no doubt the recession is helping drive new customers.
Next, Dibspace plans to incorporate the restaurant industry into its structure. People could then use dibits instead of dollars to buy meals at local restaurants. Or they might even trade directly with the restaurant. Canterbury says he also hopes to someday include hotels and other major businesses into the network.
At this point, Canterbury is confident he will achieve his goals. “I’m doing this 25 percent to help small businesses and 75 percent for making obscene amounts of profit,” he says.