A Gratitude Economy

The most commonly asked question I get about Ever Widening Circles is some version of, “How does it pay for itself if you have no ads?”

The tone is often a bit incredulous, both because most people see the site as such a breath of fresh air, and most know that funding is the first problem facing every web-based concept.

The short answer is, I’ve been underwriting Ever Widening Circles (EWC) personally for 5 years while we worked to make it worthy of a something I’m calling the beginning of a “gratitude economy.”  

You see, back when all my idea bubbles for EWC were coalescing, I suspected the social responsibility (SR) movement would eventually become an exciting, crowded space filled with pioneers who would find the current model of interruption-based advertising a mismatch with their values. To most of them, being “responsible’ means making the world a better place and there is almost no correlation between that goal and our current advertising chaos on the web.  

You see, one of the many things I’ve learned from writing or editing over a thousand articles on insights and innovations for Ever Widening Circles, is that every single click we make is being counted by someone who is keenly interested in what gets our attention. On the internet, advertising is all about finding some way to entice us to click on things that appeal to our impulses—no matter how disturbing—and then advertisers get more eyeballs on what they are offering to humanity, good or bad. Makes no difference.

How did we get here?

The internet we have today is based on what I call an “attention economy”.

Every single click is a vote that says, “Yes, please. Definitely give me more of this!”

Think of it this way: Let’s say you’ve found a proven way to save the rain forest using old cell phones, or maybe you have found an amazing way to end malaria for millions of people? Well, once you put that big idea on the internet, then you are in head to head competition for our attention with this guy who has a super-duper male enhancement potion, made from the horns of the last Rhinos on our planet.

Now, this is the way that battle for attention goes: he uses a clickbait photo or headline that is wildly more compelling than yours, and he wins in an “attention economy.” Your projects remain in obscurity and will eventually disappear. His project gets funded by people who see how much attention he got. That’s it.

Currently, if you are trying to sell a product, service or idea that could change the world for everyone, there is only one playing field. Put simply: great ideas live or die on the vine based not on their merit these days, but on how good they are at getting our attention in the scrum that we call the internet.

And as we all know from our current climate of acrimony and distrust, there is not much chance for a bright future if that’s our only recipe for paying for the internet.

The Coming “Gratitude Ecomomy”

I’m proposing we go back to the drawing board. I can imagine a new model that would come down to finding a win/win/win situation for everyone: consumers, advertisers, and the beneficiaries of their socially responsible projects. In a gratitude economy, many consumers are grateful for the opportunity to participate in making the world a better place for everyone and they are inspired, even happy, to pay a little more for products or service that involve progress for all.

As this gratitude economy grows, there will be a tipping point where the bad actors will start to fall away by attrition because they will look glaringly out of step with a new social contract on the web. Remember, the power of our clicks can spawn an awful lot of good too! I’ve started referring to this as the coming of a Gratitude Economy.  

I think it’s already well underway and we just haven’t named it yet!

Many millennials I know show their gratitude for people solving problems by voting with their wallets! They have been supporting the pioneers in this space for quite some time if you count the way they are willing to spend more than necessary for a pair of shoes when they know their money will also go on to donating a pair to a needy person. Models like that are popping up in every genre and they are making headway!

I suspect we are at the beginning of a climb out of the toddler running with scissors phase of the internet, and we’re already finding the best way to use the web is for the common good.

In fact, EWC is beginning the search for underwriters who want to connect with this growing sentiment of gratitude, and we are reserving all our underwriter spots for companies that have a socially responsible business model. We’ll be using something we call a “Thank You Note” in the sidebar of every EWC article to put a spotlight on some of the best socially responsible businesses in this new model of goodness for all. It’s another win/win/win model.

Bottom line: The Gratitude Economy that I’m imagining would reward people who are creating projects, businesses, information and trustworthy content that points to progress for everyone.

Good intention would be good for business and creative thought leaders.

Here’s an amazing infographic that points to the growing willingness of consumers to pay more for brands that are making the world a better place:

Keep in mind, that growth is just over a 3 year period and the data is now over 4 years old! Goodness knows what those stats would look like now.

This is getting serious. Looks like people are embracing a new social contract that is finding its way on the internet all around the world, and it goes something like this:

An organisation should be accountable for its own impacts on society, the economy and the environment.” (Harris 2016)

For my part, back in 2014, I thought the web could use some curation to get the ball rolling, so I resolved to create a place that people of all walks could trust for insight and innovation, with no political or commercial agenda. In other words, the nicest place on the internet.

Let’s face it, the current model of interruption-based advertising is not nice. It is often aggravating at best, deceptive and even dangerous at its worst.

It’s time to turn our backs on the negative players who thrive in that model and look for a way to give good will an advantage. Our Ever Widening Circles journey has taught us there is no end to the people and projects aimed specifically at improving the future and when you learn about these efforts you can’t help but feel grateful that someone has the know-how and courage to see a problem and solve it.

Imagine a future when a Gratitude Economy was the engine of the internet: a system where thoughtful consumers and seekers of information could quickly and easily connect with businesses, organizations, and individuals who subscribe to a code of conduct that is uplifting and sustainable. Connections, relationships and transactions would be made with a glad heart on both sides. It’s on the horizon folks: a place where everyone is committed to a higher standard of being responsible for their neighbors, their fellow humans and every aspect of the planet we are all sharing.

This is a “gratitude economy” because we would all be thankful for the others we find there: a network of people who want a better world for everyone.

Lynda Ulrich