Today I pulled a $1 bill out of my wallet and saw that it had been stamped with the Where’s George URL. I had read about the dollar bill tracking site before, but this was my first encounter with a tracked bill. So I popped in the serial number and I learned that the bill had previously been in Carmel, Indiana.
Kinda cool, but the real experience was digging into the Where’s George site. It is a huge community of mindbogglingly dedicated bill-trackers. The site has merchandise for sale, forums by region, external fan sites, scoring competitions — things you’d associate with a popular band or videogame, not a site dedicated to tracking denominations of US currency.
But that’s the thing. The map of a bill’s travels around the world isn’t so much the story of the $1 note as it is a visualization of straight-line vectors between fellow dorks. The money is secondary, really. Think of an indiviual bill as little more than a slow-motion chain letter between likeminded, trainspotting money geeks. Once the bill arrives it is plotted on the map and the community grows by one. Where’s George doesn’t track money; it uncovers people who care about tracking money.
Which reminds me of the wine bottle re-gifting from last year. You may recall this as the experiment to see how many times a bottle could be re-gifted. It started in Chicago, jumped once in Chicago, then made its way to Miami where I have lost track of it.* Like Where’s George this small network isn’t so much about where the bottle is as a map of people crass enough to re-gift proudly.
And that’s what’s cool about a social networks. Often the stated reason for the networking (professional connections, hobby information, etc) becomes secondary to the social insight that comes of it. The link makes the node. Not the other way around.
[*] Maybe this Christmas I’ll start a site called Re-Gift Tracker (no, better: Re-Giftr). You’ll be able to enter UPC codes for obviously regifted items and see where they came from. And then there’ll be an interface to Cork’d. And then Amazon. And, and … oh my, Web 2.0 fame and fortune here I come.