Is social capital the new currency or a pile of Somaliland shillings?

Last summer I had an adventure and flew to Addis Ababa from Mumbai and then travelled through Ethiopia on African buses to the Red Sea and spent a week in Somaliland on the way. Right up there with the best of life.

I had to hire a soldier for $15 per day, had a few problems with child-soldiers off their tits on qat (a masticated opiate), saw amazing cave drawings at Las Keel, nearly lost a finger when ‘my’ soldier macheted a fruit melon and had my first ‘dry-swim’ in the Gulf of Aden, in temperatures of 50°C.

I also had no money in an unrecognised country that had no cashpoints, didn’t recognise credit cards, but had Dahabshill, a wonderful wire service that enabled me to receive $1,000, enough to pay my debtors and for a flight from Mogadishu to Berbera to the Dump of Dubai.

Somaliland is extraordinary and so is its money. Ten dollars in Somaliland’s currency is 170,000 Somaliland Shillings and the highest-denomination note is 500 Shillings. Kids with wheelbarrows full of money, just like the Weimar Republic, money-changers surrounded by blocks of banknotes, ridiculously beautiful people, like Fez in 600AD. Bonkers. Going out meant I had to take plastic bags full of money just to buy a cup of tea.

So, as I surveyed the ‘social reputation’ websites of PeerIndex today and tossed myself off that I was #25 in a list of 600 UK journalists and almost top in the PR Week Power List, I wondered if my so-called social capital was worth anything or had the value of the Somaliland Shilling.

Peerindex, like market rival Klout, bases its numbers on authority, audience and activity on all social networks, but is effectively a Twitter-based model. So if you have a lot of followers, Tweet a lot and others RT your Tweets then you’re likely to get a good score. It also professes to have an algorithm (surely the Word of the Year) that duly measures these verticals and a score is reached.

And that’s about it… and while any league table that is peer-to-peer based is always a little addictive in the same way that comparing salaries and chewing qat leaves is, I’m not so sure how seriously it should be taken. Apparently, PeerIndex analyses Tweets so I presume if you monitor your Tweets and delete those that weren’t RTed then by definition your score would go up.

Perhaps social capital shouldn’t be compared to the Somaliland currency because it probably does have some value as a future currency when the exchange is eventually sorted out and the process refined.

So for now, let’s liken it to chewing qat leaves. It takes some chewing over, it can sometimes taste bitter (low score etc…) but ultimately gives a nice, dizzy, sunshine high that has nothing to do with the real world… allegedly.

Monty (643 Posts)

Monty Munford has more than 15 years' experience in mobile, digital media, web and journalism. He is the founder of Mob76, a company that helps tech companies raise money and exit. He speaks regularly at global media events with a focus on Africa, writes a weekly column for The Telegraph, is a regular contributor to The Economist, Wired, Mashable and speaks regularly on the BBC World Service.