The merchant of good deeds

Jun 03, 2012, 10:28 IST | Sanjiv Nair

An open source, online and soon-to-be mobile version of the 'pay it forward' concept, cinematographer Ramshreyas Rao's project, DAMA, aims to create a currency of good deeds that will help build credibility for people and encourage a new form of social networking

In 1997, Ramshreyas Rao enrolled for a degree in Physics at Drexel University, Philadelphia. Midway through, he was introduced to an internship in cinematography. Nearly six years later, with an enviable portfolio of films, the 33 year-old is about to unleash his most recent avatar through his newly launched company, DAMA. Rao is about to become the world’s first Merchant of Good Deeds.

Through his project, DAMA, Ramashreyas Rao hopes people will seek honest opinions about themselves. PIC/Satyajit Desai

In his own words, “DAMA enables the creation of a currency of good deeds. If you or someone you know has done a good deed, you can log it on the site. Once the recipient of the good deed confirms it, an automatic contract is generated between the two. It can be the amount of time spent, things which were given or even votes vouching for a person. This is how you build currency on DAMA.”

It will soon be accessible on your cellphone too. Rao adds, “Life does not happen on a website. It happens outside. For an idea like this to work, the currency needs to be as fast and as simple as money. That’s what the mobile phone app version of DAMA will be.”

To look someone up, you can simply enter their email ID or DAMA user ID into the app. DAMA then scans all previously logged deeds and finds the chain of deeds that connects you both. This chain can help you determine how important a stranger in your network actually is. It will also help you decide if you wish to do a good turn to that person in return.

The idea first struck him when he was a student in San Francisco. Thugs and anarchists had started a free market where they would collect excess goods from those who did not need them anymore and then give them away to those who required them. “The name DAMA comes from a gift economy system in Mali, where, on childbirth, the parents of the child are given gifts of food and every imaginable ration to enable them to take care of the newborn. This system is popular in Indian villages as well.”

DAMA’s genesis had been on an archaic programming language Smalltalk, which, thanks to the Open Source revolution, is threatening to make a comeback. The beta version of DAMA,, went live less than a week ago. “Its prime objective”, he says “apart from getting on board the early adopters, is to get the design specs for DAMA 1.0.”

Rao has now turned to cloud funding website Rockethub for help. The target for Rockethub is to generate $30,000 (Rs 1,50,000 approx) as seed fund for DAMA. In the long run, he hopes DAMA will follow in the footsteps of Wikipedia — “DAMA will function out of donations which can be made to a trust.”
“The current economic setup has left many disgruntled. Their feeling is that is that a couple of American companies played around with public money and millions around the world are losing jobs because of them. DAMA might not solve all their problems but will definitely help. That is why I am aiming for it to become a global entity,” he adds.

In an online space saturated by social media, aren’t the chances of DAMA’s survival bleak? Rao disagrees. “Facebook and Twitter are glamorous and often dishonest versions of what we think ourselves to be. DAMA in the truest sense will provide an honest opinion of what others think of us. Isn’t that a much better ground for networking?”  

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