Archive for April 26th, 2013

DTP: The Drink Transfer Protocol

Edouard_Manet_006

Early implementation of DTP, recorded by Edouard Manet

Social media creates a problem. That’s a lie, social media creates several problems. However, I am not setting out today to solve all those problems, just to propose a solution to one.

Social media creates a problem. It connects people from across the country and across the world and allows them to solve problems for each other, give each other ideas, or otherwise help in creative and academic endeavors. Which is fantastic until the conversation ends with a few fateful words.

“I owe you a drink.”

Perhaps you’ve seen those words when you follow both halves of a conversation on Twitter. Perhaps you’ve said them yourself, or had them said to you. They’re easy words to say, but five minutes later you realize, “when can I make good on that?” If you’re a writer, there are writing conferences, all with handy bars. However, it requires both the party who owes the drink and the party who is owed the drink to be at the same convention. Otherwise the promise slips further and further down the road.

So what’s the solution to this? The Drink Transfer Protocol.

This is an idea that’s been floating around my head for a while, and I wanted to get down for comment and improvement. Perhaps think of this as an RFC. The Drink Transfer Protocol (or DTP) would consist of two elements. The first would be a web front end where registered users could register drink debits and credits. The second would be a series of bars across the country willing to connect to the DTP system for the purposes of dispensing these owed drinks. Let’s say that I’ve got a sticky plot point in a novel, and I just can’t figure out my way around it. I talk about it on here and a commenter from California pops up and gives a way forward. I could then go onto the DTP website, purchase a drink, and credit it to their account. He could then go to his neighborhood DTP compliant bar, enter in his password, and could order from a menu of DTP supported drinks. The drink would be paid for through the system, so that the bar gets their money and my helper gets his drink.

Now, there are some clear downsides to this system.

First, it would require a rather robust network of bars to come on board rapidly in order for the system to take off. I would say it could start local and spread from there, but the entire purpose of DTP is that the two parties involved are not local. If the only bars participating in DTP were in, say, the Washington DC area, then both the owing and owed party could meet for the drink. Perhaps two trial cities would be necessary, located on opposite coasts, which would allow for limited and specific transfer of drinks. Or, perhaps, the best trial would be to get a bar located near that year’s Worldcon (ideally within the hotel) to be a trial site, allowing those who owe drinks but are not in attendance to transfer drink credits to those who are in attendance. Ultimately it would help to get any of the national chains on board. Oh, perhaps TGI Friday’s or Applebees wouldn’t be your first choice of where to go for a drink with someone, but it would provide at least some nationwide system roll-out. Any bar participating would require a terminal of some variety from which the recipient could access the DTP system and enter their password. An iPad or other tablet might work well for this. There would be upfront costs to the bar, and there would be standards to maintain that will be outlined in downside three.

Second, and let’s be honest, would be the problem of creeping. Virgin Atlantic has taken some justified crap this week after announcing a system by which passengers on flights from LA to Las Vegas could anonymously send drinks to each other on the flight. This creates a potentially hostile environment as, unlike a bar, a plane passenger cannot simply leave if he or she feels uncomfortable. I’m hoping there’s some opt-out system for that plan, or better, an opt-in system. Now, there would be a little less of this problem within the DTP system, as the remoteness of the drink purchasing would typically not result in a “hey baby” moment as an unwelcome drinking companion sidles across the bar, but there would be those individuals would might feel uncomfortable with the potential of anonymous drinks being posted to their account. Or those who would welcome it. The solution would be to make it entirely opt-in. One approach would be the creation of keys tied to those individuals willing to participate in the DTP exchange. Both the individual owed a drink and the individual owing a drink would have a unique hexidecimal code that represented themselves in the system. To transfer a drink, the owed individual would simply share their code with the owing individual. In the case of someone who wants all the drinks, he or she could choose to share that code with the world at large. It would be necessary that these codes could be changed if an individual decides they want suddenly increased privacy within the system, and perhaps the system could even offer one time use transfer codes for those situations where you are willing to accept one drink from an individual but do not want to encourage further drink transfers.

This would also keep the system from being used for intrabar transfers. That’s not its intended purpose. You want to creep on the blonde at the other end of the bar? Unless she’s got a t-shirt with her DTP hexadecimal code printed on the back, you’re not using my system. That way the bar still knows who to rebuff if the lady isn’t interested. Would some people of either gender eventually be that open about their DTP code? Perhaps. But the intention of the system is for these codes to be as private and restrictive as the user wants them to be.

Third, what is “a drink”? As intended, the DTP system would have a single unit of transfer: the Drink. The intent is not to create a transferable gift card system where the recipient is given a five dollar bar credit, it’s that the recipient can sit down at a bar and have a drink. There would be a necessary agreement between the bars participating in the system as to what qualified as a Drink, perhaps a minimum standard that some bars might choose to implement to the letter and some bars might choose to go above and beyond. I envision there would be a menu at each bar when accessing ones DTP account that specifies what counts as a Drink, but I would think a minimum would be an imported beer or a simple drink-and-mixer cocktail made from a decent, though not top shelf, liquor. Not top shelf, but not a well drink either. There wouldn’t be change, you couldn’t get a buck back from the bar or the system if the recipient ordered a domestic beer. The Drink would probably also cost the giver a little more in the system than it would in person to build a gratuity into the price. This guaranteed gratuity could be one way of bringing bars on board.

So there it is, my concept for a Drink Transfer Protocol. Unfortunately I’m more of an idea person, and would have no idea how to even start implementing this system. However, I think it is a clear solution to a problem that will only increase as people increasingly connect online.

Oh, sure, there will be those who say that part of the owed drink is the implicit understanding of the two individuals sitting down together and getting to talk over some other notions. For those individuals the old-fashioned approach of waiting until they’re in the same city can still hold. This isn’t meant to be a replacement for that. It is, however, a way for drinks to be quickly transferred from one individual to another quickly and at any distance.

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