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April 15, 2013 / paulio10

World Wide Pen Pals

Here’s an idea for World Cooperation / World Service type of web site. This would be a web site where all the data is indexed across all the countries.

In other words, when someone logs in to the web site, it knows what country they are in (either they select their country from a menu, or the web site does what all search engines do today and look at your IP address to figure out what country you’re in).

Then, the web site asks the person various questions, a standard set of questions that everyone gets asked, such as:

* What is a great talent that people in your country have, that is not found in other countries?

* What is a great artwork in your country?  Style of art?

* What is the typical style of clothing in your country?

* What is unique about your country apart from other countries?

* What is a unique style of music that your country has, that other countries don’t have?

* what is a great aspect of your life, of the way you live, that you like better than how other countries’ living is?

Basically, the user is being asked to identify uniqueness and greatness about what they’re the expert at – the country they live in.

Once they have answered a question, they are then allowed to see the answers that other people gave to that question – answers near them (same country), answers of neighboring countries, answers from countries all around the world.

People can browse these results both horizontally and vertically.  By that I mean:

* for a given question, they can see all the varying answers across every country;

* for a given country, they can see all the varying answers to every question.

Since there will be a LOT of answers to every question, people have the ability vote up (+1, thumbs up, etc.) the answers to each question for their locale – the highest rated answers will show up first on the list of answers for a question.  Maybe each person gets 3 votes per question, that they can apply to 3 different answers, the best 3 answers they’ve seen to the question. (It doesn’t have to be just 1 vote per question.)

Favorite-voting also helps remove duplicates from the results, since there will probably be a lot of duplicate answers per country to a given question.

Or maybe the person can vote for 1 out of every 10 answers that you’ve read (the “favorite” system as used by

Everybody can see all the data, they can see all the aggregations of data. They can see the top-5 answers, for example, per country and world wide if they want to.

Pen Pals

This system would also encourage text communication between people of different countries, sort of like being “pen pals,” from the old postal service letter writing days.  This would be digital and instantaneous.  Sort of like sending and receiving Email, however when Email you’re targeting you write anything you want, to a specific person you’re planning ahead of time.  With this Pen Pal system, you’d be discussing a specific question & answer by a specific person; maybe someone’s answer to the question really rings a bell with you, and you want to talk about it.  Or you can’t understand what they are talking about, or you can’t imagine that particular answer being given; you want to ask them to tell you more about it, so you can learn more about their country, their living environment, their lifestyle.

You can request a Pen Pal, and one will be assigned to you from among those interested in being Pen Pals.  Or you can send a Pen Pal request to the answerer of a particular question, maybe you just read their answer and wanted to ask them something about it.

You can only have Pen Pals in other countries, not within your own country. Because the whole idea here is to exchange new information – learn something new about another country, directly from people who live in that country. Not altered-reality from any mass media outlet – direct reality, from the people of every country. No Middlemen Allowed.

To start with, you can only have 1 Pen Pal. Once you’ve exchanged 3-5 messages back and forth with them over a 3 or more day period, you are allowed to have a second Pen Pal if you want to; but you don’t have to. And so on; the more you participate, the more Pen Pals you can have if you choose to.

When receiving a Pen Pal request, you can choose “accept”, to become a Pen Pal with them; or you can choose “not now”, which will gently let them know that you are not open to talking to anybody right now.  If the person you’re trying to be Pen Pals with is already at their maximum for Pen Pals, you’ll be notified that they cannot accept anymore right now, but try again in a few days or weeks if you want to.

Each time you want to send a message to a Pen Pal, a set of questions will be suggested to you, sort of like “things you can talk about if you want to.” Ideas of things to talk about.  It’s a sort of writing challenge – while writing to this person, can you weave in questions or answers that involve these particular topics?  Maybe you give answers, and their reply will have their answers to the same questions. This way you both can see where you are similar, and where you are different.  It will be so interesting to see what the responses are.

Pen Pals will be encouraged to not judge the other person based on their answers, and not try to get into arguments.  It’s a good challenge to talk to someone who believes differently than you – can you listen without getting upset? Can you express your viewpoint? Can they listen, without getting upset?  It would be great if the point system could somehow involve judgement of neutrality of emotion during discussion, but I’m not sure what the algorithm for that would be (human moderation of discussions maybe? Ala Slashdot moderation).

Typical Pen Pal discussion topics / questions might be like: do you own a car? do you drive a car? do you drive it every day?  do you walk, right a bike, segway, scooter, motorcycle, truck, take the bus? do you work? what kind of work do you do? do you own your own business or work for someone else? do you work long hours? are you the only worker in your family? how big is your family? how many people do you live with? do you live in a house, apartment, hut, castle? do you own your domicile, or you’re renting, or you’re staying there for free? How close is your school? how close is your work? Do you have paved streets or dirt streets? Do you live in the city, urban area, or country? Where do you live? where do you wish you lived? what do you like to eat? What do you regularly eat? Do you prepare your own meals? how many times a day/week? do you eat in restaurants regularly? what is your favorite dish to prepare? to eat? take a picture of the food you ate today, let me ask you questions about it.

Maybe just 2-3 questions per Pen Pal writeup, otherwise the letters could get a bit too long to read and reply to.

This is all about learning and communicating. Nobody knows what every country in the world is like, but they deserve to. There is no reason you should be unclear about what any country in the world is like. The Internet is too small for that, now.


You can bookmark, and return later to:

* questions that you like, so you can read more answers in the future

* people whose answers you’ve enjoyed reading for various questions

* Pen Pals of yours are automatically bookmarked

Advanced Users

Users become more “advanced” based on the number of questions they have answered on the site.  A more advanced user will have more access on the web site. They will be able to create new questions that everyone in all countries can now be asked.  When a new question is created, obviously nobody has answered it yet – it will pop up for them to answer, if they want to, the next time they log in (or immediately, if they’re currently logged in).  The question creator will have a special metric on their home page so they can see how many people (and percentage of people) have answered the question so far, and the highest ranked answer so far.

People who have achieved Pen Pals with 1 or more people from 75% of the countries in the world receive a Bronze Star. 90% of the countries, silver star. 100% of the countries, gold star. These stars will show up next to their name & avatar picture wherever their name & avatar picture appear on the web site.

Participating in the Pen Pal system with people from different countries also gains you points towards becoming a more Advanced User.

Other Awards

* talk to someone in one other country,  you get a special icon/award.

* talk to someone on another continent, you get an International award.

* talk to someone in every country on your continent, you get a special icon/award.

* talk to someone in your region, you get an upgraded icon/award.

* answer 10 questions, you get a basic icon/award.

* answer 20 questions, you get an upgraded icon/award.

* answer 50 questions, you get an upgraded icon/award.

* answer 100 questions, upgraded icon/award.

* answer 200 questions, upgraded icon/award.

Meta Data and Statistics

Meta data will also be available to everyone:

* total number of questions in the system

* total number of answers people have given so far

* total number of Pen Pal connections going on right now

* number and percent of countries participating

* number and percent of country-to-country Pen Pal connections

* number of people achieving bronze stars, silver stars, and gold stars.

Interesting Interactions

At first, not all the countries will have people participating; it takes time to build up a user base involving every country in the world. Because of this, a gold star will be given for 100% of the countries in this system – not necessarily in the whole world.  But then, as soon as one person joins the system from a new country that has never been represented in the system before, every gold star will disappear – because now there is a “new country” in the system, that all the gold star people have not talked to yet! So you can imagine, the first few people from a new country will probably be barraged by Pen Pal requests – mostly by those former-gold-star people wanting their gold stars back!


So far everything I’ve described is easily doable, with a good amount of work.  You can build a database-driven web site to do this more easily today than ever before. It’s still a few person-months of work though. And just making it a web site is not good enough today – people want everything available on their smart phones and tablets, so implementations that interface to that would be extremely important as well. A web interface might be the most flexible, detecting and adjusting for the specific type of screen being drawn on.

Building user base – create awards/points also for getting your friends to sign up on this system.  If they enter your referral code (or email address), you get some credit for it in some way that you would not have, otherwise.

Possibly do a limited rollout with queuing of people who sign up, so that the server is not flooded too quickly with users; if there’s a chance that will be a problem. Like many of the modern web sites do today (throttled user signups).

This system would implement some aspects of Geocaching-style points, statistics, ranking, aggregating, which is the coolest data information system I have seen online, ever. It’s fun to see how you are doing in different categories, trying to become a “well rounded user” as measured different ways, achieve various levels of achievement, etc.

What Do You Think?

Does this idea sound interesting?

What new realizations will people have who use a system like this?

What new behaviors will people have in the world as a result?

How will this affect politics, finance, religion, and service, between different countries in our world?

Feel free to Pen Pal me right here on WordPress, or email me at with your thoughts.


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