Have you heard of “DAOs”? They are an emerging type of web-based organization that uses blockchain technology to self-organize. DAOs have gotten a lot of coverage recently in mainstream publications like Vogue, the Economist, and the New Yorker.
“DAO” stands for “decentralized autonomous organization.” These DAOs are online communities that codify their process using “smart contracts” on the blockchain to create organizational structures including roles, responsibilities, compensation and governance systems. Rather than having written policies that people interpret and apply, they create software protocols that recognize work, make payments, and enable group decision-making.
If you haven’t heard of DAOs, don’t feel bad. They have only been around for about a year. In that time however, they have grown at warp speed; the largest DAO (Bankless) now has a staff of more than 1000 people getting paid for their work writing articles, producing videos, and - of course - writing code. And because many of them have created new cryptocurrencies to pay their workers - they have quickly grown to a market cap of more than $15B USD.
We at Ethelo have always been interested in the potential of blockchain technology for democracy. That potential became very clear with the emergence of Ethereum, the second generation blockchain programming platform that has enabled such things as decentralized finance, NFTs and most importantly: decentralized governance. Our first blog article on blockchain was in 2012; we built a test integration into Ethereum in 2018 shortly after it first emerged.
Why do we believe this technology is important for digital democracy?
In a word; voting. Blockchains are basically incorruptible ledgers, which can reliably record the outcomes of votes, in a way that anyone can audit. Think of the US elections, and how much nuisance has been caused - is being caused - by doubts and Trump’s denial of the 2020 election results. But this is not new - remember the “hanging chads” of the 2000 election? And this kind of thing is only going to get worse. Of course - there are other problems with US politics. But trust in election results is foundational to the whole system.
Blockchain isn’t the only new technology that will prove important for digital democracy. Another emerging technology called “zero-knowledge computation” allows the counting of votes without anyone giving up the secret of their vote. Holochain technology will allow people to daisy-chain personal computers to create an unbreakable voting machine. And decentralized digital identity technology will ensure each vote corresponds to one-and-only-one human. All of these technologies are evolving together in a new model of the internet, called “Web3” which the DAOs are explicitly dedicated to creating.
We believe that the technology for eDemocracy will emerge from DAO Web3 technology.
Our contribution to the Web3 space
We believe Ethelo has a critical piece to offer this space. What makes Ethelo powerful is its ability to enable decentralized decision-making – not just simple voting, but complex, multivariable problem solving where crowd intelligence is maximized. Decentralized decision-making is one of the core principles of DAOs - and one of the fundamental challenges it is facing. The software code used to encode DAOs requires decentralized decision-making – and this reliance has exposed the very real limitations of traditional models for vote-based decision-making. The “problem of DAO governance” is one of the most popular DAO blog topics, covered by Vitalik Buterin, Bankless and many others.
Some say the inherent problems of decentralized governance will doom the DAOs. We don't think so. We believe the very importance and centrality of the governance problem will force a new level of innovation and progression. Many critical pieces of the picture - including Ethelo - just need to be assembled into place. And it is from decentralized decision-making in DAO communities that the technology infrastructure for a global digital democracy will emerge
This is big talk. On the other hand, this being related to cryptocurrencies, there is a lot of noise and not just a few scammers. Many people are rightly disgusted with the whole crypto space given the rampant level of fraud. And while DAOs are in a separate category from NFTs or crypto speculators, it's true that, of the more than 200 DAOs that have been created in the last 18 months, few will last the distance. However, within this community, we have found some valuable and very aligned partners.
Partnering with DAOs
One of our new partners is Gitcoin. Gitcoin is a community of developers built around the world’s most popular code-hosting platform, Github. Their membership includes tens of thousands of developers, and over the past two years they have awarded more than $40M to open source software projects. This year, they have begun funding “public goods” which go outside the world of digital technology to solve real-life problems such as climate change and poverty.
We have helped Gitcoin with its decision-making process around grants, providing the software for them to harness the wisdom of their community to maintain quality control on proposals receiving funding. This month, Ethelo will be used to coordinate a panel of thousands of judges who will review more than 600 grant proposals.
ClimateDAO is another new Ethelo partner. ClimateDAO is dedicated to helping direct vast cryptocurrency resources towards shareholder activism – specifically; buying up shares of bad-actor fossil fuel companies in order to impact their governance and direction. With more than $2 trillion USD in cryptocurrency out there looking for places to live; this could be a very big stick. They will use Ethelo to short-list target companies using criteria such as harmfulness, vulnerability, and potential impact.
This is only the beginning.
Our plans for the near future
Over the next year, we will be establishing the “eDemocracy DAO;” an online community built around governance and decentralized decision making. A key part of eDemocracy DAO will be the development of technology and processes that optimize group decision-making. Irrespective of technology, the key to good collective decision-making is good human participation. Rewarding good participation will be the fiscal purpose of a new cryptocurrency we will release to advance this mission: Thelo.
You will hear more about eDemocracy DAO and Thelo in the next 12 months. But the idea is simple. Organizations want good decisions and they will pay for it. Ethelo technology will power those decisions, and reward people for good participation with Thelo which they can cash out or convert to other currencies. We will also offer non-fiscal tokens of recognition and appreciation. In doing so, we will build a large and growing community of decision participants, which will form the membership of our eDemocracy DAO.
There is more to the story of course, and if you are curious to dive in, please read our DAO White paper which outlines the key ideas (note; you can ignore the technical part - most of the second half).
Some of the more adventurous readers may be asking; is there a cryptocurrency investment opportunity here, for people who want to put some chips down on the future of digital democracy? After all – why not bet on a better world? And yes, there is. In the next couple of months, we will be announcing opportunities for supporters of digital democracy to participate in this new economy of digital democracy. If you would like to learn more, you can read our DAO Pitchdeck - and join our list!
Of course, cryptocurrency investing is not for everyone. For Ethelo and eDemocracy supporters, our driving motivation is hope - and growing opportunity – for social change through democracy. Over the coming months and years, we will be inviting you to join the journey with us. In particular, you will be invited to become a member of eDemocracy DAO, to learn about the new developments, participate as either a voter, moderator, expert, or delegate, and become a part of a movement to create a truly democratic future. And with it - the solution to some of the most challenging problems facing humanity, such as climate change, income inequality and much more.