2021 is a year of turbulence for DAOs. From the rapid crowdfunding of PleasrDAO to buy well-known NFTs, to a16z’s investment in FWB DAO, a cultural community in the Panxing District, a series of landmark events have witnessed the evolution and activity of the new organizational form of DAO.
The scope of DAO initially focused on Defi project governance, but now it has expanded to investment, crowdfunding, interest communities and other fields, showing the trend that everything can be DAO. Messari’s 2021 year-end report even believes that “if the theme of 2020 is Defi and the theme of 2021 is NFT, then the theme of 2022 will be DAO.”
The popularity of DAO has undoubtedly broken through people’s original cognition of organizational form, but what exactly is breaking the old and establishing the new has not yet been clearly defined. Different people have different views on the nature and definition of DAO. For example, Messari believes that DAO is an “online mobile community, and assets are managed by community contributors”.
Bankless believes that DAO is a “Crypto-native community built around a common mission”, while a16z believes that DAO is a “network-native global group that shares resources, builds products, and works together around common goals.” These definitions all emphasize that DAO is a “cooperative community”, but there is no consensus on the core elements , such as cooperation model, asset management method, etc.
Today, when the concept of DAO is generalized, it is better to clarify the source and review the context and connotation of the term when it was first created, so that we will find out how much we misunderstand DAO. The use of the term DAO has actually deviated from its original meaning, but comparing such changes can help us better understand the nature of DAO and the reasons for its rapid rise.
1. Brief history, definition and classification of DAO
1.1 Brief History: The Ancient Definitions of Butterfly and BM
The three core terms of DAO: Decentralized Autonomous Organization, both decentralization and organization are well understood. Decentralization is the basic meaning of blockchain. Distributed systems ensure the openness of the network. Organization is a general term for an entity. Autonomous is something we often overlook.
In Chinese, DAO is often translated as a decentralized autonomous organization. The “autonomy” in it is easy to understand as self-governance, but in fact, the original English expression is “automatic and spontaneous, without human intervention”. Take a closer look. Today, none of the PleasrDAO, FWB DAO, and People DAO we are discussing seems to be “automatic” operation and management, and basically rely on people’s governance, but the token distribution relies on the blockchain to execute.
But in fact, in the creation stage of DAO, “Autonomous” is a very important concept, and the loss of this concept just reflects the demand of Web3 users for “rule of man”.
The earliest discussion related to the DAO concept came from the legendary BM (Dan Larimer) in the chain circle. In 2013, BM compared it to “DAC” (Decentralized Autonomous Corporation) when explaining the mechanism of Bitshares to people .
And the core of the induction DAC is “having its own blockchain to exchange DAC shares (note: tokens)”, must not rely on “any individual, company or organization to have value”, “cannot have private keys”, “Cannot rely on any legal contract”.
DAC is the first creation of BM. Although the definition is not completely clear, it is worth noting that DAC is used to describe a complete product such as Bitshares. It believes that a product is a company, no longer depends on human management, and has obvious Autonomous connotations.
Later, Vitalik borrowed and fine-tuned this term, and started to use the concept of “DAO” in the Ethereum Foundation blog, and believed that DAC is a subset of DAO, and DAC is for profit, while DAO is not limited to this. In addition, the understanding of Vitalik and BM is basically in one direction, while Vitalik defines DAO at a more abstract level.
According to Vitalik’s definition, the core difference between DAO and related concepts is whether it has internal capital, whether it is dominated by autonomy or dominated by people. Vitalik believes that the quadrant of DAO is: autonomy as the main, human rule as the supplement, and internal capital .
Whether you have internal capital is mainly used to distinguish DAO from DA (Decentralized Applications). The latter represents BitTorrent, which has only decentralized functions but no corresponding incentive system. This point is basically consistent with our current understanding of DAO. Assets It is a core element of DAO.
The autonomy/rule of man distinction is the point here. Automotion autonomy is relative to human behavior. The extreme form of autonomy is AI , with no human intervention at all; DAO is the main autonomy + secondary human governance to ensure the operation of the organization; and if there are more human governance components, This organization will lose its Autonomous part and become DO, the Decentralized Oraganizaitons.
Under such a definition, Vitalik and BM have the same basic understanding: the world’s first DAO is Bitcoin , because Bitcoin has internal asset allocation, the main operation is automatically completed by the blockchain code, and occasionally human intervention is required for decision-making.
Comparing the ancient definitions of Vitalik Buterin and BM with our usage habits today, we can clearly feel that the DAO we mentioned today does not demand its Autonomous connotation . The DAOs we are talking about are often separated from specific products and refer to a shared community. In the community, “rule of man” must be an important part rather than an auxiliary. In fact, it is more inclined to the decentralized organization that Vitalik Buterin said. DO.
There are two contrasts that further highlight this change.
Taking Bitcoin as an example, Vitalik mentioned an interesting point: Bitcoin is closer to DAO most of the time, but in the fork event in 2013, it was more like DO: at that time, due to the upgrade of the code version, some miners did not upgrade, resulting in Two chains were created, and finally returned to the original version according to the community decision.
Today, we would probably consider this event to be a typical DAO governance case, while at the time Vitalik would think it reflected that Bitcoin was not autonomous enough.
BM specifically pointed out that China’s Babbitt claims to have a member DAC, but this is obviously a misuse of DAC, because Babbitt will centrally screen members. Does centralized screening seem familiar? Isn’t this the well-known member entry threshold of FWB DAO? But today, I’m afraid no one would accuse the FWB DAO of not being a DAO.
In the ancient definition, DAO has a strong meaning of removing human will, emphasizing that projects rely on rules such as code to run automatically, but as time goes back, the part of Automation in DAO becomes weaker and weaker, and gradually becomes DO. When did the shift happen?
The discussion between Buterin and BM took place in 2013~2014, and the first well-known project to implement the concept was The DAO in 2016. In addition to the discussion of blockchain values caused by hacker attacks, another significance of The DAO may be that it has opened the change of the DAO concept from pointing to a complete product to a human-governed organization .
The core operating mechanism of The DAO is to crowdfund ETH through smart contracts and exchange DAO tokens to give participants the right to vote. After the votes are passed, token investments will be automatically allocated through smart contracts. The difference between The DAO and the DAO concept in the past is that it introduces a voting link that relies on human actions, but the same point is that the voting results will be automatically executed on the smart contract, which still contains the connotation of Automation.
As time goes by, the rule of man in DAO has become a reserved project, but whether the decision-making result is automatically executed is no longer a necessary condition – refer to PleasrDAO and ConstitutionDAO, bidding for NFT and a copy of the US Constitution is a human action, and the project cannot rely on it Any code is executed automatically. The DAO, where Automation is getting weaker and weaker, has become the mainstream today, but it is also in such an environment that DAO has begun to take on new meaning and vitality.
1.2 Definition: current usage habits and core elements
From the strict definition of DAO to the current generalized use, the core change is that the DAO commonly known by people contains more and more “rule of man”, and the meaning of Autonomous project’s spontaneous governance is getting weaker and weaker.
From a fundamentalist perspective, today’s DAOs are basically DOs. However, as we get used to it, we might as well accept the title of the term DAO, and while absorbing the initial connotation, examine the principle of the current project’s appearance to abstract a new definition.
Most of the DAOs that have emerged in the past two years are due to the need for people to do something together. For example, PleasrDAO originally wanted to gather and buy a pair of NFTs, FWB DAO was to match some people with common interests, and Curve DAO was to jointly determine the rate of return of the LP pool. The interaction and joint decision-making between people and people is the reason for the emergence of these DAOs. common cause.
Another necessary condition is the blockchain. People can use the blockchain technology to realize the automatic bookkeeping and distribution of the organization, which is equivalent to having an equity mechanism, so an operating entity that realizes the automatic distribution of capital through the blockchain is born.
Combining Vitalik’s refinement in 2014 and the current usage habits of people, Chain Tea House concludes that DAO is a new type of human cooperation model , and its core elements include:
- Possess internal capital, motivates the behavior of participants through benefit distribution, and ensures the operation of the organization
- Have a certain degree of autonomy, that is, the ability to automatically make decisions and execute independently of human will and behavior
- There is a certain degree of human governance, and the human governance model is decentralized, that is, all members have a way to participate in decision-making
Regarding the first point, there is no doubt that token incentives through internal capital are the cornerstone to ensure that participants make behaviors that are conducive to the development of the organization.
The last two points are a summary of the evolution of DAO. Compared with Vitalik’s definition in 2014, the ratio of autonomy/rule of man is looser here, and autonomy is regarded as an adjustable parameter that must be greater than 0 rather than the main part. In the actual DAO case, the autonomous part is usually reflected in the automatic distribution of tokens on the blockchain, such as crowdfunding ETH convertible project tokens, which are guaranteed not to be tampered with.
In any case, a certain degree of autonomy is necessary, otherwise it becomes complete rule of man . In Vitalik’s definition, even the DO relies on the blockchain, and perhaps he believes that an organization without autonomy at all cannot achieve true decentralization.
Many people will acquiesce that DAO is an organization based on blockchain, but in a more essential sense, the core is organizational autonomy, blockchain is just a means of autonomy, and there may be new ways in the future; on the other hand, if The blockchain becomes a form of project hype and loses the connotation of autonomy, which also deviates from the original meaning of DAO.
The discussion on the rule of man is brought about by the recent practice of DAO. In the early definition, the rule of man was on the fringes, and there were not many models to speak of, but now, the rule of man is an important part of many DAOs, and a variety of cooperation models have also been derived. It is necessary to define the concept of rule of man first.
The rule of man contains two meanings, one is decision-making, and the other is behavior.
Regarding the decision-making part, it is worth discussing that if the current DAO itself is an organization built around people, is the voting decision of people also a form of organizational autonomy? Our opinion is no.
Although The DAO also has a voting session, the voting to decide the investment project itself is within the scope of the rules, not an external decision. In many DAOs today, people’s decision-making scope can be expanded almost infinitely, and they can initiate new projects and even decide the direction of the organization’s development. , which cannot be defined within organizational rules, but are actually external human wills.
Therefore, the core difference between the rule of man and autonomy is that the rule of man can break the rules . If the scope of voting decisions is within the scope clearly defined by the rules, it can be regarded as autonomy, and if it is outside the rules, it is the rule of man. This also determines that the evolution of DAOs under human governance will be extremely complex and rapid, and different DAOs will also have unique human governance models.
The behavior part is relatively easy to understand. For example, the behavior of DAO participating in the bidding needs to be completed by humans and cannot be executed automatically through code. Therefore, the definition of the rule of man is “outside the original rules, people discuss and make decisions about the development of the organization, and implement all decisions that cannot be automatically implemented . ”
Another problem brought about by the rule of man is the definition of “decentralization”. In the context of around 2014, DAOs all refer to products built on the blockchain, which are naturally decentralized. Now that the rule of man has been introduced, decentralization is no longer self-evident. Fortunately, when people understand DAO, they usually compare it with traditional companies, and DAOs usually allow all members to have certain decision-making power, which is much more decentralized than traditional companies.
Strictly speaking, DAOs are not all decentralized. For example, FWB has a 15-person review team to screen all applicants for membership, which is closed to a certain extent, but this feature is also accepted by most people. . Therefore, in our definition, the rule of man model must achieve decentralization in the right of members to participate in decision-making, but it does not require complete openness.
With this definition, the function of the DAO can be more clearly stated: through the distribution of benefits and autonomous protection (rather than the protection of other conditions such as laws) to motivate participants to behave in line with organizational goals, and to achieve members through a decentralized model of human governance A cooperative organization in which members share management rights.
1.3 Classification: five mainstream categories according to usage scenarios
It can be seen from the function of DAO that all organizations that require human cooperation can be established in the form of DAO, so the use scenarios of DAO will be extremely wide. By classifying the main usage scenarios of DAO, that is, people’s cooperation goals, Chain Tea House has classified DAO as follows:
- Project governance DAO : a governance community established by relying on an independent product, such as CurveDAO in the Defi field.
- Resource scheduling DAOs : Raise resources to accomplish common purposes, such as MetaCartel focusing on Dapp investment, PleasrDAO focusing on NFT collections, ConstitutionDAO crowdfunding auctions for copies of the U.S. Constitution, and YGG DAO buying large game NFT assets.
- Cultural interest DAO : Users gather and socialize around similar cultural interests, but do not have a single fixed purpose, such as FWB DAO.
2. Sorting out typical DAO projects
2.1 Project governance DAO: CurveDAO
After the Defi Summer in 2020, a series of leading Defi projects such as Compound, Aave, and Curve have been launched successively for governance, opening a precedent for project management through DAO. CurveDAO is the poster child for it, and it is in the spotlight due to the Convex War brought about by its voting rights.
CurveDAO is created based on the Aragon framework, but unlike the usual one-coin-one-vote mechanism, CurveDAO adopts a time-weighted mechanism: CRV holders can lock CRV to obtain the voting token veCRV, which cannot be traded and can only be obtained by locking, Lock up for a maximum of 1 week and a maximum of 4 years. The longer the lock-up time, the greater the voting rights, and the weight will gradually decrease as the lock-up period approaches.
The longer the lock-up, the higher the trust in the project. Through such a design, Curve allows users who have a long-term lock-up to gain greater voting weight to solve the problem that the project is simply guided by large funds.
Through veCRV voting, the incentive parameters of the mining pool can be determined, so this governance right has a very large interest space. Many Defi projects use their own tokens to incentivize veCRV holders to guide veCRV holders to vote to improve the incentive parameters of their token pools.
Convex also has the incentive of the token CVX to guide users to pledge CRV on the Convex platform to obtain the governance rights of Curve, and even reuse the CRV lock-up mechanism, which stipulates that users who lock the Convex token CVX can vote on Convex. Triggered a second round of power struggles at Convex.
Here we will see an interesting phenomenon: since CurveDAO is a blockchain-native, open and non-audit-free DAO, as long as you are willing to hold and lock CRV, you can participate in governance, so the participants are extremely wide, and the members of DAO can participate in governance. Governance rights can even be contested as a commodity.
The entry threshold for project governance DAOs is very low. Usually, as long as you hold project tokens, you can participate in DAOs, and governance rights will determine the interests of project participants. Therefore, there may be a buying and selling market for governance rights . Relatively speaking, other types of DAOs will have a certain degree of closure, and the distribution of governance rights of DAOs will be more fixed.
2.2 Resource scheduling class DAO
2.2.1 Investing in DAO: MetaCartel
MetaCartel is a DAO that invests in early Dapps and has invested in Gelato, Rarible, Pocket Network and many other projects.
MetaCartel is double protected by smart contracts and laws: on the one hand, it adopts the smart contract framework of Moloch V2, and on the other hand, it also registers a physical company. Claims to be similar to an open source software project + angel fund. The investment amount is between $20,000 and $100,000.
The entire organization is divided into three categories of people: The first category is active contributors, who are mainly responsible for project search, due diligence, and investment decisions. If these people are no longer active in the DAO, they may be forcibly withdrawn from the organization, and they can also withdraw at any time.
Redeem funds on the blockchain; the second type of person is the “official investor” representing the legal entity of the company and does not need to contribute as actively as the first type of member; the third type of person provides legal, financial and other services for the operation of the DAO, Charges a flat fee and does not have to be a member of the DAO.
To sum up, MetaCartel is divided into two types. The first type is the DAO members native to the blockchain, who really complete the investment task and rely on the blockchain for their main behavior; legal and financial interactions.
DAOs like MetaCartel combine the genes of Web3 and the traditional off-chain world , which is a hybrid model. Compared with traditional funds, MetaCartel’s fund management is carried out on the chain, providing a member withdrawal mechanism without auditing, and the fund management model is completely different.
Moreover, it emphasizes the joint decision-making of members, which has a stronger color of flat management. Compared with the original DAO on the chain, MetaCartel has strong interaction with the legal world under the chain and has a legal entity status.
MetaCartel currently has more than 60 DAO members. The entry threshold is 10~200 ETH for individuals (minimum 5 ETH for women) and 50~200 ETH for organizations. New members need to be reviewed by existing members.
2.2.2 NFT Collection DAO: PleasrDAO
PleasrDAO is a Crypto art collection DAO dedicated to collecting Crypto works of profound cultural significance. Its token is $PEEPS, and the current full-circulation market value is about $15 million.
PleasrDAO originated from a crowdfunding organization formed by some users to bid for a pair of NFTs owned by the artist pplleasr. pplpleasr is famous for creating promotional works for several leading Defi projects such as Aave and Uniswap, and auctioned the “x*y=k” promotional video it created for Unisawp V3 as an NFT.
Someone started to gather users to crowdfund ETH on Twitter, and quickly released the token $PEEPS as a crowdfunding certificate, and finally bought the work for 310 ETH (about $525,000 at the time).
Subsequently, PleasrDAO also took the famous meme expression doge NFT of the whole network with 1,696 ETH (about 5.5 million US dollars at the time), and made an NFT sharing attempt based on this NFT: split the NFT into tens of billions of homogeneous generations Tokens, and share NFTs by selling these tokens. Now, the full circulation market value of the doge NFT project has reached more than 80 million US dollars, which is shared by more than 7,000 addresses.
PleasrDAO is still making new attempts and even hatching new DAOs. At the end of 2021, PleasrDAO established FreeRossDAO, which aims to buy Ross Ulbricht’s NFT, split it for more people to share, and donate the money to save Ross. Ross Ulbricht, the founder of the well-known darknet marketplace Silk Road, was arrested in 2013 and charged with money laundering and other charges. He was eventually sentenced to a double life sentence, plus 40 years in prison without the possibility of parole. FreeRossDAO took a series of Ross’s NFT works for 1,446 ETH, and the current market value of the project’s full circulation is about more than 3 million US dollars.
PleasrDAO currently has more than 80 members, and there is no public access channel, but individual positions with photos will be disclosed.
2.2.3 Crowdfunding DAO: Constitution DAO
ConstitutionDAO is a DAO organization established to crowdfund the purchase of a copy of the original U.S. Constitution, and participants will receive voting rights to manage the copy of the Constitution. ConstitutionDAO crowdfunded a total of 47 million US dollars, but the auction failed. At present, the core team no longer runs the DAO, and the redemption of all funds is also open.
ConstitutionDAO is a civilian DAO that assembles rapidly in a short period of time, with a clear goal of action. Although the establishment was rushed and the framework was not complete, compared with the traditional crowdfunding behavior, ConstitutionDAO’s fund raising and redemption are carried out through the blockchain, which is open and transparent.
However, ConstitutionDAO still relies heavily on the off-chain world, partnering with the non-profit Endaoment since its inception, which assisted it in auctions at Sotheby’s. At the same time, DAO also set up a limited company to avoid problems in cooperation with Endaoment. Moreover, DAO’s fund management is also relatively centralized. The wallet is managed by 13 core members, and at least 7 of them need to sign to use the property.
2.2.4 Game Guild DAO: YGG DAO
The game guild YGG, which has risen in Gamefi, established YGG DAO in 2021 and released its token $YGG as a DAO member certificate and governance token. The current full circulation market value is about 3.4 billion US dollars.
The core business model of YGG is to buy NFT assets in P2E games and rent them to other players to make money. The change of YGG DAO compared with the original guild model is that the functions of the guild are gradually migrated to the smart contract to realize the automatic operation of the DAO. YGG hopes to migrate players’ reward distribution, asset management, NFT leasing and other functions to the blockchain, and the $YGG token holders will jointly vote for the resolution and execute it automatically.
In addition, YGG DAO will also customize a separate SubDAO for the main game. SubDAO has its own rules, but still contributes revenue to YGG DAO as a whole. The customized SubDAO will have an exclusive responsible player who will have his own wallet and tokens, and will be able to borrow NFTs from the YGG treasury.
In this way, YGG expands the number of decision participants and automates some of its functions. However, YGG’s current asset management method is still partial, and the misappropriation of assets requires at least two of the three co-founders of YGG to jointly sign.
Schematic diagram of the YGG DAO ecosystem
2.3 Cultural interest DAO: FWB DAO
The FWB DAO originated as a private Discord channel of a small wave of Web3 enthusiasts and gradually developed into a global community. FWB DAO has its own token $FWB, with a total of 1 million tokens, and the current full circulation market value is about 50 million US dollars
As mentioned above, FWB sets a high community threshold. Applicants first need to write a self-introduction, pass the review of a 15-person team, and then purchase 75 $FWB tokens to join, these tokens are worth today. About $3,000.
The community has a common mission: to inspire Web3 users to create and share. In the community, members will share discussions on topics such as art and food, and jointly initiate and execute multiple projects, such as developing wallet-verified ticket products, incubating and exhibiting NFT works, and building community dynamic real-time boards. In 2021, FWB DAO received an undisclosed amount from a16z.
NFT works incubated by FWB DAO
The operation mode of FWB is as follows: members are basically divided into the roles of team leaders, active contributors and community members. Team leaders will lead different teams to complete the project, including the aforementioned NFT incubation, product development, etc.; active contributors help the project to be implemented; wider community members can participate in proposal governance.
In addition, there is a Board of Directors, consisting of a subset of employees, community members and advisors, that determines the strategy of the FWB DAO. Each team leader regularly applies for a budget, which is allocated according to the proposals on the Snapshot. FWB DAO has its own asset wallet, and the keys are jointly managed by core members.
The division of labor of FWB DAO
3. Summary: The value and trend of DAO
This paper sorts out the evolution of DAO from its early definition to the connotation of today’s use, and points out that DAO is a new model of human cooperation. Contracts are typical; decentralized human governance means that all employees have a way to participate in decision-making. Summarizing mainstream DAOs, several types of differences can be seen.
Project governance DAOs are native DAOs based on blockchain projects. All voting decisions are related to the progress of the project itself, and it is a product-based governance community. This type of DAO has the highest degree of on-chain, that is, the highest degree of autonomy, and the entry threshold is generally low, and the degree of decentralization is correspondingly high. Therefore, governance rights are prone to be influenced by the direction of interests.
Project governance DAOs also create a project community operation model, which is an important way for Web3 projects to encourage community members to participate and form a project moat. It is conceivable that such models will be very common in the future.
The degree of decentralization and autonomy of resource scheduling DAOs is relatively low. Some of them are highly closed, such as PleasrDAO and MetaCartel, which have high entry barriers, and members are fixed in a small number of people; the other part has a relatively low threshold, but there is a relatively centralized core management team, such as the game guild YGG The assets of the DAO are managed by the three co-founders, and the assets and strategy of the ConstituionDAO are also managed by the core team.
In addition, many DAOs require the assistance of the off-chain world. For example, ConstitutionDAO requires other organizations to bid on its behalf, and many activities cannot be completed automatically on the chain. Resource scheduling DAOs have very similar functions to traditional crowdfunding and small companies, but with the help of blockchain, the transparency and openness of asset management is realized, and it is likely to become a new model for many organizations in the future.
Cultural community DAOs are similar to resource scheduling DAOs in terms of decentralization and autonomy, but they are less purposeful and more like social and cultural experiments. The development of cultural community DAOs is the most unstable. If a fixed product or a clear purpose is produced, it may also be transformed into a project governance DAO and a resource scheduling DAO.
Compared with the past organizational model, DAO implements asset management and automatic execution of some decisions through the blockchain, which achieves a larger scale of decision-making decentralization as a whole, which is in line with the open spirit of the blockchain. Although DAO still faces problems such as unclear legal status, the efficient, flexible and transparent value of DAO will inevitably make it have a broad space for evolution.