A Year of cycle_dao

Arthur Falls
Arthur Falls
A Year of cycle_dao
Table of Contents
Table of Contents

This (frankly, very unacceptably) long overdue post is a belated announcement of the termination of cycle_dao as a named neuron and a swansong to what was a pretty cool experiment in group governance.

The individual members of the cycle_dao team have too much on their plates to productively engage with NNS governance. I (Arthur Falls) am unilaterally controlling the neuron but have pointed it at the ICPMN named neuron. The cycle_dao neuron will continue to vote on all proposals as this is the primary concern indicated by followers.

However, cycle_dao followers did not elect to follow ICPMN themselves, and as such, this is a breach of public trust. I’d like to personally apologize for this. The hope was that a proposal for allowing manual voting for the entire voting period would be implemented in time to avoid such issues. I’m sorry this didn't eventuate and that expectations weren’t met. As I was the one primarily soliciting followers, this is on me and not other members of cycle_dao who were freely offering valuable support for no pay.

This post was preceded by one regarding resurrecting Badlands and nested subnets with different rules. Two further posts in the works include an exploration of better-structured governance and another on the creation of general policy which can be used as a basis for making governance decisions. The need for these discussions to take place should become clear here.

Today we will briefly cover the history of cycle_dao and some learnings that can be extracted from the experience. This is a highly abridged account of the author's version of events and personal views, not to be ascribed to any other individual cycle_dao member or cycle_dao as a whole. With that liberating proviso, let’s dive in!


Establishment

Shortly after the launch of the Internet Computer on the 10th of May 2021, Norton Wang, Harrison Hines, and I had a series of discussions about how best to support the ecosystem. There were two clear trajectories of action: Create an ecosystem investment fund and create a follow target neuron. We opted for the second. Norton built the cycle_dao website, software that would allow a group of people to control a neuron (Axon), and designed the logo. I produced a podcast, The Internet Computer Weekly, and an accompanying newsletter. We also started the cycle_dao blog to give us a place to publish our perspectives and ideas.

It was clear in the early stages that a follow target neuron would have to compete with the DFINITY Foundation as a locus of trust. To acquire this trust, we reached out to major players in the ecosystem to lend their names to the project and collectively control the neuron. There was a lot of interest, and we soon had a solid bench of participants. We then solicited seed-rounders - the largest non-DFINITY voting block - to follow the neuron. We contacted these people through a combination of publicity through the podcast and Twitter, pre-existing relationships, and private online communities.

The stated policy of the neuron was to represent the interests of the Internet Computer community. However, in the pursuit of seed rounders, cycle_dao was sometimes pitched as serving seed round interests. This didn't feel like a meaningful slippage in those early days, but over time, the need for better policy definition became clear. Maybe cycle_dao will restart at some stage and truly represent seed round interests. In my view, there is a strong need for this.

Decision Making & Politics

Initially, our decision-making process was simple. We discussed proposals in a Telegram channel as they appeared in the DFINITY Developer Forum and determined how to vote collectively. The quorum requirement was two, meaning that if two members were prepared to Adopt or Reject a proposal that was sufficient for the group. This meant that only the members who felt qualified and directly affected were required to participate in a given proposal discussion. Internally we had a strong trust, so a higher bar was not required. We made an effort to publicize our decision-making process through blog posts and Twitter.

Soon after beginning this process, we came across challenges. Our follower constituency - predominantly seed-rounders - resented having their tokens locked up for four years without consultation. This was their primary interest (there were a number of secondaries). While this could have been changed through an NNS proposal, there was not yet a culture of submitting community-created proposals, and the general consensus was that reducing the lockup period of seed-round tokens would crash the price of ICP.

This created a dynamic where proposals were not being put forward that were relevant to our constituency. As a result, they were generally not interested in how we were voting. Only that we were voting on all proposals - giving them the maximum voting reward. This became the only really stable policy of cycle_dao - vote on everything.

We can liken the problem to politics: In peacetime, a nation's population is likely to be primarily focused on internal affairs. The public is not going to have a strong opinion about the military budget - whether tax money is spent on tanks or planes is not an area of interest to them. However, if all policymakers are focused on irrelevant military spending, voters naturally become apathetic to the decisions of their leaders.

That was the state of the NNS for the first few months of launch and, even if less so, it remains the case to the present day. Proposals of interest to the voting base - the seed rounders - were not and generally are not being put forward.

There is some well-trodden political philosophy that says legitimacy in a democracy is derived from votes. You vote, establish legitimacy, and then the governance system assigns authority based on where legitimacy lies. But if you live in a place like Singapore where there is only one party to vote for (this isn't strictly true, but we aren’t here to discuss Singaporean politics), the ability for this system to generate legitimacy breaks down. What you get instead is a single-axis approval poll. No judgment on how governance should take place is intended here.

With all this in mind, I interviewed a number of seed-rounders and created a document delineating their expressed concerns and opinions. A list of survey questions was then derived from this document so as to limit contamination of results through self-generated questions. This survey was distributed to a group of engaged seed rounders.

The responses to the survey were both highly emotional and divergent from the dominant public discourse in the IC community. This uncovered our first major problem. Our primary means for understanding the opinions of the community, the body we claimed to represent, was through the DFINITY Developer Forum, but our constituency was almost entirely absent from that discussion venue and had very different opinions. This tension raised a tripartite question:

Should we be representing the opinion of our followers, the opinion of the broader community (however that may be determined), or just vote the way we think is best?

To complicate things further, for most of 2021, the DFINITY Developer Forum had considerably less than 100 active participants (you can debate how to define this, but it is a fair statement). And many of those participants were DFINITY members. So, was the forum even an appropriate signal source to determine the perspective of the community? Especially in the context of a burgeoning Chinese ecosystem absent from the forum and siloed separately from the European community. By relying on the DFINITY Developer Forum, it felt like we were importing the perspective of the DFINITY Foundation and a subsection of the community into our decision-making. This isn't a criticism of forum participants. Just a recognition that the DFINITY Developer Forum is insufficient as an NNS governance signal source and that other sources aren’t forthcoming.

As the months passed post-launch, we pushed to further expand our follower base. We onboarded a cohort of ex-ConsenSys Employees and pushed to access the Chinese community. However, it proved challenging to onboard Chinese neuron holders. One issue was an insistence on the part of some Chinese neuron holders to keep their neurons following the DFINITY Foundation.

This was problematic for the following reason: They may add cycle_dao as a followee, but the voting rules for followers require an absolute majority of followee neurons to vote to Adopt a proposal for their neuron to vote Adopt. In the case where only two neurons are being followed, and one Rejects or Abstains (generally the case with the Foundation neurons on governance proposals), an Adopt vote by the other will lead to an abstention by the follower. This tongue-twister, alongside the conceptual challenge of using the NNS App, and the friction of the Internet Identity System, made it practically impossible to get Chinese ICP holders to correctly follow cycle_dao in those early days. The learning was that the way the NNS is structured is opinionated and excludes some participants. It would be valuable to empirically test these statements today and examine changes over time.

Dramas

During this period, ecosystem dramas raised tensions. The People Parties proposal and The infamous Mario 64 controversy drove a wedge through the community and cycle_dao itself. In relation to the Mario 64 game canister hosted on the IC. The consensus in cycle_dao was that the NNS should not participate in any form of censorship and that cycle_dao should hold a hard anti-censorship line.

However, there was significant diversity in cycle_dao members' reasons for holding this position. It raised the need for developing a clear set of voting policies, but no members of cycle_dao were prepared to undertake such a significant task. On top of this, difficulty in establishing consensus around those policies was foreseeable.
Disappointingly, the Mario64 game was taken down before the matter could be decided by the NNS. If a vote had happened, we would at least have established a precedent. The DFINITY Foundation’s proactive response was highly divisive and traumatized many members of the blockchain-oriented segments of the IC community and cycle_dao itself. It left us without clarity on the platform’s ethics and confused about the nature of the project we were participating in.

People Parties raised another question about the role of DFINITY. With capable teams like ModClub already working on proof of human services, it appeared that DFINITY was competing with application developers. Given most members of cycle_dao were either application developers or investors, this raised questions about the security of their efforts. Furthermore, the very appearance of the proposal seemed confusing given the dire need for DeFi, and other capabilities that it was broadly felt should be the priority for the DFINITY Foundation. People Parties may have been consuming a small amount of effort, but that was not externally clear.


The End

After Mario64 and People Parties, things were less fun and the growing external workload of cycle_dao members led to a drop-off in participation. Wenzel Bartlett jumped on board, adding a new perspective to the discussion. His passion for governance and meticulous nature were reinvigorating. We needed his fresh perspective, but as the two loudest voices in the group, Wenzel and I could often find ourselves in (congenial) conflict over voting signal and philosophy.

Wenzel was active on the Developer Forum and invested in it as an indicator of community perspective. I was less sure that this was a true indicator of the community’s perspective for reasons already described and felt aligned with Seed-Rounders.

Finally, there remained the philosophical question of whether to represent the followers and the community or make the call that seemed best to cycle_dao members at the time. cycle_dao had advertised itself as representing the community, so this was our North Star, but argument and rebuttal in debates were sometimes unaligned and consequently resulted in an impasse.

This situation persisted for a while, but eventually, Wenzel joined ICPMN, and external responsibilities meant that I did not have enough time to continue to actively participate in governance. The cycle_dao neuron was set to follow the ICPMN and continues to do so.

Wrapping Up

This has been a very brief characterization of the cycle_dao story. It was a mostly fun and always valuable learning experience. However, during the process, many quirks of the NNS, Internet Computer, and supporting organizational infrastructure were uncovered. Hopefully, this helps shine a light on a few of these.

This post was a bit dry, and the subject is a little out of date. It is difficult to discuss a project that many other people were involved in and may have differing opinions of. Stay tuned for further, more whimsical explorations. Fallsy out.


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  • Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original author and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Dfinity Community staff and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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