SCRF Interviews | Culture and Incentivization - Abbey Titcomb and Nathan Schneider (Ep. 1)

The first episode of our “Culture and Incentivization’’ mini-series featured a conversation between Professor of Media Studies at CU Boulder Nathan Schneider, and Radicle’s Head of Community Abbey Titcomb, moderated by SCRF’s Head of Operations, Eugene Leventhal.

Video

Audio (available via Apple and other podcast players)

Transcript

At issue:

  • With so much focus on incentivization in web3 communities, what happens to culture? How much emphasis should decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) place on creating mandates and developing a shared sense of community or vision?

Takeaways from the discussion:

  • Web3 allows us to create an economic layer in internet communities but it risks economization. In other words, it risks reducing every activity in a community to one that is crass and incentive-seeking.
  • Culture is a potential bulwark against this tendency, but it needs active management, particularly with respect to conflict resolution. Codes of conduct and shared standards can help encourage openness and accessibility.
  • Web3 is a chance for making explicit what has previously been hidden within communities. People are more than just economic entities.

“Culture does the hard thing,” Radicle’s Abbey Titcomb says. “It gives [communities] a vision and allows them to build against traditional institutions.”

An easy way to see this is in the glorious proliferation of meme culture in the crypto community. “There’s a shared lore that people align their values with, and that’s why you see so much tribalism,” Titcomb says. “Culture is deeply powerful and embedded in the technology we’re designing.”

Some of this culture is planned for and mandated, but a lot emerges on its own. Incentivization techniques such as airdrops and openly rewarding contributors can harm this culture and muddle a community’s shared vision.

“Think of how anthropologists define gift economies,” Prof. Nathan Schneider explains. “Send grandma back the cash equivalent of her Christmas present to you this year, and see what happens to your relationship. The moment something is quantified it ceases to become a gift.”

Generations of research has demonstrated that incentivization changes the way people behave “If we design everything around incentives then everything we design becomes economic,” Schneider says. “You need to figure out the non-economic spaces.”

Which isn’t to say that incentivization shouldn’t be used in a community, just that it needs to be planned and counterbalanced for.

“My hot take is that financialization can stimulate culture and adoption,” Titcomb says. “Some people believe we can wield these tools to create new cultures. It’s chaos magic. I flip between agreeing and disagreeing with this sentiment every day.”

A community’s shared culture needs active thought and deliberation. “Culture can appear very quickly. There’s ideological culture, but there’s also working culture,” Titcomb says. “It’s how people communicate when they work together, how they share values…You have to reflect on it and how it’s contributing to a project’s success.”

She advocates for ensuring that openness and accessibility are inscribed as shared community values. “If you have a mandate,” Titcomb says, “then you’re able to craft the social spaces within a community and layout social infrastructure in a way that’s open.”

These mandates, in the form of contributor covenants, are beginning to spread. A big difference between web3 and the occasionally hostile-to-outsiders open-source software movement that preceded it is the spread of a set of shared cultural norms in the form of codes of conduct.

“Uniform rules allow norms to spread between communities,” says Schneider. These rules can keep communities safe while preventing the kind of rift that has driven some communities to hard forks or dissolution.

Both Schneider and Titcomb are eager to see what happens next in web3. They each see web3 as a chance to make explicit what was once hidden from view in communities.

For Schneider it is the hope that new tools will offer greater transparency and allow a community to hold its economy accountable. Titcomb agrees with the need for transparency, particularly when it comes to analyzing which early governance decisions are most important.

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Thanks for an invigorating podcast. I listened to it several times.

The conflict you isolate between incentives and culture seems a stand-in for a much bigger question: How will crypto/web3 operate within the economic injustices of capitalism? America in 2020 displayed a yawning gulf of inequality, with the top 1% of U.S. households holding 15 times more wealth than the bottom 50% combined. That statistic (and the steadfast denial of it) gets worse every year—much like the facts around climate change. Competing political systems (socialism, etc.) have aspired to correct such social ills, but most crypto enthusiasts seem apolitical at best if not blatantly right-wing. Does crypto have a soul (“culture”), and if so how can its soul be saved from the believers in “incentives above all else”?

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@Tolulope and @Muhammad, if you get a chance I’d love to read some of your observations from yesterday’s conversation in this thread.

Question for @ntnsndr who has been very generous with his time: I’d love to hear how this relates to some of the projects you’ve been discussing here at SCRF. How might CommunityRule and Modvol help steer culture and incentivization in communities?

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Thanks—those projects are really palettes—spaces for people to explore new kinds of combinations. Both are designed to be as expressive as possible. Neither has really centered incentivization in their design; I tend to assume that every community should design its own incentive structures, rather than having incentives built into common-good tools.

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Thanks to everyone involved in the podcast. Well done!

Historically, we’ve seen the broader culture change over time and with the introduction of innovations that alter perceptions of society. Years ago, Web2.0 was described as this freeing social space; now those systems have matured as have their earliest adopters. Successful Web2.0 organizations may have grown or died based on their initial setup, but how they are viewed today is at least in part influenced by how they managed cultural shifts and technological innovations (eg: de-platforming) and (eg: emotional experiments) .

Today many feel differently and hype up Web3. So much of our conversation today is about establishing a great culture and adopting governance principles. It’ll be interesting to see how these new communities, having invested in an initial set of principles, are forced to adapt over the next few years as these experiments play out, new technologies and organizations arise, and when/if incentives change.

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@rlombreglia I think the inherent pitfall for the argument that communities require a soul (“culture”) is that communities are first and foremost made up of individuals and not how individuals are made by communities. Of course, I am not arguing for the capitalistic approach of single-minded “incentives above all else”. However, individuals may not be the most tangible variable in the formation of decentralized communities. I think it is also important to stress what divides communities as well as what unites them. I think so because individuals are unique entities where each and everyone has their own thoughts, experiences, hopes, and dreams that set them apart from who they actually are.

To allow for the coexistence of an individual’s status quo as well as the privilege for an individual to hope for a better future, certain ambiguity, falsehoods, or injustices needs to be allowed. Social media as this kind of ambiguous medium has lots of individuals who project their desired identities or way of life through it. The subject of governance has a set of rules or theorems that defines what is good or bad governance, but each country’s constitution will be very different depending on a populace’s strategic needs, cultural needs, geographical needs, hierarchical needs etc… The invention of fiat coinage is another very good example of what individuals use to symbolize a value hierarchy of differences. Although the intrinsic value of a discipline, material or superficial ideas have fundamentally different inceptions, transactions between these can still be possible through fiat. And I think having these dynamic differences within a group of people is a very healthy thing.

So apart from the differences between each party in a community, there are also differences within the party itself. I think it is a way better model to be able to articulate to the finest unit of understanding each and every uniqueness so that there can be growth first for the individual and then for the community. Incentives are one very rudimentary topic that propels an individual’s behavior but it is not the only element that defines a person. I think an individual can be so dynamically and abstractly curious just with the individual him or her self and that is also where i think the emphasis needs to be put more upon.

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I think web 3 communities will undergo expected and unexpected cultural shifts in response to mandates. One way to manage culture shifts could be rolling out mandates in phases with reflection points on how it impacted individuals and the community. I also think its everyone’s job to manage and shape culture but in terms of conflicts, I feel there will be cases where resolutions or encouragement to leave are most appropriate, but Im not sure what that process would or could look like. Lastly, it’ll be interesting to see how the function of incentives expands to express the non-economic impact on a community ie joy, closer connections, etc but of course, that’s only if individuals see value in this kind of impact.

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I found this podcast episode very interesting, a few thoughts that came to mind was how do we ensure inclusivity when creating new communities (Jargon, Memes, Language) especially considering African countries and regions. Lastly considering that financialization can stimulate creativity and culture how can specific knowledge gaps be considered before creating said communities and embracing new cultures and technologies.

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Blockquote Titcomb says. “Culture is deeply powerful and embedded in the technology we’re designing.”
CULTURE DRIVES TECHNOLOGY

The culture of web-three has been defined by decentralization, liberation and freedom. This
means that it’s not just about technology, but also values that drive tech culture & its ethos. The role of culture in decentralized systems.

Trust Decentralize

Culture is everything for decentralized systems. We can trace the Free & Open-Source movement back to its roots in the culture of free software, but today’s Web 3 culture is shaped by a new set of values and beliefs. These include decentralization and liberation from centralized intermediaries, as well as freedom and trust through personal control over data.

Culture is influential in driving technology. The values of decentralization, liberation and freedom are changing mainstream culture. The technology driven web-three is challenging centralized corporations through ideology of trust and extraction to create new ways of transacting with each other and re-inserting control in the hands of the individual

  1. Pick a pattern from your wardrobe
  2. Pick a colour from your wardrobe
  3. Pick an item for the occasion
  4. Pick an accessory for the occasion

The role that culture plays in the development of decentralized systems cannot be underestimated—it’s what drives technological movements forward by creating an ecosystem where developers can contribute on equal terms with each other, regardless of their background or experience level.

The trustless conversation is the start of a new product’s lifecycle, a consumer offers a company information about their product, in exchange for a discounted price or some sort of it benefit. The consumer will be asked to upload research they have done on best pricing, quality and fair trade. The data will then be entered into a public forum where other consumers can view that information as well as contribute their own opinions regarding the product. This would create more liquidity in the marketplace with peer-to-peer.

Support a Free & Open-Source Movement. See Movements to Change Society

A social movement that has influenced countless other decentralized systems. The Free & Open-Source movement began in the late 20th century, and its roots can be traced back to the hacker culture that emerged during the 1960s. The hacker culture was an underground subculture of programmers who met each other at conferences, such as Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) meetings at MIT or Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL)
meetings at Stanford University.

The Free & Open-Source movement began when Richard Stallman published a manifesto called
“The GNU Manifesto” in 1983, which was later revised into another document named “GNU Manifesto Version 2.” These documents outlined the philosophy behind GNU operating system—one of the first operating systems to be developed with an open source license—and how it would operate within a
community setting:

  • Users should have free access to run and study all software programs;
  • Users should be able to redistribute copies of software;
  • Users should be allowed to modify copies of any software they receive;

Culture drives technological movements. Culture is crucial to the success of decentralized systems.

This same culture drives Web-3 decentralization, liberation from third parties and freedom from
censorship. The Free & Open-Source movement was driven by a culture of free software, which emphasized personal control over technology and trust in one another.

Web 3 culture of decentralization, liberation and freedom is personal control & trust. Similar to the Free & Open-Source movement driven by the culture of free software, Web 3 culture is driven by a few core values:

  • Decentralization - Empowering individuals to have more control over their information and digital identities.
  • Liberation - Giving people access to technology that can help them gain financial independence from centralized institutions such as banks or governments.
  • Freedom - Supporting an open marketplace where users can choose between competing services without being locked into specific platforms or companies (or censorship).

Trust-less and decentralized culture drives innovation for the internet

I don’t trust verification, the ethos is driving a wave of new technology. Ethos is a set of beliefs or values that guide people in their decisions, actions and words. It can be hard to define ethos as it can be both individual and collective, but we see it as a positive force for change in society. Ethos drives technology and challenges traditional institutions that have defined mainstream culture, such as big
banks, government agencies and large corporations.

So this ideological culture, which developers & creators can opt into, drives technology and
challenges traditional institutions that have defined mainstream culture. The web-three
culture of decentralization, liberation and freedom is personal control & trust. I don’t trust verification, the ethos is driving a wave of new technology.

The culture that developers and creators can opt into is the most important driver of technology
in decentralized systems; it’s what makes them different from mainstream institutions. If you understand where this ideology came from (and can apply it) then you’re on your way to understanding how these systems work and why they’re so powerful.

Specifically, with the web three-movement, it’s challenging the centralized platforms that have
developed their corporations & have driven, our day-to-day online experience with certain values of centralization of trust and extraction.

These values are what we’re seeing shift in technology today. The same way that you see a change
in thinking around energy consumption or waste management—people realizing that there are other ways to do things—this is beginning to happen in the web world too. You can see this happening when we talk about web three and blockchain technology because it’s using these alternative culture drivers to bring forth a new wave of technology keeps developing new technology & steward new
futures within the vision of the Internet.

Similarly, technology has embedded those values within mainstream culture, web-three is
using these alternative culture drivers to bring forth a new wave of technology keeps developing new technology & steward new futures within the vision of the Internet.

A trusted platform for decentralized systems.

Web-Three can’t continue to exist in the old centralized-style, culture of web-one, driven by the extraction and centralization of power.We need to push web-three culture forward, to provide a new vector for technological movement effectively stewarding new futures, pushing us towards decentralization liberation and freedom is personal control & trust mass adoption, that can help people to achieve self-sovereign individual freedom.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”. Quoting one of the founders of Existentialism makes sense in a world where we’ve been building systems on top of the previous world. Our technology reflects the values of our culture. As decentralized technologies evolve and continue to challenge the centralized ones, new culture will emerge. Web-Three is not only about decentralized technologies, but also about culture.

So, as you can see, this is a very essential role that culture plays in decentralized systems & technology. This is why the ideology behind Web 3 is so important because it’s driving a wave of new technology through the ethos of decentralization and liberation from traditional institutions such as centralized platforms like Discourse, Discord & Twitter.

How To Use Economic Incentives To Shape Culture

The economic aspects of life have driven humanity’s development for centuries. The impact of economic choices on people’s moods and behaviors is far-reaching.

The question is: to what extent do economic incentives shape culture?

The importance of economic incentives

Culture is interwoven with economics, and vice versa.

And economic incentives can play an important role in shaping social behavior. They can be used to encourage or discourage certain behaviors.

For example, a DAO that wants to promote collaboration among its members may be more likely to promote cooperation by offering financial rewards than if it didn’t.

However, providing too much incentive could lead to behaviors that are not in the best interest of the community (for example, spamming or vote manipulation). In order for economic incentives to have the desired effect, they have to be thoughtfully designed, implemented, and regularly reviewed.

A well-designed incentive plan can have a positive impact on both individual productivity and the overall efficiency of a community. However, there is always a risk of distortion if incentives are not carefully designed.

Unsuitable use of incentives can have harmful consequences for communities and society as a whole.

Chaos magic: harness the power of incentivation

So how do you harness economic incentives to stimulate culture and sustainability?

There is no simple answer, as every community is different, but here are some guidelines.

Set clear goals: The first step to designing an effective cultural strategy must be to identify its objectives.

These may include attracting new members, encouraging contributions, fostering collaboration, or facilitating knowledge sharing among members.

Design an economic framework: Once the objectives have been set, the economic framework can be designed to support these goals. It can include monetary rewards for specific contributions; non-financial rewards such as recognition; and penalties such as suspension of privileges for poor behavior.

Enforcement mechanisms: community-wide incentives are only effective if they are consistently implemented. This requires setting up a mechanism to monitor behavior and take appropriate corrective action when necessary.

Conduct regular reviews: Regular reviews ensure that the policies remain relevant and effective over time. They allow for adjustments to be made to the policy framework in response to changing circumstances, member feedback or other considerations. It is also important to ensure that enforcement mechanisms remain fair and transparent at all times.

All members of the community should have the opportunity to contribute to the review process and ensure that decisions are fair and unbiased.

In addition to ensuring the effectiveness of their design, effective cultural strategies can help promote sustainable growth within the communities they serve.

By enhancing engagement and productivity among community members, communities can ensure continued participation in activities over the long term and encourage the development of mutually beneficial relationships between community members and other stakeholders in the community and beyond.

In short, economics and culture must work together to drive positive development. The key is to provide incentives for sustainable, productive behavior.

By encouraging positive behavior, communities can promote healthier communities, more sustainable businesses and a stronger society overall. In the end, both economic and social development are at stake.

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It is a challenging task to manage communities that embody both financial and non-financial goals. The quote above demonstrates how people tend to place a financial value on acts that are motivated by deeper non-financial values. The financial value they arrive at then becomes the basis for their response. This exposes the challenge in using incentive structures that are financial or capable of being financialised to promote non-financial values. Such structures are vulnerable to gaming. It is however not easy to separate financial and non-financial rewards in the long run unless the community is purely devoid of financial rewards or market incentives. For instance, a non-financial reward in the form of a reputational badge may attract some form of goodwill which might ultimately result in a financial advantage. It is also not usually desirable to prevent participants from harnessing a non-financial reward for financial gain since it is commonly seen as deserved recompense. All said, it is better to create some distance between a non-financial reward and the ability to financialise such reward. This would reduce the attraction for those who would otherwise want to game the system for immediate profits.

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It was a fascinating and educational podcast.

Oh well, Incentivization is an important aspect of many web3 communities and decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), as it can help to motivate and reward participation and contributions. However, it is important for these communities and organizations to also consider the role of culture in fostering a shared sense of purpose and community.

Culture refers to the shared values, beliefs, behaviors, and norms that shape the way a group of people interact and work together. In the context of DAOs, culture can play a significant role in shaping the vision and goals of the organization, as well as the ways in which members interact and collaborate with one another.

Developing a strong culture within a DAO can help to create a sense of shared ownership and commitment among members, which can in turn drive engagement and participation. This can be particularly important in decentralized organizations, where there may be less formal structure and leadership to guide the direction of the organization.

To create a strong culture within a DAO, it is important to establish clear mandates and goals that align with the shared values and vision of the organization. It is also important to foster a sense of community and inclusivity and to create channels for communication and collaboration among members.

Conclusively, it is important for DAOs to strike a balance between incentivization and culture, as both can play a role in driving participation and success. By placing emphasis on both of these factors, DAOs can create a strong foundation for long-term growth and sustainability.