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.
- 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.