Leadership of a Decentralized Community

I’m anonymous. I have an avatar — a name that isn’t my own. Nobody knows me. Online, some people think they can say what they want with whatever words they want in whatever attitude they want — and nobody will know who they are.

But I believe you are known — even behind the mask of an avatar or fake name. Your words and attitudes and interests and contribution speak volumes about your character, your talents, your values — the things that really define who you are from the inside out.

Online communities formed around common interests

The internet gives us the opportunity to find people who share common interests and give us many ways to talk share our ideas and work toward common goals. When we find a group and begin giving and taking from each other, we form a community.

Many of you here are part of a community of students and developers who learn together and your goals of study and graduation and future careers are what brought you together and keep you together. You may look to Alex Pfieffer as a leader of your community, placed at the head by his employment and the position he fills at the University.

Alex is also part of another community formed out of passion and visions he shares around the topic of blockchain — and for the sake of this group, around the Nxt and Ardor blockchain projects. Many people here are also part of that community and even though this is the first time many of them have seen each other in person, their community (our community) is tight knit and as far as groups go — a smooth running machine.

We have defined two types of community — a centralized community of students and a decentralized around the idea of blockchain

And just like there are differences in the formation of each of these groups, there are differences in leadership.

Centralized Leadership

Alex was hired by the university and as their employee will reflect the values and goals put forth (probably in writing somewhere) by the university. He has a position that gives him instant authority that says, I’m in charge here, I’m here to teach you out of my infinite wisdom and your relationship to me is to listen, learn what I teach you to think and do.

Decentralized Leadership

In the decentralized community leadership is harder to define and is much more fluid. And this is such a defining feature of a decentralized community that some people believe there is not even a place for leadership. I disagree with that and my reasoning is that the most effective leadership is not defined by an assigned position as much as it is a unique talent or ability. Let’s look more closely at the example of the Ardor / Nxt community of which many people here are part of.

In the beginning, a group was formed around the common interest of an idea for an alternative cryptocurrency or blockchain technology introduced on the Bitcointalk Forum by BCNext call NXT. Over the past almost five years thousands of people have joined our online community with the privilege of taking part in the conversation and to contribute to the success of the project. The history of the comings and goings of the group is extensive — too much to go into here — but you can read about it in a book called Snapshot or an abbreviated version called Nxt / Ardor Historical Timeline.

I was one of the early members of the group and have seen leaders rise up on an occasion and retreat. Other leaders organically rise to take their place or to meet another need. This phenomenon is described well in a book called The Starfish and The Spider. The premise of this book is that if a leg of the starfish ( a member of a decentralized community ) is removed for what ever reason, another leg will grow to replace it.

Ardor / Nxt — An Example of a Decentralized Community

An example of this is the originator of Nxt. BCNext retreated into the background almost from the beginning leaving a character called Come-From-Beyond as his spokesperson. CFB led the group by conveying messages from BCNext and as he always promised eventually moved on to his own project (IOTA) and eventually revealed he was in fact BCNext. We hardly hiccuped when he left as a brilliant developer known as Jean-Luc had already by merits of his talent and contributions assumed a lead role in the development side of the project. Eventually, Jean-Luc announced his retreat. As he faded into the background and from public view, Riker also known to us as Lior Yaffe had already risen to fill the gap. Lior is here with us today and we will hear from him next.

And within a decentralized community there are often many people filling leadership roles simultaneously rather than one main leader. I can think of so many and I wish I could name all of them here. I’m going to call out a couple as examples of exceptional, organic leadership.

Zukqa has been with the community since about the beginning. He is the leader when it comes to staying on top of the news and the projects reputation in social media. He must live with a screen always open as nothing slips past him. When he thinks something should be addressed or looked into, he will ping the right people to do it. Truly, he is irreplaceable.

Apenzl saw the need for a news digest in early 2014 when the project was very new. He started Nxter Magazine which might be the only regularly published magazine for a cryptocurrency community. It has grown to have a staff of contributors and translators and is available in several languages on a weekly basis. Check it out at nxter.org

Zhang has given us two Chinese websites — one for Nxt and one for Ardor. He has created online lite wallets and helps me post to the Chinese community. He even direct messages me with cultural insights when he he thinks I need to learn something to benefit my dealings with our Chinese community.

Mrv777 is also a long standing member of the community and the list of his contributions are long. When he finishes one project you can be sure he has started work on another. He has most recently written articles about setting up a Raspberry Pi powered by a solar panel to run Ardor and Nxt nodes. He has also given us a blockchain explorer and a Lite Wallet that can be found on Google Play Store.

And the list goes on and on and on.

Decentralization in Cryptocurrency Communities

In most cryptocurrency communities there has been a realization that the starfish idea is oversimplified and that in order to conduct legitimate businesses on the blockchain some changes had to be made to the strict model of decentralization. The first change was a need for some people to leave the comfort zones of their anonymity and avatars. I really don’t need to explain to you that business people won’t do business with anonymous people who they can’t know and trust.

The second was the need to create some legal entities for the conducting of real business. The first entity that was formed was the NXT Foundation and the second was Jelurida. Jelurida was formed to protect the intellectual property and continue the development of our technology. The Nxt Foundation was formed to educate and promote the technology to business and encourage community growth.

But looking closely at this, I still see the analogy of the starfish and a decentralized community in place and functioning. The NXT Foundation morphed into the Ardor Nxt Group with the addition of Ardor to our blockchain arsenal. Several of the original members have moved on to projects that require them to be more blockchain agnostic. Travin Keith who is with us here today rose4 up to fill the gap as a leader during the transitional period and was instrumental in framing the new Ardor Nxt Group of which I am today the director. The Nxt Foundation — now the Ardor / Nxt Group is a leg of the starfish, by its functioning role and by the fact that is is built of members of our decentralized community. The same for Jelurida. The name Jelurida comes from parts of the avatar names of the three founding members:Jean-Luc, Riker and Damelon. Jean-Luc and Damelon are no longer actively involved but Petko and Kristina and Tomi have risen up to fill leadership roles inside the entity.

What is Feels Like to Lead a Decentralized Community

Now, on the program it says I will talk to you about how I “feel” being the leader of a decentralized community. I felt like I needed to give you these community descriptions so you have a better context for my feelings.

First, because I strongly identify with the idea of a decentralized community, I have only slowly warmed up to the idea of leadership. It has become apparent to me that for at least this season of time I am filling a leadership role. I feel honored by that. And I feel a huge responsibility. There are many personalities, many cultures, many world views and many needs represented in our community and it is amazing to me that we can all come together and work so well to make this project work. This reinforces my happy feeling that the technology of blockchain can transcend all kinds of boundaries to Qqmake the world a better place.

It energizes me to immerse myself in a community of people with a shared passion. As popular as it is becoming, cryptocurrency and blockchain technology are still emerging and very esoteric topics. Offline, my circle is expanding to include more an more people who are interested — or maybe my “people” are growing interested. But several years ago, online communities were the only places to go to engage in conversation, learn more and start contributing. For many that is still the case and it is important that we have places for this part of our community to feel welcomed.

I have visited many crypto communities over the years and always returned to the Ardor / Nxt Community. Probably because I feel more shared values here than any other community. First, back when crypto was the wild, west for women — I felt accepted and respected here. I could give you example after example of times when politeness, decency, tolerance and consideration for others won.

And then there is integrity. I feel the Ardor / Nxt project and community holds integrity as one of their highest ideals. There are no undelivered promises, no hints at something that might happen someday just to move the price. How do I feel about this — proud to be aligned with it.

Our common goal of the development of a technically solid blockchain solution brings us together. And many people in the community contribute in extraordinary ways — rising up to fill roles and solve problems as their talents and time allow. This would be unheard of in a top-down community / leadership scenario. I often wake with anticipation of what will happen next?

Challenges to participation in a decentralized community

But there are some downsides to this. Everyone, even those people hiding behind an avatar and who we only know a little bit about like to be appreciated for their contributions. These huge contributions can get lost in the shuffle and go unnoticed. After awhile this can have negative repercussions as people will feel undervalued. It is my hope that the community knows how valuable each one of their contributions are.

Two other challenges to participation in a decentralized community ( by my observation ) are:

1. Project not going in direction you want — because there is free expression of ideas and because most people place great merit on their ideas — especially by the time they decide to publicly express them, there can be hurt, disgruntled people after a decision is made to follow another plan instead. The solution that is agreed upon is usually a hybrid of many ideas and the result of input from many people and is actually one of the big benefits of a decentralized community. However, sometimes the rejection is taken personally and the breakdowns and misunderstandings need to be mediated and negotiated carefully. I feel saddest when someone decides to leave.

2. Crypto-fatigue — I’m not sure if this term originates with me but I have used it a lot to help people understand what is going on with themselves and each other. Sometimes we let the topic, the conversations, the ideas and the fulfillment of the plans consume us both emotionally and with our time. A high, intense level of involvement can’t be maintained for a long period of time and people become exhausted. Sometimes in their exhaustion they retreat and don’t return. Sometimes they act out in harsh and irrational ways and cause conflict for themselves. Sometimes they keep plodding along but their attitude is soured and negative. My solution is to encourage each other to rest. When we know each other through messages on our screens we can forget about the human aspects of our relationships. Some caring, thoughtful words and understanding can go a long way to help each other take care.

And people want to know what frustrates me the most as the Director of Ardor / Nxt Group. Since this is all about how I feel, I will tell you that it is lack of commitment and follow through. As thankful and proud as I am of our community contributions, I have a list of things that need to be done and of people who have enthusiastically committed to doing them — and they are weeks and months overdue. Two things happen as a result. First, the projects go unfulfilled as we wait on delivery from the one who said “I’ll do that” and secondly, the task get pushed onto my to-do list — and usually when there is some urgency to it.

But I don’t want to close on a negative note. There is so much to look forward to and be positive about! Every day is challenging and rewarding.

Ardor Nxt Group is about bringing blockchain technology to to life and it is exciting to be part of this.

I’m humbled by the responsibility to this awesome community of investors and idealists who want to make a profit and make the world a better place through the applications of blockchain technology on the Ardor and Nxt platforms. I’m with you on both fronts and eager to to help you in any way I can.

You may watch the video of this presentation at the Danube Game Jam – a hackathon held at Donau University in Krems, Austria.

Leading a Decentralized Community

Connect with me on most social channels. On Twitter find me @TheCryptoWoman

My name is Elizabeth Mong and I’m fascinated with #cryptocurrency and the disruptive technology of #blockchain. The opinions of TheCryptoWoman are my own.