Enter Agora

Introducing a governance explorer and discussion forum for Tezos

Tezos Agora
Aug 29 · 10 min read

Introduction

Today we’re excited to introduce Tezos Agora, a new platform to support the Tezos on-chain amendment process and beyond.

In this post, we outline the considerations which brought us here, what Tezos Agora offers today, and where we hope to take the project (scroll down to the “Future Directions” section of this post if you seriously can’t wait).

Tezos Agora

The State of Affairs

The current Tezos amendment process formalizes the role of bakers, 470+ validators around the world, as its core decision-makers. This is based on Tezos’ current Liquid Proof-of-Stake model, in which any ꜩ holder can delegate their validation and governance rights to a baker (or multiple) and typically avoid dilution by inflation.

As a decision-making set, bakers are actually a natural default: they pay constant attention to the chain and have incentives aligned with a network’s long term health. And as a result, Tezos’ 3-month amendment process has seen a high degree of voting turnout as a percentage of stake (in albeit in lower stakes conditions). So far, so good.

By formalizing the role of bakers, we can likely coordinate and upgrade the chain fluidly for quite some time. But as time passes and assets and applications accumulate atop of a network, a Tezos chain may come to have a large, diverse array of downstream stakeholders across many different geographic, cultural, and linguistic divides.

This will also include developers, businesses, wallet-makers, and all other users who might be significantly impacted by protocol amendments, but whose preferences and interests are hard (if not impossible) to represent proportionally as on-chain stakeholders. Potential users of the chain may also need to understand and evaluate the direction of the network and also its history, which is in part the output of its governance process.

Informed stakeholders and a healthy, off-chain discourse are necessary precursors to a healthy, representative amendment process. Today, it is hard to know where to get the latest on protocol upgrades and it’s even harder to imagine what a continuously upgrading platform will look more than 6 months into the future.

Even further, Tezos’ greatest strength is potentially its ability to be an open-source bulldozer, coordinating and adopting the latest and greatest improvements (e.g. SNARKs, Tendermint) from other live networks. Yet it is just as critical to facilitate and nurture open discussions within the Tezos community itself, particularly about new ideas for standards, decentralized funding, project philosophy, and other interesting experiments.

Avoiding “not invented here” is critical, but we need not always look externally.

The limits of Web 2.0

Historically, one key limitation for open, high quality discussions on the internet has simply been a lack of available tools. The problematic incentives of popular Web 2.0 platforms (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) and their incompatibility with longstanding institutions are widely understood in the blockchain space — and increasingly beyond.

By contrast, blockchain communities claim to value user sovereignty over the “user as product” business model, with thousands of developers working towards the shared goal of building systems which can compete with existing internet power structures.

Yet when it comes to key discussions around blockchain governance, we often find ourselves locked inside engagement loops of Reddit, Twitter, and Telegram, platforms which support many overlapping (and often clashing) core communities, and encourage low quality discussion.

Tezos has hardly been immune to this dynamic. Despite its decentralized, formal upgrade mechanism, current Tezos discourse and information about the amendment process has been scattered across at least 9 different platforms (many of which have Web 2.0 monetization models), as visualized below:

Non-exhaustive: the many discussion venues and information venues of Tezos governance

This is also not to advocate re-centralizing discussions and information around one fragile off-chain platform. And simply adding more voices to a given conversation or platform is also not quite the answer, as this often leads to negative network effects and lower quality discussion.

Plus we must heed the unseen, as one recent commentator in the Cosmos ecosystem noted: having so many different discussion venues makes things harder to understand, but improves censorship resistance and decentralization.

And, as many Bitcoiners are so apt to remind us, having a minimized “argument surface” may enable a network to scale socially far beyond the confines of traditional social constraints, such as language, nationality, or culture. Instead, we should let most people focus on enforcing memes.

These limitations of most off-chain governance aside, discussion forums built on Discourse software have shown increasing promise in many ecosystems. One which quickly comes to mind is ethresear.ch, which has emerged as a compelling venue for new ideas and open discussion, seeming to encourage quality, long-term discussions over the frequency of engagement.

Tezos Agora

Tezos Commons and TQTezos have set out to tackle these thorny issues together over the past few months. Today we present the first version of the Tezos Agora platform.

To start, Tezos Agora is a discussion forum and governance explorer designed to complement the on-chain amendment process. This first version is extremely simple by intent, launching with a straightforward voting and proposal explorer (see the current stage below) and integrated Discourse forum at forum.tezosagora.org.

We also include some initial Russian translations of the Babylon 2.0 and Emmy+ blog posts as initial products of our planned localization efforts described in “Future Directions”.

Some UI quirks and areas for improvement remain and we hope you’ll help us out in our dedicated feedback thread on Agora, so we can continue to improve it.

Governance Explorer

The governance explorer enables the Tezos community to keep apace with the amendment process, including proposal details, voting participation, and whether a proposal has achieved the necessary supermajority and quorum thresholds required to advance to the next stage.

The current Exploration Vote for Babylon 2.0

Many conscious usability choices were made in developing this tool, with special focus on abstraction of away some potentially confusing Tezos terminology (e.g. “In favor” instead of “Yay”). Additionally, we quietly embed more advanced functionality by making the stats card toggle-able to show non-voters and by linking the Upvote icons in the “Vote” column to the specific voting operation on tzstats.com.

Although we think this version makes the process more than clear enough for the community as an MVP, we are planning future upgrades to make it easier for new community members to understand the process in fewer steps.

In the proposal phase, we visualize proposals as cards and include links to key proposal metadata as well as a link to the tarball of the proposal’s sources. Key migration materials for downstream developers are also provided.

Eventually, we hope to see a protocol amendment which enables this proposal metadata (e.g. description text/link, invoice details/address, etc.) directly on the chain itself.

Babylon 2.0 Proposal in Agora
The Proposal Period in Agora

We’ll be keeping Agora up to date as the amendment process itself changes. Importantly, all of this is open-source and we welcome anyone interested in contributing or using the governance explorer to reach out.

Discourse Forum

Proposals Category

We also integrate a new Discourse Forum, a forum software which continues to become more popular in many blockchain communities and open source software projects.

We directly integrate it with the voting explorer, with each new Tezos proposal automatically generating a discussion thread in the Proposals category. To start, we offer a single moderated discussion thread about a given amendment proposal, but plan to expand the scope as we gain experience as a community.

Originally, we intended to implement Discourse login via Keybase, but have instead elected to explore a separate self-sovereign identity/pki initiative for logins which we hope to try out in coming months.

Note: we do not make claims to this discourse forum being THE official forum for a specific Tezos network. Tezos Agora is open source software and we’ll have no hard feelings if you fork and use it how you’d like.

Research and Development Category

We also launch a Discourse category called “Research”, modeled after ethresear.ch. We have some early posts lined up about key ecosystem topics and look forward to some interesting discussions. If you have some interesting ideas for how to improve Tezos, please post!

All-in-all, we do not expect a high frequency of updates and posts in this forum in the very early days, but want to experiment with open conversations with quality moderation.

Agora Category

We also offer an Agora-specific category dedicated for feedback on the platform and how to improve it. Please leave some feedback when you have it!

Future Directions

As noted, today’s launch is the Beta version of Agora, offering simple functionality by design. As a project, we aim to significantly broaden functionality to better serve the needs of the ecosystem and evolve as the network does.

Future features can include interactions with the chain itself via smart contracts, including signaling, on-chain identity, and funding experiments (i.e. DAOs). If you have feedback or if you’re looking to get involved in the project directly or give input into the project, please join us in the Agora section of the new Discourse forum.

Tezos Agora Version 1 (i.e. Beta): August 2019

1. Governance Explorer

  • Visualization of the Tezos amendment process, including all historic voting periods and proposal details, along with key resources
  • Initial Russian translations of Nomadic Labs articles regarding Emmy+ and Babylon 2.0
  • A simple Learn page explaining the Tezos amendment process and listing the client voting commands

2. Discourse Forum

  • Initially, Agora offers categories for discussions about the current Amendment Process, Research (inspired by Ethresear.ch), and Agora itself (for feedback and improvements)
  • Expect to see some initial posts about potential improvements to Tezos here

Some suggested new categories might include the following (please suggest others!):

  • Tezos project philosophy and values
  • Baking and Proof-of-Stake
  • Smart contract languages (e.g. LIGO, SmartPy)
  • Funding DAOs

In addition, ECAD has joined forces with Agora, metamorphosing the Tezos Vote Bot on Twitter into the Agora Vote Bot.

Future

Below are some potential features and functionality that we propose to add to Agora over time. It will become obvious to a reader that, like Tezos itself, the Tezos Agora project is experimental and of a wide potential scope.

Much of this will take time, thoughtfulness, and open discussion to design, launch, execute, and iterate (again, like Tezos).

Localization

  • One of the key project goals of Tezos Agora is to reduce language and other cultural frictions between stakeholders when possible
  • As noted above, we’ve started with some simple Russian translations of Nomadic’s blog posts about Emmy+ consensus and the Babylon proposal, but plan to expand to support other common languages

On-chain Logins and/or Keybase integration

  • Identity and on-chain login tools (e.g. like 3Box or Sona by TezTech) are needed for many other use cases in Tezos and Agora users are natural early adopters
  • Keybase Integration: originally planned a key feature of V1 but sadly an open-source project to integrate Keybase into Discourse has been delayed

On-chain Signaling and Vote Overrides

Signaling About Upgrade Proposals

  • TezVote by Stephen Andrews was an interesting first attempt at this, allowing delegators to signal their preferences for Athens A or Athens B
  • In its first version, TezVote saw limited participation, but the Tezos Agora UI offers obvious jumping off points to make the signaling experience much easier and clearer, especially via a DApp browser or integrated into a wallet
  • Alternatively, if a Tezos network adopts something like the delegator vote override model of Cosmos, this offers an obvious first place to actually use it

Signaling About Arbitrary Proposals

  • Perhaps as interesting than signaling about upgrade proposals is the possibility of signaling about arbitrary proposals
  • This can include non-binding resolutions, roadmaps, and other social proofs to coordinate future behavior and create powerful new schelling points

DAOs (expect to see more on this in coming weeks and months)

  • A platform for discussing, launching, and funding DAOs to further decentralize ecosystem funding is an obvious extension of Agora which needs careful consideration
  • For some inspiration, some simple, yet elegant MVP ideas are explored in this recent piece, which notes “a multisig MVP tied with an off-chain discussion platform could provide a lot of mileage fairly quickly.”

Future governance mechanisms

  • Agora can also be used to integrate experimental governance tools, such as prediction markets about protocol upgrades or other relevant events whose outcomes can be safely identified on-chain
  • Such a mechanism could be launched uncoupled from the amendment process yet provide valuable experience before Tezos tries to adopt a futarchic mechanism formally (as has been alluded in the Tezos position paper and in Arthur Breitman’s “Towards Futarchy in Tezos

Join us on Tezos Agora

If you’re interested in participating in Agora, check out our governance explorer and then sign up for Agora’s Discourse forum.

Good places to start are the Welcome post and the posts in the Agora category. Feel free to leave feedback about Agora in this topic.

We will be making changes to the site and the forum over the coming weeks, so please bear with us.

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