Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: What We Learn from Thrifty DAO Redeployment

by Denise Thwaites and James Simbouras

Denise Thwaites
Oct 31, 2019 · 6 min read

Failure and iteration are integral dimensions of experimentation. So far, 2019 has seen a boom in DAO experiments: quick iteration in these low-risk environments is what is needed to move the space forward. But such processes imply waste — the detritus of systems and apparatus that fizzled or finished being of use. So, what should we do with those discarded systems and tools?

You may say: there is no waste, no detritus produced in digital systems! For a long time rapid iteration has been seen as beneficial precisely for its relatively minimal material waste. However this comes from a perspective that neglects the environmental impact of digital energy consumption — a problem some designers have sought to tackle head on — as we wade through the digital clutter of our everyday lives. How might the concept of digital ‘recycling’ instigate a shift in perspective towards our digital tools and systems? Do we already recycle by scavenging elements from discarded digital projects? Perhaps this is something that should be named and celebrated more consciously.

The question of ecological sustainability has haunted many in the cryptosphere since its inception. We might rationalise that the energy intensive aspects of these technologies emphasise the global need for a transition to renewable forms of energy, or that proof-of-stake and projects such as holochain provide less energy-intensive work-arounds to earlier distributed-leger models. But it could be argued that the rapidly iterative processes of developing new systems for social, economic or even ecological good unknowingly play into a culture of consume and discard. How might we transform our attitudes and behaviours towards socio-technical systems, so as to cultivate more comprehensive cultural shifts towards sustainable use and re-use of digital technologies?

Marcel Duchamp, ‘Fountain’ , 1917. Photographed by Alfred Stieglitz.

One person’s trash is another’s treasure. One might argue that developers have been ‘recycling’ code through open-source for ages, finding diamonds in the rough of their community contributions. Historically, another group of people have been remarkably adept at taking people’s trash and spinning it into gold — artists. Arte Povera’s reevaluation of everyday materials, the irreverent collages of Dada, Duchamp’s Readymades and Manzoni’s can of ‘Artist’s Shit,’ are all examples of creative transfiguration of discarded or undervalued materials. And let it be known, this resourcefulness was not a reflection of these artists’ lack of access to traditional materials. Rather, it is distinctly interesting to look at the world through a different lens.

As discussed in our earlier post Trojan Foundation + Blocumenta’s Decentralized Autonomous Exhibition in Osaka , the INTERFACE installation presented at the Year of the DAOs event on 4th-6th October showcased the work of six artists selected through the curatorial deliberations of three DAOs. This experiment not only explored possibilities of inter-DAO cross-pollination, but also how we might ‘recycle’ a DAO that had been otherwise dormant for a period of months.

Our pre-loved DAO on DAOstack’s Alchemy Platform

That DAO was the ‘Bitfwd Blockathon DAO’ on DAOstack’s Alchemy platform, which had been originally developed and deployed for the Blocumenta Blockathon co-presented with Bitfwd at Artspace, Sydney in July 2019. The first design and deployment of this DAO was not without its challenges, but it was a resounding success at educating and onboarding diverse artists and technologists onto the DAO ecosystem. However, once the decentralized hackathon event ended, the DAO remained. It sat there on the DAOstack alchemy platform quietly longing for attention.

And how did we get that attention? (1) By refinancing the DAO! Thanks to a grant of 2.9ETH from the Genesis community, we were able to bring new life into this largely discarded community shell; and (2) providing a new context for the DAO’s visibility and interpretation. After Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ was rejected by the Society for Independent Artists, he and Alfred Stieglitz photographed this inverted-urinal, publishing it in the Dada periodical The Blindman in 1917. This shift in context allowed for Duchamp and the public’s reevaluation of the discarded ‘sanitary ware’ as a work of art. So taking inspiration from Duchamp and others’ processes, in the tradition of the “Readymade” we sought to take this dormant DAO and its network of reputation holders, reconfiguring its value as a recycled DAO.

The ‘recycling’ (or ‘upcycling’?) of the Blockathon DAO, required creative manipulation of the existing technical parameters of this system, as we invited members from the Trojan DAO community to join and participate following the original on-boarding, reputation and contributing request protocols established through the original Blocumenta event. Once they gained reputation in this community, participants were able to act as both artists and curators in the exhibition curation-DAO.

The experience of using this system as a curatorial tool has been analysed more specifically in our earlier article, so for the purposes of this article we will outline just a few of the challenges, advantages and questions encountered through the recycling process.

Three Things to Consider with DAO Recycling:

  • You are an initiator or facilitator, but ultimately the DAO (even a neglected one) is a decentralized community that may or may not share your vision. If initiators have existing reputation within this community, you have greater agency to revive these discarded systems. But if you are entering as a new member within this community, expect to work for this project.
  • Know your DAO. Why was it abandoned in the first place? Part and parcel of the crowded experimental DAO scene (as aptly put by Cem F Dagdelen) is that participants’ attention will be divided, making it difficult to sustain long-term engagement. Relatively low voter-participation is a challenge identified by some of the most established DAOs such as Genesis (See DAOtalk forum). For larger operations in this space, there are dedicated (and often under-appreciated) community organisers to facilitate and support this aspect of DAO creation (see thread). So if you are initiating the recycling or reviving of a DAO, researching how and why this system and community stopped participating should shape your expectations and tactics for re-use.
  • When you deploy a second-hand DAO, you inherit its ‘wear and tear’. This could be the aforementioned existing community dynamics, skewed reputation allocations, awkward life-cycles for proposals or outstanding proposals waiting to be executed by now distracted community members. With enough time, you can patch holes and change parameters through mechanisms such as DAOstack’s scheme registrar. But for quick and dirty re-deployments, adapting to existing parameters and DAO idiosyncrasies is part of the fun!

Advantages of DAO Recycling:

  • The speed of community activation, when you’re re-activating and replenishing an existing community. Like a dormant volcano, dormant DAOs may become explosive upon reactivation!
  • Opportunities to establish inter-DAO networks around short or long-term objectives. Such community cross-cultivation could serve to break down the “tribalism” often associated with online communities.
  • The chance to leverage and increase the value of existing DAO work, both on the level of community building and technical development.

Questions Raised through DAO Recycling Process:

As previously mentioned, reactivating a DAO can create interesting opportunities for community cross-pollination. However, what are the politics of entering another community’s DAO in a context of non-transferable reputation? Does it imply inequitable relations, where certain members feel like guests within the other DAO community until they gain reputation parity?

This mirrors pressing social-political issues around global migration (a topic for more detailed discussion another day!), as well as broad questions surrounding how different systems of value meet, mix and collide in a rapidly interconnecting world. Can DAOs be used to create dialogue-enabling “interfaces”, providing visibility for local communities on a globally decentralized stage? Is a fractal approach to DAOs — wherein global DAOs are seen as a network of smaller-DAO nodes that pool reputation to advocate for their causes — a possible avenue to avoid the marginalisation of minorities associated with centralized systems of power? These power dynamics become clear through the process of recycling a DAO, but they are waiting dormant in most globally distributed DAOs.

Do you have a pre-loved DAO, hungry to be redeployed in a new and different context? We encourage anyone to take on this challenge of re-using and recycling discarded DAO systems and share their insights on this process!


Experiments in art and culture post-blockchain

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store