How to BUIDL a Mesh Network of Human Beings

Six ways to incentivize your network & successfully create collective action.

Hands down, my favorite feature of Gitcoin is the network of participants. Everyone in our network is a 3-dimensional human; with their own skills, personality, and vision for the world.

Gitcoin is a network of 8,000 Blockchain BUIDLers from 6 continents; organized around the mission of growing open source

Our primary challenges as dApp designers are figuring out how to connect these people together in a way that constructively brings value to each individual. By building this type of network of individuals, we hope to achieve Gitcoin’s mission of Growing & Sustaining Open Source.

It turns out that there’s a name for this type of network topology that we are designing towards. It’s called a mesh network.

In traditional computing, a mesh network is a network topology in which nodes connect…

  1. Directly
  2. Dynamically
  3. Non-hierarchically

…to as many other nodes as possible. Nodes cooperate with one another to efficiently route data from/to clients.

While a traditional mesh network is comprised of nodes (computers) and transfers data, Gitcoin’s network is comprised of individuals, and each transfers value.

We got to wondering what Gitcoin’s mesh network of Open Source Developers looks like.

After some furious D3.js coding, we’ve built tools to visualize this network. In the below graph, both projects and contributors are nodes; the Gitcoin bounties they’ve done together are edges:

This concept of a mesh network of jobs was originally introduced in our piece entitled Open Source Money Will BUIDL the Open Source Ecosystem.

In that piece, we articulated why the intersection of blockchain and open source is so compelling. We believe Open Source Money — through multi-billion dollar platforms like Ethereum — will encourage Open Source Sustainability. Gitcoin is building a mesh network of jobs at this nexus.

The objective of this piece is to generalize what we’ve learned at Gitcoin about building our open source mesh network, for our friends in other web3-based open source projects.

Principle 1: Be Mission Driven

We believe that Open Source Software is manna from the heavens. It’s social impact is immense. It provides value for the world’s economy, creates an intellectual commons for entrepreneurship, and enables contributors worldwide to begin to transcend 20th century constraints like borders and socio-economic status.

Growing Open Source is our mission. It’s our north star, our primary organizing principle.

From spending time with others in the space, we have begun to recognize & respect that others in space have other north stars. These include:

  • Decentralization as an organizing principle
  • Environmental sustainability as an organizing principle
  • Increasing diversity as an organizing principle
  • …. and many many others

By clearly articulating our mission, and making it the center of everything that we do, we have found network participants are more intrinsically motivated to perform actions on the network.

Principle 2: BUIDL p2p; not top-down.

When people think of mission-driven organizations, they often think of NGOs, charities, or corporate giving — all 20th-century versions of a network of socially driven individuals.

In this old model, an entity’s relationship to its employees would be 1-to-many. In the future, the relationship will increasingly be many-to-many.

Traditional Employment Model (1 to many) <> Open Source Jobs (many to many; actual Gitcoin data as of March 2018)

This, of course, creates different design criteria for the network. In the mesh driven model:

  • There is less administrative overhead.
  • There is no central point of control.
  • There is no central roadmap.
  • There is no central funding source.

Principle 3: It’s full of 3-dimensional humans.

In traditional computer science, each node in a mesh network is a computer.

In our mesh network, each ‘node’ is a person. Take, for example, this graph of contributors to the Metamask project via Gitcoin:

Metamask has had 39 bounties completed on Gitcoin

Each node in this network is a full 3-dimensional human; with a diversity of backgrounds, experience, and culture. Every person in this network has their own personal preferences, ambitions, habits, hobbies, other time commitments, biases, family, & personal challenges.

Gitcoin is a network of 8,000 Blockchain BUIDLers from 6 continents, organized around the mission of growing open source

It’s important to remember this, because it’s easy to dehumanize each other on the internet.

It’s also important to remember this because we can’t program a mesh network of people like we can program a mesh network of computers. Humans don’t execute rote instructions in the same way your MacBook Pro executes commands in C++ (okay, fine — Objective-C).

But they can be programmed! If you need proof, look no further than the modern internet. You have been programmed to use Facebook; to shop at Amazon; to pull out your phone and check Twitter in a moment of boredom. The internet is a grand experiment in humanity programming itself in the networked age.

Humans prioritize work that has an impact, aligns with their values, and compensates well.

I believe that humans are motivated both intrinsically and extrinsically, and therefore you need to optimize for both. I believe humans are looking to prioritize:

  • Actions that have an impact.
  • Actions that compensate well.
  • Actions that align with their values.

At Gitcoin, we call these three vectors of economic decision making, “the triangle of work”.

These three motivations inform everything we do at Gitcoin; it informs the information we collect about work posted on the Gitcoin Issue Explorer.

It informs how we think about user lifecycle and our reputation system.

“People are not machines that you put in a token and get out an action.” — Jill Carlson, on Unchained

Gitcoin Bounty Hunters stay in the Gitcoin network because their work:

  • Has an impact. Gitcoiners grow their skills, ship code to Ethereum, Raiden, MetaMask and other significant projects, and builds web 3.
  • Compensates well. Gitcoiner’s routinely make more than $70/hr on projects in the space. [Have you seen our pricing guide?]
  • Aligns with values. We all care about Open Source Software.

Principle 4. It’s a community; at webscale.

Members of the Boulder Blockchain Meetup

As a member of the Boulder Colorado Tech scene, I’ve been lucky enough to build some meaningful relationships, organize some impactful events, and to help Colorado grow onto the national Blockchain scene.

It’s a shame that the principles that work in the local community here in Colorado don’t scale to the web.

I believe that one reason why local communities don’t scale to the modern web is due to a cognitive limit in human beings called Dunbar’s Number. In the 1990s, a British anthropologist Robin Dunbar proposed this theory, in which he posited that humans can comfortably maintain only 150 stable relationships.

Evaluating Dunbar’s number could be the subject of a entire post itself, but for our purposes, we can boil down this theory into a basic rule of thumb: Within your 150 closest relationships, you can have meaningful relationships. Outside of those relationships, meaningful relationships (and all of the benefits that come with them) are harder to attain.

It has been said that blockchains allow money to be programmable. I believe that if we can program economic incentives into our money, we can create economic incentives to treat each other in a way that approximates how we treat each other in our local communities, but at the scale of the entire internet.

A community is an offline analog to the mesh network we enable building at Gitcoin. It is important to make sure that, in your community:

  • Members feel like they belong
  • Information flows smoothly
  • People can be trusted to live up to their promises
  • Collaboration is fostered
  • Damaging side effects on third parties are curtailed

I strongly recommend two books: 1) The Art of Community to learn more about building online communities and 2) Nicky Case’s game, The Evolution of Trust.

Here is a screen-cap of one of the pages in Case’s his game, which denotes the important vectors for building trust in your community:

Create a community that has (1) repeat interactions, (2) possible win-wins, (3) low miscommunication

Principle 5: The Network Must Efficiently Deliver Value

Just as a traditional mesh network must deliver information, a mesh network of human beings must deliver value.

Gitcoin approaches this by being metrics-driven. We think that if you can measure it, you can manage it. That’s why we launched gitcoin.co/results. So network participants can see how the network is performing, just as we can.

Here’s a graph of the cumulative system volume:

Here is a breakdown of some metrics about how the system performs:

You can see the live stats here for yourself.

Value delivery surely means a different thing in your mesh network than it does in ours. I encourage you to sit with your stakeholders and spec out a data dashboard that is your source of truth for your system performance vis-a-vis value delivery.

Remember, if you can measure it, you can manage it.

Principle 6: Every New Relationship Must Deliver Value

It should seem obvious that in a mesh networked world, the structure of our relationships fundamentally changes from one to one or one to many to many to many. After all, we are building a peer to peer network.

Because each network participant in the new model has the opportunity (and burden) of multiple relationships, the decision making criteria for these relationships will be different.

Humans make decisions with perceived drivers and perceived barriers. Network participants will make risk/reward calculations about whether task X is worth their time.

By maximizing the perceived drivers (the incentive, whether intrinsic or extrinsic, for their behavior), and by minimizing the perceived barriers (the costs and risks for a specific behavior) you move the risk/reward ratio up and increase the chances that they complete the task.

In order to create critical mass of connections in your mesh network, it is to design such that the drivers for people in the network to create a new relationship outweigh the barriers.

Delivering Value in Crypto

Let’s take a look at Ethereum’s mesh network as we consider drivers and barriers tangibly. This example will provide a live-look at how a mesh network focuses on making the drivers and barriers tradeoff easier for new entrants.

Right now, the perceived barriers in crypto are high. Its a pain to download Metamask, figure out private key management, set up Coinbase, go through KYC, get ETH, pay in DAI, figure out transaction fees, and learn nonces. This also assumes you’ve gone down the rabbit hole of why decentralization matters, pondered, and decided affirmatively.

These are the barriers to entering crypto. Because the barriers are high, the perceived drivers for individuals must also to be high (for now).

I believe that a major reason that we have seen predominantly investor-centric use cases take off so far is simple: greed is a powerful driver of human behavior. If you hear from your work friend that he made 10x on BTC, you’re going to take some action to figure out “the whole blockchain thing.”

Greed, however, is a cruel mistresses. I’ve seen friends get burnt by the recent bear market, and this is an unsustainable driver in the long term. For that reason, I’m thankful that the barriers of using blockchain are coming down.

  • When plasma, proof of stake, and sharding launch on the Ethereum network, we will see dramatically reduced gas fees.
  • A talented generation of entrepreneurs, funded by Open Source Money, are working on solving the UX problems in the space.
  • Lawyers in the space are doing fantastic work helping regulators understand the space. Can I get a golf clap for the Matt Corva’s of the world. Parsing a tough regulatory landscape is no piece of cake, and they are fighting for dApp friendly legislation on our behalf.
  • Speaking of golf claps, can I get one for the financiers. To the sustainers of this ecosystem, like the Ethereum Foundation, the ECF, Joe Lubin, ConsenSys, we salute you! 🎉
  • To the crowd of contributors to ICOs, who together as a mesh of profit-seeking individuals, have generated the biggest collective change to startup fundraising in a generation, we salute you! 🎉

For these reasons, we will see the perceived barriers to entering the space will trend massively downwards over the next 1–3 years. We will see lightweight, casual, interactions with blockchain, become commonplace. Thus, the drivers for each individual entrant to blockchain universe don’t need to be high. The network can grow itself.

Lowering gas fees, increasing the number of financiers, and reducing the regulatory burden are three of many moves the Ethereum mesh network has planned to reduce their barriers.

What are the drivers for actors in your network? What are the barriers your mesh network participants have to overcome? How can you make it easier for a new entrant to meaningfully participate? These are important questions to answer.

Summary

The six principles to building a mesh network of human beings are below:

  1. Be mission-driven
  2. It’s a p2p network.
  3. It’s full of 3-dimensional humans.
  4. It’s a community; at webscale.
  5. The network must deliver value.
  6. Every new relationship must deliver value.

Thanks for reading to the end. Have I mentioned that Gitcoin’s mission is to Grow Open Source? If you want to help, please get in touch below.

Peace ✌️

@owocki


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