Decentralizing (part of) OuiShare with Blockchain: experiment 1

This is the first of a series of articles about a decentralization experiment on OuiShare Fest. See the original on the OuiShare Magazine.

Blockchain has been a popular buzzword in the tech community in the past year. Ever since its discovery, a growing ecosystem of applications that build on this new technology have been emerging. But what would it mean to actually use blockchain to decentralize OuiShare?

At this year’s OuiShare Fest in Paris, blockchain was all the rage. As the Economist noticed, the subject made it into almost every speech. This new technology relies on a decentralized network of computers that record individual actions in a distributed manner, enabling coordination on a global scale without central authority or hierarchy. If you don’t know much about blockchain yet, here’s a good introduction article and a Tedx to get you started.

Blockchain is most known today for its applications in the world of finance. But its proliferation has also sparked the development of a growing ecosystem of infrastructures and tools that build on top of the blockchain or decentralized protocols, for example Uber-like ridesharing app La’Zooz, digital art attribution platform as well as Swarm and Backfeed, both tools for distributed, collaborative organization.

At OuiShare we’ve been experimenting with horizontal ways of organizing since the beginnings

At OuiShare we’ve been experimenting with horizontal ways of organizing since the beginnings, so when we met Matan Field and Primavera de Filippi at OuiShare Fest this year, their new project Backfeed awakened our curiosity.

Their story in short: Matan started the decentralized ridesharing app La’Zooz in 2014, through which he discovered several gaps in technology that needed to be filled before his idea could work. So he looked for co-conspirators who wanted to develop tools that can be put on the blockchain that enable “the decentralization of anything”. This project became Backfeed, which aims to provide organizations with the tools they need to “scale in an equal and fair way”, by offering a means of organic and distributed coordination as an alternative to hierarchy.

The guinea pigs

Since our community has faced many challenges over the past years related to decision making, transparency, governance and value distribution, the idea of distributed coordination without hierarchy resonated strongly with us and made us curious: what would it mean to decentralize OuiShare? How would it change how we work, manage, communicate? How we measure value? And is it even something we want?

There’s been a lot of hype around blockchain in the tech community. It’s time to demystify it.

To find out we have started an experiment with Backfeed to decentralize part of the organization of OuiShare Fest 2016. Being neither engineers nor blockchain experts, this may seem like a bold or even naive move. However there’s been so much hype and high expectations around blockchain in the tech community that I think it’s time to demystify it by actually using it, even if only on a small scale. This is the only way non-experts will begin to understand what decentralization and blockchain could mean for their daily life.

Our first experiment with OuiShare Fest

During a 2-day kick-off workshop with Backfeed in Paris, we defined which part of OuiShare Fest to decentralize and how — which turns out not to be an easy task (I will go deeper into this in my next post). The program creation seemed like the most natural choice, since until now it has been the most open and crowdsourced part of the project, that is built from curated contributions from our community (through a call for contributions, which we just launched).

The aim: Improving the sourcing of the best content from the community, as well as making it easier for the members to contribute to the project and get recognized for the value they provide.

This has two dimensions: making contributions more visible and providing transparency by documenting them (1), and enabling contributors to build a reputation through their actions through the evaluation of their contribution by others in the community (2). Since OuiShare Fest attracts hundreds of people who contribute to the project in different ways (often from afar) each year, we think Backfeed could be an interesting tool to make them more visible and encourage new forms of involvement in the project.

The how: To date, backfeed can only be used through an integration with the team collaboration tool Slack. More integrations with other tools will follow soon, but for now we will experiment within our team by using the slack extension. For example: we’ve created a program curation channel, to which we are inviting our community of 80 Connectors to submit contributions to the program through extension.

Expected results: Since this is our first experiment of this kind, it’s hard to know what results to expect. Of course it might fail. Most probably. And there are still many unanswered questions and fears (also ideologically rooted) that this tool may encourage new behaviors that are not aligned with our values. But based on the insights, questions and concerns from the team that already surfaced during our first workshop, I can already see that regardless, we have the opportunity to learn a lot from this experiment, be it about our values, motivations, group behaviors and thought patterns.

To share our learnings with everyone who is thinking about experimenting with decentralization or is already doing so, I will be documenting the progress of our experiment with articles over the next months.

So if you’re curious, stay posted for more and let’s see where this takes us!

This is the first of a series of articles about a decentralization experiment on OuiShare Fest.

>> Read part 2