Springtime cycles of (de)centralization

Cabin’s third birthday is upon us soon, and it feels like a good time to take a step back and reflect on where we’ve come over the past 12 seasons, from Spring of 2021 to Spring of 2024.

DAOs, like the passing of seasons, have a natural breath—a cycle of tightening and loosening, of decentralization and centralization, over time. Here’s a bit of lore about Cabin’s history of Spring seasons and (de)centralization:

In Spring of 2021, Cabin was started by a small group of people sitting around a campfire. We launched a donation pool for a creator residency program and 101 people from across the internet chipped in and joined the DAO. Then thousands more people showed up in our discord server and started hanging out and offering to help with the project. It was the best of ZIRP times, and everyone wanted to check out DAOs, which were being billed as “the future of work”. Decentralization was easy: people were just showing up and chipping in.

By Spring of 2022, at the peak of the DAO hype cycle, we had hundreds of contributors working on the DAO in a single season. It was beautiful organized chaos. Blog articles were co-created by a writer, a few editors, and a graphic designer who rapidly coordinated in loose guilds of contributors. We were building several entirely different software products with divergent use cases and core users at the same time. Small decentralized teams of people were showing up at Neighborhood Zero and building physical infrastructure together. The organization was functioning effectively enough that I found the best use of my time was writing about some of the memes at the core of Cabin: network cities, internet native governance, and historical precedents for city building.

Then, LUNA collapsed. And 3AC went under. Six months later, FTX cataclysmically cratered the market further. It was undeniably crypto winter. And suddenly Cabin’s hundreds of contributors and meteoric growth of the community came grinding to an abrupt halt.

But, in Spring of 2023, in the depths of the crypto winter, a bright fire burned at DAO Camp. In most corners, DAOs were now dismissed as a joke. But some people took the joke seriously and built through the bear market. I’m proud that Cabin is among that cohort.

Our contributor base had shrunken down to a half dozen dedicated people, but that was a great size for us to move fast and build towards the product we imagined. That Spring, we launched the v1 of our network city: 25 properties around the world where Cabin Citizens could colive together. Cabin was operating effectively, and eventually the separate pods merged into one group working together towards clear common goals.

Since then, we’ve been operating as a more centralized group of contributors. As we started to look more like a traditional startup, we started acting like one too. Building as a small focused team allowed us to move quickly towards a single goal. We built a core product: a marketplace of properties for rural coliving. We did user research to determine the shape of the marketplace, recruited supply and demand, shipped an app, and tried to figure out how to generate a take rate on transactions. But we weren’t able to figure out how to make the product, market, and financial model work.

There are many reasons why this phase of Cabin wasn’t successful, but part of it seems to be an inherent tension between building product in the standard startup way and building a network city, which is necessarily a co-created, decentralized, locally instantiated, network-governed entity. As we wrapped up the First Fellowship (the pod that completed this work) we wrote a retrospective, which included these thoughts on decentralization:

It’s now Spring of 2024, and the crypto winter seems to be thawing. Cabin finds itself breathing out as well, and several new DAO contributor pods are blossoming. @jxn created a proposal to relaunch Campfire, our podcast (Proposal: Rebooting Campfire for an ongoing Season 3). @grin created a proposal for supporting cabin’s technical needs (Meeting Cabin's Technical Needs).

@Matai is now proposing a pod to focus on Support for Community Gatherings & Neighborhoods. @savkruger is building an accelerator for Cabin neighborhoods (Launching Cabin Neighborhood Cohorts).

In each case, independent contributors are spinning out of Cabin Labs and helping to build and support a network of places that align with Cabin’s vision, mission, and obvious truths:

Vision: A network city of intergenerational neighborhoods
Mission: Create neighborhoods you’d want to grow up in
Obvious Truths: Live near friends. Create together. Touch grass.

The real fruits of our labors are starting to show up in the 🏘️ Building Neighborhoods - Cabin category of the forum, where community members from around the world are writing up their learnings from experiments in neighborhood building. This type of bottom-up autonomous local progress in the reason why a decentralized approach is core to Cabin. Here are a few highlights from local neighborhood builders:

@KathiInPorto is back (!) after a year+ away and has been doing amazing neighborhood creation work in Portugal (Hosting 6 families in our apartment to create a neighborhood), with @savkruger jumping in to help support her remotely from the neighborhood she’s building in Boulder (Experiment: Posting a map of neighborhood + simple CTA to connect if you live near me).

@camlindsay sends me voice memos every few days with his latest thoughts about Cabin. He has done some great strategic thinking about the DAO recently, and he doesn’t have any formal role with any contributor pod. He does it out of his love for Cabin and the neighborhood he’s building with Shirah in Oakland (Oakland Supper 3/26 || Recap and Reflections).

@Dahveed has recently joined and is posting about the neighborhood he’s already started building in Haifa. @Anton is doing incredible work in the UK (Real World Cabin Experiment at a countryside estate in Devon, UK. A collaborative approach to community managed affordable housing). @Matai and Nico (who originally joined for a Build Week at Neighborhood Zero) are hosting a Protopian Retreat next week at the neighborhood Matai is building in Ojai, CA: Protopian Retreat · Luma

These experiments remind me of our Spring 2022 Season, which was themed “Live, Laugh, Love, LARP as a city-state”. @0xHashbrown-Rob even made signs, one of which hangs above the door to the container cabin at Neighborhood Zero:

That’s what we are trying to do at Cabin: Live Action Role Play the future we want. Cabin’s network city is made of people who have a shared vision of the future and try to live it together. The most important part of the LARP happens locally; it is the act of neighborhood building. I am heartened to see these local neighborhood builders, supported by a loose network of DAO contributors and a shared sense of vision and mission, blossoming into a new chapter of decentralized progress at Cabin.

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Awww. Thanks Jon! I loved reading this! Felt very melancholic thinking back of spring 2022… it was a wonderful high and I’m grateful I was there for it and sad I missed out on so many inhales and exhales that the DAO took. I love how aware and honest you are about the reality of the tightening and loosening. I also feel the new expansion and it feels familiar and like a fresh breath of air. So curious to see what this next season will bring! Thank you for your constant work and attention to make sure Cabin survives. I appreciate you very much.

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thanks for the kind words @KathiInPorto : ) Community members like you are why we do it! So glad you’re back and working on something so deeply aligned with where cabin is going.

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Wooowoo!

It’s really nice to recount the whole story here. Thanks for writing this and shouting out all the people who are building with us. I feel really proud to be on this collective team with you all. :heart:

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