It looks like we haven't seen the last of leaderless blockchain-based companies.
Despite the spectacular demise of The DAO, developers are still excited about the concept of one day creating decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), automated companies operated by hard-coded rules enforced on a blockchain. As evidenced by discussions at the ethereum developer conference, EDCON 2017, nearly six months after the project lost millions, experimentation remains ongoing.
Since then, ethereum developers have been more cautious about unrolling autonomous organizations, but there's been rejuvenated interest in making an element that underpinned The DAO — smart contracts — better and more secure.
Still, in Paris this week, some are still skeptical of the idea of DAOs at all, since there's so much that the coded rules would have to be able to anticipate in advance.
Omise architect Rick Dudley told CoinDesk:
"I try to avoid DAOs. Businesses rely on trade secrets and ultimately, fundamentally rely on humans to make business decisions and operate."
But despite skepticism, the idea is far from dead.
It's a hard idea to eradicate, perhaps because developers see such promise in a system whereby businesses decisions are automated to a degree that power and bureaucracy can be limited. Even the developers behind The DAO announced in November that they plan to release a new DAO for charity projects.
The hope seems to be that they won't make the same mistake (or a new one) this time around.
Other upcoming DAO projects are a little bit more hesitant to announce that they are indeed enabling DAOs. Take for example Colony, a job market platform that recently entered beta.
While the founders wrote over a year ago that the platform would make DAOs "as easy as a Facebook group," today, it doesn't mention DAOs on the homepage — although perhaps that's because in the near-term they offer more limited functionality, such as tokenizing tasks.
The case is similar for Aragon, a management platform for "unstoppable companies." (If you've been around you probably realize that they mean a DAO.)
Part of the reason that they simply call it a "firm" management platform is because they want it to appeal to more people.
"We don't want to be very geeky, we don't want to focus only on ethereum developers who want to create DAOs. We want to just say, 'Hey people, you can create firms that are decentralized and reduce transaction costs,'" said Aragon project lead Luis Cuende.
The platform allows people within the company to vote on decisions, such as whether to add stock, to divvy out company roles, and other company-wide tasks. Aragon will deploy the required smart contracts to create the firm under the hood.
"It's a firm, but a peer-to-peer one. That's it," he said.
Ready or not?
Outside of a rebranding effort, however, there is a recognition that the concept itself might need iteration.
"It needs some more work," Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University research fellow Primavera de Filippi told CoinDesk. "The DAO showed that we cannot assume that the system will work as we expected it to work.”
Her talk at EDCON centered around a DAO she helped to create before The DAO, a "plantoid", or robot plant that accepts microtransactions. Now, she suggests that a wholly new type of management system is needed to address the issues developers have since discovered.
"We cannot have this autonomous system that will just stay as it has been programmed, because we obviously cannot foresee all of the possibilities," she said.
Others are pressing ahead. Aragon wants to launch sooner, although it will take at least half a year before the project is ready.
Aragon tech lead Jorge Izquierdo noted, though, that they’re working with Zeppelin, which offers ethereum smart contracts templates that have seen wider testing. Beyond that, the group plans to subject their code to a security audit and to simulate some real use cases on the main ethereum network before unrolling it for wider use.
Cuende noted that, at least now, the risks are more well known:
"We want to make sure people don't lose their money,"
EDCON image via Alyssa Hertig