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Colony: A platform for open organizations (colony.io)
492 points by fabianhjr on Oct 5, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 171 comments



This is the first Ethereum based project I've seen that seems halfway interesting (and I'm one of those "cryptocurrency doubters").

It doesn't somehow recursively relate to Ethereum, doesn't over-rely on blockchain buzzwords, and can be explained in a sentence or two. While first reading the page, I didn't realize that it was even an Ethereum based project until the very end, which I liked. At any rate, I'm interested enough to read the documentation in depth now.

Don't ruin this by having some bullshit ICO money grab, though. It looks halfway decent (and if you read my comment history, I don't really say that about any cryptocurrency projects, really).


It's interesting that I'm on exactly the other side - it seemed halfway interesting until I realized there's some kind of cryptocurrency involved (and only figured that out while reading this comment).

The org stuff looks interesting - the crypto stuff makes me more suspicious of it's present and future because of the possibility of a money grab.


Instead of such a knee-jerk reaction to crypto, perhaps you can ask if the crypto token involved makes sense in this use case. If it doesn't, like in 99% of the cases, you can dismiss it then. Colony, IMHO, is one of the few projects where it does make sense to have a token.


Can you help me understand why a token makes sense in this case? It seems just as easy to implement this concept as Colony SaaS.


If it's like Assembly, the coins/tokens themselves don't have value _per se_, they just represent ownership. Basically, in this case, it's acting more of a ledger to represent equity than as the commodity it's typically used as.

An example:

UserA posts a great idea, and wants help to implement it. UserA is an MBA, has a business plan, a rough idea of execution, etc., but is not a programmer, or a graphic designer, or anything like that. UserA realizes she needs help, so she posts bounties - with features relative to the importance of the success of the project. "Need a landing page" might be a feature, with tasks broken out like "design a logo", "build a wireframe in Sketch", "convert Sketch wireframe to React frontend", etc. Each of those tasks will have a value, represented by Ether.

UserB, a graphic designer comes up with the perfect logo, which is worth 100 ether. User C, a frontend developer picks up the wireframe task, gets consensus, and then bangs out the React work, for a total of 250 ether. Other work gets done and an MVP is launched. The MVP was built, and a total of 5,000 ether were distributed as bounties were claimed and completed. User B has gone on to do a bunch of other graphic design tasks, and has a total of 600 ether, while User C left the project after completing the frontend work. The project's MVP launches, and makes $10,000 in profit. Because UserB has 600 ether, and 5,000 ether have been issued, UserB's share entitles him to ~12% of the profits, so he is disbursed a payment of $1200. UserC's share entitles him to $500.

As the project grows, UserB takes on more and more work, and more and more ether are issued. UserC doesn't ever come back on, but is still entitled to profits on the work they've done, though their share of ether will keep being diluted as the project goes on.

Hopefully I've been able to illustrate that the coin in this case is used not as currency itself, but as a representative stake in ownership.


Yeah, this seems very similar to how a Colony is envisioned to run, with a few extra considerations:

Each colony's native tokens act as a representation of equity as described above (more or less), entitling holders to a 'rewards' disbursement periodically - but they also may be employed by the colony for mechanisms of governance in the case of token-weighted voting.

Additionally, whenever someone makes an amount of tokens, they also are awarded an equal amount of reputation, which cannot be transferred and which decays over time. This score also confers influence in the colony for voting and dispute resolution, if the members of the colony wish to make their voting reputation weighted, or some combination of reputation and token-weighted.

Finally, to claim rewards, a user needs to have both reputation and tokens - this means that tokens themselves don't immediately entitle one to rewards; only those who actually contribute meaningful work to the colony (as evidenced by their reputation score) are entitled to proportional rewards.


Being suspicious or cautious, particularly considering the amount of people expressing the same sentiment in the comments, is not a knee-jerk reaction.


Especially when it’s been shown crypto currency can be expropriated and no one cares

Oh boy another platform that can be gamed by a minority for their overwhelming benefit


What is the example of cryptocurrency expropriation you are referring to?


Seconded. I help to manage an open organization (an open source project, non-revenue, so thankfully no need to worry about profit sharing) and it's often damn hard. I was hoping to see a platform with tools specifically tailored for distributed organizations to make collaboration and communication easier. But as soon as I see anything related to cryptocurrencies, it puts me on high alert. I don't pretend that it's fair, but there's too many scam artists at large looking to exploit suckers for a quick buck to be anything other than cautious.


I was exactly the same. I read this comment, then went back and looked again and saw:

> One organization should not be beholden to, or have to trust another, in order to confidently conduct their business.

>

> That’s why the Colony protocol is built as open source smart contracts on the Ethereum network.

In one breath, "We shouldn't have to trust any other organization" and then immediately after it's "built on the Ethereum network".

I wish this was not a requirement.


The Ethereum network isn't an organization. It's decentralized without anyone having full control over it.


Ethereum lost my trust when they suggested a soft fork to make transactions with a specific account invalid, eg, the DAO fix.

It showed both that a) code as contract is still too hard when even core contributors can't get them right, and b) the dev team is willing to shunt the underlying principles under the right conditions (eg, financial ones)

A central team that is willing to de-authorize specific transactions through control of the code base is at conflict with a decentralized network. Sure, the network didn't have to go along with it, but they also probably wouldn't have performed the change on their own, either.


They’ve already written a blog about why they’re not going to do an ICO unless and until they are fully functional. If I remember correctly they were planning an ICO, but their lawyers advised that it would be a bad idea under the current circumstances and they rethought it. Honestly it’s says a lot of good about them in my opinion, most of all that they care more about the health of the project than getting rich quick. Even if long term riches are their goal, at least they’re going about it the sensible way and not playing cowboy.


https://blog.colony.io/the-colony-token-sale-7ac14c845bc0

A protocol token is part of the Colony roadmap, but they won't do a token sale until the product is ready, to minimize the risk that their token will be considered an unlicensed security by the SEC.

Protocol tokens or "app tokens" in general are really exciting, and a lot of the smart VC people are talking about them. The latest episode of the A16Z podcast is all about protocol tokens, for example.


What's the difference between a protocol token and the scam tokens you usually get from ICOs?


One's a scam and the other isn't? I mean, it's just a question of whether the thing is legitimate, real, and non-fraudulent.


That's what I'm asking though. Are "protocol tokens" the same as regular tokens, technically speaking?


In the same way that mmorpg currency is.


A protocol token can actually be used to do something.


What is it then? How does it differ from regular tokens, from a technical point of view?


There is some program in existence which uses the tokens to fund or incentivise actually performing some useful action.


It's necessary for the network design.


So I wonder if this is the case because Colony actually pivoted into using Ethereum? I remember an earlier version that had the same basic concept but nothing to do with Ethereum.


No, they were one of the first projects on Ethereum back when Ethereum launched in 2015.


I thought it was just called "nectar" when Colony launched?

https://web.archive.org/web/20150402004048/http://colony.io:...


The fact that the cryptocurrency will not be "one member, one vote" but operate as an influence will just create positive feedback loops that amplify dominant voices and weaken less dominant voices. Which is already how the logic of social influence works anyways.


Here are just two thought experiments I'd love to hear Colony/elena_di explain:

Hypothetical 1: You and a growing team of incredibly engaged Colony members build out a $10M/yr revenue stream. Edge case leaks 87% of tokens to a dedicated hacker. Sorry?

Hypothetical 2: I like/hate your successful Colony. So I locate and bribe/extort your main influencer/s to push your project into the ground (block work, object to everything, whatever) or in my preferred direction. Code is law. Obey?

There are so many other fun problems with code-as-immutable-law for human institutions, it's concerning that none of these are even remotely addressed in the Colony literature (not to mention that the full, binding, self-regulating dispute mechanism fails horribly in both the above scenarios).


> 1. Edge case leaks 87% of tokens to a dedicated hacker. Sorry?

The level of code safety in smart contracts is abysmally bad today, Ethereum didn't further the state of the art with EVM/Solidity (quite the opposite), and this needs to be fixed before any serious business can rely on a DApp.

Smart contracts are like aerospace engineering, not like iStore apps development; delivering slightly buggy code, written as fast as possible, by easily interchangeable developers, doesn't cut it. It's worse than for aerospace actually: when you design a plane, your opponents are the laws of physics, which merely don't care about you. When designing a smart contract, hackers are specifically after you, and statistically, some of them are smarter than you and your code.

> 2. I locate and bribe/extort your main influencer/s

How is it different from the current practices of bribing executives and misleading shareholders (naively supposing that shareholders need to be mislead in order to pass bad, narrow-sighted judgements)?

> There are so many other fun problems with code-as-immutable-law for human institutions.

Indeed!

> It's concerning that none of these are even remotely addressed in the Colony literature

I take Colony as an experiment. As hinted above, I think you'd be a fool to bet your livelihood on some Solidity code. I don't think we're able to foresee which of those problems matter, nor the compromises which best mitigate them. Like in code optimisation, you need to measure before acting; Colony will meet those issues, will try to address them, and may or may not survive the process. Whether the lessons learned benefit Colony 2.0 or another project raised from its ashes, it's hard to say, but in the great scheme of things, it doesn't matter much.


Precisely.

> ...bribing executives and misleading shareholders

You raise an interesting point - in a Colony there is presumably no concept of enforceable fiduciary duty to shareholders (because there are none - we're not trading securities, we're trading plastic house chips on a blockchain). There are no legislated considerations for other members/colonists/dappsters/etc. I can vote/act with impunity, regardless of value creation/destruction potential. Welcome to the legal grey zone.

> I take Colony as an experiment.

As do I, and one I hope succeeds. But I'm not sure THEY do, which means early adopters are riding a bet that Colony gets it right the first time.


Once large amounts of real money are be involved there would be an amazing clash of conventional corruption attacking the heads, a computer security battle attacking the basic building blocks of the influence mechanisms, the demagogic tactics known from online discussion boards trying to sway opinions of the masses of low influence individuals, the gray "pay for likes" business that exists in the shadow of big social media sites, and all the gaming-the-system tricks with multi-accounts and the like that are rampant in open, long-running multiplayer games.

Oh, the drama! It might be compelling to join as a perfect substitute for an HBO subscription, who needs game of thrones. You might see a group forged in a decade of Eve online alliance warfare fighting mob hackers fighting two competing factions of hedge fund managers fighting a 4chan prank.

On the other hand, sufficiently boring organizations (e.g. stewardship of some greying enterprise software open source) with peeexisting informal trust networks should be perfectly safe. But would they need "colony"?


Just cause you hand out pieces of plastic (or tokens on a blockchain) instead of paper doesn't make it not a security. (As the ICOs are finding out!)

Security is as security does in a lot of these cases, so if it functions as a security, you're likely to run into encounters with the SEC.


With actual people you can informally convince either colleagues or the state that an exec is acting in bad faith of outside the policy framework of the company. And this can trigger formally defined actions. A sort of protection against deceit is built in by the fact that regulations are merely social conventions and not physically binding.

How do you informally convince code to stop trusting a certain influencer? You'd have to put in code paths managing this first, because code is a physically binding regulation.


Hypothetical 1: Contract security is taken very, very seriously, and discussed in section 2.2 of the whitepaper. The short answer is that colonies will have a 'recovery mode' whereby whitelisted addresses have the ability to alter some state of the colony contract directly. This should, in principle, prevent the circumstances enabling such an exploit from ever happening. In that sense, the hypothetical is moot.

The situation you really are getting at is one in which the Common Colony is mature enough that the 'recovery mode' features have been disabled and the contract is in full community control (a reasonable assumption if the Common Colony is pulling down $10M a year as you suggested). In this case, it also seems reasonable that some of that $10M a year will be spent by the Common Colony on bug bounties and internal security, paid to experts who have the highest reputation scores. If somehow there was still some brilliant exploit by a hacker who was both skilled enough to outsmart many, many world-class developers all working together, malicious enough to forgo the generous bounty awarded for disclosing the exploit to the Common Colony security domain, and downright detestable enough to willingly crash an enormously successful DAO... well, the answer is simply ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Hypothetical 2: This is where the reputation system gets interesting. If you really wanted to try to gum up a colony's inner workings by 'objecting to everything' or somehow interfering with the normal day-to-day workflows, you yourself would need some reputation score to do that. With each objection, you would be required to stake your own tokens and reputation on the outcome of the dispute. If the other members of the colony don't approve of what you're doing (I don't see why they would if you're trying to push the colony into the ground), they will vote against you and you will lose tokens and reputation. So with each unsuccessful attempt to interfere with the colony you hate, your own ability to influence that colony will diminish substantially.

Section 9 in the whitepaper describes these mechanisms in detail.


> well, the answer is simply ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

That's not a great answer to a very realistic case.


I think the many sentences that come before the shrug emoji illustrate that the case is not very realistic. You're taking the final, sarcastic closing comment out of context.


You're absolutely wrong. It's this attitude toward security that is a main factor toward most of the Ethereum hacks to date.

- brilliant exploit by a hacker who was both skilled enough to outsmart many, many world-class developers all working together.

- malicious enough to forgo the generous bounty awarded for disclosing the exploit to the Common Colony security domain.

- detestable enough to willingly crash an enormously successful DAO

If you think one or all of these attack vectors are not something to be concerned about (or worse, be sarcastically dismissive about) you have no business writing smart contracts or anything security related.


Whoa, ok, let's back up here for a second, because I feel like this got a little lost in the shuffle: the dismissive sarcasm was a response to something specific, not to smart contract security of the Colony Network.

The three points above are all valid and absolutely important, and should be consistently and properly considered by anyone developing smart contracts or anything security related. There's no disagreement about that.

popcorncowboy, however, wanted to make an argument that assumed a security breach in order to make a broader point about "code-is-law" and DAOs in general, but was waiting for a response to unveil his second statement (which you can read now). The sarcasm was a response to the rhetorical and argumentative style of popcorncowby, not an illustration of the Colony dev attitudes toward the security of the smart contracts that will comprise the Colony network.

EDIT: phrasing


On the contrary. This is a core project team member saying that in the event a dedicated agent IS sufficiently motivated and DOES manage to compromise a Colony, "well, the answer is simply ¯\_(ツ)_/¯"

The many sentences that come before the shrug do nothing to address the very realistic scenario of a breach. The "sarcastic closing comment" was in fact the final truth of it.


It really seems like the most appropriate response to this is indeed ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

You're assuming quite a lot of this hypothetical hacker - the response above clearly addresses the hypothetical by stating "here are the relevant reasons why this hypothetical is impossible or at least unlikely, and here are the relevant sections in the whitepaper for more verbose information".

>The many sentences that come before the shrug do nothing to address the very realistic scenario of a breach.

If you're assuming blackhat success for any conceivable project/company/database regardless of security measures taken to prevent it, what would an appropriate response even look like? What kind of answer would satisfy you?


> the response above clearly addresses the hypothetical

Yes, by saying "the hypothetical is moot". Moot. And why? Because "in principle" "this should ... prevent the circumstances enabling such an exploit from ever happening.". Moreover, that we should simply trust that the intrinsic balance of economics means successful projects cannot exhibit a state in which a breach would be profitable, and anyway that the combination of someone smart enough, mean enough and motivated enough to breach is inconceivable.

Which could all be acceptable. Except if they're wrong even once, you lose everything.

> What kind of answer would satisfy you?

I see this response a lot on HN, and it's an obviously cheap shot.

If the asymmetry of outcomes in the two types of breaches is not obvious to you, then lets talk it out.

If an attacker breaches your real world company servers, they can cause a lot of damage. No question. They can steal IP, records, etc etc etc. The examples are legion. You're right.

But if they breach your Colony dAPP? They own you. Not metaphorically. They take de facto ownership of whatever value you've created.

No matter how incredibly well you can hack eg. Apple, you can't ever take over total ownership and control. Even if you hacked the Exchanges and somehow reset all the records, even if you compromised key board members, etc etc in the real world we have recourse, we have liability, we have laws and courts and means to make claims and pursue remedies.

But on the Blockchain? All your Colony are belong to someone-else the moment you edge-case a smart contract. Permanently. (Unless you can convince Vitalik et al to re-fork, case in moot point.) The equivalent would be if Apple ran a server that if you could figure out how to breach you could take ownership of Apple and total control of its operations.

So, "what kind of answer would satisfy"? One in which the design did not fundamentally and existentially depend on no-one ever figuring out a combination to a lock that gave them total and immutable control of a store of ever increasing value.

> It really seems like the most appropriate response to this is indeed ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Except, if you've ever been decently burned by a clause in a contract, you'll know that the actual felt response is not even close to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


> What kind of answer would satisfy you?

In the real world, with an actual registered company/cooperative, you can call the police or sue people in court as a last resort. This is not possible in a distributed world, so a new kind of recourse needs to be invented, if that's even possible.


Not if they are large sophisticated state sponsored attacks.

I think we have to forego the stereotype of lone wolf havker (or at least not treat as the only hacker stereotype) when considering having a large population put their valuables into a single pot.


> If you're assuming blackhat success for any conceivable project/company/database regardless of security measures taken to prevent it, what would an appropriate response even look like? What kind of answer would satisfy you?

I do the same thing when I assume that there will be bugs in my production software, regardless of any security/testing and measures taken to prevent it. Why is this suddenly less likely when we're talking about a DAO?

The answer that satisfies would of course be you still have the power to revert things if necessary, which you've already provided, but I'd never for the life of me imagine disabling it.


> I locate and bribe/extort your main influencer/s to push your project into the ground (block work, object to everything, whatever) or in my preferred direction

How's that any different from the current state? Execs of current companies are humans with power to run the company into the ground. You can extort/bribe them like that as well. How does it change anything?


fab13n made a similar comment on this line. So thanks to both of you for illustrating the point (genuinely):

> "How does it change anything?"

The action itself may appear the same, but in code-as-law systems the consequences of this action change everything. The system of governance is immutable. If I can coerce your primary influencer to destroy your Colony _there is nothing you can do about it_, because the system is still _working exactly as designed_. Like an AI auto-pilot flying you into a mountain at high speed because it got a correctly formed override instruction to do so.

In the real world we have multiple interpretive, negotiated, social conventions to deal with bad actors, agents and outcomes that violate the spirit or intention of underlying agreements.

The lack of these are EXACTLY the problem in a "code as law" system - and worryingly it shows that most of our intuitive responses to bad agency in these type systems is still "but it's the same in the real world". Except of course for the existential threat posed by immutability of consequence and recourse.

You cannot remove trust from collective human agency, you can only put it somewhere else and pretend like it doesn't matter anymore. Right up until it does.

> Execs of current companies are humans with power to run the company into the ground.

I get what you mean, but in practice you can't wilfully do this without serious consequence. To destroy value is to take it from someone. Fiduciary duty is a legal reality.


I think it's good to press hard on how newly proposed code-as-law systems work, but at the same time, how are gaps between code-as-law larger or different from say an executive that skims money out of a company, transferring it to other bank accounts. The banking system isn't enforcing any legal contracts in that transaction, and if the malfeasance is discovered then some legal recovery action would order or capture assets to be transferred back. Couldn't a court of law order assets be transferred to a wronged party in a code-as-law system?

Edit: I do think a good "control test" of many of the code-as-law systems is to compare against cases about how it would be different than a ledger managed by a person & the existing legal framework around it, and then a centralized database with security around certain operations.



It happens, but when it does happen, people have recourse to a totally different system: the courts. I think of it like raising the issue up out of the system Corporate Management and into the system Legal Enforcement.

It is patently not a perfect system, but the failures are notable because they are not common. Most shareholder lawsuits against management are resolved before anyone ends up in headlines.


For 1: The colony fixes the bug and creates a fork of the contract state (balances, etc) before the hack, so everyone has the same balance but there is no longer a bug. There should be consensus on using this fork going forward because everyone that has created value or invested is incentivized to do so.


I built something similar 10 years ago (pre-Ethereum obviously). Launched at TechCrunch on stage. Execution wasn't that great and it died, but the main problem was that everyone thinks their ideas are awesome, and no one wants to do the actual work for a handful of tokens. We'll see if history repeats itself here.

That being said, best wishes. I'd love for something like this to eventually take-off.


This is really interesting. I've lately become more curious about theories of transaction costs - how traditional firms might have an advantage because they don't have to bargain over every decision and have understood lines of decision-making. I'm wondering if decentralized organizations might have a transaction cost problem.


Your comment reminded me of this quotation (it's from Lord Bryce's "The American Commonwealth", describing urban political machines in the 19th century):

> An army led by a council seldom conquers: It must have a commander-in-chief, who settles disputes, decides in emergencies, inspires fear or attachment. The head of the Ring is such a commander. He dispenses places, rewards the loyal, punishes the mutinous, concocts schemes, negotiates treaties. He generally avoids publicity, preferring the substance to the pomp of power, and is all the more dangerous because he sits, like a spider, hidden in the midst of his web. He is a Boss.

You're probably right that voting on everything is not the best way to go, but this is the first Ethereum project that doesn't seem useless or some kind of money grab.


I've thought a lot about this too recently while working as a contract software dev versus a regular employee.

There's quite a bit of overhead in specifications planning and negotiation.

There is, as well, a lot of overhead in committees and "no hierarchy" ways of working.

A great amount of efficiency is gained when someone - almost anyone - is The Boss.


In Fred Brookes' classic "The Mythical Man-Month", he extols the virtue of having a single architect:

"Conceptual integrity in turn dictates that the design must proceed from one mind, or from a very small number of agreeing resonant minds."


I can't quite tell from your comment whether you are familiar with this as an existing topic in economics - if you're not, you might find this an interesting intro to the area of study http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/coase.htm


I wasn't until this week, so apparently I'm projecting just the right amount of knowledge :D Thanks for the link! I've been looking for opportunities to learn more.


See above ^ - I work for one so can say with some truth here.

Yes they do have this problem but it confers several advantages: people are more bought into the work they are doing, they are happier, they understand decisions made about them, they work with more passion. Not all communicational efficiency makes people happier or more productive. Though it does take discernment and judgement when to not bother have a meeting and make a decision about something. You want to try and lower the problem you identify.


Great question. This is the biggest opportunity for software, in my opinion. The boundaries between the firm and the market are, in part, governed by transaction costs. (There are more reasons. You mentioned you're interested in reading more, so I'd recommend this: https://www.amazon.com/Economic-Nature-Firm-Reader/dp/052114...)

Technology has the opportunity to decrease transaction costs amongst a group of participants. Consequently, this could then lead to lower trust amongst participants—one of blockchain's leading selling points.

It's all theory, so we'll see how this plays out, but it's the one thing I think is most exciting: can technology lower transaction costs and thus blur the lines between firm and market.


Thanks for the book recommendation! Just bought it. Agreed that smart contracts and technology in general could be used to reduce transaction costs.


I work for a digital workers cooperative.

It is organised non-hierarchically and via consent (i.e. a modified and lighter form of consensus decision making that emphasises "I won't stop this" over "I 100% in agreement) - there is no voting but decisions still get made. Its called sociocracy[1].

Here is roughly how it works: 1. Someone brings in work, meeting clients etc. 2. They put together a proposal on this work, summoning together a team from people who are around who have the relevant skills from a pool of people in the company and surround networks. 3. This goes up on an internal jobs board called CoPitch[2] where everyone decides how much time they think they will spend on it, how much they want to be paid and so on. They say "I will do this for this much money to this time scale". 4. This passes through a few circles - business development, tech etc - to check it is reasonable. 5. Work goes out to client. 6. If client says yes the resourcing circle coordinates a time box to put those people on that particular job. 7. The work is done. People are paid out of the company what they signed up for. If it doesn't deliver or goes over budget then they have to say why or their pay is basically going to be what they said they would be paid.

Apart from the formal members of the cooperative, we are all free lancers.

I've not read the Colony paper in detail (but will) yet on the surface of it this sounds like some of what we do, but in software. In my experience all of this is moderately hard face to face when you are co-located. I treat this with high degrees of interest but a good dose of skepticism that this is a technical fix for an organisational problem that will, despite the software contracts, still have many of the hard organisational problems associated with this sort of thing.

As far as I can see it tries to tackle this to some extent automatically and quantitively with reputation systems and so on. However, off the bat it strikes me that there are going to be "off grid" problems (outside of the software and protocol) that occur that will require a more "cultural" fix that may be harder. We know from digital sociology that these reputational systems create their own hierarchies and imbalances in the system and I am wondering if Colony can prevent these in any way. As I say, open minded, but skeptical, having been doing something like this IRL for a year, eight months.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociocracy [2] https://www.co-pitch.com/


This sounds very similar to how Colony is envisioned to work on-chain.

The whitepaper outlines the system of Domains, which seem to be the same as your 'circles' as you describe them. You can read a TL;DR here, which also has a link to the full whitepaper: https://colony.readme.io/v1.0/docs/off-whitepaper

I think there may well be 'off grid' (or in Colony's case 'off-chain') challenges to running an organization exclusively with Colony.

> We know from digital sociology that these reputational systems create their own hierarchies and imbalances in the system and I am wondering if Colony can prevent these in any way.

One thing that comes to mind as a response is Colony's reputation system mechanics: Reputation decays over time. So, to help disincentivise a 'reputation aristocracy' within an organization, reputations scores will halve over the course of about 3 months, which means no-one can just rest on their laurels and hold influence in a colony without regularly contributing to that colony's goals.

As others have commented, the other main distinction would be that a colony can put bounties up in native tokens, which confers influence in some types of voting (other types can be exclusively reputation-weighted), as well as dividends from the colony's revenue. Each colony can tweak their token's total supply, issuance rate and initial distribution to achieve the desired incentive model for what they need/desire.


Thanks for this - very interesting.

Also very interesting on the degrading reputation - glad you/they have thought about these issues a bit.

I'll add though I do think my concern of a quantitive fix to a qualitative and/or cultural problem still stands but will take a more informed view once I've looked at the white paper in detail.

Cheers.


It sound similar to what you do with one important distinction. "Freelancers" (I am using this term loosely since it seems like your organization gives you much more flexibility than traditional freelancers would get) earn a salary/income whereas in a Colony, the freelancers earn a tokens that represent future earnings potential in a colony i.e. share of revenue/profits. This way, you not only bring work to the Colony but completing it gives you a stake in your Colony.


Interesting. In a sense we do get a stake in the company, which is a missing piece of the puzzle. The profits are put into a pot and you get a share equal to the days you worked. Then people can use an internal crowd funding platform (CoBudget) to decide where to invest this money, which could include "please give it all to me".

So I guess this is to some degree integrated into our digitally enabled but relatively analog model.


Question: are you guys legally organized as a cooperative, or is it still a conventional corporate structure?


Legally organised as a cooperative.

There are three categories of membership and a democratic process to move between each: 1. Members - formal cooperative members with legal responsibility. 2. Outlanders - people more dedicated to the cause who get benefits like first refusal on incoming work and so on. 3. Collaborators - the first stage. You work at Outlandish basically.

No status prevents you from participating in circles to make decisions, apart from the Outlanders circle (which is a meeting between members and Outlanders) and the members circle (an extraordinary circle when there have to be particularly big or legal or sensitive decisions made - most decisions are made between Outlanders and members).

The intention of the organisation is for everyone who wants to to be a member.


That's really great! I've been rooting for the cooperative model to take off a bit more. Seems like a more humane and societally friendlier way of running things, especially if it helps ensure a more equitable distribution of wealth and power among the working ranks.


This is a really intriguing organizational structure. I'd love to ask you some more questions about how it works if you have any free time... please hit me up at (griffin {at} colony.io)


Let us know if anything comes of this! I'm very interested in seeing more tech companies organized as cooperatives, and it seems that Colony's tech could be very complementary in that regard.


Love the idea, signed up!


Outlandish.com - :)


A closed* platform for open organizations. Are there plans to make this open source? There's only one correct answer to that question, and it should be made clear from the outset.


Why?


>A closed platform for open communities

This is a contradiction. What kind of open community would put their eggs in a proprietary basket? Surely not one with an understanding of the finite lifecycle of proprietary services.


I think making it open source would be better in the long term, but I'd personally use it either way if it works.


Because it's 2017 and we shouldn't suffer non-Free Software any longer.


I like the idea of open organizations (as flawed as they may be, it's hard to be worse than modern corporate fuedalisms), but I'm skeptical. From the OP here:

> You choose what you work on. It doesn’t matter where you live, or who you know-only how good you are.

But from the linked whitepaper:

> The smallest structural unit in a colony is the ‘task’. A task represents a unit of work requiring no further subdivision or delegation. A task has three roles associated with it: A manager [...] A worker [...] An evaluator [...] The manager (usually the creator of the task) is responsible for selecting the evaluator and worker

So it looks like it does indeed still matter who you know. To create a task requires the token as collateral, so if you're not on good terms with anyone who possesses tokens, then you're outta luck. I'm not even saying that the aforementioned is a bad thing, but it seems like exaggeration to claim that this solves the problem of favoritism, nepotism, and cliquishness in human organizations.

Crucial question: is this project itself governed as a colony?


And a little bit below the quoted text, it states that the manager is responsible for determining the bounty for the task - for the worker, the evaluator and him/herself. I can't imagine that working very well.


This is probably one of the first Ethereum projects along with Augur.

Back in 2014, I remember talking with the founder about this project in the original Ethereum Forums when it was only an idea. I was also interested in self-organisation and decentralised management in a blockchain (Holacracy, etc). Glad to see he's come so far and still believes in his idea.


This concept seems interesting, and great at first glance, but the more I think about it the more I’m skeptical as to whether it would be a fair system.

It looks like a true meritocracy, but a computer does not fundamentally understand merit, which I assume means that it is left to people to recognise the merit in others. I can imagine this would lead to the same politics as you get when peer feedback influences bonuses (which is relatively common now).

I also worry that it would be too easy to game for certain people. We already have the case that men are more likely to ask for raises, which is a contributing factor to pay inequality. I can see there being other places like that here which would allow for gaming the system.

I’d love to read a blog post on these sorts of concerns from Colony. It’s a fascinating concept and I do hope these aren’t issues with the system in practice.


> I also worry that it would be too easy to game for certain people.

I wouldn't call this gaming the system. It's well-known that in order to be successful it's often not enough just to do good work. You also need to tell others about your work as well as negotiate for yourself. Negotiating isn't cheating but an essential part of human communication that can be learned if you happen to be not particularly good at it.

> We already have the case that men are more likely to ask for raises, which is a contributing factor to pay inequality.

This made me wonder if framing the question of pay inequality along gender lines is making the right distinction. Maybe, it's not necessarily women earning less than men but rather introvert or shy people? There are men who daren't ask about a pay raise either. Those probably earn less than more outgoing men, too.

So, by framing this question solely in terms of gender we might be glossing over a part of the problem because that way one of the main causes for pay inequality remains hidden behind gender labels.


> Maybe, it's not necessarily women earning less than men but rather introvert or shy people?

Yes it's definitely both, but I feel stating it as a gender equality issue makes it much clearer that it is a failure that needs to be fixed.

> It's well-known that in order to be successful it's often not enough just to do good work

Agreed, I think this is a failing of most cultures right now. The good work that one does should speak for itself, and in a true meritocracy good work would be sufficient. Unfortunately that is never the case, it depends on people essentially boasting about what they do, and unfortunately it is all too easy for people who do mediocre work to boast loudly enough and receive praise. This is a current issue, and one I think Colony could encourage.


I'm happy to see another product in the "opinionated management" space (another is https://www.loomio.org) but think integrating a cryptocurrency limits the appeal and cheapens the concept. I really can't see who this is designed for.


Interesting to see the comparison. I've been (very) loosely following the progress of Colony, and I've had the sense that they were much closer to Assembly (http://assemblymade.com/), which is now defunct.

I was a participant in Assembly, and am optimistic that an eventual replacement will figure out how to make the money side work enough that they can keep going.

As it stands, I'm not entirely certain who Colony is for. Hopefully, not everybody.


Agreed. And in particular I'm curious as to "what truly differentiates Colony from what Assembly did"? ie. what is Colony doing to address the fate of Assembly?

I'd love to see something like this take off. I also remain unconvinced that the problem with something like Assembly was simply that it wasn't on the blockchain.

It's also a big ask to bet the cumulative and growing value of your collective efforts on your contract code not ever having any kind of edge case that could leak value contrary to the _spirit_ of your endeavour. Or deferring the (still as yet untested) legal issues of DAOs.


I think the token allows for more market-based economies. Maybe that's a market economy within a firm, or a market economy within a coworking space amongst members, or in open source projects.

Sure, you could use fiat or a non-blockchain "token", but I believe this open market, with price discovery, adds more value then it detracts.


To me it seems like a viable and interesting idea to have decentralized internet-based organizations with people doing work in exchange for crypto-tokens.

Sure, it limits the appeal, but a lot of viable and interesting things have limited appeal... Whether this kind of thing could become mainstream within a few years is the question, no?


Mechanical Turk doesn’t seem to have shortage of workers and Amazon does nothing to market it.


This is all based on smart contracts.

A detailed description of how it's supposed to work was linked in a blog post of theirs:

https://colony.io/whitepaper.pdf

I'm interested in what kind of holes can be poked in particularly the distribution of tasks and "reputation mining".

Fascinating stuff. I hope one of these projects transforms the way we work. The payoff could be immense.


Is this just not yet another case of unnecessarily attempting to shoehorn in blockchain technology where it's not really required?

This is basically a freelancing platform that has been overcomplicated by the use of a blockchain and 'smart contracts'.


Not so - a blockchain or other type of decentralized shared ledger is required for the reputation system to work as it should. Reputation needs to be calculated and verified so that it can exist independently of some sort of gatekeeper or platform (as you are implying).

Tokens on the network also are essential for Colony governance (voting, dispute resolution, dividends/rewards, etc.) - This is why Colony is built on Ethereum.


I had this idea a while back but it’s difficult to get the incentives right. In the real world how does the work get checked it’s been done?

I think about replacing local government with this for example. I can easily see my local bins not being collected and even more worryingly a list of outstanding issues (like an overwhelmed github project) that never seems to go down. I’m glad they are doing this though and I intend to help I think.


this sounds a lot like my local government


> you're empowered to do the work you care about, not just what you're told to do.

> Influence is earned by consistently demonstrating just how damn good you are.

> Tokens let you stake your ownership on your good judgement when proposing tasks

> The more reputation you earn, the more influence you have on decisions relevant to your expertise.

How does that all work precisely?


Looks like you earn tokens by doing work, and each token is a vote?


I know smart contracts are based on being able to prove that you solved some given task. The task can for example be to find a value which hashes to match the one in the contract. However, that task is not so interesting within an organisation.

Can someone give an ELI5 of how I can prove that I did a job which is more complex than the one above? For example, to implement a new feature in a software system, sell a product, design a product which the colony is happy with...

Essentially, I want to understand better what are the limitations of these smart contracts.


For anything that's not mathematically provable on-chain, the contract will need input.

The way you'll prove something that needs social validation is by getting approval. So Colony is all about reputation, propositions, dispute resolution, etc.

Check out their tl;dr:

https://colony.readme.io/docs/off-whitepaper


This looks useful, but I couldn’t find any source. It seems like a centralized, closed service but yet it advertises itself as a platform for openness. How is that? For instance, does colony.io use colony.io to develop colony.io? And, if not, why not?


Because we haven't implemented the white paper yet. But we are coding that now and the repo will be opened once we're ready. Meanwhile we did publish the source for the token-weighted voting implementation, see https://blog.colony.io/token-weighted-voting-implementation-... and have opened more than just code, e.g. our employee equity plan https://blog.colony.io/on-creating-a-better-employee-equity-..., the legal reasoning behind a token sale etc.


Do you have an open roadmap? Why not eat your own dog food here and "colonize" development, even if manually?


We run something called a "collaboration network" that is using our early beta product. The product isn't feature complete yet, just task management with a token incentive model. So we're doing early experiments but can't quite pull of more complex ones—yet.


How can you use something that isn't built to build the same thing unless you're using a time machine? I suppose once Colony is in production, you can create a Colony clone using Colony.


It's called bootstrapping, would indeed be interesting if they used there own platform to build it, or run it in a way right now that allows them to migrate to Colony as early as possible. As long as it does not work for there needs, it's not clear why it would be good enough for anyone else.


Currently the software is closed-source, but will be opened up when it's ready.

The whitepaper was just released last week, and the Colony dev team is working on getting a good foundation for the contracts that will comprise the Colony network - once those are ready, it'll be opened up.


Very cool. I support your initiative and wish you well.

I am thrown a bit, though, by this concept:

Rather than centralised ownership and hierarchical management, smart contracts distribute ownership according to the value each individual contributes, and influence emerges from the bottom up through systematic peer review of contributed work.

Systematic peer reviewal...

Further into whitepaper:

Reputation losses can arise from a user being found responsible for a badly executed task, or being involved in the dispute process and the dispute being resolved against them. In addition, all reputation earned by users is exposed to a continual decay over time.

Meritocracy is an interesting concept. It's supposed to represent a system of advancement based on individual ability. It might work in a pre-existing system: earn points within this domain wherein the outcomes are known and points are awarded based on their complexities. Tetris leaderboards are meritocratic.

Will this approach ever work with conceptual knowledge? There is still a subjective hierarchy of trust and non-binary interpretation; given how much one would need to have their ego in-check to perform evaluations in a merit-based way, that's where I see the concept start to shake at the knees.


Genuinely curious, how would this affect the way we work differently than, say, a SaaS product that powers decision making at an organization with voting / assignment of tasks. What is the inherent advantage to using Ethereum to power this? I'm not _trying_ to be cynical, I just struggle to see how this is anything more than shoehorning a new technology into an existing product / space. Not saying it's not cool or that it should be dismissed because of that, it seems like a great proof of concept and it seems executed well, but I fail to see any real benefit to this to an "organization" (Perhaps my assumption of an organization being a business is my problem here) over a SaaS product that does the same thing.

> Rather than centralised ownership and hierarchical management, smart contracts distribute ownership according to the value each individual contributes, and influence.

So it's like Asana with a reputation system?


Using Ethereum means that everyone can agree on the state of the system without needing to place trust in any central authorities. You don't have to trust whoever is running the service to not accidentally or maliciously change the data or force a change in the software. You don't have to worry about the service going down (business says they're pivoting / gets bought out) and arguments about multiple different members setting up new accounts at different services claiming theirs is the true one that everyone should use (putting that member effectively in charge). The Ethereum blockchain provides a durable recording of the organization state.

I'm not familiar with Colony at all, but if the above are possible concerns -- that you need durable consensus between individuals without enshrining any of them as fully trusted -- and especially if you want to manage money/value too -- then using Ethereum is a good fit.

I agree that blockchains seem to be a buzzword that are shoehorned more than necessary, but depending on Colony's goals then they may be the actual target market for Ethereum.


I worked with the Assembly team that basically did this, without the complications of smart contracts/etc involved.

This is a hard problem for a number of reasons.


Would you be up for chatting? We've been wanting to talk to people from the Assembly team to hear about their experience.


Yeah sure. I'll email you.


+1. Would love to hear your insights on this.


What are those reasons?


The contract between the things that are provable on-chain and the actual real world where people are not so straight-forward to interact with is the point where you realise that only a small percentage of this model is actually a tech problem and is mostly a people problem, at which point tech-led startups are ill suited to being the complete solution.


It is a lovely idea for a new company but I cannot see a big company changing its ways, especially one with a natural monopoly that has no actual competition. Another issue I see is people just giving recognition to their friends, not those who deserve it.


Perhaps open source projects might use it as their governance model?


This looks really cool, but I'm a little bit confused about why this needs to be decentralized. You could theoretically just implement this network as a saas instead of on top of a blockchain. You could even still do all the financials with ether but just maintain the state on servers somewhere.

The big fear I have is immutability of blockchain data in the case that something goes horribly wrong. If there's a problem with the ethereum core protocol, solidity compiler, wallet software, colony contracts you could lose everything. Vitalik already said that there probably wouldn't be anymore hard forks.


How does Colony differentiate itself from Aragon?


Aragon's focus is mainly on Board-level governance, while Colony is focused on the day-to-day management of tasks with a built-in reputation system to allow contributors to be rewarded in proportion to the value they provide a project while having reputation-weighted influence in the governance of that project.


How are you going to handle the growing inequality problem?

In every type of economy, inequality gap in wealth distribution tend to grow over time. In your system, you'll have the same trend with "reputation" or whatever measure of influence you choose.


For wealth, it’s probably a toughie, but for reputation it’s a bit easier because reputation decays over time. That means it’s impossible for an influence aristocracy to emerge. There will still likely be a power law distribution of influence at play, but it won’t be as extreme as it might otherwise be, and people will have to remain active to retain their influence.


I'm not sure it aims to solve wealth equality gap..


As I understand it, Aragon is a way for a traditional company to sort of 'blockchainify' itself, by putting board management, funding, accounting, etc. of a traditional organization into a dApp.

Colony is a really fundamental re-imagining of the way an organization works. Instead of being a normal company ported to the blockchain, a Colony is an organization native to the blockchain.


I read the whitepaper TLDR, but I'm still not clear on the value of the Colony Tokens. Is the idea that they are like shares in the Colony?


Why do all these features of a colony need to be part of the same thing?

I see 1. Reputation 2. Governance based on reputation 3. Division of labor 4. Team membership 5. Organizational ownership 6. Dispute resolution

It is not obvious what this particular set of organizational features is necessary or sufficient for. Even worse there are likely many different ways of implementing them and it is not obvious how implementation details will affect resulting organizational dynamics. A better approach would be a modular organizational design with different plug-ins that satisfy different organizational requirements. This would allow organizations to choose their rules and to innovate instead of having to pick up a complex model of organization off of a shelf. A modular design would let you start small, build a minimum set of requirements to power some organizations and then scale up the complexity from there.


I love the concept, and the principles driving it feel both good and familiar, so I hope humans do eventually learn how to build organizations like these.

This particular attempt feels impossibly utopian. I don't believe that we can simply jump into the destination we'd like to achieve all at once; we need to work up to it, building all the social technologies of organization, communication, and knowledge transfer which have to exist in order to support a complex group effort.

I'm glad they're working on it, though. I hope that something valuable will be learned in the process, and that it'll help incrementally move us toward a world where we can manage our society more humanely, organizing ourselves collectively and voluntarily by default.


Honestly, I feel many of the features that are claimed as 'new' don't seem so new. Giving credit to previous work really seems to be a big issue in the ICO and BTC community, for any reason (?).

However, Google wasn't the first search engine either. That being said, it might be among the platforms that does at least good in design. When looking at some UI etc I still got the feeling that it's overengineered, i.e. has too many functions. Maybe think about more MVP, gain community and slowly add features on top.

Also, there's so e research on the future of work and recently flash organizations (Stanford, MIT..). The idea you propose looks very similar to Dynamo/Foundry (2015,2016) and what B12 (2016) does, except for the protocol.


I'm keeping my eye on Colony's progress for a while now. I cannot wait to get involved.

I see a lot of similarities with https://dogezer.com/

Colony seems better though in terms of design from what I can judge right now.


Is it a DAO? If not, what are the differences from all other projects that are implementing DAO?


Interesting project, but I find it unfortunate that they chose such a historically loaded term.


I thought of ants and bees.

In a pro-decentralisation context, the interpretation you're referring to--which is the pinnacle of centralisation forced through violence for selfish goals--is so obviously irrelevant, that it didn't even come to mind.


Yes ants and bees! And the intelligence with which they organise their work and life https://blog.colony.io/the-future-of-work-cf99211e7ac4


It will probably come to mind for folks whose families were affected violently by colonization.

That this wasn't brought up during the naming process paints a pretty clear picture of the team's demographic makeup.

Edit: Yep. https://blog.colony.io/colony-q3-update-9daa57d0918c


Perhaps it was brought up, and not deemed relevant?

"come[s] to mind" != "triggered"

Suggesting a team should alter its "demographic" ("diversity" hiring) for the sake of such a weak association is extreme.


Hm, making the name of a brand you intend to market worldwide something deeply offensive to a huge swath of the world is a pretty poor decision.

I'm not saying their hiring "should" be altered, but I do think were it more inclusive, this would have never flown. Maybe that speaks to the value a diverse team brings to an organization.


I'm not convinced it is "deeply offensive to a huge swath of the world". Or that a diverse team would bring more value.


Touché (and yes, I would also blend into that picture seamlessly).


My first association was "space colony". Colony on the moon, mars etc.


I agree. It is really unfortunate, especially for something that is trying to remove relationships of dominance.


Agree,It's a big turn off for me personally to be honest. And I imagine institues in countries which were once colonized wouldn't be excited about using such a product/project due to fair historical reasons.


An organisation that throws out a tool because of its own insecure projections on its name has more problems..


Organizations still consist of people. An organization that forces it's employees to work with a tool that has a very historically charged name, one which perhaps even degrades the people working, is gonna have much more trouble than the one which threw out the tool because of the name, at least that's my opinion. Imagine a british company asking it's division, in what was a former colony, to work with a tool called colony. You could be a fully technical person who has no regard for how certain words were used historically and just understand them by definition and without the historical context, but then you shouldn't be in a position making managerial decisions which affect your international workforce.


Did you see my other post? Now you've upped the ante; even working with this tool "degrades" people.. A pretty big stretch imo, especially since "colony" is otherwise a pretty common word - you are only focusing on negative semantics.

> Imagine a british company..

I can, and still see no problem.

> but then you shouldn't be in a position

Why? By what standard does anyone weight "historical context"? It's your supposition that there would be any affect at all to international workers.


How do you handle accountability and ownership in such an organization?

Everything seems to be centered about individuals taking up work on a voluntary basis. However, in many organizations, some work just has to get done. How do you handle this?


We have a beta user who ran into this problem. He posted tasks, no one took them. He upped the price by 2x, and one task was taken. He upped the price again to 3x, and all tasks were taken.


So where is the actual signup for this? The homepage does not make it obvious...


Welcome to the world of blockchain startups! There is no signup nor product, but please subscribe to our newsletter and download our whitepaper! And don't forget to pay into our ICO!


Actually we said we won't do an ICO until we have a product live on mainnet https://blog.colony.io/the-colony-token-sale-7ac14c845bc0


We have a beta product at the moment. We're doing closed testing as it's not feature complete: task management with a token-based incentive model.


They are in beta, you can send them an email if an org you are part of would like to test their beta/mvp.

(Just putting it out there, I am not related to the project)


Color me skeptical, but hopeful.

Counteracting the tyrannical nature of modern company governance is a very good thing. If this takes off, I wonder how these non-centralized forms of governance might be able to be applied to traditional political governance! Any way you slice it it definitely beats out Chinese style dictatorship, and I'd be willing to bet it'd be a good improvement on even US republic-style governance!


Interested in trying this for Transloadit, currently our only tooling to achieve similar ideas is markdown/GitHub. Is there a demo/pilot somewhere?


We're running a closed beta at the moment but if you have a use-case in mind you can send an e-mail to collin@colony.io :)

(Although he probably won't be able to reply before next week)


Colony is beginning Beta II this quarter; if you have a use case and don't mind providing some good feedback and tolerating occasional bugs, send Collin an email to inquire about participating.


For someone to connect to a Colony through a standard web browser, it seems they'd need a plug-in like MetaMask (https://metamask.io/) and I wonder how this might limit who uses Colony?


Watching this video of MetaMask being installed, a person needs to create a secure password and a phasephrase:

How to use Ethlance - Installing MetaMask Chrome Extension

[video] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUZ_XT0a9_U

And then would people need to have some tokens to interact on a Colony, and they'd buy the token on an exchange? That requires another account on something like Coinbase, and a wallet?

Once someone has it all set up, a wallet and a secure way to store their private keys to access their tokens, it could be pretty easy to interact with a Colony, but I imagine for there to be network effects on colony.io this might require some catalyst? Maybe an external event, some financial crisis to move a large enough number of people around the world to using crypto?


So, are we destined to reinvent something like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Company_store but with cryptocurrencies? This concept sounds horrifying.


This is a really beautiful landing page. This project looks great!


Possibly interesting, but no way to sign up? Not even a way to try and get an invite, beyond signing up for the mailing list and hoping that's the way they send them out?


So, let's say i want do to something on the blockchain that looks like this.

Where do i start ( in the context that i can program)


You can have a look through the Solidity language documentation http://solidity.readthedocs.io/en/develop/ then setup an environment with truffle (contract deployment and testing framework) and testrpc (lightweight blockchain client) as the client then write some contract code


Check this HN thread from yesterday: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15398550



This is a good start: http://truffleframework.com


How does it compare to Holocracy?


As far as I can tell Holocracy is basically a form of organisational design that doesn't depend on the blockchain for organisation.


Where's the source-code?


The white paper just got published so we're relatively early in the process of implementing that.


You lost me at token.


Historically oblivious choice of name.


The name actually comes from the idea of colonies as occurring in nature https://blog.colony.io/the-future-of-work-cf99211e7ac4




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