Bringing DAOs to life: Updates on Aragon

Aragon held its first conference in Berlin. As a platform deploying and managing Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, or DAOs, Aragon had a remarkable crowdsale in 2017, hitting its cap within 30 minutes of going live. Despite that early success, their DAO creation platform did not hit Ethereum’s main network until late 2018. This article covers the main announcements presented at the AraCon conference, followed by a quick history of Aragon’s development and quest to decentralize itself.

Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) are to corporations what Bitcoin is to money: global, transparent, and practically unstoppable. Many groups have sought out to make DAO creation accessible to anyone with a web browser and some ether, but very few have delivered. Aragon is still admittedly at an early stage, but is rapidly gaining traction. One of the founders of the project opened the conference in Berlin with some impressive statistics, citing that tens of thousands of decentralized organizations had been incorporated on-chain, as well as that:

“In just three months, we have more than 300 decentralized organizations building on Aragon.”

-Luis Cuende

Despite those thousands of registrations, only around $1m worth of assets is currently being managed by Aragon DAOs. This reflects how many people are simply dipping their toes in while the system is expanded and its security is proven. Aragon issues a warning when people register, advising them against holding a large amount of value in their DAO. 

Both desktop and mobile releases for Aragon were announced. Aragon had previously issued a desktop app, but switched to being web-only for a few releases. Luis Cuende explained the switch back to desktop as being motivated by allowing users to access the network without being entirely dependent on centralized internet chokepoints. This desktop version will use Electron to facilitate peer-to-peer interaction. The mobile version will feature full functionality, allowing people to create and manage organizations, including voting on proposals.

The next release of Aragon, 0.7 aka ‘Bella’, was revealed at AraCon as well. Luis described the focus as being on user experience and expanding the functionalities that are available to people through the user interface.

Delegated voting, futarchy, and dispute resolution were highlighted as upcoming features for 2019. Increasing voter turnout is a difficult problem facing DAOs, and allowing token-holders to choose a delegate may alleviate this issue; allowing those who are not able to vote to at least have their chosen representative do so on their behalf. Aragon recently had a vote on a number of proposals, and only 2 to 7% of tokens were used to vote on each.

Futarchy is another means of driving participation and was a recurring topic of discussion at the conference. Rather than simply voting, users place bets on the outcome of proposals. This betting drives people towards making tangible judgments on outcomes. For example, whether the group’s token will be more valuable in a month if a certain upgrade is applied. Typically, futarchy is a zero-sum game, so while it can motivate participation, it can also push those who are risk-averse towards not participating, and drive those who do participate to go with the group consensus rather than what is “right”.

Aragon hopes to not just create DAOs, but also a jurisdiction for them to co-exist in. Dispute resolution will allow people and DAOs to interact with each other without being dependent upon costly, arbitrary laws that often put some people at a disadvantage if disputes ever do arise. Luke Duncan, a researcher from Aragon’s team, put the need for a virtual jurisdiction as: “Anyone, anywhere should be able to work with anyone else”. This virtual jurisdiction is called the ‘Aragon Network’, and Luke described Aragon’s plans to use Kleros’s smart contracts to handle disputes.

Kleros issued a token, PNK, that allows jurors to enter a lottery to be a juror on a dispute. Using a game theory model, jurors are rewarded when they vote in alignment with the majority and may lose some of their staked tokens when they vote against the grain. Users are able to appeal dispute decisions, but a larger fee is required to fund an even larger pool of jurors.

Kleros had a remarkably successful on-chain proof-of-concept, and it’s probably for this reason the Aragon team decided to rely upon Kleros’s dispute resolution smart contracts rather than build their own. However, Aragon plans on issuing their own tokens for those who want to be jurors for disputes on the Aragon Network. Luke concluded by pointing out that a well functioning dispute resolution system should rarely be used: if users know that the system is fair, it encourages parties to resolve their dispute with each other rather than rely upon the resolution system.

Aragon’s lead designer Jouni Helminen announced that Aragon’s UI toolkit would be expanding, to be more widely useful for any project seeking to style a decentralized app, regardless if it was meant for Aragon. This new kit will be called ‘Lorikeet’. Jouni emphasized that decentralized apps often have similar user experience problems, for instance, giving users feedback that a transaction is still being processed or has been confirmed, even though this may take a number of minutes.

Aragon has been funding a large number of projects that benefit the Aragon and Ethereum eco-systems, that may not necessarily have any capacity for generating profit. These ‘Nest’ grant awardees presented their projects during their conference:

  • Prysmatic Labs is working on developing sharding for Ethereum, so that the network’s transactions per minute can actually scale
  • DAppNode is creating software that makes it easy to self-host dApps and full nodes.
  • Frame has developed a tool kit for using hardware such as Ledgers to sign off on transactions using Web3.0 calls, reducing dependence upon MetaMask
  • Espresso has been adding decentralized storage for Aragon DAOs, allowing them to use IPFS (and soon Swarm) to store files and manage their permissions
  • LevelK has been working on bringing futarchy to Aragon, by connecting it to Gnosis’s decision market
  • BrightID has developed an easy to use app for establishing webs-of-trust, using simple QR code scanning on a mobile app
  • Pando is a decentralized version control system that can track changes from many collaborators while maintaining an ‘official’ version of the code

John Light, Aragon’s community leader, gave a history of the organization’s structure and its quest to decentralize itself. Aragon was admittedly centralized between the two founders Luis and Jorge at the start.  Each act as a board member of the Aragon Association, which retained control over the intellectual property, code bases, website, and so on. Aragon’s whitepaper declared that “when the network is deployed governance systems will be made by ANT holders” (ANT being the Aragon token). Luis Cuende drafted the “Aragon Manifesto” describing the ideals of the movement, which was later ratified by the token-holders in the summer of 2018.

Up until this year, proposals for Aragon were decided upon informally. This month, however, ‘Aragon Network Vote #1’ happened, in which a number of issues were bundled together to be voted upon for 48 hours by token-holders. Each proposal received a vote from 2 to 7% of the total ANT supply. Proposals can be submitted by anyone, but must pass the approval from the two founders before being voted on. This was identified as a key point of centralization, but John assured the conference that the curation and dispute resolution process will instead be delegated to jurors in the “Aragon Network” once the court system has been tested.

Colony, DAOStack, and others are all working towards making DAOs as accessible as making a corporation, but Aragon is the only platform that is running on Ethereum’s main network.

Ready to test their platform out?


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