Welcome to the Commune.xyz — how DAOs are driving a renaissance of countercultural living

Ola Kalejaye
August 2, 2022

Mission-centric organisations are finding that DAOs can help them realise their vision. Ola Kalejaye explores the people creating the communes of the future.

There’s a likely majority of people who, when they think of NFTs, think of pixelated avatars and cartoon JPEGs selling for ostensibly outrageous sums of money. Predictably, it’s this sector of NFTs – frequently criticised for its speculative investing, aspects of greed, and countless scams – that has dominated the conversation for brands, builders, and consumers alike.

However, while recent downturns in cryptocurrency and NFT markets have taken the air out of that side of web3, other sectors with different agendas have continued to build and grow. It’s here that we find the vastly expanding catalogue of DAOs, and the people building them.

In the world of web3, DAOs are a new way of organising. They’re run by their members, where membership is purchased through NFTs and governance tokens, with the latter serving as voting shares in the organisation.

The idea with DAOs is that members can actively participate in their organisation's governance, democratising decision-making and resources beyond a small, centralised group of individuals.

Notably, many of the DAOs forming today are mission-driven in nature with a cause at the center of their roadmap. For such value-centric organisations, DAOs represent a powerful tool to achieve both group consensus and group fundraising. Included in this category are DAOs coalescing around philosophies of co-living and IRL community. And as much as they’re pioneering a new path powered by the blockchain, they’re also taking a page from community movements of the past.

Flexible web3 infrastructure begets a wide variety of DAOs

During the mid-20th century, communes became a way to opt out of contemporary society. Particularly common in the United States, the country was host to almost 3,000 of them in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The commune movement, which arose from protests against the Vietnam War and dovetailed with the civil rights movement, was essentially an alternative dream for the reality of capitalist consumerism.

Several DAOs are fostering a rebirth of the hippie commune, perhaps stemming from a broader critique of capitalism’s effect on wealth inequality today. Integrating a high-tech spin, DAOs are interesting in part because of the potential to blend cutting-edge blockchain technology with old-school hippie communes built on good old fashioned collaboration.

Indeed, as with the original “hippies”, the tech-savvy digital hippies of today are taking stock of structures and systems that seem to be failing under the pressures of life today. In contrast to many initiatives in web3, these commune-like DAOs are looking to the blockchain to help address how we collaborate with one another in the physical world. as opposed to the virtual one.

Most people involved in the building of DAOs are quick to note that they aren’t interested in reinventing the wheel. At the end of the day, there is a rich history of non-profits, co-operatives, and communes to draw ideas from. What these DAOs are hoping to do is to leverage blockchain technology to increase the efficiency of their operations and increase their capacity to achieve their goals.

DAO tools like governance and voting rights bring structure to mission-driven organisations that rely on community contributions. In the past, communities needed in-person meetings and pen-and-paper organisation to get things done. But in our current reality of post-pandemic asynchronous work, you can cast your vote remotely and Zoom into meetings. Certainly, technology is always changing how we work; web3 is just another technological shift.

A network state is an online community that crowdfunds territory internationally and
gains diplomatic recognition from existing states, according to Balaji Srinivasan.

By the same token, NFTs serve as tools to both drive revenue and prove membership. They’re digital membership cards and a channel through which communities can communicate and share value with their members. So where are the DAOs of today building on the legacy of the 20th century commune? In the proliferating ecosystem of web3, they’re only growing in number every day.

In his recently released book The Network State, entrepreneur and web3 thought leader Balaji Srinivasan outlines his vision of how decentralised groups can organise themselves and evolve, culminating in “Network States”, a diplomatically-recognised entity that he believes will succeed nation states. The former Coinbase CTO and a16z general partner runs a Network State dashboard to track start-up societies that align with the Network State framework. There are currently 23 groups on the dashboard, several of which are DAOs that one easily connects to older commune models.

Will DAOs build the communes of the future?

Take CabinDAO, whose goal is to create a decentralised city for creators. As innovative and forward-looking as this sounds, take away the technology and CabinDAO ultimately feels a lot like traditional communes. People live together, chip in what they can, and help build co-living spaces. Like many DAOs in this category, physical properties owned by the DAO where members can congregate and live are a vital part of its ambitious vision of the future.

Elsewhere on the spectrum of alternative living groups is the startup-turned-DAO, Kift. The DAO, which uses a collection of NFT Kiftables as its membership token, is creating a network of DAO-owned community houses in picturesque locations. Starting with four houses across the American West coast, Kift blends co-living, remote work, and the growing trend of vanlife for its vision of geo-distributed cities.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Kift's CEO Colin O’Donnell spoke about the kind of fundamental shift that DAOs like Kift hope to facilitate. “We used to spend all day sitting with our co-workers and chatting with our friends online. Now we spend all day with our friends and chat with our co-workers online. It feels like a better situation.”

KiftDAO wants to acquire, build, and celebrate co-creation and co-living communities.

O’Donnell dreams of building a geo-distributed city. One where people live a life more in tune with their surrounding environment and in community with their neighbors, all while maintaining the flexibility to get out and explore new locales to their hearts’ content.

It may indeed be a lofty goal, but it's one that Kift’s first cohort of members share. By setting Kift up as a DAO, O’Donnell hopes that those members will also share the challenge of deciding how to build it.

Certainly, the broader web3 movement could learn a thing or two from DAOs like these, for whom the technology is simply a tool, rather than the product being celebrated in and of itself. In an interview with The New Yorker, CabinDAO co-founder Jonathan Hillis explained, “we didn’t intend to be a DAO. The DAO tools were the best tools to accomplish what we were trying to accomplish.”

The expressly countercultural wing of web3 is likely to continue growing within the overall space. And with that will come organisations that look to shake up the status quo in new and exciting ways. Real-world activism, organising, and protest have been powerful ways to start movements in the past, but can they now be started – and sustained – in the digital world?

Perhaps you can Zoom into a DAO meeting to discuss new forms of governance, buy an NFT to vote on treasury allocation, and take your hard-earned online relationships from the metaverse to the physical world.

After all, even hippies have Wi-Fi these days.

“We didn’t intend to be a DAO. The DAO tools were the best tools to accomplish what we were trying to accomplish.”

— Jonathan Hillis, co-founder of CabinDAO

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Ola Kalejaye
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Ola is a US–based writer and digital nomad. He loves thinking, learning, and writing about all things web3, particularly its impact on major creative industries like film and art.