Q&A: CABIN Is Building A Decentralized City

The CABIN DAO wants us to think about cities — they’re not physical places, but communities with shared culture and economies. 

We talked with one of the DAO’s founders, Jonathan Hillis, to better understand what they’ve built in their first year… and where their ambitions for building a decentralized city are heading in year two:

Who are you?

I’m Jonathan Hillis, one of the caretakers here at Cabin. I’m also one of the founders. 

A year ago, we had a group called the creator co-op come out here to the cabins, which we had just finished building and we dreamed up this idea for a creative residency program which ended up becoming the DAO.

I spent the six years before that at Instacart, leading product teams and building the shopper and marketplace sides of the company. I got a little burnt out on that and was interested in exploring ways that people could explore the benefits of autonomous work, but within the context of less commodified labor.

How would you explain CABIN to people? 

It’s [kind of a mix of things.] I usually say that CABIN is building a decentralized city for online creators, and when we think about cities, they’re essentially economies built around the dominant technology of the era. For the past century, that’s been cars… most cities we have today are built around cars. We want to build cities around the internet around the internet and blockchain, and enable the lifestyle that has been created for us by the internet and blockchains. What that looks like is cities, like the internet, which are not in the same place. 

We have neighborhoods which are autonomous, local spaces that have independent communities, but a shared culture and aspects of governance structure.

Obviously, using “city” in this context is very abstract. In the definition of CABIN, how do you define a city? What is your mission for us to think of when we hear the word “city”?

Traditionally, people think of cities as being large human settlements and economies in a single location — but actually, if you look at the history of humans, city has the same latin root as civilization.

What it means is gatherings of people with shared culture and economies, and nothing about that necessitates that being in the same place, especially with our current technology. And even with some of the earliest city states — like Greek city states — is that they look like a decentralized city. They were often small autonomous units, which when they got too big for local self-governance they would fork and spin off into new locations.

Practically speaking, how does this look now? Where is it going?

CABIN started out, like I mentioned, as a group of creators. They made this residency program for creators. We realized we wanted to crowdfund donations for this residency program and crypto had a set of tools available for us to allow people who contributed to it to govern who comes out for the residencies.

That’s where we started. Every season, we’ve grown significantly and changed how we approach governance and how we approach the DAO and the network. Now, I live in Neighborhood Zero in the Texas Hill Country. That’s the first location, where it all started. But we’re not transforming into a constellation of lots of entities, so the DAO itself is just a network… and we have three “neighborhoods” in our city right now — Neighborhood 0, where I live; a place called Montaia Base Camp in the Eastern Sierras, and a place called Radish in Oakland, CA. Those were all groups that are sort of existing communities that we vetted for shared values and vibes and then brought into the city — and we have a pipeline of a dozen more places that we’re considering bringing on as neighborhoods.

We also have a set of guilds which represent the online creators of CABIN who both contribute to CABIN itself and the development of the city.

How does this look for creators who are part of the DAO vs. people who are interested and not apart of it yet?

We view each neighborhood as an autonomous and independent entity that can set its own rules of membership and engagement. What we do is — those neighborhoods stake CABIN to join our city, and then they can build a billboard that explains what they’re all about and what they’re looking for and how people can engage with them. 

At Neighborhood 0, we host a number of different types of events — we host residencies, such as DAO operator residencies, for groups of leaders and operators across DAOs. We have creator residencies, we have retreats for DAO teams that want to come out and do deep work together, we have build weeks together for members of the DAO to build physical things on site together. These are all programs and opportunities we offer at Neighborhood 0.

Other neighborhoods in the network create their own programs and decide how members of the community can engage with them.

One of the interesting things about this is that a lot of DAOs have very capital-centric structures — it’s not built around VCs or mercenary capital or liquidity pools — the people who run these cities obviously make an investment upfront to add it to the network, but outside of that it feels more “DAO flavored” than very financially-oriented DAOs. What are the barriers to entry? 

I would agree with that [it’s not built around money.] We’re leaning into what DAOs are good at and making sure we’re building an organization that can scale in a DAO-native way. What that means is building that constellation I’m describing. Like what we’re doing is much like a traditional city — our goal is to facilitate connections, community, culture, and economic output across the network. But not to be the owners of the land, or to centrally control the activity happening in the network.

I think it’s a very DAO-native structure and it leans into some of the strengths DAOs have by creating a shared culture, community, social contract for governance purposes that can be shared — while allowing autonomous units across the constellation to make their own decision.

While every city has its own economy, and that might be an important reason why somebody moves to a city, that’s not really what a city is all about. What a city is about is the people, so at the core we’re not just interested at using crypto tools or web3 tools for economic means, but using them as a means to create social contracts together and build community together. And the more that we can orient our communities around intrinsic motivations and intrinsic values, and less around extrinsic values like financial outcomes, the better.

Would you think of CABIN’s community as a very creator-centric “professional networking group”, but in a more abstract sense? 

We’ve talked a lot about the neighborhoods, the physical spaces. There’s also the guilds, which are the social and professional organization for types of creators, whether that’s writers or engineers or people who host events. Our view is that we have to build the physical spaces for people — but we have to provide digital spaces and digital communities for groups of creators to come together and hone their craft, build relationships, develop reputation, and that’s the other part here.

CABIN is now a year old and has seen a lot of traction. What’s the ambition in year two for where this is going? What do you envision for the next year?

I think what DAOs are really good at is making ambitious long-term goals and then creating processes to make short-term goals emerge in an iterative and evolutionary way. If you look at the history of decentralized organizations, they’re very good at short-term planning — and DAOs can be very good at long-term vision. However, you can’t be overly-prescriptive about the medium-term vision… and we can have a season-to-season vision, but you have to kind of trust the process and let the “medium-term roadmap” emerge from the community.

That’s how we’ve approached each season at CABIN so far, and how we plan to approach it. Over the next year, we’ll continue to grow our network of neighborhoods, in both quality and density of community of them, as well as the quality and density of our guilds. When you put those two things together, it’s incredible how much progress we’ve made in a year — and if you’d asked us a year ago, we probably wouldn’t have been able to predict the traction we’ve had so far.

We put forward a roadmap, which was ratified by the community, for 2022 which was focused on building an embassy for DAOs and that continues to be a priority for us. DAOs are this incredible new mechanism which allow people to make social contracts and we think that will be essential to the creation of decentralized cities, which is why we’re investing so  heavily in this. It’s why we did a DAO Camp, where we brought members from 60+ DAOs, to talk about common painpoints and successes. 

However, we’re ahead of our 2022 roadmap already. 

How do people get involved in CABIN? 

If you’re brand new to all of this, I recommend folks go check out our Twitter, creatorcabins.com, and ultimately join our Discord. The Discord has an onboarding process and then ultimately, the best way to get involved is to get in the local community structure that is relevant to you.

That might be a guild, if you’re an online creator. You can go find other online creators passionate about work you are interested in. Or it might be a neighborhood, finding one in your area to get involved with; or starting your own neighborhood.

Any lasting thoughts on the emergence of highly-online spaces into the real world?

When we’re in bad market conditions, it’s useful to reground people in things that we are working on. All of web3 could go away tomorrow, and we’d still be out here using the same tools to build the same things… and I think it’s an important, grounding reminder to folks that we’re building something bigger than a market movement.

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