Between a Rock and a Hard Place: DFINITY’s Communication Challenges

Arthur Falls
Arthur Falls
7/21/2021

Recently Cycle_DAO conducted a survey of DFINITY Seed and Main Round financial contributors’ opinions and sentiment. The motivation was to understand the needs of this group so we could more effectively advocate for their interests to the DFINITY Foundation. To encourage candor it was expressed in the survey that the raw results would not be made public. This post discusses some of the results and responses provided by DFINITY representatives in an extended discussion of that survey.

Selling Pressure

Almost all respondents wanted to know who had access to liquid tokens at launch and where the sell pressure in the ICP market was coming from.

The DFINITY Foundation acknowledged they’ve heard the community, and additional information is being collected and prepared for publication. The hold up was described as coming from the Foundation’s “internal processes" of “ensuring information is accurate and disclosed in a responsible manner”. 

This hold up led to a ten day delay in publishing this post while an ICP Token Dashboard containing information intended to be included here was approved. This information was valuable in understanding Norton Wang’s research. Unfortunately, the dashboard was not published in a timely fashion and the new information had to be removed.

Roadmap & Developer Influence

Frustration with limited developer influence over DFINITY priorities and the lack of a clear roadmap were also raised in the investor survey.

Again, DFINITY indicated that an internal roadmap exists and they are “in the process of making it public”. They also said many roadmap items such as forking canisters, splitting subnets, BigMap, SNS for dapp tokenization are improvements directly requested by Internet Computer developer teams such as Fleek, DSCVR, Open Chat, Distrikt, Origyn, etc. 

In discussions unrelated to the investor survey, Harrison Hines of Fleek, and Max Chamberlin of InfinitySwap described their developer experience as “amazing” and “beautiful” respectively. Harrison Hines also indicated that he felt the foundation was “listening” to developers. This is a more credible assessment of the state of affairs than investor opinion.

DFINITY described their reluctance to share the roadmap as due to the organization being primarily focused on maintaining the network during its immediate post-launch phase. It is likely that there is internal uncertainty regarding the engineering resources maintenance will requisition from development causing roadmap timeline uncertainty. It is worth noting that the network has not yet had any downtime, which for such a complex piece of autonomous software is nothing to shake a stick at.

On social media, there has been backlash against the announcement of the Ethereum Integration and Badlands expansion as “not what developers are asking for right now”. The Ethereum Integration is required for interoperable DeFi so it may be considered essential. One might assume that there had been direct developer requests for Ethereum integration, but during our discussions DFINITY did not directly indicate that this was the case as they did with forking canisters, splitting subnets, etc.

Badlands is certainly peripheral to current developer needs, but running “amatuer, cheap nodes” on the Internet Computer has been a long-running community request. However, DFINITY has said Badlands is not on the immediate roadmap, and the announcement was merely for the community to “discuss and provide recommendations”. 

Building out a roadmap that is systematically influenced by the Internet Computer developer community is going to be a significant change from the top-down control of the past five years. Structuring that influence is up to the community; accepting bottom up control of the Internet Computer roadmap is up to the foundation. It won't happen without considerable mutual effort.

Seed Round Neurons

Survey respondents complained that their tokens had been locked in NNS neurons accessible by command line interface only. This is problematic for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it cripples the NNS governance system by limiting participation by the largest voting block. It should also be pointed out that Seed Rounders were accused of crashing the ICP market while at the same time having very limited access to their tokens. Survey respondents said this caused considerable alienation.

On an earlier call, DFINITY indicated there was a Seed Donor neuron GUI in development. From the conversation, it was understood that development of this utility began after launch as a result of requests from the Seed cohort.

It’s good to see a response to community needs, however the GUI should have been available at launch as two months in, many Seed Donors are still limited in their ability to access their tokens and participate in governance. It may be this feature was cut to meet the launch date. If so, given the importance of token holder participation in the NNS, that was a poor decision.

Analysis

The list of issues raised in the investor's survey is too long to constructively address in a single post. DFINITY’s response to these limited issues was disappointing but not all bad. 

It must be recognised that because of the 3 years the market had to wait to acquire tokens there was initially very high demand. Launching on all major exchanges simultaneously brought all of that demand to bear on the ICP market. When that demand dried up the price crashed and the pain of that crash has exacerbated other community frustrations.

A clear desire to comply with community requests for information was evident in my calls with DFINITY representatives and it was also evident that considerable work in this direction was taking place. However, the organisation has invested so heavily inwardly in engineering talent that outward engagement has fallen to a very small team. This team, though highly talented, has to divide bandwidth between producing content for the Foundation, supporting the community, and developing independent community leaders and groups like the “Dfinity Community”, on top of planning and strategy development. 

It was clear from the survey responses that DFINITY has struggled to maintain community trust. Rather than act to reclaim that trust, in their responses to the survey, DFINITY discussed the need to “validate data” prior to release, and go through internal “processes”. Given how scathing the investor survey responses were, and the social media chaos referred to as “FUD” by employees, one would expect a rapid response. The absence of response appears to be the result of executive paralysis around communication. From speaking to the executive team it is clear they genuinely want to move in the right direction. They just can't for some reason.

This post was investor-focused and there is clearly frustration from that segment of the community. However, it should be pointed out that much of the developer community is extremely happy.

From my experience with this prolonged exchange, it feels naive to expect the foundation to improve its communication without investor-initiated engagement. The first step is structuring communication and formalising requests for information. cycle_dao wishes to play an active role in this. If you are an investor with a perspective to share or would like to request information, please get in touch here and we will try to help facilitate.


More Stories

NNS Proposal: People Parties

11/25/2021

A proposal to validate “proof-of-human” via a randomised video call in which participants direct their camera at their surroundings rather than their own faces.

Arthur Falls
Arthur Falls

NNS Proposal: Change Dissolve Delay Bonus and Age Bonus Parameters

11/24/2021

The impression of cycle_dao is this is a fantastic proposal that we disagree with. The authors have empirically identified trends in the NNS which they perceive to be potentially associated with negative outcomes. The proposal is fair, and puts the majority of voting power in the voter group disaffected by its acceptance.

Arthur Falls
Arthur Falls