DAOs: Let’s Start with Asynchronous versus Autonomous

Best Practices : Article

Much has been written about the emergence and potential of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs), collectively-owned, blockchain-governed organizations working toward a shared mission. I’m personally intrigued by DAOs, and they impact they could have on the future of industry consortia and standards projects. (You can read my recent blog post on the topic here.)


Nearer term, though, what excites me is that technology is finally enabling a long-term goal of global, multi-stakeholder projects: effective asynchronous collaboration. In a way, that means another type of DAO is now upon us: the Distributed Asynchronous Organization.


True asynchronous collaboration allows distributed groups the ability to make continuous, steady progress on objectives and deliverables while eliminating — or at least greatly minimizing — the amount of time participants need to actually be together, either in person or virtually. After all, Zoom meetings and conference calls are really a form of synchronous communication: they still require everyone to participate in the session at the same time, regardless of where they are at that time. (And regardless of what time zone they may be in.) For those of you who participate in web meetings around the clock for the “good of global collaboration,” you know how much fun this is!


To be clear, some distributed collaborations already utilize strong asynchronous characteristics. Many open source projects do very well making strong, steady progress without project members needing to meet in person or via web meetings. It’s to some degree why more and more standards projects have borrowed some aspects of open source development. (There’s also the reality that there’s been a strong and steady convergence of standards and software.) Standards and other technical collaborations, though, tend to need more context and discussion than code-based projects. Hence their higher volume of meetings.


So how does asynchronous collaboration work? One way to get the answer is to look at the video-share functionality available on platforms such as Loom, Claap or Weet. Even Zoom and GoToMeeting have recently added some asynchronous features. Another way is to think of this way: this new technology essentially offers email list functionality in video format. Why is this so compelling? For one, video is a really easy way to convey ideas, especially those that are complex in nature. Second, video is increasingly the way by which people around the world prefer to share and consume information. With so many standards groups and consortia wanting (and needing) to attract younger members, this trend cannot be emphasized enough. Third, video helps add much-needed context around communications, such as tone of voice and facial expression. Context is really important when trying to find consensus among a team of competitors. Finally, asynchronous video threads are easy to structure and organize — an antithesis to the often meandering, unfocused tenor of many web meetings today.

Another way of using technology to drive asynchronous collaboration is through digital white boards of visual collaboration spaces. Products such as Miro or Mural fit into this space. The visual and flexible nature of these platforms allow distributed teams to share (and co-create) ideas, workflows and context in ways that are difficult with text alone. These tools are also desired to be highly iterative and embracing of co-authoring, which nicely support asynchronous work.

Standards organizations worldwide are on a perpetual quest to speed development and elevate engagement among their participants. Many of them, I believe, would benefit from considering the exploration of asynchronous collaboration technologies. I can also imagine, that when the “real” DAOs (i.e., Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) truly come of age, they’ll benefit from this technology, too.

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