Petal: enabling better governance of P2P networks through real-time data visualizations

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Petale is a framework for real-time data visualizations of DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) in which power distribution, proposal history, and interactions between agents are made visible to all participants. Petal's interface enables users to better understand how power flows at a glance, highlighting the hidden social relations within users by encoding its entire governance history into a visual map. As a result, users can quickly observe the network as a whole, which helps to bridge the gap between a user’s understanding of a system and its true state.

Discipline: Open-source, Web3 development
Role: Co-founder, Interface Design, Data Visualization
Team: Felipe Duarte (Co-founder)
Year: Work in progress

Why we're building it

Petal’s is the result of long-term research dedicated to investigating blockchain’s potential for collective intelligence and decentralized decision making. Its design is focused on addressing the following key principles: to increase the agency of users in DAOs; to combat information asymmetry; to reduce opportunities for corruption and collusion; to contribute to the adoption of decentralized governance as a valid organizational strategy. Bellow, are four major pillars Petal is concerned in addressing.

1. Blockchain and the transparency paradox

Blockchains and P2P networks paradoxically suffer from openness: the code and transactions performed by users are public, but very little is known about the complex order put in motion by the interaction between protocols and actors in a network. While we have seen active research in areas that are core to better user experience in Web3 (self-sovereign identity, data ownership, etc), there has been little attention dedicated to the design of tools that provide a greater understanding of the state of the network itself. How may we better visualize various types of social interactions and political interplay within these technical systems? How to better visualize token distribution's impact on voting and governance in later stages? The complex dynamics that result from users, protocol, and incentives are yet to be fully understood in distributed socio-technical assemblages.

2. We lack real-time tools to monitor how networks evolve

Currently, the study of such interactions is a laborious and costly process. The few reports that end up surfacing online are often hard to read and require prior knowledge in data science or engineering — which limits the audience that gets to benefit from the insights they can provide. Aside from their inaccessibility, technical network reports are often static, lacking the update rates necessary for them to serve as analytic tools. Consensys' backed startup Alethio.io is one of the few projects in the blockchain space that tries to tackle this problem. Its current implementation offer a very robust Ethereum explorer, but it lacks the visual encoding necessary to be used by a wider audience. The lack of comprehensibility can be explained by their main revenue model: to provide analytic APIs to developers and product teams. We believe Petal can fill this gap in accessibility and comprehensibility between users and complex systems such as blockchain networks.

3. Visualizations as part of mechanism design

Each design decision made on the protocol level impacts directly how communities may organize around a network, and in consequence, the values they adopt. While simulations might help the evaluation of weak points in the protocol's design stage, they are unable to forecast the complex interactions between irrational actors, code, and incentive mechanisms. More often than not, actors in a network behave in ways not anticipated by designers. By making it easier to deploy visual analytic tools, we expect to see quicker design iterations — enabled by real network use — as well as larger participation from users in governance decisions. By bridging the comprehensibility gap, we expect that more users will feel empowered to participate in governance decisions by being able to reason about protocol changes.

4. If we are to take DAOs seriously

As DAOs become widely adopted, it's important to address issues of power and information asymmetry with utmost seriousness. The necessity goes beyond what if often referred to as "social justice" to be at the core of the technology itself: to activate collective intelligence and emergent problem solving; to offer a competitive alternative to dominant strategies that are centralized, authoritarian, wasteful and corrupt. We can not solve human problems, but we can make them transparent, so its inconsistencies can be faced and accounted for. The health of a decentralized network lies in its ability to reason about itself, to perceive the development of many processes at once.

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“The means and styles through which we reach decisions collectively are not all too different from driving a vehicle — it's a directional effort where each path taken reduces the space of possibilities. Agency encounters constraints, makes decisions, assess results, learns, and repeats the process all over again. But in the realm of political decision making, there are so many hands on the wheel that it becomes impossible to discern who had the strongest hold. We can see the trail, but the turbulent system of interactions that led to the outcome is only understood in hindsight; and even so, always open to interpretation.

As History is often told by the winners, the process of steering governance together is filled with hidden variables that manifest a multitude of attack vectors. Successful exploits turn malicious agents into unquestionable power holders, giving them many opportunities to cover the tracks of their misdeeds to consolidate their foothold. By controlling more and more keys to power, agents can start to bend the logic surrounding the governance process, effectively changing the rules of the game — not too unlike what gravity does to time and space.

Any human group that can form an identity will fall prey to some form of accumulated influence. Intentionally or not, power strategies define culture and become structure. Although we can all feel it, although we can investigate it, a true assessment is beyond reach (often truly understood after the fact). But what if the mechanisms and flows of power in a system were constantly visible? Not to designers of such systems, but to all users. Blockchain networks have given us the opportunity, in spite of its shortcomings, to never let power go unseen again."

Extract of ‘Rendering Power Naked’Petal Manifesto

Scope & Features

As a web app, Petal will help to define the next-generation of blockchain explorers; from complex reports and hard to follow transaction lists to simple and engaging visual environments that more resemble games and MMO interfaces. Aside from a web app, the platform will also be available as a "plugin" within Alchemy (DAOstack's UI).

In its first phase, the development will be mainly focused on DAOstack's architecture, but its reach will later grow to support other DAO frameworks such as Moloch, Aragon, and Colony — as well as more advanced customization features.

Features include real-time visual feedback of present events, and the "replay" of past on-chain events (and their authors); voting patterns among participants; and various overlays between reputation, participation, and proposal history (past/present/future).

We believe that social scalability — the ability of users to process a higher number of transactions within a system — can be achieved through alternative means, other than mechanism design and incentives alone. Data visualization has the potential to enrich the user experience and help DAOs to move closer to the original vision from which they were designed: to enable collective intelligence and decision making. Petale is an open-source project and is currently under active development. We expect to release it to mainet over the upcoming months. If you’re a developer or designer interested in contributing to this project or have ideas or thoughts that you wish are considered, please feel free to reach out.