To consider the similarities and differences between guilds and communities in proposing a future-facing framework for community and guild development in the NEAR ecosystem.
NEAR Protocol started a guild's program around summer of 2019. Since then there has been a considerable number of discussions and evolutions centered around clarifying its reason for being and supporting guild leaders in achieving their aims which should be in alignment with the values and objectives of the NEAR ecosystem.
Vital Point AI has leveraged NEAR's guild program since the beginning to attract, train, and grow its base of developers and educators. Every so often a debate sparks and never fully gets resolved - it's the question of whether NEAR should do away with the term guild and adopt the term community in its place.
In addition to the fundamental debate of guilds vs communities, the guild/community program has seen its share of turmoil and development as NEAR grapples with how to define the higher level objectives of what a community and its members are and how to measure them as a metric representing NEAR ecosystem growth trends. One of the most contentious is around community funding - how does NEAR support one its guild/community leaders? What is an appropriate amount? How does it measure return on investment (success) of the guild/community?
I'd suggest that part of the reason that this "guilds vs communities" debate arises so often is that there is no clear understanding or agreement around what a guild is vs what a community is. That, is the essence of the argument to scrap guilds altogether and simply focus on communities - but I think that is the wrong position to take for reasons I will cover in a minute. Guilds and communities can co-exist. They serve different purposes. Before we get into that, we need to have some agreement on what each is - so I offer these definitions straight out of Wikipedia as a starting point.
A Community is...
... a social unit with commonality such as place, norms, religion, values, customs, or identity. Communities may share a sense of place situated in a given geographical area or in virtual space through communication platforms.
A Guild is...
... an association of artisans and merchants who oversee the practice of their craft/trade in a particular area. The earliest types of guild formed as organizations of tradesmen, belonging to: a professional association, a trade union, a cartel, and/or a secret society.
One of the problems with underlying clarity of what a guild is is because it has been used in different contexts in different eras. When guilds first rose to prominence in the medieval era the word very much reflected the definition above. In more recent history, it was used in gaming along with clans. Thus, depending on one's frame of reference it takes on different connotations and meanings.
Community, on the other hand, is generally straight forward and understood - in general terms - groups that are interacting and sharing similar values/beliefs in what they are interacting over.
So what's the difference?
I'd offer that we need to make the distinction between communities and guilds in that guilds are a subset of the more general concept of communities. If we look at the reason guilds formed in the medieval era or why gamers adopted the word, the nuance is that it is focused on some type of profession or trade with a primary objective often related to some type of protection and/or standards. Even though gaming adopted the term, gaming guilds still formed to bring people together who would work together/protect each other in the games the guild focused on.
Another way to look at guilds with a more recent term used more in business are as communities of practice (CoP). CoPs are typically groups of professionals who share a common interest, passion or area of work. CoPs give participants the opportunity to share challenges and experiences, learning from one-another with the aim being to advance whatever their "practice" area is in a collaborative manner.
While one can have "tight-knit" communities, I'd suggest that in considering differences, communities may or may not have specific objectives and their membership may be wide/varied in terms of skill and belief. They share a common interest - the reason for coming together in the first place - but their primary goal is belonging vice honing some type of profession or protecting that profession's interests. (and, I'm using the term profession very generally here - we could be talking about any skill/service).
In that sense, anyone having any interest/doing anything with respect to NEAR is part of the NEAR community. From there, we need to consider that there are subsets of that community that exist for different reasons.
In the current community setting on NEAR, we have a mix of groups that have come together for a wide variety of reasons and I'd suggest we're doing the larger community of NEAR a disservice by alienating any of them. One should be cognizant that some guilds have spent significant time, effort, and resources in establishing their brand as a guild.
Not everyone likes the term guild or understands it. For every one of them, there is someone else who does and we don't need to turn this into a one over the other situation. Guilds and communities can and should co-exist in the NEAR ecosystem.
The basic idea of the framework being proposed here is twofold:
- Run the NEAR Guilds program as a separate interest from the NEAR Community Program; and
- Use a concept known as Mission Command in both.
Instead of trying to force all leaders trying to build communities into one stream, let's recognize the subtle differences and give leaders and their followers the option of coming together under the guidelines and principles of a community program or choosing a path that is more service/profession focused under the guidelines and principles of the guilds program.
What is Mission Command?
I realize invoking a military concept in the crypto (Open Web) realm is probably risky, but hear me out.
NEAR needs to act like a commander with respect to its programs. It needs to clearly articulate intent, something that has been lacking up to now with the Guilds program.
This idea of clearly articulated intent comes from the concept of mission command. In mission command, commanders clearly express intent to subordinates and then provide them the resources they require to achieve the mission. As commanders, we may have an idea of how something should be done and provide guidance, but the aim is empowering our subordinates to understand our clearly articulated intent and allow them to communicate that to their subordinates and come up with a plan on their own to achieve the mission. If they need more resources than provided, they back brief their plan and ask for them.
This does several things including:
- promotes autonomy and sense of ownership over a situation
- results in a much wider array of plans and ways of doing things (innovation)
- develops more leaders and promotes critical thinking
- instills resource stewardship
- establishes confidence and trust over time between leaders/followers
All of it centers on intent and to emphasize again - I'd suggest clearly articulated intent is what has been missing from the NEAR Guilds Program and what would also need to be established at the outset for any new NEAR Community Program.
It's important to note that two separate programs for guilds and communities would not be in competition with each other - they are complementary and people may freely flow between them or be members of both.
A Vision for a Reinvigorated Guilds Program
Vital Point AI is already creating the framework under which guilds can form and operate in support of the NEAR Ecosystem and if you are a guild leader, we welcome you to get started. Our vision guiding this is as follows:
We will establish an open, inclusive, and flexible NEAR Guilds Program with a view to increasing the number and variety of guilds operating in the NEAR Ecosystem in support of NEAR objectives.
The NEAR Guild's program will provide an open, inclusive, and flexible framework that enables people to define, establish and operate a guild. It's one where guilds define their objectives and measures of success and hold themselves accountable to them. Collaboration among guilds and communities flourishes and mentorship and education are provided with a view to helping guild leaders grow and nurture their guilds through best-practices. The framework leverages NEAR Protocol and other open web technologies to reimagine mechanisms that serve functions including guild registration, verification, messaging, analytics, and discoverability. Established pathways exist to assist guilds with accessing resources through existing and future funding mechanisms including a network of service guilds. Finally, we see guilds building trust and reputation ensuring guild leaders and high contributors receive the recognition and support they deserve in accelerating the growth of the NEAR ecosystem.
We will facilitate achievement of this intent by providing:
Establish the high level mandatory requirements (HLMR) that a guild leader must operate within.
Provide an onboarding mechanism to help the guild leader establish and define the objectives of their guild. That onboarding mechanism exists here: NEAR Guilds.
The NEAR Guilds onboarding application is described in more detail, but the general idea is to help someone with an interest in building a guild to follow a defined path at the outset that:
- alerts the ecosystem to the guild leader's intention to start a guild;
- mentors them through account creation and optional registration; and
- helps the guild leader define what their guild is/does.
An aspect of onboarding is recognizing that guild leaders and their guilds are not all the same and need to be treated/dealt with on an individual level. Like any new encounter, trust and reputation builds over time through interactions that establish patterns and expectations of behaviour/outputs. The time it takes for this trust/reputation can be shortened through things like endorsements and a verification process to help establish credibility.
With the guild now in existence and on the road towards verification, we turn our attention towards ensuring it thrives in the ecosystem. Up to now, the Guilds program has been relying on guild leaders to work their magic in putting the necessary infrastructure in place to be able to grow and manage their guilds. At minimum that has meant a good deal of uncompensated work depending on the guild leader's ambition but also includes personal expenditures in some cases.
Provide a Guild Leader Starter Pack of Resources
Just getting a guild going has the typical organizational requirements such as:
- establishing a presence (website, physical, metaverse, etc...)
- establishing and moderating communication channels (Discord, Telegram, Twitter, etc...)
- initial marketing/content for services offered
- legal entity formation
We'd like to see these different aspects of guild formation taken care of by other established and verified NEAR guilds. Guilds providing these services to new guilds should be funded by NEAR to provide the service.
I'll use Vital Point AI as an example. As an established/trusted guild in the ecosystem, we've received funding (or will receive funding) to provide:
- NEAR subgraph development for projects (contact us if you want one.)
- Custom frontend onboarding applications (that tie into the backend being developed for NEAR Guilds and NEAR Personas)
- Education through Vital Point Academy (NCD (coming), Near Subgraph development, etc...)
Each of these things is something that Vital Point AI could provide as a paid service, but we approached NEAR and made the case that all of these will benefit and accelerate NEAR ecosystem growth. They've provided an initial sum of funding so we don't have to charge a fee to access them. I suspect that as long as we can show an impact, that funding will continue.
We want to provide guild leaders with an initial guild startup package that consists of services offered by other guilds who are being funded by NEAR to provide the service - not a lump sum of NEAR tokens.
This starter-pack of services would be given to guild leaders meeting a certain standard (to be set). Generally speaking, which services the guild leader chooses to access are up to them based on how they want to operate their guild, but an example of some of the NEAR funded guild services that guilds could specialize in offering include:
- Provide a starter website/email package
- Provide metaverse presence/development
- Provide community moderation
- Provide initial launch/marketing package (announce the guild)
- Provide certain type of node infrastructure for web 3 projects (e.g., Vital Point AI pays out of pocket to host a ceramic node, but that node is enabling the onboarding and management applications described above that are focused on NEAR growth)
- Provide initial legal advice (entity forming)
- Provide accounting/bookkeeping setup
- Complete yearly tax returns (damn, wish this was a thing right now :))
In addition to services, one might consider subsidizing:
- Developer pay to help get projects off the ground or fill in gaps (also avail through OWS). Full on project development should probably go through the grants program.
- The costs associated with contract storage when establishing a first DAO on Catalyst or Astro or deployment costs of a Mintbase store depending on the guild's aims.
- Wallet account creation for X number of members to help the guild get underway
A final aspect of resourcing pertains to guild leaders themselves who are often setting up the guild and expending time/resources of their own because they simply believe in what they want to build. Often the work of a guild leader isn't readily apparent such as the fun tasks of resolving disputes, leading and setting direction, administration to comply with regulations or laws wherever they live, and so on.
Valuation is not equal across all guilds, but I think a tiered guild leader stipend that starts off modestly and provides a compensation structure that can increase over time based on guild performance and reputation is an incentive in line with the entire philosophy of crypto - in that participants have a chance to become owners of the communities and projects they participate in. Having ownership breeds loyalty and incentivizes continued engagement towards the success of the project. A scale might look like:
These would be minimum stipend amounts with performance incentive framework attached. Moving from level to level comes with additional responsibilities and accountabilities.
1. New Guild Leader - $200 USD in NEAR tokens
2. Novice Guild Leader - $500 USD/month in NEAR tokens
3. Intermediate Guild Leader - $1000 USD/month in NEAR tokens
4. Master Guild Leader - negotiable
There are two aspects to the valuation that need to be considered: volatility of the NEAR price and locale. Volatility seems to be acceptably addressed by using USD (or maybe a crypto stable coin) as a reference point.
Locale is more difficult, but I'd suggest payments need to be regionally adjusted. Notwithstanding that ultimately people are "free" to move where they want, not accounting for regional differences in cost of living/wages when devising the compensation scale creates (or one could argue perpetuates) imbalances and perceptions of unfairness. For example, $1000 USD goes a lot farther in some places than it does in others. It's not realistic to pay everyone the same no matter where they live just as it's not realistic to expect people to move if they don't like how far their money is going.
Other aspects that occur in Step 3 - growth include:
Now that the guild is functioning and growing we move to the final step - accountability and review.
We intend to include analytics capabilities that show various measures of guild activity. That, in itself, is not sufficient to determine both the quality of output or whether the guild is meeting its objectives. As part of remaining a verified NEAR guild, guild leaders will need to undergo various reporting/auditing requirements. The aim is not to grade them - it's to show responsible management and stewardship of resources entrusted is occurring in line with the HLMRs described earlier.
In much the same way companies provide quarterly/annual reports, if a guild wants to remain a verified participant in the guilds program, receiving support from NEAR, it is not unreasonable to expect a minimum level of transparency and reporting.
There is a place for both guilds and communities in the NEAR ecosystem. Any confusion that arises from the use of either term is only because NEAR has not done its part in clarifying the boundaries and/or defining the strategic level intent behind each program. Both can operate side by side in a complementary manner under different frameworks suited to the outputs expected.
Success in both programs will accelerate growth of the NEAR ecosystem overall. Focusing on and resourcing the strengths each brings, adds to the dimensionality of the NEAR ecosystem vice detracting from it.
The recommendation as described in this article is to divide the conversation in two going forward - addressing communities and guilds as separate but related programs and resourcing each appropriately. A guild program framework is provided above (more explicit implementation detail is still required). A community program framework could be worked out in the same manner focusing on maximizing the benefit that the community program is expected to bring to the NEAR ecosystem.