We need more intimacy on the internet, but not the kind of intimacy you might think.
As operators in tech, we’re bombarded with oversimplified notions of growth fixated on exponential increases across quantitative metrics. Consider the ubiquity of crude mantras like number go up and up only. This strategy is misdirected within DAOs where the foundational function is community-building.
While multi-thousand email waitlists may be beneficial for distribution, high-velocity member growth in early stage communities can hinder people’s ability to make meaningful contributions and build connection. As a counter to this, we argue for a culture of intimacy as the foundation for building enduring communities. This is made possible through thoughtful, measured member growth.
In DAOs, we take the concept of product-market-fit and recast it as community-market-fit. Community — the DAO — is the product. A worthwhile starting place for community-market-fit is the creation of intimacy between genesis members. This intimacy is expressed as strong inter-member empathy and the elusive condition of trust.
Platonic intimacy can be described as the ability for people to fall into a state of trust. As we’re collectively discovering the edges of this novel technology, it’s critical that we trust our fellow members to experiment and fail well.
Simon Wardley, renowned strategic consultant, outlines similar concepts in his doctrines:
The three doctrines of communication in Phase 1 speak directly to this idea of intimacy:
Use a common language
Focus on high situational awareness
Initial community members codify the community’s culture and doctrine into practice. As culture emerges through the repetition of shared rituals, so do repetitions of intimacy establish a culture of commitment to the community’s purpose.
“The seeds of intimacy are time and repetition. We choose each other again and again, and so create a community of two…”
– Esther Perel, Mating In Captivity
A community building thesis that optimizes for accelerated growth leads to a dilution of intimacy. While an undeniable benefit of flash community growth is the proliferation of the community meme – often at the intersection of accumulated community capital – this strategy has a high-intimacy cost for early stage communities in the thick of finding Community-Market-Fit.
Do things that don’t scale is an evergreen rallying cry for building enduring communities. Related to this is the way in which intimacy takes spaciousness to cultivate. It’s a provocation for measured growth, some benefits of which are:
Optionality. Optionality refers to the ability to respond to emerging community needs and opportunities. In practice, this can look like the flexibility to change gathering spaces and membership terms with less effort.
Increased alignment. Alignment is best facilitated with small groups of people. With each person added to a community, the alignment naturally shifts.
Influence over focus. Measured growth allows members to legitimately influence the community’s direction. Furthermore, it enables depth and focus on the work that is not onboarding at scale.
Meaningful community co-creation. The most generative collaborations come from community members with high, shared context.
Fractal experimentation. Run experiments with small groups of people to beta-test processes. Gather feedback and iterate.
“Excluding thoughtfully allows you to focus on a specific, underexplored relationship.”
— Priya Parker, The Art of Gathering
When we focus on cultivating intimacy through measured growth, we’re able to meaningfully vet — or curate — new members, ensuring community compatibility. If facilitated with intention, early member curation maintains the quality of the community’s intimacy, preventing trolls and other destructive members from causing community harm, or at the very least from disrupting the vibes.
Farcaster demonstrates the power of this strategy. Dan Romero, founder, recognizes the cost of a high-growth and the opportunity of investing in user quality and experience. As a result, Farcaster is limiting their growth to a weekly increase of 5% DAUs every week.
We’re planning to keep the protocol invite-based for the first 1 million accounts. Currently, this is “DM dwr on Twitter”, but the plan is to move to community-driven invites soon. We’ll likely start with a small number of active users to test the community-driven approach and expand from there. If we feel like quality is declining, we’ll adjust.
Additionally, we’d like to keep growth consistent but not overwhelming — ideal is +5% DAUs every week. (This gets harder with compounding!). This should also allow us to incrementally adjust our strategies for maintaining quality without suddenly being overwhelmed by a spike in sign ups.
Measured growth creates the necessary time to cultivate new members as they adjust to the community. This support is essential for ensuring new members gain the context needed to contribute and participate well. Sometimes described as onboarding friction, cultivating new members can prevent community churn.
Communities have used a variety of tactics to regain control over membership growth and nurture intimacy. Some communities, like FWB, instituted membership application processes and have doubled-down on high quality IRL events like FWBFest. Others, like Nouns, have closed their Discords all together. At Folklore, membership at launch has been capped at 150. Forefront and Cabin took a step back to increase cohesion after their initial launch.
In short, slow growth gives you time to build strong relationships with members, which is essential for developing a close-knit community.
That being said, accelerated growth can (and should be) supported by the team’s skillset, toolkit and operation processes. For example, FWB is building a community directory to help members connect more easily - within the right curated context.
While thoughtful growth for participating members is required for intimacy development, we should differentiate this from audience growth. Audiences are the passive community consumers or observers, and are a useful component for broadening distribution. While communities benefit from a large audience for distribution, this shouldn’t be conflated with the health of the actual community. Distribution is a tool to attract potentially new and diversified members.
As in any relationship, individuals and communities need to invest actively in developing a culture of intimacy. To adapt a reflection from Esther Perel: community, like any relationship, is an aggregate of multiple narratives. Intimacy in turn can be described as the work of finding alignment across these multiple narratives. Measured, thoughtful growth creates the spaciousness to cultivate intimacy, and determines which community narratives will persist over time.