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Tokenizing the Country Club to Save Democracy (LinksDAO)
Or, everything I know about sociology feat. de Tocqueville, Robert Putnam, Ray Oldenburg, Steph Curry, Memes and Golf.
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If we don’t know each other , you may not know that I’m a big American history nerd. So today’s piece is inspired by my AP US History Class. We’re going to talk about Alexis De Tocqueville, the collapse of American civic society and how tokens might help. Also, golf.
This is the story of LinksDAO.
Let’s dive in.
De Tocqueville, Putnam and the Collapse of Civic Society
In 1831, Alexis De Tocqueville visited the United States to write a report on prisons for the French government. But de Tocqueville ditched that premise as soon as he got stateside. Instead, the young frenchman undertook an exploration of America as a young democracy. Democracy flourished in the US, he argued, because Americans formed bonds through many, many civic groups.
These groups were for business, for religion, for volunteering and for socialization. Americans learned to see one another as full people through these groups. So when political conflicts arose, Americans could solve them as friends.
That must have been nice.
So for close to 150 years, this was the conventional wisdom: Americans loved to form groups. Those groups helped them sustain democracy.
But in 1994, sociologist Robert Putnam found that America’s web of social groups had collapsed. His book, Bowling Alone, tracked the decline of America's social clubs. Bowling weekly as part of a bowling league had given way to playing video games at home. The Rotary Club meeting had given way to watching TV. Volunteering gave way to longer work hours. Strong neighborhoods had given way to anonymous suburbs. Americans, he showed, were not that interested in forming social groups anymore. At least not while there was something good on TV.
Putnam worried that our politics would grow poisonous as we lost connection with our communities.
He probably understated the risk.
When I started at Facebook, I thought that online communities would provide a path back toward social belonging. If we could connect on-demand, that might repair our fractured bonds. On that front, I was… well… a bit naive.
COVID demonstrated that online communication is a poor substitute for real life connection.
But we should be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Online communities are great for identifying potential community members. If they could find a way to actually bring those communities together IRL -- and not in a January 6 kind of way -- we might be onto something.
But these communities will need a real, physical home to meet. Sociologists call these “third places,” a term coined by Ray Oldenburg. The first place is home. The second place is work. The third place is a public space where you encounter familiar faces and meet new friends. These connections coalesce into community.
If we build an interesting third place, we can attract an interesting community. If we do that, we might be able to persuade Americans there are more interesting things to do than watch TV. We might be able to rebuild real communities.
At least, that’s what we have to hope if we don’t want to embrace a hellscape of metaverse mediated socialization.
Meet LinksDAO → The Intersection of Community and Commerce
I should preface the below by saying: I am not a golfer. I am barely a mini golfer. When I go to TopGolf with friends, I am lucky if my drive gets off the ground. I am, to be honest, mostly there for the fried food.
But, growing up in an affluent suburb in Eastern Pennsylvania, I have an appreciation for the golf club. I mean, is there any more perfect symbol of the old Leave-it-to-Beaver America than the Country Club?
Long before Satoshi minted a single coin, well-to-do (white, Christian) families joined these clubs as status symbols. In exchange, they not only received access to club facilities, but also purchased membership in the community.
So when I heard about LinksDAO, and their goal to buy and manage such a golf course, I got interested. Granted – we’re going to need to update the culture. We could do without the xenophobic, classist bullshit that typified the original country clubs. But given the surprising diversity of the crypto-crowd this might not be a problem:
"The average cryptocurrency trader is under 40 (mean age is 38) and does not have a college degree (55 percent). Two-fifths of crypto traders are not white (44 percent), and 41 percent are women." - study by NORC, University of Chicago
Country clubs are, in a way, the perfect testing ground for crypto-third-places. They’re already somewhat commercial, but they use the investment of their members to build a community space. With DAO tokens, we could add another wrinkle. If the club succeeds, members will share in the profits of the club they helped build.
Some people argue that this is a mistake. They believe that commerce and community are antithetical, but I disagree. If we can reward people for building healthy communities, we should. They matter. They have value. We should compensate community builders.
And I would offer that our problem might be that we have gone too far away from profit. We have put all other forms of recreation on the profit-motive-accelerator. As a result we have great TV, great video games, beautiful homes -- and no great community centers.
What if investing in communities could provide the capital these groups need to attract and retain members?
It’s definitely possible. We know that millennials and Gen-Z shifted discretionary spending from goods to experiences. Communities that can provide great experiences are going to be in-demand.
LinksDAO could be the vanguard of a revolution.
So this week, I wanted to dig in on how Links is trying to build the world’s first crypto-third-place. The strategy that I see looks like this:
Make the Memes.
Build the third place.
Let’s see how it’s going so far.
If You Meme It, They Will Come…
Crypto enables internet memes to become a viral investment pitch.
LinksDAO's founders (Mike Dudas, Jim Dailey and Chris Maddern) were inspired by ConstitutionDAO. Taking inspiration from ConstitutionDAO, they crafted their meme well. A good meme is short, descriptive and references broader cultural touchstones.
By that measure, LinksDAO’s calling card: We are going to buy a golf course checks all the boxes. Short - check. Descriptive - check. References WAGMI meme - check.
Like ConstitutionDAO: LinksDAO weaponized their initial followers to spread their meme. But, whereas ConstitutionDAO relied on FOMO, LinksDAO incentivized sharing. The community raffled off memberships to anyone who posted about LinksDAO on Twitter.
The viral spread caught the attention of other influencers. Steph Curry, for instance, became a prominent member. The LinksDAO community then tied itself tightly to Curry’s brand by doing some good. Their third-ever community vote was to approve donations to Curry’s charity. There’s no reason influencer marketing can’t be charitable, too, after all.
ConstitutionDAO and LinksDAO both largely left the important details undecided at launch. Even if it was not planned, the decision to leave out the details was critical to both project’s success.
When you define the shape of the organization, you give everyone details to nitpick.
They might not like the choice of club.
They might not like the chosen food.
They might not like the logo.
But by sticking to their simple meme– we are designing this golf community together – the details cease to matter.
You are no longer selling a golf club. You are selling the adventure of creating one together. That’s exciting. And it’s nitpick-proof.
If you just want to join a golf club, go join a golf club. If you want to change the way golf works, come with us.
Demonstrate Value: Proof-of-Golf
“Vision without execution is hallucination.” - Thomas Edison
There’s a moment in any entrepreneur’s journey where they are selling vaporware. To create the thing, you have to convince people that they want it so much that they pay you to make it.
Steve Jobs did it. So did Elizabeth Holmes. And the line between those two is often thinner than we would like to admit. It all comes down to this: can you deliver on what you have promised?
This challenge is super acute for social and community experiences. I could build every feature of Instagram in 2011, but if people do not join, the product has zero value.
So the problem for any social founder is how to attract enough members to bootstrap the network.
LinksDAO has a similar cold start problem. While they figure out the details of buying the club, they need a way to provide upfront value.
Here LinksDAO’s approach is really, really smart. In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam talks about the rise of Mass-Membership Organizations. These groups – like the AARP or the Sierra Club – offer perks to their broad memberships.
LinksDAO has followed their example. The DAO uses its relationships — and its early brand equity — to build partnerships with golf and social organizations. They secured member benefits at a chain of national golf shops. They have picked charitable investments to make together.
Putnam’s critique is correct. These benefits are not, in and of themselves, a community. But they represent a clear signal of intent from the DAO. That demonstrates to members that LinksDAO is serious about its goals. In turn, it keeps membership invested in the project.
Incremental progress is not the enemy of a grand vision, but a necessary step along the way.
So can you use a healthy online community to bootstrap a healthy business for a third place? The challenges remain real. To begin with, LinksDAO’s community is global. A golf course is, decidedly, local.
So how do you turn a single, destination golf course into a community?
The key will be in emulating other DAOs like FWB. FWB members organize meet-ups in their local community. These smaller community get-togethers can reinforce a sense of community belonging. They will also make pilgrimages to the community hub more special.
But if even that isn’t enough – the worst case scenario looks OK for LinksDAO. They have, in a matter of months, built a powerful community-centric brand. A lifestyle brand is less exciting (to me) than an active, reimagined country club. But it’s still likely to be a positive investment for early members.
And should that come to pass – LinksDAO still provides an early example of a likely future. As crypto continues to grow, you will not need a national organization to buy a golf course. Community owned spaces -- golf courses, movie theaters, even arcades -- will become common. When those third places emerge, they will have LinksDAO to thank for paving the way.
Don’t worry, De Tocqueville – tokens are on their way to save the day.