The Community Layer series explores crypto-native builders as they tackle the toughest and most exciting aspects of community building, marketing at the edges, and identity solutions for future generations. So often, these stories are told behind the scenes, not getting nearly the spotlight they deserve. We’re learning together, and with the Community Layer, you’ll be caught up on what really goes on out there in the crypto space.
This week I had the privilege of chatting with one of web3’s busiest Nouns, Prof. Werder, also known to many as thenounishprof.eth. She helped me navigate the Nouns (nouns.wtf) ecosystem, the current builder landscape, and the language we use to describe what we do.
Prof. Werder is a Florida Gulf Coast University instructor, teaching students about the evolving nature of blockchains, NFTs, and DAOs for the past two years. She’s used her extensive work in the space as a framework for the material she teaches, creating a Nouns collection with her students called FloriNouns, which was recently migrated to Base, the Ethereum L2.
Our dive into the Nouns ecosystem gives insight into the recent fork, the splitting of the DAO, the importance of aligned values, and how community builders manage all our responsibilities.
We began by discussing how the oral histories told in various spaces help us form the language we use to build culture. Connection and community building started early in her first year of law school, where she got a job at the Supreme Judicial Court Historical Society conducting oral histories. Werder said, “I think you need those histories to capture those moments because everyone’s perspective of even just one thing is different. We all come into this with our own experiences and that’s important to tell.”
When we add new layers of technology, often it’s met with confusing jargon and in-culture stories that make it difficult for outsiders to relate in meaningful ways. However, Prof. Werder talked to me about how industry leaders use analogies that meet people where they are to explain how these tech and organizational structures actually do solve problems they face today.
Altering a digital landscape and the language it uses seems like an insurmountable task when your first instinct is to sell the technology as a developer. Maybe, as Werder points out, “what we need to be doing is demonstrating the use cases and value propositions.” So her response as a professor in and out of the classroom has been a “show, not tell” solution to get the lightbulb moments going for folks.
I asked Prof. Werder what she thinks about the difference between values and value propositions in web3 and what we can do to close those gaps.
If you’re reading this and thinking, WTF is Nouns? Nouns DAO is essentially an infinite generative mint of a meme proliferated by auctioning a piece of art every 24 hours to fund proposals called Props ranging from podcasts, public goods, naming a frog all the way to building a float for the Rose Parade.
There are 3 ways to get an idea funded in the Nouns ecosystem:
For Nouns, “the values actually might be the thing that’s driving the value proposition for a lot of people.” However, in the crypto space, we see the differences in this school of thought when someone “thinks they’re going to be able to make a profit down the road,” which led us to a conversation about the recent Nouns Fork situation.
Though most in the Nouns community have an ethos of supporting public goods or non-profits, some also buy in because they feel speculating on the future price is more aligned with their personal values. This often leads to misalignment in a greater story, and in the crypto space, sometimes it leads to a fork where members of the community part ways.
As a community ages, it takes thoughtful consideration to manage all sides of a membership. Decentralized communities that let anyone with enough capital to enter an ecosystem inevitably lead to mixed alignment, so after two years of building, the community came to a literal fork in the road where a decision was made, and Nous DAO Fork was live on 9/08/23 to move some of the community in a different direction.
What makes this situation super interesting is that it can be difficult to keep up if you’re outside of that very specific ecosystem. That makes this a very important piece of history that will undoubtedly be a lesson taught in future classes.
Speaking of values and value propositions, it’s so interesting to see the differences in alignment a crypto community can surface when one group is attached to what the technology offers for others (the public goods) and the ‘book value’ as it’s called, determined by secondary sales and the amount of ETH in the community treasury. There is a lot to be learned here by organizations considering massive undertakings via DAO or other crowd-funded blockchain solutions, especially in an ambiguous regulatory landscape.
As Prof. Werder points out, the Nouns community has decided, “We’re getting divorced instead of trying to work it out,” which is certainly an option with programmable smart contracts! This leaves room for other DAOs watching this situation unfold to learn from the fork and strategize so either this doesn’t happen to them, or they take a different approach to help center alignment in the future.
She’s taking lessons learned from the Nouns Fork, like a need for central communications spaces, into a relatively new venture called BuilderDAO, which houses Nouns Builder, allowing anyone to build a Nouns-style DAO in seconds. BuilderDAO has a dedicated Discord and a Farcaster channel, both seeing growth from these spaces. Werder notes that the “web3 ethos of pure decentralization runs deep in the Nouns ecosystem.” See, the Nounders (the Nouns founders) decided to shut down their single place for comms in October 2022 and instead left it up to the community to figure out. This likely contributed to the separation in values, as many in the DAO have pointed out. Rifts like this inevitably form when there is no central point of communication for members that isn’t a dedicated voting space.
Prof. Werder echoes the sentiment of nearly everyone in the web3 space when I asked how she manages to teach and build in crypto despite the 24/7 nature. Unsurprisingly and hilariously, she said, “Well, I haven’t slept in three years…it’s challenging, but for me, it’s a passion in that I really love Nouns and the communities that have formed around Nouns”.
One thing that draws people like Werder to the web3 space is the ability to meet people who understand your values, especially those from all over the world. Some of these have been members of the Nouns community, where projects like Lil Nouns and the Lil Sisters were born.
For many of us, the crypto space is our form of entertainment. I know personally when I’m busy creating something or deep in strategy mode, there is no time for new films and going out with friends, but my friends are online, and that’s okay too.
When we look at community builders across their individual timeliness, it’s evident that at their core, many are connectors. I asked Prof. Werder if that was the case for her, too, making friends wherever she goes and connecting people to their passions. If you’ve been in crypto long enough, you’ll sense the similarities between NFT communities and Greek life. As someone who teaches at a University and spent her early adult life in a Sorority, she sees why young people would gravitate to an online ecosystem that so closely resembles those college spaces.
It’s so interesting how certain personality traits follow us into adulthood, where so many community builders are people who floated between friend groups in high school, college, and into our careers. So now, when we’re involved in online communities, we tend to do the same things. Prof. Werder said she loves being a connector because “it gives me an opportunity to be helpful,” and at the end of the day, it makes us feel good knowing we’ve actually helped connect two or more people together.
Thinking back to the analogies we make about our communities, she said the web3 space also feels like a small town because “that doesn’t mean you’re friends with everybody, but you know them, you’ve seen them around,” and that’s so true. It doesn’t take long to get to know all the key influencers and that definitely leaves room for sentiment to sway often, especially with the breakneck speed of social media.
We started talking about a recent “event” on Crypto Twitter where confusion over blockchains and a Mr. Beast-promoted gaming group called the Creator League was the feature of the day. The Creator League was since postponed after backlash from influencers involved, outraged over not being warned of NFT technology being used.
The interesting thing, Prof. Werder points out, is that “[the Creator League] is perfectly aligned with the web3 ethos, and yet there’s such a pushback on the technology,” a technology that “could be helpful to you in what you’re trying to do if you just let it,” she adds. This is part of a larger conversation the crypto space is having at the moment about account abstraction, which is when the user doesn’t know they are interacting with a blockchain or crypto, yet they receive all the benefits. She gave examples from major brands who’ve entered the crypto space, like Nike and Starbucks, who have made onramps to their digital worlds seamless and unique. She said the key is to “create something people want more than they hate NFTs.” Not that it’s an easy task, but Reddit executed masterfully with digital collectibles, incorporating known artists with their drops that felt very fluid with their audience.
“It’s just a matter of time before everyone finds the digital community they want to be a part of.”
Prof. Werder recently got a friend into NFTs when George Michael came out with a collection that immediately captured her interest. So no matter where your interests are, all it takes is seeing the value to the individual. In my experience, technology, in general, is a personal relationship, so wherever you find happiness, there will inevitably be a corner of the internet that speaks to your passions.
Our chat proved that Prof. Werder and Nouns are essential figures in the Community Layer. Both have paved the way for builders to explore their passions through public goods communities and the need for evolving language as it fits evolving industries.
The progress of these early web3 ecosystems has certainly paralleled early web builders, as mentioned in the Community Layer introduction, mirroring how they were publicly questioned. For curious outsiders looking into this space: learning the language and lore might seem challenging but it could be what sets you on a path of adventure!
Prof. Werder can be found here: