Governance of urbit.org

Summary

Long before Urbit first appeared as a prototype in 2013, we considered Urbit address space to be property. Granted, Urbit property ownership was only reflected as a text file in a github repository – but it was always designed to be cryptographically owned, and we've always taken that file seriously.

If you've ever looked at that text file, you've probably noticed that there has been a pool of Urbit assets there marked "urbit.org" since the beginning. Now that we're moving our property registry out of that repository and onto the Ethereum blockchain, we wanted to be as clear as we can be about what the plan is for those urbit.org addresses.

The TL;DR is that "urbit.org" will likely split into a separate entity from Tlon in the future. For now though, Tlon and urbit.org have the same mandate, so separating them doesn't make sense. For the time being, Tlon will continue to manage and use urbit.org assets directly for platform development. As a first step toward making urbit.org independent we've started to develop a board of advisors who we hope will one day manage those assets independently.

Background

The history of a few lines in a text file doesn't give a whole lot of context. So, first, let's fill in a few more of the details.

In 2013 Curtis and Tlon each contributed 32 galaxies to a pool newly called "urbit.org." The idea at the time was to set aside address space to fund "platform development" – in the spirit of the IETF or the Mozilla foundation. This was long before anyone had heard of a Swiss blockchain foundation or anything of the sort. Our view was that it was going to take a lot of resources to build a system as robust and far reaching as Urbit intends to be, and 64 galaxies (25% of the total network) seemed sufficient. It was thought at the time that urbit.org might eventually take the form of a separate foundation, but we were simply too small and under-resourced a team to figure out the right legal structure at the time.

Tlon – as distinct from urbit.org – has always been imagined as a future service provider in the urbit ecosystem. But Urbit is still young, so those services aren't really needed yet.

Instead, what is needed is platform development. So Tlon has acted, in a way, as urbit.org was supposed to, by taking on the bulk of platform development efforts. This work consists of everything from kernel development to interface design and documentation. Tlon has sold (and granted) both its own galaxies, and some of those originally designated as urbit.org galaxies towards this end. We'll continue to do this for the foreseeable future, since Urbit's development needs (though finite) remain ongoing. We can't predict exactly how long this will continue, although we wish we could!

Future plans

As Urbit becomes more widely used, we expect to make the Tlon/urbit.org separation real.

We've considered the foundation model, but have come to the conclusion that it doesn't really make sense. For one, it's quite expensive in terms both of administrative overhead, and the associated legal costs. For another, there just isn't anyone we trust enough to take over high level management of such an organization (see Tezos). Finally, our view is that foundations are not entirely effective in their mandates (see this article from our friend Nadia).

One step we're pursuing is the creation of a board of advisors to guide our use of the urbit.org assets at Tlon. We're in discussions with several potential board members now. Our goal with this structure is to include more voices outside of Tlon in the process of governing the urbit.org assets, and to make their advice transparent to the public.

As with all of our projects, we think it's better to walk before we run. For now, Tlon will continue to act as urbit.org and use both pools of resources for ongoing platform development. Next, we'll create a board to advise on the use of those resources. Eventually, Tlon and urbit.org will likely become separate entities. We'll get there – one step at a time.