A primer on decentralization at Worldcoin
Worldcoin seeks to be the largest global financial and identity network, serving as fundamental infrastructure in a world increasingly shaped and impacted by Artificial Intelligence (AI).
This is an ambitious mission, and achieving it will require the involvement of a motivated, passionate and diverse community. That has always meant that the project will be decentralized over time consistent with its goals and mission-focused ethos.
With the creation of the nonprofit Worldcoin Foundation, the decentralization process has taken a significant step forward, and this will continue naturally in a progressive fashion. As it does, you can expect to see third-party Orb manufacturers, different approaches to market operations and multiple application front ends to World ID.
The purpose of this article is to give transparency into the decentralization measures underway in the areas of governance, engineering and operations. This is the first in a series that will keep the Worldcoin community informed on the decentralization process, including detailed breakdowns of plans, phases and progress.
Two realities are converging which result in an increased need for a fundamentally universal financial and identity network that must be privacy-preserving and decentralized.
The first reality is, despite significant, 21st century technological advances, more than 4.4 billion people worldwide either don’t have a legal identity or have one that can’t be digitally verified. This is a major stumbling block when it comes to accessing financial services.
The second is the pervasiveness of AI following the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard which has caused a new set of challenges to emerge—namely, the ability to distinguish between humans and AI in the digital world. A solution to address these challenges lies in Worldcoin's proof-of-personhood protocol. The protocol enables a host of essential Web2 use cases and Web3 use cases such as fair access to token airdrops, community governance, DeFi applications and more, all in a Sybil-resistant and privacy-preserving fashion.
Worldcoin’s path to decentralization
Decentralization has always been central to Worldcoin’s vision to create universal access to the global economy. Like the project itself, the decentralization journey is in its early stages and subject to change, but the first steps are essential.
The initial focus is on decentralization fundamentals—the building blocks for further decentralization—which will establish a base upon which to build, experiment and iterate. It’s not uncommon for projects to focus too heavily on the decentralization end state and neglect the crucial early first steps, which can cause both the project and decentralization efforts to stall.
Below is a summary of the major focus areas, their current status, and next steps. The remainder of this article provides more detail on each of these areas.
Ensure the project's governance structure allows for decentralized decision-making, where decisions are made by a consensus of participants
Worldcoin Foundation established to enable DAO-based priority-setting for the protocol
IP transfer to the Foundation, grants program established, initial DAO setup
Ensure Worldcoin is open source, allowing for peer review and collaboration by a large community of developers in order to ensure accountability and accelerate development
Protocol repos open sourced, Orb design published
More repos opened, community calls established, standards published for 3rd-party apps and Orbs, community contributions accepted
Ensure Worldcoin infrastructure is operated by multiple groups or entities, making it resilient to failures and attacks, and providing support for additional teams focused on market operations
most infrastructure software, services, and market operations are coordinated by Tools for Humanity Corp. at the direction of the Worldcoin Foundation
Infrastructure repos opened, hardware specs published, operator incentives in place, Foundation support for 3rd-party market operations teams
In general, the goal is to ensure that project control and direction are distributed among a large and diverse group of participants, which helps to promote security, stability and fairness as the project evolves over time.
The Worldcoin project's direction is shaped by the expressed needs of those who use it and set by the shared principles of its contributors.
The Worldcoin ecosystem is made up of a global community of developers, individuals, economists and technologists united by a commitment to providing access to every person on the planet to the global economy.
Initial development of the Worldcoin protocol was led by Tools for Humanity (TFH), a global hardware and software development service provider. TFH is building tools for and helping support the Worldcoin protocol, in addition to operating the World App. Over time, TFH will continue to develop important new Web3 tools for Worldcoin and beyond.
Worldcoin’s longer term mission, however, goes beyond TFH. It requires building broader community trust, buy-in, governance and ultimately ownership. To this end, early Worldcoin contributors have come together to establish the independent Worldcoin Foundation. The Foundation is the Worldcoin protocol’s steward, supporting and growing the Worldcoin community to become fully decentralized and self-sufficient. In addition to its service provider arrangement with TFH, the Foundation is expected to work with other contributors to the protocol, either directly as service providers or through grantmaking.
The Foundation is based in the Cayman Islands, with a subsidiary in the British Virgin Islands. According to the DAO Research Collective, this is “the most common structure currently in use by network and protocol DAOs” because of the structure’s flexibility and suitability for longer term community governance alongside separate personhood, limited liability and tax efficiency.
With the Foundation in place, TFH will transfer select assets to the Foundation. The assets will relate specifically to: (1) Worldcoin branding; (2) technology that, in light of the Foundation’s mission and consistent with decentralization, is likely to be open-sourced or otherwise shared; (3) technology related to the smart contracts and the minting of the Worldcoin token; and (4) intellectual property related to World ID.
Transferring this intellectual property to the Foundation, from which it can be utilized, further developed, shared, protected and governed consistent with applicable local laws and community expectations, is critical to achieving Worldcoin’s mission of reaching over a billion people with the Worldcoin token, World ID and the World App. TFH will continue to develop and utilize the transferred IP through a perpetual, royalty-free, non-exclusive license.
Looking ahead, the Worldcoin Foundation is also setting up a grants program to encourage development and contributions from the larger Worldcoin ecosystem and community. Grants will be far ranging and cover everything from running infrastructure to application and protocol development. The Foundation will publish details on its funding priorities as it seeks to encourage applications and inspire innovation. Ultimately, the Foundation envisions having multiple service providers, some of whom will compete with TFH in certain capacities.
The growing Worldcoin community should also have a voice in the evolution of the protocol and the project. The Worldcoin Foundation’s leadership has been researching DAO models, looking at both the good and the bad, and its founding documents foresee a future where a DAO plays a key role in overall governance, leveraging the uniqueness of World ID and perhaps combining that with a reputation system based on community involvement.
Developing in the Open
From an engineering perspective, a key to fostering a thriving developer ecosystem is making a project's source code available through an open-source license, which in turn encourages both participation from the broader community as well as innovation in general. This is the expected norm for Web3.
Already, Worldcoin source code repositories and hardware designs were made open and available for the community to assess and build on. Longer term, the direction of development will hopefully include protocol improvements and additional applications able to verify with the Orb and serve as a front-end for World ID coming from the ecosystem.
Progress is already being made here. In 2022, TFH partnered with ETH Global on six in-person and two online hackathons, including ETHNewYork, ETHMexicoCity, HackMoney and ETHOnline. Over a thousand developers created hundreds of projects using our SDK, earning more than $100K in prizes for the best projects. TFH also hosted the first three editions of Worldcoin Cafe in New York, Mexico City and Bogota—a coworking space next door to major crypto events introducing people to core Worldcoin contributors and the Orb.
A number of protocol-related Github repositories have also been open sourced under standard open-source licenses for some time. One example is the Signup Sequencer, the component responsible for scaling WorldID signups.
TFH also recently opened the current version of the Orb design and shared all relevant hardware-related engineering files in its Github repository. The hardware design was shared under a responsible use license to ensure it’s only used to benefit the world and to commit to letting the community ultimately decide what that means.
In addition to these libraries, the Worldcoin Foundation will be opening more source code over time. As with most projects, the developer teams want to make sure it meets internal standards for quality and documentation before flipping the switch. Further, there are security considerations – especially for the software of the Orb – and where applicable, necessary code audits will have been performed and will be ready to be published alongside the code.
The Worldcoin Foundation expects to establish community calls along the lines of the Ethereum All Core Devs Meeting and the Zcash Arborist Calls as a way of ensuring transparency across all engineering activities, both at the protocol and application levels. It will also create an “World Improvement Proposal (WIP)” process similar to Bitcoin Improvement Proposals and Ethereum Improvement Proposals as a way for anyone to be able to propose potential new features or improvements.
One of the goals in opening up Orb hardware design renderings was to get others thinking about 3rd-party Orb research and development. To enable this development, the Worldcoin Foundation has directed TFH’s dev team to work on standards as mentioned above, so network-compatibility requirements will be clearly understood. Ultimately, the Foundation would like to see a healthy ecosystem of partners and other companies developing Orb software, including machine learning algorithms.
Additionally, the Foundation plans to continue working with ETH Global to partner on five in-person hackathons (Tokyo, Istanbul, Toronto, Paris, New York) and two online ones. There will also be grant programs where the community will be able to propose other events that should be sponsored. An updated calendar of tech and web3 events at which you can meet core contributors and get a demo will be available on the Foundation’s website shortly.
Lastly, in an effort to tie all this together, the Foundation and its partners at TFH plan to jumpstart a shared community roadmap, where engineering plans for TFH, the Worldcoin Foundation, grant recipients and others can be published to help foster a thriving development ecosystem.
The Worldcoin architecture consists of a number of different components, some of which are backend processes, that perform services vital to the network. Currently the Worldcoin Foundation coordinates the operation of this infrastructure and uses TFH to maintain the software that runs there. The backend services that ensure iris codes are unique after signup and the previously mentioned signup sequencer are examples.
The Worldcoin Foundation also currently works with TFH to manage market operations, including the logistics and finances around Worldcoin’s onboarding operations worldwide. This includes location selection, Worldcoin Operator selection, and the corresponding incentive models. The team also provides on-the-ground support in a number of instances like operator support, quality assurance and consumer protection.
Worldcoin plans to open-source the software associated with the backend processes and publish the hardware specs for these stacks to encourage other individuals or groups to manage this infrastructure in the future. The Worldcoin Foundation hopes to leverage its grant program and protocol-generated incentives to fund infrastructure decentralization.
This structure also enables multiple groups, especially those associated with third-party Orb development, to implement their own market operations, with support from the Worldcoin Foundation.
We’re incredibly excited about the Worldcoin project and the progress we’ve made to date, and we couldn’t be more thankful for all of the developers who have participated in hackathons to help get the protocol to this point. But the project still has a long way to go.
We’re looking forward to working with other development and operational teams and the community as we move the mission forward. It will be a large task, and to be successful, will require involvement of many teams and individuals. We hope you’ll join us.