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Onchain Alpha

Using Open Source Observer to assess the impact of open-source software contributions

Onchain Alpha Episode 7

Key Takeaways

  • There is a growing culture of funding public goods in the Web3 ecosystem, driven by the recognition of interdependence and the need for collaboration.

  • Protocols in the Web3 space require leadership that is focused on the long-term sustainability of the protocol and is willing to eventually step back and let the community take over.

  • Open source projects in the crypto space have the advantage of being able to connect project work activities with on-chain data, allowing for a better understanding and analysis of their impact.

  • The Open Source Observer project aims to provide a platform for connecting project work activities with on-chain data, enabling the tracking and analysis of the impact of open-source projects.

  • Optimism has made a significant impact in the L2 space, and the Open Source Observer project has been able to track and analyze data to prove its impact. Proving impact in the Web3 ecosystem is challenging, but leading metrics like developer activity and user activity can provide some indication.

  • The role of impact data scientists is emerging as a valuable skill set in the Web3 space.

  • Leveraging the social graph in open-source networks can enable new possibilities for measuring impact and identifying valuable projects.

  • Finding better metrics to measure impact is an ongoing process, and being specific and detail-oriented is crucial.

  • The opportunities for Web3 are vast as more people get involved in impact data analysis and contribute to the growth of public goods.

Carl, the visionary of Open Source Observer, recently shared his journey and thoughts in an engaging episode on Onchain Alpha. In this discussion, Carl digs into his initiative's origins, highlighting the critical significance of data in understanding and improving performance in the cryptocurrency space.

Carl's career began with a strong interest in statistics and its ability to drive positive change. Before becoming involved with cryptocurrency and software, he worked on coffee supply chain projects in East Africa. However, he discovered an everyday problem: the lack of established measures for assessing impact. This gap led to his involvement in Gitcoin, where he led efforts to identify top-tier users and map their influence across networks.

Carl discusses the importance of open-source software contributions and funding in the Web 3 ecosystem, specifically within the Ethereum community. He notes that there is a recognition of the need to support and build upon previous work and the importance of Ethereum as a secure settlement layer. Carl also mentions the experimentation with new funding models and the need to make it easy for people to fund public goods, including those that may be under the radar. He compares this to the early days of the internet, which was largely funded by research institutions, and suggests that with the global reach of open source in crypto, there is a greater need for effective coordination and funding mechanisms.

The Birth of Open Source Observer

The critical moment came with the launch of Open Source Observer, a software precisely built to connect open-source project activity to their on-chain statistics. This new technique provides crucial insights into their influence on the cryptocurrency ecosystem. Carl clarifies how difficult it is to retroactively support open-source projects based on their impact, pointing out the critical involvement of data scientists in this process.

Standardizing Protocols

Carl discusses the importance of understanding the larger landscape of open-source software contributions beyond individual projects. He highlights the global and informal nature of these networks, which can mobilize hundreds of people quickly towards shared goals. Carl also reflects on the history of internet protocols and the need for standardization, particularly in the context of competing protocols in the crypto space. He emphasizes the unique leadership requirements for building lasting protocols, where the goal is to eventually vanish and turn over leadership to the community.

Understanding Open-source data

They discuss the value of open-source software in the crypto world and the role of projects like Open Source Observer in understanding its impact. Traditionally, in Web 2, open-source projects could not see user data or financial information, making it difficult to measure their impact. However, in crypto, this information can be easily connected, allowing for a clearer understanding of a project's work and its on-chain footprint. Open Source Observer aims to create a platform that links a project's work activities with its on-chain data, providing valuable insights into the impact of open-source projects in the crypto ecosystem. 

This discussion digs deeper into how complex open-source contributions are within the Ethereum community, stating the importance of supporting and building on existing foundations. Carl shows Ethereum's role as a safe settlement layer and calls for better financial options to support public goods. Drawing parallels to the early days of the internet, he draws attention to the importance of good coordination and finance mechanisms in the cryptocurrency sector.

Unlocking the Potential

The game-changing potential of open-source software in the crypto sector was a key point raised during the conversation. Unlike Web 2, where user data and financial insights were divided, crypto provides seamless connectivity, allowing for a deeper understanding of project impact. Open Source Observer emerges as a beacon, using connectivity to provide detailed insights into open-source projects' footprints.

They also discuss the work Open Source Observer has done with Optimism, using metrics such as developer activity and user engagement to measure the project's impact. However, they note that more rigorous analysis is required to prove the ROI of Optimism's initiatives in the absence of certain factors.

Carl discusses the challenges of retroactively funding open-source projects based on their impact. With over 1500 applications, the filtering process left 600 projects, making it difficult for voters to assess the projects' impact and allocate funding. He shares how they attempted to help by providing basic data on projects, such as stars, contributors, and active users, which helped identify strong projects and potentially overlooked ones. 

Charting the Course Forward

The discussion expands to the rising field of impact data science, where a need for more trained practitioners presents a serious obstacle. Carl indicates the need to develop talent and encourage collaboration among data scientists and public goods advocates. Furthermore, the discussion goes into the complicated issues of visualizing decentralized networks and developing robust measures to quantify impact efficiently.

Impact data scientists

However, the results did not necessarily align with the community's desired areas of impact, leading to a correction and ongoing efforts to improve the process. Carl also touches on the emerging role of data scientists or impact data scientists, which they believe will play a crucial role in identifying and measuring the impact of projects.

Carl discusses the current state of data science and its intersection with the regenerative finance (Regen) and public goods aspects of Web 3. He expresses that there is a lack of people equipped with the necessary skills to analyze data in this area, as most data scientists are working in traditional organizations or focused on other fields. The goal is to create more overlap between these two groups by inspiring data scientists to work on public goods problems and providing them with the necessary skills to do so. He also touches on the unique challenges of mapping out the ecosystem and creating clean data sets in the Web 3 space, which requires a different approach compared to traditional business intelligence. Humpty emphasizes the importance of network intelligence in Web 3, where data must be sought out and mapped out for analysis.

Carl discusses the challenge of measuring impact in decentralized networks, such as cryptocurrency, where traditional business intelligence methods do not apply. The lack of a centralized data warehouse and the constantly changing nature of participants make it difficult to determine metrics and incentivize contributions. The goal is to build an open-source network intelligence stack where data is freely available and people are motivated to contribute new models and metrics. Following a question from Humpty, Carl acknowledges the issue of potential data manipulation and suggests learning from industries that have faced similar challenges, such as baseball, where the search for better metrics led to a data revolution.

Embracing the Future

As the discussion comes to a close, hope fills the atmosphere. Carl and his peers foresee a future in which decentralized social networks and advanced data analytics combine to create previously unimaginable possibilities. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, they remain confident that collaborative efforts will pave the path for a more equal and influential crypto environment.

They discuss the limitations of existing metrics for identifying important and underappreciated open-source software projects in the decentralized finance (DeFi) space. They argue that being specific about the area of impact and projects of interest will help design more targeted metrics. They also mention the potential of decentralized social networks and the role they can play in elevating the value of contributions in the Web 3 ecosystem. They are particularly excited about the possibilities of combining social graph data with open-source software data to gain insights into developer preferences and public goods. They acknowledge that this is a long-term goal and that there will be challenges, but they remain optimistic about the potential of these data sets to reveal new possibilities that do not exist in Web 2.

They discuss the importance of analyzing on-chain data to identify patterns of activity related to social media campaigns, such as airdrops, and becoming resistant to attempts to game incentives. They also emphasize the growing concept of impact data scientists and encourage those interested to contribute to the Open Source Observer project. Humpty mentions an event called "Funding the Commons" in Berkeley, California, and invites people to connect with them on Farcaster, Twitter, or their websites. They express gratitude for each other's work in the fields of open data and Web 3. The website is mentioned as a resource for getting started with the project.

To stay connected with the latest developments in the realm of open-source software contributions and impact measurement within the crypto ecosystem, consider the following avenues.


1. Open Source Observer Website: Regularly visit the Open Source Observer website for updates, insights, and resources related to measuring the impact of open-source projects in the crypto space.

2. Social Media: Follow Carl and the Open Source Observer team on social media platforms like Twitter. This will keep you informed about upcoming events, new research findings, and community discussions.

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