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Web2 was built around the idea of connecting people, and companies like Twitter and Facebook, now Meta, built global empires around this idea. But the connectivity they offered came with a hefty price as users were commoditized to sell ads. Towns, a new project by Here Not There Labs, aims to change that.
The project is centered around the idea of moving messaging on-chain, and today its backers announced a $25.5 million investment led by Andreessen Horowitz.
“The problem communities [face] is coordinating and collaborating and unlocking their collective mind share,” Ben Rubin, co-founder of Here Not There Labs, told Decrypt in an interview. “The tools we’re using are, for the most part, owned by other organizations, whether it’s Discord, WhatsApp, or Telegram.”
“The team’s vision for creating a digital town square where members can define the borders, set the rules, and build the world they want is an ambitious goal that is uniquely achievable through the promise of decentralization and web3,” Sriram Krishnan, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, added in a statement.
Others joining Andreessen Horowitz in the Series A funding include Benchmark and Framework Ventures.
Here Not There Labs was co-founded in 2020 by Rubin—the former CEO and co-founder of Houseparty and Meerkat—and Brian Meek, former CTO for STRIVR Labs and former general manager of engineering at Skype. They describe Towns as a group chat protocol and app designed for online communities to build better “hometowns” and communicate freely using end-to-end encryption.
Like a decentralized autonomous organization or DAO, Rubin says the Towns app aims to take the town square idea and put it on the Ethereum blockchain using smart contracts, which will also allow communities to trade NFTs and play games.
“The problem we’re solving beyond getting end-to-end encryption is portability,” Rubin says. “Everything is open-source, and in the long term, we think it’s really important,” He added that he believes on-chain communication is the obvious next step in what is possible with blockchain technology.
“It’s an evolution of what you can do with the ideas behind any blockchain technology,” Rubin said. “You start with storing value, then you move into computation, now it’s entering this idea of how can you secure coordination and collaboration.”
A DAO is a business structure where control is spread out rather than hierarchical. DAOs use smart contracts on a blockchain, with participants using governance tokens to vote on proposed actions. A DAO can technically live on any platform that allows messaging, but most live on Discord and are subject to Discord’s terms of service.
Towns joins a growing list of projects looking to move Web3 projects away from platforms like Discord, and Telegram, including Dragonchain’s Den, Matrix, Console, and Nansen Connect, from the analytics platform Nansen.
Discord isn’t working for web3 communities. We need a better platform that puts security first.
— GordonGoner.eth (Wylie Aronow) (@GordonGoner) June 4, 2022
“Any group can use Towns to assemble and chat freely in a space designed to their needs— without ever having to worry that some organization will change the rules, profit off their activity, or take away their rights,” according to the company.
Behind Towns will be the forthcoming Towns DAO, which will act as the governing body where each DAO or town has representation, Rubin explained. Once Here Not There Labs transitions control to the DAO after initial stewardship, DAO members can vote on the protocol roadmap, technical upgrades, and how the DAO’s treasury will be managed.
“As a builder in communication, and somebody who deeply cares about how people come together online—which is what I’ve been doing throughout my entire career—I thought there’s something beautiful and magical about the idea of people owning and operating that kind of connection and those experiences,” Rubin said.