What is Gimbalabs? (Part 2)

Our Current Work

This is the second part in our “What is Gimbalabs” series. Read Part 1 here.

Like everyone in the Cardano community, we are full of ideas. We want to put Cardano in the hands of all sorts of people: small business owners, community organizers, musicians, chefs, bakers, makers, movers and shakers the world over. We want to see the ideals of Cardano come to life. We want more people to have more autonomy, and we want everyone to feel like it’s realistic to think that big problems are solvable. We want to help people get to work on solving those problems. We want to create tools and experiences that allow more people to grasp more deeply what Cardano is and what it can do. We want our friends and families to say, “Ohhh, I see why you’re doing that! I thought you were talking about money, but wow, there’s more to it than I thought…”

Photo by Doug Maloney on Unsplash

Is your pulse quickening? Does it feel a little overwhelming that there’s just so much to think about? There’s so much potential!

Don’t worry, we’re right there with you.

How are we actually going to achieve any of this? How will we bring our hopes and dreams to life?

By getting started.

That’s why Gimbalabs is in building mode. The purpose of this post is to share about what we’re building today, and how you can get involved. We’ve worked for the last three months to set priorities. Now, we are focused on building two products: Dandelion APIs and the Gimbalabs Playground.

Already, Dandelion APIs have been used by dozens of developers, and we continue to meet people daily who first heard about Gimbalabs because of the value that Dandelion provides. The Gimbalabs Playground emerged from our series of initial experiments in how best to engage with our community. I’ll talk more about the big picture of our work in Parts 4 and 5: how our work generates new work, and the different ways we envision doing that work in the years to come.

Here, let’s start with an overview of Dandelion and the Playground.

Dandelion

Photo by Ivan Dostál on Unsplash

What is Dandelion?

Dandelion is a suite of free APIs that help developers to build on Cardano.

What problem does Dandelion solve?

Dandelion minimizes the time it takes to go from an idea to a working prototype.

Building and maintaining a development environment for Cardano is difficult and time consuming. Even if you know exactly what you’re doing, it can still take a while, for example, to get the necessary instances of cardano-node and cardano-db-sync synced with the blockchain.

The purpose of Dandelion is to make it easier for developers to test their ideas on Cardano, by providing free access to all Cardano APIs.

Dandelion is the centerpiece of the growing Gimbalabs ecosystem. Every day, we meet developers who drop by to ask technical questions about Dandelion. Often, they stick around to meet other developers, and some contribute to new projects. This is how met Kyle, who is now a member of the Gimbalabs leadership team. We first met because Kyle was using Dandelion APIs to build LIFT Wallet.

What questions does it raise? What new problems emerge?

Dandelion is an incredibly convenient resource for anyone who wants to build on Cardano, and we are happy that so many developers are using it. But there’s a major problem with our approach: by providing Dandelion as a service, we are introducing a single, centralized point of failure.

Anyone who uses Dandelion is relying on our team to be honest actors.

Any software that uses Dandelion is relying on our Dandelion instance to stay online and up to date.

If the whole point of Cardano is to provide the decentralized infrastructure for a new global financial operating system, then doesn’t a tool like Dandelion defeat that purpose? We think so. And we’ve seen firsthand how quickly “re-centralizing” tools are built on decentralized systems, like Infura is for Ethereum. But we don’t think that this is inevitable.

What are our long-term intentions?

Our highest priority goal is get more people running instances of Dandelion across the globe, to make it a truly decentralized service. In the long-term, our intention is for Dandelion to be a trusted tool and a reliable option for anyone building on Cardano.

In order to achieve this goal, we need to build an incentive system for operating a Dandelion node, similar to how Cardano has incentives for stake pool operators.

We also intend to add additional services to Dandelion, like decentralized storage or middleware that provides abstraction for common tasks on Cardano. Our ideal system will allow providers to choose which subset of Dandelion services they offer; indeed this is already possible in the Dandelion configuration files.

Eventually, Dandelion will be among the tools that our corporate clients can include in their solutions. Organizations will have the option to spin up their own private Dandelion instance, or even to pay it forward by using their infrastructure to provide Dandelion as a public service.

What are our next steps?

Our immediate step is to continue working toward our long-term goal of onboarding more Dandelion operators. We are creating an incentive structure and building an authentication mechanism to serve each of these goals.

As these APIs continue to attract talented devs who know what they need, we’ll seek to build relationships and make the case for serving up additional Dandelion instances, while continuing to make it clear that no matter how much people might want to trust us, they shouldn’t. We’ll create ways for people to verify the truth of the information that each Dandelion node is serving up.

How can you get involved?

Gimbalabs Playground

What is the Gimbalabs Playground?

When we say “Gimbalabs Playground” we’re talking about a meeting structure, a community, and a set of tools. There is an open Gimbalabs Playground meeting every Tuesday at 4pm UTC, where we discuss current projects and form teams to continue building. We refer to the “Playground Community” as anyone who attends these meetings or contributes to Playground projects. Our intention is to build tools accompanied by specific use cases that illustrate broad utility, and to make these tools accessible to anyone.

Why the Playground? What problem does it solve now?

During the Cardano Africa special on 30 April, 2021, Tim Harrison observed that “to build valuable solutions you need to understand the challenges intuitively”. We agree. So how do people gain that sort of intuitive understanding?

It takes time.

In order to build intuition, we need varied opportunities to apply our knowledge. We need people with whom we can discuss what we’re starting to understand. That’s why the Gimbalabs Playground is our attempt to maximize time for people to learn, together. Through project-based learning opportunities, groups of collaborators, and open repositories of work for others to build upon, we seek to make space for a shared intuition to emerge.

When everything is so new, all of these developing ideas overlap. Structures inform collaboration, communities set development priorities, desired use cases create the need for tools, and new tools inspire new use cases. Out of all of this, our idea for the Gimbalabs Playground continues to develop.

What questions does it raise? What new problems emerge?

Our Playground work is inefficient. We are creating systems, learning technical details, and forming new relationships all at the same time. It’s demanding work that requires trust that our compass is pointed the right direction in the long term.

Our current work is not yet financially sustainable. We are asking participants to volunteer their time — or at best to see this time as an investment in learning that will pay off, eventually. We can only go so deep when people are committing part time.

We’ll need a greater level of reliability if our emerging Playground teams are going to consistently deliver production-grade work.

That said, when we think about time as our most valuable currency, to us, this work feels like a pretty good bet.

What are our long-term intentions?

We are financially bootstrapping the process through Catalyst, and intend to maintain autonomy on our pathway toward sustainability — more on that in Part 3 of this series.

Ultimately, we want to rethink work and relationships. A “new financial operating system” ought to give us the chance to recalibrate how we spend our time. We are seeing already how a “trust protocol” like Cardano makes space for new kinds of relationships between people around the world. We know a lot of people who are working incredibly hard right now, and we want to make sure that we keep the bigger picture in mind, and this is an idea we’ll revisit frequently in the years to come.

We must first make space for these conversations. At the core of our strategy is the Playground process, its accompanying library of tools, and the expertise of our community that will be the chief “export” of Gimbalabs. Built upon the foundation of Dandelion, Gimbalabs tooling will support individuals, start-ups and existing corporations to adopt Cardano. We’ll apply a refined version of the Playground process to our work with corporate clients, and we’ll spin up distributed teams to deliver these solutions.

For all of us delivering these solutions, the intuition gained throughout the messy work of creating the Playground, tinkering with tools, and building together will allow us to be flexible, expert listeners and collaborators. When we set out to deliver a new solution, there won’t be a playbook — and that’s exactly the kind of work that inspires us.

What are our next steps?

Right now, the Gimbalabs Playground continues to take shape. We’ve made some new friends who are helping to give some structure to the process, with the goal of making it easier to newcomers to get involved and for projects to yield results.

We continue to engage in research and development work. We are building extensible tools and striving to maximize learning for as many people as possible. We are tinkering with processes, and we’re having a darn good time.

As we continue to do the high-level work of defining the Playground, we are also launching our first series of focused projects that apply what we’ve learned about the process so far. For example, we are supporting the Font Management App proposal in Project Catalyst with the Playground process. By working on this specific use case, we’ll build tools and expertise to be applied to others.

Building on Kyle’s CardanoSharp project, we’re also eager to launch a Playground for .NET developers.

How can you get involved?

We invite you to get involved in all of it. All you have to do is show up. On Discord, you can learn more, and you can attend our weekly Playground meeting.

We are also working with the Swarm Sessions community to build out the Playground process, and we feel pretty confident that you’ll find some great collaborators and conversation partners there.

What about Cardano Starter Kits?

Through it all, we haven’t forgotten about Cardano Starter Kits (CSKs), but we are temporarily focused on planting roots from which new CSKs will sprout. This is an example of one of those big ideas that we’re keeping in mind while we do some other things first.

Here’s how we see it:

  • A growing variety of Dandelion endpoints will give us more to build upon.
  • Real incentives for running a Dandelion node will lead to more Dandelion nodes which will make these endpoints more reliable.
  • A clearly elucidated Playground process will help us welcome more people into Playground, and the more people who participate in Playground, the more experts we’ll have in the Cardano community, ready to take the platform mainstream.
  • The more tools we create in Playground the more Dapps we’ll be able to contribute to.
  • The more Dapps we build the more people we’ll reach — the more specialized, the better. We want to reach domain experts, specialists, skilled craftspeople: everyone who is too busy doing what they do to have heard about Cardano.
  • The more Dapps and experiences we can build upon the foundation of Dandelion endpoints and Playground tools, the more we’re going to need fully-formed Cardano Starter Kits to help onboard people into the ecosystem. Again, these CSKs will be specialized. We might have a CSK for CSAs. A CSK for record producers. You fill in the blanks. This is what decentralization looks like: anyone can create focused solutions and deliver value, growing the patchwork, spreading dandelions, opening opportunities.

On a personal note: when I started making CSKs, my goal was never to be a content creator. I’m much more interested in learning how things work and having a community of people with whom I can make things. I made the first few CSKs because I wanted to meet people, and these seemed like a good way to send out a signal sharing what I’m all about. And it worked! I am so grateful for the new connections I’ve made. For me, making some content led to new connections.

I cannot overemphasize this: just do something, get started. There’s a lot of energy in the Cardano community right now — we’re living through a revolution, after all — and if you send out a signal, you will find your people. The higher quality and more thoughtful that signal is, the deeper relationships you’ll make. A witty tweet will help you find other quick witted folks, a valuable tool will help you find other builders, a thoughtful essay will help you find other thinkers, the list goes on, but you get the idea. And in this decentralized world, there is no right answer! Some answers might be fairer, less centralized, or higher-quality, to the extent that these are measurable qualities.

What is “right” is for all of us to figure out, and “right” is kaleidoscopic.

As always, here’s to the journey.

Summary: How can You Get Involved?