Coordination Across Social Distance ✨

Coordination Across Social Distance

Why write this post?

A major category of “important operations” in civilization is dealing with conflict among divergent narratives.

For example, religions that compete for believers and promise different afterlives.

“Freedom of religion” is a whitehead advance that automates this particular “important operation” replacing religious wars with pluralist peace.

~ vgr in his devcon VI talk

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations represents a Vulcan belief that beauty, growth, progress – all result from the union of the unlike.

Concord, as much as discord, requires the presence of at least two different notes. The brotherhood of man is an ideal based on learning to delight in our essential differences, as well as learning to recognize our similarities. The circle and triangle combine to produce the gemstone in the center as the union of words and music creates song, or the union of marriage creates children.

~ Gene Roddenberry creator of Star Trek per wiki

web3 can eschew short-term hyper-financialization in favor of an unbounded future of increasing returns across social distance.

~ Puja Ohlhaver, Glen Weyl, and Vitalik Buterin in Decentralized Society: Finding Web3’s Soul

Some big brains that I follow are into the idea of Cooperation Over Social Distance (COSD).

I thought I’d write a summary of the concept and why its important to pluralism in the 21st century.

(note: I use “Cooperation Across Social Distance” interchangeably with “Coordination Over Social Distance” in this post)

What is social distance?

Dunbars number

The idea of social distance is similar to the idea to Dunbars number, a proposed limit to the # of people w. whom we can form stable social relationships.

When two people are outside of the Dunbar limits, they can be said to have high social distance from each other.

When human interaction is outside of the dunbars number limits (eg social distance increases), humans are more likely to suffer from negative interactions.

The Great Unbundling of Physical Distance & Social Distance

We’re all familiar with the geographic idea of physical distance - the physical distance between two persons or groups of persons.

Through the course of history, most of the people we’ve been close to financially, socially, or culturally have been had low physical distance to us (eg they live in the same house, town, or city, so we can have a relationship with them).

Conversely, violence and fissures among humanity have been across physical distance ( eg a war between two nation-states is a war over ideologies/resources across physical distance)

For most of history, physical distance (the physical distance between two parties) was correlated with social distance (the distance between their culture, information, worldviews, and other cultural attributes).

With the internet, that is no longer true. Now we can have low social distance across high physical distance.

The internet has created a solid foundation for humans to communicate across physical distance, but it has not yet created solid foundations to govern shared resources across physical distance.

Because of this, it has not yet given us the ability to reliably coordinate on what matters most across physical or social distance.

What is COSD?

“Coordination over social distance” (COSD) is the ability to coordinate (create mutually beneficial outcomes) across social distance.

Coordination can mean friendships, economic relationships, shared movements, or any other type of positive sum human to human interaction.


(red = low coordination)


(green = high coordination)

Attributes of high COSD communities

High COSD communities are better able to deal with conflict among divergent narratives + better able to create positive sum games between tribes.

I like to think of communities with high COSD visualized as having a high number of positive sum interactions (high COSD) across wider social distances.

… but also lower numbers of negative sum or zero sum interactions.

Why does COSD matter?

Low COSD communities are subject to “violence across social distance” (VOSD). Some examples of VOSD: Gang warfare, Civil Wars, any types of wars.

Violence doesnt have to just be physical, it can be digital too. Some digital examples of VOSD: Tribalism, Scams like FTX, 3AC, Voyager, Celsius, HEX, all the ponzis + ransomware etc that exist out there.

Healthy Civilizations, Healthy Communities, and Healthy Digital Ecosystems can be built & scaled with high coordination across that social distance (and conversely, communities/civilizations/ecosystem’s that lower COSD are less healthy).

Civilizations that have high COSD are:

  1. places where people avoid retreating into our memetic / tribal shells
  2. better able to deal with conflict among divergent narratives
  3. better able to create positive sum games between tribes
  4. are better foundations for infinite diversity in infinite combinations
  5. are more plural

At the risk of making a massive understatement of an obvious fact: It’d be great to see web3 tilt the scales of human interaction online towards greater COSD > greater VOSD.


Mechanisms that create higher COSD

In my view, web3 Solarpunks would do well to build & scale more mechanisms that increase COSD.


Quadratic Funding is one of my favorite mechanisms for increasing COSD. For 2 weeks every quarter on Gitcoin, people fund each other (even those who have casual relationships/ high social distance with each other) with a few dollars here & there, and through the QF matching, the ecosystem constinuously upregulates the best projects.

Pairwise QF

Going deeper: One of my favorite examples of a more complicated but higher COSD mechanism is pairwise bonding quadratic funding (the variant of QF that gitcoin uses) really amplifies social coordination when two people have high social distance across each other.

Basically the way pairwise bonding works is that it mutes the contributions of n accounts that contribute to the same m grants

So inversely it amplifies the proportion of the matching pool driven by accounts who have high social distance from one other.

Other examples

Of course there are other great examples of web3 creating high COSD:

  1. DAOs: metacartel, molochdaos, etc…
  2. DAO tooling like Pods, Compound, Gnosis Safe, etc…
  3. all core devs,
  4. coordinape,
  5. uniswap,
  6. any other impactDAO
  7. any other coordination mechanism

In Closing

I’m excited about engineering high COSD because

  1. I think that, since the internet has permeated all of our communication, theres been a “thinning of the veil” such that we no longer have the muscles of tolerance / grace with each other when we disagree.
  2. Learning about how to increase COSD makes me optimistic that good infrastructure can be funded/built, and that
    1. we can build better commons spaces for humanity.
    2. we can build better digital ecosystems.
    3. we can build better more pro-social digital infrastructure.

At scale, and in no small way, the infrastructure of web3 can tilt the coordination of humanity towards more COSD / pluralism (but only if we all agree to practice it / build it together).


One thing I love the web3 community for is its diversities of opinions, backgrounds, talents and the caliber of its people. It’s also the epicenter of a very important social movement. Would be a shame to see it all fall apart because we had low COSD ourselves or built ecosystems with low COSD.

At least for me; i’m trying a lot harder to pick my battles, that means focusing on things where i have input, impact, and control.

Increasing COSD in web3 communities is meta bc if what were going to export to the world is (among other things) COSD, then i think we should try to practice it ourselves. Put another way: To actualize a future with high COSD, we need to market it, we need to choose it, we need to practice it, and we need to build it.



I love your graphical representations Kevin. They make neurons fire that wouldn’t otherwise. Thought of this diagram from the Systems Innovation Network …

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A couple of images from one more resource to chuck into our collective mind here:

Source: Digital Library Of The Commons


Thanks @Sheldrake - these are great visual representations of different types of agent to agent relationships and really build upon my original post.

Great mental stimulation as I have my morning tea :slight_smile:

Tweeting them here

Love the concept of COSD! Was wondering though if it’s just a shorthand for ‘creating trust’? And if it is, what sort of interactions are necessary to foster it? Are interactions even necessary? After all, we can’t really be expected to have any meaningful interactions with 7+ billion people to create the sort of global regenerative economy we’re striving for.

This reminds of a talk by airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia, who said that the idea for the company came from couchsurfing. The problem of making it work at scale though was creating trust.

So that’s actually a coordination problem: how do you incentivize good actors, quality properties etc. that could work for millions of people, and do it IRL (not just in the digital space).

Their solution was a user review system for properties. So if you think about, you never really interact with other visitors in person, but you have some trust in the review process itself (if it’s 1-2 reviews for a property you’re taking a risk, but if it’s 500 you know you can probably trust the ‘wisdom of the crowd’), which then makes the whole system work.

I think maybe SBTs (perhaps also POAPs) can serve a similar function in the web3 space. So effective mechanisms we can trust can bridge the ‘social distance’ and work at large scales, while actual interactions can work at smaller scales. Decentralization in itself is a powerful mechanism also - you can trust keeping your coins on a decentralized network over a centralized exchange.