Incentivization: Does Gitcoin Need to Embrace the Dark Arts?

The future is a mystery for Gitcoin. Community parlor tricks could morph into coordination sorcery through vision-aligned incentives.

It doesn’t take a wizard to realize Gitcoin is in a state of operational flux. Grants is a towering beast of collaboration that seems to be cooling off, like much of DeFi in these grizzly and low-key building months.

As highlighted recently by M0nkeyFl0wer, Cause Rounds Lead, one of the core issues with Gitcoin right now is ground-up collaboration.

This isn’t something that you can wave a wand at. It’s actually a root problem in DeFi - and if the Kings of Coordination can’t solve it, it might be an idea to pack up and head back to muggle mode.

Is it time for Web3’s peaceniks to demand more accountability from its collaborators? Much like customer retention in our pseudo-anonymous space, it’s easy for anons to be more fly by night than seize the day.

This writing will share a current glimpse of Gitcoin Grants and dive into some potential ways to bake Death Eater-like devotion into the process. This will all be neatly wrapped up with pop psychology references and Harry Potter memes - enjoy.

Gitcoin: The Great in Public-Good

What started as a Consensys offshoot has developed into a spell-binding tale of empowering Web3 builders to code and create with freedom. It has influenced most top DeFi protocols through incubation or collaboration.

Here’s a snapshot Grants’ figures:

  • ~2,640 total ETH donations

  • ~$8,852,995 total fiat value

  • ~78,240 unique donors

[Data: @GM365 / @Salva]

Grants Progress

Grants has been pivotal in that growth and given projects a trusted platform for capital, collaboration, and industry exposure.

Donations steadily peaked across Rounds 9-12 but have gently slipped. Community Contributions have trended continuously against Matching Contributions from then onwards.

[Credit: @inSiteh]

This could be a symptom of the same bera mode curse that has swept DeFi. But, with ample resources and a diverse Web3-native community there is surely room for innovation to steady the figures.

Centralized Hangover?

Gitcoin started life as the brainchild of Dumbledore (aka Owocki) and a small council of prestigious DeFi magicians. As it became a stable of crypto innovation the only natural course was to decentralize.

There is an argument, as with any DAO, that the transition from singular leadership to collective decision-making has left Gitcoin with too broad of a direction to follow.

To tackle governance the DAO introduced a $COMP-style Stewards Delegation model, where $GTC holders can assign their voting power to a community member who takes an active role in the day-to-day decisions within Gitcoin.

All well and good. But in an ecosystem where manpower rules, does passive participation make sense?

Lack of Vision

It isn’t a surprise that this has bled through to Gitcoin ops. The current, staggered rate of progress is best outlined in this articulate take on the subject in the DAO forums.

Without a core ethos / mission statement / goal - call it what you like - it gets increasingly difficult for builders and collaborators to sense-check their purpose and progress as operations splinter outwards.

The result is that the DAO grows in size but not momentum. Initiatives circle on iterations to the current product and not on vital innovation to stay ahead in the space.

Round and Round

It also isn’t a surprise then that this has bled through to Gitcoin’s ‘retail’-facing element, the Grants Rounds structure.

Over the course of its lifetime the Grants stack has grown considerably, but hasn’t become any more user friendly. The current round terms within each Grants Round give away little to a green user.

  • Featured Rounds

  • Cause Rounds

  • Ecosystem Rounds

  • Core Rounds

For the average degen, learning is a process of titrated exposure that is most efficient when concepts are simplified, particularly at the start. The need to provide a glossary of round terms in DAO-wide governance post spells out an immediate need for greater product clarity. In this case, even a simple tweak to naming conventions would be a solid start.

This isn’t just a Gitcoin issue, but a DeFi one. We need to constantly refine communications in order to prime integrating a wider, global audience.

Casting Coordination Charms

At the heart of any decision is a value transaction or pay-off.

For example, Bob turns up to work and Alice pays him a salary at the end of the month.

The degen version might be: Bob retweets a post and Alice Protocol gives him an NFT whitelist spot.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion has always been a personal, non-technical spellbook for spotting the persuasive snares, many of them largely subconscious, that exist all around us. The core concepts can be found enchanting anons across Crypto Twitter:

  • Reciprocation - give someone something (can be free, like an NFT) and they’re more likely to act in kind.

  • Commitment - the foot-in-the-door technique. Start asking for small things and build from there.

  • Social Proof - degens associate with degens. Gm.

  • Authority - see: Elon Musk and Dogecoin price.

  • Exclusivity - an easy one…

While manipulation is all too rife in this space, and a large part of why we’re seen as degens, using elements of these concepts to further empower the development of Web3 still sticks to Gitcoin’s ethos. The outcome of the ideas below, and any idea, should always be the greater good.

Charm #1: Exclusivity

Gitcoin has an abundance of alpha in just being a destination for teams building projects from the idea stage upwards.

Encouraging teams to directly dedicate a small portion of any token launch to collaborators that actively get involved in the development could be a powerful driver.

Airdrops have been a contentious issue in the past for Gitcoin and, on the whole, are pretty detached from actually being alpha in the current market. There are testnet / airdrop channels regularly posting new ‘leaks’, so they’re instantly diluted with anons looking for easy tokens.

That being said, a guaranteed, contained airdrop would be a scarce and attractive prize for Grants collaborators to work towards in return for their time and effort. Wind in POAPs or exclusive NFTs and suddenly actively contributing to Web3 development has tangible and exclusive benefits.

Charm #2: Social Proof

On-chain reputation is pretty basic in its current state and a number of DAOs have launched their version of rep points by launching what’s essentially a dummy token. And Gitcoin Passport is currently geared towards identity aggregation and verification to protect against sybil attacks. 

A project like Sismo, which is developing flexible, privacy-preserving on-chain reputation, could be the ideal cure-all potion for sharing and managing achievements in the Web3 space.

Sismo’s non-transferable tokens (SBTs) can be issued to any user who contributes to the development of a project supported by Gitcoin. The value here is derived from the fact that these achievements cannot be swapped or bought, and instead represent one of the most solid examples of social capital in the space to date. There’s no underlying market, just a stark focus on participation.

Plus, developing using zero-knowledge tech makes this a natural fit for Gitcoin, who introduced a zkSync checkout option in 2022.

Charm #3: Commitment

Passivity doesn’t build.

Giving collaborators something to both gain and lose could be an effective strategy for reducing collaborator in-flow. This might sound counterintuitive, but the idea is that only serious DAO bods will apply.

Weaving $GTC staking together with collaboration could act as a form of participation pledge. The concept is that collaborators stake $GTC, contribute to their chosen round or task, and then receive their stake back alongside a larger fulfillment reward. Failure to complete the agreed-upon pledge would result in losing the staked $GTC.

Assuming that the value of the end-game reward is greater than the stake, this could result in an effective path to creating accountability. A knock-on effect here is that the community ‘noise’ will be reduced, as committed individuals have clear goals, and thus operations will be more efficient overall.

A Magical Ending

Gitcoin is often cast as an Ethereum-only power in crypto, but that’s far from the truth. Polkadot, Cosmos, and Solana have all been supported by Gitcoin on their way to becoming beacons in their own right.

The fact is, Gitcoin epitomizes the spirit of open-source, collaborative Web3 development more than any other entity here. The Ethereum Foundation, as a contrast, is too inaccessible for most.

As Gitcoin pushes closer and closer to a decentralized model, now is the time to begin tweaking mental cogs instead of code and thinking about what will motivate its community members to stand up. Tinkering with simple elements of their model, and placing an emphasis on accountability, could set the path for a whole new wave of coordination alchemy.

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