6. Resources

6.2 Media

Want to get up to speed quickly? Check out these three videos:

  1. Capital and Enclosure in Software Commons: Linux & Ethereum

  2. Safeguarding Ethereum’s Soul

  3. Funding Core Protocol Stewardship

All media in chronological order:

Title

Event

Date

Enclosure of Software Commons and CoFi

CCA X Space

Jun 12 2024

Future of Public Goods Funding #9 - Protocol Guild

Eugene Leventhal X Space

Jun 11 2024

Capital and Enclosure in Software Commons: Linux & Ethereum

Summer of Protocols

27 Mar 2024

Protocol Guild: Funding Core Protocol Stewardship

EthDenver 2024

Mar 01 2024

Protocol Guild: Funding Core Protocol Stewardship

Avail Hot Take

Feb 26 2024

Protocol Guild Pledge Unlocking the future of Ethereum

PWN DAO X Space

Feb 20 2024

Taking the Protocol Guild Pledge

Taiko X Space

Feb 15 2024

Chatting with Epoch Two Public Goods

Octant X Space

Jan 29 2024

Safeguarding Ethereum’s Soul with Trent Van Epps

Blockchain Socialist

Dec 10 2023

Octant’s Epoch 1 Public Goods Funding Initiative

Gitcoin X Space

Oct 11 2023

Credibly Neutral Public Goods Funding w/ Trent

Strange Water Podcast

Oct 05 2023

Why We’re Donating 10% of Profits to PG

VanEck X Space

Oct 04 2023

Linux & Ethereum: Commoning vs Commodifying

Protocol Berg

Sep 15 2023

Funding Ethereum’s Core Protocol Work

FtC Berlin 2023

Sep 09 2023

The RetroPGF Podcast #8: Protocol Guild

Blockchain Guy X Space

Aug 31 2023

Funding & Incentivising Ethereum’s Core Protocol Dev.

EthCC 2023

Jul 18 2023

Octant’s EpochZero: Meet the Projects

Giveth X Space

Jul 10 2023

Funding & Incentivising Ethereum’s Core Protocol Dev.

ETHPrague 2023

Jun 09 2023

Funding & Incentivising Ethereum’s Core Protocol Dev.

SpaghettETH 2023

May 25 2023

Funding + Incentivizing Core Protocol Work

EDCON 2023

May 21 2023

Protocol Guild: 1 Year In with Tim and Cheeky

Green Pill Podcast

May 12 2023

Protocol Guild: Funding Ethereum’s Core Protocol Work

Zuzalu

Apr 12 2023

Public Goodies: Protocol Guild w/ Trent

ENS X Space

Apr 12 2023

Protocol Guild: 1 year old by Trent

Shelling Point

Mar 02 2023

Tech Video: 0xSplit setup for Protocol Guild

EthStaker Live Stream

Feb 06 2023

Community Call #24: Protocol Guild

EthStaker Community Call

Dec 12 2022

Lunch with Protocol Guild

DAOhouse DAOcember

Dec 05 2022

Funding Ethereum with the Protocol Guild

Devcon 6

Oct 12 2022

Funding Ethereum with the Protocol Guild

Funding the Commons

Jun 24 2022

Funding Ethereum Core Development

I Pledge Allegiance Podcast

Jun 20 2022

The Protocol Guild - The Daily Gwei #481

The Daily Gwei #481

May 13 2022

The Protocol Guild with Trent Van Epps

Green Pill Podcast #10

Apr 25 2022

Funding Ethereum Public Goods with the Protocol Guild

ETHDay (Devconnect)

Apr 18 2022

Overview of the Protocol Guild

Shelling Point

Feb 17 2022

Announcement post

Mirror

Dec 31 2021

6.3 Pilot

Protocol Guild’s 1-year pilot was kicked off on May 7th, 2022 with the deployment of the pilot vesting contract. This section contains documentation pertaining to the planning and execution of the pilot at that time, serving as a historical reference.

Pilot Rationale

How can we give core protocol contributors exposure to the broader success of the projects building on top of Ethereum? This has been a recurring topic for many years in our community. When the latest discussion resurfaced in Oct 2021, we started researching existing public goods funding mechanisms, to see if any offered a solution. Ultimately, we concluded that a new mechanism was needed.

What follows is a description of three main motivations as to why there should be a new mechanism, the individual challenges related to each, and the resulting design objectives for creating a new mechanism.

Curation is Difficult

Apps/L2s want to sponsor, but curation of the contributor set is difficult. Protocol contributors are interested in token upside, but self-organizing is hard.

  • There is no existing solution that collects all protocol contributors into one funding mechanism and consistently updates it. Expecting a single organization to curate and maintain this list by themselves is a pretty big ask when they’re not already involved in this work.

  • Design objective: Existing contributors should self-curate a list.

  • Existing solutions usually favor teams.

  • A meta-goal is to avoid governance and intermediation, giving as much agency to independent contributors as possible.

  • Design objective: Avoid intermediation, individuals are the atomic unit.

Incentives are Imbalanced

Financial incentives are skewed towards projects built on top of the protocol.

  • As a credibly neutral infrastructure with no block reward, Ethereum doesn’t offer the same token incentives with the same upside as apps/L2s. However, it still needs to attract and retain talent to continue to evolve the protocol.

  • As the Ethereum ecosystem continues to grow, competition for talented individuals will only increase. This isn’t to fault individuals for rationally weighting financial incentives, or protocols for leveraging the power of tokens - this is just the reality of our current situation.

  • We acknowledge that financial motivations aren’t the only or best motivator for people, it’s just one tool in our toolset that might be underleveraged.

  • Design objective: Nudge balance back to the protocol by getting sponsors to send tokens.

Too Much Contributor Turnover is Negative

There’s a steep learning curve for contributors to deliver value. It can take a while to be onboarded to a team, understand a client codebase, and start making meaningful contributions.

  • Design objective: Protocol contributors must be active for 6 months before becoming eligible for membership.

  • Contributor value grows over time, but there is less incentive for them to stay once they are experts.

  • Design objective: Assets should vest to reduce churn in the contributor set, to help transfer knowledge between cohorts.

  • Design objective: Weight contributor allocations according to time.

Summary

The new funding mechanism must provide autonomous funding and nudge the incentive balance towards the protocol. Sponsors who opt-in will be Ethereum-based applications, protocols, and individuals - this aligns well with our community’s existing voluntaryist mindset towards public goods funding.

Over the course of this ideation process, we realized that we cannot answer the original question (how to give contributors exposure to the success of the application layer), without answering a more general question: what would a mechanism to trustlessly fund protocol contributors look like? We believe the design of the Protocol Guild as described here is a strong approach to addressing both these questions.

Tradeoffs of Existing Mechanisms

The existing suite of protocol funding mechanisms have so far adequately supported the ecosystem, but come with their own tradeoffs:

  • Typically not forward looking, eg. they are usually retroactive

  • Tend to favor projects/teams instead of individuals

  • Formed around mediating institutions

  • Do not typically give exposure to the upside of application layer

In the future, there will certainly be ways for these existing funding mechanisms to collaborate and interoperate with the Protocol Guild.

Grants

Grants are a very common funding mechanism, seen in Gitcoin, the EF’s Ecosystem Support Program (ESP) and Ongoing Development teams, as well as application ecosystem programs like the Uniswap Grants Program (UGP). They tend to be best at rewarding contributions from the near-past to near-future. While these mechanisms may be well suited to their current applications, there are some limitations to their direct use in something like the Protocol Guild.

For Gitcoin Grants, it can be challenging to ensure accountability for grantees due to the amount of time and expertise it takes to perform due diligence. In addition, because round participants are effectively competing against each other for the same matching funds, it necessitates some amount of self-promotion. This wouldn’t work for large groups of individuals doing similar work like core developers, many of whom are more low profile. Collections (a curated set of Gitcoin profiles) could accomplish some of our objectives, but still does not include vesting, and doesn’t resolve issues related to custody and membership management. Finally, any prospective funder from the application layer has to rely on a mediating institution (e.g. the Ethereum Foundation, Gitcoin) to facilitate discovery, processing, and due diligence.

Retroactive Funding Programs

An explicitly historic-looking variant of grants includes Optimism’s RPG. These can account for past work, but are usually scoped to measure the contributions of teams or projects, instead of individuals. Furthermore, there is no guarantee of consistent funding, as there is a possibility of omission from subsequent rounds. In Gitcoin’s case, it can take a while for past contributions to be recognized and rewarded due to how discovery and grant promotion cycles work.

Independent Non-Profits

Some teams may opt to establish their own non-profit entities, e.g. the Nomic Foundation which stewards ongoing maintenance of Hardhat and other initiatives, announced in Q1 2022. The challenge is that the overhead to create a legal entity can be very high for a small team, and impossible for pseudonymous individual contributors. Additionally, the recurring burden of fundraising inevitably pits them in competition against each other, while further disadvantaging individual contributors.

Salaries

Salaries do target individuals, but are limited in that they can only account for the present and near future. Further, they are tied to a single legal organization, and can never be a good proxy for ecosystem value creation.

Case Studies

NOTE: What follows are theoretical high-impact scenarios. This is not a claim that funding will reach these amounts, only an exploration of possibilities.

Vested Assets in DAO Treasuries

Projects which previously launched a token could donate a portion of the tokens currently controlled by governance. Here’s a rough sample of what this might look like in practice, using the top 20 projects by unvested DAO holdings. (data taken from Open-Orgs.info by David Mihal on Nov. 11 2021). This is not meant to be a comprehensive survey. See the data behind the below charts here.

Name

Unvested Treasury

Vested Treasury

Uniswap

$11,032,128,273

$4,467,296,235

Lido

$1,013,369,806

$1,013,369,806

Aave

$710,995,680

$710,995,680

Olympus DAO

$695,596,511

$695,596,511

Synthetix

$459,754,748

$459,754,748

ENS

$4,814,784,391

$398,406,844

MakerDAO

$315,896,435

$315,896,435

Badger

$281,435,598

$281,435,598

Gitcoin

$643,282,372

$212,022,218

Yearn

$162,664,196

$162,664,196

SushiSwap

$143,079,883

$143,079,883

Alchemix

$124,448,531

$124,448,531

Balancer

$113,243,653

$113,243,653

DXdao

$112,487,482

$112,487,482

API3

$109,938,536

$109,938,536

BarnBridge

$108,304,172

$108,304,172

Nouns DAO

$67,661,963

$67,661,963

Index Coop

$65,258,192

$65,258,192

mStable

$51,208,814

$51,208,814

Nexus Mutual

$43,478,269

$43,478,269

Compound

$1,019,076,566

$37,806,182

.5% Donation

1% Donation

1.5% Donation

SUM

$48,471,770

$96,943,539

$145,415,309

Already we can see the significant benefit these donations would have. For these scenarios, we include 150 members on the split contract plus a 4 year vesting period.

Donations at Launch

The Protocol Guild really starts to show its promise when considering that projects start to include funding as part of launch parameters. The chart below takes the same 20 projects and distributes a portion of what the max supply would have been at launch. Of course, this is just an illustration - they didn’t all launch and contribute to the split at the same time.

Name

Max Supply at Launch

Price, Nov. 11

Uniswap

1,000,000,000

$25.71

Lido

1,000,000,000

$4.27

Aave

16,000,000

$312.93

Olympus DAO

5,041,746

$878.69

Synthetix

237,694,162

$9.99

ENS

100,000,000

$58.09

MakerDAO

1,005,577

$3,025.46

Badger

21,000,000

$32.40

Gitcoin

100,000,000

$9.36

Yearn

36,666

$33,903.79

SushiSwap

250,000,000

$11.23

Alchemix

2,393,060

$453.89

Balancer

100,000,000

$24.74

DXdao

148,976

$777.09

API3

106,940,994

$5.56

BarnBridge

10,000,000

$35.06

Index Coop

10,000,000

$28.64

mStable

100,000,000

$1.13

Nexus Mutual

6,898,110

$181.95

Compound

10,000,000

$335.91

.5% Donation

1% Donation

1.5% Donation

SUM

$329,723,413

$659,446,826

$989,170,239

We believe $2M-6.5M vested over 4 years to potential contributors will be a step in the right direction. The beauty of the mechanism is that there is no application process to participate as a sponsor: any entity can just send funds to the split contract, and the rest will happen without their involvement.

Pilot Smart Contract Architecture

As part of the design process for the Protocol Guild, we researched a number of smart contracts and ultimately settled on the Split and Vesting contracts from 0xSplits. Learn more about that project here.

0xSplits Contracts

Both the Vesting and Split contract can directly receive ETH and ERC-20 tokens. The Vesting contract gradually makes vested tokens transferable to the Split contract. The contract only accepts ETH and ERC-20s: DO NOT SEND NFTs (ERC-721s), they will not vest, cannot be split, and will be unrecoverable. Below are recommendations for which types of contributions to send to which contract.

Pilot Vesting Contract

  • Best for larger entities participating in the pilot.

  • Funds sent here will vest over 1 year.

  • 0xSplits interface / Etherscan

  • Verify that the full address being sent to is 0xF29F…f1a9. In the future, there may be additional vesting contracts with different vesting schedules. -Note that there are two steps: depositing and starting the stream. See the documentation for more information.

Split Contract

  • Best for smaller donations outside of the pilot, or regular periodic contributions.

  • Funds sent to this contract will not vest, instead they’ll be immediately available for withdrawal by the core contributors listed in the contract.

  • 0xSplits interface / Etherscan

  • Verify that the full address being sent to is 0x84af…8ea1. While the addresses and weights contained in the contract are mutable, the address of the contract itself will be used in perpetuity and will not change. Outside of the unlikely case that the Split management (multisig) gets compromised, it’s reasonable for sponsors to assume that this address will never change, to facilitate automatic or recurring contributions. If this changes, we will be sure to communicate this publicly.

The diagram below illustrates a set of 0xSplits contracts and how the Guild intends to operate them.

0xsplits horizontal

Out of all the existing mechanisms we explored, 0xSplits fulfills many of our original design objectives.

  • Accepts common asset types

    • To preserve the upside potential of donated assets, it’s crucial that the split accepts ERC-20s in addition to ETH.

  • Immutable distribution

    • No individual can redirect assets outside of what is dictated by the split membership and its vesting parameters for each period. The terms of the vesting length, past members and their weights cannot be modified once deployed. However, it should be noted that if the Guild’s multisig were to be compromised, any unvested amounts could be stolen.

  • Non-custodial

    • No member should have even temporary discretion over vested or unvested funds, a designated address holds funds before a member manually sends them on to another component.

  • Mutable membership

    • It should be possible to add and remove beneficiaries from the split. Managing additions and removals would be the responsibility of the membership. Updates are important because the contributor set will change over time. If we can’t add newcomers to this list, then the recurring cost to redeploy the contract and redirect the split would become an unnecessary expense.

  • Includes vesting

    • In order to provide long-term incentives, donated assets should be subject to a vesting period. The vesting schedule for the pilot will be ~1 year, while subsequent vesting periods will likely last 4 years. This should be discussed and set by the split beneficiaries, with consideration for the expectations of donating entities. The vesting terms deployed with the contract should not be modifiable by any party.

    • 0xSplits allows the Guild to deploy the initial contract with optionality over desired launch date, vesting time, etc.

    • The same vesting contract can be reused for many donations, either from the same org or different ones. The avoids unnecessary gas + time costs to sponsors. The vesting terms are the same for each donation.

  • Multi-claims are straightforward

    • Members are able to claim their allocation from multiple eligibility windows and multiple assets in a single transaction.

  • Members decide when to take custody/withdraw

    • Members should be able to decide when and how they withdraw funds from the mechanism, to suite the tax framework of the jurisdiction they reside within.

  • Donations have finality

    • It is not possible to remove donated assets from the Vesting Contract by anyone other than the beneficiaries.

Guild Multisig

While it’s possible for the contract to be “set and forget,” we plan to fully leverage its mutable capabilities. For longer vesting schedules (e.g. 4 years), there will definitely be changes to the contributor set that will need to be accounted for.

We have deployed a 6/10 Gnosis Safe here to take on a few key tasks that cannot be handled autonomously. This includes updating the membership list, and possibly deploying new vesting contracts (though this can also be done by unrelated EOAs with no reduction in trust).

Members and sponsors should be aware that if a malicious entity were to compromise enough signers, they could steal any assets that haven’t been released (4a in the diagram above) and distributed (4b) to beneficiaries of the Split contract. For this reason we won’t disclose the name of signers and will regularly rotate them, expanding the set of signers when possible. Further, releases and distributions should occur on a regular cadence (quarterly) to limit the impact of the multisig being compromised.

Anticipated Concerns

While we can’t conceive of every scenario, we’ve tried to think critically about deficiencies when they’ve presented themselves.

Related to Operations

Shouldn’t one-off contributions be considered for membership?

  • Every mechanism has its limit. The Protocol Guild may meet its at the edges of contribution, where someone has meaningfully contributed to a project, but does not work on it consistently, or produces something as a one-off. This remains an open question, and might be considered for a future weighting scheme if there are no major issues.

Why are weightings not more granular?

  • While it’s true that some people are objectively more productive in their work / valuable to the protocol, adding a weighting scheme to a membership this large would introduce complexity with each membership update. There would also be unknown, probably negative social dynamics related to valuing contributions of peers.

  • It’s worth a note of caution against heading too far down the path of data and hyper-specificity when it comes to evaluating contributions. We suspect this would lead to the introduction of a public facing component, which would privilege people who have previously been working on the protocol. Such individuals would have the benefit of additional time to form themselves into the shape the political and social structures are looking to latch onto. Metrics, rubrics breed subtle exploits, entrench power.

  • Ideally, under any weighting scheme, the margin between contributor profile should not be overly large relative to the others.

How can curators or signers abuse their position of trust?

  • Fundamentally, this is a political tool. In negative outcomes, whoever maintains the member eligibility can influence research areas and interests people have in certain sections of the protocol. Want to get the merge done? Add more client implementers at the expense of other ecosystem categories. This kind of manipulation is unlikely to actually happen as it would harm the mechanism’s legitimacy.

  • Or worse, the existing signers decide not to honor the agreed upon outcomes from weighting deliberations, go slightly rogue. In this case, we can imagine some contributors deciding to ride it out until vesting has completed. In other situations, a significant portion of the members could collectively abandon the stream in solidarity. Or, they could claim and send the wrapped tokens to the burn address as a gesture of protest.

How can this be gamed?

  • As the mechanism scales, it’s inevitable that the amount of attention given by a core group of Guild members will eventually fall, become less thorough. At a sufficiently high number of members, unscrupulous developers might invent phantom co-workers and redirect the split shares to themselves. This is one area where the mechanism relies on mutual trust to avoid abuse.

What happens if a large percent of infrastructure contributors decide not to participate? Or, what if a significant number of contributors join and then decide to leave the split?

  • The mechanism’s legitimacy is predicated on broad participation. If enough contributors decline, this may not be an appropriate tool for incentivizing work on public goods. In the latter case, the vesting would still continue but it may be difficult to solicit additional donations.

How will members handle conflicts about list inclusion, eg. when someone starts doing well-intentioned but poorly executed work?

  • Eligibility criteria should be given special care, as much as the contract or the outreach to donating entities. These should be communicated publicly and frequently with change history, eg. GitHub. Any decisions which sidestep transparent processes undermines the mechanism’s legitimacy.

What other failure modes have not been explored in-depth yet?

  • The membership is updated to only include addresses controlled by the attackers.

  • More cleverly, they only dilute the existing membership a little bit, or adjusting the weights just enough to favor certain set of contributors.

  • Members selling early access to their shares to capitalize early into a stream, or taking a loan against them and committing to stay at least as long as their agreements dictate.

What happens when enough signers get compromised?

  • This would damage the trust donating entities put into the members, as well as any future efforts to restart something similar.

What use cases can you anticipate wanting in the future that 0xSplits can’t facilitate today?

  • Lending markets built into the vesting stream

  • Programmatically dripping membership

  • Extensions that let users automate a custom functions like “claim and sell to DAI”

What are some ways that curation can fail?

  • There are edge cases which should be considered. For example, where the marginal legitimacy lost by excluding a given contributor is too low to get curators to push for their inclusion.

  • The initial set of curators fails to expand beyond their social graphs, but still accumulates enough members to accomplish a state of “good enough” legitimacy.

  • The social norms that build up around the mechanism are sufficiently powerful to draw in continued donations even though it just barely hits the “good enough” threshold.

Related to the Broader Community

Will this replace existing salaries?

  • No, this should be perceived as a bonus on top of current pay: employers/DAOs should pretend as though it doesn’t exist. Furthermore, employers/DAOs won’t be able to tell whether members have submitted their own address, or that of a charity. It would not be ethical to compel charity disclosures.

What if this ends up being a significant amount?

  • If this mechanism doesn’t accrue significant funds, then it’s not really working properly. Vested donations should be significant enough to inspire new contributors to join core development. However, there should be deeper incentive analyses and the thresholds at which they get funky.

Why don’t contributors ask for some multiple of their current salary?

  • As discussed in the tradeoffs section above, traditional orgs will never be able to match the upside that comes from working on a novel tokenized application or L2.

Aren’t donated assets a form of bribe?

  • No. This would be a very inefficient form of bribing, as the large membership distribution dilutes any targeted intent. It would be much more effective to bribe individuals, which can already happen today without a split contract. It could even be argued that this mechanism makes bribes less effective, because bribes are most effective in situations of relative wealth inequality. By raising the holdings of core developers, they are less likely to be swayed by individual financial offers. Of course, this is completely opt-in and protocol contributors are welcome to redirect their share to e.g. other public goods projects. Only when there are relatively few donating entities could the mechanism become more susceptible to bribes. Or, if the relative amount donated by one entity dwarfs that given by others.

What about including past protocol contributors?

  • Not advisable, as this would complicate inclusion decisions. The split is supposed to incentivize current and future contributors.

Will this compete with Gitcoin or other similar efforts?

  • We feel that this mechanism is differentiated enough (ie. forward looking, core protocol focused, vested, biases towards native tokens as opposed to USD) that the overlap may appear larger than it actually is. However, there may be some donating entities that feel like they are already “doing their part” with donations to one initiative and may not feel obligated to contribute to the other. We believe that it’s healthy to have a number of autonomous & differentiated funding approaches towards public goods.

Culture / Big Questions

How long should the Protocol Guild exist?

  • It’s unclear when, but at some point it should probably cease to exist. It may end up no longer being an effective draw to retain talent, or may become corrupted or otherwise coopted, or may even become unnecessary if (when) the protocol completes its evolutionary course. However, members present in the lead up to that possible future should be attentive to the signs of negative outcomes. The inertia to maintain itself will be self-animating, an egregore harnessed by the mystic capabilities of core Ethereum development. Inasmuch, the egregore desires to continue living and will therefore recognize attempts to curtail its growth. Members would do well to remember that this has been the case from the beginning, and remind new cohorts of developers of this reality as they are onboarded.

Why hasn’t anyone built this before?

  • It’s unlikely that one project from the ecosystem would have the capacity to take responsibility for all the coordination efforts related to collecting and maintaining a list of contributors. If it did happen, the project would eventually find themselves with an immense amount of power as the gatekeeping curator.

  • The contacts did not exist until now (0xSplits).

  • Core devs are largely too focused on other things to coordinate such an effort

Broadly, how will this design fail?

  • If voluntaryism and donation-based funding does not scale sufficiently to the levels this mechanism needs in order to be effective.

  • If developers reject the responsibilities and pressures associated with self-governing an asset stream.

Will long-term vesting lead to stagnation in core development roles?

  • In the sense of gatekeeping/groupthink/capture, we sincerely hope not. There’s certainly a possibility that previously effective people may get stuck in a position if the incentive is significant enough. However, this is no different from any other job with performance requirements, crypto or otherwise. If someone is not performing adequately, they will be removed from their job and then from the list. If anything, the infusion of new perspectives as the set grows will be a healthy process.

  • With the conclusion of each vesting period, everyone starts at 0 again, having to convince other members (and more broadly, the public), that they are legitimate heirs to the Protocol Guild name and legacy. Competition for scarce political purchase means there will be alliances, intrigue, rebalances. Anyone can copy this blueprint and create their own competing versions. We anticipate that even the initial cohort now will unavoidably have its own political undercurrents! A blooming society actively evolves their systems to avoid settling into patterns too soon. So we should continue - see the approaching Leviathan peeking over the horizon, pull ourselves towards well considered implementations, norms, visions. Subtle frameworks like this interface between the social and the economic resources a group traffics in. They are dense confluences of swirling power - what we’re doing is preempting inevitability.

Pilot Retrospective

This retro was written April 10th 2024

The Protocol Guild was initially launched as a 1-year pilot which ran from May 2022 until May 2023. The mechanism tied together new components and ideas like self-curation, time-weighting and eligibility frameworks, to create a novel collective funding mechanism for Ethereum’s core protocol maintainers.

At the time, the decision to establish a new funding mechanism might have appeared counterintuitive, considering Ethereum’s ecosystem had already given birth to a suite of innovative funding programs. Some of these programs focused on distributing grants via DAO / token-holder voting (e.g. ENS, Uniswap), others leveraged quadratic funding (e.g. Gitcoin), while others sought to recognize impact via retroactive public goods funding (e.g. Optimism RPGF).

Yet, while these funding programs have many positive qualities (such as accessibility to diverse grantees, consistent funding schedules and taking on operational overhead), they were not optimized for allocating funding to a diverse set of individuals contributing to Ethereum’s decentralized and “bazaar” style core protocol development.

Protocol Guild’s opinionated approach was to have Ethereum’s core protocol maintainers themselves curate and maintain a list of their peers, i.e. individuals actively working on building and maintaining Ethereum’s core protocol. This list could then be embedded into onchain contracts which would vest donations directly to members.

A simple time-weighting formula was implemented to allocate funds to contributors. This recognized longevity and consistent contributions with a higher share of donated funds. This mechanism could then be seamlessly integrated into existing funding programs as a beneficiary, harnessing established funding channels to create robust incentives for attracting and retaining Ethereum’s core protocol maintainers over time.

Of course everything above was - at the time - based on assumptions that needed to be validated in practice. This is why the decision was made to start with a relatively small-scale pilot, to evaluate the practicality, efficiency, and usefulness of the mechanism - before scaling it further. This phased approach allowed for the collection of internal and external feedback, identify areas needing improvement, and use all that to make informed, iterative adjustments..

Now - almost one year after the conclusion of the pilot! - we are happy to share our consolidated learnings. Since the pilot ended, we’ve had time to survey the membership and be introspective about not just the results of the pilot, but also where the Protocol Guild should go from here.

Results To-Date

The below stats include the period starting May 7th 2022 (when the pilot’s vesting contract was deployed), until the time of writing (April 10th 2024). All data can be seen in our Dune Dashboard here, while a dashboard specifically for the 1-year pilot period can be seen here.

Fundraising Stats

  • To date Protocol Guild has received 7.6k donations from 488 unique addresses, totalling $14mm in value at the time of donation

  • The average donation totalled $1.8k, but this was skewed by a small number of very large donations, as indicated by the median donation being $3

  • The first significant donation (and 6th overall) came from Lido DAO, with 2mm LDO tokens worth $2.8mm at the time, which made Lido the largest individual donor during the pilot

  • However, the largest donor for the last year has been Arbitrum, with a donation of 3mm ARB tokens, worth $3.5mm when donated

  • There were also two very generous individuals who managed to round out the top 10 donor leaderboard: Tetranode and Anthony Sassano

  • Two artistic projects also made the top 15 list of donors: Stateful Works and When Merge

  • Optimism is missing from the donor leaderboard because, although the Guild was the top recipient in RPGF2 (and RPGF3!), we haven’t actually claimed those funds yet

  • All donated funds vested linearly for 12 months from the time they were donated, and today 93% of the donated funds have finished vesting

Overall, we are exceptionally grateful to every single individual and project who has supported the Protocol Guild to date. These donations validated the Protocol Guild as a funding mechanism for Ethereum’s core protocol development, and was another clear demonstration of the great values that permeate the ecosystem.

1 2 3 4

Membership

Protocol Guild’s membership of core protocol maintainers is updated quarterly, and each member’s share of donated funds is determined via a simple time-weighting formula, with longer contributions resulting in a higher weight.

  • Today Protocol Guild has 167 members, up from 90 members at the start

  • On average each member has received $137k since Protocol Guild launched, with the median receiving $130k (valued at time of writing)

  • Currently the member with the largest weight gets 1.1030% of all vested funds, while the newest member with the smallest weight gets 0.2553%

  • The largest individual allocation totalled almost $410k!

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Gas Fees

Operating Protocol Guild’s smart contract architecture on mainnet naturally requires paying gas fees, e.g. to update the membership, starting + releasing vesting streams for donations, and distributing vested funds. Given that it is very likely Protocol Guild members themselves who are paying these gas fees, we started tracking this onchain expenditure to quantify how gas-efficient the mechanism is relative to the amount being donated.

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Membership Survey

We conducted an extensive survey among the Protocol Guild’s membership when the pilot ended. The survey aimed to gauge members’ perspectives on various aspects of the Guild, including its strategy, governance, operations, and smart contract architecture.

High-Level Strategy

The Protocol Guild was created in part to help make Ethereum more resilient, by providing another diversified funding channel to support core protocol development. But, is the Protocol Guild actually net-positive for Ethereum? The answer appeared to be a resounding “Yes” from Protocol Guild members, with a mean of 4.75/5, indicating strong agreement (Question 1).

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, this also meant that, on average, members were strongly aligned with the Guild’s overall processes and strategy, with a mean score of 4.58/5 (Question 2).

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However, this score was slightly lower than the prior (4.75 vs 4.58), and this difference appears to be caused by issues with the Guild’s member nomination process, as we’ll explore next.

Membership Curation

Protocol Guild’s membership is self-curated - meaning it is the existing members that coordinate to add or remove members. To manage this, the Protocol Guild uses rough consensus a la core protocol development. This process requires members to create written proposals to add new members, posted on Protocol Guild’s Github. Once posted, there’s a discussion period, and assuming no significant objections, the nomination is accepted after 1 week.

As straightforward as that may sound, the mean score to the question “[is the] process to get nominated and join the Guild [clear]”, was lower than expected: 3.88/5, with a standard deviation of 1.15 (Question 9). This suggests that most members found the process clear, but not all.

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The fact that this process can be improved was also evident in the question about whether or not the “curation/nomination process [was] smooth and effective” (Question 15). Here the mean score was 4.07/5, still lower than ideal.

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Given that there were two questions that indicated that there was room for improvement with the nomination process, one must wonder how this impacted the output of the process itself: the membership registry. Question 17 asked if “the curated membership during the Pilot was an accurate representation of core protocol contributors”, and the mean score was 4.10/5. Now, if the Protocol Guild’s core function is to curate a membership registry of Ethereum’s core protocol contributors, then this score should be much closer to 5.

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These three questions indicated that there’s work to be done improving the nomination process, which would ultimately also help ensure that the Protocol Guild’s membership remains the most accurate representation of Ethereum’s core protocol contributor set. The actions taken to address this can be seen in “Pilot Reflection” section “Membership Curation” further below.

Architecture

One of the central features of the pilot was that donated funds vested linearily over 1 year, to build long-term incentives for members to continue working on the core protocol. This was implemented in an effort to reduce membership churn and facilitate knowledge handover - very important given the specialized knowledge contributors have. Overall, members found that the “vested distribution is useful and incentivizes long-term contributions”, with a mean score of 4.54/5 (Question 19).

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There was however some disagreement about how long funds should vest after the pilot. Question 25 showed that 72% of members thought the vesting should be longer than 1 year, but there was disagreement about how long exactly. On average the results indicated that funds should vest for 2.5 years, whereas previously there were discussions to vest funds over 4 years. This brought up interesting discussions internally, about how longer vesting timelines helps create income security for contributors, while also acknowledging that e.g. 4 years could represent an entire market cycle, and could lead to imbalanced funding. Ultimately a 4-year vesting period was chosen for after the pilot, as described in section “Protocol Guild V2”.

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Other questions related to the Protocol Guild’s architecture revolved around the retroactive time weighting, which essentially rewards members for being long-term contributors. The time weighting is actually a square root function of the numbers of months a member has been actively contributing, multiplied by either 1 or 0.5, depending on if the member is contributing full time or part time. Time was selected here because it represents the most objective measurement of impact, while sidestepping the need for subjective interpretations of how to quantify “impact”.

Question 18 asked if “[this] time-weighting mechanism is sufficiently fair”, and the mean response was 4.05/5. Following up on this, Question 23 then asked how the tiers should be changed, with 57% wanting to keep things unchanged, 18% wanting to add more tiers, while 8% thought the membership should only have one tier, for those working full-time.

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Again these questions created interesting internal discussions, specifically if the weighting tiers should be used as a forcing function to encourage more full-time contributors to Ethereum’s core protocol development (e.g. by removing the “part-time” tier, or by lowering part-time weights), or if it should be used as a reward function to reward anyone who is contributing (e.g. by allowing quarter-time contributors). Ultimately it was decided that no changes needed to be made to the time-weighting tiers for now.

Funding

Overall, 88% of members found that the amount raised for the pilot was “appropriate” (Question 13), but members would have liked to see more variety in donors (Question 14), a reaction to the vast majority of funding coming from five large donations from ecosystem entities: Lido, ENS, Uniswap, Nouns DAO and Moloch DAO. These donations were solicited directly by members via governance proposals, but the hope is that Protocol Guild can move away from such proactive fundraising in the future, as more projects intuitively embrace the norm of giving back to the protocol work they depend on.

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But was the amount raised enough to incentivize contributors to continue contributing? Around 84% of members agreed that the Protocol Guild had a “positive” effect on “[their] decision to start/continue working on the core protocol” (Question 16). Similarly, members agreed that “anticipated future incentives (fundraising post-Pilot) [makes] me want to continue my core protocol work”, with a mean score of 4.34/5 (Question 24).

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Overall, the post-pilot survey demonstrated that Protocol Guild made a successful start to its stated purpose of rebalancing incentives for Ethereum’s core protocol contributors.. However, there were clearly some small tweaks that could be made (e.g. to the nomination process and eligibility framework), to help maximize the Protocol Guild’s effectiveness. The actions taken in the year since the pilot ended will be explored in the next section!

Pilot Reflection

The 1-year pilot served as a successful proof of concept for how an onchain mechanism can be deployed to help rebalance financial incentives for Ethereum’s core protocol work.

Fundraising

We reached our fundraising target ($10mm), and indeed almost that entire amount came from just five governance proposals:Lido ($2.8m),Uniswap ($2.7m),ENS ($1.8m),Nouns DAO ($0.8m) and Moloch DAO ($0.8m). Since the pilot ended, we’ve also seen more unsolicited donations including Arbitrum’s 3mm ARB donation as part of their token generation event. That donation, worth $3.5mm at the time, has kept Arbitrum at the top of our donor leaderboard at the time of writing.

However, more work needs to be done to bootstrap the norm that projects built on Ethereum donate a portion of their tokens towards Ethereum’s core protocol development.

Operations

As highlighted in the membership survey, members didn’t always feel informed about what was happening with the Protocol Guild (e.g. fundraising efforts or planned architecture changes). In response to this, we started having weekly internal calls to provide a consistent time and place for the membership to receive updates. These weekly calls have proven valuable in engaging more members with the Protocol Guild’s operations, and continue to this day.

However, the weekly calls were an example of the significant time and effort associated with managing Protocol Guild’s operations (fundraising, coordinating membership updates, improving the mechanism etc.). Overall the Guild’s operations in these bootstrapping stages required more time than most members should reasonably commit, given the mechanism should enable focus on the core protocol, and not distract from it!

Fortunately, halfway through the pilot, Protocol Guild acquired an external contributor who was eventually made a Protocol Guild member to shoulder some of this operational burden. However, figuring out how to onboard and retain new contributors should be kept top-of-mind for the future, to ensure that operations never become a bottleneck for this mechanism to exist.

Membership Curation

There were four significant changes to membership management that came out of the Pilot:

  • More explicit eligibility

    • This change better specified the kinds of contributions that define the core protocol. We believe this change has successfully addressed the issues surfaced in the pilot survey, though we will try to quantify that in future membership surveys.

  • Removal of Solidity from eligibility & membership

    • One of the results of the eligibility changes was the removal of Solidity contributors, some of which had previously been part of the Pilot. The reasoning for this change can be seen here and here - broadly, this was inconsistent with the goals of PG funding a narrow scope centered around the core protocol and not expanding into dev tooling.

  • Clarify the distinction between proposing new projects/teams and individuals

  • Membership repo no longer private

    • While the pilot survey indicated that members were comfortable keeping the repo private (to avoid self-censorship during new member discussions), ultimately it was agreed that the benefits of transparent processes outweighed the negatives.

      • Transparency is the norm throughout Ethereum. We should hold ourselves to the same standard where it makes sense

      • Having an open operational record offers prospective members a reference for qualified contributions. This will be increasingly more important as funding scales and the incentives to join the Guild increase.

      • Funders and the broader Ethereum community deserve a window into Protocol Guild’s curation to both understand/engage with the mechanism and in the worst case, to act as a secondary check on it getting stale / losing legitimacy

Overall, the pilot was invaluable in verifying our assumptions about the efficacy of this kind of funding mechanism for Ethereum’s core protocol development, and we are excited to build on all the pilot’s learnings with the next iteration of the Protocol Guild.

Protocol Guild v2

A key piece of our long-term vision is the Protocol Guild Pledge, wherein we aim to make Ethereum’s core protocol work economically rational on a risk-adjusted basis, by normalizing that projects built on Ethereum donate 1% of their native token to the Protocol Guild. However, to achieve this goal it will be necessary to scale fundraising orders of magnitude beyond the pilot.

Accordingly, Protocol Guild’s smart contract architecture will need to be upgraded to remove trusted components, manual input and offchain dependencies. Work on these new contracts has been underway since the end of the pilot, and will be implemented on a modular basis as and when they are ready.

While waiting for this new smart contract architecture, a new immutable vesting contract will be deployed which vests funds linearly over 4 years (as opposed to 1 year during the pilot). The Github PR related to the ratifying this vesting duration can be seen here. Although the membership survey indicated a preference for a shorter vesting period, it was ultimately agreed that sticking with the industry standard (4 years) made the most sense to facilitate donations and incentivize long-term contributions. That being said, we consider 4 years to be the default, but not a requirement - any donor can deploy their own vesting contract and point it to our V2 split with a shorter / longer vesting period!

Overall, Protocol Guild’s future iterations will aim to replicate everything that worked well in the pilot, but with increased transparency, trustlessness and the removal of offchain dependencies. We hope that these changes, plus the 4-year vesting period, will encourage more projects built on Ethereum to take the Protocol Guild Pledge, to support the core protocol work they depend on.

Conclusion

With the tremendous success of raising $14+ million from 7.5k donations, we believe that the Protocol Guild has been validated as an effective funding mechanism. On behalf of all Protocol Guild members, we extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone who contributed. We are deeply humbled and incredibly grateful for our ecosystem’s unwavering support of Ethereum’s core protocol work.

But this is just the beginning! Ethereum’s core protocol development roadmap remains as exciting as ever, and we are committed to implementing changes to the Protocol Guild to make it an even more effective conduit for funding this vital work.

If you’re passionate about Ethereum’s future and want to join us on this exciting journey, please consider taking the Protocol Guild Pledge, or reach out on our Discord to explore other ways to contribute.