The Meta Trap 🪤

I recently learned about something called Meta-ness.

If you think a typical cause has very high impact, it seems quite plausible that you can have even higher impact by working one level of “meta” up – working not on that cause directly, but instead working on getting more people to work on that cause. [The Meta Trap]

“meta” means “promoting impact in abstract, with the hope that people do good object level projects in the future”. I’m talking about work that is trying to promote our mission in the abstract and may or may not have impact at the object level.

Now that we know about Meta, we can provide a few thoughts on the Meta Trap from this excellent post on it in the context of Effective Altruism:

Applications at Gitcoin

When you fund a project in the context of Effective altruism, or in our case, Quadratic Funding x Effective Altruism - #2 by owocki , it can have either object level impact or meta level impact.

When you do work on GitcoinDAO, it can either have object level impact or meta level impact.

Not all projects are worthwhile, and those that are at higher levels of meta are bigger risks to ever become worthwhile. While some projects that have been funded at GitcoinDAO have been higher levels of meta, and some have been lower levels of meta, I’ve found that the lower level ones are more sure things whereas the higher levels of meta require more of a leap of faith to invest in.

Here is this idea laid out visually.

As the DAO clarifies is Purpose / Essential intent , the DAO should look out for meta traps. A few common Meta Traps from the Thoughts on the Meta Trap post:

  • Meta Trap #1a. Probability of not having an impact
  • Meta Trap #1b. Overestimating impact

Watch out for the Meta Trap

I encourage yall to read about the Meta Trap and consider it as you go about your day to day work.

My personal take having gone through multiple periods of Abundance & Scarcity is that during times of abundance projects tend to get funded that are higher meta, and during times of scarcity, lower meta projects are the focus. Hoping to see the DAO get more confident at estimating the probability of success of each project (using Meta-ness as an input and adjusting its ability to validate the priority of each project accordingly) as the market moves into a point of more scarcity. Hopefully this will pay dividends by providing for a more smooth budgeting process in the future as workstreams won’t get caught by surprise that their high-Meta project isnt funded in the future.

I’d welcome any feedback.


Very interesting post, reading this is actually quite illuminating and helps me understand why Gitcoin works like it does today. When you’ve started to build Gitcoin (or realized down the road) was the organization aware about EA and “meta” when you decided to go more “meta” levels up at once with the ecosystem/cause rounds? :slight_smile:

I can only guess what level of responsability and work ethic you posses Kevin, but speaking from the trenches of analyzing grants and mapping out some of the vulnerabilities in that area we may face some obstacles in the near future.( don’t want to be a negative nancy, trying to present my perspective)

“If you take meta-charity too far, you get a movement that’s really good at expanding itself but not necessarily good at actually helping people. This is “the meta trap” and this sequence explores why falling into it is a bad idea.”

Unfortunately I believe this has already started, I can’t ofc see things the way you do, but I can talk about the things that I’ve personally encountered since I joined Gitcoin DAO a year ago.

Gitcoin is becoming more and more popular and it’s awesome. Gitcoin grants are starting to be very popular for builders from “N” domains and it’s amazing, but the negative consequence is that while this growth also fuels our ecosystems it could also be very problematic. The number of fake grant, grants that “emulate” EA and fraudulent applications is increasing at an accelerated rate. I don’t have the exact numbers(it’s almost impossible to track), but I will surely attempt to approximate these numbers for GR14. (I’m the “Round Manager” from the FDD and one of my responsabilitites is to filter grant applications from a sybil perspective and also eligibility perspective before approving them on the platform).

My opinion is that this is a consequence of the “meta-trap”. The collective altruism and high level overview on things here attracts parasites at the lower levels, both internally and externally :worm: (because sometimes they are hard to spot) :dart:

I’m very curious what you think, could we attract the “wrong” type of audience and is this is small consequence of the “meta-trap” that you described? (or I’m making bad connections by linking these two aspects).

I know that you’re more interested in high level overviews and architectures, but I’ve heard that the most successful builders can zoom out, but when needed they can also zoom in :slight_smile:

Id say that QF is a very efficient way of meta-coordinating resource allocation + still creating object level impact. I’m very excited for a future that contains Quadratic Funding x Effective Altruism - #2 by owocki too.

The other inflection point where the project has gotten really META has been the DAO spend. The DAO is going to spend about $4mm in S14. This increased spend since the DAO launched hasn’t created that much more (or better) object level impact YET, but I think that might change.

IMO the last year of spend hasn’t been incredibly efficient inso far (Bull market gitcoin was trapped in the meta trap) as it has not created more object level impact (about $4mm deployed on the platform :: $4mm in spend, so a ratio of 1:1 of meta spending to object level spend) than when Holdings used to run the rounds on about $300k/quarter.

  1. Scale + economies of scale, and
  2. Further focus of this spend on Grants 2.0 +
  3. focus on the Q3/Q4 Essential Intents

would likely course correct this.

Hoping to decentralize these things too :slight_smile:

In his POS designs, Vitalik talks a lot about how you should make a system more economical to defend than it is to attack. Borrowing inspiration from this, maybe something that could be considered here to disincentivize this spam (or at least make it less economical) is requiring ppl to make a deposit of a certain number of ETH/GTC to get into the registry or get reviewed? cc @lthrift

I’m very excited about he nitty gritty in addition to the high level architetures :). I’m just stronger at the technology nitty gritty vs other parts of the DAO’s nitty gritty IMO.

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We do plan to have an on chain component of adding a project to the registry from Grant Hub as well as publishing an on chain application for a grant round. Project owners/grantees will pay the gas to publish on chain. As you’ve stated, the expectation is that it requires grantees to have some minimal skin the game and disincentivizes spam.

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I fully agree with this. The bull market has closed our collective eyes and we just thought we will live in Wonderland 4 ever. I sometimes think that our Ethos is too permissive hence we attract a lot of people that could be well intended, but just don’t know what the core mission is and to be honest we also have a lot of people inside the DAO that threat it like a cow and “overmilk it”. :cow:

We discussed than specifically during the Grants weekly tactical( a call setup by Nate that has the scope of coordinating everything related to the gitcoin grants. All workstreams have representatives ,support-Daops, FDD, MMM and PGF). It will help a lot to raise the barrier of entry, but the mindset of the attackers is to game the system and this will just be a matter of “ROI” for them…(my opinion).

It is not only spammers that we are worried about, we have entire organisations that have the goal of getting that sweet matching… In GR12 and GR13 we “caught” projects that had 50-150k raised and considerable matchings.

Yes, you are right about that, sorry for the confusion :smiley:

I would ask what do you perceive as object level impact zones and how could we tackle those? :slight_smile:

PS. I think you managed decentralizing the ethic very well :slight_smile: . Wish you could also decentralize the responsability in a way that makes others more conscientious :dart:


I envision a future where:

  1. most object-level work (charitable projects) has verified impact per dollar.

  2. organizations turn their outcomes into NFTs (impact certificates as you call them).

In such a world, it should be possible to track the exact impact of each grant. Maybe Gitcoin even receives impact certificates in exchange for funding.

If Gitcoin funds a project a layer up the meta stack, maybe impact certificates can be transferred up the stack as well.

Impact certificates are to grant funders what equity is to investors.