General feedback for applications

Since we (program staff) don’t have time to provide office-hours feedback to all projects, based on the RFCs posted so far, here are a few general tips for all applicants. Please consider applying these, whether you’ve already posted an RFC, or are still drafting one. We’ll add to these lists as we think of more. Our goal is to nudge you towards the best versions of the ideas you’re thinking of. Remember, you can keep tweaking/editing your application and RFC until the April 12 deadline.

For PIGs:

  1. Target Real Protocols™: For PIGs, Pick a real, in-use-by-normies protocol to improve. A speculative protocol you’re building that nobody uses yet is not a suitable target. For example, voting as people actually practice it somewhere in elections is a suitable target. A proposed voting mechanism that nobody anywhere uses yet is not a suitable target (though it can be the basis of trying to improve voting). TEST: Does some group of people other than you and your friends use the target protocol, that you could talk to?

  2. Avoid abstractions. Don’t describe the improvable protocol in general, abstract terms. Describe it in terms of how people actually use it. Don’t say “Target protocol: Coordination system for multiple moving airborne agents with human supervisors.” Say “Air traffic control protocols coordinated by human air-traffic controllers.” Aim for object-level as a starting point, avoid going “meta” on a broad class of similar things. To truly go meta you need a powerful general idea or insight. For example “packet switching over circuit switching” is a meta design principle that applies to many types of network and transport protocols but you need the “packet” idea to get there. If you don’t have one, it’s better to focus on a specific example like “container shipping” or “Ethernet” rather than “improved general networks”

  3. Mechanisms over Manifestos: You probably have some idealistic principles motivating your proposal, which is great. But exhorting people to be better or adopt some new form of virtuous behavior isn’t a protocol improvement proposal. An interesting or counterintuitive mechanism or incentive pattern that could catalyze more virtuous behavior is. Example: a clever idea for placing trash cans rather than signs encouraging cleanliness.

  4. Improvement != Incremental: Just because we’re asking for ideas to improve existing, established protocols doesn’t mean the ideas have to be conservative or incremental. For example, jet engines were a radical advance in airplane propulsion, but improved a mature existing approach to airplane design. Mastodon, Bluesky and Farcaster improve on Twitter, but do so in radical ways.

  5. Don’t Bullshiit: Yes, the definition of protocol is nebulous and ambiguous, but your application is going to be seen and reviewed by a lot of people who have spent between a year and decades thinking about the essence of protocols. We’ll be able to tell when you’re getting at something truly protocolish vs. wrapping a regular product or change idea in protocol language.

  6. Look for ideas that can spread “horizontally” in a win-win way, while you focus “vertically.” For example, an idea to improve safety in one domain that others can apply in other domains.


  1. Shitpost++ over Serious–: This is deliberately a low-stakes, low-value ($1000) grant. It’s meant to encourage speculative and wild ideas taken a little more seriously. Take the simplest idea that interests you that you think could be done in 5 minutes just for lulz, and ask what you might do with it if you spent a couple of days on it.

  2. Start small to think big: Play with ideas where the first iteration/test version can be small and run as a simple experiment, but with a lot of headroom to go. For example, you could quickly make a 1-page comic story and post it, but there’s enough of an idea in there that hey, if Christopher Nolan comes calling to option it as a script for a blockbuster movie, it can grow to that scale.

  3. Small can be serious: Just because this is a small grant with relatively modest effort expectations doesn’t mean it has to be unserious. While everybody loves humor, satire, and lighthearted things, you can do very serious things in very small ways. Like design a set of signs that promote safety, or an infographic that explains a serious issue.

  4. Think Investment Options: A good PILL application will be an investment option. Ie if it works there should be obvious ways to double down and do more. For example, a successful one-page comic that gets lots of likes could be used as a sample to create a Kickstarter or gitcoin campaign for a full graphic novel. A popular poster for a breathing exercise could be developed into a workshop. So propose things that work as tests for bigger ideas but also work stand-alone as small valuable things.


THANK YOU for all of this clarity.

Also I did have a quick laugh at “wrapping a regular product or change idea in protocol language.” There’s always someone!

Appreciate y’all.

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