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Kickstarter: Crowdfunding Platform Or Reality Show?

Kickstarter: Crowdfunding Platform Or Reality Show?

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Published by: Crowdsourcing.org on Jul 19, 2012
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Kickstarter: Crowdfunding Platform OrReality Show?
It's QVC for the web generation, the new Thunderdome, Off Track Betting for ideas addicts. Whatever you call it, Kickstarter's becomingless about funding widgets than pouring gas on creative sparks just towatch them ignite.You've probably heard about the latest Kickstarter darling,OUYA:"a new kind of video game console" that connects to your HDTV like anXBox but allows anyone to publish games like the Android Marketplace.The company behind the device raised their $1 million target in eighthours, and have reached $5 million with more than three weeks left intheir campaign. Proponents of Kickstarter's populist commercialism seeOUYA as an unmitigated success.
The notion of "success" for a Kickstarter project has evolved. Accordingto Kickstarter'sstats,44% of projects succeed--but "success" in this case refers to reaching their funding goals, not completing the proposed work or thriving in the marketplace. Only 25% of 471 projects in a sampletaken from Kickstarter's technology and design categories weredelivered on time, according toresearch conducted by website entrepreneur Jeanne Pi and Wharton professor Ethan Mollick.(Kickstarter doesn't yet track this statistic itself.) And even after an eightmonth delay only 75% of successful projects deliver at all according tothe sample study. That's just delivery, never mind viability--a mattersome industry critics have found unconvincing in the case of OUYA. Asgames industry critic Ben Kuchera put it,OUYA is "selling a dream, not a solution."Kuchera is right, but for the wrong reasons. Kickstarters are dreams, andthat's their strength rather than their weakness. People back projects onKickstarter to fund the development of a new creative work or aconsumer product that might never see the light of day via traditionalfinancing. But what if Kickstarter is more about the experience of kickstarting than it is about the finished products? When you fundsomething like OUYA, you're not pre-ordering a new console that willbe made and marketed, you're buying a ticket on the ride, reserving afront-row seat to the process and endorsing an idea. It's a Like buttonattached to your wallet.The fact that OUYA raised so much money so fast speaks more to ourfantasies than the market reality. Whether or not OUYA will disrupt theconsole business is beside the point--no one could predict such a thinganyhow--the pleasure we get from imagining that possibility is highlyvaluable.
Author Souris Hong-Porretta, who hasbacked 31 Kickstarter projects, told me she enjoys supporting friends and strangers who she believesdeserve creative encouragement as much as (or more than) the financialsupport. "Moral support is always reason number one," says Hong-Porretta.Entrepreneur Tod Kurt agrees. He's backed dozens of Kickstarterprojects, and recently launched one for his company's programmableUSB status light, blink(1),which more than doubled its goal of $29,000 in less than three days. Describing his "Kickstarter habit," Kurt backsprojects he wants to see exist, "even if I don't get something physical inreturn." For Kurt, the unrealistic aims of most Kickstarter projects, bethey films or consumer electronics, don't reduce his satisfaction, sincethe product was never the point anyway: "Sometimes the product beingdeveloped is too expensive for me, or I don't really need it (I have manygadgets already)."That was also the case for me with the Pen Type-A, a slick stainless-steel enclosure for Japanese gel ink pens that I first sawon Kickstarter but pre-ordered shortly after their campaign raised more than 100 timesits goal in August of last year. I finally received mine in May. It's fiveinches of machined metal with a pen in it. It's nice, I guess, but I'm stillusing a $2 roller-ball to sketch notes in my Moleskine. Yet the PenType-A is more than a $100 metal pen that never gets used, it's amemento of the excitement I felt after first seeing the product.When faced with the reality of these products, disappointment isinevitable--not just because they're too little too late (if at all) but foreven weirder reasons. We don't really want the stuff. We're paying forthe sensation of a hypothetical idea, not the experience of a realizedproduct. For the pleasure of desiring it.

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