“That’s one small step for Man, one giant leap for Mankind.” No doubt when recounting the history of our species, lack of inclusion of this life changing event would be negligent. For many, the moon landing was a deeply personal affair; countless people still remember where they were when they first saw images of man taking steps on another orb. One thing that is less remembered, however, is how much this achievement cost. Some $23 billion is the answer. A large sum you might say, but many of the life changing moments and devices we’ve created have been quite expensive. The London Olympics cost somewhere around £11 billion. The Sydney Opera House cost $102 million and a single set piece in 2001: A Space Odyssey cost $750,000. Everything costs money.
Money then, seems to be not only the bane of my life, but the bane of creative and scientific projects alike. Whilst some companies are wealthy or well-resourced enough to fund ambitious programs, many others are forced to seek out government grants or private funding, often with mixed results. Outcomes aren’t always disastrous, but relying on external funding can lead to unwanted intervention, or the total collapse of projects when funding agreements go wrong, often leaving a nasty hangover in the form of a large debt. But even these options are becoming less feasible with the financial crisis and increasingly intense budgeting. This leads to the question: How else can projects be funded?
Enter the crowdfunding phenomenon. Crowdfunding is a method of fundraising that outsources the task of donating money. Under this method, anybody is able to donate money to projects. Due to its reach, the internet is the ideal place for something like crowdfunding. Sites such as Kickstarter and Pozible are proving the success of the venture, having exploded onto the internet in incredible fashion and quickly gathered enormous amounts of traffic.
Kickstarter and Pozible bring social networking and entrepreneurship together in a very interesting way. Both sites provide a highly visible, easy to navigate funding platform for projects, whether they be creative or scientific.
There is no discrimination based on type of project, although the word ‘project’ does require some definition. Kickstarter and Pozible aren’t avenues to get charity funds off the ground, or a way to beg strangers for money to help get you through University (I’ve tried that already). They are funding platforms for things that can be completed. Albums, theatres, clothing accessories, Android apps, video games, films, funky artwork; it’s all good. Someone presents their idea to the world, states how much money they would need to bring their idea to fruition, sets a deadline and perhaps offers people a little token of gratitude for larger donations – hopefully a fan-base is built and energised, and developers can watch money roll in. Should the target not be reached, none of the accumulated pledges are transacted and the project simply dies. Many take their failures to ‘the Kickback Machine’, a site that lists project failures from Kickstarter in the hope others will learn from past mistakes when putting their own ideas up for scrutiny. Even if a project does fail, there is nothing stopping someone from trying again.
Sites such as Kickstarter and Pozible have proven to be a surprisingly effective and egalitarian market mechanism, with over 60% of projects reaching their funding targets. Granted, the sites do take a commission for the space provided, which may smack to some as being far from egalitarian. However, a few things must be taken into consideration. Firstly, these crowdfunding sites are how their creators and staff make money; they have to generate a profit or they couldn’t exist. Secondly, what they offer is incredible – developers are given control of an ad-free space to elaborate on their projects, and ask the entire internet community to open up their wallets and give money to an idea. Finally, this commission is a percentage of what is raised, and only exacted should projects meet their funding targets; developers aren’t going to be slapped with a $500 commission fee if their project target was only $800. It’s as egalitarian as neoliberalism gets.
There was a Top Gear story by James May a few years ago that detailed the depressing life of NASA’s modern lunar rover. This craft was fully functional and a piece of technological brilliance, but cuts to the space program meant that it was doomed to stay earth-bound. This story actually left me saddened for a number of years, until I learnt of a similar project gaining traction on Kickstarter. At the same time that NASA’s rover was defeated by budget cuts, plans by a developer called LiftPort to build a functioning space elevator were crushed for the same reason. LiftPort put this project up on Kickstarter and have to date (03/09/2012) received $55,281 in donations, 691% more than what they needed for their initial plans.
So where do the dreamers and the mad men with an idea go in the 21st century? To the Internet of course – and eventually, to the stars.