Kickstarter’s road to irrelevance

At first, I was amused. Some guy created a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of making a potato salad. It’s the kind of thing you do when you’re bored and just want to see what it’s like to start a crowdfunding campaign. It’s a joke, everyone knows it, and no one’s going to support it. Frankly, that’s a better intent than a lot of things you see on Kickstarter and other websites, because a lot of people think that their truly terrible ideas are the best thing since sliced bread.

Notice that I used the cliche you expected there: sliced bread. I could have changed it up, just to be creative, but why would I? Sliced bread was clearly a major advance over un-sliced bread, and everyone knows it. The cliche is universally recognized, and there’s no need for me to try and improve upon it. In fact, that should be the acid test for a crowd-funding campaign: are the benefits of your “idea” comparable to the benefits of sliced bread?

Anyway, the guy with the potato salad asked for $10. Nine days into a 30-day campaign, he has $46,991.

Like I said, it’s kind of amusing, and the campaign owner is using his 15 minutes of fame to do some fun stuff. In truth, he’s not the problem. Everyone else is.

You see, Kickstarter has some basic rules, but nothing that outright prohibits such a frivolous campaign. Or, more importantly, nothing that prevents a legion of completely unoriginal, uninspired, and unimpressive people from creating similar campaigns. Honestly, I’m amazed by how often people are proud of themselves for copying 99% of someone else’s idea and calling it their own…whether it’s this, or Rick-rolling, or lipdubbing, or planking, or flashmobbing, or whatever the hell people were doing last year with that Harlem Shake song.

Those people are now a problem for Kickstarter. And, to a lesser extent, so are the 5,778 people who thought it would be fun to contribute to the potato-salad campaign, thus legitimizing it and “inspiring” (cue the sarcasm) the copycats.

If you asked me a few weeks ago, I would have already opined that the crowd-funding fad is past its prime. Sure, there are some great things that will appear from time to time, such as the recent Reading Rainbow campaign, but the vast majority of Kickstarter projects are just bad ideas. While the potential funding for great projects is definitely the best part of Kickstarter, you could say that the second best thing is that many, many people find out just how well their not-so-great ideas stack up in the real world. Everyone needs an ego check from time to time.

Kickstarter has made a choice to be open to any project that satisfies its three rules, and I respect that. However, that openness is what may lead to its eventual irrelevance, because I suspect that the value of Kickstarter is inversely proportional to the increase in bad campaigns. Translation: the more crap you show me, the less interested I am in you.

After all, once upon a time we were all smitten with eBay, which was going to change the way we buy and sell. But eBay couldn’t hold our trust…there were (and are) too many dodgy sellers, no matter how hard eBay tries to block them out. eBay used to be the first place I looked for bargains. Now it’s an afterthought…a last resort when I can’t find the replacement blades for my electric razor on Amazon.

So, what can be done about this?

Arguably, Kickstarter could protect its reputation and relevance by putting in a stronger curation model and weeding the garden, so to speak. However, doing so would undermine the original idea of crowd-funding, which is to let the people decide what does and does not have value. It doesn’t feel right for Kickstarter to make that decision, even though the staff probably has a reasonably good idea of what will and won’t succeed at this point in the game. That’s why I started this paragraph with “arguably”…I suspect that this model would please some people and upset others, thus having a roughly neutral impact on reputation.

A better solution might be to mandate that projects have to make a certain percentage of their goal within a period of time, else they be removed. That way, the good stuff wouldn’t be lost in a sea of four-week-old projects that have collected zero dollars (and have been effectively abandoned by their owners). The weeding would still be done by the people, and Kickstarter’s value would be more apparent.

I like that solution, so I’ll stop there. If you know someone at Kickstarter, feel free to show this to them. Or maybe I should just bring it to their attention by creating a Kickstarter campaign to save Kickstarter. Ask people to donate $1 to show their support for this idea, and set a one-million-dollar goal that can’t possibly reached. I wonder how that would go over…

On an unrelated note, this evening a teenage boy working the grocery-store checkout asked me if I have a son named Will. I think this marks the first time that someone has asked me if I have offspring. It’s perfectly reasonable, seeing as I’m 36 years old, but it’s also not what I normally get. Just last week some coworkers in their early-to-mid 20s guessed that I’m in my late 20s.

I suppose I could be in my late-20s and have a teenage son. Sure…let’s go with that.

Russ