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Kickstarter used to have potential.  Now it sucks.  

Here are five ideasmilliondollar to Improve Kickstarter

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by Kevn Salveson


I like the idea of free money from strangers.


So why not turn to Kickstarter for it?  The answer is: don't bother.  

Don't bother with Kickstarter unless you already have: 

1. All the money you'll ever need.

2. All the supporters and fans you'll ever need.  Or:

3. A plan to use and abuse Kickstarter.


We've all heard of the phrase Catch-22. In the publicity world for tech startups we deal with it all the time.   Basically, often uneducated people are sheeple who will make something popular because they are told it is already popular.  So how to get popular before you are already popular enough to get more popular?


Studies have shown that a Youtube video with no views will not be selected for view just based on those numbers.  So a study faked it... They showed viewers videos with manipulated view stats.  They took the same video and when it was given artificially low view stats then it was never selected for more viewing by participants.  When the same video was reported to have high previous view stats it went on to be extremely popular and was selected for view multiples of its first performance.  It wasn't the video's content or quality.  It was a popularity contest.


Since this is the way the alogorithims determine placement for a product, they also determine the publicity you can generate for your product and have a big hand in your ultimate success or failure.  The more your stuff is clicked on the more it will be clicked on in the future.


The goal is to use the mass distribution mechanism of the internet in order to "go viral" or use the public like a giant Amway multi-level marketing scheme and use the sheeple's own ability to be led around by the nose by others as a publicity machine. Any attempt at a successful Kickstarter project which that does not game the system and its algorithims is just not doing it right.  Is it fair and just?  No.  Get used to it.  Twas ever thus.  Those with the gold make the rules.


So the Catch-22 goes like this: to get on the frontpage and coverage for your Kickstarter  and a lot of people pulling for it you just have to already have a lot of people pulling for you. Those are often bought or they are a network you've cultivated.  


Here, for exampole, is a guy who was amazed at how KS helped his project get off the ground (except for the fact that Pay Pal almost ruined the project.).  


And now he's going to write a book telling others how to do it.   But I can save you some time:.  He writes: "After launching, I dropped a few emails out to some of my friends who write for some relatively high-profile blogs and photography magazines. Nearly immediately, a media-storm erupted." So, again, in other words... have friends in high places already who can give you free publicity and viola!


In fact, when I started my first Kickstarter project to see how it would go I was inundated with offers from third parties that promised they would gin up support for my project.


From what I understand about Youtube and Reddit, it is the same.  People are paying to gin up page views, fake interest, and dupe the algos.   If you don't pay someone or round up a network of about ten people to immediately upvote your post on reddit,  you can be assured that no one will know or care your post exists and it will be buried in the avalanche of trivia and news cycle garbage that floods the internet news sites.


So this is what it all means: if you already have a lot of people pulling for you and you already have a lot of money you can buy the publicity you want to make your Kickstarter project successful.


But... if you already have the money and you already have the supporters, what's the point of needing to go on Kickstarter?  There's isn't one.  You should simply run your own business on your own website and have customers and supporters contribute directly to you using someone other than Pay Pal as the credit card processor.  It's called a pre-order, which is all that Kickstarter is, really.  (Just avoid PayPal when running a business as a merchant, that's for sure).


So, unless you have a plan to just use and abuse it like I did, Kickstarter is useless.  The only thing it might be good for is to again get your project and name into the public eye. Some in the media who are easily duped by beng told that new technology is overturning the old ways or something might catch your project if the algos return data that shows your project is getting hits and interest and then give it a free media coverage boost.  That is about the only real thing Kickstarter is good for-- free publicity which might lead to viral success and eventually pallets of cash being airlifted by Donald Rumsfeld right to your front porch.


The original Kickstarter idea was great-- do an end around SEC rules for raising capital from strangers who are not accreditted.  It might have initially been a great way to help struggling artists and others with little access to the venture capital word to use the public largess for world-changing worthwhile projects.  But like with anything on the internet, it immediately got gamed and turned into a joke as well as infiltrated with professionals who already had money but were willing to user those funds to abuse the system for free publicity.  (Which is what I did).


Thus, a guy with a potato salad can raise 50K as a joke, and Spike Lee (someone who has the money himself already and could also raise capital in an instant) uses it to collect funds for his new film.  In other words, jokes and professional big money players ruined whatever grassroots potential it had.  That, and the kids in their mom's basement playing video games all day which crowd out other projects.


See...The game is always called fool the algorithims that determine publicity and placement on the net.  Becoming a staff pick or getting front page placement which will give you the exposure your project needs to be a success just needs you to... already be a success.  How to be a success on Kickstarter: just whip up a  network of supporters beforehand, an army of people ready to kick in.  Chicken, meet egg.


Ha ha, isn't that always the problem.  How to compete against the big money players when you have no money?  Even a platform which was designed to level the field has become another problem as it is overrun by the professional mercenaries that the platform was designed to overcome.


So, the third option, which was mine, was to just use and abuse Kickstarter for free publicity.  It might be scant but its another piece of the puzzle that the Google algo will use to determine how much the Internet knows or cares about you.


Ha ha, I even put this language in my project description:


"So, I guess as I'm writing this I realize I should just go talk to Peter Gabriel's Real World, but before we do that I guess I'll see if the global public at large can sense an opportunity brewing to be part of history and help produce good art and cross-cultural understanding....  


Still, we like the Kickstarter potential.  (We won't be trying to network with all our friends for this stuff, so if that is really what Kickstarter is all about --nag five bucks off a lot of your friends until it adds up-- then I don't have high hopes for this.  I'm hoping we tap a larger network of those with real capital who support the arts via this site.)  We'll see if someone with no prior efforts at attention-seeking and self-promotion can still rise to the top and get sponsors simply on merit.  


If not, we'll continue to do it ourselves and find the KS model flawed, possibly promoting memes rather than funneling capital to where it could be best used."


See... I've put the onus on Kickstarter to prove its worth.  I set the criteria for my project's success from day one as the ability to actually use Kickstarter for its intended purpose without having to game the system.  Now the success or failure of the project is predicated on Kickstarter proving its value, not on my project's ability to demonstrate its value. So either you go viral for free and clean up, or the system itself is at fault for not recognizing your value.  


The worst thing you can let happen is have your project branded a failure for not funding and have the algos recognize that.  It leads to worse placement and publicity the next time around.  Instead, by cancelling your project before completion, you keep the blame on Kickstarter.  Thus, I got my project live and then cancelled the project before funding. This was on purpose.  

 The technique works like this: soon after your project is live make some complaint you may have about their systems or process to them via email.  Put them on their heels and note that this will equal bad publicity for them unless they help your project get exposure.  (They won't, but hey, why not try.)  This alerts them from the beginning that you have dissatisfaction with their service.  When you then cancel the use of their service you give them a slap in the face and they don't get to use your project statistics in their algos concerning your overall popularity online or in their trumpeting about projects funded.  Rather, their customer service software highlights that Kickstarter failed a customer and was rejected by them.  Thus, you use them and then deny them the moneyshot they wanted.


Meanwhile, after an absolutely lousy experience with Amazon and Kickstarter customer service (they couldn't even get a simple avi video to play correctly on their site, and Amazon froze my account and told me to go pound sand without explanation, an issue which will be covered in another post), I realized there were a few simple ideas I could offer the Kickstarter clowns if they really wanted to improve their site.


So, since it is useless now, the only way that Kickstarter can rehabilitate its failed model would be to take my suggestions below and restore their integrity.


Five ideas million dollar to improve Kickstarter:


1. Stipulate that any project that is overfunded has to take the extra above the target amount (after all, the target established how much they'd need, why do they need more than they said they needed?) and donate it to a project of their choosing but which cannot be in the same category as their project. Thus, when the internet turns a potato salad joke into a year's salary for a loser's project with no real social or artistic value, the amount above the target must go to a better project which was more deserving from the start.  And they can't choose to fund another "frivilous" project.  (see below).


2. Any project that does not fund can set up a "contingency" where half of the funds raised are still delivered to the project creator and they must still deliver a product even if it is a smaller reward.  This way, projects can get seeded if not completed and no one is screwed though the ultimate reward is not delivered.  This would give them better tools to competite with Indiegogo etc.


3. Institute a "shave" system.  Products that which have a target of over 40K and get funded would be required to "shave" off 0.5% of their largess which would then go to funding one other smaller project in another category..  Thus, the community kicks in and a successful project helps fund a worthy but less publicised small one.  Everyone kicks in.  Don't like it?  Just set your own goal 0.5% higher.  Done.


4. Nominate a revolving board of ten experts in their field to curate Kickstarter.  Their pages would feature unheralded picks which would get immediate funding via:  1. The sponsors themselves kicking in.  2. A Shave system (see above) to spread the wealth instead of concentrating it.  3. More important and useful projects would get publicity even if they were not jokey memes.  While they do have "Staff Picks", no one cares since the staff is anonymous and algo driven.  A celebrity voice doing the championing would have its own legitimacy.  What music would Mark Zuckerberg champion?  People would be interested and follow suit.   4. Half the board would be voted into office once a month and the other half would be selected by the outgoing experts.


5.  A "frivilous" designation should be allowed to be slapped on a project that demonstrates less than worthwhile artistic, aethetic or social impact via a voting/ranking system.  This would be done by vote as well as via a determination of the panel of experts (since some people would try to game the votes).  The top ten frivilous projects that still get funded must share 1/3 of their funds with a project not on the frivilous list.  Thus, this allows the marketplace to make jokes and laugh at jokey projects on Kickstarter while at the same time doing what capitalism is supposed to do so well... direct capital most eficiently to projects that are most worthy.


If Kickstarter refuses to take these suggestions then it will just be another publicity tool to be used (as I used it) by those who control the means of information dissemination or who can game the system with ginned up stats.  Exactly the kinds of people that Kickstarter was originally envisioned to be an end-around in terms of capitalism and democracy online in the 21st century.


--Kevin Salveson



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