Why Kickstarter Works Better Than Other Crowdfunding Sites


Why does Kickstarter, the micropatronage site, work?

That's the question Rob Walker takes up in a New York Times Magazine feature this weekend. His answer is subtle and smart. Through talks with two of the site's unusual founders, gallerist Perry Chen and music writer Yancey Strickler, we see that successful Kickstarter projects are not as random as they might seem. The founders see a common basis for that success in terms of content, value, and presentation. And it's this rather strict notion of what is and is not a Kickstarter project -- as a mini-genre -- that makes the site work.

"The fact that [founders] Chen and Strickler have a genuine point of view about the forms creativity can take, and how to expand them, is the reason that Kickstarter is the breakout star of the crowd-funding notion," Walker writes.

To extend this thought a little, one reason that Kickstarter works is that every project does not. That is to say, the failures -- both those Kickstarter's staff nips in the bud and those that don't reach their project goal -- bring discipline to the site's entries. People put good, creative work into their monetary asks, most of which feature really excellent videos. I've come across dozens of fascinating stories that only exist on Kickstarter. Kickstarter, in other words, is good media in and of itself. You get news (a new project!) and drama (will it make it?!) all in one place, and then you get to participate in that story yourself, if you so choose. That brings people in and gets them to invest in the artists on the site.

Full disclosure: I recently used Kickstarter to help fund Longshot Magazine's second issue. To be honest, I did not like the process of raising money, which feels like selling chocolates door to door or getting people to pledge for your marathon. I've had many friends go through the process and it can be punishing. My pro tip: It helps to have a big team raising money for something because everyone is squeezing a different network for cash. The less overlap in your networks, the easier it is to fundraise.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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