Friday, September 14, 2012

Some thoughts about crowd-funding

So we all know about crowd-funding right? The thing where you put your project, be it an album, a documentary or knitted kitten covers for albino pumas on a website like kickstarter and people, if they think your project is worthy, pledge money. Normally you offer rewards, so that if someone gives you $5 you get a picture of a kitten in a hat, if you give $100 you get to play with a kitten, that sort of thing. If you get to the sum of money that you were aiming for, kickstarter take money out of all the accounts of people who pledged money and give it to you.

Amanda Plamer, who I talked about yesterday, ran a kickstarter project with a whole bunch of rewards. She managed to raise ... ooodles of money. Approximately $1.2 million US. Which is both a lot and not very much. In a post a while ago, she told everyone roughly speaking, where all the money was going. Which is a) a good thing and b) the sort of thing you'd expect Amanda Palmer to do if you've followed her at all - she is very open with her fans.
A short while ago, she asked for some volunteer musicians to help in a few of the gigs that she had planned. This got some artists very annoyed. Annoyed, because artists, musicians especially have a long history of being asked to play for free, the trade off being that they will supposedly be gaining "exposure". This is in short, crap, musicians work at their craft and should be paid, just like plumbers and electricians. Some people did think this is what Amanda Palmer was doing though. I thought it odd, given the number of random free gigs that young Palmer has done over the years and the way that she interacts with her fanbase.  Then someone pointed out that in the initial distribution of funds post she had finished by suggesting that :
"investing not just in the future of my little record and band, but in an idea whose time has come."
and that this concept of investing in an idea rather than a specific project was ... disturbing. I don't think Palmer was referring to this particular project specifically, rather, she was referring to crowd-funding being an idea whose time, if not come, then was at least arriving. That's not the point though as it got me to thinking. I'm a student with fuck all money, so I don't really have money to give to crowd-funding projects, as much as I would like to. I would have given to Palmers one, I would have given to the Oatmeals campaign to build a Tesla Museum (seriously, how cool a project was that) and I would, if I had money give to Ethan Perlsteins "Crowdfund my Methlab" project - he's an academic with a proper lab who wants to do some work figuring out exactly how amphetamines interact with receptors in the brain, strange we don't already know that, but we don't.

Crowd funding is beginning to raise it's head as a possibility in the sciences. Only for small projects at the moment, Ethan's project is the biggest one I've seen. And more so in science funding, people are investing in an idea, not a person. Primarily because scientists don't (yet) have the same presence in peoples lives as musicians do. I don't think investing in an idea is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it's almost unnecessary. If we get people investing in crowd-funded science projects, they are investing in ideas, both in the individual project and in the larger sense that Palmer meant it: a new, alternative (not replacement) way of doing things.

One of the comments Palmer made in her defense of asking musicians to play for free (and I accept the reasoning of her post as a whole) was essentially that it is an issue of trust. She has been incredibly giving over the past several years, working sometimes for free, sometimes not, sometimes asking for help, sometimes having help offered. In the end, I think it's perfectly acceptable for her to ask for volunteers as she has
"worked my ass off for years to build the kind of trust that built me that line of credit with people."
It's a trust thing.  It would be different, I suspect were someone planning a birthday party and wanted the band to play for free - they're not part of that community, they haven't given, they have no right to expect to receive. Palmer has, not that she thinks she has a right to expect people to help, she doesn't, but she has given enough, built enough trust for people to want to help her when she asks.

This is something that I wish the science community had more of. Maybe it will as the crowd-funding idea grows. There are numerous projects that I hear about, that sounds really cool and I'd love to offer the use of my skill set in my somewhat limited free time. It's not really the done thing though from what I can see though or at least, I'm not at the point in being comfortable doing that yet. As (I hope) a community grows, we will build trust between the scientists and the funders. That however, requires both a lot of communication and a willingness to invest in new ideas.

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