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While the maker community has been focused on the MakerBot news and ensuing discussion on open source hardware, Kickstarter not so quietly changed its rules in a way that significantly affects how makers can use the platform.

The pressure had been mounting on Kickstarter for months, if not longer.

The past few weeks in particular saw a string of unflattering news about Kickstarter projects. Bloomberg ran a series of stories on some of public delays and challenges. A University of Pennsylvania Assistant Professor released a paper revealing that 75% of product-related projects experience a delay.  The Wall Steet Journal wrote a “Best and Worst of Kickstarter” list, pointing out that “much of Kickstarter can be shrill and desperate modern-day panhandling by entitled go-getters.”

Even The New York Times ran a piece on the pressure a successful Kickstarter project puts on entrepreneurs.

Kickstarter seems to be worried about many of the same issues and has re-written the guidelines for product design and hardware projects on the platform. Among the changes:

  • Risks and Challenges – Project creators are now required to fill out a section on the specific risks and challenges they may face and how they plan to overcome them.
  • No Simulations or Renderings – Project simulations and project renderings are now prohibited. Creators can only show actual prototypes doing whatever it is they are currently capable of.
  • No Bulk Selling – Projects can no longer offer packs of multiple awards.

This is a big deal, especially for makers. As Joseph Holloway pointed out on the Kickstarter blog, the list of projects that wouldn’t fly under the new rules include many of the big names:

“Capture, The Oona, TikTok + LunaTik, Infinite Loop, Isostick, Trigger Trap, Elevation Dock, Nesl, Brydge, Synergy Aircraft, Taktik, Nifty MiniDrive, OUYA, POP, Oculus Rift, Slim, Instacube, SmartThings, LIFX, and of course, Pebble.”

Clearly, this was not a decision they made lightly.

In my opinion, these changes are welcome. Something needed to be done to protect the integrity of the platform, and more importantly, the sanity of would-be creators and makers who use the platform. As someone  who has been on both sides of the table – a backer and a project creator – I think there needed to be some air taken out of the Kickstarter bubble. Not because anything was going wrong, per se, but because I think we have to make sure we get this right. All of us: Kickstarter and us makers.

I was planning on writing this post a week ago, before the rule change. I was so disappointed in the Bloomberg and Wall St. Journal stories. I thought the conversation was taking the wrong tone. I think it’s easy to fixate on the makers and projects that have hit snags and call them failures. Does this mean we should we write off Kickstarter as “desperate modern-day panhandling?” I sure hope not.

The stories weren’t looking at the larger context. Think about this: there now exists a platform for anyone with an idea or a product to connect with others who support that idea — a way around the traditional gatekeepers and exclusive distribution channels. It opens up a whole new world of possibility, and a participatory model of creation and production. That’s amazing. And powerful.

As it turns out, many of these creators have had to simultaneously learn and navigate the publishing, recording, and in the maker situation, manufacturing process. In many cases, these quasi-entrepreneurs are inventing an entirely new, small batch-style of production — prototyping a potential future of manufacturing. There’s no guidebook for this new world. And making stuff is hard.

There’s something very, very right about what’s happening on Kickstarter. Instead of lamenting creators for mistakes, we should be illuminating success stories and best practices. We should be working together to make the process easier for the next crop of maker pros.

What are the roadblocks exactly? Machining? Tooling? What are the production levels that cause the most mistakes? Are limited run batches more effective? What services would make the process easier?

I think Bloomberg was on the right track by identifying customer service demands as being grossly underestimated. Britta Riley of Windowfarms mentioned a similar issue in the comments of the last post. What are best practices around that? Has anyone done anything that’s particularly effective? What features can we lobby the Kickstarter team to consider?

I hope that this discussion changes from what wasn’t working, to what is working. And how to make it easier to do the latter.

ALSO:
I’m moderating a panel on this exact topic at World Maker Faire next weekend. I’ll be talking with Brook Drumm of Printrbot and the Pen Type-A team about navigating the post-kickstarter process. Stop by and join the discussion!

David Lang

Co-Founder of OpenROV, a community of DIY ocean explorers and makers of low-cost underwater robots. Author of Zero to Maker. And on Twitter!


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