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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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Comments

  1. samiam says:

    I think this is great for kickstarter. I have thrown in money for 4 different projects but only one, the makey makey has delivered so far.

  2. Chris says:

    I think Kickstarter has had some serious issues and this shows that they are concerned about them and have thought hard about how to correct them. Instead of just being able to produce a fancy video and some 3D renderings, now actual initial progress needs to be shown. +1 to Kickstarter!

  3. Ryan says:

    I think the “kickstarter is not a store” message deserves more prominence but I’m not entirely happy with the changes because they would have prevented many key projects from occurring.

    I have backed several projects, and most would never have even hit the drawing board without kickstarter. Makerslide, for example, dramatically reduced the cost of linear motion for many designs.

    On the other hand, I consider many kickstarter projects to be criminal scams (or just plain incompetent). Several projects have been revealed as nothing more than an attempt to resell existing Chinese products. Even more projects are just pipe dream renders shat out by a kid with solidworks.

    I don’t even know who to blame for those disasters. Sure, reselling ebay merchandise on kickstarter is shady but what are the backers thinking?

    You know what they say about fools and their money. I don’t think any number of rules will make kickstarter safe for those without common sense.

    I certainly don’t agree with castrating a system to protect the lowest denominator.

  4. Carlos says:

    And, of course, a maker can only be American resident! :-(

    1. Stephanie says:

      This riles me. Kickstarter is all too happy to take my money as an international backer, but won’t let me start a project of my own. I stopped backing projects after learning that.

  5. GeekDadof4 says:

    I hate to tell the folks at Bloomberg, who WRITE for a living, 75% of ALL product engineering experiences delays. How long is that wait for you new Iphone?

    1. johngineer says:

      That jumped out at me too. The difference with Kickstarter is that your whole process is laid bare. It’s not like the PlayStation or something, where an internal delay might raise hell, but the public never knows about it. Kickstarter projects are public from the initial design stage, so the delays are more visible.

      I think Kickstarter’s new requirement that hardware projects must have a completed physical prototype is a huge plus though. It tells me that some dues have been paid, and the creator is serious about their project.

  6. Jack in TN says:

    In business there are risks. Risks for the inventor/creators, risks for investors, and to some extent risks for customers.

    Kickstarter is a way to incentivize inventors and creators to do the ‘business thing’ of going into production. As a supporter of a kickstarter project, the ‘premiums’ are IMHO ‘thank yous’, not products (but not that they cannot be). A thank you of the products you support is great. But I see no ‘guarantee’ that anything comes out the other end of any project. If it was a guarantee delivery thing, then this is just production, not building from ideas.

    As a supporter I am accepting risk that some projects won’t ‘pay off’ the way I think they should.

    Is what Kickstarter doing ‘right’? It is their ball game, they set the rules. If you don’t like it, go set up your own ‘KickstarterLite’ or use another service.

    For the changes from Kickstarter, I am still mulling over whether I like them or not, but I won’t argue with them, any more than I argue with Makerbot about their change in business direction.

    ‘You pays your money and you takes your chance’

  7. johngineer says:

    “I think Bloomberg was on the right track by identifying customer service demands as being grossly underestimated.”

    This is certainly the central issue. People are willing to forgive a great deal if you explain to them what is going on and share your tale of woe (responsibly, that is –don’t just lament that the whole world is against you. If you made a poor choice, own up to it).

    I’m at the point now where I won’t even consider backing a project until I see the comments page. Specifically, I’m looking for backer comments/questions/concerns which are answered by the project creator within 24 hours. If someone takes more than a day to respond to a customer inquiry (effectively an investor inquiry on KS), then I assume they’re just as lax with other critical things.

  8. [...] that Kickstarter has changed its rules regarding 3D products.  You can read all about it at the Maker Zine Blog.  The particular rule that affects me is [...]

  9. Unfortunately, these changes will not address the real issue with design projects, which is failure to manufacture. If Kickstarter really wanted to address this issue, then greater resources related to manufacturing should be made available.

    Support project creators, don’t hobble them.

  10. John says:

    So.. exactly how does the new rules make it easier for a maker to achieve his or her dream?

    This is the age of digital. Nobody making or designing anything worth while today, can just sit down and make a pen and paper sketch and solder/carve/whatever together something out of thin air. Technology has become much to advanced for that. Today everything is designed and tested on the computer. In fact the entire point of modern design processes on the computer, is to be able to skip as many as possible of the time and money consuming physical prototype stages.
    With the new rules, to me it feels like Kickstarter has some simplistic way-back idea of what it entails to be a design&technology maker.

  11. Ken Corkum says:

    I didn’t know about the American only restriction. Will NOT be backng any more projects from CANADA !!!

  12. Adam Tolley says:

    There’s a big difference between a mock-up and a simulation. I can understand eliminating mockups that skirt feasibility, but disallowing simulations that take in to account actual part dimensions, stresses, etc just re-establishes the gap that rapid prototyping and OSHW is closing between those with the ideas and those with the manufacturing capability.

  13. I was finally able to pass their screening after a year and a half, however, right before I submitted, I saw the news disallowing multiple rewards. Although disappointed, I’m still able to raise funds through a large community and with a system that is creating a lot of attention for my project. If anything I think the limitation is helping as backers are sharing more in efforts to get more units amongst friends and family. Take a look at my project: http://kck.st/SASYi2 :)

  14. [...] Memoto, a wearable “lifelogging” camera that automatically snaps a geotagged photo twice a minute and can run continuously for two days between charges, was launched on Kickstarter in October of last year, and was 1000% overfunded—to the tune of $550K—in just over a month. Swedish co-founders Martin Källström and Oskar Kalmaru had a number of interesting observations about the Kickstarter experience, particularly about how it’s changed since the new rules for product development projects went into place last year. [...]

  15. [...] Memoto, a wearable “lifelogging” camera that automatically snaps a geotagged photo twice a minute and can run continuously for two days between charges, was launched on Kickstarter in October of last year, and was 1000% overfunded—to the tune of $550K—in just over a month. Swedish co-founders Martin Källström and Oskar Kalmaru had a number of interesting observations about the Kickstarter experience, particularly about how it’s changed since the new rules for product development projects went into place last year. [...]

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