That damnable pick up artist Kickstarter.

I had a chastising blog post all set to go. I was going to criticize Kickstarter’s decision, their slow response, and poor handling of the whole mess. Given how much I write about, talk about, and think about Kickstarter, I had to say something. Especially given how much I push young artists in their direction, it would have been irresponsible to stay quiet.

I’m glad they apologized, and impressed with the strength of the rules change cited in this blog post (in related news, RAINN is awesome). Kickstarter didn’t come up with a broad, lawyerly wording of the rules change to govern broadly. They said “No seduction guides”. I like the clarity. I like the simplicity. An apology and a matching contribution is good. And trying to make it right is good, but re-earning trust takes time. I know the staff all know that, and I know they can do it. They’re clever.

There are two things I still want to say about this whole mess.

A Feature Request

One of the big problems with the whole mess was the timing. Two hours is super short. I know someone over there has already suggested this, because as I said, clever, but it’s important. Add a mechanism that lets you, the staff, put the transfer of money through Kickstarter on hold pending further review. Tweak the guidelines, TOS, whatever, and make it possible for you guys to buy yourselves more time. If you’d had all day, or even two days, I know you’d have gotten it right on the first go.

Kickstarter as Big Business

Victoria Nece pointed this out after reading Casey malone’s second blog post. Here’s the passage in question [emphasis mine]:

But we all pointed it out to them, at which point, they chose to allow it to be funded.
Hoinsky – knowingly or unknowingly – found a loophole in Kickstarter’s guidelines. By hosting the truly offensive material outside of his pitch, people were unaware that it existed until it was too late, and it was too complicated an issue for a multi-million dollar business to do anything about.

Kickstarter is big media now. They’re too big to be expected to move quickly. That’s not even the point of Malone’s argument. It’s an assumed truth. This is a weird tension, probably both for those of us who create projects, and for the staff themselves. As the size of Kickstarter itself drifts further and further away from the median project size on the site, it’s going to get even more tense. How do you make sure that your company serves the needs of a community that’s increasingly unlike the company itself? You can keep great dialogues open with the community, you can listen like crazy, and you can hire from within the community as much as you can, to keep the right spirit in the company’s staff. But I have a hunch Kickstarter needs to do more than that, and think about internal structures within the company as much as the broader issues.

Trying to act quickly with large groups of people is hard. We face a lot of complex decisions about what to allow or not allow at New Music USA, and we’re a staff of a little over a dozen. You should see how much we talk about the fraught decisions we face. Apart from Git-like internal structures, flash polls of the entire staff, and emergency all-hands meetings, it’s hard to see what to do that doesn’t boil down to empowering a small group within the company to make tricky decisions on behalf of the whole. That can be okay, too, sometimes, but it’s not ideal.

And if you can’t act quickly, try to slow down the crisis and buy some time [see above feature request].

There are other questions this raises about new media gatekeepers, the very real and poorly understood power of Kickstarter staff (and staff at other platforms, too) to benefit specific projects, and the new mechanisms of exclusivity that arise as a result of new systems that are, on the whole, massively egalitarian. For instance, the advent of recorded music let people hear so much more music, so much more quickly and cheaply. It was a wonderful advance that changed the world. But it also meant that the owners of the means of production (recording studios, record presses) suddenly had incredible power to pick winners. And that had mixed consequences – the Beatles really were that good; top 40 radio not so much. We’re all used to those mechanisms in older media, but in new media we’re less so. I know Kickstarter’s staff is working on this, too, and I obviously don’t have any answers. This problem is the subject for a book, not the end of a blog post, but I’ll end with an observation:

I’d rather be project of the day on Kickstarter than land a publishing deal for my compositions.

Leave a Reply