When you think of crowdfunding, you might think of one of the many weird and wonderful gadgets that have successfully raised thousands of dollars’ worth of investment. Whether it’s the Pebble smartwatch, the Oculus Rift or the most successful Kickstarter project of all time, the Coolest Cooler, even the most left field ideas can be turned into a reality by the power of crowdfunding.
Just A Gimmick?
Websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are great platforms for attracting investment for inventions and products that may otherwise never see the light of day, but crowdfunding is much more than the novelty items that grab the headlines. It can actually help to solve a wide range of problems by gauging interest as well as raising the necessary funds.
Take the S’up Spoon. This spoon was designed by Glaswegian company 4c Design and was created specifically for people suffering from Cerebral Palsy and those with essential tremor. The unique shape prevents spillages and allows people to eat otherwise difficult food stuffs without the help of others. Unfortunately, the S’up spoon did not reach its target of £33,000, however it did raise over £15,000 in a month. This is a clear indicator that there is a need for this product, and despite failing to generate the required funds through Kickstarter, 4c may decide to source investment from elsewhere.
There may only be a relatively small group of people that a problem or need applies to, but what crowdfunding does is allow those people to connect, work together and pool resources in order to achieve an outcome. The crowdfunding “revolution” is catching on, and people and communities are increasingly taking control of their lives and situations. On a grander scale, entire towns and cities are being rejuvenated through the power of crowdfunding. At a time where local councils and governments are having their funding cut, residents are coming together to take their environment into their own hands. Wired go into detail about some of the crowdfunded projects that have taken place in various different countries. They range from a floating public swimming pool in New York City that filters the water from the lake that it sits on, to a bridge in Rotterdam that has the name of each contributor carved into the individual wooden planks which make up the structure.
Brick and Choose
Crowdsourcers aren't just looking to individuals though. Corporations and businesses are being targeted too, as larger projects can attract wealthy investors with the opportunity to advertise within these public endeavours. The problem with this is that eventually local councils and public organisations may well drop funding into these areas even further. If they see that local people and businesses are working together and generating their own cash to make improvements then they may just be left to it. Research presented in Brickstarter however shows how a society could work where citizens work much more closely with governments to decide which projects are funded. It’s suggested that tax credits could be allocated by citizens to whichever projects they like.
Patrick Hussey, writing for The Guardian, claims that crowdfunding is actually changing our culture. Art, technology and economy are brought together where users can curate the type of products that are available. The Ubuntu Edge smartphone is an example of a project which was clearly in demand, raising over $12 million in funding, however falling a long way short of its $32 million target. One way to interpret this is that it wasn’t wanted or needed by “the crowd”. Perhaps though, it was just too ambitious. At the time, the Ubuntu crowdfunding project was given a lot of press and publicity, but it failed to raise even half of the total needed.
Freedom of Choice
What crowdfunding does is offer freedom. This isn't just freedom of choice, of what products or creations we buy into, but freedom from capitalist organisations and governments. If we want a new bridge in our city, we can create one as a crowd. If we want to rid ourselves of Apple or Android operating systems, we can fund an open source phone. This isn't an anti-capitalist idea though, quite the opposite! What crowdfunding does is allow more choice for consumers and more opportunity for businesses to make the products they really want to make. How far crowdfunding can go depends solely on how many people contribute to funding projects, but at the moment it’s hard to see why it could fail.