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Kickstarter, the poster child of the crowdfunding industry, announced yesterday that it is simplifying its project submission rules and is now allowing projects to launch without first getting approved by a staff member.
In a blog post, CEO Yancey Strickler wrote that the changes “make Kickstarter easier to use than ever before — and improve a couple parts of the system we know haven't always been as simple as they could be.”
The rule change boils down the guidelines to three key principles: Projects must create something to share with others; Projects must be honest and clearly presented; Projects cannot fundraise for charity, offer financial incentives, or involve prohibited items. Kickstarter’s full, updated rules are here.
Effectively, Kickstarter is allowing more types of projects to get onto the platform. Strickler specifically mentioned bath and beauty, as well as more types of software, as product types that will now be allowed onto the platform. The platform CEO also told the Verge that, generally, anything that’s illegal, regulated, or dangerous is prohibited; everything else should be okay, as long as it doesn’t show up on the list of prohibited items.
The rule change also brings back the ability for hardware project creators to offer multiple quantities as a reward tier. That’s something Kickstarter took away in 2012, and it didn’t please hardware entrepreneurs who wanted to use the platform as a pre-selling and market testing tool.
The other part of Strickler's blog post announced the ‘Launch Now’ feature, which alters the project screening process. Now, instead of a team member reviewing a project, Kickstarter is using an algorithm that looks at “thousands of data points” to determine whether a campaign is up to par.
If it is, a project creator can launch the campaign to the public, or ask a Kickstarter team member to review the campaign and offer feedback. If a campaign doesn’t pass the automated screen, which looks at things like the campaign description, rewards, and funding goal, then a creator has to contact a team member to review the project.
A Kickstarter representative told Crowdsourcing.org that the platform slowly began rolling out the feature in April. Currently, it is available to 60 percent of projects.
Some have written that the move opens the platform up to more fraud. There is some truth to this, though it’s probably an exaggerated concern as the review process was more of a psychological deterrent. After all, the Kickstarter team merely reviewed a campaign’s ability to raise money and adherence to platform rules, not a product or project’s viability; roughly four out of every five campaigns were approved. Well-crafted scams could — and did — still make it onto the platform. But a fraudster may have felt shy about contacting a representative when Indiegogo and other platforms offer an easier alternative.
Kickstarter has been responding to these concerns with this statement:
The longterm health and integrity of Kickstarter drives everything we do. We'll continue to actively govern the site with thought and care. Projects will be reviewed by a sophisticated algorithm we developed over the course of years that looks at thousands of data points. Ultimately, backers decide which projects to fund, but our Moderation and Trust & Safety teams are focused on making sure everyone on Kickstarter is following the rules.
The key there is the allusion to crowd wisdom. It’s the backers who typically alert Kickstarter of potentially fraudulent campaigns, after they’re unsatisfied with the creator’s responses to questions or general apathy to backer concerns.
It’s unclear why Kickstarter decided to make the tweaks. It may be that the rule change is a response to charges of censorship. This was a hot topic in the wake of the Gosnell movie campaign debacle, though the platform probably began building the algorithm well before the criticisms emerged.
Or, the platform may be encouraging more projects to come to the platform after seeing little growth in Q1 of this year. Again, though, the timing is off and the platform is still the leader in the field in terms of money raised, which directly impacts its revenue; clearly, it has been doing a lot of things right. Another potential reason may be that Kickstarter wants to further distance itself from the failed and delayed campaigns, for which it is unfairly blamed.
Whatever the thinking behind the move, it’s good news for project creators, who now have an easier path to launching campaigns.