Monday, May 03, 2010


I've been thinking about the internet. And things that aren't the internet.

Specifically, I've been thinking about safety nets.

In the past, humans have innovated many kinds of safety nets to make sure that they can survive a temporary misfortune. For example, brotherhoods, fraternities, and "secret societies" such as Freemasons largely served the purpose of binding working men together such that they could ride out any personal storms with the support of the group. Many such societies explicitly spelled out the support they would offer, while others (such as the Freemasons) didn't. But either way, you could expect some support if you broke your leg and couldn't work for a few weeks.

Religions serve this purpose as well, although their membership tends to be more diverse so their social support structure is also more diverse. It's no coincidence that both religion and fraternities do better when the economy is faltering: that's when people need stability and support.

There are loads of other structures to help the "in" group. It can be argued that in societies with extensive family structures (such as a stereotypical Italian or Greek family), those family structures serve much of the same role as a fraternity would, in terms of supporting the members that need it and kicking the lazy ones when they need it.

As a secular humanist, I worry about secular support structures. Religion isn't secular. Secret societies are rarely secular, and don't fit into current culture. Familial support structures are fine, but we aren't a familial nation, so they also do not fit into our culture. There are secular groups you can join, but they're more like hobby groups or political activist groups.

What I want is something that can let me help people out when I'm flush, and rely on people like me when I'm not. Charities don't fit the bill for a wide variety of reasons, not least of which is that they aren't a support network, they're a charity. More importantly, I'm talking about helping specific people, not some vague assurance that I'm helping "people", somewhere.

Well, I was funding yet another Kickstarter program when it occurred to me that I was looking at the new support framework.

I do spend a fair amount of money on line, and I spend it on people. Sure, I normally get stuff for my money, but it's more about promoting the growth of these people. As an example, I recently bought a $5 pre-order of a game which will theoretically be $30+ when released. This did not make me happy. I wasn't after a deal: I would have been happier paying $30.

Does this make me unique?

I don't think so. I think it's the fundamental difference between interacting with people and interacting with corporations.

Kickstarter and other similar things are about interacting with people, not companies.

What if something like Kickstarter was crossed with something like Facebook? A place that wasn't simply a social network, but a "this is what I'm working on now, look!" site. I call it "Wickerwork".

Describing Wickerwork won't work if you're not familiar with Kickstarter, or underestimate how much money flows through Kickstarter. Wickerwork is fundamentally Kickstarter, but instead of being project-centric, it's person-centric.

Every few days (or faster), you would update your status. This is the state of the art project we're working on, thanks for funding us. The next project is this one here, get on it if you want us to do it. Etc, etc.

If you break a leg and can't work any more, you can post about that - "oh, no, I broke my leg and can't work the farm! Help!" People will donate, or come down to help, or maybe even create a special offer of their stuff with the proceeds going to you.

The problem with this approach normally is that I don't know you and don't care about you. There's very little interest in helping a random stranger. I have to be aware of you. I don't have to be your buddy, but I have to know you.

Right now we propagate help messages through Twitter or Facebook or whatever, and they're crap at it. I don't know you, your Facebook page is pointless, etc, etc.

Something like Kickstarter is a unique opportunity to know people because you have a historical record of how they work. This lady is a local grower who has had three funded projects, she makes these cute videos about her gardens, she provides local food and seems nice... and she's not just begging for money, she's offering an optional "high-price" version of her normal service, asking for extra hands, has a friend who is selling stuff to help her (as well as accepting donations if you just want to give, of course). In this situation, even if I don't know this lady, I can know her. In just a few minutes, she can establish herself as a person very clearly.

This is a unique advantage of Kickstarter (or, I guess, any project-themed system). Projects are a powerful way to get to know someone. Their favorite music, their profile pic, their thoughts on things like social networking, that's not going to be important to me until they've established themselves as someone who actually exists. And that's easiest done by saying, "I'm the guy who made this documentary" or "I'm the lady with this farm".

It also offers an additional resource in that you can offer further project-related rewards instead of simply begging for money. "Emergency sale of documentary DVDs to pay for my kid's hospital bill!"

Also, because it keeps a record, it will be clear how often you need this kind of help. One problem with simply giving aide is that the incentives are bad, and you can theoretically start to rely on the aide rather than using the aide to get back on your feet. Either way, you could see it quite clearly in their project history.

Now, the problem with Wickerwork is that in order to be involved, you have to be doing Kickstarter-style projects with fair regularity. Saying, "I'm the girl who used to do that local farm thing, but now I work at Dairy Queen full time", that's not going to have the same draw.

This is a huge drawback. Most people don't do Kickstarter-style projects.

Well, the more I think about it, the more I think that maybe they should.

Maybe it would be a much more interesting place if people spent some of their hobby time doing a small escrow-funded project. Think about your hobbies. Could any be adapted to a small, funded project?

Most of them would probably benefit from becoming a small, funded project. The pressure would be just enough to actually finish the things you start.

For example, if you've got a musical hobby, you've probably dreamed of releasing a single, or an album. But chances are you've done neither, or if you have done one, they sank without a blip. Imagine if it had been a "I need $100 to fund recording my single! Maybe it's no good, maybe it's awesome, let's find out!"

Once you released the single, you would have a guaranteed audience, because they spent money on you already. No vanishing without a blip. And you would be driven to finish it, because otherwise you would have to return the $100 plus an extra $10 due to Amazon's fees.

That's what Wickerwork would be about. A continuous boil of small transactions and projects to knit people together quietly and closely.

Some people might be thinking "Nobody would fund that project, this guy's hopelessly optimistic!"

That's the same sort of thought that thinks Wikipedia cannot possibly work. Well, Wikipedia works, and surfing to Kickstarter clearly shows people will fund those sorts of projects.

What do you think?


shaktool said...

I would use it! ^_^

MattyMatt said...

This is kind of what is, or would be if it was designed to be more social.

The idea with is that you pitch a story for a news article; then you try to get it funded; and then once it's funded, you write it. It's a neat concept, but the site's kind of hard to use; and the tools for connecting, collaborating, and communicating aren't really there.

Craig Perko said...

It has similarities to, yeah. But I'm really thinking about something which binds people together in a social network while helping them with their hobbies.

It's not, it's not Kickstarter, it's something else. It's also something very hard to build. :P