5 June 2014 | 19 Comments
Two days ago, Kickstarter announced two important changes to their platform: Launch Now and Simplified Rules. These changes prompted a completely uninformed outcry, including this well-circulated article about how the new rules “open the floodgates to more frauds and scams.”
I’ve thought about and researched the new guidelines, and I actually think they’re better for both Kickstarter creators and backers. I’ll get to that in a second. First let’s look at the changes compared to the way things were.
Old Version: Kickstarter’s original guidelines said that you had to create something, but that “something” was limited in some seemingly random ways. For example, software, bath/beauty products, and self-help projects were largely not allowed on Kickstarter. You also could not use Kickstarter to fundraise for charity or offer rewards involving financial incentives or various federally regulated items like alcohol or firearms.
New Version: Kickstarter’s new simplified rules have been boiled down to three basic principles (these bullet points are a direct quote from Kickstarter):
- 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.
As you can see, these are still very much in line with the spirit of the original guidelines. They basically just lifted restrictions on a few types of items that they were originally wary about (like software, bath/beauty products, and self-help projects, as mentioned above), expanding Kickstarter’s market space a little bit. They also now allow creators to offer multiple units of hardware products to the same backer.
Conclusion: Kickstarter is a funding platform, not a product curation site, and the new change further exemplifies that purpose. These change will attract a few more creators who weren’t able to offer their products on Kickstarter, and just like with any other projects, backers will be the ones who determine if they want to pledge for those types of products. This is a minimal change that is completely within the original spirit of Kickstarter, and I don’t foresee any issues with it.
Old Version: Up until this point, a creator was required to submit his or her project to Kickstarter for approval before launching it. A Kickstarter employee would then skim over the page looking for any key issues and either approve it or reject it. If approved, the creator could then launch it at any time–even months later. When the project went live, the power was in the hands of the backers to report any red flags to Kickstarter.
New Version: Kickstarter has designed an algorithm that replaces the employees who had to review projects for approval. The algorithm looks for the exact same things they previously looked for (but without human error); things like “the project’s description, rewards, funding goal, and whether the creator has previously launched a project.” This algorithm activates the minute you start to enter content on your project page.
If your project passes the algorithm’s review (not just once, but on an ongoing basis as you make changes), you are eligible for Launch Now, meaning that you can simply press the Launch button to start your campaign at any time instead of submitting the project to Kickstarter and waiting 3-7 days for approval. There is no formal pre-approval process–it happens in the background as you edit your project page.
If the algorithm catches any red flags, you still have to get approval from a Kickstarter employee. And even if your project is eligible for Launch Now, you can choose to submit your project to Kickstarter for feedback and advice before launching.
Also, as was the case before, backers can submit concerns about a project to Kickstarter while the project is live.
Conclusion: This is the change that most people have been talking about, and I suspect that people are missing the point. This is a very good change for Kickstarter because of two reason:
1. The change makes it harder, not easier, for bad projects to launch on Kickstarter. Imagine that you’re a Kickstarter employee in charge of reviewing projects in a specific category under the old system. You get hundreds of project requests every day, and you skim each one looking for any red flags that jump out at you. You probably have a checklist of the top 10 problem areas to look at. After all, you’re human–you can’t catch every little thing, and your time is limited, so you can’t review every little thing. Bad projects are going to slip through the cracks.
Compare that to a computer algorithm with thousands of data points that constantly reviews projects. This software is significantly more likely to catch bad projects.
You might say that a computer isn’t going to have the intuition to “sense” when a project is a scam, and you’re probably right. But the real people who vet Kickstarter projects aren’t Kickstarter employees–they’re potential backers, and they’re still fully empowered to report bad projects.
2. The change makes it easier for good projects–or, at least, appropriate projects–to launch. I’ve heard from so many creators (new and old) that they had hyped a specific launch date to their fanbase, and when it finally came time to launch the project, Kickstarter hadn’t approved it yet. Why? Because Kickstarter employees are human beings. They go on vacation. They have good days and bad days, meetings and meetups to attend.
The new Kickstarter algorithm is on all the time. It doesn’t take lunch breaks. It doesn’t go on holiday. It will catch the bad projects and it will instantly recognize that your project is good.
Really, the only difference between the old system and the new system is time. Both systems review projects for the same red flags, but the new system does it so much faster. That’s great news for all the well-intentioned project creators out there who are ready to launch their projects.
I’ll end with a story from my personal experience on Kickstarter that illustrates why this new system is better. When I launched Viticulture on Kickstarter back in August 2012, it did really well within the first hour–people were discovering it in the “recently launched” section of Kickstarter.
But then a backer red-flagged one of my reward levels (one that did not meet Kickstarter’s guidelines), and Kickstarter immediately unlisted my project and removed it from the “recently launched” section until I deleted the faulty reward level.
Now, I should have known Kickstarter’s guidelines wouldn’t allow that reward level (it was for entrance into a Viticulture tournament with a cash prize). My other mistake was assuming that Kickstarter’s employees would catch any errors like that before approving the project. But they’re human, with limited time and a limited capacity for catching errors.
I’m confident that Kickstarter’s algorithm would have caught the mistake, which means that Viticulture wouldn’t have been red flagged and it would have stayed on the “recently launched” section.
Thus I fully support these new changes for well-meaning creators and backers like me. This isn’t a case of “anyone can launch anything on Kickstarter at any time now!” Rather, it’s a well-calculated evolution that modernizes and streamlines Kickstarter for all the good projects out there.
UPDATE February 18, 2015: Kickstarter reveals some data about how the new launch process has gone over the last 8 months.