For this week's awesome stuff post, we're going to suggest it's about time you kicked back and had a cool drink. You deserve it. Thankfully, there are a bunch of crowdfunding projects to help you make that cool drink a reality.
First up, The Ice Baller, for those of you who think your ice cubes are too cloudy, too small, and too... cubed. It's a device designed to make larger, clear, round ice balls. Pretty self explanatory.
Apparently, a lot of people want big clear ice balls, because this one shot past its $20,000 goal pretty quickly and there's still over a month left. Personally, it seems fairly pricey to pay $70 (well, $55 if you got in early) to make ice balls, but what do I know?
Ice is so last century. How about some ChillBottles -- little stainless steel refreezable bottle-shaped devices to cool down your drinks. They even come in a small "six pack" stainless steel case that will keep the bottles cool outside of the freezer. This reminds me of another Kickstarter project -- called pucs which closed a couple weeks ago. That one was much more popular, but the ChillBottles are still available (and cheaper).
This one only has a couple hours left, so if you want them, don't waste much time. Of course, it might seem a bit odd to put a "beer bottle" shaped frozen bit of stainless steel into a non-beer drink, but this isn't about thinking too hard. It's about getting drinks cooler.
Okay, maybe you shouldn't just be thinking about what to put inside your drink to cool it down. Some designers have come up with a funky looking device called TurboCool to (they claim) quickly cool down any canned drink. I have to admit that I'm not sure I understand how or why this works, but it's basically a cannister in which you put water & ice, and then your can, and you pump the top so the can spins. Sort of the same functionality as a salad spinner. I can see how this would get the drink marginally cooler faster, but still seems like it would take a while to get a drink really cool.
These guys are pretty ambitious -- seeking over $150,000 for a device that cools a single can marginally faster than a bucket of ice, but they still have over a month.
Finally, what good is a cool drink if the drink isn't very good. Rejigger seems like an easier way of making mixed drinks without having to carefully measure each component. Basically, it's a cup with three separate compartments, sized to the usual different ratio of "parts" in various classic drinks. Just pour in the right liquids to the right ratio slots, and you've got a quick mixed drink.
This one is also super ambitious, seeking $75,000, and it's got a long way to go to reach that goal. However, they still have nearly a month to go.
There you go. Kick back, relax, have a cool drink and enjoy your weekend.
Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing has been a popular area of experimentation for the last few years, but people still haven't quite figured out how best to work a crowd. Some projects are insanely successful. Other projects seem to fall far short of their goals. Here are just a few examples of projects that could use some help.
There's been plenty of talk about how social media -- and specifically tools like Twitter and Facebook -- have been useful in organizing various protests around the world, but it's interesting to see how other popular tools are being used as well. For example, with the huge protests in Turkey, some of the protesters are using IndieGogo to finance a full-page ad in the NY Times to tell their story to the world. And it worked. Within a day, they'd raised the amount and it's continued to rise since then (and there are still weeks left). The NY Times has already accepted the ad as well. This strikes me as fascinating on a number of levels, because crowdfunding is just a different kind of platform -- and while most people just focus on its uses for buying products -- one of the key features is how it actually builds a community around the project in question. And, as such, you can see how it can also be such a powerful tool for building further community and support around a political campaign of sorts.
A lot of the attention given to Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms these days has been spurred by the big runaway success stories — the Pebble smartwatch, the Double Fine Adventure, Amanda Palmer's project, and many others that exceeded their fundraising goals in the first few days and kept on climbing. The phenomenon is not limited to these multi-million dollar examples: countless smaller projects have shot past their more modest goals multiple times over.
Whether it's a $500 project that raises $10,000 or a $100,000 project that raises millions, the result for the creator is the same: a stunning success that has the potential to turn into a crisis or an even bigger opportunity, depending on how they handle it.
That's the other side of the double-edged sword that is success on Kickstarter, and it often gets ignored. If you're a creator with a product in the pipeline — whether it's software, hardware, an album, a film or anything else that takes time and work — and your plan is to raise some money while piloting it out to a few hundred people, suddenly having hundreds of thousands of paying customers on your hands can be more daunting than exciting.
Not only does the challenge of order fulfillment become much bigger and more complex (this is where a lot of campaigns fall down), there's also the issue of managing so many expectations. Hundreds of wall comments and private messages (some less polite and more demanding than others) start arriving, all while you're trying to finish the actual work. And that starts the moment the campaign picks up steam — meaning the actual money often won't be arriving for weeks.
A big part of the problem is the relatively lackluster backer management tools found on Kickstarter and similar services. Communication is a huge part of running a successful campaign, since things are bound to go wrong, but backers are almost always understanding as long as they aren't left in the dark. Runaway success projects — or at least the ones that still deliver — tend to move beyond Kickstarter for the hard work of customer management: they take the discussion to their own forums, they set up their own mailing lists and customer request systems, and they move more and more communication to more robust platforms (Kickstarter only offers blog-esque updates and an inflexible survey system). Apart from ensuring that a project delivers its goals on time, there's the fact that most crowdfunding campaigns are also about starting a business, which means hopefully converting lots of backers into repeat customers.
Ultimately, the success of crowdfunding campaigns seems to come down to how well the creators build and manage a community — and currently the crowdfunding platforms themselves can only play a small part in that.
One of the biggest and most important trends right now is the increasing ability for people to make physical stuff that used to be impossible to make themselves. 3D printing is, obviously, a big part of that, but a variety of other advancements are happening at the same time. We're in the very early days, but machines that help you make stuff are getting cheaper and cheaper, as they get more and more powerful. There are a ton of these kinds of things showing up on crowdfunding platforms, so let's take a look at a few:
3D Print on the cheap: The interestingly named Buccaneer 3D printer from the also interestingly named Pirate3D Inc. is one of the cheapest 3D printers around these days, running a bit less than $400. And I remember when people were excited that such printers finally got under $2,000! There are a few other 3D printers around a similar price out there, but it's nice to see that the Buccaneer is focused on both ease of use of the 3D printer, while also trying to make the device itself look nicer than many other 3D printers. Cheaper, easier, nicer looking? Those are things that help 3D printing go mainstream.
It's worth noting that there are some concerns about the claims made by the company, and at that price, the quality you're going to get is absolutely going to be limited. But, we're on the cusp of something amazing in 3D printers, and I imagine that it won't be long before we see more cheap 3D printers as the quality increases. But if you want to get in early... The Buccaneer shot past its targeted $100,000 very quickly and is looking like it will go a lot higher by the time it's all done.
3D print without 3D printed parts: Honestly, I just found this project more amusing for the fact that it's a 3D printer where the makers spend a lot of time mocking 3D printer output. It's the OpenBeam Kossel Pro, a 3D printer without any parts manufactured by a 3D printer. As the creators point out, 3D printing is great for rapid prototyping, but sometimes good old fashioned mass produced injected molded parts are the right tool for the job, and can make things cheaper on a mass scale. So they've made a 3D printer that is too elitist for its own parts.
As I wrote this, it was right about its goal, so by the time you read this, there's a decent chance it'll have surpassed the goal already.
Make by cutting down, not building up 3D printing is great for building stuff, but sometimes you have to work in the other direction. The folks at Otherlab in San Francisco have built the Othermill, a small, relatively inexpensive CNC mill device so that you can build stuff, such as electrical parts/circuit boards etc.
This project's about to close way over its target goal, so if you want one, get in fast.
Print on stuff: Okay, so the first items above are all about building stuff, but what do you do with that stuff once it's built? Well, you might want to label it, and that's where Tag On That has you covered. It's a printer that lets you label, well, pretty much anything. They claim that it takes the same technology that puts labels on things like phones, computers and keyboards, and puts that into the hands of the everyday consumer. I have to admit, the first time I saw the "print head" template "squash" into the item it was printing on it, it made me smile. I had no idea that's how you do that.
Watching the video, you suddenly realize just how much you might possibly be able to "tag." Of course, Portlandia fans already know exactly what to do with such a printer ("put a bird on it!"). Unfortunately, it looks like it's still a bit expensive for everyday use, especially since you'll need to pay a few hundred more if you want to be able to make your own templates for printing (cheaper models come with just one template). Still, the project is more than halfway funded with nearly a month left, which tends to bode well for making it over the goal.
Last week, in writing about the silly backlash to Zach Braff's successful Kickstarter project, we noted that he claimed he had the data that showed his success did not take away from other Kickstarter projects, but rather it appeared that Braff brought a lot of new people to Kickstarter, many of whom went on to fund other projects. But still, the ridiculous arguments persisted that somehow famous people using Kickstarter take away money from upstarts. It's as if these people don't understand what a non-zero sum game is. They assume, incorrectly, that if one (famous) person is succeeding, it means one (non-famous) person is not. Perhaps the worst example of this was a piece by Reginald Nelson at TheWrap which ridiculously attacks Kickstarter's founders, arguing that these moves harm "the creative class."
The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects have brought tens of thousands of new people to Kickstarter. 63% of those people had never backed a project before. Thousands of them have since gone on to back other projects, with more than $400,000 pledged to 2,200 projects so far. Nearly 40% of that has gone to other film projects.
We’ve seen this happen before. Last year we wrote a post called Blockbuster Effects that detailed the same phenomenon in the Games and Comics categories. Two big projects brought tons of new people to Kickstarter who went on to back more than 1,000 other projects in the following weeks, pledging more than $1 million. Projects bring new backers to other projects. That supports our mission too.
I'd hope this puts to rest the ridiculous claims, but somehow, I doubt it will (and the comments on the Kickstarter blog post suggest people will still complain anyway).
Not this again. Back in 2011, we first discussed why it was silly that some people got upset that someone rich and famous would use Kickstarter, as if the platform was only allowed for unknown artists. That was about Colin Hanks, the son of Tom Hanks, financing a documentary via the site. Since that time, the argument has popped up a few more times, including when Amanda Palmer used the site, when Bjork tried to use the site and when the Veronica Mars movie was funded via the site. Most recently, it's been aimed at quirky actor/filmmaker Zach Braff for his Kickstarter project, called Wish I Was Here. Braff set a goal of $2 million, which was raised very quickly.
And that's when some people got angry. Just as before. But it's a small group of people. There are at least 36,000 people (i.e., those who have funded the project so far) who did not get angry. Why? Because they like Braff and want to support him. I'm curious if the people who are attacking Braff for using Kickstarter ever have watched one of his TV shows or seen a movie he was in. Because, in that case, they'd be paying the same sort of thing... but most of that money would be going to a giant corporation, rather than to the actor himself. So what are they complaining about?
Frankly, he's more defensive in that video than he needs to be. He's got nothing to be defensive about. He notes, accurately, that he's long been known as someone who engages deeply via social media, especially Twitter and Reddit where Braff has been active for years. He also talks about his own obsession with Kickstarter, and how great it was to get the various updates on projects he'd funded, and how he hoped his fans would enjoy getting updates about the movie making process. And, yes, he's backed a bunch of projects himself, including the Aaron Swartz documentary.
For the life of me, I can't see a single logical argument for why people are upset about this, other than (a) they don't like Braff or (b) they're jealous of him. Neither seems like a particularly compelling reason for why Braff, or any famous person, shouldn't use the platform. The two most common arguments seem to be "he's rich and should fund it himself." But that's stupid. First off, he's probably not quite as rich as you think, and second he's made it clear over and over again that the budget is much higher than the amount he's raising and he's putting in an "ass-ton" (his quote) of his own money as well. Also, if you think that, don't fund him. No sweat off your back. For his fans who like him and want to support him, so what? The second argument is that this means he gets the money instead of some struggling filmmaker. However, as he himself has pointed out, the data suggests something entirely different:
I have something every detractor doesn’t have: the analytics. Most of the backers of my film aren’t people on Kickstarter who had $10 and were deciding where to give it, and then gave it to me instead of someone else. They came to Kickstarter because of me, because of this project. They wouldn’t have been there otherwise. In fact, a lot of people who didn't know about Kickstarter came and wound up giving money to a lot of other projects too. So for people to say, 'That’s ... up; you’re stealing money from documentaries' is just not a sensible argument.
All he's doing is the same thing we've been arguing for years is the business model of the future: connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy. Braff has done exactly that, and has built up a huge and loyal following who are really excited about this project. As we pointed out when Amanda Palmer raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter or when Louis CK made over $1 million by selling direct off his site, the fans who are buying in aren't disturbed by how much money is being made. For the most part, they seem thrilled to be a part of something amazing.
I think that's the key thing that the detractors simply don't understand. This is about two key things: being part of an experience and a community. It's not about "a movie," but about much more than that. And, even specifically around "the movie," people should be supporting what Braff is doing, because funding it this way means that it's going to be Braff's vision for the movie, rather than a giant Hollywood studio. A few months back, Jonathan Taplin, a filmmaker and defender of the old system, told me during a debate that no real filmmaker would ever use Kickstarter. At the 40 minute mark, he goes on a condescending rant saying sarcastically that "major filmmakers" could never possibly use Kickstarter because "the average" film only raised $10,000. But the average is meaningless for something like this. Furthermore, he goes on and on about (his friend) Martin Scorcese getting to do a movie he wants, and how that would never work via Kickstarter. But we're seeing over and over again the exact opposite. When a star with a big following uses something like Kickstarter, it gives them more ability to make the movie they want without outside interference.
Now we're seeing, quite clearly, that "major filmmakers" can use Kickstarter to do interesting things, and somehow, I get the feeling that it's the same sort of people who insisted they couldn't possibly make it in the first place who are now complaining that they are...
Okay, I really thought this week was going to be the one where our awesome stuff posts didn't have a theme. But... because of some last minute finds, you not only get two separate themes, but also four projects, rather than our standard three. First up, we've got two different takes on a computer, and then we've got two projects that help you rethink how you input data into a computer.
First up, is the MiiPC. It's an Android-powered PC that's designed for family use. From the screenshots/video they show, they at least appear to have done a decent job making Android functional as a desktop OS. Some of the "family" features seem a little hokey and overhyped, but perhaps it appeals to some people.
Of course, what struck me as most interesting about this was actually the price. $99 for a simple computer seems like a potentially good deal for people looking to just do simple stuff. This project blew past its funding targets quickly and has already more than doubled it with over a month to go.
So that's a more modern take on a PC, but how about one that's a bit more retro? The the X500 is a modern computer case, but which takes its design cues from classic early 1980s gaming consoles like the Amiga, Atari and Sinclair. My first computer was an Atari 800, so I've got a soft spot for this style of design, even if it's probably not that practical these days.
It's just a case, so you'll have to want to do some DIY computer building to get an actual computer in there. Also, if this one interests you, don't wait too long. The project ends tomorrow. It's already just barely squeaked over its target, so it will definitely be funded.
Since we're talking about DIY, howzabout the DUO, the world's first DIY 3D sensor. If you've been living under a rock for a while, you may have missed all the buzzy and hype about the Leap Motion controller for gesture recognition on your computer. The DUO, conceptually, is pretty similar to the Leap, except that this not about fancy shiny locked up boxes, but about making your own damn fancy gesture controller. Basically, the different levels get you started at different points along the process of making your own such device (though, yes, you can also purchase fully assembled ones, but they're much more expensive than the Leap).
The DUO is still only about 1/3 of the way to its target, but with nearly a month left, it seems like it will probably get there. Might not be as fancy as the Leap, but how much cooler is it to show off that you made our own?
And since we're on the subject of gesture recognition for computers, how about the the NUIA eyeCharm, which is an add on to the Kinect (which we'll assume you already know about...), to make it so you can control your computer via eye movements. There were rumors that Samsung was working on something like this to be built into phones and tablets, but these guys are doing it as a simple add on to the Kinect.
This one has just a week to go and is hovering right near its target, and should easily pass it soon (if it hasn't already by the time you read it).
Well, that's it for this week. Bonus points figuring out how many times Fruit Ninja appears in the Kickstarter videos above. I had no idea that that game had become such a "must show" in any such demo.
Just a few weeks ago, we had a story about how an awesome looking documentary about comic artists needed to hit up Kickstarter to raise more money solely to purchase licenses to some of the artwork & video clips in the film. Most of the copyright holders let them use the work for free, but a few were demanding payment -- often thousands of dollars for a single image or short clip. As we've noted, documentary filmmakers are scared to death of relying on fair use, because they don't want to get sued (and some insurance providers won't give you insurance if you plan to rely on fair use).
And, now, there's an even crazier example. Two huge fans of the cult favorite TV show, Arrested Development have made a documentary about the show, talking to a ton of people who created and acted in the show, as well as to a bunch of fans. Given that a new season (via Netflix) is quickly approaching, getting this documentary out would make sense. The film is finished according to the filmmakers. Done done done. So why are they asking Kickstarter for $20,053? Yup, you guessed it. Copyright licensing issues. And this time, it's really crazy:
After five years, we're finally close to releasing the documentary. Our final step is to pay the network for photos from the set of the show. These photos are extremely relevant to the story, and we can't move forward with the release of the documentary until our fees are paid to the network. This is where you come in. Help us pay the network fees so every Arrested fan can see this documentary!
Yes, photos from the set. And, "the network" in this case is 20th Century Fox. This seemed so ridiculous to me that I asked the filmmakers, Jeff Smith & Neil Lieberman, for the details, and they said that these are photos taken by a variety of people on set and that the people who took the photos gave them to Jeff & Neil willingly, but that "the network is claiming copyright." Just to be clear, Jeff & Neil don't have a problem with this, saying that they believe that this is "within the network's rights" to make that claim and they emphasized that Fox was giving them a "deep discount on the photos" and that it "could have been much worse" otherwise.
While it's great that the filmmakers are fine with this, it still seems quite troubling to me. Whoever took the photos in the first place would own the copyright on the basic photos themselves. This implies that Fox is claiming copyright on the set itself, which appears in the images (or, they're lying and claiming copyright on something they have no copyright on). And, yes, they could potentially claim copyright on the set -- but that doesn't make this any less crazy. Jeff & Neil would have a massively clear fair use argument if they were challenged on using these images. It is not as if the use of those images would somehow harm the "market" for "the set" itself (which is about all the network could possibly be claiming copyright on). It would obviously be a transformative use, and they'd just be displaying parts of the set. This is about as open and shut a fair use case as you could possibly imagine.
And, really, this is doubly ridiculous, because this documentary is only going to help promote the show more, not harm it in any way... oh wait. Fox no longer benefits from that because Fox cancelled the show and the new season is happening on Netflix instead... Perhaps that's what this is about. The cash from this Kickstarter could have gone into all sorts of actually useful things, including more marketing and promotions for the documentary (which does look great). But, instead, it's going into Fox's bank account, because Rupert Murdoch needs it more than two independent documentary filmmakers who were huge fans of the show. I thought copyright was supposed to be about helping filmmakers, not forcing them to waste $20,000+ dollars on a bogus copyright claim..
The internet, which now connects almost everything in the world, has changed every aspect of the way we live, work, and socialize. It has also changed the way we do science, particularly in facilitating the dissemination of research results, but also in enabling scientific discoveries in ways previously unheard of. Here are a few examples of how the internet has affected (and even effected) genetic research.