TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 28

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Income inequality isn’t beyond our control. Smart policymaking could increase the efficiency of the U.S. economy AND narrow the income gap.

By Jason Furman in the Milken Institute Review

2. A “Paris Club” making and enforcing rules for managing Europe’s economic woes could offer stability for the long term.

By Robert Kahn at the Council on Foreign Relations

3. Fresh, community-based food offered at convenience stores and gas stations could change the way people in Detroit eat.

By Chris Hardman in Civil Eats

4. Reader as publisher? How crowdfunding journalism changes the relationship between news outlets and their audiences.

By Catalina Albeanu in Journalism.co.uk

5. Balancing privacy concerns is key to a future where learners are empowered to use data and truly take control of their networks and their futures.

By Catherine M. Casserly in Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY the photo bank

I Raised $1,500 On Kickstarter—Then Gave It All Away

It took 31 days for Santa Fe–based photographer Matthew Chase-Daniel to raise $1,500 via Kickstarter. In addition to the money that came through the website, people handed him singles, a lump sum of $150, even a jar of pennies. They thrust cash at him when they saw him around town, at the post office or the market. Then, once Chase-Daniel had amassed all the funds, for 24 days starting in late August, he gave it all away, at a rate of 40 to 50 one-dollar bills a day.

Now, if you happened to read MONEY reporter Jacob Davidson‘s article earlier this week, “Kickstarter Backers Are Investors, and It’s Time They Got Used To It,” you may be tempted to write off the whole thing as another potential Kickstarter scam. How dare someone in the art world solicit donations when he didn’t even appear to need the money—not like, say, the L’ouvre, the Musée d’Orsay (as reported by the New York Times this week) or even the curatorial program for Portland’s Newspace Center for Photography. Heck, he didn’t even keep it! Take a breath. Chase-Daniel did exactly what he promised his backers: “If you give a dollar, I will smile when I hear about it. Then I’ll give the money away.”

The $1,500 that he raised was for an art installation entitled “Dollar Distribution” for the “Economologies” series exhibited in Axle Contemporary, a 1970 aluminum stepvan custom retrofitted as a mobile art gallery. After meeting and surpassing his goal (even after Kickstarter and Amazon Payments took their cuts), Chase-Daniel made a trip downtown:

I went to the bank and withdrew the money, all as 1-dollar bills. I wasn’t clear how much space that would take. I brought a zippered duffel bag into the bank. It turns out 1,500 bills can be quite compact. 1,000 of them were handed to me fresh from the vault, in a nice brick: 10 banded bundles of 100 ones, sealed in a plastic bag, straight from the Federal Reserve in El Paso. That brick has power. Holding it made me a little giddy and giggly.

Then, he took the brick of bills to Axle Contemporary, where he proceeded to use them to carpet the floor of the stepvan. Chase-Daniel put the final touch on the piece by installing a sheet of glass over the back door, after which he drove the gallery-cum-vault around town, parking in random locations to show the pile of money to interested passersby. (By sheer coincidence, the Axle Contemporary stepvan is not so dissimilar to a Brink’s truck—the distinction becoming even less so with its new cargo.)

Following the viewing, the artist dismantled the piece and distributed it around town. He tossed, slipped, hid, tucked, folded, crumpled, rolled, floated, and buried dollar bills in locations around Santa Fe for anyone to find. Sometimes they were “discarded” haphazardly, sometimes they were strategically placed.

Chase-Daniel recounted the impetus for the project—he was driving into town in 2013 when the breeze blew a dollar bill past his windshield. As he continued, a rolling tumbleweed of bills drifted across the road. The knee-jerk reaction of the drivers around him was to brake and swerve:

It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, the sight of cash blowing down the road gets attention and provokes reactions and thoughts and reflection of all sorts, positive, negative, joyous, angry, liberated, stressed-out. I decided I wanted to replicate my experience for others, to spark associations and reactions in others by simply leaving some cash around Santa Fe for others to happen upon by chance.

The Kickstarter approach came later. “Since my idea was to distribute the money randomly to a large ‘crowd,’ crowdsourced funding seemed like the logical way to raise the money,” said Chase-Daniel, who made no money from the project nor gave any credit to contributors.

In some ways, Chase-Daniels’ “Dollar Distribution” is similar to Jody Servon’s “I ____ a dollar” installation. Both used money they had been given (for Servon it came from a grant) to create their installations and then disseminate the money again, circulating it to a new group of people. Chase-Daniels makes a further distinction between his project and the illustrious @HiddenCash, this summer’s social media treasure hunt:

From what I understand of @HiddenCash, people are given clues and then search for the cash and are rewarded for their intelligence, problem-solving and determination. ‘Dollar Distribution’ gives money out to anyone, without discrimination. It is found by rich and poor, intelligent or not, with no warning or even knowledge of the project by the vast majority of ‘participants.’

What Matthew Chase-Daniels hopes will result from the project is that people will experience a visceral reaction to the surprise of discovering a dollar bill at some unexpected point in their day, in the same way he did while driving last year. He likens it to “a feeling of joy or luckiness or good fortune” that comes with finding even such a small denomination as a penny on the sidewalk.

Chase-Daniels tried to remain unobserved while distributing the dollars, but he also felt compelled to document some of the placements photographically. Those photos (which he shared on social media) were—for the most part—cropped too tightly to clue anyone in to a specific location, but they did help to spread the word about the project. That led some people to respond by sharing photos of the bills they had found.

While Chase-Daniels didn’t plan out where he would “drop” the dollars, he did happen upon some locations—a Brink’s truck, a one-dollar table at a yard sale, a book on Dada art in the library—that were too perfect to resist. Over time, he began refining the compositions of the photographs as well as the placement of the money. Chase-Daniels is compiling the images and writing about the project in a book that will be out later this year.

Chase-Daniels emphasized that the most important part of the piece was the distribution of the money; the installation and the photos, he said, “are almost incidental.” If, as he noted, “the money IS the project,” then the 1,500 people that happened upon one of the lucky bills each acquired a limited edition intaglio print—valued at exactly one dollar.

This is part of The Photo Bank, a section of Money.com dedicated to conceptually-driven photography. From images that document the broader economy to ones that explore more personal concerns like paying for college, travel, retirement, advancing your career, or even buying groceries, The Photo Bank will showcase a spectrum of the best work being produced by emerging and established artists. Submissions are encouraged and should be sent to Sarina Finkelstein, Online Photo Editor for Money.com:sarina.finkelstein@timeinc.com.

More from The Photo Bank:
FREE MONEY! (If You _ _ _ _ It)
Looking at ‘Rich and Poor,’ 37 Years Later
When the DynaTAC Brick Phone Was Must-Have Technology
Inside the ‘Pay What You Want’ Marketplace

 

MONEY Investing

Kickstarter Backers Are Investors, and It’s Time They Got Used To It

iStock

Many Kickstarter users still don't quite understand what they're getting into, or why the site is predicated on risk.

It’s been a rough September for Kickstarter. After a three-week period during which two major projects—each of which had raised more than $500,000 on the site—failed spectacularly, the crowdfunding platform has begun to look a little less like a harmless way for underdog visionaries to fund their passion projects and a little more like a casino. It hasn’t helped that a handful of Kickstarter scams and con men were exposed in recent months.

Recently, Kickstarter appeared to respond to the bad press by revising its terms of service. The new document does a better job of laying out the responsibilities creators have to their backers. No scamming, do your best, try to make it up to people if you fail, and so on. But that move likely won’t fix the deeper problem: That most of the site’s users believe that their donations entitle them to some kind of tangible reward, be it a smart watch or a bamboo beer koozie. In reality, nothing of the sort is guaranteed. That’s because Kickstarter backers aren’t customers making a purchase. They’re investors. And like all investments, Kickstarter projects have a chance of going bust.

To an extent, the confusion is understandable. Kickstarter calls itself “a new way to fund creative projects,” which sounds a lot more innocuous than “Craigslist for angel investing” — even though the latter may be closer to the truth. Backers generally have limited information about the people they are supporting. And once a project is funded, they’re on their own when it comes to enforcing contracts with a creators — to the extent that such contracts even exist. In the event that a scammer takes everyone’s money and runs, Kickstarter won’t offer a refund or even chip in for legal fees. But at least in those cases there’s a clear basis for taking legal action (fraud); when money is squandered in a more conventional way — through bad business decisions — funders have no recourse at all.

However, before anyone deletes their Kickstarter app or swears off crowdfunding for good, it’s worth pointing out that you may have staked your retirement on a similar system: The stock market. Equity ownership, after all, comes with startlingly few guarantees. If Tim Cook decides tomorrow to spend all of Apple’s capital on a strategic Cheetos reserve, there’s really not much the average investor (without a controlling stake in the company) can do about it other than sell off the stock. Sure, the stock market does have additional important protections: greater transparency; legally empowered and (theoretically) independent boards of directors; dedicated regulators and watchdogs, and more. But in both cases investors take on a large amount of risk.

Does that make Kickstarter a bad deal? Not at all. In fact, the risky nature of Kickstarter is arguably the very thing that makes it worth using. Project creators offer something to backers — even if it’s just early access to their product — as a reward for taking a chance on a risky idea.

But it’s important to remember why the maker of that sweet felt iPhone case is giving you priority treatment: Things could all go south. And if they do, you’re the one who’ll take the hit.

TIME Crowdfunding

This Smart Cooler is Now the Most Successful Kickstarter Project Ever

Coolest Cooler

Ice bucket meets challenge

Experts say wearable technology is the next big thing, but now the people have spoken. And the people don’t want smartwatches — they want a cooler that will make margaritas and charge their phones while blasting the latest Pitbull song.

The Coolest Cooler, which has a built-in blender, waterproof speakers, USB chargers, LED lights and other features, become the most successful Kickstarter campaign ever on Tuesday, the crowdfunding site announced. The project raised $13,285,226 from more than 60,000 backers in 52 days, beating previous record-holder the Pebble smartwatch, which raised more than $10 million in 2012.

The historic Kickstarter campaign marks the second attempt by creator Ryan Grepper to fund the cooler of the future. In 2013, his design failed to meet its $125,000 funding goal in time, so this year, he opted for a more modest $50,000 goal — that ended up raising $2 million in 24 hours.

Alas, the Coolest Cooler won’t be ready for any Labor Day bashes (Grepper is still finalizing the design and choosing a factory), but it is still coming to a pool party near you: backers who donated $165 or more are expected to receive the cooler in February 2015, and the item will likely retail for $299.

MONEY online shopping

WATCH: Kickstarter Raises a Record $11 Million…for a Drink Cooler

The Coolest Cooler comes loaded with USB chargers, a cutting board and a Bluetooth speaker. It'll even cool your food and drinks!

TIME Internet

Kickstarting Equal Pay: Women Out-Raise Men on Crowdfunding Sites

Call it the funding gap instead of the pay gap

It’s an unfortunate but well-known fact that women trail men in most metrics of business success. But a recent study shows there’s one area of enterprise where women are surging ahead: raising money online via crowdfunding.

On Kickstarter, where backers make monetary donations to projects and businesses in exchange for small rewards, about two-thirds of women-led technology projects reach their fundraising goals, compared with a little less than one-third of male tech ventures, according to the July study from the University of Pennsylvania. Overall, the study found that women are 13% more likely to meet their Kickstarter goals, after controlling for factors like project type and amount of money.

Ethan Mollick, an assistant professor at the Wharton business school at Penn who co-wrote the study, told the Wall Street Journal that women’s success on Kickstarter may be precisely because they are so underrepresented in areas like gaming and technology. These female-started ventures get backed by “women who are activists who want to reach out and help other women,” he said.

That was certainly the experience of Joanna Griffiths, who raised $100,000 on Indiegogo, another crowdfunding site, for her women’s underwear line Knix Wear Inc.. The money came largely from women backers. “It’s a female product. It’s a female team,” she told WSJ. “There’s very much a connection there.”

Alicia Robb, a senior fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, authored another study on crowdfunding that found 40% of Kickstarter ventures funded by women were led by women, compared with only 23% of projects backed by men.

In other words, women are more likely to support other women than men are.

TIME Crowdfunding

More Than 4 Million People Visited the Potato Salad Kickstarter

Scandinavian potato salad from Silver Palate. (Bob Fila/Chic
Scandinavian potato salad from Silver Palate. Chicago Tribune—MCT via Getty Images

Forget Oculus Rift and the Reading Rainbow reboot—a bowl of potato salad was better able to hold the attention of the Internet this summer.

Crowdfunding site Kickstarter today revealed a bevy of stats related to what has become one of its most famous (or infamous) projects, an initiative by a random guy to make his first-ever bowl of potato salad. The project gathered widespread media attention and ultimately attracted 4.1 million visitors to its web page, making it the fourth most-viewed Kickstarter project of all time:

 

tater sald views

 

Unlike many widely-viewed Kickstarter projects, almost everyone who viewed the potato salad project got a hearty laugh and then went about their business. In the end, the project earned just $55,492 from 6,911 backers. Oculus Rift, for comparison, made $2.4 million, and Reading Rainbow racked up $5.4 million, though both attracted fewer visitors than potato salad.

On the other hand, though, a guy made a cool $55,000 just by saying he wanted to make potato salad. This is the great, democratizing force of the Internet.

Unsurprisingly, most of the project backers came from the U.S., with the United Kingdom and Canada being the next-biggest potato salad backers. Among U.S. states, the most backers hailed from Ohio (potato salad connoisseur Zack Brown’s home state), California and New York.

tater salad map

Brown is planning to host a festival called PotatoStock2014 in Columbus, Ohio with live music and, of course, lots off helpings of the tasty side dish. Proceeds will benefit a charity aimed at ending homelessness in Ohio. A portion of his potato salad money will also be used to start a for-profit venture to “spread humor and joy around the world,” he said on his Kickstarter page.

TIME Internet

The Hottest New Exercise Equipment Is a Giant Hamster Wheel…for Cats

166273382
Getty Images

A Kickstarter for this project has already raised more than $120,000

If you’re hoping to help your fat cat slim down, consider getting him this feline hamster wheel. It’s still in its funding stages, but a Kickstarter campaign has already vastly exceeded its goal of $10,000.

In just a few weeks, supporters of this exercise wheel — called One Fast Cat — have pledged well over $120,000. But why a hamster wheel?

“It’s good for cats to get some sort of workout and changing it up to keep them interested is important,” creator Sean Farley wrote on the Kickstarter page. “There are many ways to keep your cat lively, giving them access to energetic companions, making a play session part of their day, and/or offering them tempting exercise equipment for use when you’re not at home…that’s why we came up with “One Fast Cat” cat wheel.”

Okay then! Here’s a look at how the contraption works:

After giving this some thought, we’re not really surprised that the campaign surpassed its funding goal. It’s 2014. If there’s wine for cats, why can’t there be a hamster wheel for cats too?

TIME Startups

How YouTube Stars Can Actually Make a Living

Pedals Music Video—Conte

Patreon offers a new approach to crowdfunding

Being a YouTube star doesn’t actually pay all that well. Just ask Jack Conte, a singer and musician who has scored viral hits mashing up Pharrell songs and stripping down pop hits like Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” as one half of the indie rock duo Pomplamoose. Between the group and his solo work, Conte says his videos can rack up as many as four million views each month on the video sharing site. But all those eyeballs do little for Conte’s bottom line—in a good month, he collects $400 in advertising revenue from YouTube.

“There’s great ways for people to build an audience online right now,” he says. “There’s really no great way for people to make a living.”

After a particularly elaborate music video involving singing robots on a handmade replica of the Millennium Falcon earned him just a few hundred dollars, Conte realized that there had to be a better way to earn money online. He wanted what he calls a “quality driven Web,” or a space where artists could make money based on the passion of their fanbases rather than trying to lure millions of mildly interested passersby by “going viral.”

His solution was Patreon, a new crowdfunding platform that helps creators earn revenue from their most ardent fans on an ongoing basis. Unlike Kickstarter, where inventors and creative types solicit money from users in a month-long campaign frenzy, Patreon asks users to pay creators each time they produce a new work. That could be a music video, a web comic any other kind of creative project. As on Kickstarter, patrons are given varying prizes based on how much they donate.

The unusual funding model creates a new dynamic between creators and fans. It’s not as much about crafting one brilliant idea and marketing it well but rather building and sustaining an audience over the long term. The idea of individual fans supporting artists on such a granular basis might seem anachronistic in an age where YouTube has helped make media more accessible, but Conte believes people are still willing to pay for art. “Patronage is a very old phenomenon that’s occurred in people and in society for thousands of years,” he says. “It stems from an emotional response to someone’s art. It’s a feeling of responsibility and importance and a desire to be a part of what they’re making.”

Since launching in May 2013, Patreon has attracted 25,000 creators who are requesting funding for everything from science fiction short stories to Minecraft raps to video game reviews. So far patrons have paid more than $2 million for creative works on the site, with $1 million of that coming in just the last two months. The most popular creators can earn close to $10,000 per project on the site.

Molly Lewis, a ukulele player with a small but devout following on YouTube, believes Patreon could eventually become her primary revenue source as an artist. She’s currently convinced more than 400 fans to pledge $2,600 total for each new song she makes, more than double her original funding goal. To attract donations, she promises exclusives like videos of live shows and personalized limericks written for hardcore fans. “It’s kind of like a fan club,” she says. “The money they spend goes directly into my buying food and making more music. They can see their dollars at work in a way that you can’t really when you go to a Katy Perry show or something.”

This desire to get an inside track on the creation of a new project has already helped Kickstarter pull in more than $1 billion in pledges from people around the world. Experts believe the Patreon model can also reach massive scale since it’s appealing to both creators and their fans. ““Here you can evaluate the quality of output over time and then decide whether you want to continue subscribing or not,” says Anindya Ghose, a professor of information, operation and management sciences at New York University who also studies crowdfunding. “It’s a very positive self-reinforcing cycle where people give small amounts of money, which incentivizes artists to do a better job, which then leads people to give more money more frequently.”

Plenty of obstacles remain for the still-nascent startup. It’s not yet clear just how long people will be willing to continually support a single artist’s work—Ghose points out that a few popular creators pumping out subpar work simply to collect a check could sour new users on the platform. More worrying could be YouTube’s entrance into the donations space. The video giant launched a virtual tip jar of its own recently as a response to ongoing gripes that it’s hard to earn money directly on the site. For now, Conte contends that Patreon’s features differentiates it from YouTube’s less robust offering, while YouTube has expressed support for crowdfunding platforms like Patreon and Kickstarter.

Silicon Valley, at least, believes in Patreon’s future. The startup closed a $15 million round of venture funding in June which included leading venture capitalist Danny Rimer and Alexis Ohanian, one of the co-founders of Reddit. The money will allow the company to launch a mobile app and open an office in San Francisco instead of working out of the two-bedroom apartment where Conte and co-founder Sam Yam live.

As Patreon grows, Conte promises that it will remain focused on creators’ interests. The currently unprofitable company charges a 5% commission on all donations, and Conte vows the fee won’t increase in the future (Kickstarter and YouTube charge the same amount). Though he’s now a CEO, he’s still a creator at heart—Conte has 1,300 patrons of his own paying more than $5,000 for each new video he makes. He envisions a future where every creative person isn’t a starving artist or a pop megastar. There’s room in the middle for artists, too, and people will pay for their work because, as Conte says, “Everybody wants to be able to enjoy beautiful things.”

TIME robotics

That Jibo Robot Does the Same Stuff as Your Phone, but People Are Freaking Out Anyway

jibo
Jibo

Jibo promises to be a lovable robot assistant, but it's unclear why you'd actually need one.

A crowdfunding campaign for a “family robot” called Jibo is picking up steam, blowing through its fundraising goals within the first day.

What is Jibo? It’s a little pod with a motorized swivel, equipped with cameras, microphones and a display. It recognizes faces and voices, and can act as a personal assistant by setting reminders, delivering messages and offering to take group photos. It also serves as a telepresence robot for video chat.

As of now, Jibo has raised more than $200,000 on IndieGogo–well beyond its $100,000 goal–and has racked up plenty of breathless coverage. Early bird pricing of $100 sold out long ago, but you can still claim a unit for $499, with an estimated December 2015 ship date.

Sorry to burst the hype bubble, but I’m not seeing how Jibo will more practical than a phone, a tablet or even a wearable device. Most of the things Jibo promises to do can be done better by the handset in your pocket–which, by the way, you don’t have to lug around from tabletop to tabletop.

To see what I mean, let’s deconstruct the scenario in Jibo’s pitch video, in which a man gets home from a long day at work. Jibo, perched on a nearby counter, turns on the lights, records an order for Chinese take-out, then starts reading back a voicemail from his girlfriend. The man then doubles the take-out order on the fly.

It’s the kind of demo that makes perfect sense unless you think about it too much. If home automation goes mainstream, a dedicated robot won’t be necessary, because our phones will do a better job of signaling when we’ve walked through the front door. The idea of having your messages read to you when you get home is a throwback to answering machines, which are obsolete now that we can check our messages from anywhere. As for the take-out order, you’ve got to be the dullest person in the world to order “the usual” every time you get home, and I’m not sure the man’s girlfriend will take kindly to having no input on what food she gets.

There is something to be said for a device that can persistently listen for your commands and act on them, but this is the same problem that wearable devices are trying to solve, and they’re better-suited to being wherever you are. While group photos and telepresence are potentially useful, now we’re getting into some very specific situations that don’t really justify a $500 purchase, regardless of how endearing Jibo tries to be. The only way Jibo makes sense as a robot is if it gains more physical capabilities, like a way to clean your windows or cook dinner, but it’s far too early to say whether that’s going to happen.

Maybe it’s unfair for me to judge at such an early stage, but that’s exactly what Jibo is trying to do through crowdfunding. The creators are asking people to throw money at something they’ve never seen, that has only been shown to the press in limited demos, and that won’t even ship until the tail end of next year. All we have to go on right now is a slick-looking pitch video and a whole bunch of promises. As talented as the folks behind Jibo seem to be, I’ve seen enough undercooked crowdfunded projects to know that some skepticism is in order.

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