ESR looks at where crowdfunding fits in the traditional tech start-up food chain:
In How crowdfunding and the JOBS Act will shape open source companies, Fred Trotter proposes that crowdfunding a la Kickstarter and IndieGoGo is going to displace venture capitalists as the normal engine of funding for open-source tech startups, and that this development will be a tremendous enabler. Trotter paints a rosy picture of idealistic geeks enabled to do fully open-source projects because they’ll no longer feel as pressed to offer a lucrative early exit to VCs on the promise of rent capture from proprietary technology.
Some of the early evidence from crowdfunding successes does seem to point at this kind of outcome, especially near 3D printing and consumer electronics with a lot of geek buy-in. And I’d love to believe all of Trotter’s optimism. But there’s a nagging problem of scale here that makes me think the actual consequences will be more mixed and messy than he suggests.
In general, VCs don’t want to talk to you at all unless they can see a good case for ploughing in at least $2 million, and they don’t get really interested below a scale of about $15M. This is because the amount of time required for them to babysit an investment (sit on the company’s board, assist job searches, etc.) doesn’t scale down for smaller investments — small plays are just as much work for much less money. This is why there’s a second class of investors, often called “angels”, who trade early financing on the $100K order of magnitude for equity. The normal trajectory of a startup goes from friends & family money through angels up to VCs. Each successive stage in this pipeline is generally placing a larger bet and accordingly has less risk tolerance and a higher time discount than the previous; VCs, in particular, will be looking for a fast cash-out via initial public offering.
The problem is this: it’s quite rare for crowdfunding to raise money even equivalent to the low-end threshold of a VC, let alone the volume they lay down when they’re willing to bet heavily. Unless crowdfunding becomes an order of magnitude more effective than it is now (which seems to me possible but unlikely) the financing source it will displace isn’t VCs but angels.
Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has been in the news a heck of a lot for any non-quarterback. He’s probably the most newsworthy punter in the NFL in the last 25 years or more. A new Kickstarter initiative is trying to take advantage of Kluwe’s popularity to raise money for their project:
Former Chicago Bears’ linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer has designs on launching something called “Overdog.” According to this interview with Hillenmeyer in Forbes, what Overdog is designed to do is connect athletes that like to play video games to … well … other people that like to play video games.
[. . .]
Before Overdog can launch, Hillenmeyer wants to raise $100,000 for various aspects of the project. In order to do this, they’ve done what pretty much everyone with a project is doing these days. . .started their own Kickstarter to raise money. Like other Kickstarter drives, there are various levels of pledges you can give, with a higher pledge giving you a higher level of recognition, access, whatever. One of the levels you can pledge at … and there are only four spots available at this level … will give you the following:
The Kluwe Experience. Describing a day with OverDog advisory board member Chris Kluwe any other way would be shortchanging him. One lucky fan will have the chance to receive a punting lesson (in Minneapolis), play some video games (likely World of Warcraft), and soak in the wisdom from the NFL’s most interesting man. Unfortunately, travel is not included but a Forever Subscription is.
Cassandra Khaw at TechHive on the attempt to crowdfund a new LED light:
Part lightbulb, part spaceship component, the LED NanoLight (funding through March 8) is being touted as the world’s most energy efficient lightbulb.
Using just 12 watts of electricity, the NanoLight should generate 1600 lumens, the equivalent of a 100-watt lightbulb. The estimated cost of running a NanoLight (for three hours a day) is less than $2 a year, and the bulb is expected to last 25 to 30 years.
Aside from looking rather stellar and being economical with the usage of power, the NanoLight also differs from the average LED lightbulb in that it’s capable of emulating the omnidirectional nature of your classic lightbulb—but cool enough not to mimic its habit of scorching your flesh if you make the mistake of touching it when it’s been on for a while. And unlike most compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, the NanoLight provides full brightness as soon as you turn it on.
I guess it’s about their last available option:
Greece is a small country in the south of Europe known for inventing democracy and western philosophy and for its national motto, “Release the Kraken!” Our shores are a popular destination for backpackers and tourists wishing to relax amid sun-drenched beaches by day and intoxicated British tourists by night.
We wish to continue this good work, but to do so our creditors are demanding €14.5 billion ($18.6 billion) by March 20. We do not have this money, nor do we think we can raise it in time: Our asset sales have gone nowhere, and the EU has nixed our plan to close shop and re-open a few blocks away as “Greeze”. And so we come to you, our friends, for help.
A donation of any amount is appreciated, and gifts are available for those who give at premium levels. We promise these funds will be used only to pay down debt, and any funds received above the requested amount will be rolled over to our next, inevitable Kickstarter campaign.
Tim Harford recently visited Oxford Martin School to discuss the phenomenon of problems that are seen as intractable when viewed from within a “silo” or single discipline, but which yield solutions when approached in co-operation with multiple disciplines:
In academia, the challenge of encouraging interdisciplinary research is at least recognised as a problem. The advancing frontier of scientific knowledge forces most researchers to specialise in ever narrower fields and, as a result, collaboration between these silos is essential. I recently visited the Oxford Martin School, a seven-year-old initiative designed to foster cross-disciplinary projects at the University of Oxford. I talked to the school’s director, Ian Goldin, about the challenges of breaking down academic silos.
He thinks these silos are mostly artificial. Academic journals are largely specialised rather than interdisciplinary and official funding bodies shy away from interdisciplinary projects. The result is that academics with interdisciplinary interests have few ways to fund the research and few credible outlets for publishing the results. The Martin School has funding, but most of the researchers are either junior, with some freedom to experiment, or professors so senior they no longer need to worry about their publication record. The mid-career academics are missing. It is nice to hear the tenure system sometimes produces the hoped-for courage and independence, but not so nice that there is no career track for interdisciplinary researchers.
[. . .]
If problems are one focal point for collaboration, tools can be another. An example: systems needed to deal with the gigantic data sets generated in finance, astronomy and oceanography. Such tools naturally bring together computer scientists and the statisticians, economists and scientists who might use the data. Goldin points to “crowdsourcing” as a second example of a cross-disciplinary tool, complexity science as a third and (optimistically, I feel) practical ethics as a fourth.
Perhaps the real lesson is that promoting cross-disciplinary research need not require a mysterious blend of social-networking tools and funky collaborative architectural spaces. All that is sometimes required is a shared problem, or a shared set of tools, and, above all, the money to pay for the job to be done.
Jesse Brown has the most entertaining copyright story I’ve read in quite a while:
But some of the hooligans exposed on Youtube found a clever way to get the video removed—copyright claims. Under Youtube’s “Notice and Takedown” policy, all you need to do is claim you own the rights to a video and demand that it be removed, and Youtube will remove it. The video’s uploader will be informed of the allegation and then have a chance to challenge it.
But here’s the rub: in order to claim ownership of a video’s copyright, you have to identify yourself. And when Youtube informs the uploader that they’re being accused of a copyright violation, they have to tell them who their accuser is. So rioters are indirectly handing their names over to the very people who were trying to identify them.
Lewis Page looks at the Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV):
No doubt regular readers will recall the US military’s cunning plan to develop unmanned submarine-hunting robotic frigates — warships which would prowl the oceans like automated Mary Celestes, remorselessly tracking enemy submarines regardless of how their pale, sweaty, malodorous captains might twist and turn.
The Anti-submarine warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) project is intended to produce “an X-ship founded on the assumption that no person steps aboard at any point in its operating cycle”. The uncrewed frigate would have enough range and endurance for “global, months long deployments with no underway human maintenance”, being able to cross oceans and fight its battles largely without any human input — communications back to base would be “intermittent”, according to DARPA.
As you might imagine, there are lots of potential issues to sending an armed, unmanned ship out into the ocean, including how to handle interactions with other users of the sea lanes. It’d be worse than embarassing to the US Navy to have one of their fancy new ACTUV vessels get tangled up in a fishing net or get caught in the middle of a regatta.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, it has been decided that the best way to hammer out a set of tactics for ACTUVs is to develop a game-style simulation pitting ACTUV against submarine and get people to play it — so crowdsourcing the methods and tactical principles that will then be coded into the robo-frigates’ AIs.
The new game — from which these visuals are drawn — is called ACTUV Tactics. The game engine is used in various military sims and in the Dangerous Waters commercial release of 2005. [. . .]. In it, a player tries to find and track an enemy submarine while avoiding collisions with commercial vessels and the like. Various different proposed models of ACTUV robo-frigate are available: Gator, Remora, Seahorse, Shark and Triton.
The Guardian tried to enlist the brainpower of the crowd to solve the problems at Fukushima. As innovative as some of these solutions might be, it does demonstrate that there are things that cannot be crowdsourced:
Todd: “Build the worlds biggest tank over the whole site with pre-fab tilt slab concrete. [...] I have done similar projects on a smaller scale but not with nuclear waste.”
Weston, Nuclear Radiologist: “repair the reacters befor any thing else bad happiens”
Andrew, Inventor: “water problem is un-fixable. Stop trying. Let it run off into the Pacific.”
Hugh, Geology Student: “I would use explosive materials to detach the Fukushima plant from the main land, use air-bags to float it 50km out into the pacific and then sink the whole lot 7000m down to the bottom of the Japan Trench.”
Max: “I suggest removing radioactive contamination there by using a small controlled explosion of a specially engineered nuclear device at the site of the stricken Fukushima plant”
OmegaSector: “IN FUTURE, ALL NEW NUCLEAR REACTOR MUST BE BUILT OVER A 1.2 km hole. Any out of control reactor, one press of a buttom and boom, the reactor will fail down 1.2 km and then seal up with soil.”
Denny, Assistant to Dr Strangelove: “Small scale nuclear strike.”
Kevin: “Japan has over 30,000 suicides per year — that’s over 80 per day. Since these people are planning to kill themselves anyway, how about the government asking for volunteers to go in, fix piping, visually inspect the damage, etc..?”
Not Einstein: “friendly radiation… to probably cancel out its effects. Its more like injecting good cholesterols to fight off bad ones in your body. I am not versed in these nuclear technicalities but I do understand philosophy of things, and sometimes you just need to fight fire with fire.”
Oscar. Mike. Golf.