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Scamwow!

The shamwow is actually pretty cool - but Kickstarter scams make Vince angry!

The Shamwow is actually pretty cool – but Kickstarter scams make Vince angry!

If you’re interested in the goings-on in the world of crowdfunding and your living arrangements don’t involve rocks and being under them, then you’ve undoubtedly caught wind of this project.  We actually were clued into this story on Sunday by a tip from a regular reader.  Since getting word, we’ve seen this tale of Kickstarter malfeasance blow up to pretty epic proportions, with the internets divided on precisely how screwed up the whole affair is and on precisely who is culpable in the whole thing.

Even though we may be a little late to the party at this point, I thought I’d chime in on the controversy.  Peek below the fold for the skinny.

At face value, what we have here is a project that appears to break Kickstarter’s TOS—particularly, the part that bans “fund my life” projects, including using Kickstarter to raise tuition money.  Supporters of the project (and presumably Kickstarter, having approved it in the first place) point out that there is a tangible reward for the project—the videogame that will be the product of the little girl’s stay at the week-long computer camp.  Regardless, the initial request for funds to the tune of $829 dollars was nominally going to tuition, with extra perhaps being used to buy a new computer.  By this logic, an aspiring art student should be able to Kickstart their BFA, art supplies and textbooks, so long as they can deliver backers some art once they have their degree in hand.  Admittedly, we’re talking about different scales, but the intent is of the TOS is clear, and for the community to work, Kickstarter has to enforce the rules equally, even if the project is to the benefit of a child.

But that raises the question: who actually stands to benefit from this project?

First of all, it’s clear that Susan Wilson’s 9-year-old daughter did not write the project content or design the page herself.  Lets just take that for granted.  And you know what? That is fine.  I wouldn’t expect her to.  This is obviously mom’s deal, so lets focus on what’s going on with her.  Internet sleuths have already dug up quite a bit of dirt on Wilson—and it’s not that hard, as she’s pretty out there in terms of her professional life.  Given her resume`, past and present, it begs the question: does her family really need to turn to the crowd to fund her child’s summer camp excursion?  I’m thinking no.   This is a lady who has not only been involved in successful start-ups, but has quite possibly made some change cybersquatting.  She doesn’t need your money—she has her own.

I think it’s safe to say that the rich can benefit from crowdsourcing—so long as their intentions are good.  If they’re aiming to complete a project, develop a prototype, bring an idea to fruition, then Kickstarter is a perfectly democratic way to fund that, no matter how wealthy the individual (though I think it maybe tacky for the wealthy to ask good-natured people to fund their follies).  In this case, we have a presumably wealthy individual asking the crowd to defray the cost of their kid’s technology summer camp.  That’s it.  And it’s not cool.

What’s worse is that Wilson and her husband have a history of launching pretty frivolous (and shady, imo) projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, like this attempt to fund an “adventure” vacation for their kids (I’ll also note that artifact hunting is at best immoral and at worst a crime, depending on jurisdiction), and this project to embarrass dogs, or something.To be fair, Indiegogo has a much more laissez faire attitude about project quality than Kickstarter, but I’m starting to think that we’re looking at the “Balloon Boy Family” of crowdfunding…

I debated whether or not I should take my criticisms further, but in the interest of being true to my annoyance with this project, I have decided to go ahead.

Beyond the obvious objections outlined above, there are some real problems with how Wilson has characterized her project.  For one, she’s framed it all around STEM education for girls—something that is woefully lacking, I agree—but the way she hammers on it, it clear she’s trying to get mileage out of the buzzwords.  Its manipulative and reinforces the sense that this whole thing is just a scam to over-fund and pocket the dough.

What’s worse, however, is how she’s been throwing her sons under the bus with scores of tweets (in violation of the ‘No Spamming’ bit of the TOS, incidentally) all of which snark about “mean brothers.”  She also went ahead and made a $10K reward tier (after the project reached its funding threshold) that promises a handwritten apology from her boys to the lucky backer…  Apparently, mom knows the cost of a son’s dignity, and that sum is ten thousand dollars.  Also, remember, this is a $10K reward tier on a $829 project…

To be frank, there are so many screwed up things in this project, it’s hard to cover them all in a post of reasonable length.  Frankly, it’s a shame that the project was even allowed to go live.  Frankly, it’s a testament to the inconsistency of Kickstarter, and whether or not their platform is the right one for the crowdfunding community to get behind.  I get that the merits of a project are weighed and measured by the community, but either have a TOS or don’t—selective enforcement diminishes the whole institution and makes the Kickstarter organization look frivolous and fickle.  Between joke projects like the Death Star and “real” projects like this one, Kickstarter’s credibility is spiraling down the crapper.

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This entry was posted by Chris Avery.

6 thoughts on “Scamwow!

  1. Wow, that was pretty depressing, Chris. Amazing Kickstarter let any of the projects fly that you mentioned. They were so lame. I sure hope such poor choices on both sides of the fence (Kickstarter’s and the Creators’) don’t hurt Kickstarter’s long-term viability as a legit crowdfunding source.

    • I agree, it is depressing. I didn’t want to come off too scathing in this piece, but we’ve observed some of Kickstarter’s credibility erode over the past few months, and that is a shame. I still value Kickstarter as a tool–I think it is to the benefit of the community to have a structured approach to crowdfunding, and Kickstarter provides structure to a degree that similar sites don’t. But with power comes responsibility, and I don’t see them taking their responsibilities very seriously these days. Thanks for commenting.

  2. According to emails from the Kickstarter team that they cite in their updates, the KS staff likes that project a lot.
    So much for reporting it as a violation…

    Kickstarter is going down the drain if they don’t do something.

    • I saw that too. I wouldn’t have nearly as many problems with the intention of the project, if it didn’t violate the TOS. Yeah, I don’t like how mom has framed it as in opposition to misogyny because I think that is manipulative, but what really bugs me here is that Kickstarter is choosing to ignore their own guidelines. Enforce them or eliminate them, but doing neither makes the whole outfit seem capricious and unreliable. Again, if a 20 year old created a project to offset tuition for college with the promise of a signed and bound senior thesis at the end for all their backers, the project would be canned. How is that different than this case?

  3. [q]
    To be fair, Indiegogo has a much more laissez faire attitude about project quality than Kickstarter
    [q/]

    At least Indiegogo is being honest about being a platform to raise funds for just about anything.
    It’s not the first time I felt that Kickstarter only appears to be the ‘serious’ player with its TOS, rules and guidelines, but it actually doesn’t take much to go around them, with Kickstarter’s blessings none the less. Just search “art residency Kickstarter”, you’d be surprised how many “fund my life” projects are running this very moment on Kickstarter.

    This one is the last straw for me.
    This is a campaign that comes in a politically correct packaging. I’m consciously not using the term “project” as there is no actual project here, just a well thought out plan and agenda built on a girl’s alleged dream – I say “alleged” as the latest update video (which has now been removed) shows a girl with very little interest, if any at all, in making a game.
    I think that Kickstarter recognized the benefit of getting behind it in terms of publicity – and all the media hype proved them right. Now, even if they wanted to apply their terms (which they don’t), they can’t because the manipulative frame (trap) of it is brilliant – anyone opposing the campaign must obviously be a misogynist, right? So they’re not enforcing their own rules for political reasons. Not only that, but they’ve even gone so far as to:
    — Repeatedly mark messages and reports on violation of TOS as solved without bothering to provide any sort of explanation (they actually do this with support tickets all the time).
    — Suspend account features of people reported to them by the campaign creator as being abusive to her (not always the case).
    — Openly endorse the campaign in direct violation of their TOS.
    And that speaks volumes about their integrity and credibility.
    Not to mention their ethics – it boggles my mind that the same people that cry “misogyny” see no trouble with the way the boys are portrayed – snide, mean, belligerent, smug, bratty – not to mention the $10K tier; it’s borderline misandry.

    I always felt that Kickstarter lacks a great deal in terms of transparency – they leave a lot to their own discretion and reply to queries with canned emails, if at all. Just an example, take a look at the procedure for submitting a campaign and appealing a rejection – right, there is no straight forward procedure with specific steps and criteria.

    I’ve backed a number of projects on Kickstarter, but I no longer want to support the way Kickstarter runs its service. As you point out “with power comes responsibility”, yet almost every new change they make is in the opposite direction.

    As for this specific campaign, here are two links worth reading, imho:
    http://www.crowdfundinsider.com/2013/03/susan-wilsons-kickstarter-pr-fiasco/
    http://revbob.tumblr.com/post/46406685920/kstrouble

    • Hey, I wanted to thank you for your very thoughtful post, and I agree with practically all of your points. Somehow it got lost in admin limbo, but it deserved to be recognized. Thanks for sharing.

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