What happens when people abuse Kickstarter? Nothing, apparently

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I like Kickstarter a lot, as you all probably know by the amount of posts about it on this site. It’s a great place for people with innovative ideas to get funding for those ideas. It can help bring products that would otherwise remain mere ideas to market, and that benefits all of us. That’s why I get seriously pissed off when people abuse it. Especially when Kickstarter does diddly squat about it.

Kickstarter abuse comes in many forms. I won’t list outright dumb ideas as being abuse, because those ideas normally end up with $20 funded and that’s pretty much all the feedback the project creator needs. Perhaps most common is simply stealing ideas from someone else without making even the slightest attempt to improve on anything. Take this stand. Looks beautiful, doesn’t it? Very clean, stylistic, almost like something Apple would make. That’s no coincidence, as it is in fact Apple that made it. That’s an exact replica of the stand that Apple ships with display model iPads. They even filed a patent claim for it. Legal consequences aside, I would love for there to be a way to buy that stand for consumers, but the guy in the Kickstarter project isn’t open about where the idea came from, which means it just smells like a scam from a mile away. “The O-Stand is designed to fit the iPad with minimal distraction and is adjusted for optimal viewing angles”…yeah, BY APPLE.

Another example is this active stylus. I love the idea, I really do. The plug-in adapter is small and compact, the pen looks nice, and having that extra accuracy would make magnification modes in apps redundant. I hope they get it funded and bring it to market. So why am I bringing it up, and why haven’t I done a “Kickstarter spotlight” post on it? The title and the description. “The first active stylus for the iPad”. ” iPen is the first active digitizer stylus that allows you to write with precision directly on the iPad”. NO IT ISN’T. This is. There is no excuse for lying to your backers like that, and I seriously doubt that they’re simply unaware of the aPen’s existence. It’s possible of course, but then there’s something wrong with their market research. The more such accessories the better, but don’t run around lying to the people you want money from. Seriously people.

A final example in this category, the i-Fob. Aside from what I would describe as horrible graphics work on the page and not exactly the best looking product design either, it already exists. If you’re going to make something that already exists in one form, be open about it, and explain why yours is better. I’m so sick and tired of endless projects that promise they’re the best when really they’re identical or less functional than what’s out there. Being able to use it in the kitchen and bed is no longer a good enough reason to seek funding for your clunky Plastic Fantastic iPad stand. Innovation, people, that’s why Kickstarter is for.

The next category of scams is the category with companies who are already well established but use Kickstarter as a preorder platform. The products might be good, but Kickstarter isn’t Amazon. It’s not a place for you to bring you finished products, put them up for sale, and then magically finish and ship them the week after they get funded. Kickstarter doesn’t even release the funds until two weeks after funding for legal reasons, so it’s pretty easy to see through your scam. Crux, I’m talking to you. You’ve released several rather complex products to market, you don’t suddenly need funding to bring the simplest product you’ve made to date to life. Which is proven by the fact that even if you were more than 90% away from being funded, you still sell it on your site. Along with that trackpad-equipped iPad keyboard case that seemed unlikely to work half a year ago and definitely doesn’t seem any more likely now that it’s several months overdue (and still equally unlikely).

Then of course you have those who get funded with at least somewhat innovative ideas, but end up producing something that is simply crap. Like this one. I’ve bought several Kickstarter products myself and so many of the project creators take such immense pride in their idea, they spend so much time getting every single detail correct that even things like packaging makes you go “awesome!”.  They spend hours hand-checking every piece, getting every little detail perfect. That’s why it’s such a immense pain to see the reputation of Kickstarter as a platform go down the drain thanks to people who pull a “close enough” and go on vacation for the rest of the money they raised.

Lastly, of course, is the simplest one. Get funded, leave. It has happened. I can’t think of any tablet related projects as most people choose more legal ways to scam (hence the above) but I’ve read about it. I think this one needs no explanation.

So, what does Kickstarter do with projects like these? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I reported that iPad stand to Kickstarter a few days ago, and despite the US being on holiday, something should have happened by now. It’s not exactly the hardest thing to confirm. I wasn’t surprised though; people who have been victim to scams on Kickstarter have seem how little Kickstarter cares up close. Heck, it takes stupidity at a certain level to accept these projects in the first place. Even if recognizing the official Apple iPad stand is not something I would expect a non-gadget specific crowdfunding site to catch, it can’t be that hard to do a simple search on projects and discover that whops, that Crux guy has had a fully working company for a year and not needed us before.

Kickstarter isn’t just ignoring issues though, it’s helping to create them. Half a year or so ago they changed commenting policies so that now you have to be a backer to comment. Want to leave a comment warning people that it’s a scam, forget about it! You can of course pledge the project and comment that way, but that seems to me a bit like having to be shot in order to be allowed to report a murder. Speaking of reporting, Kickstarter does have such a feature, as I already mentioned. You can report it for being in the wrong category, not having a clear goal and plan, being a charity case, or for the project creator spamming you. Nothing in there about it simply being a scam, existing product, ripoff, patent breaker etc. Not that they read those report anyways.

I had to stop pledging projects on Kickstarter as everything you pledge is visible, and since NBT is one of few sites that cover Kickstarter projects on a regular basis we pretty much get emails from every new tablet related project out there. People were then able to backtrack my posts to my Kickstarter account, saw that I had pledged some projects but not their own, and started asking me to do that using the official NBT contact form. So now I’m pretty much limited to buying products after they’re funded and produced, which is ok I guess, but it means that I don’t have access to backer-only updates and can’t pay attention to the status of a lot of accessories that I’m interested in. Speaking of backer-only updates, if any of you project creators are reading this, here’s a tip; you obviously want press coverage since you email us all the time. That’s fine! I read all those email, though I’ve normally seen the projects long before you find our site. However, if you want the press to be able to write about your project, don’t hide your updates so we can’t see them. We shouldn’t have to give you money to get the information we need to write about your projects. 

Tiny digression there, but still. I hate to write posts like these because I love what Kickstarter lets people do with their ideas, and some truly awesome products have come from it. The last thing I want is for there to be so much distrust that nothing will get funded anymore. However I feel it’s my duty to point out these things when I do write about Kickstarter as much as I do, especially when Kickstarter isn’t lifting a finger to do anything.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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