£1 Billion. That’s the total amount raised by the top two crowd-funding (CF) websites over the last four years. That’s the GDP of a small nation being given to around 100,000 projects by regular people. Government spending on basic research sits at about this amount every year since 2011. That these figures are even close suggests that if science uses CF, we could see some amazing discoveries.
CF works by people buying into someone’s idea for a product. They see the idea on social media and with a few taps they can pledge amounts to back the project. The inventor then receives the money they need to get going and, hopefully, they’ll be successful. I like this because there’s nowhere else where a consumer can be involved so organically with the creation of their product.
By crowds of people paying the cost upfront, with some risk, everyone wins. Companies finance most research but for them there is a need for it to be product oriented. It must
be ultimately sellable. Governments also have agendas. They answer to voters and what voters think should be invested in. This allows for open minded research but it is still restricted to what the public are interested in. Charities are also concerned with public opinion and they have to be seen to be investing in the right things. Charities can’t finance things which aren’t relevant to their cause.
Overall, I think there is little scope for passion, imagination or enthusiasm in today’s scientific community. For sure, scientists love what they do but gone are the days of the explorer, free to chase the stars. Could CF liberate science? Kickstarter has a failure rate of 60% which I think indicates a community not entirely driven by success. This promises research without fear of failure. But why would people CF research?
CF is no altruistic act. People invest for the product or for what the product says about them. If researchers can get people to emotionally buy in to their research then CF could work for them. Making this possible is the fact that everything people do and say on social media is all on some level to project a persona. Companies get exposure by having a brand which people want to align themselves with. Alignment with brands is behind all viral advertising and therefore the success of CF. So if research can be branded compellingly I think people will buy into it because they will want to look however that brand makes them look.
CF is growing. From feature films to AI headsets. Why is this? Partly because people want great products but also because they want to be a part of something. CF won’t solve the problems science has with money. What CF will do is make people care about science. It’ll make science more present on the timelines and news feeds of the world. And if there’s one thing Companies, Governments and Charities pay attention to, it’s what everyone is talking about.