I appreciate the thought that went into this, and it’s viable in that it is a possible mechanism that could be used and doesn’t fundamentally fail in some way.
What you are proposing is Patreon + (sustaining version of) Kickstarter. The idea that funding can be a “choose your number” instead of a few tiers is minor detail. It’s just threshold campaign that pays out monthly instead of one-off.
Threshold campaigns do work, and adding the sustaining approach resolves some core problems with one-off accountability. I like your emphasis on actions (“hire a developer”) rather than speculative outcomes (“achieve feature X”).
Some details though:
- You’re mistaken that this resolves the crowd vs dollars goal question. You just are choosing dollars.
- The all-or-nothing style of thresholds still has some of the problems described at https://wiki.snowdrift.coop/about/threshold-systems:
- The challenge of setting the threshold! It’s more consequential if it’s all-or-nothing. This puts a different level of pressure on the goal-setting decision than if the funding of partial-goals is happening.
- The freeriding issue described there partly remains. Since people are already pledged at all, it’s less of an issue. But I could still think “eh, they will (or won’t) hit the threshold without me (or even with me), so I’m not going to bother pledging, I’ll see how it goes with others first.” Whereas with flexible crowdmatching, this doesn’t happen. If they goal won’t be hit, my pledge still has some impact.
- But you have resolved many of the issues!
- Not reaching goal no longer brands the project as a failure! For one, they have their foundational patronage anyway. Also, they don’t need a time-limit, so there’s no “failure” point.
- Recruiting new patrons without reaching the threshold still adds some core foundational support for the project instead of nothing, so promotion of the funding is less risky (less chance of wasted effort).
- The time-limit pressure is mostly fixed because the fact that all patrons are giving something means they (and their payment method) are active in the system. So, it’s more okay for the threshold goal to take a long time to succeed.
I’m mostly skeptical about the all-or-nothing thresholds because I think that goal setting is so speculative by nature. But that goes with my own resistance to doing some of the goal-setting work. Still, the idea of asking for an estimate, making the goal the max… projects that don’t want to risk setting high goals and not getting them will just claim lower (more frugally optimistic) estimates anyway.
I worry that tying the thresholds to specific actions could bind the projects too much. What if they decide that it makes more sense to have a half-time position instead of full time and use more funds to pay a different half-time project-manager? Can they adjust what they later want to do with their income? What a huge risk, if changing budgets results in losing a huge chunk of their funding.
What happens if they hit critical mass and then a small portion of funders drop? Suddenly they lose their funding and can no longer pay the new hire? Or they are supposed to be not having that employee anyway, since the crowd is no longer supporting that particular goal?
I’d much rather just add your idea of a unilateral foundation donation to crowdmatching
Your idea about a “set your base non-matched amount” is interesting. It could fully resolve some issues: the concerns about mixing donations across platforms, the concern about “half-assed” funding, the concern about patrons doing anti-matching (bumping their donation at first, and pulling it down as it gets matched more).
If we just add that foundation as a base underneath crowdmatching, it would have most of the important impact you are suggesting.
As for the goals, we could simply offer both all-or-nothing and flexible. The math would be the same for both, but the “all-or-nothing” goals would simply not have the extra funding turned-on until the goal is reached fully. That’s a concept I’ve suggested as possible for crowdmatching anyway.
That would be effectively Patreon + (sustaining version of) IndieGogo (instead of Kickstarter).
I’m much more into this idea because I think it’s actually a big burden and issue for projects to nail down exact goals and visions. I think flexibility is a big deal. The flexibility to get a bit more or a bit less and make the best dynamic decisions. For many projects, I’d rather they just keep working as best they can with whatever resources they get, and boxing them into overly concrete goals can be counterproductive. But I also think there really is something to strong concrete goals! So, I’d rather offer both.
In summary: I like the idea of base foundation of support. Add both all-or-nothing and flexible crowdmatching as options to add to the foundation. This still does not necessarily resolve the dollars vs crowd question because we could even be flexible enough to offer both types of goals.
One other concern: the snowdrift dilemma / freeriding at the foundation
The motivations for crowdmatching also includes the low-risk to current freeriders. The question is how to convert the most freeriders into patrons. Under your idea, such freeriders might still hesitate. It feels crappy emotionally to pledge 10¢ or something (I suppose a foundational amount less than worth charging amounts to something like $6/year instead of 50¢/month). So, imagine I’m a stingy freerider who is motivated by the idea that I don’t want to give unilaterally, but I’m willing to give if the other folks are too (especially if they give because I do). I don’t want to jump in and pledge a unilateral $5/mo foundation (especially not for a lot of projects, that adds up!), and it feels too shitty to give pennies as a foundation (I don’t want to say the project is only worth pennies). So, I hesitate and don’t pledge. I still sit and wait to see what others will do. And… you’ve lost me as a patron.
In short: the base foundation has the snowdrift dilemma and nothing to get over it. It becomes a barrier to making the crowdmatching pledge. Many people who are hesitant to donate until others do will pledge in plain crowdmatching but not if they have to put in a unilateral ongoing donation as a fee to access crowdmatching.
We could consider the foundational unilateral donation as an option without requiring it. There’s a degree to which I like pushing it. But I’m worried that it could drastically reduce the patron pool. At worst, it would reduce our current hope for orders of magnitude larger crowds and just drop it down to the miniscule crowds of current patrons (people who already give at Liberapay and Patreon etc).
I don’t think the 135 patrons currently pledged to Snowdrift would have all given foundational substantial pledges at this point. And I suspect that when we really announce, we could easily get thousands of patrons. I worry that would not happen with your system.
I worry that your system is aimed at targeting the existing community of donors, working to get them to give more, whereas our main emphasis otherwise has been on recruiting the latent donors, the many people who because of freeriding dilemmas do not pledge at all (like me for most of the projects I might want to support).
I want to pledge to crowdmatching for Inkscape. I do not actually want to donate even a monthly $1 to it unilaterally because I’m not up for that for every project I use and appreciate to the degree I do with Inkscape (hundreds of projects). I don’t want to say Inkscape isn’t worth $1 to me, that seems harsh. But somehow it is what it is without my $1, and it all just seems discouraging to even think about adding my $1. It won’t make a noticeable difference.
Put another way: I’m okay with giving pennies and seeing no noticeable difference. I’m not okay giving dollars and seeing no noticeable difference. But I dunno. I’d consider maybe an optional foundational $1 along with crowdmatching. I think the optional foundation might reach the widest crowd (since people have varying motivations). And we do have a goal of growing the widest possible crowds.
My position tonight: I’m sympathetic toward adding both unilateral foundation donations and all-or-nothing thresholds as options to crowdmatching. With those simple tweaks, we get all the benefits and flexibility of all the proposals.
I still see a lot of hypothesizing all around, thus a need for more real-world evidence about how the projects and patrons will actually behave.