Clarifying our mission/vision

Context

Background info: Why we're moving to a goal-based mechanism framing

We want to present the simplest useful explanation of the mechanism, so that people will understand it and feel comfortable participating in Crowdmatching.

When we only say something like, “you pledge to 0.1¢ for each other patron who pledges along with you”, about half of people freak out about “What if a ton of people join and now I’m on the hook for $$$? Is this some kind of scam?”[1]

Mentioning the limit produces a bunch more questions about details that we don’t want to spend valuable first-impression time talking about. "What happens when you reach it? Who do you decide to drop from the crowd? etc

A year and a half ago, @msiep proposed a new framing for the same mechanism: pledging towards a goal

  • You pledge up to a certain amount per month towards a funding goal for the project

    • Ex: I pledge $6/month towards a goal of 6k patrons giving $36k/month total
  • Before the goal is reached, your actual donation is only some portion of your pledge.

    • Ex: When 3k patrons have pledged a total of $18k/month (halfway to the goal), I will donate $3 that month. The other patrons will also donate half of their pledge, so the project will receive $9k total that month.

This framing is a little more complicated, but is simpler than the current approach plus all clarifications, and produces better intuition. It’s also easier to explain if someone doesn’t understand right away— most people are familiar with one-off fundraising campaigns where a “generous sponsor” has agreed to match the first $X thousand in donations; if they don’t meet the goal, that person only gives a percent of their pledge; this is the same dynamic, but with the crowd matching each other instead of one sponsor.

The discussions are long and with frequent side-tracks and communication failures. If you really want to read them, they start here, but consider reading the rest of this post first.

We reached consensus that the goal-based framing is better, but not about some immediate next decisions. In particular: once we make the system more flexible than “everyone pledges the same amount”, should the goals/matching be based on number of dollars or patrons? We can move forward without a decision, but it makes certain things more difficult (e.g. describing the updated mechanism in language that applies equally well to either type of matching).

I think a key reason for this “stalemate” is lack of alignment. In a more recent conversation between myself and @mray, we stepped back and asked, what criteria should we use to evaluate which mechanism is better? He checked our mission/vision wiki page… It reads nicely, but was not specific enough to help decide. Actually, almost nothing on that page could be used to justify why we are building a crowdmatching platform, rather than, say, a Liberapay clone.

I ran into the problem from a different angle working on the Plan for Moving Off Haskell[2] One open question when considering the database design: how much does it need to scale? Specifically, I am considering using json-in-postgres.

  • Maybe the mission of Snowdrift.coop is to build a robust and sustainable but minimally-staffed proof-of-concept that we can point to in our advocacy efforts, to convince people that a system like ours is possible. In that case, we will probably never do a major DB redesign, but also we will eventually outscale postgres+json performance, so it would be best to avoid it, and save our future minimal staff a migration headache.
  • Maybe we aspire to fund projects at scale and move enough money to change the world. In that case, it’s probably more valuable to use json now for more flexibility. After all, we will certainly need to redesign the database at some point anyway, and should have the resources to do it.

Comparison

I think OpenCollective’s Mission and Values page is a good reference.

We are on a mission to enable communities to be sustainable and fundraise in full transparency without having to create a legal entity to do so.

Our comparable statement is:

Snowdrift.coop facilitates community support for projects that develop public goods

They are quite similar, but the biggest differences in my eye are:

  • Ours has a more specific (better) scope of which projects we are trying to support: “public goods”
  • Theirs is more specific about which activities they want to enable: “fundraise in full transparency”
  • Theirs mentions a specific problem they are trying to solve: “having to create a legal entity”

(I also happen to know that our mission is significantly more ambitious than “facilitate community support” suggests.)

Plans

So far, we discussed this a little bit in last Friday’s meeting. It was an (intentionally) open-ended discussion just to get the conversation started, so there’s a fair amount of general sentiment discussed there, not necessarily specific enough to go into the mission statement. But there are some good parts.

I think the next steps are to review the notes and pull out the good points that we’d like to make sure are captured in our mission statement. A follow-up discussion (maybe next week, since @Salt will be absent this Friday) would also be good.


  1. The other half assume that there obviously must be some kind of limit, and wonder why we waste time mentioning it up front. ↩︎

  2. More details when I write the follow-up to that post. ↩︎

Related post from before I made this topic:

Maybe this leads to adding a word like “effectively” in our mission statement. e.g. “to maximize effective participation in the creation/maintenance of public goods”.

On the other hand, maybe that’s a little too obvious. “Maximizing ineffective participation…” sounds like the “make a joke by saying the obviously ridiculous/antithetical thing” exercise.

I’ve tried to summarize the posts of the last couple of days in a kind of mission statement (it’s probably too early, but I couldn’t help but write it). I have put a lot of thought and rewriting into it.

Here’s my current draft:

We hope to pioneer democratic, sustainable, outcompeting funding and widespread support for public goods, to transform society with liberating effect and abundant value.

I have repeatedly tried leaving off the “, to …” part, but then the statement is only helpful to people who’re already very motivated for public goods:

We hope to pioneer democratic, sustainable, outcompeting funding and widespread support for public goods.

The “liberating effect and abundant value” are inspired by the “open and abundant” wording. I’m aware that openness is not first of all about liberating effect, but about whether or not access to the good is shared in an open way. For this same reason however, I think the word “open” is not a good fit because it sounds as if the good itself was open/closed, but we’re trying to make a statement about the way in which we govern ourselves in relation to the good.[1] This is how I thought of something like a “liberating” vs “constraining” way to govern ourselves. In saying “liberating effect”, I mean the effect that the “liberating” style of governance has on the individual. I think there’s a connection between liberal democratic governance and personal development. I think freedom is an inner state of maturity that can be encouraged/respected (but not produced) by governance, and this is what I mean with “liberating”, even though it’s not “liberating” in the literal sense because it cannot produce freedom. I am intentionally speaking about the effect as opposed to the property of the good, since it’s about the goal.

At the same time, I think the “, to …” part provides some orientation around how to interpret/change the first part. E.g. do we “hope”, do we “pioneer”, …? I think maybe we don’t even have an answer to these questions, but should simply consider what is the most effective/honest course of action in order to have a positive effect on society. (?)

E.g. regarding the design of the database, it doesn’t really matter if we want to become large (or stay small) etc., it’s more important what is realistically going to happen, and what we should correspondingly be doing if we’re being honest.

I would be very interested to hear what you think about the statement. Maybe your replies reveal some misunderstandings on my part or topics that should be considered / discussed.


  1. While you could say a FLO work is “open” because you think of it as a work + the attached license, in fact the license is only an expression of how we govern ourselves in relation to the work, not part of the work itself. The same could be said about “liberating”, but at least that word defines itself by the effect it has, not as some property of the thing we’re talking about. An object doesn’t have an effect in itself, so if something has a liberating effect, this means we’re talking about an actor that has designed the object or some interaction with it in order to cause some effect. ↩︎

1 Appreciation

I agree that we need to put orientation and context around things or it just won’t work.

My latest draft:

Today, our economy relies mainly on ads and paywalls to fund creative work. Our mission is to help coordinate the general public to sustainably fund open, abundant public goods.

I could see adding more or being more generalized (there are various versions around my drafting of this). Overall, I test this based on how well it can be applied. Compare various platforms: Patreon? They push paywalls (exclusive content!) Liberapay? They don’t really do coordination. Open Collective? Again, not as active coordination, but we’re not saying much critical of them, they’re good. Kickstarter? Often exclusive access, also not sustainable.

If we wanted to narrow the mission more clearly, we could mention “crowdmatching” directly.

I was editing and thinking more about key ideas, and came to this longer but interesting framing I felt worth sharing:

Creative work today relies mainly on ads and paywalls for funding, and both approaches encourage adversarial power dynamics with audiences. To help build a economy based on creative freedom and open abundance, we provide tools that enable you to coordinate with others to directly and sustainably fund your favorite public goods projects.

Archiving today’s pad contents for posterity

Note: this was a working document; it is not ordered; some ideas are just brainstorms; etc.

title: Mission
categories: governance

Our mission

Smichel’s suggestion

Make a mission statement that has everything, without worrying about if it has too much or if it’s phrased well

  • Fund/support
  • public goods / sharing / abundance
  • mutual assurance/trust / coordination
    • sustianability/ongoing?
    • “make it easy to coordinate”?

Patreon’s mission:

2013

In 2013, YouTube musician Jack Conte was looking for a solution to his problem: millions of people loved his videos, but only hundreds of dollars were hitting his bank account. This didn’t add up, so he drafted up an idea about a website that would allow his fans to pay him directly for the value he was giving them. He brought that doodle to his college roommate Sam Yam (now the co-founder of Patreon) who turned that chicken scratch into a fully-functioning service in only 6 weeks. Fast forward 8 years, and Patreon is the solution to this same problem for over 250,000 creators supported by more than 8 million+ patrons, and creators have earned over $3.5 billion.

Present

Patreon powers membership businesses for creators by giving them the tools they need to acquire, manage, and energize their paying patrons. With a subscription-style payment model, fans pay their favorite creators a monthly amount of their choice in exchange for exclusive access, extra content, or a closer look into their creative journey. This model is a win-win; creators retain creative freedom while getting the salary they deserve, and fans get to rest easy knowing that their money goes directly towards creating more of what they love.


Forget this stuff

Our online platform coordinates patrons in providing long-term funding for art, education, science, technology, and other sorts of non-rivalrous works under free/libre/open terms where the rights to access, use, modify, and distribute are not exclusively reserved. As a cooperative, we operate democratically so that our policies address the concerns of all stakeholders and serve the general public interest.

Our vision

We envision a world where everyone has access to a robust and vibrant public commons; where everyone is empowered to realize and share their contributions to our cultural heritage and to participate in the ongoing development of science and technology; and where there is liberty, privacy, and human dignity for all.

Our aims

Increase the predominance of high-quality FLO resources

Robust movements today promote FLO works, but they struggle against a status quo which gives power and financial support to those who lock up their projects with legal and technical restrictions.

We aim to reduce reliance on proprietary works and reduce fragmentation in the FLO world by helping to build and sustain communities of supporters who volunteer funds and time to the most promising FLO projects.

Allow natural market pressures while maintaining higher values

The Snowdrift.coop system provides an effective marketplace where bottom-up pressures promote the best projects; yet we maintain higher values than those concerned only with the market itself.

Provide constructive work through FLO development

FLO works encourage equity because anyone can access them freely. Still, these resources take time and energy to create, improve, and promote. Through our financial support for FLO development, we aim to increase the number of people around the world who have a sustainable living doing meaningful, constructive work.

Be a model for cooperative, honorable, FLO platforms

Online “platforms” facilitate connections and collaboration between users and publish user-generated works. The community of users themselves create the primary value on such platforms, yet many operate as “walled gardens” where the platform owners “capture” and monetize the value that the community generates.

We believe that platforms must better respect the values of democracy and liberty. As a community-owned co-op, we aim to be an ethical role model, to maximize our own use and development of FLO tools, and to help others follow our example.

Current Snowdrift mission

“Snowdrift.coop facilitates community support for projects that develop public goods.”

…without having to be the sucker doing it alone?

OpenCollective Mission

We are on a mission to enable communities to be sustainable and fundraise in full transparency without having to create a legal entity to do so.

Mray’s mission “gist”

“Empowering users to become part of a solution that changes the world['s infrastructure]”

Adroit’s mission statement suggestion

Going for a single sentence. Best so far:

We build tools that coordinate patrons to fund and sustain public goods without relying on exclusive access, wealthy donors, or advertising.

Achieved in this statement:

  • Mentions both kickstarting and sustained funding of public goods, without implying sustained funding is a must
  • Sufficiently distinguishes us from
    • Kickstarter (not relying on exclusivity, public goods, sustain)
    • LiberaPay (tools that coordinate patrons, public goods)
    • Patreon (not relying on exclusivity, public goods)
  • Does not require one to already know
    • what exactly makes something a “public good”
    • what is currently wrong with funding public goods
  • Sets us apart from solutions that rely on exclusive aspects or wealthy donors, without implying that projects can’t have anything of the sort
  • No redundant “we’re on a mission to” or excess wordiness
  • Doesn’t use words that non-intellectuals may not realize they don’t completely understand, such as
    • “mutual assurance”
    • “philanthropist”
    • “abundance”
    • “paywall”
  • References “exclusive access” which brings more examples immediately to mind than “exclusivity” or “exclusive clubs” (e.g. does a basic Kickstarter user think of each perk level as a “club”?) or simply referencing “open” or “abundant”
  • Not mentioning taxes at all is sufficient to make clear that’s not the solution we’re employing, which wouldn’t be expected from a non-government entity anyway



Aaron’s scratchpad:

Provide a mechanism for the general public to have stronger mutual assurance and trust in coordinating together to sustainably fund public goods.

enable crowd funding of public goods without paywalls or ads

enable the general public to achieve greater things together

coordinating collaborative funding

We are on a mission to enable a world of sharing and abundance where the general public can effectively coordinate to sustainably fund public goods without relying on the whims of wealthy philanthropists or on the top-down mandates of taxation.

promote open abundance instead of exclusion and scarcity. To do that, we provide crowdmatching tools which enable the general public to coordinate in sustainably funding public goods.

In a world where nearly all economic support goes to business models based on exclusion & scarcity (such as ads/paywalls), we have a mission to provide a tool to coordinate the general public to support public goods that are open and abundant

enable economic support for open and abundant public goods which currently struggle

Today, our economy relies mainly on ads and paywalls to fund creative work. Our mission is to help coordinate the general public to sustainably fund open, abundant public goods.

Today, our economy relies mainly on ads and paywalls to fund creative work. Our mission is to provide coordination tools that enable the general public to work together to sustainably fund open, abundant public goods.

A’s BULLETS:

  • tools
  • crowdmatching
  • sharing, abundance: public goods
  • general public
  • coordinated/organized not divided
  • uncompromised, no ads, no paywalls or exclusions
  • accountability, trust, ongoing, reputation, back-and-forth, relationship

“coordination is power”
“general public have power”

“make ads & paywalls unnecessary”

Michael’s scratchpad:

We are on a mission to enable a world of sharing and abundance by making it easy for the general public to form self-coordinating crowds that sustainably fund valued public goods, independent of wealthy donors, taxes, ads, or paywalls.

  • more sharing and abundance (high level outcome desired)
  • make it easy
  • general public (who)
  • form self-coordinating crowds
  • sustainably
  • fund
  • valued
  • public goods
  • independent of:
    • wealthy donors
    • taxes
    • ads
    • paywalls

What about something like:

We accelerate the proliferation, sustainability and improvement of public good(s) by converting potential donors into donors that feel empowered and part of a collective effort in which everyone pulls their weight.

?

1 Appreciation