How can we make our solution not work for exclusive club goods?

Big Tech has all the resources to copy ideas of public goods and make them proprietary and centralized. So we have to develop ideas that won’t work for them.

This is what you can get out of this great talk:

So think about Patreon and GitHub Sponsors adopt our mechanism. Why would anyone use our platform, when they can already on GitHub or Patreon provides some exclusive content?

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There are two separate parts here:

  1. Using crowdmatching to fund (naturally or artificially) scarce goods
  • Crowdmatching is based on the premise that there are many people who would be willing to pay (donate) if they knew it would make a difference and they wouldn’t be doing it alone.
  • Proprietary stuff already has a way to convince people to pay, which it often works. That’s why there’s so much more money in the proprietary ecosystem.
  • We can’t stop them from using crowdmatching, but they will probably benefit from it less, because more of the potential patrons, who are willing to pay, are already paying (buying).
  • It’s not that important if crowdmatching helps proprietary software a little, as long as it helps FLO software more. As FLO software becomes better, relative to the proprietary counterpart, more people will choose to use it for the other benefits, which proprietary software cannot provide. This indirectly hurts the proprietary software, since they’re reliant on purchases for funding.
  1. Proprietary implementations of crowdmatching

We might be able to create an implementation that is hard to centralize, but I don’t think that’s actually the hard part of what we’re doing here. The idea of crowdmatching is almost trivial to code, once you’ve decided on an algorithm. And even if we found some version that wouldn’t be useful for them, we can’t stop them from using a different version that would work better.

So from this angle, the unique value is the non-technical side: Patreon took venture capital and is beholden to its investors; they cannot operate as a cooperative or non-profit.

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but most people don’t care about that. liberapay is also a non-profit and many projects that are also on patreon are more sucessfull there (probably because people have an account there and it is just convenient)

so what do we really have to offer?

that we take no fees is one thing patreon will not do, but github does it too (and they actually match in the first year) and liberapay (which is not very successful)

I’ve had this concern from the very beginning. I’ve had to mainly accept that there are things we may not be able to control. I want crowdmatching tied to the deeper ethics and economics we stand for, but maybe we can’t force that other than promoting our values.

I want to say this pitch: Crowdmatching only makes sense for public goods. There’s no reason to use it if you already have a model with paywalls and ads or similar. Nobody cares about being matched when making a simple transaction (“I will watch this ad or pay this fee in order to get access”). The only reason anyone needs crowdmatching is because everyone can freeride with public goods. Crowdmatching is a solution for public goods that face the freerider problem. If you have no freerider problem, you have no need for crowdmatching!

In short: crowdmatching is designed for public goods, it’s the wrong tool for anything else.

But there’s some gap between wanting this pitch and it being unarguably true. A half-assed private-goods use of crowdmatching is possible.

At best, we can push the message, tie the ideas together, get people to care about public goods, criticize any other use of crowdmatching, and accept in the end that we could appropriated whether we like it or not.

I saw a billboard ad in 2011 or 2012 saying “Occupy this!” with a picture of a sofa for sale. I was once at a franchise grocer where the radio was bizarrely playing the Doors’ “When The Music’s Over” and it got even to the part with the raw, no-instruments, yelling “We want that world and we want it… now?? …” only to suddenly be interrupted by the store’s automated sales jingle telling shoppers to check out the latest sales deals.[1]

There is NOTHING that is immune to grotesque appropriation, the creation of a lesser-version, the deconstruction of a deconstruction etc. So, we shouldn’t hold on to unrealistic hopes. But we should absolutely do all we can to reinforce our values. Let’s definitely identify all the worthwhile steps.

We are making a much bolder pitch than Liberapay. We’re not just saying that public goods are nice, let’s fund them. We’re saying as strongly as we can that public goods are better than club goods — and that public goods should serve the general public, not just be infrastructure for private businesses. We’re explicitly contrasting crowdmatching in opposition to paywalls and ads. We’re describing a vision for the world we want to see. And we’re presenting more ambitious goals for greater funding and greater crowd-size and more democratic involvement — not just some tool for fundraising that’s got a new algorithm.

As put so well by Shauna Gordon-McKeon (in personal chat I had with her), better for Snowdrift.coop to succeed politically and fail technically than the other way around.

If we can tie the political economics to the mechanism strongly enough, we just might succeed at getting a critical mass of people to associate the ideas even if they are possible to tear apart if someone with enough power tries to do so. It remains true that we’re designing the mechanism for the political and economic goals. The choices we make are never going to be good fit for paywalled club goods, even if we can’t make them unusable there.


  1. Another random example of bizarre cultural/political appropriation, the wacky story of Disney making DEVO 2.0: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6riQ-9CBbs ↩︎

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We are neither decentralized or distributed, so centralization (despite our code being free) is technically a given.

There are plenty of proprietary services that already work, our “special sauce” is by definition not a secret we can or want to keep away from others.

I think our main edge over others is trust. And that’s a big deal when it comes to earning or receiving money and supporting public goods. Crowdmatching in my eyes just an extra stimulus to ACTUALLY do give money and ACTUALLY keep giving money. We certainly are not the reason people want to give – totally awesome projects are for sure!

On a tangent: I really think it would be awesome if technically we were distributed, exchanging GNU Taler as currency and somehow invulnerable to DOS attacks and what not… :grinning:

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Distributed in the case of funding would be when every project has it’s own platform. We could still provide the software. But there is fosspay for that. We could add our mechanism. That is an idea i had.

But then payments can not be combined, so i think decentralized would be better. That would mean that different legal areas or communities have instances of some software. Like some instance for european free software and one for artists.

That makes sense, because every country has different laws and it is a lot of work for a platform like ours to support all at the same time. We give some fees to Stripe to handle the payment side.

You could view Liberapay as a european platform, since it has first-class support of SEPA and operates in europe.

Since we can collaborate in the FLO world, we can share the software und knowledge how to run a platform. That is an advantage over proprietary platforms.

But to have one centralized platform makes it easier for users. They have just one account and know where to go (like everyone knows now they have to go to Patreon and ask artist “make a Patreon!”).

On centralized vs decentralized, there’s the whole https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Starfish_and_the_Spider framing which does make decentralized quite compelling.

Whether that path is a definite win for our mission, I’m not even 100% sure, but I’m certainly sympathetic.

But it’s much harder to build a coordinated decentralized movement. We have so many challenges already. I’d look to the people working to make truly effective decentralized FLO stuff. They can clear that path, and if they make it easy enough to follow their lead, we can look into doing that. We don’t have the resources to work on shoveling that snow on top of what we’re already struggling to shovel. At most it can be a someday-maybe idea for us.

I do love this vision overall

i actually didn’t wanted to point to that but

the general message, that big tech can easily copy technical solution with their resources, so let’s see what we can offer what they can’t copy, like social solutions

but great that inspired too. that is really their mission and not ours here. keep focused

I didn’t say this originally because I was focused on what projects could use crowdmatching, but there’s also the question of profit from providing the crowdmatching platform. This relates to the question of the Snowdrift.coop business model itself. So, along with the harder-to-copy idea: our business model is we don’t make money, there’s no place for profits, the public goods dilemma itself exists because there isn’t a business model.

Point being: big for-profit business might have solved the public goods dilemma if there were profit in doing so. Our whole premise is that there’s no place to find profit in public goods. That’s why we need collective action such as governments, taxes, or crowdmatching. And we’re saying that there’s no profit to be found in making Snowdrift.coop.

If we can keep the premise that public goods have no functional profit mechanism, then that can keep for-profit interests from working on it. I want to show that crowdmatching can fund projects that have no ability to generate profit and that providing crowdmatching is not profitable. Therefore, there is nothing here for businesses to get in on.

But I still suspect that because public goods compete with club goods and so threaten the for-profit businesses, there will be interest in outdoing us just to do the EEE (Embrace, Extend, Extinguish) or other patterns designed to thwart us. Similar to the way all-rights-reserved ebook publishers have succeeded in foisting DRM onto public libraries (in the form of limited “borrowing” through their proprietary apps) to undermine libraries which are themselves otherwise public goods that make a mockery of most publishing business models.

So, my story is that we’ll get as far as we can, and when we start to be seen as a real threat, we’ll get squashed. Crowdmatching will get buried rather than co-opted (though co-option superficially could be a means to the burial).

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a year ago, i thought something like patreon is the solution. recurring donations. the only problem is how to convince people to donate

now i see that it don’t really work for the more ambitious goal you defined

crowdmatching might be the additional motivation people need to donate, but we still need a campaign to fund public goods in general. many people might not even know what that is…

github does funding without fees and with matching (in the first year). it fit’s their business model. they don’t earn money, but strengthen the vendor lock in of projects

patreon also has many open source projects and content creators. they collect fees. it’s not different from other projects

one point i want to make: in the public perception, something like youtube videos could be considered a public good. they are free to watch, you can download and share them, reuploads are a thing and even mashups. some creators don’t care about those, some take them down… and that is exactly the content patreon funds! people are fine when patreons can watch videos earlier and get additional content that is only interesting for fans, like behind the scenes videos. content creators should earn money to continue creating content, right? the audience don’t think about the license of the content. they don’t care

and therefore, when we can successfully fund projects with FLO licenses using crowdmatching, it would also work on patreon with projects that are available for free, but don’t have a FLO license. and when the projects have also additional content for patrons only, it would be an additional motivation to use that instead of our site

that’s a sad story :frowning:

so in the end it is a big political fight for the perception of the public about public goods

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yes, and the public’s sense of civic-duty, collective action… it relies on the public feeling empowered, that we are a crowd working together, feeling inspired to really have a critical mass of people, in the sense of the civic pride people felt around the moon landing and so on.

Patreon’s answer is: paywall some stuff, i.e. freemium. Just guessing on the portion, but maybe 95% of Patreon stuff has club goods (i.e. non-rivalrous but artificially exclusive) perks as opposed to just thanks or private goods like custom work / support / attention / physical merchandise.

Patreon and Kickstarter rely so heavily on perks as the main motivation that several of the efforts to build a “Patreon alternative” focus specifically on the paywall-service. For many of the people using Patreon and considering leaving, the feature they want is an easy-to-use paywall to automate their control over who accesses premium content.

So, as much as YouTube videos are public goods in most respects (the monopoly of YT and its ads being a side issue), there’s a very weird economic tension. Of the YouTubers who complain about YT policies, most focus on the unfairness of other people getting ad revenue using their work or they’re complaining about getting demonetized (which means complaining about removal of ads). It’s a tiny fraction of complaints that emphasize a desire for more public-goods perspectives.

ADDENDUM:

Indeed, but with their VC-based business having taken millions of dollars in investments, they have now gotten 5% of nearly a billion dollars since they launched, and that’s not adequate. They’re effectively in deep debt still and besides raising their fees, they are desperately exploring other business models. VC demands constant growth, not just functioning. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8fSwAljA7g for perspective on that. In the case of Patreon, I heard that their latest effort is to become a payday lender (they will loan creators money at steep interest on the promise that the creators will eventually get enough patrons to pay it back). They are not a model of a functional sustainable business.

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One more note on this:

There’s a benefit of being Snowdrift.coop and not crowdmatching.coop or similar. Snowdrift is about the public goods dilemma, and we’re building a co-op movement to solve it. Crowdmatching is a tool (and the only one we’re focused on building right now), not the mission or end in itself. Snowdrift.coop is interested in whatever tools, messages, political actions etc. allow us to solve the snowdrift dilemma. And it’s appropriate that we focus on that high-level mission in our core branding.

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Strong talk, thanks for sharing!

Quick thought: is there value in starting a non-profit that operates crowdmatching.coop?

Seems more sensible to consider claiming it and having it just redirect to Snowdrift.coop for now, but not a priority.

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Can we get a copyright trademark or something on the name, so no one else can use it (unless we allow it)?

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We do want to trademark both “crowdmatching” and “Snowdrift” and related in terms of public goods funding. There’s some iffy sorta-close “crowdmatch” references out there in obscure ways, but we should aim for it. In fact, we should probably register sooner versus later, but that’s yet one more task.

Yes, trademarking (but not copyrighting or patenting) is a valid and FLO-compatible thing to do. We should do it. We do have this policy right now (could be updated): https://snowdrift.coop/trademarks