Ideas on how to present crowdmatching and budget limits

This topic is a reply to an earlier discussion and comment (I couldn’t find the “Reply as new topic” button) :

As I have struggled to understand the philosophy behind the project, I hope my contribution towards explaining it can help others get the message about how it works. Below are a couple of diagrams, and a draft text.

  1. Diagrams. Note that the second diagram ends on a question, and I’m not sure we have a definite answer right now.


  1. Text explanation.

Shoveling snow…

… is discouraging if you feel you’re the only one doing it.
It’s the same with contributing to an open source project. I’m willing to start giving, but I don’t want to be the only one, because if I am, I’m not going to go very far, now am I?

Enter Being the first one to help is painless because the very first contribution is one tenth of one cent per month. It’s only when more people start chipping in that the contribution rises.

As the number of participants rises, the overall contribution to the project expands quadratically (meaning it hits the roof). In the meantime, your own contribution rises arithmetically, just adding one tenth of one cent for each new shoveller joining the effort.

To avoid overreaching your budget, you set a limit to what you are ready to give.

@wolftune, @msiep, @mray : what do you think? Feel free to suggest edits, copy-paste into existing content, etc.

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Hopefully before that point you decide to increase your limit. If not, you’ll be dropped from supporting the project (for now; in the future we may have ways for you to continue crowdmatching at a lower level).

Nitpick: it’s actually quadratic growth, not exponential.

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edited the text from exponentially to quadratically

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I see the illustration above not as asking the question to us but as proposing that we present how it works this way. I.e. emphasize (A) that there’s crowdmatching (B) that there’s a budget limit and (C.) that we will next describe how the budget works but that the limit isn’t itself a fundamental part of crowdmatching, just a control point (which we don’t want people to hit per se, we just do have ways to handle it).

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Please allow me to nitpick extremely here. (I think every detail counts immensely when such a complex mechanism is being conveyed in an easy digestible format)

  • I regard it problematic to have “rough” amounts displayed next to “precise numbers” – 1 character being = 10 shovellers, 8 characters = 2000 shovellers. Well, I do get your rationale and I see how this makes sense as a tool generally. It’s just extra work to figure out what is precise and what isn’t. People should not have to switch concepts and search for hints when a switch is necessary or appropriate.

  • The text refers to “you” (as in donor) and “your project” (as a project member), this makes it unclear what we are supposing about the viewer of such a diagram.

  • Your math is off, an extra cent isn’t magically matched to $100 . The extra amount of money you bring in to the project gets doubled by the rest of the donors. A project with 10.000 people would get $10 from the next donor, and raise extra $10 from all other already existing donors, adding a total of $20 to the project.

Apart from my nitpicking - what do you think those illustrations change or add to the current material on the homepage?

What exactly was unclear? I’d be totally interested in finding better ways to deal with this visually.

Our rationale here is to be exceptionally clear about our mechanism not EXPLODING and ruining every bank account associated with us. (Which was a real concern of many people initially). Understanding that part isn’t necessary to understand the basic idea about crowdmatching, though. So I’d not try to draw too much attention to clarify that particular point. I think that question needs not to be addressed in more detail on the front page or “how it works” page…


I like the idea to have a more detailed and more exhaustive visual approach to representing the mechanism. Currently we mainly have a very simple illustration page and a 60 second video. Maybe we should start “fleshing out” a more detailed and more complete “manual” that helps to clarify more, but not ask people to read the entire wiki.

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I think some of this is excellent and helps capture the motivations and positive aspects of crowdmatching.

Long text articles won’t be read by many people, and the current illustrated stuff doesn’t capture the reasons for matching adequately enough.

We have a definitive answer about how the system works right now, in that we can guarantee that the budget limit will be honored. That’s the most important point for those worried about having a limit. But we can present it as the only current option.

I think presenting it as a question followed by an answer is good.

Thoughts about answering the "what now" question for limit (click to expand)
  • To respect your budget, your pledge will be suspended if the limit is hit
  • You can continue crowdmatching by increasing the limit and/or by continuing with just a subset of the projects (you can choose which pledges to keep or which to drop)
    • Dropping pledges to fit your budget makes it more of a zero-sum game. We want to emphasize that we encourage increasing budgets so that we grow the pie for everyone and do not make it zero-sum. But if you really can’t donate any more, the limit assures you won’t go over your budget.
  • Maybe just a link to an FAQ item or similar to explain that we will consider other continued-participation options (such as reduced-frequency participation or pledging to smaller sub-projects) for those who want to stay supporting of all their favorite projects but just cannot afford to increase their limit.
    • The key point is that we don’t want to provide options that encourage people to counteract the crowdmatching effect. So, we’ll be studying how things work and considering what options to offer once we have real patrons approaching their limits and all the data, feedback, and experience that comes with getting to that point.

It makes sense to send some advance notification as crowdmatching gets close to a limit. It would explain again what the limit does and what the options are.

On the matching-of-extra-cent framing, I split some discussion to a new topic: On framing the matching of the *increase* in pledge value

Text and terminology nit-picks

Great starting draft! It shows deep thought and understanding on your part. It would be easy to just edit to come up with a final text if we go with updates around your suggestions, but the following points are meant to help you think about the language we use here for reference:

  • “open source” — we use “free/libre/open” or “FLO” or more generically “public goods”
  • “start giving” — maybe “help” in that the same logic applies whether you start or join later
  • “Snowdrift” — we use the full “” as our name in contexts like this
  • “meaning it explodes” — I appreciate the point of saying something qualitative to not sound just jargon with “quadratic” but we don’t want to imply that things explode, it sounds too chaotic or out-of-control. We’re asking patrons to give up some control as part of cooperating, so we don’t want to reinforce the sense of being out of control any more than necessary.
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3 posts were split to a new topic: On framing the matching of the increase in pledge value

And for more contentious issues: I feel uncomfortable with the way limits are described.

  • Saying you can up the limit when you reach it sounds just like having no limit at all

  • Saying the limit is a long way off is only half reassuring. It’s like saying “Oh well we’ll figure that out when we get there”. I for one would like to see the future clearly, and be comfortable with the outcomes, before confiding my precious bank references.

  • I found the image of my contribution being “bowled out” by the rise of the crowdmatching to be disturbing. Imagine I have been faithfully accompanying this project since its inception. Suddenly I’m told my contribution is too small, bye bye. I for one would feel rejected.

  • It also could be suicidal for the project. Imagine half the patrons set a limit of $10. When the contribution moves from $10.00 to $10.01, will the monthly contribution be reduced by half? Will the project then come back to the rejected patrons, saying we’re sorry we need your contributions after all? . In all subscription programs, companies obsess about churn and attrition; their holy grail is to attract people and then keep them. (I read an article on metrics for SaaS subscriptions plans that might hold some interesting concepts such a Monthly Recurring Revenue, negative churn, etc. )

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If you don’t increase it, the limit remains, so it’s definitely real. We will never charge you more than your limit.

What we’re saying is: you’ll be bowled-out (to use your words). That’s already decided. The figure-it-out-later is for additional alternative options or changes. Just that nothing is set in stone. But if no changes are made, there’s still a solid real limit already.

We definitely need to address this, but one direction is to change the framing. If you can’t or won’t keep crowdmatching, then you still get all the benefits without having to pay anything.

Imagine it was neighbors picking up litter in the neighborhood. They commit to more and more hours of volunteering the more others will help. At some point you say, “I just can’t put in more time, sorry” and the answer is, “no worries, the rest of us are doing so much that all the litter is getting cleaned up anyway, so you can be free to find another way to help the neighborhood, cheers!”

No. If multiple patrons are at their limit at the same time, each new patron will push one existing patron over their limit. So, just like the animation in the video, it just swaps out one patron for another and the project pledge value stays the same. The one dropped patron returns the numbers to the previous state, so no further drops will happen.

To avoid too much turn-over like that we’ve considered having buffer requirements so that you couldn’t enter a pledge if you’d be near your limit right away.

But the core point: the only way for pledge value to drop a lot is for patrons to manually drop their pledges (such as feeling that they no longer want to support that project).

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One thing we don’t communicate well is the enormous ambition of this project.

Today, almost all public goods are chronically underfunded; most get pennies. People don’t expect any compensation for their contributions. When we say our goal is to fund public goods, most people imagine being able to supplement income from their day job with donations through Snowdrift.

Our vision is different — we imagine people quitting their job to work on FLO projects. We imagine public goods companies being the norm because crowdmatching is a competitive alternative to selling proprietary products. In order to make that happen, we need to increase the amount of available funding by at least an order of magnitude.

That scale is embedded in Crowdmatching. If we get enough patrons that the crowdmatch level hits $10/month, our yearly income will be the same as the FSF (~$1.2M in 2017).

To tie that in to your post,

Despite its scope,’s development needs are quite modest; most of our challenges are social rather than technical. Of course, there’s tons of more advanced features we could add, but for the core, important part (a website that does crowdmatching), we probably only need 1-2 full time employees.

5k patrons giving $5/month (for a total of $300k/year) will pay for that and then some. By the time we get to the point where we’re experiencing attrition due to people hitting their limits, we’ll already have the funding we need, so it won’t be as much of a problem, like in Aaron’s neighborhood cleaning example above.

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@fvila789, I understand you feeling uncomfortable. I feel the same. The reasons why the snowdrift team made the decision to have a limit was because they were concerned that supporters of projects would be uncomfortable with no limits. They were also concerned about supporters having monthly budgets and were afraid that if there wasn’t a monthly limit that people would be hesitant to sign up.

My medium-term position has always been that limits are fine, but that each project you support should have a limit, and your total limit is the sum of all those project’s limits.

My long-term position is that there should be no per person limit, and that granular items within a project should be an option for people to donate to.

For now, they have made the decision to have one universal limit per person. Which, to be honest, is fine, because so far there is only one project, so from a technical standpoint, the limit is per project at the moment in practice anyways.

The limit would not necessarily be a long way off if you have multiple projects you are committed too.

I think that people should should set the limit indirectly, through their commitments which would be communicated to them clearly, as apposed to directly, by setting a master limit for everything.

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So it seems the objective now is to explain the limit thing without making it look like the patrons are being “bowled out” or “excluded”.
Here are a few images that come to mind:

  • a relay race: you are transmitting the baton to a new wave of runners
  • a seedling nursery: you’ve looked after a potted plant in a greenhouse, now it’s time to plant it out in open air, for others to take care of
  • the traditional wedding, where the father “gives away” his daughter as a bride (very patriarchal when you think of it…)
  • the first stage of a rocket, that lifts the project into the stratosphere, to be pulled into orbit by the following layers
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@CANAWEN once there are multiple projects available to crowdmatch, it may be best for us to offer both per-project and overall limit options. For some people, one master limit will probably work well and provide helpful simplicity since they don’t have to think about what limit they want every time they pledge to a project. I certainly think that in future we’ll need to offer various ways to relate differently to different projects, including in this way, but I think as a starting point, one master limit is better. It is also more in the spirit of crowdmatching since it means you’re being more flexible about tying your donation level to what others do. For example, compare supporting 10 projects with one master limit of $10 versus supporting 10 projects with 10 individual limits of $1. In both cases you’ll never be charged more than $10 in a month, but in the individual limit case, any project that gets over 1000 patrons will lose your support. Although the max you’re willing to donate through crowdmatching is $10/month in both cases, your actual level of willingness to crowdmatch is less with the individual limits than with the master limit.

@fvila789 I really like your framing of the objective for explaining the limit, and your ideas for how to frame the limit as a handover rather than dropping out. That should also help avoid the misunderstanding that lots of people hitting their limit at the same time could cause a sudden reduction in what the project receives. An image in terms of “passing the baton” or something like that is really more accurate, as well as much more emotionally positive, than being “bowled out”. What’s really happening is that you’re handing over your spot in the crowd to a new patron whose limit is higher than yours. This frees up of some of your budget, enabling you to support one or more other projects. So maybe we could find some way to depict not only “passing the baton” but also the suggestion that you use your freed up budget to pledge to other projects that don’t yet have as much support. A related image that comes to mind for me is:

  • A grade-level teacher who hands their students over to the next teacher at the end of the year, and then has a new incoming class for the next year.
  • Another is angel investors where the fact that a startup they supported got to the point of needing and getting attention from big name venture capitalists would make the angel investors feel proud of the success they’d helped make possible (rather than feeling like they’d failed because they couldn’t give the startup the amount of investment they needed for their next phase).
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I think this is really important to emphasize. Crowdmatching has 2 major benefits over traditional monthly donations:

  1. Encourage more people to join the crowd (by providing mutual assurance and low commitment/risk for pledging early)
  2. Consolidate donations to the projects with the most support

We tend to talk about the first one more, but the second is also really important, because money is less useful when spread thin. One project getting $10k/month ($120k yearly) can afford to hire an employee or two; ten projects receiving $1k/month can’t hire anyone.[1] From this perspective, crowdmatching is a system that solves the problem of consensus building at scale.

It works because patrons agree to give up some control. By conceding (to the system) the choice of how much to donate, we get the low risk/mutual assurance. By conceding the choice of which projects to prioritize, we get consolidation. Separate limits for individual projects give patrons more control, but at the cost of the consensus-building power of crowdmatching.

  1. At some scale, this consolidation becomes a problem, but today fragmentation is a bigger problem for FLOSS (and other public goods?) and the rising amount of the pledge provides a natural counterbalance. ↩︎

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thanks @msiep for the positive feedback. The images of the teacher / angel investor make sense to me. I’ll try to offer a graphics+text suggestion based on these ideas as soon as I get the time.

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Or maybe an image of them passing off, you know, a shovel?
To match the whole snowdrift theme?

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Makes sense, but it would be best if the new person brings their own shovel and the departing person takes their shovel with them, since hopefully they are now looking for a different snowdrift to help with - one that doesn’t require as big a time commitment as the one they’re departing from.

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Here’s my latest suggestion. If people like it I’ll convert the images to Inkscape so that others can open-sourcely edit them, suggest new versions and improvements:

Shoveling snow…

… is discouraging if you feel you’re the only one doing it.
It’s the same with contributing to an open source project. I’m willing to start giving, but I don’t want to be the only one, because if I am, I’m not going to go very far, now am I?

Enter Being the first one to help is painless because the very first contribution is one tenth of one cent per month. It’s only when more people start chipping in that the contribution rises.

As the number of participants rises, the overall contribution to the project expands quadratically (meaning it hits the roof). In the meantime, your own contribution rises linearly, just adding one tenth of one cent for each new shoveller joining the effort.

To avoid overreaching your budget, you set a limit to what you are ready to give.


Once you reach your limit, you pass on the baton to other incoming shovellers. You have successfully picked an embryonic project and seen it grow into a successful proposition. You have uncovered and blazed a trail so that larger vehicles can now move ahead.

How about picking another seedling project and help it grow into a mighty tree?

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I think “linearly” is the word you want, here.

go for linearly, changing now

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