Does Crowdfunding Need A Sheriff?

on Friday, Apr. 18th

In the wake of crowdfunding’s latest scam-scare, the IndieGoGo campaign for all-too-miraculous seeming Healbe GoBe health monitor, crowdfunding activist Paul Spinrad suggests that something proactive needs to be done about researching campaigns with suspicious claims.

So, what if there were a loose body of makers, with some recognizable name and “seal of non-disapproval,” who take it upon themselves to vet all of the new hardware offerings posted to crowdfunding sites, and publish a JSON database or similar that associates each one of them with Pass, Fail, Maybe, Notes, Reviewer, etc.? What if there were a few such entities, expert in different domains? In terms of pro bono work, this seems like low-hanging fruit. In a crowd-powered future, so many would benefit so much from something that’s so easy to do.

Let me riff on Spinrad’s idea for a second: wouldn’t it be more powerful if there was an organization (or two) that was giving out seals of approval? An entity that inventors could go to before they launched their campaign and had their work vetted by. That way potential backers could look for the seal–which could be prominently displayed on a campaign page and in the campaign video–rather than hunting down a third party site?

The GoBe still obliterated its funding goal despite all of the bad word of mouth, which is a big piece of evidence that the “vigilante justice” model of crowdfunding curation doesn’t work all that well.

The body that does this work need not limit itself to questions of technological feasibility. There are plenty of creative endeavors that could benefit from having a third party look at their budgets and timetables in order to give a thumbs up to the business plan. As Spinrad hints at, perhaps one entity wouldn’t be enough. Different groups could pop up along the various crowdfunding verticals.

If such groups were to exist there would then be the issue of funding them. Any kind of public interest group vetting campaigns should have their funds come from a neutral source. While Spinrad suggests that this work can be done pro bono, I have to admit I’m skeptical of the sustainability of that model when the potential demand for seals of approval would be high.


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Twitch Takes Two Big Steps Towards A New Identity

on Thursday, Apr. 17th

The integration of into both of the new video game consoles released this past holiday season all but anointed the service as the one, true platform for streaming games. This week the service has taken two steps towards its evolution into a game distribution platform.

First, the company is matching funds in the Kickstarter campaign for the game Choice Chamber, which uses a chat room based mechanic similar to the cultural phenomenon Twitch Plays Pokemon that allows the audience of the game to create the challenges that the player faces. In an article at The Verge designer Michael Molinari says that the game turns the audience into “torture artists” who have their fun by throwing the player into trouble at every turn. Choice Chamber is built around a concept known as “asymmetrical multiplayer,” in this case with the potential of thousands of audience members slipping into the role of sadistic game designers for a short while.

Twitch’s other big move? It is now possible to buy games on the service. Okay. A game. Indie studio Vlambeer’s Nuclear Throne. The pitch for buying it through Twitch as opposed to the other supported marketplaces, i.e. Steam and the Humble Store? Access to subscriber-only chats on Twitch.

This tiptoeing into game distribution raises a question: how will the distribution platforms that have already embraced Twitch–Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox, and Valve’s Steam–take the streaming service’s moves onto their turf? Choice Chamber and Nuclear Throne are both indie efforts, but that’s a part of the marketplace that Sony and Valve have staked out pretty heavily. Can any of these platforms they tolerate partner/competitors who have an intense relationship with their users?

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The Peer Economy, Profits, and The Big Picture Impact

on Thursday, Apr. 17th

All Tech Considered’s Emily Siner has a piece up today about the peer economy–companies like Uber, Esty, and Airbnb–told through the frame of a new D.C.-area based delivery company Postmates which uses freelance bike messengers for one-hour delivery service.

Here’s the part that stood out for me:

Despite its success so far, the peer economy isn’t likely to replace the traditional model of gainful employment anytime soon. [CEO and co-founder Bastian] Lehmann wouldn’t say how much Postmates workers make in a week. [Josh] Gibbs made about $50 in his first week on the job. It’s nice pocket money, he says, but it won’t pay his rent.

The low barrier to entry also means there’s a low barrier to exit: People can stop working at any time with little or no consequence. So the success of the companies, [MIT researcher Denise] Cheng says, depends on continuously recruiting new workers.

The problem of what to make of the “new” economy in the shadow of the financial crisis keeps twisting about in my mind. Is it just a simple “disruption” story wherein the old guard of capital gets shoved aside for smartphone-wielding venture cap samurais? Is crowdfunding itself just a way for new middlemen to take the place of lenders?

Or is there something else under the surface? Should we be using the old metrics to guide our thinking, or should we be looking at the unexpected consequences and social effects that Uber and its ilk are creating? There are human and environmental costs tied into this reorganization of society, and merely adding up the dollars and cents isn’t enough to reflect that impact.

If you know of anyone doing research into this kind of thing kindly point it out to me.

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The Not-So-Overnight Success of eSports

on Wednesday, Apr. 16th

This story airs on American Public Media’s Marketplace.

Over the past two years there has been an explosion of interest in competitive online gaming, known as eSports. Professional video game players face off in matches broadcast around the globe, sometimes for hundreds of thousands of dollars in arenas filled with tens of thousands of fans.

At the recent Call of Duty World Championship in Los Angeles, two four-man teams of gamers, their shirts covered in corporate logos, faced off for the top title.

The gamers were observed by a studio audience, which peered into a control room constructed on a gunmetal stage. On the side of that stage sat the play-by-play men, who called the action in suit and ties.

A million dollars in prizes was on the line at the tournament, which was broadcast free online by Major League Gaming, an eSports promoter that’s been around since 2002, when most of America was on dial-up. (more…)

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Copyright Marisa Allegra Williams (@marisa) for Twitter, Inc.

Twitter Puts Its Money On Data

on Wednesday, Apr. 16th

I often worry about Twitter.

As a certified (but not verified) Twitter addict the service is usually the first thing I interact with every day. The relationship can be tumultuous at times–there’s nothing like having to “go dark” because you are time shifting the latest Game of Thrones episode.

These are not the reasons that I worry about Twitter. I worry about Twitter because I can’t see the game plan. Every recent stab at “innovation” has seemed like a lame “me too” move that apes a Facebook product.

Twitter, after all, has to find a way to make the green just like everyone else. They’ve followed the advertising model that made Google and Facebook multi-billion dollar properties, but that has meant chasing quantity of users over quality. Meanwhile the company let other firms roost in their henhouse, providing marketers with data and powerful tools to connect with Twitter’s often highly engaged user base.

This week Twitter appears to have become aware it was leaving money on the table and bought the data company Gnip:

We want to make our data even more accessible, and the best way to do that is to work directly with our customers to get a better understanding of their needs. To that end, we have agreed to acquire Gnip, a leading provider of social data and a long-standing Twitter data partner. As Twitter has grown into a platform that delivers more than 500 million Tweets per day, Gnip has played a crucial role in collecting and digesting our public data and delivering the most essential Tweets to partners.

This is a move that is long, long overdue. In the early days of the company Twitter allowed a robust third-party infrastructure to grow around it–recall, if you will, the explosion of third party apps–and has since hobbled that business in an effort to control user’s attention.

Instead of mucking around with the user experience the company could have been providing insight and analysis to power users and brands. The Gnip purchase shows that the company has its head on straight again.

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Tribeca’s Storyscapes Returns For An Epic Second Year

on Tuesday, Apr. 15th

The Tribeca Film Festival leapt into the vanguard of transmedia art last year with the inaugural edition of Storyscapes, an event led by TriBeCa’s Director of Digital Initiatives Ingrid Kopp.

Net week will see the second crop of projects curated by Kopp and her team make their bow at the The Bombay Sapphire® House of Imagination (At Dune Studio) when Storyscapes opens for its April 23-26 run.

After the jump: the works that we wish we could be in New York City to see.


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Creative Commons image by Luiz Filipe Carneiro Machado via Flickr

Apple’s iBeacon is a Double Edged Sword

on Tuesday, Apr. 15th

A post at All Tech Considered by Martin Kaste has me thinking today about iBeacon, the Apple iOS feature that uses low power Bluetooth signals to give an iPhone a more acute awareness of location.

Say, for instance, that you are at one of the Major League Baseball ballparks that have iBeacon servers installed. When you are near a beer kiosk your phone could become aware of what the prices are, or if there are two-for-one specials. (Like that’s every going to happen with ballpark beer.) Of course, the ballpark will also be aware of where you are, and that has privacy watchdogs edgy.

“As a privacy researcher, I always get nervous when marketers are celebratory about something,” says Garrett Cobarr, a technologist and writer based in Seattle. He says Apple seems to ignore certain assumptions that people make about what’s happening on a device.

Until recently a user would have to have the appropriate app running in order for the location awareness to work. Apple adjusted that recently, so that information can still be beamed to phones when an app is closed.


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Coffee Disruption: Is Cups App The Secret Weapon Indie Coffee Needs?

on Monday, Apr. 14th

The Coffee Wars are no joke, people.

While Starbucks is ubiquitous and Dunkin Donuts rules the East Coast, the long battle of the “Third Wave” coffee roasters has been coming to a head.

San Francisco’s Blue Bottle Coffee has snapped up two Los Angeles based outfits–Handsome Coffee Roasters and the internet-coffee distributor Tonx–in their big to become the biggest name in indie coffee.

LA itself feels like the battleground in the Coffee War: Chicago’s Intelligencia, SF’s Blue Bottle, Santa Cruz’s Verve, Portland’s Stumptown, and SF’s Philz all have or are planning beachheads here. There’s also local stalwart Groundwork, and there’s likely to be something in the works from the former Handsome Coffee partners who went their separate ways before the buyout. (That’s just the brands I can recall off the top of my head.)

So now is the perfect time for an out of the box disruption. Now is the time for an app. Cue CUPS, a cafe subscription service.


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Indie Van Game Jam Hits The Road with First Episode

on Monday, Apr. 14th

Here’s the pitch: three game developers hop in a van in Austin, Texas and travel to another city to interview some of their heroes. On the way they make a video game inspired by their interviewee’s work.

While in the van.

That’s the premise behind Indie Van Game Jam a documentary web series about indie games that puts the spotlight on a different studio with each episode. The team behind it, Binary Solo, took a stab at raising funds for the project on Kickstarter last year, but when that didn’t work they persevered.

Now the first episode is out in the wild. The first episode, and the first game. Each episode of the series will not only feature the video documentary, but alongside it will release a game from the roving game jam.

Episode one focuses on Chicago’s Rob Lach (Sphere, Pop: Methodology Experiment One) and features the Binary Solo jam It’s Not Me, It’s You. The game is a perspective twisting play on the first-person shooter genre, and is a delightful way to spend a few minutes on a foggy headed Monday.

Here’s to more game jams and vans from the Binary Solo crew.

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Don’t Forget To Change Those Passwords!

on Friday, Apr. 11th

By now you have (hopefully) heard of the Heartbleed bug which was revealed earlier this week to be a serious flaw in the security of a lot of websites.

If you haven’t gone ahead and changed all your passwords anyway, it might be a good time to invest in  password manager software and do a little Spring Cleaning on your cybersecurity.

Set aside some time this weekend and just get it done. Lifehacker has some good advice on what to (and not to) do. Some of the best password manager software is even on sale: 1Password 4 for the Mac is half off right now. I have the previous version, but I’m still going to pick that sucker up.

In fact, take this opportunity to set a little password maintenance schedule. I like to change mine quarterly (and then get lazy about it).

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Tribeca’s Storyscapes Returns For An Epic Second Year

The Tribeca Film Festival leapt into the vanguard of transmedia art last year with the inaugural edition of Storyscapes, an event led by TriBeCa’s Director of Digital Initiatives Ingrid Kopp.



Simple Machine Announces Micro-Festival Grants

We’ve been keeping up with Simple Machine, the independent film curation tool for festival and art house programmers, since running across their booth at South By Southwest last year.


Transmedia Beat: Bernie Su’s “Emma Approved” Monetization Secrets

Disclosure: I’m one of the organizers of Transmedia LA, so take any excessive positivity with a grain of salt.


First Ever Crappy Awards Target SF’s Tech Industry

Inspired by the sly tradition of the Razzie Awards, which commemorate the worst of Hollywood, San Francisco fair housing advocates are kicking off “The Crappy Awards” tonight in the city’s art’s district.


Image Disruptor: Flag Looks To Upend Photo Printing Through The Magic of Free

Flag, a photo printing start-up that is holding a barnstorming 14-day Kickstarter campaign right now, turned up on my radar this week thanks to John Gruber’s Daring Fireball.