Kickstarter is definitely not a store

Kickstarter is a tech scene phenomenon.But it's important to know what it really is.

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Pigs Vs Cows!

Original photo by V&A Steamworks/Flickr

Back in September, Kickstarter felt the need to post an update stating that "Kickstarter Is Not a Store". In it, the crowd-funding and project-launching phenomenon laid out a few new rules, clarified its mission a bit, and generally reinforced the key point in the headline: you back projects, you don't buy goods.

I note this here because I wrote two reviews of the Pebble "smartwatch" last month--one after three days of use, one after a week. Summarizing them, I thought the Pebble was an interesting idea that was in its earliest stages, but perhaps useful only to those who felt they really had a problem catching just the right notifications from their smartphone.

And then my Pebble watch stopped working. I tried everything the Pebble team suggested, I plugged my possibly faulty charging cable into every kind of USB power source in my house--nothing. But I tried to keep perspective. I wrote this in the Fast Company piece about Pebble and my bricked watch:

I felt a pang of sympathy for the Pebble team, which is trying to sell a disruptive piece of near-future tech in an early-stage form, to customers who want both a revolution and a reliable product. It’s a tough market.

Today, I realized it's not really a market at all. There's a big and hotly anticipated market for crowdfunding of startups and new products and ideas. But those products themselves, they are not "products" in the way that something you add to your Amazon cart is a product. I think this bears repeating, and pondering more than once.

Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and other crowdfunding platforms take pledges from people, not payments or purchase orders. Pledge, as a word, has taken on more than a few derivations and meanings over the centuries. The person pledging is "promising faith to" something, and asks "to be responsible for" their amount. There's also a root in the Old English for "to risk the loss of," and then there's a recurring motif of a pledge being a drinking toast. That last one there--specifically, "allegiance vow attested by drinking with another"--makes a particular kind of sense.

Because when something goes wrong with your Kickstarter reward, your prototype device, or the play/novel/film/video game/webisodes you're backing didn't quite turn out like you'd hoped, all you can really do is hope the makers somehow make good for you. And then toast your not-so-great luck, and hope the makers learned something. Crowdfunding projects do not register for retail licenses, figure out their own tax dependencies, and generally do not become liable for what you believe was a product you purchased from them.

I say this as a Pebble backer whose brand new watch stopped working, and has been waiting for nearly two weeks to hear about whether I can return it. Two weeks would be an abysmal response time on Amazon or Zapps, pretty bad on eBay, and just a shade under a voided PayPal contract. But I didn't quite buy a Pebble watch; I pledged that I would help it get started. It's a tricky thing, the web we live with now. Fun and full of ideas, but often tricky.

Read more of Kevin Purdy's Mobilize! blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevinpurdy. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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