In recent months, there have been two large-scale crowdsourcing project launched with the involvement of well-known internet personalities. I’m referring to Hunch—heading by Caterina Fake of Flickr fame— and Kickstarter—advised by Andy Baio of Upcoming.org and Waxy.org fame. While these projects are very different, it seems only appropriate for them to share a post.
Kickstarter is a site that lets projects collect funding pledges from users. One can add a project with a funding goal and set tiered rewards for patrons. You’re not expected to pay your pledge unless the project goal is met. Hunch is a crowdsourced decision tree site. Users creating content add decision-making questions to a decision, ones that affect the outcome of the final recommendation.
Had either of these been released elsewhere, the project would not provide any particularly extraordinary impact. Indeed, the paradox of crowdsourcing is that the idea alone will not sell the project, because the difficult barrier of critical mass. Critical mass, however, is itself dependent on having sold the idea already. In other words, new crowdsourcing project can have a great idea in principle, but potential users are aware that it will be difficult to achieve in practice. Such doubt is self-propogating, because knowing that you have doubts means admitting that others may too, further removing confidence in the objective.
A site like Fake’s former creation Flickr was able to grow a community on the back of a valuable individual experience. The community was not vital to the experience of Flickr. Kickstarter and Hunch, however, have no individual experience. If there was only one user, that user would have little to do (admitting that Hunch’s employee-created content can only go so for).
With strong talent behind both of the sites, there is no shortage of cleverness in their mechanics. However, the key to their first few months lies in the trusted celebrity behind them. Like doubt, confidence is be self-propagated. Baio and Fake have an audience already in place, and seeing that audience can swing cynics from “great idea but wouldn’t work” to thinking “just maybe.”