In the Age of Information, critics of the World Wide Web are quick to bemoan the many faults and failings that (they claim) the Internet is likely to engender. The web is making us insular creatures who spend all of their time huddled in front of the dim glow of a computer screen, vehemently whispering zombielike prayers to prevent further Tumblr downtime; we are becoming progressively lazier as tools like Google put almost any available information on almost any subject at our fingertips. Maybe these are valid criticisms, but in looking at the Internet from a glass-half-full perspective, we can find a wealth of positive things in the oceans of 1s and 0s that make up the binary of the web. One of these many things is the accessibility of crowdfunding.
Crowdfunding is the collective financial support of individuals across the internet who donate their resources – often ranging from as little as a few dollars to thousands – to causes and initiatives they believe in. Named for the massive, crowd-like presence of the Internet’s users, crowdfunding has more often than not been a force for good.
The precursor to crowdfunding predates the Internet. In fact, it began in the eighteenth-century practice of subscription. Writer and artists who had difficulty getting published could nonetheless produce their work through their subscribers, wealthy patrons and benefactors who would pay generous amounts to the artist for a subscription. In our time, that simple principle has evolved into something much larger but with the same idea at its heart: the project is paid for by a few or many people, either in large or small increments, and the project is produced for its benefactors to either reap its rewards or observe its results. Websites like Indiegogo and Kiva act as intermediaries between those producing the content and those funding it.
The Oatmeal, a popular online comic artist, is a prime example of crowdfunding. After becoming interested in the work of Nikola Tesla, a scientific pioneer in the study of electricity, he decided to buy the land on which Tesla’s former laboratory stood in order to build a museum in his honor. With an initial goal of $850,000 dollars, “Operation: Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum” managed to exceed its target by a margin of just over $520,000. His fans funded the entire project.
A more humanitarian example is Kiva, a microfinancing platform wherein investors can select entrepreneurs in developing nations and lend them the money necessary to start a business, ensuring their economic futures. It’s a fiendishly simple way of giving back (and getting back – the loan is paid back in full). Crowdfunding has been used to raise money for a number of projects and causes – from indie films to disaster relief, political campaigns to free software development, funding for small businesses to blogging.
So to the crowds that fund and the good things that are getting funded, I raise a toast. Your initiatives make the world a better place to live in, dollar for dollar – and that gives me hope.
– By Erin