Crowd-Funded and -Directed Blogs: The Future

The Scene

I was browsing KickStarter (as I’m prone to doing lately) looking for interesting things, and I saw the listing for “Penny Arcade Sells Out“. This is rather fascinating, and something I had never thought of. The basic premise is that they want to reduce the advertising and other activities that are purely for financial sustainability, so they can focus on just making content people want.

It’s like taking content back from advertisers. No longer will content be a vehicle for advertising, but rather people will pay to get their content without advertising. Not a wholly new concept, but a new way of applying it to blogs and similar content people want to consume.

It also allows users to actually direct the content in some cases. Penny Arcade, at certain pledge levels, are offering users the chance to have some influence over the content they create. Another recent KickStarter listing by @ChrisCoyier was to screencast the complete re-design of his site, CSS-Tricks. His project was 2,562% funded! Now that’s a resounding “Yes please, we want that content” from his users, and also money that allows him to really go to town making it awesome.

Penny Arcade are asking considerably more initially than Chris, but with 35 days to go, they’re already 60% funded (at the time of writing this post). They’ve made it clear they’re testing to see if this is something that might work dependant on the reaction they get… looks like it’s another resounding yes so far!

The Seed

@JasonImms, a friend of mine and excellent writer himself, also wrote a blog post about a conversation he had with colleagues. The conversation was on starting a site that would be completely crowd-funded and community-driven, so I wanted to put down some thoughts about this. Read his post first… I’ll wait.

Done? Good, cause some of this won’t make sense unless you read that.

I think a platform for crowd-funded content, also contributed to by the community (in the sense of ideas, direction, and content), is excellent. Clearly this is something a lot of users can get on board with, as indicated by Chris and Penny Arcade’s case studies above. Who wouldn’t want the content they love, without all the advertising and detractors they hate?

The balance, I think, is that the community is given some control and extra emotional buy-in in exchange for their financial buy-in.

Jason’s current approach was suggesting almost complete control to users. The site itself would serve as a neutral platform for publishing content, and the content could be on essentially any topic nominated and voted through by the users. I feel like this has potential to end up too open and thus never going anywhere. There’s no topic to be passionate about. As a contributor, your content could get lost in amongst other completely unrelated content, readers who are there for other content aren’t interested in what you’ve written. Also as a user, the same goes, you can’t guarantee what you find is anything you care to read. This is where I would suggest a different approach, so what follows is my suggestion.

My Thoughts

Disclaimer: It’s quite possible the things I’m about to suggest are things Jason already thought of, or intended, but I didn’t read them in his post so wanted to get them down somewhere.

The site, isn’t just one site. The site is actually a network. It may start out as one site, it may start out as two or three, but each site is focussed on a particular broad topic. For the sake of argument, let’s say three topics: Gaming, Comics, Tech Industry. True, I’ve chosen topics where there’s a lot of cross-over, but if the network had a fairly generic name, there’s no reason you couldn’t spin up a new site on any topic.

Having a topic gives each site a purpose. Contributors know what general content is expected, and readers arrive with a specific expectation. There’s also the benefit of organic growth by having a cohesive theme running through the posts on a site: users know they can read and contribute there, the name becomes associated with that content, and the more automated consumers (such as GoogleBots) also have an easier time of it.

At some point, this network would have many sub-sites, and be covering such a wide range of content that it would essentially be that neutral platform for publishing content. But I feel having more focus in the beginning will give it its best chance to get started and grow big enough to handle that.

In Summary

This whole concept actually really excites me. I think it could be amazing, and from various things I’ve read around the web industry, it’s definitely the direction things are moving.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Feel free to leave a comment here, or over on Allegedly Interesting, as I’ll be keeping tabs there too.

Jason: Aren’t you glad I didn’t leave this big post as a comment on your post?  ;)

7 Comments

  1. Man, SO glad!

    Great response, and some fantastic thoughts there. Like you, I mostly wanted to get my thoughts down so that I had them *somewhere*, and so that I had a convenient link to send to people from whom I actively desired feedback.

    The idea was born from thinking on users truly taking control of the content that they want to consume, to *actively* take control of it. Not just by looking at ads, or buying the odd t-shirt. I, as a consumer of content, want to be able to say to editors and other content creators “Hey guys! This. MORE OF THIS.”

    Twitter has certainly been a boon in this regard, but many sites remain slaves to their advertisers, and SEO experts. Even if they seek to deliver the content their audience craves, that desire plays second fiddle to the whims of faceless, I don’t know, guys that throw money in the air, cackle, and smoke cigars during film montages.

    I’ve left the concept open for now because, frankly, I’ve not made any decisions about where I would focus if I had the choice. Leaving the concept open in these very, very early stages allows more people to have a voice in the discussion, without feeling alienated by specified topics in which they have no interest. You’re right though, some focus would definitely need to be applied. I just don’t know where, or how to apply it yet.

    Seriously, the idea only came to me today! I’ll continue to think on it. Your feedback and input, and that of your readership, would be greatly appreciated!

    1. I think it’s a really interesting idea with legs! In fact, even though this is a fairly new blog, this is the first post I’ve bothered even tweeting about. That’s mainly because I’d love to hear what more people have to say about it :)

      1. I was wondering why I didn’t already know about this new to-do.

  2. I really like the idea of crowd-funding content. It’s a user-pays system like the paywall, just without the wall. It’s especially cool when you add a feedback mechanism for readers to steer the direction of the content like you & Jason are proposing.

    At the risk of hijacking the discussion, what are your thoughts on crowd-funding FOSS? In a way, it’s just another form of digital content. I occasionally dream of a system like the one you’re talking about, but for software – users demand a certain piece of software, fund its development, then it’s published free for others to enjoy.

    1. Quite right, Brent, it’s a lot like a paywall without the wall :)

      I actually thought much about it being applied to FOSS, but this is another thing I’ve seen happening on KickStarter too. It makes sense to me. The trouble in the past is that if people were handing over money, they wanted ownership or a return on their investment or something. With KickStarter, it seems if you get enough people paying a small amount to simply be involved and make something happen, you can actually do amazing things!

  3. Thinking about this a bit further, I can see how such a platform would work really nicely with another WordPress-based idea I’m really interested in. The “GitHub for Journalism” concept posted about by Ben Balter.

  4. I had a not-quite-the-same, but similar idea to this last year. It was around the concept of a crowd controlled philanthropy fundraising system. i.e. People voted or suggested on a need they felt most passionate about or connected to. Then that community then spends the next 6 – 12 months raising money through personal events with their friends for that top voted need. The site facilitates this process, and the process recycles over and over again.

    The idea was born out of being frustrated by so many organisations approaching me for money, I was much more inclined to raise money for issues I cared about, if given the choice.

    Crowd funded content could work, and you’re spot on Japh. It needs the right framework to make the content purposeful.

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