published: November 7, 2023 - last updated: November 8, 2023
Crowdfunding is obviously a good idea, and has been proven effective.
However it's generally well-understood that a crowdfunding campaign is unlikely to be successful if the creators don't already have a large following and a strong reputation. I think this is a problem.
The ability to "build a reputation" doesn't necessarily correlate with the ability to successfully complete an impactful project. There are many deeply skilled, creative, and determined people who don't have the opportunity (or forethought) to do their work in public. Most of the work that most people do at their day jobs is private and counts for nothing in the public square that is the internet.
And even worse, there are many people who are very skilled at building a reputation that definitely don't have the skill to complete an impactful project! It's pretty easy to put together a team of marketers and designers and hype a product that you definitely can't build.
The idea of Adaptive Grants is an attempt to fix this problem in both directions. My hypothesis is that by adding substantially more accountability to the process of crowdfunding, backers will feel safer taking risks on unknown or very large projects, and it will be easier to shut down projects that aren't making progress and refund whatever money's available.
Here's the core idea of how an Adaptive Grant would unfold:
This simple "vote to continue" system seems like it would be enough to prevent (and therefore deter) the most malicious actors, and gives enough control to the backers to allow them to take bigger risks!
And it allows the creator to build the idea of "increasing reputation" into the project timeline itself! Often it is possible for earlier project phases to involve less people and equipment, making them cheaper to fund. If an unknown creator is able to design the project timeline to start cheap as they solve small problems, reduce uncertainty, and validate their abilities before ramping up cost and complexity, then their pitch can be very compelling and low-risk despite their lack of reputation.
In general, if we want our world to have more shared and open public goods it seems especially important we solve this problem. People with creative ideas and the skills to execute them shouldn't have to dither around tweeting or writing blog posts to build up their reputation. They should be able to bring the idea directly to the communities most possibly interested in them, and have a reasonable chance of getting an opportunity to prove their mettle.
This idea might seem like overkill, but it's important to remember that even if failed projects are actually quite rare, trust is more easily destroyed than built. A small number of malicious or overwhelmed creators can ruin things for all the other capable people who don't have a strong online brand.
Although this idea is compelling to me I'm not sure I'll be able to get to it soon, since I have a lot of other things going on. Previously I built a toy version in this repository (opens new window), but I'm not satisfied with it and if I ever try again I'll restart it entirely using different tools. (These kinds of side projects are a great opportunity to play around with different technologies! 🤓)
Maybe you should do this!! If you decide to pursue it please reach out!
If I do pursue this idea, it would be run as a Persistent Democracy Cooperative.
Also here are some other random thoughts about how to better structure such a site: