Kickstarter and crowdfunding: Traction or drag of the crowd

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I think a lot these days about the crowdsourcing revolution. Whether it’s crowdfunding in the form of Kickstarter and its peers, or crowdhosting like Airbnb, or crowdsharing of information, like on sites such as Trustpilot or Yelp, these things definitely have their good and bad sides.

Today: Crowdfunding

Many times in recent weeks I have been traveling – and every single time, I face some kind of phone-charging crisis. I don’t think I am alone in this. We’re all busy and counting on our phones as our connection to the world – to stay in touch, to take and send photos, to do our online banking (in fact if my phone dies and I lose access, I can’t access my online bank at all). And now that the TSA is apparently asking people to turn their electronic devices on to prove that they actually are working devices, having a charged phone while traveling is a necessity for security reasons. Since I am one of those people who worries when there is not even a reason to worry, I am always thinking about whether I have the right cable, or where I might find a power outlet wherever I happen to go. I know from experience that the phone battery is only going to last X number of hours, maybe fewer hours if I engage in more activity – and that’s a strangely helpless feeling, especially when you’re in the middle of Budapest or sitting in one of those not-so-business-friendly airports that has NO power outlets anywhere.

With this panic in mind, I often flip through projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo to see what kinds of things might solve my problems. One day I found a smartphone keyless door lock, the Goji, on Indiegogo which got me pretty excited since I live in multiple places and often panic about what might happen if I lose my key in one city and arrive at one of the other places to find that the key is missing? (My neighbors have keys – but what if they aren’t home? And maybe I don’t want neighbors to have keys. A keyless locking system controlled by mobile phone would let me give them immediate access if they needed it – but then rescind it just as easily so the nosy old lady up the hill doesn’t just come in whenever she wants. Haha!)

And recently I found the Revocharge system – which is a magnetic, snap-on battery and case for iPhones and Androids. This might not have excited me to such a degree had I not just experienced a series of on-the-go battery failures, the elusive hunt for a power outlet and then losing the one power cable I had for my iPhone 5 while wandering around in Berlin. Does the Revocharge solve all the problems? No, you still have to not lose the battery or the case – but the chances are good that they would be connected to the phone anyway – it is not like some stray cable that could fall out of my bag or be left anywhere. My only disappointment, of course, is that this is not available right now! It’s still seeking Kickstarter funding. (For that matter, the Goji is not shipping yet either. AND… if I want to operate all my door locks from my smartphone, I need to have my phone charged all the time, too! So these products go hand in hand… our lives are more entwined with our phones – we can’t afford to let them die!)

When it comes to successful crowdfunding campaigns, though, I keep looking at different campaigns and am never really sure what propels some of them to success and not others. The two aforementioned campaigns absolutely serve real needs and are not “pie in the sky” ideas – both exist (at least in prototype form). In the case of Revocharge, it is addressing a universal problem. This campaign has a long way to go, so its funding goals may be met.

But I wonder about some of the campaigns that create a desire – that definitely do not serve a real need. Case in point: the “coolest cooler”. Serves NO need at all – and has more than 8.5 million dollars pledged to its cause. Or the campaign that famously set out to get money to make potato salad.

Why are people inclined to give money to something that is gimmicky and has no real real-world application?

Beszél magyarul?

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An interesting overlap between the latest season of the TV show Louie and my work trip to Budapest has been this Hungarian connection. Louie begins to date a Hungarian woman this season. They can’t communicate – she speaks no English. She speaks quite a lot of Hungarian during the show. No subtitles. We are not meant to understand – and probably to assume and “grope” as much as Louie has to. I, of course, don’t speak Hungarian. Just before departing for Budapest, though, I started paging through my old Hungarian textbooks, and read an article on a website that tried to position Hungarian as “a language as easy as any other”. I learned a few fundamentals that actually were never explained well in textbooks – including a piece of information that helped in trying to figure out which bottles of water were carbonated and which were not (later I discovered that the color on the bottle could just as well have decoded that little mystery – but hey, I worked with what I knew!). In one of the latest episodes of Louie when the Hungarian woman started chatting with a Hungarian-speaking waiter, I was happy to understand a few words (basic!) – but the whole feeling produced by Louie’s relationship with this woman he could not understand (and who could not understand him) was certainly a hallmark of the Louie “sitcom” style. It’s not a sitcom, it’s not a comedy show. It lacks linear storytelling, goes in sometimes strange, unusual and even sometimes boring directions – but the fact that it dares to do so is what makes it unique. There has been a good deal of everything from discomfort to controversy generated by the show this season (e.g. attempted rape, “This would be rape if you weren’t so stupid.”) and some meandering – but it’s Louie. It’s what I’ve come to expect, even if in expectation, I can’t predict anything. On a side note, Charles Grodin showing up as a doctor in Louie’s building has been highly enjoyable. “Enjoy the heartbreak while you can, for god’s sake! Pick up the dog poop, would you please?* Lucky son of a bitch, I haven’t had my heart broken since Marilyn walked out on me when I was 35 years old. What I would give to have that feeling again. You know I’m not really sure what your name is. But you may be the single most boring person I have ever met. No offense.” My final thought after returning from Budapest (apart from having noticed a plethora of coffeehouses – a dream for a coffee lover like me) was its continued clinging to a complete lack of service-mindedness, reminiscent of Communist-era eastern Europe. It may have improved slightly since I last visited Budapest in 1999, and it might not even be an eastern bloc thing so much as part of the mentality of the Hungarians (since people working in the services now would not have been that exposed to and trained in “customer service” of the past). Everywhere I went – and everywhere many of my colleagues went – we’d ask for something very normal (e.g. exchanging money at a money-exchange desk or asking a normal question in a store), and the employee(s) would give a short, uninformative answer and stare/glare at me (or whomever) as though I had just asked the dumbest question in the history of questions. How could I have been so stupid? In one coffee place, there was a sign by the cash register in English, which read: “We only accept euros” (and then something about the denominations of euros accepted). I found this misleading – it should probably have been clearer that they accept euros in addition to their own currency (the forint), so I asked about it (dummy!), and the barista looked at me like I had just dumped a bag of dog shit on the floor and just repeated the amount I owed her (in forints). (Incidentally my favorite coffee place – maybe due to its convenience in the place I stayed in the city during non-work-conference days – is Coffee Cat. Not the place that had the misleading “only euros” sign!) Sigh. The fun of traveling to different places.

everything's gone kuka - budapest

*everything’s gone kuka – budapest – another coincidence

Cold Peace: Off to Budapest

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Heading off to Budapest for work.

I can only think of two things about Budapest now – my last trip there as long ago as 1999, wandering around and random old people asking me questions, which I naturally could not answer – nem beszélek magyarul. I don’t know Hungarian – clearly. Who does, other than Hungarians or people crazy enough to take on the daunting, crazy task of trying to learn this near-impossible language? I had a weird hankering to learn the language in my university years, but it was not offered anywhere near where I lived – it’s not one of those languages that everyone wants to learn, right?

Secondly, I think of Hungarian music and poetry. Of music, I think back to letters and tapes (yes, old cassette tapes!) exchanged with my former penfriend in Budapest, Szilvia. I fell in love with the music (Muzsikás and Marta Sebestyén). It put me into my own sort of world, wandering through Seattle and its suburbs listening to something that was so inaccessible and unknown to most of the people around me. I do distinctly recall, though, when I went to the cinema to see The English Patient, and from its very opening moments, the gorgeous song (Muzsikás’s rendering) “Szerelem, szerelem” played – I knew from the first moment I would love the film. Bias.

And poetry… I wish I could read it in the original, but as written above, only Hungarians and lunatics (not that they are comparable!) can deal with Hungarian.

After All – Anna Hajnal
After all, what have I become?
The island Iceland in a blind fog.
Gliding in the far north.
I swim in mushy ice-water.
An ice-barrier surrounds me,
To protect me?
Protect, from what?
What boils in me darkly,
bubbling, swirling upward,
melting my thick cover:
the firmament may blanche
while being sliced upward to its lap
by a foaming, vapor-tressed head
ragingly crying: the geyser.

Life Sentence – János Pilinszky
The bed shared.
The pillow not.

Cold Peace – György Petri
In the absence of peace, your plain man’s mind might think:
there will be war. There being no war,
your learnèd mind would believe:
this is now peace. But it is and will be neither.

On Hope – Sándor Petőfi
Man, what is hope? …a horrifying whore
Who doles to everyone the same embrace.
You waste on her your most precious possession:
Your youth, and then she leaves without a trace!

Logbook of a Lost Caravan – Gyula Illyés
Only the compass, keeping hope alive,
Stuttered on, uttering its paralyzed
Directions; with something somewhere beyond
To which to respond.

And for another long day
We struggled ahead through desert sand.

Then to the edge of stone cliffs
Covered with hieroglyphs.

Line after line, incoherent, they read –
Wrinkles on some mad forehead.

An ancient age
Struggled there in desperate tones –

With nothing more to say –
And only the wind moans.

Sand in our eyes. Between sweating fingers, and
Ground between teeth, sand.

We slaughtered the camel who knew the way…
Had our last meal today.

The Shapelessness – Ágnes Nemes Nagy
The shapelessness, the endlessness.
I almost fall before I cut away
My statement from the timelessness.
With sand I wall a bucketful of sea
Against a waste of nothingness.
Perpetual indifference should be
Intolerable to consciousness.

Agonia Christiania – János Pilinszky
The daybreak is still far away
With its rivers and blowing winds…
And I put on my shirt and suit
Buttoning up my death within.

The Dark Fates – Dezső Kosztolányi
The fatal sisters – death and cards and woman-
Stand sadly on life’s torturous road.
Inscrutable veiled destiny, what secret,
Meant for me, do your robes unfold?

Be you a witch, a fairy – never mind –
You’ll be my lover for a hundred nights.
I’ll find you in my Friday of misfortune,
To lay my worried forehead on your knee,

And pray to you for help, in exultation,
Pray for the word, the meaning, for the key.
My life is slow: enhance it, multiply it
With burning fevers, hotter still than hot!

So secret is this treasure-box – unlock it,
Make it let fall the hard, unyielding local!
Allow fast spinning then to every spindle,
Show, brilliantly transfigured, to my mind

Life – from the cradle to the coffin dwindle,
And, touching fate with fairy – gentle fingers,
Allow the thread of my slow life unwind.

Glassworks – Margit Mikes
The temperature is zero below
On the kitchen window the snow
Sticks in flower patterns;
Memory and fantasy together bring
The illusion of a white spring.
As I search for some matches,
A water glass shatters in the cold.
My breath catches.
What a painful shriek, a piercing sound:
A dangerous transformation of matter.
As I turn around
It clatters to the ground
And a cylinder of ice rolls out.
Before it was clear water, refreshing potion,
Now, in this temperature
It has become a miniature
Frozen ocean.

You transparent, dead glass
Our fate is the same.
Indifference engulfs us.
The tears that gushed
One my face freeze;
The pain numbs,
In the frozen vice of apathy
My heart is crushed.

The Rest is Grace – János Pilinszky
Fear and dreams
Were my father and mother –
The corridor was
My unfolding landscape.

This is how I lived. How will I die?
What will my destruction be like?

The earth betrays me. She hugs me close.
The rest is grace.