Crowdfunding and the Future of Technology

It’s been so exciting to watch how technology development has been influenced by the sudden access to considerable funds, courtesy of crowdfunding. Suddenly, the need for a financial backer, who may have been difficult to find, is no longer the only option even for the more obvious successes. Everything from the Oculus Rift to an iPad Nano watch strap has been funded via the power of the crowdsourced money pool.

But what does it mean for upcoming technology development? Well, for starters it means that you can now pitch directly to your future customers, who then become… this is where things get a little unclear. There’s an ongoing debate as to whether backing something financially makes you just a backer, an investor, or simply a customer with a very different kind of pre-order arrangement.

For this reason, pitching new projects, whether you’re coming from a newbie background or you’re responsible for some of the innovations in your Verizon handset, working on crowdfunded tech when funding can be fraught with additional tension. Financial backers may not understand the complexity of the development process and cause outcries when deadlines are missed or unforeseen obstacles arise.

Personally, I think crowdfunding is a really good way to step around the middleman issue and start developing technology with input from the people who would buy and use it. The benefits are obvious. Tech like the Oculus Rift could end up in the hands of not just developers, but even someone who’d like to see what Doom 3D feels like when combined with a VR headset and a treadmill.

What this means is that input on technology is now not solely coming from engineers, software designers and so on. Market research is nothing new to technology, but I’ve found that quite a few of my more interesting insights on development projects have come from people who have no involvement in development at all, who see things from outside the box you can sometimes accidentally build around yourself when you’re working on something new.

One of the main trends in crowdfunded tech is the fact that many of the projects being pitched are for hackable devices. The creators are actively encouraging people to do impressive, unintended things with the technology they create. The benefit is mutual, of course – those who created the tech get a lot of publicity for the product they’ve funded, and of course, those who hack tech are able to find new, exciting uses for things made by people similar to them – people who love exploring new frontiers and want people to join in on that front with them.

The main concern is that tech tends to be pricier than the entry fee for backing, say, a new type of knitted hat, and as a result, the financial risks can be greater. Backing a new form of VR tech could end in something less than satisfactory, and when the stakes are high and the tech has the potential to change the environment in which it appears forever, then any issues are magnified by the disappointment of the considerable number of financial backers it had.

I do wonder how this affects people’s willingness to be transparent about development processes after being funded – too many cooks may spoil the tech. But the upside is there’s a new game in town, and that’s asking the public to get behind you on something new and exciting, and doing so directly. That alone has changed the technology market. Let’s see what happens.

*Feature Photo courtesy of Rocío Lara via Flickr Creative Commons