Micropledge.com & paying for free culture

Micropledge is a new platform for pooling resources to develop software. Users can pledge money towards the development of a specific project; the money is only paid if the pledgers vote that the project has been successfully implemented. Note that you have to transfer money to Micropledge before you can pledge it towards any specific project; this largely eliminates the risk of pledge fraud, but also reduces the likelihood of spontaneous pledges.

I’ve started an example Micropledge for a MediaWiki extension which I would consider very useful, an RSS extension for namespaces with smart quality filtering.

Micropledge is part of a growing number of sites and services that combine Web 2.0 style social networking and slick UIs with mechanisms for fundraising and pledging towards specific goals. Pledgebank is a universal pledging service (without built-in payment processing), whereas Fundable is a platform for goal-oriented fundraising. I’ve blogged before about change.org, which tries to connect people concerned about certain causes with non-profit organizations that relate to them. When it comes to widgets, ChipIn makes it easy to embed dynamic fundraising boxes into any website. And there are a number of Facebook applications as well.

Of course, free culture does not mean that people do not get paid; it means that the cultural works people create are not encumbered by monopoly rights. Distributed funding mechanisms are one of many ways in which people can and do get paid for authoring works which are freely available to everyone, in perpetuity. It remains to be seen which ones of these new services will be successful in the long run. I’d also love to see some pilot projects in the area of content development on Wikimedia Foundation projects.

Beyond usability, one key question seems to be: Why would people visit a pledging platform in the first place? It seems clear that many people would do so in order to start a pledge, but how do you get people there to join an existing effort? Wikipedia and eBay could gain popularity because they offer things people want: information or goods/services. It seems much harder to match people searching for a particular application to the relevant pledge on Micropledge.com.

Instead of trying to generate attention for hundreds of small pledges, I suspect that it may be more effective to focus attention on a broader cause, and to let an interested core community decide how the pooled resources can be used in service of that cause — especially if you have some credibility from prior endeavors. Campaigns like “Let’s create a world-class open source game” or “Let’s massively improve the state of open source drivers for graphics hardware”, if backed by a credible non-profit organization like the FSF, might motivate many people to give without requiring individual donors to think too much about every single step it takes to achieve the larger goal.

A real-world example of this model is Project Peach, an open source / free content 3D animated movie project by the good folks behind Blender. People who want to see the film done can pre-order the DVD; those who want to get involved in the details are also encouraged to do so. Having already successfully produced one open source movie, Elephants Dream, the Blender folks have the credibility to pull it off again. My only criticism of the project is that it does not seem to aim significantly higher than the previous one.

That said, the Micropledge model might still work very well for solving very specific problems that would never be addressed under the umbrella of a larger initiative, provided that the instigator of a pledge manages to network with those who have the same problem.

Interesting historical perspective: An Economy for Giving Everything Away.


  1. This is based on the Street Performer Protocol (which was already used for initiating Blender as an open source project in the first place).

  2. Incidentally, we’ve now fixed the spontaneous pledge problem. You no longer have to put money in trust up front: only when the developer starts working.

    So now it’s like there is a threshold to reach before anyone has to spend a cent. A critical mass can be built up easily in this way.

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