How Canonical's Ubuntu Edge interrogates the nature of crowdfunding
One thing's for certain: Nobody can ever accuse Canonical of thinking small. The company needs to raise $32 million by August 21 to make the Ubuntu Edge, a high-end, limited edition smartphone meant to demonstrate the merits of its Ubuntu operating system, a reality. That's thrice the amount Pebble raised for its e-paper smartwatch, which is currently the most-funded project on Kickstarter, and almost 32 times what the most-funded Indiegogo project, the Scanadu "tricorder," raised.
Basically, in order for a limited edition smartphone with some interesting screen and battery technologies and an operating system meant to power everything from your smartphone to your television set to become an actual thing people can use, Canonical needs to shatter every crowdfunding record in less than a month. No biggie.
Kickstarter claims that its service is not a store. "It's hard to know how many people feel like they're shopping at a store when they're backing projects on Kickstarter," the company's co-founders wrote on its blog last September. "But we want to make sure that it's no one." They then outlined new rules meant to ensure that its users wouldn't be duped by vaporware or companies seeking to raise funds for a product they're incapable of making.
Because Kickstarter has become synonymous to crowdfunding to many consumers, the idea that crowdfunding platforms shouldn't be seen as storefronts has become popular belief. But the Ubuntu Edge, Pebble, Scanadu, and even the OUYA, the second most-funded project on Kickstarter, show that treating crowdfunding platforms as stores is the best way to attract funding.
Canonical has raised over $4 million for the Ubuntu Edge since the project debuted on Monday. The majority of those funds -- over $3 million -- come from people who made a "donation" large enough to ensure that they will receive a unit, assuming the project meets its funding goal. (Now, I'm no Nate Silver, but if the Ubuntu Edge continues to rake in $1 million per day for the next 29 days it should be able to reach its $32 million goal with ease.)
People who backed Pebble, Scanadu, and OUYA did the same thing. While there were some who pledged just enough to be recognized on some website (and surely some who didn't receive any reward, or "perk," at all) most of the funds came from people who were essentially pre-ordering a finished product. Here's a handy-dandy graph that should help illustrate this concept:
Kickstarter might not want to be a store, but Pebble and OUYA both show that that's exactly how many backers view the platform. Indiegogo doesn't have the same reservations about functioning as a pre-order platform -- which is good, because that's how its users are treating the service, as shown by Scanadu and Canonical. So far as consumer technology companies that might turn to these platforms in the future and the people who back those projects are concerned, "crowdfunding" might as well be thought of as a "super-early pre-order."