Kickstarter's new "Launch Now" algorithm makes it look suspiciously like Indiegogo

By James Robinson , written on June 3, 2014

From The News Desk

Kickstarter has gone to the robots. After months of quietly testing out its new project vetting algorithms, the company is finally releasing its Launch Now function. The news, which was made official  via a blog post this morning by CEO Yancey Strickler, means that new projects will skip the human vetting process, and instead will be evaluated based on  “thousands of data points” before being turned loose on the crowdfunding public.

Launch Now is currently available on 60 percent of all projects, with new crowdfunders will retaining the option of getting advice from Kickstarter community managers. Strickler adds that Kickstarter has greatly cut back on its rules too, most of which he says little more than “housekeeping” changes. As the Verge noted this morning, the Kickstarter rulebook just went from being over 1,000 words long to less than 300.

There’s really only three rules now. Projects must “create something to share with others,” “be honest and clearly presented,” and “not fundraise for charity, offer financial incentives, or involve prohibited items.” The slightly longer version still includes many of the old safeguards -- like hardware campaigns needing a prototype, for instance.

Kickstarter’s new “Trust” guidelines leave it more transparent about the risks of crowdfunding than Indiegogo. But, make no mistake, this is a big change. Bundled rewards are okay now. Bath and beauty products can list on Kickstarter now... and so on.

With Kickstarter’s nemesis Indiegogo a walking PR-disaster, thanks in no small part to its abominable Healbe scampaign, it is curious that Kickstarter’s new move is something that will make it more like Indiegogo.

On one level, this could be viewed as a scared move. Indiegogo’s no judgment ethos and flexible funding options allows it to make money from all comers. Kickstarter has made $981 million in five years from 62,392 successful campaigns. Indiegogo CEO Slava Rubin said last week that his site has run 200,000 campaigns.

Does this mean that Indiegogo is winning, forcing Kickstarter to open up the gates to catch up? Probably not. Kickstarter makes its statistics publicly available. Indiegogo does not. Make of it what you will, but in September 2013, two freelancers used software to scrape the Indiegogo and Kickstarter, finding that the average Kickstarter campaign raises six times as much as one on Indiegogo; with 44 percent of campaigns reaching their goal on Kickstarter and just 9 percent doing the same on Indiegogo. (Indiegogo disputed these numbers but never produced any of its own.)

Kickstarter is the dominant crowdfunding brand. While Indiegogo is beset by Arsenio Hall’s stunts and novelty condoms, it has kept its brand (relatively) clean. The more likely play here, is that Kickstarter can widen its lead at the front of the pack by accepting more of the healthy contingent of crowdfunders who end up on Indiegogo because Kickstarter sent them away. (Hey, remember that even Healbe talked to Russian media about going with Indiegogo only because it was too hard to get accepted on Kickstarter.)

This move could help Kickstarter to put its foot on Indiegogo’s throat. Or it might backfire. Even if it has risked seeming too strict and a little pious in the past, the cautious and curated approach has worked for Kickstarter.

A Kickstarter spokesperson responded to Pando via email, writing,

The longterm health and integrity of Kickstarter drives everything we do. We'll continue to actively govern the site with thought and care. Projects will be reviewed by a sophisticated algorithm we developed over the course of years that looks at thousands of data points. And our Moderation and Trust & Safety teams are focused on making sure everyone on Kickstarter is following the rules.
Indiegogo has demonstrated how ineffective an algorithm can be at cutting out fraud. Now Kickstarter has opened its doors in an apparent attempt to steal more of its old foe’s clients. But for its sake, lets hope it's the right type of business that its algorithm sends flying through the door.