Kickstarter Aims to Make Gadgets Less of a Gamble

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ZionEyez' video-recorder glasses, a case study in what can go wrong at Kickstarter

For the new dead-tree issue of TIME that comes out today, I had fun profiling Kickstarter, the highest-profile site enabling crowdfunding of creative projects. (Subscribers can read the article here.) I write about some of the amazing stuff which the site has helped make possible.

But I also cover some of the ways that projects can go awry — particularly when they involve gadgets and other physical products. Such projects don’t have a great track record for completing their goals on schedule, and there are a few truly cautionary tales, such as the one of ZionEyez, a pair of glasses with a built-in video camera which was supposed to ship to backers last winter and is still stuck in limbo.

Kickstarter’s rules say that when there are problems with projects, it won’t step in to resolve them. But in a blog post titled “Kickstarter is Not a Store,” the company’s founders have announced that they’re instituting some new policies which aim to reduce the chances of problems happening in the first place.

They include:

  • A new “Risks and Challenges” section which all project creators must provide, explaining what could go wrong with their plans;
  • Rules that say that projects in the Hardware and Design categories can’t show renderings, or show simulations of products doing anything they can’t yet do;
  • Another rule that prohibits Hardware and Design projects from offering bulk quantities of a product (a common practice — ZionEyez, for instance, had offered a ten-pack of its glasses for a $1,500 pledge).

As I discuss in the story, Kickstarter has a pretty firm idea of what it is and is not. The site was founded to help musicians, filmmakers and other artistic types with endeavors that are usually small in scale. The fact that some hardware makers have used it to raise millions by selling their wares is an alternative-use scenario more than a primary aspect of its core mission.

I’m not sure how long Kickstarter will be able to maintain its not-our-problem stance when projects stumble. (Over the years, everyone from eBay to Airbnb has started out without many consumer protections, and then put them into place later.) But it’s good to see it err on the side of having fewer, better, more realistic projects.

MORE: Behind the Story: TIME’s Harry McCracken Discusses Kickstarter