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Flattr, Patreon, crowdfunding, and Quantified Prestige

Estimating the potential impact of Quantified Prestige is hard. Perhaps the best way of doing that is comparing it with similar projects. But what counts as “similar project”. So far, I have compared QP with reputation systems. That may not be the most appropriate comparison, as my intention for QP is to use it to create a reputation economy. As I’ve written previously, a reputation economy is similar to a gift economy:

Conventional crowdfunding: Kickstarter and Indiegogo

So, why not compare QP to projects that are related to a gift economy, namely online portals that allow people to donate to other people. Let’s see how those fared. First of all, we could consider “conventional” crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The interest in those seems to have plateaued since the middle of 2012. Conventional crowdfunding failed to eat up everything. Why? Doesn’t this model scale? Do people get fed up with funding projects that way? It’s not easy to reach a sustainable income through those platforms anyway. So, let’s take a look at some alternatives:

Flattr

Flattr had a quite interesting idea: Instead of “like” and “tweet” buttons, people would put “Flattr” buttons on their blogs and if they got “Flattrd”, they would get donations, depending on the monthly amount of money that givers decide to distribute among all the people they “Flattr”. Unfortunately, Flattr failed to take off big time, and recently the service seems to have degraded and is about to fade into oblivion. So, the Flattr model failed, but it’s not clear why it failed.

Patreon

Patreon succeeded big time in contrast, and is still rising like a star. Patreon works with monthly donations for specific artists / content creators. It has become quite popular for YouTubers. It seems that effective social media marketing contributed to the success of Patreon. The prospect of having a relatively reliable source of monthly incomes seems to have motivated content creators to popularize Patreon, so that they could try to make a living with it.

Other “sustainable crowdfunding” companies

There have been a few other sustainable crowdfunding projects. The (co)founders of those have actually discussed in a quite interesting Google Hangout:

CentUp got more than 15,000 $US in initial funding from an Indiegogo campaign, but it didn’t turn into a successful project and effectively vanished.

GitTip was renamed into Gratipay and still exists, even though it’s still very much of a fringe platform and is vastly overshadowed by Patreon right now.

Quantified Prestige

QP, with reputation incomes, is something of a mixture between Flattr and Patreon, and more. Giving someone Esteem Points would grant them a continuous income. This could be solved with an “Esteem” button that people can embed into their blogs, or users might esteem others with an interface on a dedicated QP website.

Now that we have a successful sustainable crowdfunding platform like Patreon, what additional advantage could QP provide that Patreon doesn’t? After all, content providers could display their income from Patreon as some kind of “reputation score”. And that would be quite a significant score, because it comes from scarce donations! It wouldn’t be an expression of actual “reputation”, though, because the “Patreon score” would depend on the discretionary incomes of Patrons.

QP would be more egalitarian than that, because the “donation power” of everyone would be equal. It would allow those with little discretionary income to be able to reward their favourite content providers effectively. That is, if the system also becomes popular with those who can provide the “monetary power” to the system (the value of Esteem in QP depends on how much money is generated as reputation incomes – the more money flows into the QP economy, the higher the actual value of reputation incomes). In other words: We need wealthy and generous people to buy into the system, otherwise it would be of little value. So, why should those people use QP instead of Patreon, when their influence is undiluted in a system like Patreon?

Egalitarianism vs. elitism?

That question is hard to solve, so I suggest that we take a step back at this point. This seems to be quite related to the question whether an egalitarian “democratic” gift economy, or an elitist gift economy is better. QP would enable an egalitarian “democratic” gift economy, in which the “gifting power” of everyone was equal. On the other hand, crowdsourcing platforms like Patreon implement an elitist gift economy, because some people have a larger discretionary income, and donate more than others. The influence of the donation elites is obviously much bigger in the elitist gift economy. Is that a bad thing, however? After all, this elite is defined by donating the most to causes that they deem worthy! Perhaps they deserve a greater influence, because they are more generous? At least if we had a universal basic income that covered the basic living expenses of everyone, this would be a quite justified argument. Otherwise, one can rightly counter that many people don’t have the chance to be very generous, because they hardly earn enough money to cover their own meagre living expenses.

The political dimension

Note that this is a quite political issue. We are talking about influence here, depending on the income and the tendency to donate money. In political terms, this would be translated into census suffrage and lobbyism. We seem to live in a time where the economy and politics are converging (for good or ill), so this is a hot issue. Having a more egalitarian economic system may be the only feasible way to reclaim something resembling democracy, if that’s even a thing that we really want.