Felix Stalder on Mon, 18 Jun 2012 12:08:47 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Crowdfunding the Commons: Goteo.org Interview

When I wrote about rethinking the commons and its potential to re-embed the economy into a larger social contexts, one of the projects I was thinking on was goteo.org.

I recently conducted a lengthy interview with Olivier Schulbaum and Enric Senabre Hidalgo which which might be of interest here.



We are reinventing social and cultural practices. By necessity and
desire. New ways of collaborating require, not the least, new ways
of organizing financial means. In the cultural sector, commercial
models based on copyrights (selling copies) and government funded
models (subsidies) are in crisis and are increasingly inadequate or
politically unsustainable.

If we take the crisis of (cultural) production seriously and are
looking for alternatives, three developments need to be taken into
account. First, while we should not let the state simply skip out
of its responsibilities, it's unlikely that public cultural funding
will ever expand at the same rate as cultural practice. Second,
producers and users are coming in much closer contact with one another
and in the process the roles in between “artist” and “audience” are
multiplying. Third, the control of the distribution and use of copies
cannot be a way to finance the creation of the first copy.

The most innovative answer to these issues has been the rise of
crowdfunding, as a way of pre-financing the first copy by creating a
community around emerging projects. Kickstarter.com has established
itself as the dominant model and countless derivatives are imitating

Unfortunately, Kickstarter is, in essence, simply a reverse market.
Rather than buying the product after it has been produced, one can now
buy it before it is produced and, if one donates more than a certain
amount, inscribe oneself to a very limited degree into the product
itself (e.g. by being mentioned a co-financier in the credits of a
film project). Besides that, very little chances.

But does that need to be? Crowdfunding is a promising field because
it can address many of the dynamics that underlie the crisis of
the cultural economy and its transformation from a commodity- to a
commons-based environment. So, it's high-time to think about and
experiment with this approach in a more comprehensive way and explore
more radical approaches to alternative cultural economies. How can
these new means be used to fund the commons, rather than to kickstart
yet another round of “cool” new products?

To explore this question, Felix Stalder caught up with Enric Senabre
and Olivier Schulbaum who recently launched the Spanish platform Goteo
(which means “to drip”) which bills itself as a “social network for
co-financing and collaborating with creative projects that further the
common good."

__You started your crowdfunding platform in 2010, just when
Kickstarter was establishing itself as the dominant model in this
field. Why do something different?

First of all there's the practical limitation of not being able to
publish projects without an American bank account. But there is
more than that. Kickstarter and many similar platforms design the
crowdfunding process in ways that very easily lend themselves to what
we see as problematic practices of "crowd capitalism." For example,
one of its most prominent projects, TikTok, a watch based on the
iPod Nano, uses crowdfunding simply to expand the commercial model.
Raising money to initiate standard global production processes, even
subcontracting critical tasks to global sweatshop factories, no matter
how or where.

Especially that last thing, we don't want to support that. Or take
Diaspora, for example. The distributed social network project had a
great success when when it launched its crowdfunding campaign. Yet,
eventually Kickstarter changed its policies in order to avoid software
development projects. Maybe because Disapora started to become too
prominent for the platform and threatened its brand-building. The
main issue seems to be that software projects often have not-so-clear
rewards and the boundaries between contributing money and contributing
other stuff is less fixed, as compared to other types of projects such
as movies, videos, books, music, etc, where you get, say, a printed
copy of the book when you donate $20, and a signed copy when you
donate $50 and so on, but are otherwise not really involved.

So, the “Kickstarter” model seems to limit the sociability of projects
when they break down the barriers between “artists/producers”
and “audiences/consumers.” For example, by being able to accept
contributions other than money and thus really generating a
distributed or cooperative economy.

But these are the aspects we are most interested in. We think the
crowdfunding processes offer many opportunities for learning,
collaboration and community if we explore the full range of “crowd
benefits,” financial as well as social ones.

__Could you explain what you mean by sociability of a project?

Goteo’s approach is that crowdfunding should also imply crowd benefits
or community benefits, if you prefer. These benefits might be social,
educational or economical in character. We want to look at these
things together, rather than as different dimensions separated from
one another. Thus, our projects need to have a strong connection to
the commons.

Goteo establishes, together with producers, lawyers, economists
and fiscal experts, a simple, effective tool for both donors and
recipients to make transparent the core principles they are committed
to in the project and how these lead to reinforcing the commons and
assuring shared community benefits. This question of sociability is
really about developing the skills of interacting well with others, on
a peer-to-peer basis.

A central question is how do we generate a new economy and realize
the potential of collective production? We need to go beyond the
co-creation standards of the industry. We want to ensure that
innovation is distributed. So we want to combine crowdfunding with
crowdsourcing in a way that does not simple help private companies to
improve their products.

Rather, co-design should imply opening up to contributors
the processes of micro-entrepreneurship, micro-distribution,
micro-production. In other words, everyone who contributes to a
project should become part of the economic/productive/creative
process they helped to improve, rather than support the generating of
knowledge and resources for a private party.

An example of a fertile territory for such a development is open
hardware or the emerging open craft movement, which is growing
particularly fast. If we can get to the point where backers or donors
of a project end up being the future producers or providers for the
community or find their way to be actively part of the project they
helped, this is when we really open the circle of sociability!

Besides sociability, we also talk about a commonability or
shareability. So part of our mission is helping producers or
organizations with defining their scale of shareability well. That's
why in Goteo we make a clear distinction between social good and
commons good. NGOs are usually oriented toward social goods in the
sense that they are orientated towards creating positive change in
concrete places or communities. For us, this is not enough. Goteo
isn't really interested in social initiatives if they don't clearly
establish a collective return.

This means that they ensure that the project is transferable and
reusable by other people and collectives (common good) according to
the rights which govern free knowledge and which are usually regulated
on a legal level through free and open licenses.

Something we are observing with Goteo is that the more tangible a
project is, (for example the DIY shoes kit, a project with the support
of Fablab Barcelona), the more sociable it gets. It reminds me of
a conversation with Dmytri Kleiner about his text Critique of Peer
Production Ideology where he pointed out: "What is needed for Peer
production to incorporate material goods into the common-stock is a
system for the allocation of material assets among the independent
peers which imposes only a minimal co-ordination burden.” We think
this is a key point!

But of course, again because crowdfunding is not really about money
and more about creating communities, OPEN CROWDFUNDING SHOULD BE

__How does that translate to Spain, where Goteo is situated?

Over the years here, we have seen more and more projects developed
by creative agents operating beyond the traditional boundaries of
art/culture. These are often projects with a high level of innovation
and enormous potential for social and economic impact and growth,
capable of generating value in the broadest sense of the word.
However, the Spanish context still lacks the proper communication
channels to connect creative individuals, social/cultural agents, and
potential investors and micro-donors.

We are still tied to traditional resources such as grants and
sponsorships, which we think need to be redesigned. Becoming that
channel is precisely the goal of Goteo. An online community capable of
creating efficient and transparent links between public and private
agents; to identify problem areas and suggest possible solutions; and
to facilitate a catalog of financing options, infrastructures and
other resources.

Given the current socioeconomic situation in Spain of less and
less sources of public and private funding for such type of open
initiatives, at a local, regional and national level, there is much
more urgency for new practical alternatives such as ours.

You say that Goteo is less about raising money and more
community-building. Can you explain how this works, and what Goteo
offers in the case of a concrete project?

Apart from raising money, every project or campaign also has the
opportunity of asking for collaboration in different areas, that
includes, knowledge, concrete tasks, infrastructure and/or material
goods. This is something that we knew was important to attach to the
crowdfunding model. This would open it towards crowd sourcing in a
form that could lead to more community building and shared processes
while creating an open project.

For example, tuderechoasaber. This is project is about creating a
web-based service where any person will be able to send and access
open data information requests to Spanish public bodies. Apart from
raising more than the 150% of the minimum funding needed, it asked and
has received many offers from people. From gathering contact details
for public bodies, to server administration and moderating on the site
(solving questions from new users, verifying requests are not spam,
handling email bounces, etc), or translating the platform to several

Another example could be the Infinit Loop. It's a reusable wrap for
gifts of high quality cloth with QR identification code, that allows
you to follow further presents with web geolocation. It got all the
minimum funding needed and also help from many users who wanted to
be volunteer beta-testers of the system, and app developers for
smart-phones. Even offers of partnership to produce and distribute
their product (which has an open licensed design).

A third case could be Nodo Móvil, a mobile wifi connection unit for
social movements and public spaces. The project raised around 145% of
its minimum goal as well as developers, a hacklab space for working,
a 3D printer for prototyping, testers for arduino, Xbee, Android
and GPS, and collaboration from a local entity to help test it on
a public area. This even applies if they could not achieve their
minimum financial goal, but are able to benefit from other forms of

We gather all this dynamic information at every project's message
wall, where people can publicly agree to collaborate. At the same
time, Goteo offers the tools for basic communication between
project leaders and volunteers (one-to-one or in groups). Once the
conversation has started, every project can use its own communication
or collaboration tools for getting the job done, but we think it's
important to first have that kind of social agreement on the site,
encouraging transparency and examples of mutual help.

__How many projects have managed to get off the ground thanks to

Twenty-five projects have been fully funded and supported so far. They
gathered more than 100,000 euros and around 400 offers of different
type of collaboration. At the moment there are 18 more still in
campaign, and most of them are doing pretty well. We're scaling a
little bit these days trying to apply all the lessons learned during
the first four months of activity, from project edition assessment
to media follow-up during campaigns. I think it's important to take
a qualitative look as well at the first results, since at the moment
different collective benefits are being created.

Some examples: Tuderechoasaber is already providing the beta version
of its Rebelaos! and has distributed 500,000 issues around Spain of a
paper publication for social transformation.

Copy this Festival has developed a formula for spreading
self-organized Creative Commons film festivals, and is being
replicated in cities like Lima and Buenos Aires, with many more to
come in the forthcoming months.

Infinit Loop is sending its initial prototypes to backers and testers,
with its alpha version of the platform already produced. These, and
some other projects (even some that have not been successful at their
campaign), are mainly performing well precisely for the commitment
made with backers but also collaborators, and this community building
or amplification process helps them and motivates them to do things
quickly and properly.

KinoRaw is developing audiovisual tools and extracting all the juice
out of Blender software for experimenting with the Elphel open
hardware camera.

Goteo does not just do crowdfunding and crowd sourcing, but also works
on creating a foundation that distributes money and resources in a
more traditional way. What is the foundation about and how do the two
mechanisms (foundation and crowdfunding) relate to one another?

The foundation, Fundación Fuentes Abiertas (which means “open
sources”), does two things. First, it's the legal entity that runs
Goteo. The project leaders sign a contract with the foundation in
which they specify individual rewards as well as the collective return
of the project. The foundation receives the donations from backers
and distributes them to the projects. It is also the receiver of the
percentage of transactions, 8%, that goes completely to cover work
that goes into the platform and the support given by the platform to
the projects.

The foundation publishes yearly results, budget and operations.
Second, it also provides the framework for partnering with other
institutions. We are trying to raise feeder capital, that is money
that is not donated to individual projects, but is raised by the
foundation itself through specific campaigns, agreements and parallel
activities like the workshops. This money is then distributed to
projects directly by the foundation. This will help us to support
projects we think are important but have a hard time raising the
necessary funds.

We seek new ways of funding that not only include individual funding
and cooperation, via crowdfunding, but also a clear approach to
alliances with main actors (public bodies, organizations, other
foundations, companies) that share our mission and can add “feeder
capital” to specific calls and projects. This way we could somehow
bypass current problems and paradigms, by letting them participate
in a new model where crowdfunding is moving even more resources and
multiplying people's impact.

__What are the immediate steps and challenges to develop goteo.org

We're always working on the technical and foundational concepts of the
platform. From recent improvements like the wall of friends, to easily
visualize and share backers, or a landing page for specific calls,
to other ones underway like an open data module for easily obtaining
aggregated data and more visualizations about open crowdfunding, as
well as a "Recommended by" badge for certain projects or a "flat rate"
for regular donations of highly attached members of the community.
(See more information about the landing pages here and here.)

We also focus on developing an open algorithm to facilitate dialogue
between project producers, local public administration and private
micro-investors and mid-investors, as well as producing a set of
open data stats regarding the projects and tendencies and backers'
psychology and motivations, trying to define limits between open
philanthropy and open investment.

The most important step at the moment, though, is the development
of a separated platform for the first official autonomous node of
Goteo that will be in the Basque Country. We fund these activities in
partnerships with other institutions and occasionally public funding
on specific topics and areas of interest that match our mission.

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