Snowdrift.coop is a new type of sustainable funding platform exclusively for freely licensed digital works.
Note: the main video above is also available in fully-free format at Archive.org.
UPDATE: The campain reached our main goals, and we're on track toward our launch. See our blog post about reaching our main campaign goals.
Our launch fund-drive is now over. The best way to help us succeed at this point is to get involved at the site, help us test, build, promote, translate, work out legal details, plans…
If you want to support us financially, we will start accepting donations through the Snowdrift.coop system itself as soon as we are ready. We are not otherwise actively soliciting donations, but if you missed the campaign and can offer a substantial one-time grant to further help our launch, you may still contact us to discuss details.
Thanks so much to everyone who made the fund-drive a success! Below is the original fund-drive details for reference:
Welcome to our one-time crowdfunding campaign! This sort of fund-drive makes sense for projects that are just getting started. However, after a project launches, it will need a way to become sustainable…
For projects that produce digital works (whether writings, art, programs, or other media), the standard business models involve either or both:
• Artificial restrictions to enforce pay-for-access or
• Covering everything in advertising (which is most effective through privacy-invading tracking and targeting)
Neither of those models serve the public interest, and they don't work for projects that respect the community's privacy and freedoms to use, share, and modify works as we wish.
Society has enough resources to fund creative work. The problem is that we give most of the funding to those who use legal and technical measures to control our technology and culture for their own interests. We would be better off funding those projects that serve the public interest. If so many of us understand this, why is it so hard to change things?
The snowdrift dilemma
All public goods face similar dilemmas. One variation is the snowdrift dilemma: Who's going to do the work of clearing the snowdrift in the road? We all want the results, but we all benefit whether or not we share the costs. It's not effective or sustainable for a few people to take on all the burden while others freeride. Most of us want to do the right thing, but we can't do it alone. We need organized ways to cooperate and share the costs.
Network effects drive our economy. We use Facebook because others use Facebook, not because we like everything about how it works. Certainly not because we think it truly serves the public interest. Projects that get the most funding initially become the highest quality and thus the ones we keep using, despite the problems they may present.
Snowdrift.coop uses network effects to put the power back in the hands of the people instead of the platform owners. At Snowdrift.coop, you become a project's patron with a monthly donation pledge: For each additional patron who gives with you, you will donate a little more (limited by the amount of funds you choose to make available to the system overall).
This way, those of us already pledged invite the rest of the world to join us. The existing patrons of a project will together match the donation from each new patron (although our exact proposal includes additional measures to accommodate varying pledge levels from different patrons).
This approach is something like the mutual assurance and reduced risk that we get from a hard threshold for a crowdfunding campaign… Except with Snowdrift.coop, the mutual assurance isn't all or nothing. It's flexible, sustainable, and designed specifically for the needs of funding free/libre/open digital works.
No more donating to an exciting community project only to have it sell out to corporate interests! Snowdrift.coop will offer a curated market where all projects use free/libre/open licenses. The whole system will be run by our own patrons as a non-profit cooperative. We license our own work freely under the GNU AGPLv3+ for the code and CC-BY-SA 4.0 International for our writings and other media. And because projects get long-term support instead of receiving all the funding up-front, the community can hold them accountable.
Of course, we plan to use the Snowdrift.coop system to fund the site itself, but we need to get launched first! So we're asking YOU to help make this vision a reality!
Current Status and challenges
You can visit Snowdrift.coop right now to test the system with fake money. Our writings on the many wiki pages cover all sorts of topics about the intensive research we've done, the challenges we've had up to this point, the team behind the site, the relevant political, economic, and social contexts, and more.
To be consistent with our mission, we have worked to stay away from any reliance on proprietary tools. We have had to do extra research and work to uphold this commitment. We hope that our decisions work out in the long-term and that our supporters appreciate the efforts we make to live up to the highest ideals in our own development.
Funding We Need
Over our two years since first discussing the idea, the founders have put in substantial personal time and funds, and we continue to do more. As a non-profit, we will see no direct financial return. In fact, we're asking all projects (including the site itself) to agree to put all the funds they raise through the system toward ongoing development rather than for profit or return on past investment.
UPDATE: We have reached our minimum goal of $3,000 to cover essential legal costs! Those funds will go to legal expenses. Of course, if anyone can offer legal help instead of (or in addition to) funding, please let us know! We have more legal issues to address than the $3,000 will cover, but it will be enough to move ahead. Any pro bono legal assistance that offsets these expenses will alow us to put our limited resources to other important work.
Beyond legal expenses, additional funds will greatly help our immediate development needs:
• At $8,000, we will extend our contract with our current full-time developer, Nikita
• At $20,000 or more, we will contract with additional developers and designers to help bring the site up to more professional standards of presentation and usability. We will also cover more travel costs to conferences, additional legal work (such as regarding international issues).
Even after our initial launch, the system is designed to build support slowly over time, so we do not expect to be an instant runaway success. We're in this for the long-term goal of building a better world with an economy that better serves the public. A buffer of additional start-up funding will help us push through the launch phase and beyond and to continue on toward becoming truly sustainable.
Throughout our continued development, we will work to make the most effective use of funds and will publicly report all decisions and finances. Our expenses up to now are already public at https://snowdrift.coop/p/snowdrift/w/en/accounting.
E-mail updates (coming as soon as we can!)
Our e-mail system is in testing state currently. If you make an account at Snowdrift.coop with a valid e-mail, we will later send you a one-time announcement when you will be able to opt-in to get updates of site activity and other news.
Frequently Asked Questions
All sorts of other questions, feedback, discussion…
The Snowdrift.coop website covers lots more beyond the stuff here at the fund-drive, check that out for more. We have our own discussion system there rather than using the proprietary option (Disqus) here.
When is the expected launch?
We don't have a fixed date, we're working to get launched as soon as we can, and when we have more clarity about time-frame, we'll announce that.
Why is this needed when there are so many other fundraising / crowdfunding sites?
Other sites do not adequately address the snowdrift dilemma, and those that address it at all rely on all-or-nothing costly one-off campaigns (like we're running here). Besides that, most other sites support proprietary projects and serve the interests of their owners/stockholders rather than the interests of the community. When proprietary crowdfunding sites help fund proprietary projects, they only exacerbate the problems rather than help.
We've researched all the other sites, and some (like Tilt Open where this campaign is being hosted) are better than others. See our research summary at https://snowdrift.coop/p/snowdrift/w/en/othercrowdfunding
Will you work internationally?
That's certainly our goal. The issues we're addressing are global. In fact, our community of developers and volunteers already spans the globe. However, we will have to roll-out international support slowly as we figure out the legal issues involved.
This is a non-profit? Can I get a tax refund?
We are incorporated at the state level under a Michigan non-profit law. We are *not* a 501(c)(3) charity, so donations are not tax deductible. Some lawyers have suggested that we should apply for 501(c)(3) status but others have told us that there are issues with our cooperative structure or other details that do not fit the traditional legal charity model. We can still be a non-profit co-op without 501 status, it just will mean that we won't be tax-exempt. Your donation will help us get the best legal counsel to finalize our legal status.
Who will be eligible for co-op membership?
We're structured as a multistakeholder (aka solidarity) co-op. To join, you simply become a patron of the site itself through the system. Each member will be either a general member, a project member (those getting their projects supported), or a snowdrift member (those working on the site itself).
How can I help other than donating funds?
We also have discussion on the site about all relevant topics, please come participate!
What are the main things needed to get fully launched?
We need to finalize the project sign-up process, get our legal policies verified by a lawyer, begin handling actual money on the site, finalize an API so that projects can connect with the system through their sites, and make sure everything is secure and working smoothly.
Why use this Tilt.com site which uses YouTube and connects with Facebook and Twitter and has other elements out of line with your values?
We made some short-term compromises in order to push ahead. Our main site will not make such compromises, but using open.tilt.com was practical and also better than some other options (this site's code is available under MIT license at least). We will publish all our videos on Archive.org as well, and we're not opting-in to any of Tilt's offerings for proprietary analytics regardless of any value they might offer. More explanation at https://snowdrift.coop/p/snowdrift/blog/fund-drive-launch-2014-11-27