End Online Panhandling Forever!

Hey, can you spare a hundred bucks for my animé about the forces of Satan? Oh wait, no, actually how about $75 for my low-noise waterproof USB vibrator? Or maybe like $10 for my buddy's interactive ebook and film on psychedelic medicine? How about a $1 pocket grill investment? These annoying pitches all represent actual things—actual projects on Kickstarter, favored venue of filthy broke ass hippies the world over. There is just way, way too much of this shit.

To be fair, the vibrator thing is actually from a Kickstarter knockoff, but that just underlines the big problem here, which is that the use of online "fundraising" sites like Kickstarter is spiraling out of control. When you scale up a day trader's tool to bum money off his friends to import Austrian DJs , you end up with bands, filmmakers, writers, programmers and cranks the world over trying to bum money off their friends for all sorts of other harebrained schemes, and we all end up constantly inundated with pitches for garbage projects, to the extent that the only sane response to make a Gmail filter sending any message with the word "Kickstarter" straight to the trash.

End Online Panhandling Forever!

This is a terrible situation for the actually good things funded trying to get funded, because now just the mere word "Kickstarter" evokes the rattle of coins at the bottom of a tin cup, or the image of a squeegee guy trying to clean your windshield with gutter water and a filthy coat sleeve.

When you're physically panhandled, there's usually some reason for empathy; you're looking at a needy human being aching for something and looking beaten down. Even a drug addict trying to score money for a fix is in a pitiable situation.

Kickstarter doesn't even have pity going for it. It's begging by and for the privileged. In case you have not experienced this first hand, check out this story the New York Times just ran mentioning Eleven, a restaurant in Tribeca that is seeking 2,000 rubes to pony up $500 for, well, not much:

With a menu created by Daniel Patterson, [aromatherapy, molecular gastronomy, $$$$] whose restaurant Coi in San Francisco has two Michelin stars, and a drinks roster formulated by the mixology star Dale DeGroff, they hold out an appealing promise. Donors will be designated lifetime "seatholders," entitled to priority reservations at the 65-seat restaurant, 25 percent discounts..."We are hoping that the people who are going to be seatholders believe in the kind of establishment we crave."

So giving money to Eleven provides the owners with free capital, and it provides you with the chance to spend money more freely at Eleven! What a deal. The Times profiles half a dozen other eateries also seeking free money.

Restaurants aren't the only capitalist enterprises asking for charity. A search through Gawker's "tips" inbox reveals, over the past three months, Kickstarter pleas for funds...

  • ...to fund bamboo MacBook Air cases
  • to help adults soup up and race children's toy cars
  • to promote Kentucky tourism in a Super Bowl ad
  • for a musical about a "grisly unsolved murder" in 1947 Hollywood
  • for an album "about taking risks and creating beauty at the same time"
  • for a suction cup thing to hold up your iPhone
  • for an animé series about "fighting against Satan's forces in the year 2039"
  • for a documentary on "psychedelics as medicine"
  • for a movie about a homeless street performer
  • a cheap telepresence robot for disabled people (there's the worthy one lost in the noise)
  • and for a book "to promote puppet sexuality in a healthy light"

But of course it makes sense that people send us emails, because sometimes we do write about these projects, and, even when mocking, blogs can take a languishing fundraising drive viral. In recent weeks Gawker Media sites have run posts on all sorts of Kickstarter campaigns:

  • A toilet paper attack documentary
  • a fish tank for jeyllfish
  • a book of picture of ugly action figures
  • a videogame history museum
  • the aforementioned pocket grill
  • transplanting a Chevy V8 truck engine into a Mazda Miata
  • video camera rollerskates
  • a Chris "Leave Britney Alone!" Crocker documentary
  • and Yet Another Videogame Website

Yes, some of this stuff sounds kinda neat. And we have no qualms with the site itself, which is reasonably run and, at the right scale, a reasonable tool. But as it grows, Kickstarter is becoming a curse, particularly for people who work in fields where the site has carved a big niche (HELLO independent filmmakers!).

End Online Panhandling Forever!

It used to be that people needing capital would seek money from professional investors; hitting up your friends was taboo, or at least acknowledged to be awkward. Enter Kickstarter! Suddenly it's OK to beg from your social circle. It's not like you have to look anyone in the eye and utter words like "ask" or "need" or "money." Now you can just fill in a template, push a button, and solicit facelessly and en masse via blog, email, Facebook, whatever. This systematic depersonalization of begging raises Kickstarter from a mere spam problem into an agent of interpersonal discomfort and group corrosion, a system spreading what tech entrepreneur Maciej Ceglowski recently described, in reference to a certain other social network, as that "icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party," as recently wrote of a .

But for all the social downsides, and despite the roughly 60 percent failure rate, people will keep participating, because if your campaign goes viral, hey, you could be rolling in it. With the right idea, the right pitch, and the right blog links, you might exceed your fundraising goal many times over. That's certainly not forbidden in the terms of service. Sky's the limit!

There is a place for a certain (small) amount of online panhandling, for helping out friends and putting money behind things you want to see get off the ground. But everyone seems to think they've got just such a project, just the thing you'll find worthy of a few or few hundred or few thousands bucks. The appeals are mushrooming out of control. Something has to give. Personally, I'm not hearing anything remotely resembling a Kickstarter appeal unless red wine and canapes are involved. I've already set up a Gmail filter to ensure this. Now I just need a browser extension that will scrub the begging beasties off web pages. If you want to help fund development, well, you'll have to make do with PayPal and my email address.

[Images via Shutterstock.com]