Thursday 3 September 2009

Little big web

Little is big on the web, from mechanical turks to microcredit.

Now a Brooklyn start-up is doing micro-patronage of the arts. Kickstarter describes itself as "a funding platform for artists, designers, filmmakers, musicians, journalists, inventors, explorers". Artists submit their projects to Kickstarter, who load them to the site, where people can then chose to support a favoured project by donating a couple of bucks.

Crucially, donors don't just get warm fuzzies in return for their donations: the artists offer insider access to the project, and sometimes physical or tangible exchanges. In return for a $50 donation, audio engineer Earl Scioneaux III offered a gumbo dinner and a chance to listen to his recordings with other financiers; Emily Grenader got both the funding and the participants for her project of mailing out a postcard every day for a year.

The site is run by Perry Chen and Yancey Strickler, who raised $30,000 in seed finance before launching the service. In this New York Times article Chen emphasises that Kickstarter is not "an investment, lending or a charity [but] something else in the middle: a sustainable marketplace where people exchange goods for services or some other benefit and receive some value." Fittingly, the article appears in the NYT's Business section rather than being filed under Arts.

At the moment the site is curated; Strickler and Chen review and select the projects. According to the NYT article, they're considering opening the site up to anyone and charging a small fee for transactions. I wonder if that will be as successful - curation is so often the key to quality and appeal.

Of course, sometimes big is good too. Check out Chris Heathcote's loca london.* The page (yup, you read that right - a 5100px wide page, not a site) grew out of his @localondon feed on Twitter, which sends out reminders of when art exhibitions open and close. In this blog post Heathcote tells how this feed of alerts and reminders has turned into a page giving an overview of current exhibitions, plus reviews of the shows. Heathcote clearly sees the curatorial aspect of the page as important: it's not *everything* that's on, and nor is it regurgitated gallery press releases. Instead it's quality, easy to skim critical responses to shows. From the post:

these two services are trying to be slightly different – super simple, low volume, presented in a neutral voice and delicately curated. It reflects what I want to go and see, not everything that’s on.
Interestingly, Heathcote notes that the one-pager is partly inspired by a part of the Guardian that's only available in the print edition: the G2 grid of culture reviews.

Heathcote also describes why he went for one big page, not a 'normal' site. If you ask me, it's inspired - a really clever, thoughtful, elegant tool that re-uses information intelligently and subtly.

*Thanks to @gnat for the tip-off

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