Why 'Intentions Bank'?
An intentions book is like a visitors book kept in huts and shelters in the bush, and at the entrances to wilderness reserves. It is used by trampers, hunters and other outdoorsy types to document where they are going, with who, and how long they intend to take. I like 'Intentions Bank' as a name for a crowdfunding site because people who put projects on it are stating their intentions to push out into the wild, challenging themselves to do something new and different, and seeking investment from the community, rather than a traditional bank.
'Crowdfunding'? What's that?
'Crowdsourcing' describes the open collaborative process that underlies user-driven projects like Wikipedia and Indymedia. Crowdfunding is a way of crowdsourcing monetary investment in a project, offering alternatives to seeking funding from either:
- privates sources - eg venture capital, selling shares
- or public sources - eg state funding, or funding from corporate NGOs, which themselves often rely on either state funding or corporate sponsorship, with strings attached
Although the phrase 'equity crowdfunding' is now being used to describe traditional ownership investment sourced through crowdfunding campaigns, crowdfunding generally refers to platforms that allow people to make donations to specific projects they think are worthy. In either case, crowdfunding offers people alternatives to powerlessly hoping that the money they put in the bank, invest in shares, pay in taxes, or donate to charity, will be invested in something socially and environmentally positive. Of course there's no guarantee the investment will produce the desired results, but because it's a donation, people are more likely to put in only what they can afford to lose, resulting in much less stress on the project team to come up with results quickly.
So what's this 'Intentions Bank' project about?
The original inspiration for this project was the US-based crowd-sourcing investment site Kickstarter, which helped the Diaspora peer-to-peer social networking project attract over $10,000 in anonymous pledges in just 12 days, and a final total of over $200,000. Kickstarter is a great social innovation, but it's fairly USA-centic - you need to have a USA bank account to either list a project or donate to one. There are other overseas-based crowd-sourcing investment sites, see the list under 'crowdfunding' on the Disintermedia blogroll.
So I figured, why not create an Aotearoa-scale crowd-sourcing site, which would allow people in Aotearoa to effortlessly donate to projects being launched in this country, or perhaps even to projects based overseas. For example I would like to donate to the developer communities behind free code software I use a lot (eg GNU/ Linux, Mozilla), or throw money in a virtual hat for overseas musicians whose songs I've downloaded, but there's no easy way to do this from Aotearoa. I don't trust PayPal, and I don't have, or want, a credit card. The original vision for a crowdfunding platform specific to Aotearoa is now redundant due to the existence of Give A Little, and PledgeMe. But the idea of allowing alternative currencies to plug-in to crowdfunding platforms sites, and allowing multiple sites to connect through a 'Coin-Torrent' protocol could still be worthwhile. Read on.
So it's all about gathering cash?
Not necessarily. What people doing projects need is usually things other than cash, cash is just one means of exchange for getting those things. What people really need is labour, skills, materials, space etc So people can donate time or green dollars' instead of cash, or offer skills that can be paid for in 'green dollar's instead of cash, I would like Intentions Book to also interoperate with:
- Time Banking exchanges, like Lyttlelton Time Bank
- LETS/ Green Dollar exchanges, like HANDS in Golden Bay
- Other independent trading systems (see Living Economies)
The challenge for a project to network local exchanges is that their purpose is to facilitate trade within a given locality. Making them interoperable could introduce many of the same challenges that making national economies interoperable does (balance of payments between exchanges, dumping of goods from large exchanges into small ones, inflation etc).
What I had in mind is a way for people to invest their time, skills, or produce in socially useful projects, even if they can't afford to invest cash. Since local exchanges already have records of what people are willing to trade, and an agreed means of quantifying them, it makes sense to work with them, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.
This mutual exchange might require a leach-proof 'CoinTorrent' protocol, that could be implemented by each organisation, in its own way, to connect to the network.
Kind of like a peer-to-peer network for sharing development resources rather than music or movies?
Update 08/10/2010: IndieGoGo is another crowdsource investment site that seems to be aimed at independent musicians, film-makers, software developers and other net-savvy artisans.
Update 21/09/2010: Flattr is another micropayments site, founded by Peter Sunde, formerly of the Pirate Bay, and Linus Olsson. Their model is quite different, involving more server-side decision-making than the simpler 'choose what you donate to' models.
Update 29/06/2011: BitCoin is another p2p initiative which various projects are using to help people donate small amounts to projects they support.
Update 29/05/2016: There are now a plethora of crowdfunding sites, some supporting traditional fundraising campaigns and others supporting micropatronage (eg Patreon), with difference in crowdfunding campaign rules, money collection methods, country-of-origin, ownership structure, and so on. See the list under "crowdfunding" in the Disintermedia blogroll.