It was recently reported that Kickstarter plans to adopt blockchain technology into the way they operate, taking place sometime in 2022.
Despite reports that Kickstarter's open-source protocol will be built on the blockchain platform Celo, which claims its network is carbon-negative, there was a negative reaction from independent comic creators on Twitter. Byron O'Neal reached out to Kickstarter to try and get a better understanding of what exactly this means for the future of Kickstarter.
We're extremely grateful to Kickstarter for their willingness to have this exchange and to Kate Bernyk for her time and responses. We're hoping that this interview may help answer some of the questions creators and fans have after the initial news.
COMIC BOOK YETI: Thank you for taking the time to connect with me. I really appreciate it and know the details are all a little bit hazy for you right now. Mainly I'd like to focus on clarity and helping comics creators who are experiencing some knee-jerk anxiety right now. With the understanding that you might not even know some of the answers just yet, here are my questions: Why transition to blockchain technology at all? Was there something inefficient with the existing system that necessitated the change? KATE BERNYK: To truly serve our mission, we need to build on what made Kickstarter so innovative in the first place: the power of a large network of people working together towards a common goal. The open-source protocol will essentially create a decentralized version of Kickstarter’s core functionality. This will live on a public blockchain, and be available for collaborators, independent contributors, and even Kickstarter competitors, from all over the world to build upon, connect to, or use.
Blockchain technology is a powerful tool to create and align decentralized and distributed networks of people — in effect, new forms of networked organizations and economies — at scales that only governments and mega-corporations can fathom. Essentially, we want to make crowdfunding for creative projects more available to creators and backers around the world. Ultimately, this is about exponentially scaling the number of creative projects that get to show up in the world.
The idea behind this protocol, and the decentralized web, is all about openness, collaboration, and bringing people together. The idea that you can bring a bunch of strangers together around a creative idea and pool their efforts and contributions to bring that to life. That is Kickstarter at its core.
CBY: How will moving to a decentralized protocol help comics creators better reach their audiences? KB: First, it’s important to be clear that if you are a creator or a backer, the Kickstarter experience will stay the same. You won’t suddenly be required to back projects or accept funds in cryptocurrency. Our community can still use normal credit/debit cards to pledge to campaigns and creators will continue to receive local currency (aka dollars, euros, pounds, etc.) to fulfill their projects.
But we do expect creators will benefit from the improvements made via the community’s contributions to the underlying protocol that Kickstarter could adopt. Imagine your dream tool for crowdfunding your project. Now that part of Kickstarter’s underlying technology will be made open and available for everyone to build on, that tool could become a reality. Communities can collaborate and build the tools they want to see.
CBY: Why did you choose to partner with Celo for the blockchain platform? How, briefly, do their carbon offset programs work? I've seen quite a few people on Twitter concerned about the environmental impacts of the change.
KB: Kickstarter is a Public Benefit Corporation that has pledged to limit our environmental impact. This is one of the reasons the new company developing the protocol will be working with Celo, an open-source and carbon-negative blockchain platform. In addition to carbon offsets, Celo is a “Proof of Stake” blockchain, and is vastly more efficient. One transaction on Celo requires only 0.0001% of the energy usage on Ethereum, or 0.00001% of Bitcoin, both of which are “Proof of Work” blockchains. Currently, all internet apps such as Kickstarter use computer servers to host your activity and perform computations. This requires electricity. When we use a proof-of-stake blockchain like Celo, we outsource some of those computations to the blockchain, decreasing the amount of energy we use.
"Essentially, we want to make crowdfunding for creative projects more available to creators and backers around the world. Ultimately, this is about exponentially scaling the number of creative projects that get to show up in the world."
CBY: How, if at all, will the interface change for creators and backers? KB: Bottom line: You can still use normal credit/debit cards to pledge to campaigns and creators can continue to receive local currency (aka dollars, euros, pounds, etc.) to fulfill their projects. In the coming years, as the protocol is released and an ecosystem develops around it for anyone to build on, we imagine all sorts of new tools designed by the community that supports creators improving the experience — from campaign fulfillment, project budget calculators, and community engagement to project discovery, feedback systems, and beyond. As the protocol evolves to embrace these innovations, Kickstarter in turn will decide which, if any of these tools, we will leverage and enable use of for creators on the Kickstarter website. We'll continue to be in control of and manage the creator's experience, which will continue to be user-friendly and inclusive.
CBY: Some people are concerned about a move entirely to cryptocurrencies. How much will these newer forms play in the transition and will standard payment forms still be commonplace? KB: To be clear, whether you are a creator or a backer, no one will suddenly be forced to use cryptocurrency! You can and will continue to be able to still use normal credit/debit cards to pledge to campaigns and creators can continue to receive local currency (aka dollars, euros, pounds, etc.) to fulfill their projects.
"...it’s important to be clear that if you are a creator or a backer, the Kickstarter experience will stay the same. You won’t suddenly be required to back projects or accept funds in cryptocurrency."
CBY: We all live in our own little bubbles. What has the response been like from other Kickstarter communities like gaming or film? KB: Our team has been hearing a wide range of reactions from across all the creative communities that rely on Kickstarter. And a number of artists and leaders at cultural institutions have reached out to learn more, express excitement, and find out how they can participate in and build the future of crowdfunding. We also understand that our community is going to have a lot of questions about this new initiative and we’re speaking with creators one on one. We may not have all the answers, but we’re committed to bringing our community along on this journey.
CBY: What would you say to help calm the anxiety of creators with current or soon-to-be-released projects? Some of these projects have been in development for years and folks are a bit scared. KB: First, it’s important to note that nothing will happen overnight – and again, it’s important to note that the Kickstarter experience will stay the same for creators and backers. And we are committed to being thoughtful and transparent as any changes are rolled out. When Kickstarter first launched 12 years ago, there was a similar sentiment of anxiety with pockets of creators who were unsure what to make of this new model of going directly to audiences to fund creative projects. As people learned more that uncertainty subsided. In the days after the announcement, we’ve seen support for projects continue at the same level as the weeks prior. Long-term, Kickstarter will only get better.