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Kickstarter is pumping the brakes on blockchain tech, but the car is still moving

The crowdfunding company is creating an advisory council that will include creators

Graphic render of Kickstarter logo Illustration: James Bareham/Polygon
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Crowdfunding pioneer Kickstarter stunned many of its loyal customers in December when it unilaterally announced that it would transition its platform to blockchain technology. The feedback among creators and backers alike was swift, and sharply negative. On Thursday, more than two months later, the company has issued a new statement declaring that it is pumping the brakes, effectively slowing — but not stopping — its transition to a novel protocol built on cryptographic “proof of stake” technology.

Blockchain technology is currently shrouded in controversy. Its detractors cite multiple potential pitfalls in its use. For instance, the technology relies on sheer computational power which consumes energy and generates heat, thereby contributing to global warming. It has also proven to be an extraordinarily lucrative vector for fraud, especially as it has been applied to other products such as cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

Advocates, on the other hand, see blockchain technology as a force multiplier for capitalistic endeavors; a complex and immutable system to secure and facilitate financial transactions, internet technology; and more.

Theoretically, a transition to blockchain technology could appear seamless to visitors of Kickstarter. But it has the potential to change all of the technology on which the platform runs. That has many in the community sounding the alarm, with creators publicly vowing to take their business elsewhere.

In its Thursday announcement, Kickstarter admits that its initial statement overstepped its own community-centric ideals. A promised white paper describing its approach will not be published at this time. Instead, it is taking a step back to further evaluate the transition.

“It’s clear to us now,” the company said, “that before we do anything else, we need to listen to your feedback so that we can better address your concerns.”

“These new technologies are tools that are only as good as what they’re used to build,” it continued. “It’s our responsibility to make sure they serve creators, backers, and the entire creative ecosystem, and that we are designing thoughtfully with full awareness of the challenges.”

In Thursday’s announcement, Kickstarter lays out four steps that it will take to mend fences with its community.

First, it will not move the Kickstarter website onto a blockchain protocol “unless it has been tested.”

We’re not going to force this on creators and communities for whom Kickstarter is already working well. We’re not going to automatically shift all of Kickstarter to a new infrastructure. We’ll never put your livelihoods at risk by making you try something untested. We’re going to invest in experimenting, by supporting an independent organization in its effort to build new infrastructure that has the potential to serve more of the creative communities who aren’t fully served by crowdfunding today. We’ll make sure there’s a proof of concept with the creators who want to use it. We’ll look to integrate the pieces that offer value to the larger community down the line, but not without your input shaping the direction.

Second, it will establish an “advisory council,” including backers and creators, to help guide its next steps.

We heard from you that you want us to address immediate creator needs on our core platform. We’ll work with the council to prioritize the development of features on Kickstarter — features that you have been long asking for — as well as potential new solutions to make the platform better and safer for everyone. As we start work on the protocol, this group will help inform the list of problems and parameters we need to solve for.

Third, it reaffirmed its promise that the blockchain protocol it helps to create for crowdfunding will be built by “an independent organization.” That organization, like Kickstarter itself, will be a public benefit corporation (PBC), that is a business entity with an in-built legal responsibility to perform a social good.

As we said in our earlier announcement, this protocol will be built through an independent organization. It will be separate from Kickstarter but similar in that it will be a PBC that will develop its own clear mission and guiding charter. This organization will do its work out in the open, the protocol code will be open-source, and available for anyone to view. We see this openness as a tool for accountability and collaboration.

Kickstarter also said it plans to review and reconsider its environmental impact with regard to blockchain technology. Specifically, it says that carbon offsets — financial instruments that allow organizations to theoretically combat the impact of their own planet warming emissions — “are not enough.”

“We’ve committed in our PBC charter to limiting our environmental impact,” Kickstarter said, “and we’ll hold the new protocol to the same standard.”

Those interested in learning more about Kickstarter’s plans are invited to subscribe to a newsletter, and to read an updated FAQ that digs more into its plans.

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