Kickstarter gets a little less open

Late last month, Kickstarter quietly removed its “Open Hardware” category, and added a broader “Hardware” category.

At the same time, Kickstarter re-categorized every single “Open Hardware” project (past and present) into this new “Hardware” category.

"Open Hardware" -> "Hardware"

I reached out to Kickstarter about this.

“This is not a policy change, just a name change,” a representative told me. “The hardware projects that were not open source had no subcategory, so we decided to simplify the name to house both.”

Still, I wondered what the open source community thought about Kickstarter’s removal of the dedicated “Open Hardware” category. So I got in touch with Erik Kettenburg, who recently raised more than $300,000 with his open-source Digispark development board project. He graciously agreed to answer a few questions by email:

Kickstarter has removed the “Open Hardware” category from its website, and replaced it with the more generic “Hardware” category. As someone who’s successfully crowdfunded an open hardware project on the site, what’s your reaction to this change?

I think the change to just “hardware” reflects the quasi-open source projects that were already being accepted to the category, I have no problem with not-completely-open-source hardware but I think they should instead make two categories because open source is more consistent with the culture of the site and should be emphasized as a result. I think the bigger issue at hand is the changes introduced by their blog post “Kickstarter is not a store” – it showed a fundamental lack of understanding of the open hardware industry and what both makers and customers need for a product to get off the ground. The Digispark would not have been the run away success it was if these new limitations (max of 1 item per reward specifically) had been in place, one Digispark is minimally useful and not really worth the shipping, but 3, 5, 25 are much more useful to a maker and in fact the Digispark was designed to be a building block that one could afford many of. On the production side, the demand for Digisparks allowed us to build an entire platform around it and, in fact, launch a new American family business from it, but it seems kickstarter is saying that they don’t want to promote that kind of success, at least not in hardware.

How do you think this might impact the ability of open source hardware projects to receive attention and funding on the site?

I think it will remove one of the incentives for making hardware projects on Kickstarter open source, and that is a shame. I think the changes in Kickstarter rules will hurt funding of open hardware projects even more.

When you launched your campaign, it was originally listed as an “Open Hardware” project. Now, in archived form on the site, it’s been recategorized into the more generic “Hardware” category. As a project creator, how do you feel about this after-the-fact recategorization of your project?

That doesn’t bother me, Kickstarter like any community is evolving and our campaign has move to our website where we are taking pre-orders, hosting a community forum, and will be launching a full web store in December. What remains to be seen is whether or not we’ll launch the Digispark Pro on Kickstarter, we think Kickstarter is a great platform for getting a project out there and making it possible, but the new rules make us wonder if hardware like ours is really welcome.