The KickBack Machine: Learn what works, and what doesn’t, on Kickstarter

The KickBack Machine reveals successful and failed Kickstarter projects

If you want to learn how to craft a successful crowdfunding project on Kickstarter, it helps to know what works and what doesn’t. As we all learned a few months ago, however, Kickstarter makes it particularly difficult to find failed projects on its site or even through a search engine. Fortunately, enterprising individuals now have a new tool.

Meet The KickBack Machine, a site that shows both successful and failed Kickstarter projects, side by side.

Created by public radio producer and coder-in-training Dan Misener, The KickBack Machine was inspired by author Scott Steinberg’s best-selling book, The Crowdfunding Bible, which explains that anyone who wants to launch a crowdfunding project must first “observe and learn how successful projects work, and to understand the subtle nuances and tactics that determine why some triumph while others don’t.” Making this process easier is the point of The KickBack Machine.

“The KickBack Machine is based on the premise that there’s much to learn from past projects, both successes and failures,” Misener told me in an email. “Even if they aren’t directly actionable, each project has something to teach an aspiring crowdfunder.”

Users of The KickBack Machine can view all projects together, or sort by category (art, photography, music, technology, etc.), or sub-category. You can also view only successful projects, or only unsuccessful ones. You can even narrow your search to only include projects with a particular dollar amount goal. All of this fine-tuning is there to help users find other projects that are most like that which they hope to launch.

Back in May, Misener caused an uproar surrounding Kickstarter after he revealed that the site was “hiding” projects that failed to achieve their funding goals. Not only did these projects not appear clearly on the site, Kickstarter purposefully de-indexted them from Google and other search engines.

In a comment on Misener’s website, Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler explained that his company does not bury unsuccessful projects “to ‘hide failure.'” Instead, wrote Strickler, “it’s because it would be a poor user experience (there’s no action that anyone could take) and it would expose the creators of unsuccessfully funded projects to unnecessary criticism from the web (those projects would be prime for trolling).”

I reached out to Kickstarter about The KickBack Machine, but the company declined to comment. Instead, they pointed me to Kickstarter’s FAQs, which now include a version of Strickler’s explanation above.

“As for Kickstarter’s decision to hide failure from search engines, The KickBack Machine doesn’t change a thing,” said Misener. “It simply links to project pages, and doesn’t list project creators’ names.

“Even though they make them difficult to find, Kickstarter continues to host failed project pages. So long as they’re doing that, The KickBack Machine will continue to link to them,” he added.

When I asked Misner what he’s learned from The KickBack Machine, he said that “it’s a bit early to say.”

“The KickBack Machine only knows about projects that ended after mid-June 2012,” continued Misener. “Larger patterns and trends will become clearer with a larger sample size. That said, I’m particularly interested in exploring the impact of social media on campaign success. Earlier this year, Jeanne Pi and Ethan Mollick did some interesting analysis of past Kickstarter campaigns. They found that ‘Your chances of raising $10,000 on Kickstarter are just 9% if you have 10 Facebook friends, rising to 20% if you have 100 friends, and 40% if you have 1,000 friends.’

“Those are the sorts of things I’m interested in teasing out over time,” he added. “But for now, I hope The KickBack Machine can be a useful tool simply by showing past success and failures, and letting aspiring crowdfunders draw their own conclusions about what leads to success.”

For further information about The KickBack Machine and Misener’s impetus for creating it, check out this video:

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