Ractiv Touch+: How to turn a funding crowd into a lynch mob

ractiv sadnessA while ago I backed an interesting Kickstarter project that promised a device that would turn any surface into a sophisticated 3D multitouch surface to control your computer. The project had some sensible people involved and looked legitimate so I joined up.

Communication was good and, pretty much when promised, I got the hardware delivered to me and set it up on my desktop. This was back in October and, thanks to being in Australia rather than the USA, by the time I got my unit the American backers had found and reported a bug. So when I went to the Ractiv site for setup instructions there was notification that there was a serious bug in the software and they were working to fix it; all should be good in a couple of days.

Then followed a week or so of vague updates and continual promises that it was almost done and then a deafening and continuing silence.

Now this is not a story about a blatant crowd-funding rip-off. After all I have the hardware in my hands; it doesn’t work, but if you’re going to rip-off backers you presumably don’t need to go to all the effort of producing and delivering hardware. No, it appears that the people behind the project just hit a legitimately unforeseen problem with the software, can’t get it fixed and have buried their heads in the sand hoping the World will go away.

Now in my view Kickstarter projects are inherently going to have a failure rate. The fun is being in on a project on the ground floor rather than waiting to buy the polished finished product. So it’s unrealistic to expect every project to be perfect. But what Touch+ demonstrates aptly is that a big part of a crowd-funded project is all about communication and making your crowd feel they are part of the project. If you don’t tell people what’s going on they get frustrated, angry and want to force a response – in other words your crowd turns into a mob. And that’s what’s happening with Touch+: Backers are calling foul, claiming the whole thing was a scam, threatening legal actions, trying to physically track down the project initiators to exact revenge.

While all the angst and threats seem out of proportion to the relatively small cost of backing and completely ignore the crowd-funding context, it’s nevertheless understandable. People get frustrated when they don’t know what’s going on and have no way to force a reaction out of the only people who can give them answers.The way you avoid your crowd becoming a noose-carrying mob is to be honest and frequent in your communication: Crowd-funding is not just selling a product, it’s about creating a community – and you can’t do that in silence.

Image: Ractiv Touch+ Software Prayers Facebook page.

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