A Maximizing Platform?

This is the third post in a string about “maximizing”. It may sound like an odd word to focus on, but I think it is a critical one to understand where we are headed in this century. We are moving closer to a “maximizing culture”. That is, a culture that maximizes what you can offer to others.

I promised today that I would give you a peek at how a platform might accomplish this. But first, let’s consider a platform that we know a lot about, Facebook.

Facebook was created to be a telephone directory on steroids. Instead of just offering a listing for people and companies like a phone book does,

Facebook makes each listing a potential stream of content on offer to anybody who wants to follow. It is a pretty cool step up from the old phone book.

But what does Facebook maximize? I would argue that it goes in the opposite direction. Facebook needed to get massive participation so it made entering data very easy. And it needed to encourage a huge amount of cross linking, so it made following threads easy by “liking”. Just push the like button and you are in the “flow”.

Making data entry and following easy means that we can fit using Facebook into our routines and many people do. But making it easy also removes any incentive to maximize the quality of exchanges in the network. So while Facebook is good at being popular, it is not very good at giving us what we want from platforming.

This is why I think Facebook is a very early stage platforming idea. Primitive.

Can we do better? Sure. We already do. Consider Kickstarter. Kickstarter allows anyone to propose a project idea for funding. In the bad old days, one nervously made such proposals to a rich uncle or to a bank or investors. Kickstarter opens the door to everyone to here your idea, which is why we call it “crowdfunding”.

If someone likes the project idea, they can contribute cash to make the project actually happen. If the cash contributions on offer reach the target, the money is transferred and the project launched. And we get lots of these things

No one thought this would work. Why would people give money to other people they don’t know?

But Kickstarter has now delivered over $1 billion in project financing. It works. And here is why

Think of it from a maximizing point of view.  Project proposers offer something new. Their pitch is that the world will be a better place if we can do this cool thing.  Put another way, contributing would give maximal use for a small amount of your spare cash. Potential funders offer the chance to make this come alive. Without breaking the bank, they can reward maximal use of proposer’s efforts. Notice the difference from Facebook? There is a reciprocal incentive to add value here that Facebook lacks.

Of course, not every Kickstarter project lives up to this idea. And there is a steady stream of naysaying in the media that Kickstarter projects often don’t deliver. But so far, people still like to use Kickstarter because of the above basic value added proposition that they get from the platform. Like Facebook, Kickstarter has moved from a fringe novelty to a mainstream platform very quickly.

In truth, Kickstarter is also a fairly primitive idea. For example, it does not offer a chance to track the benefits of project realization over time. And it does not offer any “membership” or “ownership” in projects. But my point here is that from a mazimizing point of view, it is a step forward.

But can we apply this idea beyond just project funding? Of course. That is next.


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