Why Does Kickstarter Suck (Redux)?

Two years ago, I wrote a post about the numerous problems/opportunities I saw with the Kickstarter platform. I’m a big fan of Kickstarter, as a concept, and to date have backed well over 30 projects (for the record, I have an almost perfect record on picking good projects, as well). As a result, I’m on the site a lot, and looking for things that would interest me. After all this time,  I thought it would be interesting to revisit the last post and look at what’s changed, see where they’ve improved, and where they haven’t.

Let’s follow roughly the same plan as the last time, starting with connections.

Comparing user backing history charts

Comparing user backing history charts

Virtually no improvement has been made here in two years. Connecting with people is, for the most part, a useless activity. The only thing I note now that I don’t recall before is that you can specifically disable email alerts for the backing activities of certain users. Nothing else I mentioned before has been engaged – such as better algorithms for telling you about friend activities whose backing habits more closely match your own, and devaluing those that back in categories you never do. From what I can see, it also appears that they have stuck to Facebook being the only platform they can connect through. Overall, very disappointing to see no growth here.

Wait... I think I see the Advanced options way over there maybe.

Wait… I think I see the Advanced options way over there maybe.

How’s search doing? Bad. The frustrating inline results are still there, pretty much unchanged. If you hit enter after putting a search term in the box (there is no actual submit button), you can now get to an actual results page now which was well hidden before. This page does, gratefully, support filtering on most of the things I’ve wanted. Less good, pretty much all of that is hidden behind an “Advanced” link which can end up clear on the right side of the page if you use a really wide monitor (I do). The search box at the top is pretty nice, however, with it’s MadLibs style layout. An absolutely baffling UX choice, however, is that if you are on the search page, and decide to cancel (clicking the ‘x’ button) a keyword you’ve searched for, there’s no way to add one back except to go through the previous weird process of entering it in the text box at the top, get the useless inline results, hit enter to force-load the results page, and re-apply any filters you had. Oh, and if you click out of the search box without hitting enter, and click back into it, it deletes the keywords you’ve entered into it. Because I don’t know why. So in the end, while there’s points made for making the results page more apparent, it’s a net loss because the experience overall is almost worse as a result.

Why help you find stuff that you'd spend money on when you can just find something at random?

Why should they help you find stuff that you’d spend money on when you can just find something at random on your own?

I don’t even really want to talk about project discovery, because that’s made pretty much zero headway in two years, which is just sort of sad and endlessly frustrating. The bottom line is that Kickstarter does nothing to help you find ways to spend your money with them. Unless, that is, you count the section where they’ll show you projects near you. Of any metric that factors in to my backing habits, proximity to me is pretty far down the list. Consider eBay, for instance, which uses your past searches and bidding habits to populate the homepage for you. Or Amazon, for that matter. The Discover page is just a category filter with some promoted projects on it – no apparent logic behind it that’s specific to your backing habits. In this case, “discover” really just means “browse.” Which brings us to…

Generalized browsing has benefited from at least some improvements. This was largely done by tying into the same system used on the search page, allowing you some fill-in-the-blank options for subcategories, location, sorting, and all the advanced options. Other features I’d been longing for, like tags, have also been implemented. So, that’s a fairly good step forward there. And gone are the relatively useless page sections like Recently Successfully Funded and Most Funded which were basically just driftwood on the page. Of just about any section, I think this is where the largest improvement has been made.

 

Focus state? Who needs a focus state?

Focus state? Who needs a focus state?

Accessibility still seems to be mostly a backburner issue. The video player hasn’t changed in the slightest with respect to captions (though it does appear to support some keyboard controls – however that might not be new). My past complaints otherwise still stand. In fact, their increased use of modal popups could result in a decrease in overall accessibility, though in fairness I’m not doing an in depth analysis on that here.

And finally, the big one that kind of ties together some of the other issues. Where in the hell are user dashboards? Like, a real tool for me to crunch numbers on my backing habits. Yes, the backer history page has been updated, but with what value? The biggest real change is that you can check off on a project that you got it. Mind you, you can’t do anything with that information. And you also can’t qualify it – as in, I got it late, I’ve gotten part of it, I got less than promised, etc. For instance, I’ve backed some projects where thanks to stretch goals, I might be getting items over the course of several months. I’ve had other projects that had to scale back their plans because of production issues. Stuff like that. There’s one really obvious use for this that’s not even considered in the page view – seeing the global “Got It!” rate on a project to know if maybe you were missed on a shipment. For instance, if you knew 98% of backers had gotten their item, and you hadn’t, that gives you some information that you might want to check with the project creator.

The amount of untapped potential here, potential left to stagnate the past two years, really makes my head hurt. And it’s because I’ve used the platform so much that it matters to me enough to write about it. And this is just from the backer perspective. Imagine how project creators must feel. For instance, where’s the tooling to support Stretch Goals natively? Projects use stretch goals now as a matter of convention, sort of like how people started using hashtags on Twitter. But the difference is, Twitter saw what users were doing and embraced that as a “feature” of the platform starting back in 2009. Why hasn’t Kickstarter done this? How about platforms like BackerKit? Why on earth isn’t Kickstarter providing 1st tier tools to do what people currently rely on third parties for? Or maybe a project timeline/status feature to indicate where they are in their expected delivery cycle. They’re literally leaving money on the table, and hanging out users to swing through a patchwork of resources once the primary objective is done, and I cannot for the life of me fathom why.

The obvious risk here is that Kickstarter is leaving the door wide open for someone to come in and not just do it better, but to basically curbstomp them with a utility that outpaces their platform in every way possible. People have stuck with Kickstarter over other places like Indigogo because, I believe, they trust that the curation done at Kickstarter makes the projects more valuable and trustworthy. That’s probably true. But it’s hardly unique, and would be woefully simple to replicate. That won’t protect Kickstarter from competition that does it better. I hope someone at Kickstarter reads this, and I hope they give some real thought to where they plan to be two years from now. If I can write this post again in 2016, there won’t even be a point, because there absolutely will be something better in the market by then.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Too demanding? Not critical enough? I know it’s hard for a web dev to read criticism about a site they work on, so if anyone at Kickstarter reads this, know that I mean this as constructively as possible and want to see the site taking full advantage of the opportunities it has. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Christopher F. Falzone

    Oh Kickstarter … do better. I agree with your analysis. While some effort has been made to enrich the user experience, not enough has been done and I desperately crave the user dashboard ideas you have suggested.