15 December 2011

Sayonara, #SciFund

And there’s the siren! The #SciFund challenge has came to an end! Here are some of my initial reactions to the experience.

Things that I didn’t expect:

Fewer people, bigger donations. I thought most donations would be small – a dollar or two – and projects would have hundreds of supporters. Instead, projects had tens of supporters contributing $10-20, and more, often much more. Consequently,  my “I make my target if everyone chips in 50 cents” pitch to my several thousand followers on Twitter and Google Plus wasn’t effective.

Traditional media still rules. The break out success story was, without a doubt, Kristina Kilgrove’s Roman DNA project. There’s no doubt that it made it because it was on the CNN website.

Cool beats practical: Given how much talk there is on how people want to see “results” and “return on investment” in traditional funding, my one post where I described how my research might have a practical pay-off to aquaculture got the least hits of anything I did to promote my project over six weeks.

Weak relationship between video views and dollars. “Duck force” got more than ten times the views of my video, but it didn’t get ten times the donations.

Front end loaded: I expected most funds to come in at the very beginning and the very end. RocketHub confirmed that this is the normal pattern. But the “bump” in the last few days was much smaller than I expected. On my project, the amount of dollars raised and time elapsed were pretty tightly correlated.

So emotional: I touched on this before here. I got way more wrapped up in this tiny little fundraising effort than most other projects.

Not much variation. Most projects raised about the same amount, regardless of their targets. $1,000 or so seems to be the sweet spot for now.

I made the right call to keep my project target small. At one point, I almost raised it, and if I had, I don’t think I would have made it. Projects that want to raise ten grand are either going to have to be brilliant or wait for the crowdfunding of science to mature.

Things that disappointed me:

Notice us! We didn’t get as much attention from science media as I expected. No coverage in the Science, Nature, The Guardian, The New York Times, Quirks and Quarks, and so on.

Whiff: Thirty-nine projects didn’t meet their targets.

Low gear: I was hoping to be one of the first projects to get past the post. I though that I would have a good shot at it, based on responses of people to whom I showed my video, and that I had one of the lowest targets.

Left undone: I had ideas for three more videos that I didn’t get to make.

Things that made me happy:

Mad skills: I learned a lot about how to make short videos. I may be doing more.

Total: Over $75,000 for science!

Hits! Ten projects met their targets.

This time, it’s personal: And one of them was mine.

If #SciFund were to go again:

I would say: Yes. Even though it’s inefficient, it’s fun. And as I noted, I’m unlikely to walk away completely empty-handed, which is usually what I get for writing big grant applications.

Stay home: I would try not to go to the biggest scientific meeting in the world for a week. I felt I lost quite a bit of momentum because of that.

More focus: Not my call, but at first we had over 200 people express interest in doing this. We ended up with 49 live projects. I wonder if even that was spreading attention too thin.

There will be much more analysis of the #SciFund challenge in the days and months to come. It was a social experiment, and we are all scientists, after all. But for now, this is...

Photo by viking_79 on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

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