The United States of Kickstarter

Kickstarter is a wonderful invention:

Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. Every week, tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.

A new form of commerce and patronage. This is not about investment or lending. Project creators keep 100% ownership and control over their work. Instead, they offer products and experiences that are unique to each project.

In other words, it’s the funding mechanism — the “business model” — that provided support to Mozart, Beethoven, Michelangelo, and da Vinci, brought forward to the 21st century. It’s micro-patronage, a structured species of crowdfunding and fan-funding, first cousin to Radiohead’s “pay what you want” release of In Rainbows and Louis CK’s million-dollar score. At the latest Sundance Film Festival, 10% of the entries had Kickstarter funding and three of these have been optioned for commercial distribution. This year’s South by Southwest Film Festival will feature 31 films funded by the 3-year-old venture.

And in that brief period, Kickstarter has reached quite a milestone: As reported by Carl Franzen over at Talking Points Memo, in 2012 Kickstarter will distribute more funding for artistic works than the National Endowment for the Arts ($150 million vs $146 million). And it’s doing this with a staff of 37 people vs NEA’s 175, or 5 times more efficiently.

So think of Kickstarter as a new model of government — nascent, unrefined, and untested to be sure — but intriguing, full of potential, and already in operation. What is government, after all, but a means of assessing the wants and needs of a collection of people and then implementing them? We also see the emergence of Internet-age government — legislative as opposed to financial — in Public Knowledge’s new “Internet Blueprint” project, which follows close on the heels of the crowd-drafted OPEN Act and Reddit’s Free Internet Act.

Watch for more.