Patreon and it's vision

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Ni! I recently got an email from Patreon talking about it’s vision.

They claim that membership supported productions is the next web revolution!

In any case, that opens really interesting avenues for free culture, even though it is not embedded in their vision.

I feel one thing that Patreon got right that previous efforts like Flattr didn’t, besides timing, is to focus on the person, not on the product.

Funding “more of this thing” doesn’t work well neither for the funder nor for the creator. You can’t establish a stable relationship with “a thing like this”. You’ll only get people excited about high value deliveries, and then crowd-fund short-term projects - which by itself only mimics the start-up model which works well to bootstrap proprietary business.

So, by focus on the person, I mean, not only exploring the personal aspect, the fandom, but the fact that you can establish a much more straightforward and meaningful, durable trust relationship: when you fund people, they put out a narrative which gives you a history and a vision, exposing their relationship to their work, and that’s what you’re contributing to.

So you decide. Based on whether you want to continually support that vision, and whether the history presented leads you to trust that person to do the job. At the same time that they’re free to do what they like, you are in control of your contribution, and choices are causally simple. You can see the exact results you helped achieve, you can question the person responsible and negotiate the vision, but mostly you can just trust them to follow their narrative, and quit if they don’t.

Contrast that to the complementarity between supporting either an institution - unclear purpose of your contribution, must understand organization to question - or a specific action - no guarantee of continuity, no vision of what it is going to help achieve.

I’m just trying to point to extremes, of course, but it seems even open-source software can learn from this.

One of the reasons I started supporting the team behind Morevna and P&C Motion Comic in Patreon was because there’s a GIMP developper in the group. I always knew I could fund GIMP somehow, but never did. This time I kinda felt like “I can fund this specific developer, with this track record, to keep working with this artist and make GIMP awesome for artists, while producing free culture, wow!”. It was a much more natural relationship than what I get from the GIMP donation page, even though they offer every possible form of payment through the GNOME Foundation.

And while browsing to finish this post I’ve learned that another GIMP core team member, Øyvind Kolås, already lives off Patreon revenues.


Provocative, with welcome caveat about extremes, as all of these efforts have some elements of everything you mention, whatever their structure is.

Patreon chose a great name for what it does!

I’m not thrilled with their vision (web, rather than all culture, and alternative to ads, rather than to proprietary culture) but it’s a very useful step.

Me too. This direct (in form of same person, or at least same team) free cultural production/free software improvement seems to be how lots (I was going to write ‘most’, but I’m not certain) high quality free culture has been produced, and to the great benefit of free software cultural production tools (even moreso if we can include Wikipedia and Mediawiki in the story). This is the kind of work that I’m most excited to support, as a gut reaction.


As a general knowledge worker and webcrafter, I’ve always wanted to have an alternative funding source to do work that affects a lot of folks. I’ve always thought I would eventually get around to crowdfunding the cost of starting an NPO fund to work on free software for other orgs or to contribute back to projects.

When Patreon came up I was excited about its model, because it gets around the cost of creating supporter relationships when done through the corporate law of non-profits. Without the legal overhead, it let’s folks form a direct connection with their supporters.

But I thought there would be more. I thought maybe there would be a similar network for specific progressive causes or something. I am not sure I would match the creator term (even though I would totally write docs for free software every day if someone paid me! I do it in my spare time now…).

Also, I am bummed about how marketing and attraction to platforms work. I could produce the exact same site and service as Patreon, and can even make it self-hosted for anyone to run, but folks just want one place to support their peeps, so running a service like this on one’s own requires a lot of initial weight getting started (meaning an org or person is already really popular).

I wouldn’t even know where to start, as I don’t use Patreon, but if there is a list of FOSS peeps on Patreon, that would be useful. :slight_smile:


One issue here is that trust is a cumulative process: the more people trust you, the more people trust you.

There’s a sophisticated pun in that sentence, 'cause it holds no matter what combination of meanings you choose.

The upside is that people can trust many things at once. But the barrier to entrance is high because many people already trust the things in place, while nobody trusts your new thing.

So build it, and they won’t come unless you somehow stand apart or already have an audience.

I remember at some point Creative Commons had a deal with Kickstarter to curate projects. Maybe the FSF or OSI could have a similar thing with Patreon. Or perhaps the almighty WIFO ? :wink:


the more people trust you, the more people trust you

Well done! Google web search finds a few matches for that string, but done with your intent.

Or you could consume vast amounts of energy so that nobody has to trust you, on an extremely limited basis. Clearly this solves all problems. :wink:

I’ve thought about curating crowdfundings (inclusive of ongoing patronage or subscription arrangements) and it seems that doing it on an open-ended basis even with strict freedom criteria is a pretty big task. The 5 ways I see of breaking this down:

  • Data-assisted: aggregate info from various platforms, somehow characterize crowdfundings to identify likely candidates for further curation; probably a business.
  • Mass crowdsourcing: wiki or similar of crowdfundings; very low chance of traction
  • Very targeted curation: there’s a tiny example at List of Premium and Libre Video (see fundraising)
  • Self-selection with pre-vetting: crowdfundings or their backers apply for curation
  • Self-selection and self-assessment: some guidelines that projects can claim to follow

None of these are mutually exclusive.

Directory of crowdy projects