It’s been over a year since we’ve had a new Dropkicker review. This is partially due to a number of other projects that have taken precedence, but it’s also due to the relative lack of high-profile projects with questionable degrees of polish. Recently, I came across an opportunity to actually purchase one of the products I’ve reviewed, so I thought I would “come out of retirement” to present a special teardown edition of Dropkicker. Our first.
Ch00f and I recently had the pleasure of talking with Olga Khazan of the Atlantic on the subject of dubious crowd-funding campaigns. Her article, which specifically targets health products, is an outstanding review of the challenges we face more generally.
If you have a few minutes, I encourage you to give it a read.
If the “Internet of Things” is going to live up to the hype, hardware developers will need to fully embrace the metaphor and all it implies. Let’s be honest, most projects these days are a variation on a theme: take a few sensors, add a 2.4 GHz radio, think up a snappy name, and claim to be “the world’s first <really specific application>.” However, despite the underlying similarities, each has its own custom app and interface, making it impossible to design a common “browser” that allows users to navigate from device to device.
If this landscape sounds more like cable TV than the Internet, that’s because it is. Providers are competing to herd users into their particular walled-garden.
Some day, a central authority will define a common standard like what the Bluetooth SIG has done with their heart rate profile (among many other examples) and things will improve. In the meantime, hardware developers continue making grand promises that assume they succeed in the winner-take-all competition for users.
As a backer, this is a HUGE leap of faith – even if the product ships, we may receive only a shadow of its potential usefulness, like buying a media player to find out it only plays HD-DVDs. And unlike retail, crowdfunding has no refunds and no returns.
When your average tech journalist wants to talk about the success of a new product or service, he has a lot to draw on. Netflix subscriptions can be compared to cable subscriptions, iPhone sales can be compared to Android sales. Even the number of reported returns or one star Amazon reviews can tell you a lot about the success of a company’s new product.
Unfortunately, in the world of crowd funding, there isn’t a whole lot to go on when trying to gauge success. Many crowd funded products are too unique to compare to products already on the market. Others attempt to butt heads with established brands, but journalists can’t verify their claims without review units. Readers want to hear who won and who lost, but the world of product development makes that distinction cloudy.
Fortunately, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and just about every other crowd funding site offer an arbitrary and random way to gauge the success of a campaign without drawing on information from any of the established and reliable sources mentioned above: the funding goal.
Building an audience is hard. Our blog has been slowly gaining traction thanks to our efforts through social media sites like reddit, but a real explosion of traffic can only result from our readers taking it upon themselves to read our content and share it with their friends.
Fortunately, our content is free to access, so everyone who chooses to “talk it up” has already had an opportunity to review it thoroughly and evaluate it for themselves for free. This isn’t always the case. Movies, music, electronics, and books all cost money to access, so smart consumers turn to product reviews to gather information before they whip out their wallets. Savvy producers even show off good reviews as a way to build credibility for their product. You can’t watch a car advertisement without hearing something about J.D. Power and Associates or Consumer Reports, and the back cover of just about every best seller is littered with quotes from various critics.
So what happens when you’re selling a product that doesn’t exist yet? Nobody can buy the product to review it, and you can’t even send out pre-release units to journalists. What do you advertise? As it turns out, the solution is often to just quote people who summarize your words.