ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Kickstartup —

woohoo

This is an entry about how that image happened, what was involved in it, some thoughts about it, and a general announcement or two related to it.

In September, my company I’d worked for for between 9-13 years (depending on how count) laid me off. It was done in a perfunctory fashion by a personality-lacking manager placed above me by a dull organization long past pumping the lifeblood of interesting new projects or containing metrics related to respect or pride. That it happened wasn’t a surprise – the ham-fisted communications from the new manager along the lines of “can you tell XXX about everything you do” and “I am coming onsite [for the first time since you were placed under my management a year ago] and it is mandatory I see you” wasn’t exactly a twist ending. But there was kind of a twist ending – once free of the company, I realized how I’d had two lives, one as a system administrator and one as a computer historian/pundit, and how the difference in emotional/intellectual nourishment between these two lives was the difference between a ripe apple and rock salt. It was obvious to me that there was no way I could go back to that.

So I began the process of looking at doing computer history full-time, or at least having a job that would allow me lots of slack in doing computer history, and that, horrors of horrors, would be proud was in their ranks instead of ashamed. A couple bites happened here and there, but it was obvious that money was going to become a problem sooner rather than later and I might end up making the choice based on economic need rather than a place being the right logical step in this planned new direction of my life.

I’d heard of Kickstarter months earlier, mostly in relation to being a slick version of a couple of fundraising sites that existed before it, and then when one or two of the projects seemed pretty interesting and worth reading about. I was mostly, at the time, concentrating on the projects themselves and not the funding service behind it – which is probably how it should be. If a band has a bunch of tracks I want to listen to, it would probably be bad if I didn’t remember the band’s tracks but remembered that great album playing website they were on. Or maybe it’d be good, if I wanted to eventually use that great playing website for my own band.

So towards the middle of October, I considered the possibility of running a fundraiser off of Kickstarter, maybe using it to fund some short project or otherwise bring in some money so I could work on whatever while looking for “real” income somewhere else. Eventually, however, I hit upon a real weird idea: what if I just use it to fund me?

This really isn’t what Kickstarter was designed for, if the current and past fundraisers are any indication – usually someone has a thing or a production-based-goal, like a record deal, a tour, a book, or an invention. You agree to fund this thing, and then you get the thing at the end, plus whatever the rewards were.

In my case, I listed all the fun stuff I’d done over the last ten years, and then said that if people funded me, I would do more of it full time for at least a few months. This was like entering a talent show and saying my talent was winning talent shows.

Kickstarter is invite-only and continues to be – this NY Times Weblog Entry about this article about it has people in the comments quite unhappy that this was and is the case. (A claim was made it would go public “soon” and that was three months ago.) I called out for someone to send me an invite, and I got one, and am very appreciative, and while I am lucky and had someone willing to do that on the strength of my asking, I realize that even this first step is annoyingly out of reach for a good number of folks. (Other fundraising sites like Feed the Muse are mentioned, which was informative.) But in I was, and thanks to the nice person who let me in.

Once on and in the inside, the interface is very slick (there’s the word again and it keeps applying). You title your fundraiser, come up with the goal, the amount of time to reach the goal, your pitch/proposition, and any multi-media attachments you think you need. It’s a little like working on a prospectus, with all the attendant worries of getting the right tone and composing the right period of time and the right amount. I thought about what I’d like my number to be, that would make me drop out of full-time work for a bunch of months, and I came up with $25,000.

So let’s talk about that number for a moment. For some people, the idea of living on $25k for a few months is like riding a jet pack that burns money over orphanages, urinating on them while drinking champagne.  For others, this amount of money was a borderline insanity in thinking it would last any amount of time at all. Did I forget to mention that we all live at different income levels? I wanted a number that would guarantee 4 months of sabbatical out of me. I hope it’ll last a lot longer, and that I could get income through other methods that would be within the scope of computer history. That was kind of the idea.

In fact, that’s the idea that I didn’t even totally comprehend when I began the fundraiser: I was asking people to fund a start-up. This start-up, Jason Scott Historian, would be an entity doing all sorts of computer history work and probably lose money doing it for a while. Over time, though, more stuff would come out of it (GET LAMP being an example) that might support the start-up, and unique situations that might not have popped up doing a month or two of unemployment (like working as a researcher in computer history for a foundation or being paid as a speaker on tour) would possibly make themselves known. We’ll see how that all will pan out, but that was definitely the idea.

So I did all the reading (there’s a lot of reading you can do at the Kickstarter Blog about what works, what doesn’t, and how people go about stuff), and then carefully set up my pitch, and let it out into the world. I mentioned it on twitter and my weblog.

Within two days, I had $9000.

OK, so let’s just make that clear. In two days, people came together and just threw money at me in buckets for suggesting this out-there idea. They loved it. If I had been conservative, and set it at $10k, it likely would have been funded in 48 hours. That is humbling.

Somewhere around $11,000 or so, I hit a brick wall. I’d mentioned it on my weblog and twitter and anything after that seemed pretty creepy. I didn’t want to push people and keep harping on the subject. I watched a few days go by with probably $100-$200 of pledges come in. I tried to think of what to do next.

That’s how I came up with “Scottathon”. I’d get on Ustream for five hours and talk about myself. I announced it (although I failed to give final details on the weblog) and I told people about it on my twitter feed and the kickstarter account (you can post updates on your fundraiser, and contact the backers with the news you put a new update in).

I made the mistake of driving 400 miles that day, dropping stuff off many crates of computer history where the Information Cube would be living, so when I got back to start the fundraiser, I was hella tired, to say the least. The plan had been for it to go for six hours. I only lasted about five, but I did get to talk about what I was up to, show off some historical items, and interact with a few dozen people (and a few hundred that stopped by). For this work, I got another $600 in pledges.

Now, that may not sound great, but here’s the thing. Doing this got people to make twitter postings about it, and, I think, got the attention of a number of other people.

The next day, Jeff Atwood wrote this weblog entry.  This highly-complimentary entry on me, my projects, and the fundraiser got me scads of attention. I am talking thousands and thousands of dollars of pledges came in. It was all due to Jeff getting the word out – this entry was critical to taking things to the next step. So thank you, Jeff.

Naturally, not everyone was completely enamored at the “Jason asks everyone to give him money” thing.  I was struck at this judgmental thread speculating about my life, economics, and personality.  But instead of focusing on this as a negative, I would instead like to point out that this sort of thing was a rarity, when it really shouldn’t have been. The fact that so many people heard this pitch and responded so positively, using it as a platform to compliment me or tell me how I’d affected them over the years, was quite breathtaking.

The only overall negative of this whole process, if I can call it one, was how this fundraising really can absorb your life if you don’t watch it. It can become a sort of job – after all, the more work you do to promote and update it, the more actual money you get – and money can be quite the motivator. I found I lost some hours here and there checking up on the “number” and wondering what I could do to get the number up faster and more definitively. It had the potential to become as unhealthy as the day job I’d been hating months before. I don’t know if I have advice that would help that, since you do need to rattle cups and you need time to let momentum build up, but it’s a danger, like staying up too many nights can disconnect you from daily life and working for long hours can disconnect you from your friendships. It’s something to keep in mind.

Every once in a while, a whopper of a donation would come in. Seven people donated more than $750 to me. A few donated $1000. Two donated $1337. You can imagine how I would blink watching the thousands column jump within a short time of previously checking the total. A couple of these people were close friends or acquaintances. A couple, though, I didn’t know in the least. In fact, a lot of people donating amounts like $100, $200, $500… I had no idea who they were.  Maybe we had exchanged e-mail sometime (I decided not to go into stalker mode over this, so I didn’t check). But the fact is, I saw their contributions and it made a difference.

A lot of old friends, people I’d done stuff with, people I remembered talking to, came out of the woodwork to contribute. Like some sort of “this is your life” situation, it was like hundreds of familiar faces smiling, waving, and dropping money into my hat. Also a highlight.

When all was said and done, I hit my goal five days before the deadline. Five days! For most of the time, I was listed as one of Kickstarter’s most popular projects, topping some of lists for days at a time. I don’t know what people finding this whole thing out that way thought of it. It must have been weird to find a ‘send me money’ project where it appeared, against all logic, that this tard was actually getting money.

So success was mine. I don’t know if this is really a “how-to” sort of explanation, and as friends pointed out, I’d spent a decade in the public eye before doing this, so I wasn’t coming out of nowhere. But it worked, for me.

So now I am free. I am liberated. I am delighted. Life is different for me now, and the race is now on to actually accomplish all sorts of things during these months, start projects, finish other long-term ones, and generally make the trust given into me pay back for people.

And that’s just what I intend to do.

Thanks again, everyone. My life, at 39, just took a 90 degree turn and I am loving it. Watch out.


Categorised as: documentary | jason his own self | textfiles.com

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20 Comments

  1. Mahmoud says:

    Congrats, Jason. This is already an incredible story, and I, for one, am loving it, too.

  2. Jeff Atwood says:

    Fantastic! I am happy to be any small part of this, and I (and I’m sure, the rest of the ‘netizens involved) can’t wait to see what you do next.

  3. kevin says:

    mind-blowing! i’m very excited to see this happen and optimistic about what you’ll be able to do with this time.

    the storage unit was a perfect first step. if you do a fundraiser again, maybe people who pledge can get a rubbermaid bin named after them?

    sally ho

  4. disambiguated says:

    Be sure to get some good tax advice on how to handle that with regards to this money.

    If you haven’t already done so, you may wish to set up a 501(k) nonprofit organization dedicated to the preserving and showcasing of computer/Internet history, and make that the recipient of the monies. You can pay yourself a salary, and that way folks can make tax-free donations.

  5. disambiguated says:

    That should be ’501(c)3′, sorry for the typo.

  6. Michael Seery says:

    Congratulations again, Jason.

  7. Mike Lee says:

    Congratulations on meeting the fundraiser goal, and excited to think this will “kick start” something greater!

  8. Zian says:

    >Be sure to get some good tax advice on how to handle that with regards to this money.

    ++

    The IRS may become very interested when you file your next tax return and appear to live on $25,000 that fell out of the sky.

    I’d rather have half my money go towards getting good legal advice rather than putting you in jail or some sort of other severe trouble.

  9. Eve M. says:

    You’ve proved that there is pent-up demand for what you love to do, and Kickstarter helped you satisfy that demand. Go forth and, um, historiate!

    (+1 on the tax advice idea. Sigh.)

  10. Stian says:

    Congrats again Jason :) Guess I was one of those “out of nowhere” guys – but I’ve used your site for many years, and watched several of your talks online. Loving BBS and looking forward to GET LAMP!

  11. J.P. says:

    Definitely looking forward to GET LAMP, glad it will probably be finished sooner now. I don’t know where your interests lie, but I would LOVE to see a similar documentary on Sierra On-Line and/or gaming history in general. In the case of Sierra – the ex-CEO and founder, Ken Williams, is fairly accessible through his website, and if you were interested I think it would be worth a shot to see if he would help fund a documentary on their history. It wouldn’t surprise me.

    If you are interested in gaming as a whole, it’s pretty much a no-brainer for cable channels like HBO to air a documentary history series on it. Sunday nights after their main programming retaining a bunch of the younger viewers, and relatively cheap for them to produce. Getting access to them and convincing them that it’s a good idea is another matter.

  12. Steve says:

    I just wanted to mention that although I’m familiar with some of the things you’ve done (got the BBS DVD, and saw your talk at HOPE), I actually found out about the fundraiser at http://www.vintagecomputing.com/index.php/archives/607

    Good luck, and I can’t wait to see what else you accomplish!

  13. Ari says:

    This is so inspiring. i always wanted to quit my day job too :)

  14. Monetize the damn cat! :)

    then check out my website (not the one that I used for the comment, but the domain from my email address :)). Welcome into the world of self-employment. It’s refreshing, isn’t it?!

    p.s. … and don’t reject my link-up attempt at Linked-In because you forgot who I am :)

    Oh, I also made a donation, so be nice and not too harsh on me hehe.

  15. Kuro says:

    Congratulations. I was just about to donate myself, so if you still need any I will.

  16. Jack E. Hammond says:

    NOTE> I am not fully retired old buzzard now, but I to work for free over on Wikikpedia on their articles. A lot like that SCUD.TXT file. Well, I had totally forgot that SCUD file when someone emailed me about it. I would like to thank TEXTFILES for saving it. It was sort of like finding a photo of an old girl friend you had good memories of that didn’t require a shot later on. And I am being serious. THANKS! Btw, below is the message I left all my friends over on Wikipedia about that file. I thought you all might find it of interest.

    Folks,

    I think you will find this of interest maybe. Back in 1990 shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait and war balloons were flying, journalists were worst than a chicken with its head cut off. They got almost anything and everything wrong. Then they started looking for how to get the correct information. Some did the smart thing and paid for the information from people who had — eg Jane’s. For option #2 there was no Wikipedia. Option #2 then was Compuserve’s Military Forum (MILFORUM). It was made up mostly of retired and active military officers and those in the military history business — eg a lot of history professors at military academies on both side of the Atlantic. You had to pay good money to belong to Compuserve so that kept out the “wrong element” as they say — ie sorry Dave, those days are gone. Compuserve also had a forum which it seem everyone and his mother in the journalism business belonged to. That was Journalism Forum or JFORUM. CNN had a lot to do with JFORUM, till they split off with a Compuserve forum of their own, called CNNFORUM (ie then they left Compuserve when Compuserve got really greedy). Well, after August 1990, everyone on JFORUM with low budgets suddenly joined MILFORUM as Option #2. And as one of the AstSysop, I was the gate keeper, trying to explain many things, that takes some years for other to understand. You would not believe the gaffs, like why couldn’t Bush order the 82nd Airborne dropped into Kuwait and drive the Iraqi Army out. And this was asked by a lot of reporters! Then came January 19991 when the SCUDs started falling. That was Info #1 suddenly. And the worst gaff was the presses refusal to accept that SCUD was not an abbreviation of something. Had a h*ll’ve time getting them to accept it was just the NATO code name for a Russian surface to surface ballistic missile and why all surface to surface missiles (ballistic to antitank) had a name that began with “S”. Serious! They just could not accept that simple of a reason. Then came all the questions, after the first SCUD hit Israel. So ole Jack, got together a small text file of “SCUD 101″ for the press. Took a long time to get to the point, but I just discovered that some webpage called TEXTFILES saved that file. I was surprised as all heck get out, when I got the email about it. So if any of you are interested in see how I can “bastardize” the English language, go to the A Short History and Description of the SCUD missile. I know you will find it hard to believe, but a lot of articles and news reports you heard, used that text file. And, to my surprise, some even gave me credit. Mainly small newspapers and radio stations. But since I robbed the big media outlets blind for my articles without giving credit, I really couldn’t scream that I was a virgin in a certain type of house with a blinking red light out front, and it was not a house of worship either. Also, notice the many reference notes in the article. At that time I did not have WP staff to train the unwashed as today.

  17. Congrats, I really like this project and it’s a important one in terms of history and culture.

  18. Neil says:

    PLEASE contact members of WikiLeaks.org as I see intense similarities between your site and theirs. They need volunteers and I can think of no-one better to review and sift through those kinds of documents. We spoke once (under a different e-mail) a long time ago Mr. Scott and I hope to hear from you soon on this issue.

  19. Jeff says:

    Freedom of speech. thanks for the posting which is costing my company thousands of dollars you p.o.s.

  20. Rick says:

    I use to have a BBS back in the early 90′s, (I had nearly 10,000 DOOM and Duke Nukem maps). Anyway, when broadband came to my town, all the BBSes died. mine went from 60 calls a day to 6 calls a week.

    Back then, people started getting worried that government was going to shut down their BBS for some secret rule or regulation, because the government is tracking everything…right?

    Now days if the government wants to track somebody down they do so via the Internet IP address or MAC address, but they have forgotten some of the old protocols. The ways of old have been all but forgotten, and in some cases it HAS been forgotten.

    Since that time, many people like myself no longer even use land lines. I use DSL for internet and have a cell phone so I dont even have a phone plugged in.

    With a strange sense of irony, I am increasing my security by going back to old technology. I am planning to add my BBS back to my phone line and provide an alternate gateway in/out for experimental reasons.

    Old tricks are the best tricks.