Great ideas can crop up anywhere, but the distance between a concept and a shipped product is measured in sweat and money. Since services such as Kickstarter and Quirky debuted in 2009, an increasing number of entrepreneurs have turned to platforms that entrust the crowd with financing, design, and even marketing decisions rather than relying on risk-averse investors and innovators too close to their own work. The result: A diversity of new products that solve age-old problems and embrace a wired future.
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Sites like Kickstarter and the anything-goes Indiegogo are strictly crowdfunding sites, in which users pledge money to fund projects they like, whereas sites like Quirky take it a step further; visitors to that site not only help vote on which projects get made, but also submit, chime in, and vote on everything from pricing to product names to marketing slogans. These sites blur the line between consumers and creators by giving the invisible hand a visible impact on the rollout of new goods. When everything clicks, funders and voters have the chance to push the market in a new direction rather than passively buying corporate products. This new economic model's most famous test case, an e-paper timepiece capable of displaying e-mails and text messages dubbed the Pebble, has already sold 85,000 units. Crowds turn into mobs in a hurry.
In other words, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing are serving as midwives for the birth of cool. And an impressive number of excellent products have already been backed by millions of individual financiers and financed thanks to the backing of millions. There are plenty of silly and pointless ideas as well, but here are 12 innovative and useful products that convinced us that Kickstarter, Quirky, and their ilk are more than a passing trend. Results are results.
The pitch: You are a border agent for an oppressive, Eastern Bloc-like nation in the early 1980s. Your meager salary barely keeps your family nourished. Paperwork requirements expand every day. Your decisions can doom smugglers and crush dreams. Game on!
The goods: A truly unique gaming experience that garnered acclaim from critics and players, 'Papers, Please' forces players to grapple with profound moral conundrums. Your job is basically to approve or deny visas, but you rapidly get involved in bribes, party politics, resistance movements, and many other schemes. Creator Lucas Pope told 'Men's Journal' he wanted to create a game showing what it was like to be a functionary rather than "the typical spy/hero who's slipping through the checkpoint."
The result: Pope garnered enough votes on Steam Greenlight, a site that crowdsources funding decisions then invests in new games, to finance the release of his 'Papers, Please.' The artistic-minded indie game is compatible with Mac operating systems and Windows. [$10; steam]