Magazine

Using Web Crowds To Invest, Design Gifts, And Make Things


A SWARM OF ANGELS, aswarmofangels.com

This British open-source film project takes on Hollywood's traditional business model in its plan to create cult cinema for the Digital Age. Subscribers—the "angel" investors who "swarm" to create, finance, and write a movie—pay roughly $50 (£25) each to join. The site aims to draw 50,000 angels to create a film with a $1.8 million budget. Project founder Matt Hanson has written two screenplays that will be edited and refined based on feedback from the subscriber community. Eventually the community will vote on which film will be made. Community members will be paid to execute the production, and the finished film will be released free on the Internet under a Creative Commons license. Viewers will be invited to watch, share, and remix the movie. So far, Hanson and his crew have 800 investors. Advisers include sci-fi writer Cory Doctorow and musicians The Kleptones. Stay tuned.

CROWDSPIRIT, crowdspirit.org

Based in France, this startup plans to use crowds to develop and market inexpensive electronic devices such as CD players, joysticks for video games, and Webcams. The community will handle all aspects of the product cycle, including design, engineering, technical specifications, and even support after customers make their purchases. Crowdspirit members will submit and vote on ideas for products and designs. The winners will get their financing from other community members and will go on to create prototypes and beta-test the products. They will then earn royalties off the products that are commercialized. A core CrowdSpirit team, along with folks from the community and distributors, will have a final say on decisions. The site, which has been in development since September, will formally launch at the end of July.

MARKETOCRACY, Marketocracy.com

Launched in 2000, the Web-based investment firm Marketocracy has since created a mutual fund that it says delivers higher returns with less risk by gathering the collective knowledge of investors. Sign-up is free, and users can create up to 15 virtual mutual fund portfolios on the site, each with 1 million (fake) dollars. The site has 55,000 users. Based on the virtual investments of its 100 most successful members, Marketocracy launched the Masters 100 fund in 2001. It now has $44 million in (real) assets and has outperformed the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index regularly.

In February this unusual investment firm teamed up with brokerage Foliofn. With a minimum of $10,000, clients can invest in four of Marketocracy's best portfolios, those with returns that would place them in Morningstar's (MORN) top 10 mutual funds. The managers of these portfolios began as amateurs, although several have now taken jobs as money managers.

CAFEPRESS.COM, cafepress.com

Before Barack Obama announced his plan to run for the Democratic nomination for President on Feb. 10, CafePress.com was already filled with T-shirts sporting his name and election slogans. This Foster City (Calif.) online retailer lets members create, buy, and sell merchandise. Entrepreneurs Fred Durham and Maheesh Jain founded the site in 1999 to let members—the site reports 2.5 million—transform their artwork and ideas into products and sell them through an online storefront, with no up-front costs or inventory to manage.

Members can also personalize their gifts by adding touches to one of 80 available products, such as mugs and pens. CafePress.com sets a base price for each product and takes care of printing, packaging, processing payments, and customer service. Sellers decide how much to charge. The site got hot in 2003 when Phil Collins, Jet Li, and Olympic skater Tara Lipinski launched online stores. Since then it has grown to 800,000 shopkeepers and 36 million products.

By Jessi Hempel


Hollywood Goes YouTube
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