Vergence Lab's Kickstarter project suspended.

Wearable glasses that record video are becoming a becoming a “lense” which puts the focus on some of the key issues with crowd funding. A previously popular project, Eyez,  has been labeled as theft, and a new project by Vergence Lab has been suspended by Kickstarter and now resurfaced on IndieGoGo. While the Vengence Lab teams seems to have some technical expertise and mainstream press coverage, their apperent spam techniques likely resulted in their Kickstarter suspension and even prompted a Google Glasses engineer to comment on the situation.

Wearable glasses that recored video

The Eyez by ZionEyez HD Video project was a hit on Kickstarter raising over $340,000 in July of 2011. But since the funding was raised, the project creaters have not delivered the product, and updates have gotten less frequent. Chase Hoffberger wrote a piece on this situation that leads with this line, “Kickstarter bandits have made off with nearly $344,000.”

I was actually a backer of the Eyez project. I wasn’t particuarlly upset about the lack of actual results, but it has made me think more deeply about how the Kickstarter system works. It also linked me (or at least my email) with the likely designation of “a mark”.

Email Spam

This morning I received an email with the subject line:

Holy crap! Even better than Google Glass

The body of the email stated:

Social video glasses record your life handsfree!

Look at this fun crowd-funded project at IndieGoGo!

Social electric eyewear video-record your POV experience:

http://www.indiegogo.com/socialvideoglasses

Tell your friends and help spread the word!

To unsubscribe: http://pastebin.com/raw.php?i=pNcfyRP9

At first I thought it was just the Eyez guys doing the project again, but after reading coverage by The Daily Dot and BetaBeat, I realize it is different group…

Vergence Labs

Vergence Lab's IndieGoGo page.

Vergence Labs looks more legitimate with at least one of the member having a Stanford degree as well as a history in being in the incubator program StartX. They also got a brief writeup on Tech Crunch.  Unlike the Eyez project, Vergence Labs seem to have a working demo as evidenced by their IndieGoGo video gallery.

But as the BetaBeat article indicated, Kickstarter suspended the initial project hours before it would have successfully been funded.

Despite Vergence Lab’s more legitimated pedigree, the email I was sent was spam. I had no previous association with IndieGoGo or the Vergence Lab’s team. The email address it was sent to is not one I use regularly. The most likely scenarios are that Vergence Labs got hold of the Eyez email list in some way, or someone is trying to set them up. I would think it was the latter, but…

Twitter Spam

The IndieGoGo project being promoted with @spam on Twitter.

Vergence Lab is using bots to send spammy @messages on Twitter promoting the IndieGoGO project at the rate of five tweets a minute.

Example account: https://twitter.com/#!/HyperViral

On Friday morning it looked like they were slowly  shutting down the @message spam, but it has increased again this afternoon.

Based on looking at Twitter url sharing records, they sent over 10,000 Twitter messages just associated with the IndieGoGo project.

Since Kickstarter won’t comment on why projects are suspended, we won’t be getting an official word, but it is likely that  the Twitter spam is the reason that the project got suspended. Kickstarter’s Project Guidelines naturally prohibits spam to promote a project, and the guideline actually mention @message spam in particular.

I got in email contact with a representative of Vergence Lab and sent some questions. Since this spam is ongoing and the project continues to get backers, I will add any of their comments if they respond.

Google Glasses engineer comments on the aggressive/spam nature of promotion.

Stephen Lau, a senior software engineer at Google, likely got it right when he answered a question on Quora about why the Vergence Lab’s Kickstarter project might have got suspended. He wrote in part:

(Full disclosure: I work on Glass and have no particularly strong opinion on the Vergence Labs Epiphany Eyewear product one way or another)

I suspect it was likely due to the spam (or perceived spam) sent by “Sergey ‘Grin’”, or perhaps the comments left on many articles/blogs covering Project Glass pointing readers to the Vergence Labs Kickstarter.  The Kickstarter Community Guidelines at http://www.kickstarter.com/help/guidelines do explicitly say:

  1. Spread the word but don’t spam. Spam includes sending unsolicited @ messages to people on Twitter. This makes everyone on Kickstarter look bad. Don’t do it.
  2. Don’t promote a project on other projects’ pages. Your comments will be deleted and your account may be suspended.

Implications for crowd funding

This may be the case of a couple ambitious college grads trying to drum up interest in a project that they are passoionate about, but their use of least two different spam methods puts a cloud over the project. In addition, the fact that they almost raised $50,000 on Kickstarter, and currently have raised over $20,000 on IndieGoGo points to the effectiveness of pitching a compelling project and using spam methods to get backers.

When you contribute to Kickstarter you are not entering into a two way contract. If the project reaches the funding goal, your contribution is charged to you, but any perks associated with the project or even the completion of the project are not guaranteed. If the project isn’t completed, or even started, you don’t get any type of refund.

Not surprisingly, those with an idea, but not the experience to execute the project are frequently on Kickstarter. When the project is producing and new album or piece of art, the scrutiny is justifiably low, but some of the most popular Kickstarter projects have focused around unique tech projects that require and ask for substantial funding.

This same method could be used by modern day scammers by associating hot product ideas like the iPhone accessories, and the current crowd funding model doesn’t provide any accountability to whether a project is even attempted. The crowd funding communities will have to continue to be vigilent to make sure that those with an idea have the experience to execute it and that the projects themselves are being created with the proper intent.

 

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2 Responses to Kickstarter & IndieGoGo misuses continue to surface with wearable video recording projects.

  1. avatar lydia says:

    John: I have a sneaking suspicion the problems for Vergence were caused in part by ZionEyez people. They have not communicated with over 2000 people who supported their Kickstarter project. It didn’t seem to bother you much not to get your ZE glasses, but if you read some of the comments they received, it’s obvious they are getting irritating feedback. You know how that works…. the old trickle down effect… So, to me it looks like the new kid on the block became their target. They couldn’t deliver, and they wanted to make sure Vergence couldn’t too. Just a thought…. enjoyed your article, but I highly doubt the Vergence team would be sabotaging their own project. Wouldn’t you agree?

    • avatar Josh Davis says:

      I think the ZionEyez project likely brought additional scrutiny to the Vergence project. But I didn’t even hear about Vergence Labs until I got the spam email. Also the 10k twitter spam messages didn’t have anything to do with Eyez. The Vergence Labs guys seem to have done that all on their own. But they did stop the spam a couple hours after I published this piece.