It's like SkyMall for crowd-funded projects. Skymall is a catalog of knickknacks that airlines often slip into seat-back pockets; Outgrow.me is a website that lists items whose production was funded by individual online donors, that are ready to take orders or pre-orders.
Orderable items include caps that turn ordinary ink pens into touch-screen styluses, stackable circuit boards that communicate with each other, and a shower cap that wets users' hair (We're guessing it's a guy thing). All the items come from Kickstarter and Indiegogo, two major crowdfunding communities.
Outgrow.me comes at a time when tech press attention has turned to Kickstarter failures. Just a few days ago, NPR reported that donors aren't guaranteed that they'll get their money back if the projects they support on Kickstarter fail, although Kickstarter policy says donors should be refunded. (Kickstarter has responded with a blog post about their policies.) Meanwhile, in May, tech journalist Dan Misener blogged about how the design of the Kickstarter page de-emphasizes failed projects.
The "orderable" section on Outgrow.me shows crowdfunding successes — innovative ideas from ordinary people that might not have gotten attention and seed money otherwise. What the "pre-orderable" section means is less certain. As The Next Web wrote, "We don't know whether Outgrow.me restricts these based on the project's level of readiness for the market, which again raises concerns about the failure of funded Kickstarter projects."
Outgrow.me may also emphasize Kickstarter and Indiegogo as places to get products, instead of platforms for supporting ideas. One Kickstarter inventor told NPR that refunding some of his supporters created a stuff-versus-idea atmosphere. "Once I did that, I could tell that it started creating the impression in some of my backers that they had purchased an item," said David Barnett, who was not able to manufacture his iPhone case idea a year after his campaign was successfully funded.
Usually, Kickstarter project owners offer small rewards for donors, which are worth much less than the donation. Kickstarter began as a place for fans to support artists, and musicians and filmmakers would offer credits or party invitations as rewards. Over time, however, engineers began using the site to ask for funding for gadgets, which are able to offer actual products at different funding levels.
"And I think as Kickstarter grows, there's more and more of an impression that it's just a big store for people to go get deals," Barnett said.
How the products-versus-art balance will work out for Kickstarter is uncertain. What we do know for sure: Browsing Outgrow.me is at least as fascinating as flipping through SkyMall. It's stuff, but it's also a catalog of what imaginative ideas catch the eye of online donors.