Gittip is About People, not Products

Why “Distributed Genius Grants” is the perfect tagline for Gittip

Gittip | Distributed Genius GrantsIn case you haven’t heard, Gittip is a crowdfunding platform that allows you to make anonymous, recurring donations to people whose work you value. The tagline for Gittip recently changed from “Inspiring Generosity” to “Distributed Genius Grants”. This new tagline, while a small change to the overall project, gets at the heart of what makes Gittip special. The idea of a distributed genius grant, accessible to everyone, could have a transformative impact on the world.

MacArthur Fellows ProgramA “genius grant” is a common nickname for an honor given to a few people each year by the MacArthur Foundation. The Foundation identifies people whose creative work pushes the boundaries of innovation in their given fields. The MacArthur Fellows grant is a no-strings-attached gift of $500,000 to each recipient, spread out over five years. The foundation trusts its recipients to use the gift to further their life’s work. The MacArthur foundation trusts that you will use your funds to do whatever you need to continue your life’s creative work, and avoid the burnout that can come from dealing with the obligations associated with other funding sources.

Gittip is a “genius grant” on a small scale. When someone tips you on Gittip, you receive that money with no strings attached. People making donations through Gittip are making a statement of trust that you will continue to take your work in a positive, open direction.

Gittip: Inspiring GenerosityPeople have asked for different funding mechanisms on Gittip, for example the ability to make one-time donations. I have remained firmly against these alternative mechanisms, in order to develop Gittip’s core mission as far as it can be taken. The notion of “distributed genius grants” gets at some of my previously unarticulated reasons for wanting to stay true to the original model. What kind of person makes a recurring donation to a recipient? A donor who supports the person behind the product they use. Take an independent musician, for example. If I like a single album from an artist who I don’t know well, I probably want to pay the artist a reasonable amount for that album. Platforms already exist to help artists receive these kinds of payments. But if I like an album and I want to support the artist’s ongoing work in creating music independently, Gittip provides the perfect platform through which to do so. I set up a recurring donation, and the artist gets my ongoing support. I have just made a small, recurring “genius grant” to an artist whose work I value. If enough people support this artist, they effectively get long-term support similar to full genius grants.

This new tagline even makes me reconsider my commitment to anonymity on Gittip. The main reason to keep donations anonymous was to ensure that tips do not unduly influence the direction or nature of recipients’ work, as corporate sponsorship inevitably does. But if the core mission of the site is described as “Distributed Genius Grants”, maybe it becomes clear enough to everyone involved that tips are distributed with no strings attached.

Gittip has been a fascinating experiment to watch, and I continue to learn from watching it develop. Thank you @gwenbell for helping all of us articulate a little more clearly the essence of what makes Gittip important.


Read about my open source education work on gittip


About ehmatthes

Teacher, hacker, new dad, outdoor guy
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3 Responses to Gittip is About People, not Products

  1. I used the phrase “crowdsourced genius grants” early on in the project, and now Gwen has revived it. (PJ dug up the commit where we lost the phrase: The timing is really interesting on this, because my own focus lately has been precisely on projects and teams, and not individuals as such. That said, I want to implement teams in such a way that they’re transparent, and we can see the individual contributions that go into making a team successful.

    • ehmatthes says:

      That’s pretty interesting, I had no idea you had already used the phrase. It is fascinating to watch how gittip evolves as people identify situations where it is a natural fit. Now that you mention it, I can see different roles for gittp as far as individuals, teams, and projects go.

      I still think there is some commonality in all of these applications that relate back to the idea of a genius grant. In some ways, gittip is like apps that have a subscription payment model instead of a one-time purchase price. But rather than making recurring payments for a product, gittip donors seem to be making recurring donations out of respect for the creativity and hard work that they know goes into the projects they value.

      That said, I might be seeing things through idealistic glasses. Some people are probably looking at this as a straight payment for the service of creating and maintaining high-quality projects, in the hopes that these projects continue to be maintained at a high level.

      As always, thank you for what you are doing in building Gittip, and for building the community that is building Gittip!

      • Thinking about this more, I like the triad: “people, teams, communities.” People (1), Teams, (2-149), Communities (150+). Somehow “teams” feels to me like it emphasizes the people at each level, moreso than if we called the middle level “projects” or “products” or “organizations.”

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