Kickstarter Failed Us

An answer to Yancey Strickler CEO about the Holus “3D holographic experience” scam.

Truly Outrageous…

On July 9th, Joanie Lemercier published an open letter to the CEO of Kickstarter, in which he criticized the way the crowdfunding platform handled the issue of Holus: a purposed “holographic display” and suspected scam that turned out to be just another Pepper’s Ghost setup yet went on to raise $297,790 CAD.

I previously wrote three articles in which I analyzed the technology and claims made by the Holus team. Read them if you want more background on the story: Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3.

In a Pepper’s Ghost setup, a monitor is reflected in glass, giving the illusion of a floating 2D image.

After Joanie’s letter got reposted on Boing Boing and other major blogs, Yancey Strickler found himself compelled to answer. The full message can be found at the bottom of this article as well as a link to Joanie’s own response.

I will answer some of the most controversial points:

Hello Yancey,

Part of the issue we’ve seen with this project revolves around words like “hologram,” “holographic,” and “holographic experience,” which people have come to use in so many different colloquial ways.

Yes, some people have complained about that, but no; in reality the problem with Holus has little to do with the misappropriation of the word “hologram” and everything to do with the fact that H+ uses imagery and language that suggest that their product is a 3D volumetric display. The word “hologram” is only one of several ways they deliberately give that false impression. Among other things, H+ claims that Holus provides “360° viewing angles”, can display content “from all sides” and they sometimes refer to the monitor as a “projector” to confuse things a bit more.

Lately, people who tried the Holus came forward to confirm that the campaign was misleading and that the Holus is only 2D.

This is not an accurate representation of the Holus experience.
when the project originally launched, it included CGI renderings. We informed them that this was strictly prohibited; they promptly removed the material.

They also kept the $220.000 CAD they had already raised and all the media coverage they obtained with the help of misleading CGI (these renderings were featured everywhere from Techcrunch to WIRED). Backers were NOT informed of your decision, nor were they updated about the removal of the infringing imagery.

One of the most dishonest CGI shots from the original Holus video.
The question then became: were people interested in backing it?

It could have been the case had backers been properly notified of the changes. Besides, fraus omnia corrumpit and you can’t cherry pick the good parts of a project that was built on lies. The only appropriate response was to take Holus down and have H+ Technolgy launch again without the infringing content. Then we would have seen if people were really interested in backing Holus based on its merits.

We asked the Holus team to post an update that demonstrated, clearly and openly, exactly what they were working on. They responded with a public update that outlined the technique they use.
“As a result we have now turned it into a proper hologram” Steven Pugh (Producer, H+ Tech)

You must be referring to this video. In this presentation, Steven Pugh admits that the Holus is based on the Pepper’s Ghost effect and that they use a phone for rotating the view. However, they move their (physical) camera in a way that gives the illusion of a volumetric display yet again. They claim that this step is what turns Holus “into a proper hologram”. This is extremely dishonest. It may not be CGI, but I don’t see how you could consider this a proper way to inform backers of the limitations of the tech.

H+ Technology also kept lying to people in the comments and on social networks.

When asked if they have head/eye tracking, H+ answers “Yes”. This is a blatant lie.
we’re always grateful to anyone who joins in the public debate about projects, asks tough questions about the claims they’re hearing, and shares their expertise with other backers.

This is how Kickstarter should be, but in practice, it is not what I experienced. When I “joined the public debate” about Holus and “shared my expertise with other backers”, Kickstarter removed my comments and froze my account. Is this your way of showing gratefulness?

And last, there’s the question of the staff pick. Holus was originally selected as one, until we spotted and received reports about CGI renderings. We immediately removed the staff pick status, and asked the Holus team to remove the badge they’d added to their project image.

I’m concerned that your integrity team wasn’t able to spot the CGI themselves. Is any screening happening at all when a project gets selected as a Staff Pick? Shouldn’t high profile projects be subjected to extra scrutiny? Aren’t your integrity specialists equipped to recognized such fakery? Whatever the reason, this is a major failure on the part of Kickstarter.

Ultimately, it’s backers who decide what gets funding, not us

That’s convenient isn’t it? As Arthur Chu brilliantly put it in this article about the recent Reddit controversy:

Of course, backers discretion should be advised, but they base their decisions on the content of the campaign and the trust they place in Kickstarter to weed out the scams and enforce the rules of the platform. When the CGI renderings were removed from the campaign, why weren’t backers informed of the change? How are they expected to make the right choice if you are actively withholding information?

I understand the need to protect project creators too but your attitude throughout has been nothing but disappointing and you showed an alarming lack of consideration for backers. Is this the message that you want to send? That Kickstarter’s rules are not actually enforced? That scammers can raise huge amounts of money under false claims and then get away with it?

In a few months, 496 backers are going to start receiving their “holographic display”. They won’t be happy campers. What will happen then?

Yancey Strickler’s full message

Hi Joanie —
Yancey from Kickstarter here.
I’m responding, in part, to thank you for the attention you’ve paid to the Holus project. We’ve seen a lot of debate and strong feelings around the project, and we’ve heard a lot of questions about our policies and how we enforce them. I’d love to clear up a few things about how we did so in this case.
Part of the issue we’ve seen with this project revolves around words like “hologram,” “holographic,” and “holographic experience,” which people have come to use in so many different colloquial ways. Some of our most-discussed “holograms” — Tupac Shakur’s appearance at Coachella, CNN’s election-night guests — aren’t holograms at all. Even Microsoft bills its HoloLens as a holographic product. There’s an odd lack of clarity involved in what many people mean and understand when they say the words.
So in this case, our approach was to focus in on how Holus actually worked. We asked the Holus team to post an update that demonstrated, clearly and openly, exactly what they were working on. They responded with a public update that outlined the technique they use. That update was emailed to backers of the project, to help make sure everyone involved was fully clear on what they were supporting and what they could expect.
Then there’s the question of our rules for hardware projects. First, we require creators to show prototypes of their work. Second, we prohibit them from using photorealistic renderings.
Holus satisfied the first rule, posting a number of demo videos and documentation showing working prototypes. But when the project originally launched, it included CGI renderings. We informed them that this was strictly prohibited; they promptly removed the material. They also emailed backers to clarify their process, including a video demonstrating their iterative prototypes.
And last, there’s the question of the staff pick. Holus was originally selected as one, until we spotted and received reports about CGI renderings. We immediately removed the staff pick status, and asked the Holus team to remove the badge they’d added to their project image. (Staff pick badges aren’t a part of our system; we don’t create them or provide them. Actually, we strongly advise creators not to use them at all.) They promptly did so.
In other words, the project conformed to our stated rules, added more information on request, and made a transparent, good-faith effort to thoroughly inform backers about the nature of their work. Based on that, we continued to monitor it, but allowed it to remain on the site. The question then became: were people interested in backing it?
And this is the part where you — and the broader Kickstarter community watching these projects — become invaluable. One of the reasons Kickstarter uses all-or-nothing funding is because it gives everyone involved in a project time to really research what the creators are doing, discuss it with others, and come to a collective decision about whether it’s still worth supporting. Ultimately, it’s backers who decide what gets funding, not us.
That’s why we’re always grateful to anyone who joins in the public debate about projects, asks tough questions about the claims they’re hearing, and shares their expertise with other backers. That kind of discussion is crucial, especially when it comes to new technology. It helps our Integrity team monitor projects for problems or violations of our rules — as we did throughout the Holus campaign. It helps backers vet ideas and make the most informed decisions possible. It holds creators to a high standard, and helps them build stronger communities. It does all these things no matter what action Kickstarter winds up needing to take, and whether projects succeed or fail.
And that’s why I’d like to thank you — and to say that, if you’ve chosen not to get involved in any more projects, we’re sad to hear it. The role you played in this one is incredibly important. Members like you are welcome in this community any time: you make things better for everyone involved.
Cheers
Yancey

Read Joanie’s response: Kickstarter Is Broken