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Reflections on IndieGoGo

After a very successful campaign, I took some time to reflect on the activities and decisions we made and wrote them down for posterity. Because Outernet values openness and honesty, I thought I would share them. Hopefully other prospective IndieGoGo campaigners can learn from our experiences, and our customers will better understand our team’s decision-making. The focus will mostly be on shipping, which became a complicated, time-consuming issue, and our attempts to fix the problem appeared as ungrateful behavior to some customers, when in fact, the opposite is true.

The most overwhelming feeling the team and I have surrounding the campaign is gratitude. As a crowd-funder, your customers are more than customers. They are your supporters, your backers. A vote with the wallet is a strong vote, and I speak for the team when I say we are incredibly humbled by the outpouring of support from all over the globe. Quite literally, we could not do what we’re doing without these pledges. So, to all of our backers: please accept our most heartfelt, sincere thank-you!

On that note, I’ll shift gears to tackle the biggest headache of our campaign…shipping.

We apologize to all of our customers for the complex and confusing process we asked you to go through to pay for shipping, and for our poor communication throughout the process. We have reflected on this quite a bit and will make an effort to improve in the future.  Future IndieGoGo campaigners, if you are going to take away anything from this post, here it is: having customers manually add funds to their final purchase amount should be a last-resort option for shipping. Read on and I'll explain why

Shipping Payments on IndieGoGo

Unlike the retail sites most of us are familiar with, IndieGoGo’s check-out system does not have a separate step to pay for shipping. Shipping must be in the contribution.  Though it might seem that the obvious choice would be to just include in in the price, but we were expecting many international orders, which have a higher shipping cost. So this left us with three options:

  • List perks with directions to manually add shipping to the final cost (our final choice).
  • Include shipping in the cost of the perk and double the number of perks, one each for International and Domestic.
  • Include a flat shipping charge in the perk price that covers global shipping.

We chose option #1 because we thought #2 would create too many perks, and #3 wouldn’t be fair to domestic customers. We maintain that this choice was the best based on available information at the time, but if we were to do it again, we'd choose option #3.  Option #1 caused many problems that included, but were not limited to:
  • Customers did not see the note about adding shipping (more than 50% of purchases did not include shipping).
  • Customers added the extra amount, but upon selecting a perk, the system reset the final amount without warning (this happened to me when I was testing the system).
  • After completing the purchase, some customers realized they hadn’t paid shipping. Our initial attempts to fix this problem resulted in very messy data that makes tracking payments difficult to this day.
  • Our requests for payment were interpreted as ungrateful or underhanded attempts to get more money. 
We NEED Shipping

Throughout the entire campaign, each perk requiring shipping included a note to add additional funds to the final payment (the exception being donated Lanterns). It was included from day one because without money to cover shipping, we lose money with every purchase. If you check the campaign page today, you will see that the current price is $169 (retail price of $149 plus global shipping). The $99 cost of the Lantern included no margin for us, so without shipping payments, we take a serious loss on each device.

Many customers didn’t see these notes, so when we asked for shipping later it came across as an attempt to extract additional funds. If you are one of these individuals, please know we are very sorry that it wasn’t clear when you made your purchase, and we realize the subsequent emails poorly communicated this requirement.

Initial Attempts to Fix

Early on in the campaign we noticed that shipping wasn’t being added to the perks being purchased. Initially we instructed customers to make custom contributions without choosing a perk, but we realized it was unfair to ask our customers to do the work. Although we wanted to avoid cluttering the page with additional perks for shipping, we eventually gave in and added them to make the payment process easier.

Unfortunately, we waited too long. Future crowd-funders, be forewarned: without a clear way to indicate a payment was for shipping, payment records get messy very quickly. We ended up creating more work for ourselves than we needed. Before we added the shipping perk, we had our customers pay with custom contributions. Some people made large contributions for the Collage of Humanity perk. We were even lucky enough to have considerate customers email us to let us know what the contributions were for.

These were totally reasonable ways for our customers to pay, but the result was an incredibly complicated database. Even with the shipping perk, some users paid using a different email address than what they used for their Lantern, which makes it difficult to match payment records. Let me be completely clear - we do not fault our customers for these complications – it’s our fault, and we are sorry for the headaches shipping has caused our customers.


Even with these new perks added and a few gentle email reminders to pay shipping, going into the final days of our campaign, fewer than 50% of our customers had paid for shipping. As I previously explained, we need shipping, so we decided to email customers to let them know they still owed shipping. While this was successful in collecting much of the shipping costs, we also discovered we need to be better communicators.

As previously stated, our shipping records are complicated and the update process is slightly behind real-time. So when we sent emails to people who showed up in our system as owing shipping, we included individuals who had paid but weren’t in our records yet, or paid with a separate email account, or thought they had paid but hadn’t. Ultimately, our rush to close the campaign with as many shipping dollars included in the total trumped sensitivity and being thorough in combing our records. We apologize for this sloppiness.

We learned that when we ask for shipping or payment of any kind, communication needs to be gentle and more customer-focused. In the future we will be more aware of customer perception.

All in all, I hope this information is useful to other campaigners, and expresses our regret for the complicated process we put our customers through. We will keep the lessons we learned in mind as we design an online store for our website, and in all of our future customer communications.

Again, thanks to everyone who supported us financially, or helped spread the word!

--- Rachel G Feinberg

Searching for Outernet UI/UX Lead

Design Brief: Design a website for those without access to the internet

Currently about ⅔ of humanity - 4.3 billion people - do not have access to the Internet. Outernet is the first way to reach all of those people with regularly updated information. We need help designing a user experience that is effective, elegant, and relevant.

This may become the most viewed digital design project in history.

About Outernet:

Outernet is a digital media broadcaster of essential information. We offer ordinary citizens across the world free access to any type of digital file – audio, video, text, images – in any language. We call ourselves “Humanity’s Public Library.”

Our free-to-receive satellite broadcast provides a basic level of uncensored information to everyone in the world, independent of income, infrastructure, and geography. Users can control their experience by filtering what information they receive. Users may also request content to be broadcast on Outernet by submitting a request to Outernet over any medium.

Using Outernet requires no fee. To download information, we publish instructions for a user to build their own receiver or a receiver may be purchased from Outernet. To upload, a user may submit a free content request or sponsor their content for a fee.

We offer digital content owners an inexpensive, efficient means of delivery to a global audience with minimal interference. Our flat pricing structure makes broadcasting content accessible to all organizations.

Please familiarize yourself with Outernet via our successful IndieGoGo campaign, our blog, our forums, and our website.

About the project:

We are searching for a designer to refine the presentation of information that Outernet broadcasts. For a sense of the breadth of information we need to present, please read this blog entry.

Librarian is an offline web application that displays content from our data broadcasts. The current version of Librarian can be seen here. Librarian should be designed to be useful to any human on Earth, especially to those who have previously had little or no experience with the internet. This is an enormous design challenge and requires an exceptional individual.

A successful candidate will have the following:

  • Experience in designing websites that present a large volume of information in an intuitive way. 
  • Familiarity with the hurdles that Outernet’s wide user base will have in accessing information, from language barriers to a complete lack of familiarity with the Internet, including the basic concept of a website.
  • Be extremely aggressive in meeting deadlines in a remote working arrangement.
  • A quixotic personality. Outernet is a simultaneously audacious and achievable project that can change humanity forever. That goal should drive you.

This position will be a contract position with the goal for the candidate to join Outernet full time, subject to performance on this project. Stage one (outlined below) is in the purview of the current contract opportunity, with the later stages to be completed upon successful hiring of the candidate.

Creation of Librarian v1.0 (Internet version)

This will be a version of Librarian that provides utility to a user who has Internet access. It serves primarily two functions: preview to what is available via an Outernet receiver and be a content destination for an Internet user. This should be humanity’s homepage.

Compatibility of Librarian (Outernet/offline version)

This version of Librarian will be distributed over Outernet to receivers. While it will be aesthetically similar (if not identical) to the version above, it will require additional testing for Outernet use cases.

Creation of user request interface

When a content request is received by Outernet, it will be posted on this site and visitors will have the opportunity to fulfill those requests. For more details on this process, see “User Requested Content” in this document.

Creation of sponsored content interface

Any person or organization should have the opportunity to sponsor content for broadcast on Outernet. This will be a payment gateway based on a dynamic pricing of Outernet bandwidth based on multiple factors. For more details on this process, see “Sponsored Content” in this document.

To apply:

Please send an email to including with all of the the following information.

  • Link to portfolio of previous work, specifically work relevant to this project.
  • Link to any open source contributions 
  • Feedback on the current version of Librarian.
  • Resume or link to updated LinkedIn profile.
  • Desired compensation for a) contract period b) full time UX designer at Outernet
  • In your opinion, what will be the most important details to consider in the successful completion of this project?

If you have any questions about this position, please post them on the thread for this post in our forum. They will be answered by an Outernet staff member. Do not email questions.

10 MB Daily For Every Human

We just learned that this is possible if we reach $500,000 in our campaign. We are 80% of the way there. Help us do it.

How much is 10 MB? Quite a bit. Here is an example of what we could broadcast in a day:

Announcing Citizen Journalism For All

Today, we are extremely excited to announce our partnership with The News Hub, a UK-based online publishing platform for citizen journalism. As part of Outernet's curated content, Outernet will be broadcasting a selection of The News Hub's top articles across various subjects. Additionally, Outernet will be broadcasting instructions for how Outernet users can submit articles of their own that Outernet will submit to The News Hub on the user's behalf. Not only does this empower the most disconnected populations to have a voice in global media, but it gives them an opportunity to get paid for their writing too.

An Outernet user who wishes to contribute to The News Hub will write a story on a topic of their choosing. This will be outlined in a simple document that will also give guidance on the basics of writing a compelling story and structuring a narrative. The user would then have to email the story to Outernet. We would provide minor editing and then post the story to The News Hub on the writer's behalf if the writer could not create their own account on The News Hub due to lack of Internet access. The News Hub pays the top 10% of stories published each month $30 and the top 6 contributors a $150 bonus. For the poorest areas of the world, this income is substantial.

Thane Richard, Outernet COO/Editor, says,

"The entire purpose of Outernet is to give the exceptionally powerful tool of information to those who currently do not have it. Ultimately, it is about agency. Agency to effect the outcome of one's life and to change one's surroundings to move life in its desired direction. Being able to share currently untold stories with a wider audience and to potentially earn an income from those stories is a service we are thrilled to provide. Everyone wins when more people can contribute to the global marketplace of ideas."

William Stolerman, Founder of The News Hub, says

"We're incredibly excited to be working with Outernet. Together we can help end censorship, but our partnership means more than that. We'll be giving a voice to people who are currently silent, who have no way of telling the outside world what's happening on the ground. We'll be giving those people a chance to share their stories and we'll be giving them a chance to make money from their work."

At present all stories on The News Hub are published in English. As this program moves forward, the ability to translate submissions and offer content in different languages will be explored. The News Hub uses a payment mechanism that is accepted in dozens of countries around the world.

What Outernet Broadcasts And Why

In an op-ed in Quartz this past August, I wrote about some of the things we grapple with at Outernet when we think about how to fill the shelves of Humanity’s Public Library. The conclusion reached very quickly is that there are no right answers, only better answers, and “better” is limited to the information available. Outernet is a truly revolutionary service that fills an important gap in global data accessibility. 

Every one-way service passes through an editorial filter before it reaches its audience, as do many two-way services as well. On the Internet, there is no upper limit to what you could post on your website. The New York Times could theoretically turn their website into an enormous blog that posts everything. They do not because there is an expectation of quality from visitors to the New York Times and quality is a very fine filter. Furthermore, while the Internet may not provide a physical bandwidth constraint, humans provide one with our attention span.

But Outernet is not the Internet, and this is critical in understanding how Outernet works and the thinking behind our editorial decisions. Outernet is subject to the same constraints as the other one-way dynamic types of broadcasts: instead of airtime on radio or TV, our limit is the bandwidth we are able to beam from our satellites in orbit.

The pipe through which we deliver content has a finite diameter, which necessitates an editing process to make sure what bandwidth we do have is used most effectively. Whenever there is a small group making decisions on behalf of a larger group, it is important that the processes are transparent and the parameters for decisions well understood by all. For this reason, today Outernet has published a comprehensive set of guidelines covering how content is broadcast over Outernet as well as our first round of content sources for what Outernet curates. I encourage you to read both documents and make comments and suggestions. I will be hosting an AMA on Reddit on 12/19 at 2:30pm EST and have created an Editor’s Corner section of the Outernet forum that I will check in on regularly.

For the selection of Outernet’s curated content, we rely on our Core Principles as guides and require that any piece of content broadcast on Outernet, including sponsored content, fulfill one or more of our Content Goals.

Outernet Core Principles:
  1. Free access to information is a human right. No one should be denied a basic level of information due to wealth, geography, political environment, or infrastructure.
  2. Every person should be able to participate in the global marketplace of ideas, and, consequently have a say in what Outernet broadcasts to the world.
  3. The process of curating what Outernet broadcasts should be transparent in its execution and involve the input of Outernet’s constituents.
Outernet Content Goals:
  • Education. A work should enable a user to be a more informed participant in society and/or aid in moving them towards a higher plane of knowledge.
  • Truth. A work should be true and support the right of the public to truth.
  • Transparency. A work should allow a user to have greater understanding of the institutions that affect their daily life.
  • Empowerment. A work should give a user an enhanced ability to manipulate the course of their life towards their intended goal.
  • Health and Safety. A work should provide the required information to lead a healthier, safer, and ultimately more enjoyable life.
  • Quality of Life. A work should either directly or indirectly provide a means for a user to improve their quality of life.
Below I have summarized some of the issues we contended with in creating this document and the stand we have taken. Finally, I want to emphasize that this is a living document. When we say we are Humanity’s Public Library, there is deliberate emphasis on the first word. This system cannot function without a committed group of users. Thank you for being involved!

Here are some of the issues we are balancing:

The Inclusiveness Dilemma

Outernet broadcasts to everyone with a particular emphasis on those who have limited alternative means of receiving critical information. The more inclusive we are in our editorial process, which happens online, the more we move towards a system where those with Internet are deciding what those without read. While Outernet employees fall into this group, we are bound by our mission while random Internet users are not.

Current fix: User requests cannot be voted on, only the content picked to best match the request can be voted on; Transparency and general willingness to revise curated content and pathways for that content to be changed by Outernet users; Dedicated information targeted at offline populations.

Free Speech vs. “The Chilling Effect”

We value free speech immensely and see Outernet as a way to fight against those who would suppress free speech. However, the things that free speech enables individuals to say can naturally upset the values of others. If Outernet were to become associated with the fringe, offensive aspects of its content, it could make the entirety of Outernet taboo in offended areas and prevent more universally lauded content from reaching those who need it most. This is of particular concern in areas that are disconnected and would have no other means of accessing information.

Current fix: Creation of Outernet Content Goals and requiring that anything broadcast on Outernet fulfill them; Any piece of content broadcast on Outernet may be commented on and reviewed by the community.

Speed of Delivery vs. Quality of Product

When we receive a request from a user, we want to turn around a piece of content to fulfill that request in a very timely manner. At the same time, Outernet staff do not have the time to personally review every request, nor would that be the most inclusive approach. The diverse members of the Outernet community often can find a better answer than we would and sometimes it takes time and discussion for that answer to surface. We also want to avoid the misuse of Outernet, whereby an ill intentioned community member might select nefarious content for broadcast and it moves through the queue too quickly without a chance to be noticed.

Current fix: Certain content, like news and updates related to disasters, are prioritized and broadcast by Outernet as part our curated selection; Moderators may prioritize content requests when appropriate; every request, once matched with content, endures a minimum 24 hour period of public review.

Majority vs. Minority

With a limited amount of bandwidth, it is important to make sure that content selected for broadcast is useful to as many people as possible. However, such an allocation scheme is what is adopted by most systems with limited resources. It perpetuates the further marginalization of communities that are in the minority through language, location, culture, or other defining trait. Outernet is committed to serving those who are largely unserved by anyone else

Current fix: Minimizing the hegemony of English content; Providing a news source for every nation on Earth in that country’s major language; where possible, additionally providing a source of news that serves a minority group, typically through language; broadcasting active petitions and/or movements that are ongoing, especially those serving underrepresented groups; categorizing content not only by country but by language and ethnicity and assessing content curation by those standards.

Openness vs. Integrity

Specifically regarding the user management of content requests, we struggled with wanting to make the minimal level of input very accessible (e.g. voting without creating an account) while not impeding committed users by excessive participation by trolls or spam users. The system should cater to those who are novices in online community projects as well as those who are advanced users.

Current fix: Requiring a free, basic account be created for participation in content selection; Giving weight to voting, but not making votes the sole decider in content selection; increasing accountability as a user earns more privileges in the Outernet community; Moderator verification before any content gets broadcast.

For a look at how User Requested Content works, see this diagram. For greater explanation, you may look in the document itself.

For Sponsored content, the following general guidelines will be adhered to:
  • Source Transparency. A sponsor will be required to provide basic information about who they are and alongside each piece of sponsored content will be displayed the following information:
    • Name of the sponsor
    • Sponsor’s home nation
    • Time of broadcast
    • Duration of broadcast (i.e. has it been paid to be broadcast multiple times)
    • Sponsorship history (i.e. has it been sponsored before)
    • Geographies in which it has been sponsored for distribution
  • The 25% Rule. Sponsored content will never take up more than 25% of the total content being broadcast by Outernet. Due to the nature of satellite datacasting and the functioning of our data carousel, this figure may be exceeded for a given span of time, however the working distribution of data will be kept below an average of 25%.
  • Content Review. All sponsored content, like any other content broadcast on Outernet, must fulfill one of our Content Goals and adhere to our Broadcast Standards and Goals.
  • Visual Demarcation. In the condensed content display, sponsored content will be differentiated in its visual presentation.
For further discussion of any of these topics, please refer to the entire set of Broadcast Guidelines. We also need assistance in building up the curated content for each nation, so if you have a source for a particular country that you think be a part of Outernet’s regular broadcast, please submit it here.

Thank you for your support and I look forward to receiving your feedback.

-Thane Richard

We Made It To $300,000, Allowing Us To Add Android Compatibility

Reaching this milestone means we can invest in making Outernet compatible with Android set top boxes. This makes it substantially easier and cheaper for anyone to build their own Outernet receiver. This is an extremely important milestone because not everyone will be able to purchase a Lantern. The ubiquity of Android set top boxes around the world means that millions of people will already have everything they need to receive Humanity's Public Library.

Next milestone: $500,000. Reaching this amount will let us increase our broadcast rate from 2 MB/day to 10 MB/day for a one continent, which will be voted on by our backers.

Welcome to Outernet, Africa!

We are very excited to announce that as a result of the momentum of this campaign, we are able to turn on a signal that covers sub-Saharan Africa beginning today, December 1, 2014. This signal will be over Ku-band and so it requires a dish to receive the signal, which will be at an initial download rate of about 200 MB/day. Anyone who wants to take advantage of this signal right away can visit our website for instructions on how to build their own receiver. When Lantern ships next summer, you will be able to plug it into a dish in order to receive this high speed signal. This is not required - Lantern will always receive its own data - though for increased data a user may add a dish to Lantern.

Data is being broadcast from Intelsat 20, so dishes should be pointed to the appropriate coordinates based on user location.