Canonical’s Odd Crowdsourcing Strategy Proves a Failure

Carl Weinschenk
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The headline news a while back was that Canonical was attempting to finance its Ubuntu Edge project—which combined two operating systems in the same device to create a true hybrid desktop/smartphone—through crowdsourcing on Indiegogo. The company would ask for a record $32 million.

The headlines more recently have read that Canonical failed, and in a spectacular fashion. It raised only $12,813,501 and came up short of the goal by $19,186,499.

This episode can be examined from a couple of perspectives. One way to look at it is the viability of the Ubuntu Edge concept itself. The other relates to what the execution of the crowdsourcing initiative says about the company.


At this point, I find the crowdsourcing strategy to be most interesting. The odd thing about the Indiegogo project is that Canonical aimed high and at the same time put itself in a position in which it either raised every dollar or ended up with nothing. Indiegogo offers two options: the all-or-nothing approach chosen by Canonical or one in which the company keeps everything pledged to it regardless of the stated goal. In the latter option, Indiegogo keeps a bigger slice of the pledged funds.

The question is, why was Canonical so ambitious? It asked for the moon, and did so in a way that merely reaching lunar orbit constituted failure. It seems to be a mix of over confidence and hubris.

The Guardian’s story on the crowdsourcing project was slanted toward Canonical’s insistence that despite the financial failure, both individuals and powerful organizations showed significant interest in the Ubuntu Edge concept. Instead of the fact that the company came up more than $19 million short, Canonical founder and chief executive Mark Shuttleworth focused on the great amount that was raised and signs of approval from elsewhere. He did acknowledge that the lack of Indiegogo funding has changed the plan:

Shuttleworth insisted that despite the failure, carriers and handset makers are definitely interested in building handsets which will run the mobile Linux— but that they will not be the top-end ‘superphones’ which the Edge project hoped to produce.

Another important element to the Canonical story is the viability of the Ubuntu concept itself. ZDNet’s Terry Relph-Knight takes a deep dive on explaining what Canonical is attempting to do. His view is comprehensive and looks at the company’s overall strategy, which goes far beyond the Edge. But it makes me wonder if the high-profile failure of the Indiegogo campaign will affect the overall initiative.

Shuttleworth and Canonical should make their decisions quickly. The race for third OS is growing more intense. Early this month, NewsFactor reported that the ZTE Open, a smartphone based on the Firefox OS, soon will be available in the United States and Britain via eBay. The OS relies on HTML5.



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 28, 2013 1:43 PM Earl Brown Earl Brown  says:
Failure? Canonical got a million $$ of free publicity. You can bet their next project will be newsworthy. Earl Reply
Aug 28, 2013 3:33 PM JMI JMI  says:
Really interesting Carl, thanks​!​ I think that you would be really interested in some recent research that I have come across about crowds and citizen science.​ ​ It’s called “The Theory of Crowd Capital” and you can download it here if you’re interested: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2193115 Really powerful stuff! Reply

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