Detroit is synonymous with epic collapse. Once proud and a world-leading economic center, it has hopelessly lost it way in terms of human capital and infrastructure. Like Detroit, I think we are as Balaji puts it, “on the precipice of a calamitous diminution in influence” in academia. The cause of the decline, though unsurprising for Detroit, will be rather remarkable for academia—failing to adapt to new technology. While new technologies such as MOOCs have taken a first shot at the university model, many more approaches will be needed. Universities are no different from any organization in requiring money and power to maintain/bolster their positions. MOOCs so far haven’t figured out a way to accumulate either.

Universities are broken down into the Arts & Sciences. The Arts have always been more accessible than the Sciences, so we shouldn’t be too surprised by The Bieb’s (Justin Bieber, pluh-lez you know) money and power. With the Sciences, the internet success stories are less clear. The common complaint amongst scientists is that the money you might raise from some online scheme — crowdfunding/patronage/etc. — won’t ever approach the money you would need to do REAL science. This can be dismissed by looking at Kickstarter’s history. When it started, KS campaigns generated $100 or less. However, nowadays it is the norm to see campaigns raising many 10s of $1000s even millions of dollars.

REAL Science too complicated to raise money like potato salad did? Don’t think so. What will happen is that scientists will have to explain their work better. “Better” means so a broad audience can understand it. The crowdfunding sugardaddies/mommies will unconsciously demand it. Scientists already must write a layperson explanation of their work for government grants (with lots already written that these layperson terms strongly affecting grants being awarded), so better get use to it. Publish or perish will become kickstart or perish.

Still there is a problem. What Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon et al. haven’t addressed is connecting the money with reputation. Academia is all about reputation. To get REAL scientists onboard you need someway to improve their standing amongst their peers and students. Stackoverflow (SO) shows the way. If you are not familiar with SO and their voting mechanics, go here now, it is worth understanding:

The key thing to realize from SO is that people are using the reputation they are building there to get REAL jobs. Not your Ivy league degree that you paid $200K+ for; your numbers on some website. For programming, your SO rep score is the new G.P.A. StackExchange, Reddit and I all see no reason why this concept won’t work across academic disciplines. Combine reputation with “students” actually getting funded for their projects and their opportunity costs will irreconcilably move away from the ivy tower.

Kickstarter + Stackoverflow. Money and status. This is what we are doing with Onarbor. Let’s see what happens…