Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

iOS Transit App Refunds Its Kickstarter Backers

Among the failings of the Apple iOS mapping app that replaced Google Maps (well, not anymore) was its lack of transit directions. And so New York-based OpenPlans launched a well-timed Kickstarter campaign this summer to make an app version of its trip-planning engine. It wasn’t a wild success, but the project raised more than $26,000, exceeding its goal.

But this past week, OpenPlans announced that it would refund all the money its Kickstarter backers provided, a relatively unusual move in the crowdfunding world. Why? Even though it had already built and tested an app called Joyride, OpenPlans said its priorities were changing away from consumer-facing applications. It didn’t want to commit ongoing resources to supporting the app. Plus, alternatives have emerged, such as The Transit App and Moovit, that are based on the same OpenTripPlanner.

OpenPlans is also open-sourcing Joyride in case someone else wants to take it up.

Refunds aren’t standard practice on Kickstarter, despite the fact that some projects fail to complete whatever they were backed to do.

In a blog post from September, the Kickstarter founders said refunds are not a fit for their platform because “transactions are between backers and the creator.” The founders said their support team would help creators walk through aspects of the refund process.

Since Kickstarter doesn’t offer infrastructure for refunds, and it’s past the 60-day period that Amazon Payments supports them automatically, OpenPlans is using the emails it received from its backers to manually pay back their accounts on Amazon.

The non-profit is eating the cost of Amazon and Kickstarter fees so people can receive full refunds.

“There’s no way to automatically refund backers,” said OpenPlans principal Kevin Webb in an email. “This is something we think Kickstarter should fix. I imagine that it opens up doors in terms of expectations/liability. But it’s obviously the right thing to do in certain cases and there should be a mechanism.”

Webb noted that OpenPlans is in a better position than many Kickstarter project creators, who may find themselves having spent their backers’ money but lacking the resources to finish.

For instance, that happened to the developer of the game Haunts: The Manse Macabre, which also offered refunds after its Kickstarter cash ran out. However, only a few backers said they wanted their money back.

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle