Most of you, I would imagine, have heard of something called "crowdfunding, a technique for using the web to raise investment capital for small start-up enterprises by soliciting very large numbers of quite small donations -- "investments" -- from interested parties, wherever they may be. It is not really investing because the donors do not get any sort of ownership share in the companies their donations help to get launched, but there can be a variety of perks that give the feeling of a reward.
Petridish.org, a crowdfunding site that is limited to scientific efforts, places a $5000 minimum limit on the amount a scientist or laboratory or research group can aim for, with the recipient of the "investment" paying a 4% fee to the web owner if the goal is reached and a 9% fee if it is not. "The Wolves of Isle Royale" is currently 87% funded, and "Language of the Wild Bonobos" is 85% funded. I assume that means each has raised that percentage of the minimum $5000. Other projects currently listed include "Decoding Hyena Calls in the Maasai Mara" and "Fawns and their Hiding Places."
Indiegogo.com is a business-oriented crowdfunding site offering opportunities to toss in a few bucks for "Help Get Norfolk Donut Supply Co. Rolling" or "Proper Flops -- Anti-Microbial Arch Supports" among many others.
What fascinates me about these web-based enterprises is the evidence they provide of just how much can be done through the internet without any deep-pocket donors or fat cat investors. These operations are the polar opposites of the Bain Capitals of the world. The implications for politics, it seems to me, are explosive. Since it costs virtually nothing to go up on the web, and since the rate at which information flows approches the speed of light, in a country of 310 million, there are always more than enough like-minded people who can afford 5$, 10$, 25$, or even 100$ to support an effort with which they are sympathetic.
We are really only in the first decade of this transformation in information and organization. During the current presidential cycle, attention has been focused on billionaires and their ability to influence political races. But think about it: a million dollars is merely fifty dollars each for 20,000 people, and there really are many times that many progressively inclined people in this country who can be approached for donations of that magnitude.
Perhaps bottom-up democracy has a future in this benighted land.