The History of #1 UPDATED

On March 3, 2015, at around 12:20 PM, Pebble, in its new form as Pebble Time took the top spot from Coolest Cooler as the most funded project in Kickstarter history (complete with a promotional Vine about the whole thing). While Pebble Time is the latest project to hold the crown, it's not the first. Fourteen projects have held the title of Kickstarter's all-time most funded project. Here they are in chronological order.

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A Day at the Edinburgh Fringe: Lucy Benson-Brown

Kickstarter creator Lucy Benson-Brown has a one-woman show about a girl named Cathy who discovers a box of her mother's Kate Bush records and starts listening to them. She's performing her show, Cutting Off Kate Bush, at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She offered to keep a little diary of what that's been like, which you can read below.

The second weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe was an absolute whirlwind. This weekend seemed perhaps the busiest out of every weekend I’ve ever experienced at the festival. This is always good news for artists, but of course with the crowds comes the competition so it was an early start with lots of flyering for the show in Bristo Square near the Gilded Balloon. Cue Kate Bush costume and lots of red balloons!

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Meet the Team: Megan and Brandon

We thought it would be nice to introduce ourselves. So every now and then, a couple members of the Kickstarter team will be saying hello, and picking out a few projects — past or present, successful or not — that they're especially fond of. (They will also be posing for GIFs. The GIFs are mandatory.)

This week, meet Megan and Brandon:

 Megan McFerren (@meganistkrieg)

Job: "I help backers, creators, and visitors with questions about using Kickstarter, and help moderate conversations between the whole community. (Can I call my banhammer Mjölnir?)"

  • Elixirs of Pain — "I'm a hot sauce junkie and have backed more of those projects than probably anything else. Habaneros? Easy. Ghost peppers? Delicious. Trinidad moruga scorpion? Now you're talking! It's always exciting to see what new flavor profiles people create to singe my tastebuds to oblivion, and Elixirs of Pain was one of the first I backed and surprised me with the best hot sauce I've ever tasted in my life. I even got to meet the creator and pick up my bottles in person, when I found out he worked right around the corner from me!"
  • Civil War Embalming Living History Demonstration — "I worked in funeral service before coming to Kickstarter, and love that Kickstarter exists to help little projects like this to come to life. The Civil War was truly the second 'golden age' of embalming and there were countless fascinating developments during that time that still influence how we attend the dead today. And the fact that this will be a period re-enactment just makes it that much better."
  • Three Day Hangover's Freaking Awesome 2014 Season — "Three Day Hangover's 'Drunk Shakespeare' productions are some of the best live theater moments I've had living in New York City. I've dueled in flip cup alongside Hamlet and Laertes, and battled by way of beer pong with the Capulets and the Montagues, so a season subscription was a must-do. Up next they're doing Drunkle Vanya and I can't wait!"
  • Jotun — "Just funded! A beautifully stylized game about a Viking warrior who has to battle her way through frost giants and monsters using magical runes and a big freakin' axe, to prove herself to the Gods and enter Valhalla. I'm covered in Norse-themed tattoos and studied Germanic literature in university, so there is not a word of that description that could make me throw money at the screen faster to support this game!"

 Brandon Williams (@mbrandonw)

Job: "I'm a recovering mathematician turned developer here at Kickstarter. I've worked on a variety of projects, such as the iOS app, Discovery, and mobile web."

  • T-Rex — "I’ve backed more film projects than any other category, and this one is my favorite. A documentary about a girl from Flint, Michigan who won gold in the first ever Women’s Boxing event at the Summer Olympics. We followed all of her matches at the office."
  • Damn Fine Coffee! — "Twin Peaks is one of my favorite shows ever, and this compilation of fan art speaks to me. I still pick it up every once in awhile and flip through it."
  • Open Well-Tempered Clavier — "A recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, released for free as public domain. There have been similar projects for more of Bach’s pieces, as well as Chopin."
  • Dark Side of the Moon on Cello — "I’ve listened to this dozens of times. It’s on Rdio and Spotify. You should go listen to it now."

Summer Recipes from Kickstarter Food Creators

Some congratulations are in order: this week — thanks to a whole lot of wonderful, hungry backers — our Food category reached a whopping $50 million in pledges! To celebrate, we asked a few of our favorite food creators to send us a summer recipe they think you might enjoy. We'll be doing two separate recipe posts, and by the end, you'll have a whole meal's worth of inspiration, from salad to pasta to dessert. Enjoy part one!

Summer Pasta by Angelo Garro, Omnivore Salt

No one wants to stay long in the kitchen cooking or eat a heavy meal in summer. What makes this recipe so special is that you can make it, let the sun do the work of heating it up just a bit, and enjoy it with very little prep time. All the ingredients are abundant this time of year in both farmer's markets and from your own garden.

Blanch the tomatoes and remove skin. Dice and place in a bowl; add crushed garlic, chopped basil, and all other ingredients. Set the bowl in the warm summer sun for 1/2 hour with cheesecloth over it. 

Cook your favorite pasta (Angelo likes Penne), mix, serve, and Mangiamo!

Serves 4 guests. Buona appetite!

Grilled Country Ribs with Fresh Melon Salad by David Ellner, Panna

All of my favorite recipes come from Panna and the chefs we’ve worked with. These ribs by Paul Kahan are probably one of the most delicious recipes we have. Paul is amazing and working with him was a real honor. He’s won best chef by the James Beard Foundation (their highest honor) and with all his accomplishments is one of the most down to earth, friendly, and talented chefs I’ve worked with. I’ve made these ribs a number of times and they are easy to make and an absolute crowd pleaser. And be sure to make the melon salad with it…just heaven.

Vinaigrette: Toast green coriander seeds for approximately 2-3 minutes in a dry skillet. Place the seeds on a cutting board and crush the seeds with the bottom of a skillet. Add them to a mixing bowl. 

Chop the shallots, adding salt to help with the mincing later. Using a microplane, zest the rind of one lemon over the shallots. Mince these ingredients together. Add this mixture to the coriander seeds. Add lemon juice and vinegar to the mixture. Season the mixture with a pinch of salt and pepper. Macerate for 5 minutes. Using a whisk, slowly whisk the EVOO into the coriander shallot mixture until well combined. Taste for salt, adjust seasoning as necessary, and set aside. 

Marinade: Combine the onion, garlic, scallions (using most of the white), coarsely chopped cilantro, ginger, sesame oil, chili paste, soy sauce and palm sugar in a large mixing bowl. Smear the Chinese mustard onto the ribs and cover the ribs with the marinade. Marinate the ribs the morning you plan to cook them (6-8 hours ahead). 

Light the charcoal using a chimney starter. Place real-wood charcoal into the chimney. Place several sheets of loosely crumpled newspaper under the bottom of the chimney. Ensure the charcoal is red hot, should take approximately 20-25 minutes. 

Place the grill grate about 1 to 2 inches above the coals to let it heat up. Remove the ribs from the marinade, reserving the marinade, and wiping off all ingredients from the ribs. Chargrill each rib for approximately 5 minutes per side, or until cooked medium well and caramelized. Dip each rib back into the marinade and continue grilling for an additional minute per side to enhance the charred flavor. Repeat dipping process once more. 

Tomato-melon salad: In a medium mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes and watermelon. Dress with 1/4 cup of the coriander vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Arrange the country ribs on a serving platter. Spoon the tomatoes and watermelon over the ribs. Top with cilantro and serve.

Grilled Tuna w/Radish Salad by Mark Usewicz, Mermaid's Garden

We think it's a perfect summer dish — it's simple, quick to prepare, uses minimal heat and takes great advantage of local tuna and radishes, both of which are abundant from late spring through the early fall.

Halve radishes, keeping their greens intact. Fill a sink or a large pot with cold water and soak the radishes to remove grit. Trim any discolored bits. Remove the radishes from the water and pat dry. Place the vinegar, anchovy fillets, lemon juice, mustard and oil in a blender and puree to emulsify. Season the tuna on both sides with salt and pepper. Sear or grill the tuna to desired temperature. For fish 1-inch thick, allow about 2 minutes per side to reach medium rare. Place the radishes and arugula in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper, add the anchovy dressing and toss. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Divide vegetables and tuna between two plates and serve.

Serves 2-3 (You may want to make extra salad if you're serving 3).

Making the Perfect Lunchbox

This week, we caught up with Lucas Menanix, who is one third of the team behind OmieBox. The OmieBox is an ingenious lunchbox that features a vacuum-sealed bowl to keep hot foods hot and compartments for everything else. We asked Menanix a few questions about his background, this project, and how he came to work on it. 

Robin, Nancy, and Lucas of OmieBox
Robin, Nancy, and Lucas of OmieBox

What's your background, and how did you end up working with Nancy and Robin?

Since I can remember I've always loved building things. After competing in robotics competitions in high school, I studied mechanical engineering at MIT and that's where I fell in love with product design. I became obsessed with how and why the things around us are made. I found myself looking at the products around me and thinking about how they could be made better. Through my classes and internships with Mixer Design Group, I learned how to use the design process to clearly define and execute design solutions. I also got first hand experience with the benefits of relentless prototyping.

I joined OmieLife after meeting Nancy through a former coworker. She was looking for an engineer who could help her and Robin finalize the design and work with the manufactures to get OmieBox into production, and I was looking for a new challenge in a new product industry. We immediately bonded over our love for good food and good design.

What are you like as a team?

Obsessive. Each of us is passionate about different parts of the process, and we pore over every detail of the company. We each have training in three distinct fields (business, design, engineering), so we come at problems from different angles. At the same time, we all understand where the other is coming from so we never truly butt heads but we do have some intense discussions. Then we all go out and demolish a huge meal.

How long did it take to get to the current iteration of Omiebox?

About a year and a half ago Nancy was so frustrated with all the lunch systems she had bought for her preschooler that she decided to make a new one. After she met Robin at a conference a year ago, they immediately began building rough foam core mockups and giving them to parents to figure out what features and sizes worked best. They asked parents what kinds of foods they'd love to send to school with their kids and used all this feedback to refine the product concept. Nancy also spent a ton of time observing kids eating at lunch and discovering all the usability problems with most lunch products. 

 When I joined six months ago, all the user research had been distilled into a very clear product concept and we went straight into CAD. About two weeks later, we had a full scale 3D print. It was super rough but super informative. Once we had something in our hands that we could hold, pack lunches in, and show to people, we were able to quickly turn around a design that was much closer to the final product. After another three months of design refinements, working with our manufacturer, and a few more rounds of 3D prints we were able to finalize our design.

Can you describe some of the edits or changes along the way?

Usability is one of the our main focus areas and it wasn't until we had done three completely assembled 3D prints that we realized the securing insert that integrates the vacuum insulated bowl into the box needed to be simultaneously fitted tightly into the box and easy to remove. We first added little bumps that would snap the insert into the box but we quickly discovered that the size of bumps that secured the container also made it impossible to remove. We iterated on the bump concept for a while; moving from four bumps to two, changing the length/shape/position of the bumps, adding a pop out feature to make it easier to remove. 

At some point, Robin took a step back, simplified the issue, and realized that all we needed to do was extend the side walls of the insert so there was enough friction between the box to securely fit the container in the box. It was one of those ideas that makes you go, "Why didn't we think of this three months ago?!" Though this was a small detail, it's a good example of our team's relentless pursuit of great design.

What's been the craziest part so far?

I think one of the craziest/most fun/intense days was the day we shot our video for Kickstarter. A week before the shoot, we met with our video team to discuss our vision for the video and set a schedule. It became clear that the only day that worked for all of us was the next weekend. So we spent the whole week prepping for the shoot, which included spending a few days in an art school painting booth learning how to paint a 3D print with a HVLP paint gun, and roping my wife (Sarah from SnixyKitchen) into creating a week's worth of cute lunches. Somehow we pulled together everything we needed and spent a full eight hours shooting all the scenes. I had no idea how exhausting filming five lines of text can be.

What's the first thing you ever remember making?

Since I can remember, I was woodworking with my Dad, making everything from birdhouses to desks. But the first thing that I ever made where I can remember putting together the whole design and engineering process, was when we built a trebuchet in physics class that launched mini basketballs into a regulation hoop. It was the first time I had been given free reign to build something to accomplish a specific task and not told explicitly how to do it or given too many constraints. We ended up building this crazy seven foot tall hybrid catapult/trebuchet with PVC pipe arms on the end that gave us a little extra shooting distance and allowed us to shoot from the free throw line as well as the three point line by varying the counter weight.

What inspires you?

As trite as it may sound, I tend to find inspiration in everything around me, but I think what inspires me most is traveling, especially traveling to really foreign places. As designers, we tend to rely on our intuition to drive most of our decisions, so I need to get out and observe how other people live to enhance my intuition. There's something about traveling that allows you to take the time to observe the world around and gain insights.

A New Way to Explore an Incredible Creative Universe

Here’s some fun news: we just launched a whole new Discover experience. As of today, it’s even easier for you to explore incredible creative projects on Kickstarter. It’s a new world in there.

What’s different?

Well, start at the top of that main Discover page, where you’ll now have easy access to each of Kickstarter’s 15 creative categories. Interested in Games projects? Just click and jump right in. You’ll zoom straight to our Games page, where you can explore the entire category — from Staff Picks to Popular projects to Projects your friends backed, to every single subcategory. (If you’ve been watching this space lately, you’ll recall we now have subcategories for practically everything.)

Scroll further down the main Discover page, and you’ll see we've also added a section for Project of the Day — plus an easy way to flip through all previously featured projects. It's not a time machine, but it's a great way to look back on what's happened in the past. 

You’ll notice something similar on every single category page — a freshly featured project! We're going to start featuring a project in every category. Why? Because there are so many incredible projects out there — more than we have days to feature them! — but we’d love to show you as many as we can. And we’d love for you to show us, too. If there’s a project you think is exceptional, and think we should highlight for the rest of the Kickstarter community, just let us know in the comments, or email stories@kickstarter.com.

But hey, you don’t need us to tell you all about this new Discover page. Just head right over, give it a spin yourself, and have fun exploring a vast creative universe.

What Are You Playing? Gen Con Edition

Gen Con — North America's largest convention dedicated solely to tabletop games — kicks off today. In honor of it, we decided to ask a few of the Kickstarter creators in attendance for a recommendation. Here are the games that they're excited about playing. 

Penny Press, one of the winners of last year's Tabletop Deathmatch
Penny Press, one of the winners of last year's Tabletop Deathmatch

Mike Selinker, The Maze of Games: I’m super-excited to see some of the games from Cards Against Humanity’s Tabletop Deathmatch come to life. Last year, some other game designers and I judged some phenomenal games, and eventually chose Discount Salmon and Penny Press as our winners. And even beyond those, Deathmatch entries like The Amberden Affair and Jupiter Rescue are debuting at the con, and others like The Shadow Over Westminster and Pack the Pack are rising up through Kickstarter now. It’s great to see that our encouragement and sometimes our criticism helped make these games a reality. And of course, we’re filming another season of Deathmatch during Gen Con, so I’ll get to see even more great games.

Jamey Stegmeier, Tuscany: Expand the World of Viticulture: I'm really looking forward to seeing a few Kickstarted games, including Xia: Legends of a Drift System and King's Forge. Gen Con is becoming a great place for game designers to showcase prototypes of games they're working on (for publishers or for Kickstarter), so I would say I'm most excited about those unexpected, unique gems.

Incredible Expeditions
Incredible Expeditions

Jordan Weisman, Harebrained Schemes:  Well obviously the biggest thing for us at Gen Con is the release of Golem Arcana, the digitally enhanced miniatures game, which was funded in part by Kickstarter backers. I'm pretty stoked to see the new capital ship Star Wars game from Fantasy Flight and excited for the launch of Liz Spain's Incredible Expeditions which was [also] funded on Kickstarter.

Peter Adkison, The Devil Walks in Salem: On Wednesday I’m playing Burning Wheel with a group of guys I play with at every Origins and Gen Con. Burning Wheel is my favorite roleplaying game in the world and it was designed by Luke Crane! Another game I’m looking forward to is a 15-20 player game of Don’t Give Up the Ship! This is the other game co-designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, back in the 1960s. It’s a historical miniatures game set in the Age of Sail. Every player commands a ship of the line from the 18th or 19th century. This is how games were played before Dungeons & Dragons came along. It’s also being run by Mike Carr, the only human who’s been to every Gen Con since its inception in 1967, who also worked on the rules of this game back in the '70s.

And I have a film recommendation. Premiering at Gen Con is The Devil Walks in Salem, a 30-minute film (a long short?) that was funded by a Kickstarter campaign, directed by yours truly, and produced by my film company, Hostile Work Environment.

Amp: Year One
Amp: Year One

Jerry D. Grayson, Atlantis Theragraphica: I'm looking forward to AMP: Year One, A Modern Supers RPG from Third Eye Games, a very cool looking postmodern game of super heroics. Also, D&D 5th edition by Wizards of the Coast. This one is highly anticipated and the grandfather of them all. D&D is the mitochondrial eve of roleplaying games.

How I Became a One Man Intelligence Agency

Eliot Higgins didn't start out thinking he'd become a one man intelligence agency, but once he started using his blog to track international activity through public social networks, that's exactly what happened. Now he's running a Kickstarter for Bellingcat, a platform for open source citizen journalism. We asked him to explain how he got into this field.

Al Qaeda has a Facebook Page: How I Became a One Man Intelligence Agency from the Comfort of my Own Home

In March 2012 I started a blog on Blogger, just as a place to record stuff I thought was interesting. I called it the Brown Moses Blog, after an online pseudonym taken from a Frank Zappa song that I had used for a number of years. I figured the only people who would be interested would be people who knew me from Twitter and the various forums I posted on. 

The Brown Moses Blog
The Brown Moses Blog

 I had worked in an administrative role for a company housing asylum seekers in the UK, and had spent the last ten years doing various administrative and financial roles. Within a year on the Brown Moses Blog I had exposed arms smuggling by Saudi Arabia to the Syrian rebels with the New York Times, identified and tracked the use of cluster munitions and the now notorious “barrel bombs” by the Syrian air force, and was increasingly being seen as being at the forefront of a new way to do journalism. 

 How did I do this? In a way it was something very simple. I took the vast amount of information being produced from Syria through social media channels such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, and worked to establish what was reliable within this maelstrom of information. 

I developed an understanding of how social media was being used by Syrians. The “Houla Massacre” in May 2012 led to me realize YouTube channels were being set up by groups in different areas where they regularly posted videos from their local area. So, I began collecting these channels, some belonging to local civilians groups, others to armed groups, and started checking them on a daily basis for new videos, tracking the progress of the conflict in each area through those videos. 

What started as a list of 25 channels has now grown to over 1,000, with 100,000s videos posted by groups across Syria. While this information was growing in accessibility, the important question was (and still is): Can we trust it? 

I started looking for answers. Using a variety of open source tools and techniques it was possible to examine and verify the content of many videos. For example, with satellite map imagery available on sites like Google Maps I was able to confirm the locations videos were filmed by comparing the landmarks in the videos with what was visible on satellite maps. Facebook pages used by groups in Syria could be used to crosscheck claims made by other groups. As time went on I refined and expanded the processes I used. The most incredible thing is that the tools and resources I was using to do these investigations were all available online to anybody, and I realized in theory anyone could do these sorts of investigations.

Speaking to Channel 4 News
Speaking to Channel 4 News

I began to establish myself as a unique source of reliable information about the conflict in Syria. In October 2012 I began to track the use of cluster munitions by the Syrian government for Human Rights Watch, when the Syrian government denied they were using them. At the start of 2013 I began to see four weapons appearing in videos from the south of Syria I had never seen before in the conflict. Using a variety of resources I was able to establish they were all linked to one country, Croatia, and going to moderate opposition groups, mainly in the south of Syria. I took this and the dozens of videos I had collected to the New York Times, and a team of journalists used this information in an investigation that showed that the Saudis were providing weapons they had purchased from Croatia to the Syrian opposition. 

 These two pieces of work, plus others, began to make it increasingly clear that these investigative tools and techniques could be used by established organizations in a variety of fields to great effect. It wasn’t until August 21st 2013 that organizations really began to take notice. 

In the early hours of August 21st, 2013 reports of a chemical attack in suburbs of Damascus began to appear on social media channels. Dozens of videos from the reported attack sites began to be posted and shared. Using the tools and techniques I had developed over the past year and a half I began organizing and examining the information. I had my list of hundreds of YouTube channels from across Syria, so I found the channels posting videos from the locations attacked, and collated them into a playlist I shared with hundreds of journalists from across the world, as well as chemical weapons specialists I had contacted in relation to previous attacks. 

One of the rockets used on August 21st
One of the rockets used on August 21st

When images of the munitions used started appearing no one was able to recognize them, but I immediately realized they were the same type I had seen used in a previous alleged chemical attack in nearby Adra, Damascus, on August 5th. I was also able to find the exact impact locations of some of the rockets recorded by the opposition in the areas involved in the attack. Locals began to send me measurements of these mysterious rockets, which were used in a later Human Rights Watch report on the attacks. In the following days and weeks, using nearly exclusively sources like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, I was able to gather detailed information on the attacks, from areas inaccessible to foreign journalists. 

Much of the information I gathered would later be confirmed in the September UN/OPCW report. Then NPR journalist Andy Carvin described me as the “Nate Silver of Syrian munitions.” When the US government’s report into August 21st was published many journalists noted that they could find much more detailed information on my blog than what was being provided by the US government, something that seemed to highlight a disconnect between what people were increasingly coming to expect to see in situation like this, and what governments were providing. 

What was becoming clear was that more and more groups were interested in using this open source content for gaining a greater understanding of what was happening in conflicts across the world. The issue was not many people actually knew how to do it, and not everyone who was doing was getting the recognition and support I felt they deserved. 

This is where the new website I’m Kickstarting, Bellingcat, comes in. One big hurdle I’ve come across is getting people to engage with the tools and techniques that have been developed. It’s one thing to make a video, do a presentation, or write an article about the tools and techniques, but another to get them to actually use them. 

Using Meedan's Checkdesk to examine the remains of flight MH17
Using Meedan's Checkdesk to examine the remains of flight MH17

With Bellingcat I’m bringing together writers who produce great work from open source information and emerging writers who want to learn about the tools and techniques themselves. Already we’re using Meedan’s Checkdesk to involve people with the investigation into the remains of flight MH17, downed in Ukraine. Collaborative investigations have also been used to verify images posted on social media of the Buk Missile Launcher linked to the downing of flight MH17, allowing us to track it’s movements on July 17th through rebel held territory

Future projects involve working with the OCCRP and Hacks/Hackers London on tracking cross-border crime and corruption, using databases available online after the success of the OCCRP’s Investigathon, something we hope to expand to other cities across the world in the future. 

What these projects demonstrate is another key aspect of investigative work and collaboration. With large sets of data, or sources that need a human being to look at them instead of a computer algorithm, being able to work collaboratively to examine the information can be hugely productive. At Bellingcat we hope to create a community from our audience and contributors of people who know how to work with this information. 

It’s really not hard to do, and the biggest hurdle is getting ordinary people aware that they can do this work. I had no experience in this kind of investigative work when I started what I was doing, but was able to teach myself as I went along. People who visit Bellingcat will be able to learn from my mistakes and successes, creating a community of investigators who can use evidence and expose crime and corruption, from battlefields to boardrooms. On Bellingcat, “audience engagement” isn’t about adding comments and buttons for Facebook and Twitter, it’s about giving the power to challenge the criminal and corrupt.