Wednesday afternoon was the first time I tried to vote for a One Spark project. Before I left Folio Weekly headquarters that afternoon, I’d downloaded the festival’s smartphone application. After landing in the urban core, I’d entered through a gauntlet of EZ-up tents on Monroe Street, as creators emerged from their shaded enclaves to pitch me their projects. I stopped long enough to hear each pitch, ask a few questions and collect whatever card or flyer they were handing out. By the time I heard something that compelled the laborious effort it takes to pull one’s phone out of one’s pocket, I had already passed on the Fairtax.org guy (creator?), a project that aspired to open an all-Poutine-all-the-time restaurant (gravy didn’t sound appealing in the 90-degree heat) and a bluegrass band (sorry, busking is not a business model).
But the third project pitch I heard that day — P226: #freetodou, a youth center with afterschool programs that would not be referred to as a youth center with afterschool programs (reverse psychology, kiddos, get over it) — seemed well-intentioned and reasonably achievable. The passion and charisma of the pitchman — and, quite frankly, the social pressure of the situation — provided the impetus to retrieve my phone from my pocket.
I was ready to make it official. Ready to get my vote on. The problem was, I couldn’t open the app. Every time I pressed the icon, a One Spark logo appeared — just long enough for me to read the dates of the festival — before vanishing mysteriously.
After several minutes staring at my phone’s home-screen and tapping the One Spark icon like a 3-year-old on a Little Tykes Keyboard, I spotted a young volunteer (a more native digital native) and asked for some support. The volunteer suggested I delete the app and re-download it. I followed her advice.
No luck. I still couldn’t open the app.
So I paid a visit to the voter information booth at Hemming Park. They said my problem was a common one and asked if I had the latest iPhone ios update. I replied that it wasn’t likely — since I only vaguely understand what an ios update entails — before proceeding to make an attempt at modernizing my smartphone.
No dice. Had to update it from home.
While I’m by no means a skilled troubleshooter, I feel my next move was an informed one:
Fuck it. I guess I’m not voting today.
Behavior like this is admittedly lazy, but it’s also typical among Millennials. Research shows that in order for Millennials to engage with something, personal interaction and immediacy are key components. Otherwise, we’re out.
After last year’s World’s Largest Crowdfunding Festival, the people behind One Spark wanted to improve in a few key areas. The Creator Academy was established to help festival participants polish their spiels before the event. The prize structure was increased from $10K to $15K. And, after receiving feedback (see: complaints) that the smartphone application hindered the voting experience, One Spark spent months tweaking the app, preparing it for a more streamlined user experience.
“Not only has our team of developers done a complete front-end redesign and complete back-end restructure of the One Spark platform, they have also taken feedback from all the One Spark stakeholders and improved the app experience by streamlining contributing to and voting for One Spark creator projects, the core of our festival,” One Spark co-founder and CEO Elton Rivas told News4Jax last week.
More than 300,000 humans visited the festival this year. There were 537 projects and each individual in attendance was allowed to vote one time for as many projects as they wanted. Assuming those counting heads didn’t count Cultural Council head Tony Allegretti six times — one for every day he attended — there were a potential 160 million votes to be cast.
Initial vote-tallying by the One Spark folks (I think they use tallies) reported 117,169 votes cast during the six days of One Spark 2015. That means, assuming all of them had the ability to vote — either via smartphone or at home — each attendee voted approximately 0.39 times, or about a third of the people bothered to vote for a single project.
What? Those are Jacksonville municipal election numbers.
Either visitors to the festival were unusually hard to impress (after reading this week’s The Knife on p. 33, this doesn’t seem likely), or it was difficult to vote — to the point where others, like me, reached the limits of their troubleshooting process.
At the One Spark wrap-up press conference on Monday, there were lots of big numbers being dropped. 320,000 people. 40 million One Spark hashtag impressions on social media. But the drop in votes (from 120,000 last year to 117,000 this year) was described as “very close to last year’s numbers” and “kind of a normalized rate.”
I asked CEO Rivas if there were any issues with the Wi-Fi or iPhone application that contributed to the “normalizing.”
“We didn’t have any downtime due to the bandwith loads or volume on our systems,” he said. The decrease in creators this year (about 60 fewer), Rivas said, influenced the drop in votes.
I talked to vendors in and around Hemming Park. Many complained about connectivity issues. One of them told me the Wi-Fi connectivity was so horrid, he had to wait until Monday to process all his transactions.
I didn’t get to vote for any projects at One Spark that Wednesday evening, but I did come back with Folio Weekly A&E editor Daniel A. Brown on Friday. I told him about my troubles and hoped he’d have better luck. While Dan was able to download and even open the One Spark app, he had difficulty with the One Spark Wi-Fi connection. Dan and I wanted to vote for Erdkinder: a Montessori outdoor school (I would be voting vicariously through Dan), but we were unable to connect Dan’s phone to the Wi-Fi and, when he opted to use his cell service instead, the application prompted him to enter registration information (something he’d already done).
We returned to a voter information booth where we were told that the area where we’d previously been standing had poor Wi-Fi connectivity. For better service, we were told, head to Hemming Park. Different spot, same story. “Unable to connect to One Spark Wi-Fi.”
Dan and I walked around all day, sweating, listening to pitches, engaging creators, rehydrating, asking questions, sweating and rehydrating. But we did not vote. Neither one of us. Not once. Ultimately, it seemed our desire to vote was no match for the planned obsolescence of our modern devices.
But could Dan and I have been the only ones having trouble voting? What about the other 300,000 people who went Downtown last week? Why didn’t they vote?
In a study that offends the word science by even calling it unscientific, I surveyed some of my friends and colleagues about their One Spark experiences. “Were you able to use the app?” was my research question. Both “Yes” and “No” were acceptable answers, with “N/A” serving as an appropriate response for anyone who did not attend One Spark 2015.
Here are the results:
YES (I was able to use the One Spark app): 3
NO (I was unable to use the One Spark app): 10
While voting is the “core” of One Spark, it wasn’t all about the voting. There were the jury prizes as well. And as far as I can tell, the jurors — who had a very difficult task, made more challenging by the confusing composition of projects in each category — did a respectable job choosing winners deserving of a cash prize. But the jury awards process is more Shark Tank than crowdfunding. If the festival were all about impressing jurors, there’d be no point in spending six days pitching a project to a mass of people who have no way of impacting your success.
Each creator participating in One Spark 2015 paid $95 for the opportunity to present their project to potential voters. Many of the creators took days off work — if not the whole week — to be there, in downtown Jacksonville, from dawn to dusk (and beyond). They provided up to 12 hours of entertainment per day to the masses attending the festival.
One Spark’s end of the bargain was to provide the venue and the infrastructure for attendees to be a part of the process. One Spark was supposed to make it so people could vote.
I went back to One Spark on Saturday evening. Like most of the 100,000 people in attendance, I listened to some music, viewed some art, made a couple new friends, and had a beer or four. I had a swell time. But, I admit, I did not vote. I could have registered at a voter booth, gone home, pulled out the cards and flyers I’d collected and punched in the numbers of each and every project I felt deserving of my vote. But I didn’t. And I know I’m not the only one. In fact, I’m part of an overwhelming majority.
As I bobbed and weaved around the hordes at Hemming on Saturday, I stopped briefly in front of the pitch stage — a place where creators are given an opportunity to present their project from a higher elevation. In front of the stage were roughly 30 white, fold-out chairs. While thousands reveled in the anticipation of impending nightfall, a creator presented her project to the chairs, two-thirds of which sat empty. “Oh yeah,” I thought, “that’s why we’re all here.”
Then I walked away to find a beer stand.