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Back Pedaled: Matchstick TV dongle goes up in flames but doesn’t burn backers

Some crowdfunded gadgets are famous for shaping the market while others are infamous for never making it to market. Sadly, this often leaves backers in the lurch. In Back Pedaled, we’ll look back on these projects and what went wrong. If you’ve been burned by a gadget project that’s incurred significant delays or didn’t make it to market, get in touch.

Google’s Chromecast, a small, inexpensive gadget that connected to the HDMI connector found in most TVs, popularized a new approach to getting content from mobile devices to the big screen. The Chromecast was not the first streaming stick, but form factor inspired products like the Amazon Fire TV Stick and the Microsoft Wireless Device Adapter. Its success has attracted a broad array of content services to use the Google Cast technology it uses.

But not everybody likes the idea of playing with Google. That includes those who want a fully open approach to the hardware and software used to do the streaming. They banded together with the developers of the Firefox Web browser in late 2014 to create the Matchstick. Its Kickstarter campaign flirted with raising half a million dollars from over 17,000 backers who were to receive their TV add-on by February 2015.

But the developers of Matchstick found that open hardware and open software were not an ideal match from the various services that demanded digital right management protection. And so they have decided to engage in purification by fire.  In the creators’ words:

After struggling with the DRM development based on Firefox OS for most of this year, we realize continued development of DRM, though showing early signs of promise, will be a long and difficult road. We have come to the conclusion that we will not be able to reliably predict the completion date of the DRM development without significantly more research, development and integration.

This is the rare doomed project that has a less than tragic ending for the backers, who have been told they should receive a full refund for their pledges within the next 60 days. The Matchstick may have failed to ignite, but the flame of honesty and decency burns bright within its campaign, which should serve as a model for other projects that have left backers burned.

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