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There are tangible benefits, too. Richmond, the sailor, is mailing anyone who pledged at least $15 a Polaroid photo from her travels. For those who gave $75, she is sending a coconut.

“When I saw Emily’s project I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be on your own on the water like that for such a long time,” said Mike Ambs, a Los Angeles filmmaker who’s backed Richmond’s project along with 18 others. He said he is looking forward to getting a photo from Richmond’s adventures. But the feeling of playing a part in something ambitious is also a source of inspiration.

“It’s exciting to be a part of it and see how far a little bit can go,” he said.

He’s also used Kickstarter to help fund “For Thousands of Miles,” his planned documentary about a man riding a bicycle across the United States.

On Kickstarter, the average contribution is $25. On IndieGoGo, it’s $84. Some projects have received as much as $10,000 from a single backer, but those cases are rare. The highest-grossing project to date is Diaspora, an anti-Facebook of sorts that would let users keep control over their photos, videos and status updates while sharing them with friends. The four New York University students behind it raised $200,641 on Kickstarter.

Though the sites are reminiscent of single-project online tip jars that popped up earlier in the decade, they work better because they create persistent communities behind the projects.

“Those were predicated on a passive involvement,” said Yancey Strickler, Kickstarter’s co-founder. “Kickstarter is much more structured and active. Projects are focused on specific things, they have finite deadlines, they establish relationships, and they clearly communicate what someone gets in exchange.”

About 2,500 projects have been funded by about 200,000 people through Kickstarter since the site launched in April 2009. About the same number have failed to meet their funding goals.

Danny Pier’s “Astdroid” was among the ones that reached their goals. The 25-year-old software engineer said he is disappointed with the looming end of NASA’s space shuttle program and wanted to do something about it.

“I was thinking what could I do to make space more accessible for the everyday Joe?” he said.

The answer: Send a Droid smart phone to the stratosphere, using a weather balloon. Running an application built by Pier, the phone, if it makes it, will send photos and video back to Earth through a website. (Other amateurs have strapped digital cameras to weather balloons for high-altitude shots).

Pier, who lives in Denver, estimated that his project would cost $1,800, enough for a few phones in case the Astdroid doesn’t take off on the first try. He raised $2,050 on Kickstarter, from 66 people.

“I wouldn’t have been able to raise the money without it,” he said. “As it is my friends think I’m crazy, I wouldn’t be able to get any money out of them.”

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