Note: I’ve been so busy making at FamiLAB, making a Maker Faire, talking about Making our Community better, and having fun that I haven’t updated this page in far too long…but that’s a good thing. I originally wrote this because I was constantly answering “What is a Maker?” – but I don’t get the question anymore – and that is a good thing. I’ll redo it one of these days…but for now, if you want to know more, just ask
It is a great time to be a “Maker”! 2011 is the year that we’ve gone “from the margins to the mainstream.” The Maker Movement has a similar trajectory to that of the personal computer revolution. In the 1970s, products created by hobbyists in their garage launched the personal computer revolution and launched companies such as Apple and Microsoft that continue to drive innovation and economic growth today.
Recently we’ve seen Instructables, a community web site with instructions for making just about anything, purchased by Autodesk, who makes AutoCAD, and many other professional software titles. In a recent interview, Autodesk’s CEO, Carl Bass, stated that “One of the things that we’re seeing is that technology is increasingly starting with consumers, and then moving up into business.”
RadioShack, recently announced their reentry in to the “Do it Yourself” market – with the launch of a new website (www.radioshackdiy.com)where Makers can publish their projects created with RadioShack parts. Radio Shack is also adding new products, soliciting feedback from the Maker community on their blog.
2011 also saw Wired Magazine displayed a female engineer on their cover for the first time – this engineer, known as “Lady Ada”, is an active Maker and runs the successful “Adafruit Industries“, an online store for Makers.
Makers have been on the “margins” for a long time – but what caused this move from the “margins to the mainstream?” Many factors have contributed, from technological progress, cost reductions in electronics manufacturing on a small scale, even an economic recession which refocused many people on repairing and re-purposing items. The largest impact however comes from the resurgence of the community itself. This is a community that celebrates learning, and freely shares ideas. This community formed in many pockets however (computer groups, electronics groups, robotics groups, craft groups, sewing groups, etc.) – and needed something to bring them all together. These groups needed physical places to meet, share ideas, learn, and work together. This need was met by two very different developments – Maker Faire, and Hackerspaces – but these developments greatly accelerated the Maker movement.
In 2005, O’Reilly Media, publisher of information technology books, launched Make Magazine, a quarterly publication that “brings the do-it-yourself mindset to all the technology in your life“ Make launched the “premiere event for grassroots American innovation,” Maker Faire, in 2006. Maker Faire is billed as the “World’s Largest DIY festival”, a friendly Faire that “has something for everyone – a showcase of invention, creativity and resourcefulness and a celebration of the Maker mindset.” Maker Faire is now held in the Bay Area (San Mateo), Detroit and New York each year, with over 80,000 attendees at the Bay Area event alone. In addition, “Mini Maker Faires” – community organized Maker Faires, are gaining popularity. These events, produced by local Maker volunteers, range in size from dozens to thousands of attendees and serve to highlight the creativity and innovation of the Makers in that community. These Makers come from their kitchen tables, workshops, garage start-ups, offices, and R&D labs to openly share how they learn and create. In 2010, Make, launched the “YoungMakers” program which” intends to connect like-minded young people with adult mentors and fabricators and to organize opportunities for kids to dream up and develop projects for Maker Faire each year.”
My oldest son (11) attended Maker Faire Bay Area in 2011 – at the end of the first day, he looked at me and said, “You know what I’ve figured out Dad? Normal people can make cool stuff!” My moment with my son perfectly captures the spirit of Maker Faire – everyone from kids to adults walks away positive, inspired, and ready to learn by making. We agreed to start a YoungMakers program when we returned home.
Maker Faires provide the Maker community with a venue (and a deadline!) to show off their latest creations and to learn from the creations of others. Maker Faires also provide vendors with an opportunity to show off product to a community that is very interested in design, features, and quality – and will often work with that company to add new features or to find completely new uses for the product.
While Maker Faires provide these benefits in a few regions (The Mini Maker Faires didn’t take off until very recently),Hackerspaces provide the local venue for learning and making in a collaborative setting. The name “hackerspace” comes from the MIT definition of “hacker” which originated in the 50s and 60s as computers became available to university students. One definition of hacker is – “A person who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and stretching their capabilities, as opposed to most users, who prefer to learn only the minimum necessary.”
A hackerspace is a community organization that typically has a shared space, tools, and a passion for learning. Making is encouraged, with members bringing their disparate disciplines together to build something new. The sharing of knowledge is expected in hackerspaces, with members often using and contributing to open source, free software and open hardware projects. Most hackerspaces in the U.S. were formed within the last few years, and the beginnings of many of these spaces have been chronicled in a book entitled, “Hackerspaces – The Beginning (the book)“. This freely distributed electronic book contains pages for many of the largest and oldest spaces such as NYC Resistor (which spawned startup Makerbot Industries) and San Francisco’s Noisebridge. Mitch Altman, one of the founders of NoiseBridge was interviewed about NoiseBridge and Hackerspaces…
Most hackerspaces are run as non-profits with an educational mission and teach a broad range of classes from soldering to sewing to sous-vide. Hackerspaces are also a great incubator for ideas given the constant focus on learning, the influx of new technologies, and the depth of the talent. The community benefit of a hackerspace is similar to that of a research university – technical aptitude of the community increases, startups are born, and jobs are created. In San Francisco, the benefits have become so obvious that community businesses and hackerspaces worked together to advertise the “Invent” message.
What is the state of the Central Florida Maker Community?
Central Florida has excellent Maker talent. We have creativity that emanates from our attractions such as Disney, Universal, and Sea World. We have talent from NASA and Lockheed Martin operations in Central Florida, and we have many schools such as UCF and Full Sail that foster engineering and creative talent. Central Florida also has a history of great technology startups including companies such as Cloudspace, HoverFly, and Voxeo.
While we have a large number of Makers, we suffer from the lack of centralized community. This isn’t a new challenge for Central Florida, we’ve always had our pockets of communities, and with a large influx of new residents, it can be hard to get them connected with their peer groups. We are spread out geographically, so we don’t benefit from the population density of a New York or a San Francisco when trying to get like-minded people together.
Several groups are working together to foster the Maker community in Central Florida – taking the model that is working in other communities and adapting it for Central Florida.
- Orlando’s Hackerspace, FamiLAB (Family + LAB), has a 4k sq. ft. space in Longwood where they learn and build. Their educational program includes monthly classes for children and adults on topics from soldering to sewing, and FamiLAB hosts a Young Makers program which helps middle-school and high-school students design and build projects for their Science Fair or the Orlando Mini Maker Faire.
- A group of community volunteers are produced the first Orlando “Mini” Maker Faire in May 2012. This 2500 attendee event was a huge success, featuring over 100 maker (and group) exhibits.
- This list is by no means inclusive – there are many groups in Orlando and Central Florida that embrace and extend the Maker culture. As Orlando Mini Maker Faire 2012 starts recruiting Makers and Maker groups, we will have significantly more visibility into the extent of the Maker culture in Central Florida.
Noteworthy Articles (not linked in the above text):
- New Models for Education: Maker Faire and the Young Makers Program (Edutopia, 5/2011)
- “We imagine schools can become places where students learn to identify their own challenges, solve new problems, motivate themselves to complete a project, work together, inspire others, and give advice and guidance to others. That’s what we see happening already in the Maker community. And increasingly we recognize there is a real hunger for the resources and infrastructure for kids and adults to be spending more time making, too. We’re working to support that.”
- The Kitchen Table Industrialists (New York Times, 5/2011)
- “Within this group is a quixotic band of soldering, laser-cutting, software-programming types who, defying all economic logic, contend that they can reverse America’s manufacturing slump. America will make things again, they say, because Americans will make things — not just in factories but also in their own homes, and not because it’s artisanal or faddish but because it’s easier, better for the environment and more fun.”
- Tinkering with technology education (O’Reilly radar, 6/2011)
- “The maker movement is powerful on many levels. As with any important meme, it has powerful side effects, in this case as a welcoming culture and appealing invitation to technology for a broad audience that includes both women and men, seniors and kindergartners, technologists and artists. In the end, perhaps the most meaningful thing created by the maker movement will, indeed, turn out to be the new makers who find the tools, culture, and inspiration to create in new ways within its community.”
- All-Star Lineup Invests ($10M) in MakerBot (MakerBot Industries Blog, 8/2011)
- The underground venture capital economy (The Washington Post, 9/2011)
- “On do-it-yourself crowd-funding sites likeKickstarter, significant amounts of capital are starting to flow to a group of ingenious projects that bridge the gap between the creative arts and cutting-edge technology — a sweet spot that’s pure money. In some cases, entrepreneurs are raising $100K or $200K at a time — even when they ask for only a fraction of that. In the post-downgrade economy, these instances are proof that a solid business plan, a way to reward passionate supporters and a little DIY mojo goes a long way.”
- Do It Yourself: Creating a Producer Economy (Progressive Policy Institute, 9/2011)
- “The future being created right now at Maker Faire, in TechShop, and at Startup Weekends is the leading frontier of our next era of economic prosperity.”
- 3-D Printing Is Spurring a Manufacturing Revolution (New York Times, 9/2011)
- “These days it is giving rise to a string of never-before-possible businesses that are selling iPhone cases, lamps, doorknobs, jewelry, handbags, perfume bottles, clothing and architectural models. And while some wonder how successfully the technology will make the transition from manufacturing applications to producing consumer goods, its use is exploding.”
- “There is nothing to be gained by going overseas except for higher shipping charges”
- A Machine That Gives Shape to Your Ideas (New York Times, 9/2011)
- “The MakerBot 3-D printer offers the possibility of manufacturing products in the home almost as easily as printing a document with an inkjet printer. “
- What Barack Obama Could Learn from Maker Faire (Huffington Post, 9/2011)
- “The one thing that is clear the moment you arrive at the Maker Faire is that the term ‘geek’ has gone mainstream. The sprawling campus of booths, tenys, performances, and technology has its share of edgy Brooklyn-based performance artists. But the crowd was largely kids, families, and inventors – what Make Magazine calls “Makers.”
- Clearly none of these Makers want to be pouring cement, or building cars. Rather, they want to be using a soldering iron, or a computer keyboard to invent new ways to live, play, and manage a sustainable lifestyle.”
- A Robot in Every Home? We’re getting close (Scientific American, 9/2011)
- “Bill Gates believed that the robotic revolution—culminating in consumer-centric robot products—was well within reach and could happen fairly quickly if the right community could be mobilized.What community? The hobbyists. The enthusiasts. The tinkerers. The makers.Gates saw parallels between the computer industry in the 1970s and the then nascent robotic industry, which just a few years ago was characterized by high operating costs, extremely specialized and proprietary development, and painfully slow progress. Establishing development standards and inviting the creativity of the interested community helped propel computing forward, and its growth continues at a staggering pace.”
- New York Maker Faire Showcases a New Generation of Inventors (ABC News, 9/2011)
- “Do-it-yourself people have the ability, now more than ever, to make their projects go from a mere idea to a reality,” said Altman. “Regardless of what you love doing, you can find creative ways of starting a business with that, and hopefully make a living with that, and then hire people in your community that will help create localized economy that grows.”
- The Most Important Economic Trend Is The (Re)emergence Of The Entrepreneurial Small Business (1/2012)
- “Materials Creation: We’re at the cusp of affordable 3D printing technology. As that comes online and becomes economical at an individual consumer level, we’ll see more and more new small businesses being created on top of the platform of 3D printing.”
- Making Jobs (3/2013)
- “What I find so compelling about makers is quite simply that they love what they are doing, whether they consider their work a hobby or a job. For many, what they do on their own time relates to what they do at work, although they have greater freedom when working on their own. My own belief is that makers are harbingers for the future of work.”