Why we spun out Maker Media

The Maker movement, like all enthusiast movements, is a harbinger of deeper change.

Today, O’Reilly Media announced that we have spun out Maker Media into a separate company. I want to give a bit of background on why we did this, and what we think the opportunity is for the new Maker Media company.

The arc from enthusiast to entrepreneur

Many of the most interesting technologies of the next decade will involve innovations in hardware, not just software. The Maker movement, like all enthusiast movements, is a harbinger of deeper change.

What Dale Dougherty first recognized in 2005 when he published Make: Magazine and began Maker Faire was that there was a new upwelling of interest in making things, embracing everything from new technologies like 3D printing and other forms of advanced manufacturing, robotics, sensor platforms, to crafting and older hands-on technologies. The early projects in the magazine — aerial photography with kites, a programmable cat feeder made out of an old VCR, hacked robot dogs sniffing out environmental toxins — may have seemed trivial at the time, but they were a sign of things to come.

In 2005, Jeff Han’s work with multitouch interfaces was a maker project at NYU. In February 2006, when he demoed his work at TED, it was a WOW moment. A year and a half later, with the release of the iPhone, the multitouch screen was the foundation of a transformative consumer product.

Multitouch was just the beginning. Smart phones are sensor platforms: GPS, compass, accelerometer, camera, microphone, and dozens more specialized sensors create new possibilities for application design that are only now being exploited more fully. Applications like Square Wallet and Uber are only possible because of these platforms.

The problem is that, as has often been said about AI as well, as soon as something crosses over into the consumer realm, it’s no longer seen as “makerish.” When Nike is selling quantified self devices, when your bathroom scale tweets your weight, it’s hard to see this as part of the Maker movement. Yet thinking about how much further we have to go in applying sensors to transform applications and business processes will help you see important opportunities that you might otherwise miss.

A sensor and control platform like Arduino still seems to belong to the Maker universe, but an application that uses the consumer sensor platform of a smart phone does not. But this is the very heart of the distinction that will help you to see the future more clearly.

To understand the trend line of the Maker movement, ask yourself “What are makers playing with today that has already become mainstream? What other kinds of devices and business processes can be transformed by the additions of sensors? What are the opportunities here for startups?”

When you ask yourself these questions, and then look around, you will realize that the Maker movement is the next big thing.

As a result, we decided it was time to create Maker Media as a standalone vehicle to ride this new wave of innovation. Dale Dougherty, my partner from the early days of O’Reilly, and the creator of both Make magazine and Maker Faire, was the one who recognized this wave coming, and has nurtured it for the last seven years. Now, he has a platform to continue his work and take it to the next level.

Below, a few thoughts from Dale about the origins of Make, and where he wants to take Maker Media.

Making becomes popular

Thoughts from Dale Dougherty

I first mentioned the idea for MAKE Magazine to Tim in a cab in Portland. We were heading to the Open Source Conference and I had a few minutes to pitch him on a magazine that I said would be “Martha Stewart for Geeks.”  We had a good conversation, talking about how hackers were hacking the physical world, applying a mindset learned from developing software to customize, personalize and create physical environments. Tim’s encouragement was the initial step in developing what would become MAKE Magazine. I certainly had no idea that many years later we’d be talking about a global Maker movement. Indeed, what has happened is simultaneously that making and the geeks behind it have broken into the mainstream. Making is now popular.

From the beginning, I was fascinated by makers. I enjoyed meeting makers, getting to know their stories, and seeing firsthand the amazing projects they were doing. I realized that makers would enjoy meeting each other and talking about their projects, sharing the kinds of details that they were able to share with me. That was the inspiration for Maker Faire, and I wondered at the time if other people would find makers as fascinating as I did. Maker Faire was really an experiment to find out. A team headed by Sherry Huss organized the first Maker Faire in the Bay Area, and we chose to hold it at a fairgrounds/expo center. We wanted Maker Faire to be fun and we wanted families to come. We re-invented the fair. In 2012, there were over 60 Maker Faires around the world, most of them organized by community-minded individuals who wanted to support and promote making in their city or region.

While MAKE started out with geek hobbyists, the audience now includes families who look for fun, educational projects to do together. It also includes makers who are developing new products and services for other makers and other audiences. It includes professional engineers and industrial designers. Makers have become entrepreneurs, sometimes accidentally, by discovering there’s a market for what they do. They build components and kits, and we sell them in Maker Shed, and many other places. They create tools such as 3D printers and CNC machines and microcontrollers. Makers have created a new market ecosystem.

MIT economist Michael Schrage, who wrote an article for MAKE’s Kits issue on kits as an engine of innovation, has a new book called Who Do You Want Your Customers To Become?*  He writes that the best innovation transforms your customers. It engages them in “reimagining, redefining, and redesigning” their future. The mission of Maker Media is to help more people become makers, and participate broadly in making a better future for themselves, their families and their communities.

I’m excited by the opportunity for Maker Media and its team. I’m grateful to Tim, Laura Baldwin, my colleagues at O’Reilly and the extended O’Reilly community for supporting the growth of MAKE. I look forward to developing this new edition of MAKE, and expanding the reach of MAKE as a global brand that brings makers together.

* (Schrage, Michael (2012-07-17). Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become? (Kindle Location 57). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.)

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