I have been reading up lately on the maker movement. This has been a recognized movement for at least two to three years, so I am late to the game but I am trying to understand the motivation behind it. Why now? What is driving us to want to make? Is this really something new or did we just give it a new label?
The maker movement is generally defined as a trend in which individuals or groups of individuals create and market products that they invented. This could take the form of electronics, clothing, food, or just about anything else. What is new and different about this trend is that people are pooling their resources, skills, and knowledge to create something new. The resulting products do not have large venture capital backing but are businesses growing from the ground up. Sometimes they use kickstarter funding which is a confluence of individuals making and individuals willing to invest in a new idea or product. People have found the tools and resources necessary to bring their idea to light (and the market) through maker spaces, also called hacker spaces, and through maker faires.
A maker space or hacker space is a collective place where people can use tools and tap into knowledge that they would not necessarily have access to. These can be a community space opened by an individual or they can show up in libraries and even museums. Some of these spaces have tools as elaborate as 3D printers and laser cutters. Some have circuitry, soldering irons, and instructions to develop skills. In other words, you bring the idea and skilled individuals are often available to teach you how to turn the idea into a marketable product. Large corporations such as General Electric (GE) are even getting in on the trend with GE Garages. They make available tools that would normally be out of the price range of individuals. I assume that there is some sharing of intellectual property in return for providing tools and expertise.
A Maker Faire is a planned event that draws people to share their ideas and show off products that they have made. In the United States, there are large faires in the Bay Area, Kansas City, New York City, and Detroit. Internationally, there are maker faires in London, Paris, and other cities. There are also several smaller local faires that bring people together to collaborate and to exhibit crafted products.
With all of these products being made, there needs to be a marketplace to share and sell the goods. Etsy was one of the first to step up to fill the bill. This is basically an electronic Saturday market where makers get their own store to sell their goods. Their motto is “shop directly from people around the world”. The whole infrastructure is available to makers from tools and expertise to marketplaces. The maker needs to bring an idea and a desire to make something worthwhile.
As I first jumped into this, I thought that maybe this trend was a backlash at the isolation that is sometimes felt by pushing ones and zeros through the ether all day long. However, I think it is more than that. I think this is really a confluence of an innate need to make things combined with a need for the advanced tools and infrastructure and skills available to turn ideas into reality. People are relying on each other more and reaching out to help others. I believe that there is a need to own and use unique products that are made by individuals with a dream and a plan. This is one way that we are trying to connect again with ourselves and with each other. Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.