I interview Uana Coccoloni, Head of Marketing at Thingiverse and Andrew Pelkey, blogger of MakerBot. It’s important to recognize that MakerBot and Thingiverse are closely connected, but not one and the same. Thingiverse is a community for people who make things; on a MakerBot, on a laser cutter, in their workshop, whatever.
Me: What’s Thingiverse all about? What was the thought process behind creating Thingiverse?
Uana: Thingiverse is an online community where users can post digital design files, document designs, and collaborate on open source hardware. We actually started Thingiverse before we started MakerBot. It’s an awesome community of people who create, make, and share. Visiting Thingiverse is my favorite thing to do every day.
Me: Who should be getting excited about Thingiverse? What are the main benefits for users?
Everyone should be excited about Thingiverse! The main benefits are the ability to create, make, and share your design files.
Me: What’s a typical day like for you? What takes up most of your time?
Uana: There are no typical days here at MakerBot. Every day is an adventure and we’re having fun!
Me: What are some of the coolest, most innovative ‘Things’ and ‘Tools’ you’ve seen so far?
Uana: There are so many cool and innovative ‘Things’ on ‘Thingiverse’. Every day. I have a new favorite!
Me: Fast forward one year from now. What can users expect from Thingiverse moving forward?
They can expect to continue having the ability to upload their own designs, finding other people’s great designs, and collaboratively creating the ultimate shared library of everything!
Me: Can you walk me through, in some detail, how a typical person would use your site?
Andrew: There are two kinds of typical users. One is the person who has made something or designed something in a 3D modeling program like Tinkercad/Maya/Blender/AutoCAD/Google SketchUp (anything!) and decided to share that design for free with the world. There are thousands of these people and they add more things every day. Our community has design files for over 20,000 things already.
The other typical user is the person who just wants to make something without having to do the design. I’ll be honest: that’s me on most days. Thingiverse was created so that everyone can benefit from everyone else. If the knob on your radio breaks and someone has already added a replacement part to Thingiverse, you just want to go online and download it quick.
Most users fit both of these profiles: some days making new things and sharing them, other days just making things that others have designed. We have a feature on Thingiverse called “I Made One!”, and we encourage people to take pictures of their own versions of someone else’s design. Because it’s all free and licensed, users have reign to tweak each thing in the Thingiverse. Mash it up with something else, change a few features, put their own initials on it. Whatever! If you build off of someone’s design, we call that a derivative.
Thingiverse is a pretty boundless community, and an incredibly active one. The users live all over the world, which means actual things are being shared around the world in real time. Not just pictures of things. If I make a piece of art or a light switch cover that I like and I share it on Thingiverse, someone in Latvia could make that same thing on their MakerBot just as soon as I have shared the file. For free. This isn’t hypothetical or futuristic, it’s happening now in huge numbers.
The other day I blogged about a Thingiverse user I met at Maker Faire in San Mateo. He had added a design for laser cutting a kind of Lego-compatible construction set. He had always made these out of wood, but within an hour two people had taken his design and made derivative 3D models.
When I met Jason at Maker Faire — he was just passing by our tent to say hi — he said he had never seen what his idea would look like from a MakerBot. I looked around at the dozen or so machines and told him “I think we can do something about that.”
This was a case of someone sharing an idea and having two total, unrelated strangers bring it into the real world through Thingiverse and MakerBot.
Me: How has social media influenced the creation of Thingiverse?
Andrew: Your question about social media is a good one. As far as influencing the creation of Thingiverse, I can say that our co-founder and CEO Bre Pettis was an established social media personality in the DIY space before starting Thingiverse. He started the Etsy blog and wrote and vlogged for Make Magazine, including the very successful Weekend Projects series. Bre has always been extremely passionate about not just connecting people but using that connection to empower each person to _do_ something or _make_ something. Thingiverse is the latest manifestation of that passion, which we at the company share wholeheartedly.
As far as social media enhancing Thingiverse as it exists now, I can tell you that it has it’s own twitter account that brings in a lot of eyes on new things as they’re created (many every day). We use our Facebook to spotlight cool things and that inspires people who aren’t members of Thingiverse to explore and start creating things themselves.
Me: Can you give me several examples of innovative Things you’ve seen on your site?
Andrew: I don’t know where to start in listing innovative things. The “Featured Things” tab is a great place to browse things that catch our eye here in the office. Things like a Replacement Car Window Crank, printable velcro, “paper folding” in plastic where you can add one animal print to the shape of another animal, an adapter for a tilt shift lens that costs $0.30 to make, a whole series of playset pieces to celebrate Mad Men, solder-free circuit boards, accessories from a famous fashion designer. That’s just going through a few pages of recent stuff. It continues to blow our minds day in and day out.
Andrew Pelkey is the full-time blogger for MakerBot. He used to write about online content — news about news — in Washington, DC, but now is thrilled to spend his days blogging about actual physical things that creative MakerBotters around the world are making. Follow him at the MakerBot blog, or on twitter @pelkertron.