The Maturing Maker Movement
Starting in the mid-2000’s, the Maker Movement swept across the globe powered by an onrush of new, cheaper, more useable hardware and software tools. Within the span of a few years, students, musicians, artists and designers flocked to a growing number of Maker Faires scattered across the world.
The hype around Makers was (and still is) extreme. Just as the Homebrew Computing Club helped launch the age of personal computing, it was reasoned that the Maker Movement would launch the “Next Big Thing” in the form of a raft of next-generation tech companies. Specifically, it was expected that Internet of Things companies (who produce value by linking and orchestrating devices) would rain from the sky as a result of the Maker Movement…but no one was quite sure how that would happen.
The good news is that the formation of a new class of startup is exactly what is happening. However the way it is happening differs from what many industry observers have anticipated. The initial emphasis on “The Internet of Things” has caused confusion as to the true heart of the economic engine which drives the Maker Movement – A segment of users I am going to describe as “The Inventors.” While the Internet of Things is of major importance, it is significantly less interesting to Inventors though they frequently are the ones who are actually implementing it.
Internet of Things-focused companies such as Electric Imp and Particle have certainly spawned from the Maker Movement, but only as a small sub-section. To understand what is really going on (and where extended economic opportunities lie for many tech companies), we need to look more closely at Inventors and try to understand their motivations.
Meet The Inventors
Makers tend to be artists, designers, students and musicians who have been enabled to build technical projects by advancements in user (or developer) experience. Inventors tend to be industry-quality professionals possessing pro-level skills in areas such as hardware, industrial design or software. Inventors use these pro-level skills to build products specifically for Makers. These inventions can encompass new musical instruments, 3D printers, home laser-cutters, drone prototyping platforms, paper craft, small programmable robots and more.
Their goal? Making technology accessible and useable to a broader range of creative people. Don’t look too closely for “adding internet to things” as a core motivator, it isn’t there.
As a result of their skills and motiviations, Inventors are the ones “laying down tracks” in front of the Maker Movement, helping to enable creative projects in new domains to a wider audience than ever before. If there is a complex technology which can remotely be used to make art or music, Inventors strive to make it more useable, widely available and cheaper. If Makers are musicians, Inventors are the ones building new drum machines and synthesizers to help Makers practice their art.
Adding internet to things is often a byproduct, but not the focus, of these Inventors and it is a mistake to talk to them as though it were.
Inventors Don’t Really Care About The Internet Of Things
Inventor’s motivation is not to connect things to the cloud or make more things smart – This can be an area of confusion for industry observers. The motivations of Inventors are much more fundamental and human than making money or lowering cost – Inventors seek to educate and empower Maker creativity.
Many of the Inventors I have met could walk into Google and get hired on the spot as Sr. Engineers (or better) but they never will – they are too engrossed in their mission of making the world of technology more useable to stop what they are doing.
Chances are, if you start talking with an Inventor about “The Internet of Things,” they will become bored and wander off mid-sentence. However, this is exactly the language which is too often used to attempt to entice Inventors to use a variety of embedded systems and other professional tools and hardware gadgets.
Marketing To Inventors
If you are going to market technology to Inventors, it is important talk about the opportunity to make technology more accessible to more people. Tell stories about what can be done with your technology by Makers, not how it can save cost. If internet connectivity helps Inventors to serve the Maker Movement, they will add it – otherwise connectivity for it’s own sake is not their area of interest.
Examples Of Inventors
I can’t name them all, there are too many, but here are a few examples of the types of people I am talking about (pro-skilled developers targeting Makers as a group):
- How they enable Makers: Dronesmith Luci lets developers build their own drone solutions.
- Rick Waldron, Bocoup & Johnny-Five
- How they enable Makers: Builds the Johnny-Five JS library to allow web developers to create robots
- DF Robot, Seeed Studio, Adafruit, SparkFun, Tektye, Pololu, RobotShop
- How they enable Makers: Create a huge variety of robotics platforms, hobby boards, sensors to make it easy to build hardware projects
- The Hybrid Group
- How they enable Makers: Product Cylon, Artoo, Gobot to let developers program hardware with the language of their choice
- OSH Park, Upverter, CircuitHub
- How they enable Makers: Allow rapid prototyping and turn around of custom hardware components
- DJ Hardrich, DJ Qbert, DJ Yoga Frog and the Thud Rumble crew
- How they enable Makers: Produce custom music equipment for DJs and other electronics musicians
- How they enable Makers: Provide various products and hobby boards which can be used either to prototype or to go to market. This is one company that does span into the Internet of Things quite directly.
- How they enable Makers: Provide a much cheaper at-home laser cutter machine which can be used by any maker for $2,000
I hope this has helped clarified how and where Makers and the Internet of Things intersect and the fundamental motivations of the players involved. Inventors are an extremely important class of Maker and require a different approach than what is often being used. In short: There is more to the future than the Internet of Things!