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Arduino Not Maker Movement
There seems to be a bit of confusion lately about the Maker Movement. As with reporting on any popular phenomena (like pop stars or smart phones), once there’s been coverage of the next big thing, the media inevitably moves on to covering how the next big thing is already doomed to die. And even while our own Maker Faire Bay Area recently enjoyed yet another blockbuster year, and crowdfunded endeavors by aspiring innovators continue to break records, we start to see headlines like this:

How big can the DIY and maker movement get? SparkFun wants to know

To be fair, the piece doesn’t make any predictions of doom-and-gloom. Rather, it contrasts the perceived popularity of the Maker Movement right now with the fact that one company, Sparkfun, which makes and sells breakout boards and electronic kits, saw only 9% growth last year after previous years of significant double-digit growth. I’d suggest that it’s unreasonable to try to find a trend in one data point from one still robustly-healthy company (let’s not fall into the trap of assuming anomalous short-term growth is realistically sustainable – I’m looking at you, Apple stock speculators) in one still wide-open and still-growing product category (1 million Raspberry Pis sold, Arduino kits showing up in RadioShack stores around the country, and other companies in the space – like Adafruit Industries – tripling year-over-year). And then it ends with this: “The big question is whether DIY becomes next decade’s yoga or instead is more like home brewing.”

Huh? What do individual pastimes like yoga and homebrewing have to with a movement?

And hence, the confusion, and the need to clear a few things up.

First, what do we mean by the DIY and Maker Movements? We think of movements as the organized action of a group of people following a common ideological or cultural path. The DIY and Maker Movements certainly fit that description. They are filled with people who want to figure out how to make or do stuff on their own, rather than purchasing pre-packaged goods or services. Are the two movements different things? I don’t think so. I think they’re two circles on a Venn diagram that overlap almost completely. Perhaps there’s a bit more art and design in the Maker Movement circle (what we might call the “Burning Man Influence”), and a bit more changing-your-car’s-oil-in-the-driveway in the DIY circle, but otherwise the passions for creating, building, and sharing are the same. The funny thing is that people have been doing this forever, but now it’s a movement. Why is that?

The answer is simple: the Internet. As the Internet has become more and more deeply embedded in our society, the ability for people with specific hobbies to connect with others who share their passions for DIY electronics, or felting Doctor Who characters, or building fire-breathing sculptures, has become easier and easier. Passionate makers find other passionate makers, they share, collaborate, create, and thrive. They come together in online and realspace communities, and big events, and show off what they’re doing. They realize there are enough people like them or enough people who like what they’re doing that perhaps they can build a small business around it, and they run crowdfunding campaigns. They succeed, and provide a model for the next maker to try something else. They show each other a path to tread.

This is about passionate hobbyists and artists, grass-roots innovators and what we used to call “mom and pop” businesses, all following a path of learning, creation, and sharing. Together they’re a movement. And a movement is not a fad.

Therein perhaps lies the problem with the GigaOm article. It confuses what it sees as a fad – the current heat around DIY electronics platforms like Arduino and Raspberry Pi – with the Maker Movement overall. Certainly, the DIY electronics fad could hit a plateau, but there is currently no evidence this is anywhere in the offing. Each generation of these products makes the barriers to entry lower and lower. The community of shared knowledge and tutoring only grows, allowing more people into the fold, even while the tools become more sophisticated and allow people to do more. The current generation of products may mature, but there’s still huge room for innovation and finding new fans and new markets in the space. There is a path.

But, to reiterate, DIY electronic platforms like Arduino and Raspberry Pi are not the Maker Movement. They’re a small (but passionate) subset of it, yes, but not the whole, just as yoga is not all exercise. They are however the perfect example of hobbies that followed a path into ongoing popularity not unlike what many Maker hobbies have done. Our own Dale Dougherty recently described how the growth of the popularity of marathoning has followed a typically Maker path: as more people interested in the activity found each other, the more outlets for participation grew; the community was open and inclusive; people were happy to share knowledge and help each other improve. There are thousands of hobbies that fit under the Maker umbrella, and each one is a potential yoga, a potential marathon, if they follow the Maker path, join the Maker Movement.

There will always be fads, some of which are hot for a while, and then die; some of which grow, and then find  an ongoing maturity; and some of which take hold and become rooted in our culture. But the Maker Movement has arisen to give voice and encouragement to all of them; to give their participants a sense of belonging to a larger spirit of building and sharing the things they’re passionate about, and expressing themselves through the things they create.

That’s not a fad that will fade away; that’s a path for a fulfilling life.

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Comments

  1. Jon says:

    I agree in the broader sense, the internet and renewed sense of entrepreneurship are here to stay. But i think the article confuses “new to me” with “new in general.” There seems to be this grand sense of “presentism” to the maker movement. Like plugging in an arduino and making an LED blink puts you at the forefront of the coming age of advancement. But in truth the electronics industry is just the most recent domino to fall in a long line of industries that were once very expensive and difficult to break into and now have a growing hobby market.

    The risk here is that availability will do to the electronics industry what it has done to music. The music industry lost all barriers to entry and as a result any filters of quality. There are now so many artists producing so much music( so much of it is bad) that we have run directly from the grasp of ranking charts like billboard into a new generation of content providers that are just as tyrannical if not more than the previous.

    Music industry rant aside, it is worrisome that 90% of the raspi projects online amount to making a cute case for it, or doing something on it that could have been done on a platform with half the power. And that most arduino projects encourage mimicry and plug and play engineering and are devoid of any attempt to develop genuine understanding.

    I believe that arduino is still a great learning platform, and i still see the potential of raspi, but i see the pitfalls as well. Electronics is a necessarily difficult field, and mastery of it requires a good mix of mathematical and artistic ability, and the maker movement is fast becoming the YMCA sports team of its age. Everyone’s a winner, everyone can play, no one gets any better..

    1. BMT says:

      I would venture even further and say that the history of this movement is actually quite old – Popular Mechanics and Popular Science are over 100 years into being live print magazines (though both are less emphasizing projects these days, it’s a significant chunk of their archive content). I come from a family of architects, engineers and carpenters, and I can emphatically state that electronic building hobbyists are not a new thing, nor is the access to current tech new, but that what we are seeing is a renaissance of interest and availability of access to current tech in hobbyist materials. I remember that in the 1970s and 1980s build-your-own computers were the focus (and gave us Apple, for one thing, and later on actual kits), while later there was a kind of drought of interest combined with a significant lag in hobbyist materials behind tech advances, things have again waxed in both faces (interest and access).

      1. Logotrope says:

        Totally agree! The maker movement is older than the Maker Movement.

        1. Ken Denmead says:

          Totally true. There have always been pasionate hobbyists, who would come together physically, or in publications. I just think we’re seeing an explosion of interest and sharing because of the Internet, and a general desire by a subset of society not to forget how to do things ourselves when there’s so much being packaged for our convienience. MAKE has certainly helped put a name and voice to the movement, but it’s all about the people.

      2. Nick says:

        Yes, for at least 100 years if not 150+. As long as the concept of the amateur or hobbyist has existed. I was a maker before Make:, brought by Home Shop Machinist, Lindsay’s books, and even the Whole Earth Catalog . It was the advent of Usenet that really spurred the growth of hobbies as it was the first time that a bunch of lunatics working on projects in their basements and garages could communicate.

    2. Justen says:

      You don’t necessarily look for mastery when you’re involved in a hobby. If I wanted to master electronic engineering, I would have sought a complete education and career in the subject. I did not. I’m not trying to make the next iPhone (or your mass-market electronic gadget of choice). I don’t need that level of skill or depth of understanding. I just want to build toy robots and automate a few things around my house and garden. Mastery is beside the point.

    3. Trav says:

      Jon, I’d have to disagree with you on a couple points. Not to start a flame, but just a different perspective. I don’t believe any music is “bad”. If at least one other person besides the artist likes it, than it has served its purpose. I may not enjoy country, but I don’t say country “sucks”, because to do that would just be to insult somebody else’s taste. I believe we each have the right to our own tastes in art, whether it be music, food, or projects we make. It may not be your preference, but it doesn’t make it bad.

      I agree that the music industry as well as other hobbies has reduced the barriers to entry, which has done away with a lot of the filters. But to me this is a good thing. I can be my own filter and enjoy things that may not have been so mainstream.

      I also have an issue about your last paragraph. It would seem that you are saying that people should not do something just to enjoy doing it or to get their feet wet. But only if they are going to learn the basics. At what point does this need to stop? Can I just fiddle with a platform or do I need the the basics of the OS and hardware too? Why stop there, why not learn the electronic theory and physics behind it as well? There would be a lot of people who wouldn’t run a computer if they had to know the basics behind the OS, but yet the computer itself serves them well. It does exactly what they need it to. Others delve in deeper when they need more out of it.

      I agree whole heartedly with Ken on the Internet being a reason for the maker boom. Before it would take a trip to the library to find a resource. Which was great if they had what you were interested it. Bad if they only have limited info. or was filtered by a publisher on what was worthy to be printed. Yesterday I spent 3 hours on the Internet reading and looking at info on Sterling Engines. Ten years ago I would have had a hard time getting more than a paragraph about the subject.

      1. Jon says:

        Not trying to argue, i just enjoy informed discussion (lord knows its not something i get at work)

        Bad music wasn’t my original point, it sort of got shoehorned in because i worked in the industry for a long time and its a huge part or my worldview. And i agree that if it accomplishes what the artist intended for it (many of my songs i make for the joy of making them alone) then it was a successful endeavor. But when it comes down to professional artists trying to make music for a living, it is borderline impossible these days to get noticed because there is so much music and everyone is giving it away. What started out as this great burst of freedom quickly turned songs from works of art into a commodity where each song is freely exchangeable for any other. This is not to say that there aren’t amazing artists making great albums, but that the noise of talent-less hacks (a term i use to describe someone who has contempt for their audience) trying to make a quick buck off a fad drowns them out. People like you and I may go out and wade through the tides to find great music, but many people don’t have time. So by dismantling review services that at least pretended to assess quality we have forced the majority of consumers to itunes-top-seller lists and twitter trends which just lets them know which music is most common, not what is best.

        And i agree that most people don’t need to know the nitty gritty, at the end of the day sometimes i just want my k-cup coffee machine to refill its own water and i reach for an arduino to do it — not a bare micro controller. My comment was that we are producing a lot of content on how to use these tools, and that’s great but we need content on how these tools work at a fundamental level. It shouldn’t be the first or even 20th thing you study, but it should be there. I feel like the maker movement started with people who wanted to know more and do it themselves and take it apart and figure out how it worked. And it is quickly becoming filled with people who just want to copy .pde files off bildr, buy some things of sparkfun and call it a day. These are great starting points (i started with similar goals), but they should by no means considered a desirable end state for anyone who loves knowledge.

  2. Lindsay L says:

    As Director of Education at SparkFun, I’d also like to say that we don’t see the natural decrease in our growth percentage as any indication that the DIY/Maker community is a fad. We don’t share the author’s interpretation. We are incredibly proud of the community’s success and feel like this is just the beginning. Compared to our early years there are now many more resources available for this market, and we are lucky that the DIY/Maker community can support all of us. We’re quite optimistic about what the future holds for this movement!

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      Exactly so, Lindsay, as are we (optimistic, that is)! Precisely why we felt we needed to respond to the GigaOm piece. We love SparkFun, and know things are really only just hitting their stride.

    2. JennaSys says:

      I have to give full credit to the SparkFun “Beginning Embedded Electronics” tutorials for bringing my interest in electronics back up from the fog of my childhood, and for opening up the entire world of microcontroller development to me. A sincere heartfelt “thank you” goes out to you guys for putting information like that out there. Not only does it help drive the economics of businesses catering to the maker demographic including your own, but it gives makers like myself the inspiration we crave to create our next wonderful thing!

  3. Louis Leblnc says:

    Sure the maker movement is here to stay. I think a lot of people have stopped thinking that buying a ready made product is the only way to get something done and a lot of people are getting enjoyment and are learning things from making things. However, I think the movement is changing, which is inevitable and ultimately a good thing. On one hand we’re seeing more complex and polished project (heck I’d even call some of them product even though they’re DIY) and on the other we’re seeing a bit more projects were people are following exact instructions (instructables style).

    But what I feel is that the movement is kind of lacking the inspiring naivety of the “Hey I tried building this over the week end. Here’s what worked, here’s what didn’t.” That’s what got me into the movement back in 2006-2007 (Bre Petis’ week-end project videos being a staple of this). I remember the Makezine blog being the hub of all these cool projects that people were building, some was built on other people’s work but a lot of it was very creative. I remember the 15 y/o me discussing these things with some of my friends over lunch and we couldn’t wait for school to be over to go build something we had planned out.

    Maybe it’s just me that’s becoming jaded as I don’t have as much time to put into making things as I’d like to (engineering school does that, gotta thank Make for putting me there though haha) and I haven’t finished a useful project in quite a while. Though I’m done now and I have a bunch of projects I’d like to work on during the summer that I’ll hopefully document and share with you guys :) (hopefully a series dedicated to Tyvek).

    Anyway… if there’s anything that I’d like to come out of this post is that the movement is kind of a lacking a central hub that the Make: Blog once was in my mind (more content and please fix the site layout, full page images were nice). I guess it’s reasonable to expect, as the movement grow, people’s hobby seem to be getting narrowly focused.

    1. Ken Denmead says:

      Honestly, Louis, the explosion of the movement caught us a bit off-guard as well. We’re still trying to catch up with growth and change. Totally planning on some updates to the site, to improve layout and navigation. I think a lot of what you’re missing is still there, just not easily findable.

  4. bertoaussems says:

    How big the maker movement can get depends on expectations out of an US point of view. Here in Europe you can hardly speak of a movement. We know the hobbyclub boom of the fifties, last century. Later on we got the computer clubs, the hackerspaces and FabLabs. It are marginal activities not affecting mainstream as it seemingly does in the US. There are some big players in the field of electronic parts and kits, most established in Germany. Also Sparkfun and Adafruit are known by ‘insiders’. Shared hobby’s as the basis for an international movement is hard because of different languages. Even, english as common second language doesn’t change that much. Europe has it’s own dynamics in following US trends. What works in the US is not a priori a furmula for the rest of the world.

  5. Strawman says:

    Stawman

    1. Strawman says:

      No, straw-man.

  6. Whilst the maker movement will never go away as long as there are humans, there has been a noticeable reduction in the number of posts on sites such as this one. A year or so ago, I would have to log on every couple of hours to keep up with the number of posts coming in, now it’s every day or so! It seems to have hit the, roughly, five year life of an idea on the internet.

  7. We are a family of makers, generation to generation.
    It’s no fad. DIY and making are curiosity, play, imagination, wonder, challenge,
    tinkering, and why should that ever end?

  8. Shamyl BM says:

    Making or fixing something on your own gives a great sense of achievement as well! Recently my father fixed the catalytic converter of his car and saved about $700 and since we are in Pakistan the import would have cost even more! He fabricated a brush to clean the filter and used a blower from the exhaust! The car was as good as new! Go DIY movement!

  9. Interesting post! I believe the DIY/Making dynamic has always existed in humankind, it just transforms with time as mass technology/manufacturer competencies overwhelm what a DIY’er is able to do competently and competitively … forcing the “DIY movement” to shift to new grass-roots areas of creativity/competency. Continuous cycle. It’s all about adaptation. DIY frontiers are always closing and opening up for the individual.

    10,000 years ago, I might have been able to fashion my own sharp spear to bring home dinner reliably (but starving to death by age 16 when I needed eyeglasses!). I can’t compete with Kroger in that field these days. I might have been able to fashion a nice DIY bull horn to communicate to friendly tribes about approaching enemies. But today, I can’t launch satellites, rockets, jets and drones on my own, so forget it. So for my livelihood, I either join the mass manufacturer and create on a large scale, or look for the under-served DIY niche. I did the former for 3 decades at the world’s largest consumer product company, and now doing the latter on helping anyone learn musicianship (& musical therapy outreach) vs. the industry’s primary focus on “selling instruments” … for now.

  10. Josh says:

    I don’t know, the hobbyists have never left. Recently though you have had the hipsterish come along, like Make. The hobbyists will stay around; Make, I’m not so sure about.

  11. klcmaker says:

    Reblogged this on NoCo Mini Maker Faire and commented:
    MAKE Blog article featuring Colorado’s own and NoCo Maker Faire sponsor SparkFun!

  12. Reblogged this on Andrea Black and commented:
    YES! I’M A MAKER! :D