With a URL to die for, the recently-launched diy.org attracted some 3,000 kids in its first week and a half online, including youngsters from Asia, Europe, and South America. Using their parent’s email address to register, any kid can upload digital photos of their handiwork to the site and share the URL of their page with whomever they like.
Isaiah Saxon, chief creative officer of the DIY Co., the business that owns the site, said the first few thousand projects posted on it include “everything from birdhouses to bows & arrows to block forts to amazing paintings to bike jumps.”
Working out of a former laundromat in San Francisco’s Mission district, the headquarters has three long tables made from slabs of Douglas fir on metal frames welded by chief technical officer Andrew Sliwinski, a co-founder of the hackerspace Omni Corp Detroit. The headquarters also has a makerspace for its maker-in-chief, who is identified on the site only as Shawn. The diy.org staff of 10 uses an old closet that has been transformed into a treehouse-like conference room for meetings. The “treehouse” was built by Rob Wilson, a Bay Area web wiz who lives in a treehouse that is 24 feet off the ground when he visits Trout Gulch, a homestead devoted to the DIY ethic outside Santa Cruz, California.
In addition to Saxon and Sliwinski, the other co-founders of diy.org are Daren Rabenovitch, a partner of Saxon’s in the digital animation company Encyclopedia Pictura, and Zach Klein, the founder of Vimeo. Klein is the CEO of the new company, which, despite its .org domain name, is a for-profit enterprise.
“Our goal is to create a youth organization and not a profiteering company,” Saxon stresses. “But we feel that the most sustainable way to build something that reaches a lot of people, is to do it as a business and not be limited by donations and the structure of a non-profit.”
The website intends to roll out some sort of premium service in the near future that will require a modest monthly subscription. Saxon says diy.org won’t have advertising, nor will it be collecting or selling data on its members.
Kids can upload pictures of their projects through the site or an app that works on later model iOS devices. After registering with the site and having mom or dad respond to an email giving permission, young makers are advised that the “bad things to share” are “your cat, your face, stuff you didn’t make.” They can make up their own nickname or click on a nickname generator to create one for them. Kids also need to select an animal avatar to represent themselves online. They can be a raccoon, fox, bear, bison, hawk, salamander, sparrow, moose, bobcat, coyote, owl, or turtle. The avatars are all characters in an animated film with a DIY theme that Saxon and his Encyclopedia Pictura brethren have in development.
At the moment the only form of feedback for kids who display their projects on the site are four virtual stickers, all of which express something positive. But eventually, there will be a text-based comment system between family and kids.
“What we don’t want to do is expose kids to the Internet culture of snarky feedback,” explains Saxon. “We don’t want this to be a YouTube-type community where people are posting their hopes and dreams to the Internet and other people are shooting them down. We want to create a respectful community that encourages kids.”
When Saxon said diy.org primarily thinks of itself as a youth organization, I asked him if that might include the possibility of kids who like to make stuff meeting up in person. He replied: “Eventually it’s logical that people will want to meet other makers in their area. We know that if we succeed on other fronts that people will want to gather. And we will be a platform to help that happen.”