I’d like to welcome Rafe Needleman as our new Editor-in-Chief at Make:. We have not had an editor-in-chief for some time — the wonderful Mark Frauenfelder of BoingBoing was the first and founding editor-in-chief. After eleven years, we’re looking for new leadership as the magazine, our websites and our events continue to respond to the growth of the Maker Movement.
I asked Rafe a few questions so that he can talk about his experience and share his own insights with makers. — Dale
Rafe, you have had a long editorial career that spans BYTE Magazine (one of my own favorites) to CNET and most recently Yahoo Tech. What is it about the role of technology and the people behind it that you find so fascinating?
I got into tech journalism because it blended my two passions: nerding out on tech, and writing. Before my first editorial job (at InfoWorld), I was a computer repair guy, then a database programmer, then an IT dude. All self-taught, of course. But as much as I found working with technology fun, what really got me going was seeing what all this rapidly-evolving technology was doing to us as people, and to our society. So tech journalism for me has always been about people and tools, and the co-evolution of humanity and technology.
And I dig getting hands-on, usually before the technology is ready to do what I want. I taught myself electronics and a modicum of plastic forming skills so I could make an LED sound-and-light ray-gun when I was a kid. I made my own nearly-real-time space battle game on a text terminal on my high school’s timeshare computer. I even wrote an email app for a computer store where I was working, back when the computers had to be connected by ribbon cable and couldn’t be more than 10 feet apart or the signal would degrade.
I was partly self-taught, but never alone. There were always people to help me along and share. I learned vacuum forming at the Randall Museum in San Francisco. I took a BASIC programming course at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley. In most of my experiences learning new skills, the people teaching were just as excited about the possibilities as their students. That really makes a kid want to give back. This job is the best chance I’ve ever had to do it.
What excites you about the Maker Movement?
Definitely the people. The raw enthusiasm of everyone who is making or hacking technology to do what they want. Their unsuppressable drive to always do more, and to do it their way.
I also believe that the Maker Movement is a cultural reaction to the growth of amazingly capable but opaque technology products, and to some extent how governments use technology as a layer between the people and their officials. The maker movement is a re-claiming of technology for individuals and their tribes.
If you were to ask me, I’d say what excites me is the people — the Makers and the Maker community. I want more people to know about what Makers do, how they do it, and the impact that they are having. I like connecting Makers to each other. How will you participate in this community?
Make, Makezine, the Make books, Maker Faires, and the Maker Shed are all community resources. I will do whatever I can to bring ideas and people and resources together. Whether it’s making sure we have the best range of projects and tutorials, or getting unsung hero makers in front of an audience, or pushing to make sure educators have the best tools and training available to nurture the next generation of makers, I’ll either be there or be pushing projects that get us there. You’ll see me out in the field, talking with Makers in their shops and then writing about their experiences, or podcasting, or doing videos. I’ll be at events, learning and sharing. I’ll be using the reach of the Make: media products to be sure the most creative people and projects are exposed to those who could benefit the most from the knowledge.
In coming to lead our editorial team, what should we expect from you?
This is the job I’ve always wanted, even though I didn’t know it when I started in this career. So the first thing to expect is enthusiasm for the Make: media properties and for the Make: mission. I hope I can use all my experience and expertise to help the team cover what needs to be covered and build what needs to be built. I want to make sure we’re all part of the community, too: The Maker Movement isn’t happening in the Make: offices. It’s everywhere else.
You’ve had experience with magazines in print but clearly our future is connecting more and more to the maker community. Can you talk about your vision for what Make: can become?
Make is a community above all else, and a publication to support that. And while print is beautiful and tactile, only when it’s online can media can really connect people together, sometimes even in real-time. The opportunity is to serve the community of Makers, to let Makers’ enthusiasm affect our editorial work, so that we can give back even more than we take in.
My vision for Make: is to do what the makers need. If it’s more stories of a particular type, fine. A better Web site, fine. Stronger online community resources, sure. More integration between Maker Media’s various media properties and events, almost certainly. More physical events? Stronger partnerships with other makers communities? Other media properties like podcasts or videos? It’s all on the table. The last thing I’d want to do in the days before I officially start the job is to say, “this is my vision,” and expect that I’m right about any of it. Certainly, I have my own dreams for Make:, but so do our readers, and I want to hear from them and the current editorial staff before I say I know where Make: is going.