Thoughts on the 7th Annual Maker Faire

Thoughts on the 7th Annual Maker Faire

Another Faire has come and gone, leaving thousands of people hyper-inspired and super tired. I no longer have a voice, but I’m sure it’ll be arriving any moment now at my front door, like a piece of hand-delivered lost luggage.

I’ve been to every Maker Faire Bay Area from the second one (and both World Maker Faires in NY). Every Faire seems “special,” but this year’s was special in some unique ways to me. I could feel something stirring, amongst the 3D-printed tchotchke and ‘Duino blinky-things. The maker movement keeps growing, expanding into new corners of society, and in many ways, this year felt like a true rite of passage, a Débutante ball or Bar Mitzvah for makers. Here are some of my notes and takeaways from the weekend, with emphasis on those areas of expansion:

* From makers of things to makers of tools and hardware for making things – Those who’ve been involved in making for awhile now are starting to focus their attention on passing on what they’ve learned, creating new tools and hardware that bring making to more people; they’re interested in “going pro.” Tuesday and Wednesday’s truly inspiring Hardware Innovation Workshop featured dozens of makers who’ve become maker pros and are doing well at it.
* Pros are understanding the R&D value of the maker movement and maker tools – One of the goals of the Hardware Innovation Workshop was to introduce mainstream tech companies to the innovations of makers and to show them how they too can use the tech being developed for more rapid R&D. The maker movement can, on a whole, be seen as one big and playful rogue R&D department. A stellar example of this is the development of game company Toys for Bob’s Skylanders title, which was very much inspired by maker tech (and used prototyping parts purchased from Adafruit!). Skylanders is now one of the best-selling video games in the world. (See some of my takeaway notes from the Hardware Innovation Workshop.)
* The distance between imagination and physical expression is getting shorter and ever-cheaper – Repeatedly, makers showing me their wares were excited to tell me how quickly they’d gone from having an idea to having a physical rendering of it. There really is a magical cocktail out there now of knowledge communities and resources that can teach you what you need to know, and then affordable, powerful, and accessible tools to render your ideas into atoms. Every year, the resistance between imagination and physical object gets lower.
* The four C’s of being a maker: Curiosity, Control, Confidence, Connoisseurship MAKE Editor-in-Chief Mark Frauenfelder shared a list of four hallmarks of making during one of his talks that I really liked. They are:

Curiosity — How do things work? How are they made? How can I learn the skills I need to make them?
Control — I want to have more control over my environment, the tech in my life. I want to be able to solve problems myself instead of always buying solutions.
Confidence — As I learn to make things, I develop a sense of self-efficacy. With every mistake, and every successful build, I become a better maker.
Connoisseurship — Making things myself has opened my eyes to the manufactured world around me. I appreciate things other people have made, and I am more observant of the designed and built world.

* The audience is starting to look like all of us – Several of us commented on the diversity of the audience this year. More and more, Maker Faire is starting to look like America — with people of all ages, all walks of life, all colors and cultures.
* Arduino and 3D printing won – The market penetration of Arduino is amazing. And 3D printers are not far behind. It seems as though every table at the Faire, if it displayed a tech project, involved an Ardunio microcontroller, and frequently, 3D printed components. (See our 3D printer census from the Faire and Shawn Wallace’s 3D Printer Trading Cards series.) It’s exciting to think of what the next big thing in maker tech might be.
* Kid makers are coming into their own – Increasing numbers of kids have discovered making in a major way and kid maker “stars” are breaking out. Super Awesome Sylvia, Joey Hudy, Schuyler St. Leger, Caine of Caine’s Arcade, the teens from Team Viper, and many others were out in force at this year’s Faire. And talking to these kids, you realize that they’re as smart and engaged as any adult maker. It’s staggering to think where they, and all of the maker kids they represent, will be in ten or twenty years.
* Moving beyond “Hello World” making – One of my obsessions these days is about us moving beyond “I can do it” making (aka the “Hello World,” blinky-light, 3D-printed whistle phase of making) to making for the day-to-day world. If the maker movement is more than a hobby, more than a curiosity, more than just about having fun (and there’s nothing wrong with any of that), many of us are already armed with the tools we need to more deeply impact the quality of our lives, to make things that make a difference. I talked to a lot of makers about this and everyone agrees. I asked a fairly large number of people: How many Arduinos or other microcontroller projects have you done that you now use in your day-to-day life? The answer was sadly few. This is something I’d like to see change and something I want us to help change, in the magazine and here on the site.
* The world of education has discovered MAKE and making – Every year we see increasing numbers of school groups, educational initiatives, after-school clubs, and other educational groups getting more heavily involved in the Faire. During the week of the Faire, the Maker Educational Initiative was announced. This is a non-profit we’re involved in, with Cognizant and Intel, designed to support educational programs that get kids making. Even the White House chimed in with a congrats.
* More media leaking out of the Faire and into the world – There were more media crews on the ground and video feeds beaming out of the Faire than ever before. This was the first year we streamed the entire event live, through a windowed “fishbowl” studio we built in the MAKE booth in Expo Hall, and via a roving team with a wireless streaming camera. In the past, we’ve had something of an attitude that you need to be here to be here, but this year, it felt right to pop the lid off of the event and let it pour out into cyberspace. We consider this test a great success and will be doing more live event streaming in the future. We also teamed up with Google+ and did a Hangout from the Make: Live fishbowl on 3D printing that was a lot of fun and showed us some of the possibilities for this sort of remote engagement for future events.

Photos by Eric Weinhoffer

This year I had a palpable sense that we’re standing on the threshold of a much larger maker-embracing world. We’re breaking out with the potential to significantly impact formal (and informal) education, tech development, the business of technology, and the overall quality of people’s lives. As computer pioneer Alan Kay once said (and Tim O’Reilly quoted during his Innovation Workshop talk): “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” We now have powerful tools to do just that. One of the many challenges is going to be doing this without losing the heart, soul, and child-like wonder that sparked all of this in the first place. I love a challenge, how about you?

If you were at the Faire (and/or the Hardware Innovation Workshop), I’d love to hear your thoughts and top-level takeaways. Please leave in the comments below.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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