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.

24 thoughts on “Thoughts on the 7th Annual Maker Faire

  1. Jake Spurlock says:

    Reblogged this on Happy, Happy Valley and commented:

    Great gist of Maker Faire by Gar.

  2. Mark H. says:

    I’ve been to every Bay Area MakerFaire since they started. Here’s a couple of thoughts on this year.

    It is exciting to see folks coming up with “low barrier to entry” devices, both in respect to price and to knowledge. In particular, the Little Bits kit is a brilliant toy for kids and those that don’t understand electronics. 2 rules is all you need to know! How cool is that? The Makey Makey is another interesting board, that gives almost anyone an easy way to hook the physical world up to a computer. Can’t wait until they ship.

    The lack of the Craft area was a bummer. I, myself, am more tech oriented, but I think it’s important to have more talks/workshops/etc that are craft oriented. Those always seemed well attended, especially for kids. I heard some complaints that there were less “hands on” things for kids to do this year, and I think part of that comes from the lack of Craft workshops.

    I also appreciated that there was an attempt to rotate out certain features of past faires (or maybe the makers just got tired, or boycotted because of the DARPA thing, or whatever). Sure, everyone likes the giant mousetrap, but after 6 times, it wasn’t really missed.

    It also seemed like things were laid out in a way to better manage crowds this year. I thought that the Sunday in 2011 was overrun with poorly behaved humans, but didn’t feel that way this year. And I have to chalk that up to the layout / placement of various things, I guess.

    So, that’s my take on it, for what it’s worth.

  3. Make’s thoughts on Maker Faire | AuthenticInvention says:

    […] Gareth Branwyn muses on some takeways from Maker Faire 2012 “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…” […]

  4. Wendy Ross Kaufman says:

    First time to a maker faire. I was blown away. I am a costumer, so my field can steal from just about every other. I have been out of the loop for ages (raising my kids), and dropping back in like this–into the pit/den/batcave/ of creativity showed me that I was never anything but a poser. Okay, so I exaggerate. My articulated zebra centaur was da bomb back in the 90s. Still, I was breathless being among SO MANY who shared my obsession with making beautiful things. Really, I was dizzy. It’s been decades of being in a tiny subset of the world, and to be there to be inspired by SO MANY others, with SO MANY takes on the idea “make” was dazzling. Now where’s my soldering iron?

  5. Gretchen Mora says:

    We were a first-time family at the Maker Faire this year. We started by hitting the Education Day with our Homeschool Science Club and enjoyed it tremendously. My only recommendation would be to have the Faire *3* days long, with the extra day being a Friday or Monday, so that those who don’t do well in crowds can go with their kids and still get a lot out of it. I also LOVED the Bizarre Bazaar. That place inspired me more than others, but then again, I’m a crafter. Also, the Tapagami city was cool.

  6. Erica Kane says:

    I have an Arduino project I use every day: my LED stair lights. I want to build things that are genuinely useful, and that part of the equation can be quite difficult. The modern world often makes it easier and cheaper to simply buy, rather than build. But there are some exceptions.

  7. K. Tarapata says:

    I found it extremely difficult to find venues. The map was not good and, while the people at the information booth knew where things were, the booth itself was almost invisible. The sign could not have been smaller. My suggestion? Have some informed people roam the Faire with big “?” signs.

  8. Bob says:

    I’m glad to see so many children oriented spaces and activities, though it might make better sense to have a ‘young-makers’ area within the Faire. At times, I found it hard to wade through the kiddie stuff that seemed to be all over the place at times. When events are small, random discovery is great, but as things get larger and larger, having more defined ‘districts’ works better.

  9. jesser says:

    This was our first Faire and we were truly awed. My husband and our 3 and 5 yo attended both days and had a blast!! Though we did love it, we would have relished a third day, with possibly lighter crowds – navigating was a chore at peak hours. The best time was the first hour of the day. It was also hard to find certain things (where was the maker kit stage??) and we also couldn’t identify a great band we saw on the Front Porch around 4P on Sat b/c there wasn’t a list. I also wished that there was a bit more for the littler ones to do – my 5yo daughter was banned from one booth because she was under 8 and they were using (gasp!) scissors. These minor “problems” were nothing compared to our experience and we’re keen to go again – we traveled from Denver for the event, by the way.

  10. jefro says:

    Hi Brian! I looked for you in the Maker Shed at some point on Saturday but didn’t find among the thousands of people there – sorry I missed you.

    Favorites this year were the pedal car races, the live steam model railroad exhibit from the Bay Area Garden Railway Association, and the Texas Instruments booth. I very much enjoyed running into people I know there. Also loved the many homemade bicycles. Corporate involvement seemed to be a little bit more front and center this year, but I don’t think it was overbearing, and it keeps the ticket prices low. I will be bringing my own lemonade next year, though – way too expensive!

    This was my 3rd or 4th Faire and as always it was amazing. General advice for any outdoor event is to bring hats, lots of sunblock, allergy meds if you are susceptible, and lots of cash, but we have a few tricks for Maker Faire in particular. First is to check the schedule BEFORE going in, so if something is happening at 10:30 we can make a beeline for it, as it takes 1/2 hour just to get in at 10. Second, always always eat before 11am if going to the food carts, otherwise the lines are impenetrable. Third is to go visit exhibits right after lunch, as everyone else is standing in line for food. (Or bring food.. but what’s the fun in that?) Fourth is to leave or at least plan to be outside the exhibit halls before 3 or 3:30, as the crowds get to be too much by then. And fifth is to ignore any of these rules if something really cool turns up.

  11. David Lang says:

    The fishbowl was awesome! It added such a fun flavor to the event.

    Also, I was surprised how many new folks. At our dunk tank and at the talks we gave, I estimate about half of the visitors we polled were first-timers. I hope people translate that excitement and amazement into involvement!

  12. Jenny says:

    Hi David! I am so impressed with this whole movement! Thanks for chronicling it!

    Question: speaking of “moving beyond hello world making,” could we please introduce some of these clever inventors to the eco village folks? The eco village movement is dedicated to building sustainable, regenerative communities in harmony with ecology.
    Check out their site:

    These “villages” are popping up all over the planet and would doubtless be much more attractive to the average citizen if some of their alternative energies (sun, wind) were being used to power cool 3-D printers or other technological devices that could create useful, essential, and creative solutions to everyday living in harmony with nature. Eco villagers already use computers–I see no reason they would be opposed to energy-efficient machines that might make their daily jobs easier, more enjoyable, and more amenable to human creativity and experimentation.

    What are your thoughts on this? Do you know of any really useful inventions that could be used to make food-growing/preparation, carpentry, clothing making, or other traditional labor-intensive tasks, more enjoyable and amenable to creativity while at the same time using renewable resources of the land? Or of any Maker Fair folks who would be interested and open to creating innovative solutions for eco-village communities specifically?


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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. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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