D-I-Y

Posted on January 28, 2010
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blueprints

Sweet story here from Wired , though, perhaps a little too wide eyed and gee whiz, when you consider the state of the American economy. But I guess that is their point. America’s demise is really the demise of Fordism and the giant scale, production that entails. This idea, that the individuation of the facebook generation coupled with a new range of digital technolgies that allow for end user specification, means that the niche will rule in a world where whatever you can dream will be yours.  Yeah, right.  Nice idea and great presmise for an article. But I won’t believe till I get my flying car.

Here’s the history of two decades in one sentence: If the past 10 years have been about discovering post-institutional social models on the Web, then the next 10 years will be about applying them to the real world.

This story is about the next 10 years.

Transformative change happens when industries democratize, when they’re ripped from the sole domain of companies, governments, and other institutions and handed over to regular folks. The Internet democratized publishing, broadcasting, and communications, and the consequence was a massive increase in the range of both participation and participants in everything digital — the long tail of bits.

Now the same is happening to manufacturing — the long tail of things.

The tools of factory production, from electronics assembly to 3-D printing, are now available to individuals, in batches as small as a single unit. Anybody with an idea and a little expertise can set assembly lines in China into motion with nothing more than some keystrokes on their laptop. A few days later, a prototype will be at their door, and once it all checks out, they can push a few more buttons and be in full production, making hundreds, thousands, or more. They can become a virtual micro-factory, able to design and sell goods without any infrastructure or even inventory; products can be assembled and drop-shipped by contractors who serve hundreds of such customers simultaneously.

Today, micro-factories make everything from cars to bike components to bespoke furniture in any design you can imagine. The collective potential of a million garage tinkerers is about to be unleashed on the global markets, as ideas go straight into production, no financing or tooling required. “Three guys with laptops” used to describe a Web startup. Now it describes a hardware company, too.

“Hardware is becoming much more like software,” as MIT professor Eric von Hippel puts it. That’s not just because there’s so much software in hardware these days, with products becoming little more than intellectual property wrapped in commodity materials, whether it’s the code that drives the off-the-shelf chips in gadgets or the 3-D design files that drive manufacturing. It’s also because of the availability of common platforms, easy-to-use tools, Web-based collaboration, and Internet distribution.

We’ve seen this picture before: It’s what happens just before monolithic industries fragment in the face of countless small entrants, from the music industry to newspapers. Lower the barriers to entry and the crowd pours in.

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