Category Archives: Making

Making as a Communal Process vs Individual Act

I want to redefine my working definition of ‘Making’ and ‘Makers’. To me, seeing making as literally making an object by myself, misses the more fundamental shift of what is going on with ‘making’. It’s time to look at ‘Making’ as a communal process, instead of an individual act to create a solitary object.

My grand-dad made stuff in his shed all the time. For him making was an individual act. He made something. It was also focussed on a singular object, often a simple hack for a task at hand. He made something.

If you take that as a definition of making, the ‘maker movement‘ is just about having access to cheaper and better machinery, DIY gone digital. Cool machines for milling, laser cutting and 3d printing, that replace or augment a range of hand tools.
These machines thanks to digitization and open source hardware are on a path of becoming exponentially cheaper as well as better. But cheap tools do not a movement make.

As with most things digital, the key new thing is the global high speed connectedness that internet and mobile communications give us. It’s not just having the machines, but having them while being part of a global pool of knowledge, and a global network of people.
That immensely expands the context of making in several dimensions, away from the solitary objects my grand-dad made.

This global knowledge pool and network adds three dimensions enormously increasing the potential of ‘making’:

  • The first dimension is that of having access to all knowledge about everything you could make with your machines as well as how to make them (including ‘just-hit-print’ designs). This is still centered around the object, but expands your creativity and hacking skills with those of everyone else. This is what is most commonly understood as maker culture.
  • Second it provides insight and knowledge on how making is so much more than just creating an object. Ideation, experimenting and probing various options, creating it, and then utilizing it in the intended context, all become part of Making. For all those aspects our connectedness can provide input. Understanding this dimension is hugely important, both disruptive innovation theory and start-ups testify.
  • Thirdly it widens the range for which we can make something. Bigger awareness of global issues and how they play out in our local community and context, allows us to come up with different things to make, that help address it. [Think hydro/aquaponics projects in derelict US inner cities]
  • When you put all of those together, ‘making’ is the local expression of global knowledge and awareness, that in turn can serve as a trigger for interaction and change locally.

    Viewed this way, making is a communal process. Communal both in its source of knowledge and inspiration, as well as in the context and rationale of where the stuff you made is put to use. Process, as in the full cycle from awareness of issues, ideation, and creation, all the way to application, impact, and sharing the resulting insights again.

    Seeing making as an individual act towards a solitary object obscures the layered richness making in the digital age is an expression of. A maker is not doing DIY, but a maker becomes a bridge or boundary spanner between his own local community and other wider global communities, as well as becomes a community hacker.

    At ThingsCon in Berlin and 3D Camp in Limerick next month, as well as at our own MidSummer Unconference ‘Make Stuff That Matters’ in June, I will take this perspective of ‘Making as communal process’ as starting point.

    Going To 3D Camp Limerick: Connecting Open Data and Making

    Schermafbeelding 2014-03-11 om 19.00.36

    Elmine and I will be speaking at 3DCamp in Limerick, Ireland in May. It’s the 7th annual barcamp dedicated to a “broad range of technologies that change the way we interact with computers”. At the invitation of Gabriela Avram who is with the Limerick University’s Department of Computer Science and Information Systems, and the Interaction Design Centre, we’ll be visiting the event, and might also give a workshop the day before at the University of Limerick.

    I’ve set myself the task to bridge open data and making in a meaningful way.

    I pitched it like this:
    What we make should matter, help solve and mean something for you or for others, provide a perspective for action and new affordances. In this talk, building on my experiences in both worlds, I will explore how Open Data and Making can mutually reinforce each other.

  • What data do you need, in order to decide what to make to solve a local issue?
  • How do you get that data open?
  • What can you make to gather data yourself?
  • What can you make that let’s you act on what data tells you?
  • Can we make tangible things that let us understand data better?
  • Taking practical examples from across Europe as inspiration, let’s see what we can come up with!

    I also proposed a hands on workshop on this topic. There we could hands on explore the entire process of:

  • pick a local issue,
  • map out stakeholders and data sets,
  • design actions to get or gather data,
  • ideate what type of things would provide stakeholders with perspectives for action / affordances needed,
  • decided on what to make from ideas generated, and how
  • I think this is a great way to also prepare for our own MidSummer Unconference “Making Stuff That Matters”, when Elmine and I will welcome a wide range of peers to our home to explore Making.

    You can follow 3D Camp on Twitter, for the latest on other sessions.

    Making Things Tangible

    We see and think differently with our hands than with our eyes and heads. Whenever we make something tangible it has the potential to change our perspective.

    This became tangible again for me last December when I participated in Wiro Kuiper’s ‘Lego serious play’ workshop. Handling lego stones, seeing something take shape in your hands, involves a different part of your brain while thinking on questions like “what is it that I do for clients?” as depicted in the pic below. (Add your guess as to what it means in the comments ;) )

    Lego Serious Play Workshop
    What I do for clients, @ lego serious play workshop

    Since that workshop I have been musing about how ‘making something tangible’ could play a role in more of my work situations. Without much progress.


    Tangible statistics, MAKE.opendata.ch

    Recently we acquired a 3D printer at home. Previously I have encountered 3d printing ear hangers from visualized statistics based on open data (shown above), and I discussed that idea with Elmine. She, for a little side project of her, printed the two items below.

    tangible statsElmine’s 3d printed statistics

    They are both printed statistics: the small one is the number of Germans in the Dutch border region, and the bigger one the number of Dutch in the German border region (data source). Each by itself does not mean much to me. But in combination they are very interesting again: they make differences in amount tangible. You can feel the difference when you take the objects in your hands. Tangible infographics as it were.

    Where could I apply that? And also, how to overcome my reluctance to make things tangible like this early / quickly as part of my own exploration (I tend to keep everything in text or in my head)?

    Join Us For “Make Stuff That Matters” MidSummer UnConference and BBQ

    12727528584_f938358c30_z

    In four months, Elmine and I hope for you to join us at our MidSummer UnConference and BBQ. To make the most of our time together it will take place at MidSummer, so we have the longest days of the year. On Friday 20 June the MidSummer Unconference will take place. Followed on Saturday 21 June by the MidSummer BBQ.

    The theme
    The theme for the MidSummer Unconference will be ‚Make Stuff That Matters’.

    We have more opportunity than ever to act and make things ourselves, while connected to and embedded in globally connected networks and globally accessible knowledge. Our world is however a closed system with restraints in terms of resources, with only our creativity in true abundance. So we better learn how to act, prototype, design and make well. Whether it is a product, a system, a structure or a new routine. So we better make stuff that really solves something for you or others, that makes something important possible. So we better Make Stuff That Matters.

    The people
    We hope to bring a diverse group of people from around our network together again. Last time we had some 12 nationalities joining us, 40 people at the unconference, and some 80 at the BBQ. Friends, colleagues, peers, family, neighbors and clients. In other words: you!

    The program
    A day long we will explore making in all its facets. We’ll have a number of 3d-printers, as well as laser cutters available. We’ll have Doodle-3D, Lego (serious play) and mindstorms for the kids (and ourselves). Bring your raspberry pi, arduino’s and other tinkering stuff, if you have it. We’ll have data-visualization and app making. We’ll have design, p2p organizing, and whatever idea you want to add! Bring your small and great skills, your curiosity and prepare to let yourself be surprised. Together we’ll make stuff that matters.

    You are invited
    In the coming weeks we will be sending out the first batches of invitations. If you would like to be there, you are very welcome to join us, so consider yourself to be invited. Just ping us, and we’ll add you to the list.

    Mark your calendar, start planning your trip, and join us for Ton and Elmine’s MidSummer Unconference and BBQ on 20 and 21 June!
    For more info see the MidSummer Unconference page(we’ll add info there as we go along).

    Digital Disruption Key-Note

    Yesterday and today I am at the ARAS Community Event Europe in Frankfurt, Germany. The conference brings together people around PLM (product lifecycle management). I was asked to provide the opening keynote. Digital disruption and the new (or rather often not so new) methods we have available to deal with that were the topic of my talk. Starting with Steve Denning’s recent observation that we’re in the Golden Age of Management now as we are setting the scene for what management looks like in the networked age, I talked about the unintended impact of internet and mobile communications, that make a range of existing management methods obsolete if not dangerous. Simultaneously I went into the different emerging instruments and methods that are emerging in response.

    Find the slides below.

    The Failings of FabLabs

    At the end of the European FabLab Conference in Aachen, professor Jan Borchers (together with René Bohne our kind hosts at the Media Computing Group of RWTH) at the final discussion round brought up an unexpected question:

    Are FabLabs dead?

    With the rapid proliferation of all kinds of maker spaces in all kinds of forms, are FabLabs still needed? With the ongoing rapid decline in the costs of machines (a full set of smaller sized FabLab machines, including a consumer ready 3d printer, comes in at around 3500 Euro, and prices are still falling, bringing it within household reach in well developed economies), is there still a need for public access to these machines? This is what Jan Borchers asked.

    Peter Troxler then rightly pointed out that the origins of FabLab are quite technocratic, which explains the starting focus of FabLab on the machines (“All you need to make, almost, anything”). Knowledge sharing, preferably in a global network, was always part of the concept, but it came without emphasis on community and network building to support that. Indeed, most of the early FabLab network was not a network at all, but a wheel with spokes and MIT at the center, and it still usually is that way for any country with one FabLab. The European FabLab conference where this discussion took place, as are they yearly Fab conferences, was an accurate example of that same technocratic focus.

    To me there are two underserved key parts in the FabLab concept.

  • FabLabs need to be very strongly rooted locally, and actively work to be locally relevant to diverse stakeholder groups.
  • FabLabs need to be networked globally, to cater to the mandated easy knowledge exchanges and for other labs to rapidly build upon experiments and designs from elsewhere and create local impact.
  • And the majority of the FabLabs I’ve encountered are crap at both those two things. Even though for me they are the discerning traits compared to other maker spaces.

    We’re bad at finding ways of being locally relevant. Bad at attracting a diverse range of stakeholders for whom the FabLab is a hub and exchange. The financial dependence on public funding, or financial difficulty in the absence of that, of most BeNeLux labs are a case in point. The regularity with which I see commercial questions to those same FabLabs being met with a ‘no’ because they are simply not prepared for such questions are another, one I find particularly shocking as it proves there is demand. A lot are in the habit as well of cannibalizing the free access in an attempt to generate revenue, which by destroying the prime directive of the FabLab concept actually increases the threshold for new makers to come play and experiment and thus serves to reduce the revenue potential, instead of increasing it. Almost none take lateral approaches to generate revenue and be a stable and energy giving node in the local ecosystem.

    We’re also bad at globally connecting. Most FabLabs I know are so busy with themselves that they hardly take time to work with other FabLabs, even if they’re neighbours. The yearly, highly tech focused global meet-ups, do not a global network make. The low point I experienced was when a FabLab was in trouble, and when I approached them about it, told me they ‘would be participating in the community again when they had solved their problems’. If there were indeed a community wouldn’t they have known to ask for support instead of withdrawing? There is little to none routine interaction between a wide range of labs, resulting in shared efforts etc. And here I am just talking about FabLab staff not interacting, and not even looking at what actually would be needed: various FabLab visitors using the FabLab network to connect and work with others.

    Meanwhile the FabLabs are successful in proliferating across the globe, so much so that the number of FabLabs roughly doubles every 18 months. They are also changing shape from a few big costly ‘flagship stores’ to include a larger number of grassroots smaller labs (reinforced by the downwards price pressure on machines). In that exponential growth lies FabLabs’ biggest challenge: there are now more FabLabs joining the network than currently are in the network. And in the next 18 months that will happen again, more new labs will join than already exist.

    Even though that exponential growth will taper off at some point, for now it is the biggest challenge: how do you welcome and engage a majority of newcomers into an existing network and community that is very poorly equipped and developed precisely on the point of network and community building?

    Pirate Boxes

    Peter Rukavina alerted me to the existence of Pirate Boxes, as he has been blogging his experiences participating in a workshop in Berlin, and then building his own, and doing his own workshop as ‘hacker in residence’ at the University of PEI.

    These boxes are a wifi enabled file server that allows you to create a local exchange hub (to share files, chat etc.), without needing to have an internet connection present. Mobile devices connect to it through wifi directly.

    You can build them using a cheap wireless router, or ap Raspberry Pi computer for instance, which makes it an affordable thing to do. I have one of those Raspberry Pi’s at home, and until now did not know what to really do with it. So building a Pirate Box out of it might just be the thing.

    Especially as a French group has created a slightly different version dubbed the ‘Coworking box‘ that contains a few tools to facilitate collaborative work.

    So I see two possible experiments with Raspberry Pi. One is opening a Pirate Box up in our home street and see if any of the neighbors (or their teen kids) start using it. The other is following the French co-working example and see if I can use it in a group session or during a workshop.

    Seems like a nice little experiment to get up and running, probably when I get back home to NL. (Although I have seen Raspberry Pi’s in local stores here)

    The Thing With Maker Spaces

    The thing with maker spaces I think is

    that they too easily become nerd-collectives, and fail to attract the non-makers with occasional projects, or even appear unwelcoming and off-putting to them without being aware of that.

    Whereas,

    the success of maker spaces ultimately does not lie in attracting those that would be makers anyway, now just with cooler machines, but in turning occasional making and creative tinkering into the new normal for a much broader group.

    It was apparent to me in visiting the Cambridge MakerSpace this week, as it is apparent in all FabLabs, Hackspaces and other varieties of maker space I have visited across Europe.

    MakeSpace Untitled
    The Cambridge MakeSpace, excellent facilities.

    Ton Zijlstra

    August 15, 2013

    Back in June my webserver got hacked, or at least a very old part of it got compromised, resulting in spam being sent from it. So I took it down.

    Now, after the summer holidays (camping in France), I migrated to a new server, and the blog is back on-line.

    Currently working from Cambridge (where Elmine and I are spending a month).

    P1050353
    (Obligatory photo of King’s College ;) )