Monday, April 1, 2013

Book Review: Makers

I've been tinkering with 3D Printing over the past few months, trying to get a sense of what can and can't be done and how user friendly it is (or isn't). I have a number of friends doing 3D-printing-related startups (Alice Taylor's Makies, Ed Fries' Figureprints, and my Printxel printer is from Billy Zelsnack's kickstarter effort), and so the sense that something big is afoot has been very much tickling my brain. When I heard about Chris Anderson's Makers, I hesitantly picked it up to see how he tackled the subject.

I say hesitantly as I had very mixed feelings about The Long Tail, and worried that Anderson would fall into some of the same traps with Makers. He does, and I'll get to what those are in a minute.

On the plus side, he very much captures the sense of excitement afoot, and profiles a number of companies doing small scale manufacturing or design + outsourced manufacturing, that are allowing for a 'long tail of fabrication' and a nimbleness of physical product manufacturing. Many of the companies, individuals and examples profiled are well known if you've been following this stuff on the web, but there are always details to be learned and some of the examples were new to me.

On the down side, there are two main flaws that made this a 3/5 book for me, vs a 4- or 5-out-of-5. First, as with The Long Tail, Anderson stretches the definition of Maker too far, and inconsistently. In some instances, he's clearly focused on the disruption of computer controlled manufacturing hitting consumer price points. In other cases, if you cook your own food, you're a maker! Similarly, he profiles some companies that are by no means small, and dismisses this by pointing to the fact that they embody 'the maker spirit'.

Secondly, he over-states the consumer readiness of these technologies. A metaphor I use is that it's like saying "look, you can buy a router and a lathe for under $500, so clearly anyone can make furniture now!"

If you can see past these flaws, are are looking for a good overview to take with a large grain of salt, then Makers may be for you. If not, you are better off reading articles on the web that cover the subject adequately.

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution