Looking at Makers with the Prism of Community

Excerpted from a review of the book “Makers”, of Chris Anderson, by Martin Pasquier:

“Chris Anderson’s “Maker : the new industrial revolution” is a brilliant book, one of the kind you can’t close without DOING something. And it really matches with all my current thoughts on a community-based world (may sound familiar for US readers, it’s a new world for Europe at least, and what I experience in Asia confirms it’s a US exception).

For Anderson, the 3rd industrial revolution (after the steam engine and the mechanization in the 18th-19th century, and the oil and transportation in the 19th-20th) is about to come thanks the web AND the way it’s changing manufacturing. Beyond the 3D printers, laser-cutters and other DIY toolkit that gives body to the Makers movement, Chris Anderson is best at showing us how these digital/physical tools are reshaping parts of our society :

If the web has democratized innovation in bits, Makers are democratizing innovation in atoms thanks rapid prototyping and affordable tools. Welcome to “the long tail of things”

the way makers work is based on community : it provides market research, marketing and part of the sales in exchange for symbolic rewards such as recognition or extended rights within the community (think of admin and moderators in forum or the different rewards in Kickstarter)

if you like geo-economics, you’ll be happy to know that Makers could be a way for the West (and the US, notably) to counter cheap labor from Asia, as the value of the product goes more and more to its community, its closeness to consumer, its reliability, its shapeability.

this revolution is also the one of the amateurs, who, after conquering social media with lolcats and biting babies, enter the physical world with customized and passionate objects. Why buy IKEA or Muji when you can order more authentic on Etsy ? That’s where the premium lies : you pay your avoidance of mass-consumption (for good !)

this “cottage industry”, in reference to the first stages of the English Industrial Revolution, is not a competitor to the big industry, rather something that fills in for a more personalized demand in lesser quantities. It’s not (yet ?) possible to achieve economies of scale with Maker but it doesn’t cost more to produce another customized product.

the tool itself has a liberating power : the same way the press made people express, the web had people publish, we can bet that makers tools will have people build and manufacture

with the long tail of things come the long tail of talents, as many project offer a surface for anyone with the skills or the will to take part : “it’ the ultimate market solution : open innovation communities connect latent supply (talent not already employed in that field) with latent demand (products not already economical to create the usual way)”

If you look to Makers with the prism of community, there’s also many interesting hints in Anderson’s book :

Making is a way to fulfill one’s own inspiration with one’s own tools, almost without any help from bi companies and the state. This is, for sure, a way for communities to develop further their own economics.

This long tail of things or micro-markets makes us new “indie”, allowing peoples differences to express and have more value than standard mass-production items.

The law of supply and demand is, in a way, taken the other way-round. Instead of a product wanted by a company (and sometimes checked by market research), the niche products of makers are driven by people’s wants and needs (“we might today think of manufacturing firms as linked to particular communities”)

The Maker movement is the pinnacle of the remix culture found everywhere on the web, every one, every community is now deemed able to produce its own products (or rather : its own way of a given product)

The way community is integrated to Makers development is quite easy : you receive market research, R&D, support, product documentation, marketing and first sales if you manage to give social incentives that will make the community more engaged in your project

The setup of a community-centric venture is also seen in its communications and marketing : there’s a blog, not a site, and forums where people help each other. Tutorials are made by employees.

Take the example of Lego. The brick brand would not develop modern weapons, and thus be cut of 8-9 year old kids who go through their war stage. A community, Brickarms, began to mold modern weapons, and is soon recognized by Lego provided it complies with two measures (no violation of trademark and security check for items not to be eaten by little kids). It’s a complementary ecosystem : they product and sell items that would not reach enough volume for Lego to produce. They keep also quitting customers more longer.

In a nutshell, the community in the cases shown in Makers are a competitive advantage over cheap and remote labour. This is a brilliant example and story of industries driven by social interest (purpose, passion) rather than merely commercial interests.”

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