Brain Pickings

7 Platforms for Collaborative Creation for the Post-Industrial Age

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Reining in the maker movement, or what 3-D printed bikinis have to do with adjustable-height dog dishes.

In general, we espouse a less-is-more model for living here at Brain Pickings. And while collaborative consumption is making it ever-easier to own less, collaborative creation is enabling us to make what we do own more meaningful, thanks to a host of platforms and services that transform the things of our imagination into 3-D reality. Here are seven companies and initiatives shaping a new movement of makers.

THINGIVERSE

The granddaddy of this latest generation of DIY makers,Thingiverse is the Brooklyn-based brainchild of Zach Smith and Bre Pettis, whose awesome Done Manifesto we featured on Brain Pickings a few months back. Founded in 2008, Thingiverse is a platform for artists, designers, and engineers to share digital design files via Creative Commons or General Public Use licenses. Its companion site, Makerbot Industries, sells machinery (including the fantastically carnivalesque Thing-O-Matic) and hardware necessary to manufacture the goods themselves.

Thingiverse got The Colbert Report treatment earlier this month, but gave back just as as good: Pettis oversaw the real-time creation of a bust of Stephen Colbert himself.

QUIRKY

Since 2009, Quirky has sought to bridge the gap between inventors and their inventions using a crowdsourcing model. Each week, Quirky’s community votes on the hundreds of submitted ideas to narrow them down to 10, two of which are then selected by an internal team of designers, engineers, researchers, and marketers. Anyone can consult on details throughout the development process, such as color, fabrication, and logo design; contributing to ideas makes users “Influencers” in Quirky parlance, who eventually earn a percentage of the finished products’ eventual revenue.

Imagine a day not too far a way when you’re riding in a subway, taking a bus ride, or walking in the park. Out of the corner of your eye you see something familiar. You see something beautiful. You see something that didn’t exist a few short months ago. Something that you helped create.

After confirming a predetermined number of orders, products go to market for sale in the Quirky shop as well as selected retail partners. With a focus on functionality and clean design, Quirky currently offers 150 items with more inventions to come.

ADAFRUIT

Like hard candy for hackers, Adafruit provides electronics kits and parts for original, open-source projects. Its M-O is DIY, that is, empowering users to create everything from bots to wearables and anything in between that they might imagine. At Adafruit‘s site your inner geek will be in heaven, surrounded by circuit boards, sensors, and wires.

All of Adafruit‘s parts and plans are available via Creative Commons license (all that is, except the ingredients and recipes for a blinking LED Christmas tree). For the latest hack-it-yourself project, check out the unbelievably cool, programmable iCufflinks, below:

SHAPEWAYS

Shapeways is your go-to guide for 3-D creation. As opposed to using laser-cutting techniques, 3-D printing is an additive process that builds items up by accumulating layers. The Shapeways platform offers three ways to bring models to market: users can upload their own digital designs for one-time production or to sell to others; or for the non-CAD savvy among us, the platform will pair would-be makers with designers to realize their vision.

With 850-plus items currently for sale online, Shapeways biggest splash this season is the N12 printable bikini–the maker movement’s never looked so hot.

LITTLEBITS

Through intuitive and playful design, littleBits takes engineering, usually reserved for experts, and puts it into the hands of artists, designers, makers, and anyone with curiosity about how things work. littleBits, the brainchild of MIT Media Lab alumna Ayah Bdeir, produces libraries of preassembled electronic circuits that can be snapped together to create tiny circuit boards. Held together via magnets, the discrete electronic parts are color-coded, making assembly a bit like playing with LEGOs — if LEGOs could light up, play music, and sense solar power.

Although its designs are all available via Creative Commons, you can also preorder littleBits starter kits for $99. Production is currently being completed in small batches, with the first prototypes shipped earlier this spring.

PONOKO

Branding itself as “the world’s easiest making system,” Ponoko launched in late 2007. An online platform for bespoke design, Ponoko hosts tens of thousands of user-generated designs, customizable for on-demand production. In addition to M-I-Y (make-it-yourself) templates that guide you through the design process, the site also lets creators bid on bringing ideas to market.

CLOUDFAB

Another platform for 3-D product printing, CloudFab lets professional creators make prototypes — from one to thousands — of goods using a distributed network of fabricators. The two-year-old company matches designers with digital manufacturers, trading on the idea of excess market capacity. From “Day 2 Night Convertible Heels” to an exoskeleton for DARPA, CloudFab lets product designers test the tangibility of their creations, no matter how unique.

While a 3-D printer in every pocket may still be a few years away, practical alternatives to mass production are finally a reality, offering hope for a new frontier of changing our relationship with conspicuous consumption through conspicuous creation.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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