While there are several 3D printable model marketplaces vying for the top spot, at the end of the day no one has ever really come close to matching the ubiquity of MakerBot’s Thingiverse. It probably isn’t very fair considering other marketplaces need to be able to generate revenue, while Thingiverse being tied to a major 3D printer manufacturer has less of an incentive to be highly profitable. Ever since the user-generated digital design file repository was launched back in 2008, Thingiverse has been the home of makers all over the world, and it is now the home of more than a million ‘Things’ that can be accessed by the community for free.
The community’s open source sensibilities and commitment to maintaining the free dissemination of digital files makes it an easy first stop for anyone looking for a 3D printing project, DIY 3D printer or just a cool model. Despite the primary motivation for Thingiverse seemingly not being the generation of cash, that doesn’t mean that MakerBot and their parent company don’t take the place seriously. Thingiverse is primarily a social media platform aimed at a pretty specific crowd, and they wouldn’t attract loyal users if they didn’t give them reasons to keep coming back. And based on a new announcement that MakerBot is making today, it looks like they really want to give their users a lot more reasons to keep coming back.
Today MakerBot has announced the upcoming launch of a brand new enhanced developer program so users can create and integrate all sorts of new tools, services and functionalities into Thingiverse. The new tools will offer prospective developers access to a ton more data, and will be offering them new freedoms to design and create all kinds of new tools. MakerBot is currently looking for new partners and developers to bring fresh ideas to the table, and they seem to be looking for applications, user and designer features and mobile apps specifically.
The new Developer Program is focusing their efforts to enable new app development in three areas. Thingiverse will be opening up entirely new types of functionalities so developers can build completely new features for community designers and end users. They will be enabling new levels of customization tools, print fulfilment features and 3D modeling utilities on individual Thing pages. And the new developer tools will allow for app and features to be created in a closed, sandboxed environment that will be supported by completely rewritten documentation.
So far there haven’t been a lot of details in regards to exactly what sort of apps Thingiverse is looking for. It is likely that there are going to be entirely new sets of customization tools available so users can edit 3D models and easily add personalized features, lettering or logos. It would also be possible, given similar technology on other websites, that Thingiverse apps could be developed to offer web-based model slicing and direct to printer functionality. Another possibility is browser-based design software so Thingiverse users can create models directly on the website.
There is another possibility of course, it is possible that Thingiverse is thinking of adding the ability to monetize the site. To me that seems counterintuitive to the very reason Thingiverse is so popular, but Stratasys has been losing a lot of money recently so they may be looking to generate revenue anywhere that they can find. However turning Thingiverse into an actual marketplace where designers can sell their models may not be very well received by the community. But we’re not going to know anything until the first wave of developers get to play around with the new tools. If you’re interested in developing Thingiverse apps and want to contribute you can sign up here to receive more information, so that upon the launch interested parties will be set up and ready to go with contributions. Discuss in the New Thingiverse 3D Program forum over at 3DPB.com.