More Inviting to Design, Develop, Create: MakerBot Developer Program Offers Community Control, Apps, Tips


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jaglom1On Monday at Inside 3D Printing NYC, I spent one keynote trying simply to get in the door. I ended up hovering just inside — occasionally with a foot actually out in the hall — the large room housing Jonathan Jaglom’s afternoon keynote, ‘The Future of 3D Content,’ which was just not large enough to contain the press of humanity eager to hear the latest from MakerBot.

thingiverse-logo-2015The announcement yesterday seems to truly put the ‘maker’ firmly back into MakerBot, as the company has presented the new Thingiverse Developer Program, allowing designers and creators to have significantly more creative control via new apps and services, provided with a series of partnerships that have a great deal to promise. Teased back in February, we’ve been looking forward to hearing just what the Thingiverse Developer Program would have to offer — and I can’t say that I’m disappointed now that the word is finally out.

A video from the company illustrates the basics of the expansion of the Thingiverse API Platform:

Thing App APIs, as MakerBot notes, “allow developers to create apps and services that appear directly on a Thing page, in app purchases and tips, as well as a new Thingiverse Developer Portal.” In the near future — within the next couple of weeks — the Developer Program is set to launch along with the first two apps, which come about through fantastic partnerships with 3D Hubs and MakePrintable.

“MakerBot has been leading the 3D printing revolution by popularizing desktop 3D printing, developing a connected experience around its printers, and growing the largest 3D printing community in the world,” said Jonathan Jaglom, CEO of MakerBot. “What makes Thingiverse special is the incredibly talented community of designers who share their work with the world. The new Thingiverse Developer Program will enable even greater possibilities in the Thingiverse community by adding new functionalities and services while giving designers full control over how their content is being used. The sky is the limit in terms of what’s possible and we can’t wait to see what developers come up with.”

developerThingiverse App APIs are set to allow for the creation of new apps in three categories:

  • Print Apps — to provide print services
  • Customization Apps — to allow customization of a Thing
  • Tool/Utility Apps — to analyze/fix/modify a Thing

Each of these options can be turned on or off for any designer’s Things, ensuring that designers maintain control of the use/distribution of their creations. With the recent hullabaloo surrounding what exactly Creative Commons Licenses mean for Thingiverse designers, creative control and distribution is certainly forefront in many designers’ minds — and the company is keeping that in mind.

Adding further to the announcement are in-app purchases and tips. For Things licensed under a Creative Commons License allowing for commercial use, designers can opt in to allow apps working with their Thing to receive a tip (voluntary or mandatory) when their content is used through the app and charges for services. Tipping will also be enabled outside of apps, so users who want to offer monetary appreciation can show so. All tips will run through PayPal, and MakerBot will not receive any cut of designers’ tips.

In the new Developer Portal, MakerBot will “provide documentation, resources, and enrollment for developers.” The Portal will include instructions, submission guidelines, app management and analytics (e.g., usage, views, download numbers, payments), and offer a sandbox to test new apps.

3dp_thingiverse_devAdditionally, two new partnerships are leading the way with new Thing App APIs, as 3D Hubs and MakePrintable offer their expertise to Thingiverse users.

Through 3D Hubs, Thingiverse is presenting the first 3D print fulfillment app, which integrates a “Print” button to Things with Creative Common Licenses allowing for commercial use, and for which designers have opted to allow this access. Right from the Thing page, then, a user can fairly immediately have the design they’re viewing sent to a nearby 3D Hubs location to be created. In the 3D Hubs checkout process, purchasers can also tip the designer of the Thing. With well over 29,000 Hubs around the world, 3D Hubs notes that one billion people have the capability to 3D print within 10 miles of their home.

MakePrintable will offer users the immediate ability to do just what their name notes: make designs printable. The cloud-based mesh repair app will analyze, validate, and repair most common mesh errors.

I had the opportunity to talk with MakerBot CEO Jonathan Jaglom at Inside 3D Printing to find out more about his personal take on the announcements — and to receive direct feedback from 3D Hubs’ Bram de Zwart and MakePrintable’s Michael Makdah to see how these partners are feeling about the arrangement. (Spoiler alert: all three individuals and companies are thrilled.)

“I think the community as a whole understands how big this is,” Jaglom told me. “We are working toward a more seamless experience, more benefits in terms of print, customization, functionality, applications that will be tapped into through an API approach. I think it’s a big day for the industry.”

With two million unique active users per month — and about three to five million non-active users — Thingiverse is about 100 times larger than anyone else. Jaglom does not take the responsibility of being a leader in the industry lightly. Instead, he notes the responsibilities inherent in a leadership position.

“Being a leader in the industry, we’re almost mandated to do that,” Jaglom told me, “we must think that way to remain leaders in the industry. That’s the obligation that we see, to be a leader.”

A huge part of leadership is in creating the role model for success, which is just what the API offerings are set to do. Jaglom notes that the move is set up to “respect the designer,” which is a key to Thingiverse. Because designers are able to opt out of any of these developments, they “built around that to safeguard the designer.”

“We have a wonderful installed base,” Jaglom says, “a fantastic community of users.”

jj thvHe recognizes that this recent announcement is a first step; while they might not be there yet, the volume of traction is expected to grow as designers and developers realize that Thingiverse wants to listen to what they have to offer to the community.

“I stand by that there’s an innovator in everyone, I hold that belief to heart. We’ve broadened the circle of value and hopefully draw in more innovators, more people to unleash their creativity,” Jaglom told me. “If you’re out there in the world and have a solution that can add value, give us a call, we’ll be happy to hear it.”

Sitting down with Jaglom certainly provided one thing to me with clarity: this is a leader who is passionate not just about his company, but about the community they foster. The Thingiverse community is full of developers and designers who bring their creativity to the table to share designs — over a million of them! — and Jaglom is hoping that all these creators uploading models will realize just how big (“it’s big!”) this API announcement will be for them. It is critical that makers remain respected, and Thingiverse certainly values those designers — “we are very consistent on respecting our community of devoted designers,” Jaglom noted.

“At heart, I’m a romantic. I come to work every day because I believe I can make a difference in what I do,” Jaglom told me. “It really is a great day to be a part of this company. I’m excited to see where this will be one year from now! I’m hoping that the users understand how big this is for them. We want to make life easier so you don’t have to deal with all this stuff around but focus on the core, bringing innovation to life, make it more inviting to design, develop, create.”

3dhubsRegarding the partnerships with 3D Hubs and MakePrintable, Jaglom was equally excited about what the apps available through these will provide to users. Through 3D Hubs, the Thingiverse community can be more easily widened, encompassing those without their own printers and bringing these two prolific communities together. With MakePrintable, steps are not just streamlined but made easier to create printable models, taking what Jaglom noted as having previously been a long, tedious process into “one seamless experience: Fix, customize, send to print, all from one place.”

“It’s the first step,” Jaglom noted. “There’s more to come out of this. The goal? Unleash the innovator in you.”

And these partner companies certainly agree.

“I’m very excited, this will make 3D printing much more inviting around the world,” 3D Hubs co-founder Bram de Zwart told me. “That’s what you need as a novice; access to designs, access to printers.”

De Zwart, whom I’ve had the pleasure previously of interviewing about his company’s business model, was enthusiastic about the partnership and what it has to offer in bringing these two communities together.

3dp_i3d2_makeprintable_logoMichael Makdah of MakePrintable, whom I first met at Inside 3D Printing Santa Clara last year, also noted how great the partnership with Thingiverse is for them. With 5,000 users already and a success rate up to 94% for fixing files, MakePrintable is going to be announcing further partnerships in the near future, with Thingiverse a strong starting point.

“It’s really cool what this is doing, opening up,” Makdah told me. “We feel we can bring in a lot of value. Being a Thingiverse user myself, many models are not printable, and now they can be — and can print with 3D Hubs if I didn’t have a printer. Today’s market, people want to put their mark — reduce the amount of steps to 3D print a file. We’re not short on content anymore, but short on post-processing to get it 3D printed.”

With partnerships and offerings like this further opening the 3D printing community to those interested in getting started but unsure how as well as allowing those with more experience to develop their own apps and techniques, the Thingiverse Development Portal certainly seems like a strong step in the right direction for makers. And, like Jaglom, I am very much intrigued to see where this will be in a year or more.

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