If you are a 3D printer operator you probably have noticed that Thingiverse sucks at the moment. After being asked to write about it I decided to grab the bull by the horns and reached out to Makerbot. I asked them if I could buy Thingiverse. Sadly they weren’t interested in selling it to me.
For a long time, I thought that Thingiverse was the smartest thing in 3D printing. One central file repository for the entire 3D printing community, what a brilliant idea! Open source ideas and files could be exchanged for free by anyone. We could all work together to make all of the things better. In my idealism, Thingiverse could become the one tool that would let us all stand on the shoulders of giants. When the Makerbot team started to patent things its community had made and subsequently turned its back on open source, Thingiverse took a hit. A select few had ridden the open-source popularity wave and essentially used to the community for their own gain without giving back.
No longer loved, the platform still has an unassailable lead in files though. Dozens of other platforms imitated Thingiverse but none manage to come anywhere near its installed base. Even with an Autodesk Instructables plugging at the problem Thingiverse still remains the largest by far. Because it has the most users and the most files it has inertia and people keep publishing on it. Yes, you could try Pinshape, Youmagine or Minifactory but you’ll still get the most downloads, comments, and attention on Thingiverse. Yes, of course, you can search on other repositories but more things will still be on Thingiverse. Even users who by now don’t like the platform still use it very often. Thingiverse has become like a tax on 3D printing. Thingiverse has over two million registered users and has had more than 340 million downloads.
After Stratasys bought Makerbot the firm invested in Thingiverse, making an education version, an improved API, integrations with others, upload tools and adding functionality. For the past year however it been awfully quiet on Thingiverse. Thingiverse chugs along but kind of like the Flying Dutchman sailing the oceans without a crew doomed to continue a never-ending journey. Some social media accounts haven’t been updated for months. Spam and other undesirable content continue to at times not be moderated. Load times have gone to a few minutes per page and the site has had bugs that seem to not be solved for months. Log in issues took a long time to be resolved. There have been continuing issues with the renderings not displaying. A photo upload issue has not been resolved. The site has a lot of time outs and crashes. Lately, it seems to be getting worse. The site is at times painfully slow and you get a lot of errors when using it.
Meanwhile, it looks like some people are crawling and indexing Thingiverse, perhaps to use its data to start new competitors. This will negatively affect the performance of the site and will hasten its end. Rumors persist that the site has only one staff member assigned to it. It feels forlorn and unloved. So what do we do about Thingiverse? It seems that there would be a few options.
- Make Stratasys Love Thingiverse. Even though Stratasys interest is squarely focused on the enterprise Thingiverse’s installed base and way of sharing files could be a huge boon for open source and education. Thingiverse could become ad-supported to generate enough cash to survive in a cost-neutral way. With some ad revenue, a small team could keep up maintaining this huge and key 3D printing property.
- Get Makerbot to invest more in it so that the site becomes more reliable. Boring but probably the easiest option.
- A coup de grace. Kill it off. It continues to chug along and maybe we should put it out of its misery in order to let us focus our attention on other competing websites.
- Crowdfund Buying or Restarting Thingiverse. We get together, form a foundation and then try to crowdfund a new Thingiverse or buy the old one from Stratasys. The foundation affirms its open-source principles and tries to use ads to stay afloat and improve the site.
- Encourage someone to buy and invest in Thingiverse. I certainly see the long term value of this shared utility that is Thingiverse, maybe a start-up or established firm could also see this?
- Continue this stumbling around in the dark like a lazy zombie bore-apocalypse and do nothing.
What do you suggest?
We reached out to Makerbot and they got back to us saying,
“As the largest database for 3D print designs, Thingiverse sees a high volume of traffic on a daily basis, and continues to grow regularly with new users. We understand the frustrations and limitations to the current site, and are making much-needed updates and enhancements to ensure that users have a smoother and better site experience.“We are redesigning the website, which should address the latency issues, and fixing the backend to address the underlying issues. Over time, we will also be updating other site features. We remain committed to Thingiverse and the 3D printing community, and will continue to make site improvements as needed.”
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