10:24 PM

O'Reilly making the most of Make - Makers Media will pursue range of opportunities in realworld remixing


O'Reilly's magazine is the expression of something that Dale Dougherty has been thinking about for a long time. The creator of the first commercial website, Global Network Navigator (where I first worked for him back in 1994), Dale's passions have frequently led to visionary products that were substantially ahead of the market (and often sold to larger players at a tidy profit for the Sebastopol-based publisher). During my years at O'Reilly, Dale and I discussed many ideas to tackle the "technology enthusiast" market that he held near and dear.

With Make, he has simultaneously defined that market as larger than anyone else imagined and delivered a product that re-establishes O'Reilly's ability to inspire geeklove. The magazine was a hit from its launch last fall around the time of O'Reilly's Etech conference. To date, 21,000 people have subscribed to the magazine, not including single-copy sales, more than double O'Reilly's goal of 10,000 copies.

Now Dougherty is leading a new group at O'Reilly, deemed Maker Media, to pursue the "integrated media play" around Make. "We see opportunities for international licensing, potential for other magazines, events and promotional opportunities, book publishing." (The timing is good for O'Reilly, which has had a hard time recovering from the dot-bomb. While sales of their hard-core tech titles have remained weak, their Missing Manuals and other consumer titles have led a recovery.)

An issue of Make will take you step by step through attaching a disposable camera to a kite for aerial photography, adding a wifi-enabled computer to your car, or breaking into an iPod. Why should this be the hot magazine of the year? "It expresses something that resonates with a lot of people," Dougherty told me. "It's a recognition of the age-old traditions of making things - lots of people used to make things, think about your grandfather's shop.

While it sounds like a by-geeks-for-geeks title, it is proving to appeal to a wide range of people, not all of whom re-read "Learning Perl" in bed. Editor Mark Frauenfelder recently appeared on NPR's Science Friday and the magazine has been written about from mainstream magazines like Forbes.

"There are lots of makers out there but no one takes them seriously. People have become accustomed to buying things, but what do you do with your free time? You could watch TV or you could make things," Dale said.

I asked Dale for his opinion of the PSP hackers who are ripping open Sony's new game machine, installing better wifi antennas and writing software that enables playback of standard digital media, as I covered in my PSP-pod article.

In that article I argued that Sony should turn a blind eye towards hackers rather than trying to shut them down with a firmware upgrade. Dale goes further, though: "Companies should design for hacking. It's convenient to ignore it but why not embrace it? Companies should design products to encourage users to adapt it to suit their purposes." Just like the development of Linux allowed the development of thousands of open source programs, physical devices could essentially come with a development kit that people would use to build on top of the device.

Even if they don't, people will increasingly take matters into their own hands. When Dale's daughter broke the jack off her iPod Mini, Dale tried to have it fixed and was told the only thing to do was to buy a new unit. Figuring he had nothing to lose, he found a hacker site on how to break into the seemingly impervious mini (heat the plastic up with a hair dryer) and replaced the jack himself.

In a world where consumers are trained to seek satisfaction by buying technology but are quickly bored and disillusioned by their purchase, the maker movement holds the promise of making technology fun again.