I’m watching a video of a designer explaining why he’s “quitting Thingiverse”, and this poses questions about MakerBot’s Thingiverse strategy.
The video was published by Melbourne-based Joshua “Osh” Vidovic, who is a designer of 3D printable game figurines. Vidovic explains his experience with Thingiverse, from the moment he joined to the moment he decided to move away from the platform.
Vidovic Arts Thingiverse
Vidovic explained that he joined Thingiverse only a couple of years ago and the basis for his decision was simply that Thingiverse was large and well-known. Obviously, designers want to put their wares in front of the largest crowd, and that would be Thingiverse. Today Thingiverse is still the largest single online repository dedicated to 3D printable objects, and it does draw many visitors.
But then Vidovic encountered issues, and it’s fascinating to hear him describe them, as he’s coming to the party as an outsider to the 3D printing universe and seeing Thingiverse as a service for designers. You can hear him describe the issues in detail in the video, but suffice to say the workflows he felt would be optimal for a designer like himself just weren’t there in Thingiverse.
He was also bothered by the seeming lack of service from Thingiverse when his enquiries went unanswered. This I can understand as the site is so massive it would be quite expensive to provide comprehensive service for literally millions of 3D models, especially for a platform that collects no revenue from most users, aside from some adverts that were only recently added. By and large, the content of Thingiverse is unmoderated with the exception being for removal of disputed intellectual property.
Vidovic was caught up in this himself, as some of his own 3D models — to be clear, models he designed himself not based on any other IP — were taken down without any notice to him. He eventually found out these designs were offline when one of his followers pointed it out. He received no notice of this happening and was unable to dispute the move.
This likely happened because the content certification is surely an automated process, probably based on keywords used in the model titles. It’s probable that Vidovic accidentally used a keyword that triggered the automated removal.
From his point of view, all of this seemed quite unfriendly, and he’s probably correct. The outcome was that he made a decision to leave Thingiverse and migrate his 3D models to MyMiniFactory, an alternative repository that focuses on designers.
As you’ll see in the video, his experience as a designer was quite different and more welcoming with MyMiniFactory. That site has been around for quite a while, and it goes as far as to certify the printability of each and every item submitted to the site. They even work with designers to assist them in ensuring their models are properly formed.
Vidovic found a match for his goals and workflow with MyMiniFactory.
Why did this happen? I think it’s because MyMiniFactory’s strategy is to cater to designers like Vidovic. Their entire business model, marketing, technology and process are all directly focused on servicing individual designers. And in this case, that strategy worked well: Vidovic is now a happy MyMiniFactory contributor.
If MyMiniFactory is tightly focused on servicing designers, then what, exactly, is Thingiverse’s focus?
I’m not certain, even after using Thingiverse myself for over a decade.
The site was launched in 2008 as a companion service for MakerBot’s initial desktop 3D printer, the CupCake. The idea was that more machines would be sold if non-designers could easily access 3D printable content, and they were correct.
At that time MakerBot was quite a different company than it is today. Then it focused on the DIY and maker communities, and a free-wheeling repository was just what was needed for that tech crowd to share interesting designs, which is still taking place today.
But in 2013 MakerBot was acquired by Stratasys, and Thingiverse came along as part of the deal. Since then Thingiverse has been given a few upgrades to its front and back ends, but there really hasn’t been a change in focus. It seems to be in limbo between the DIY and professional 3D printing universes. This scenario has caused many designers to migrate elsewhere, like Vidovic is, and one of our most popular posts ever is Alternatives to Thingiverse.
To be sure, the “new” MakerBot has been using Thingiverse as a platform for some of its educational programs and also for other new services. But its core function, at least in the view of most visitors, seems rather unchanged. There are thus multiple audiences trying to use a single platform for different purposes and that’s why Vidovic had his troubles.
I’m not sure what MakerBot should do here, but did speculate on Thingiverse’s future recently. They could rebrand it as an education platform, for example, or integrate it somehow with Stratasys’ other 3D model repository, GrabCAD.
But leaving it as is will simply create more unfortunate situations as Vidovic unknowingly encountered.