is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Last week my friends Gina Trapani and Anil Dash of ThinkUp launched a long-simmering side project called Makerbase—basically an IMDb for technology where anybody can sign in and register their contribution to any project, or give credit to collaborators. You can see my Makerbase profile here to get a sense of how it works. Anil wrote an entertaining essay explaining “How Makerbase is Different From…” and it’s worth a read, but I decided to ask Gina a few basic questions about what they built.
Khoi Vinh: How did this project start, and how did it evolve into today’s launch?
Gina Trapani: Makerbase was Anil’s idea—an idea he’s talked to me about since 2011, when we were having lunch, hanging out, just chatting about apps and things we wanted to see in the tech world. Looking back, what we launched today is very close to what I understood to be the original idea four years ago, down to the name.
Despite kicking around the idea for years, we didn’t start building Makerbase until eight months ago, because we were busy building ThinkUp, our company, and ThinkUp the product. Once ThinkUp was established, after the holidays in 2014, we had a couple months of “boring” back-end work to do—around billing and Facebook API changes—nothing user-facing, which is what we love to do. So, as a reward to ourselves for getting through that tedium, we decided to work on Makerbase as a 20% project. We basically spent Fridays on it, starting in January of this year. Once we had a working prototype, we both became more smitten with the possibilities, so we put some more time and resources into it to get to a real launch.
You wrote in a tweet that “Makerbase is about giving credit and attribution, especially where it’s overdue. Apps aren’t just made by founders and coders.” Can you elaborate on this?
In the tech industry, founders and developers are lionized, but a lot more goes into building apps and services than writing code or perfecting the pitch deck. Managing community, doing customer service, writing great copy, managing events, bringing donuts, training interns, writing detailed bug reports—all those tasks matter, but the folks who do them almost never get the credit they deserve.
There have been attempts at solving this before. What are the major challenges you see in making Makerbase work where they didn’t?
Every maker and project on Makerbase is editable by anyone, so it’s like a wiki in that respect. So, for it to be useful, it will require constant gardening, and a community of trusted users who can help. Our biggest challenge? Making Makerbase worthy of that kind of time and effort and trust. We’re gonna give it our best shot.
Okay so actually I have a fourth question: It sounds like Makerbase will require a lot of time. Will you have to choose between that and ThinkUp?
I don’t think so. From a technical perspective, ThinkUp and Makerbase share code, so when one improves, so does the other. From a product perspective, the two also share many attributes, voice, and visuals. (The eagle-eyed will notice Makerbase’s color palette is the same as ThinkUp’s.) From a business perspective, I like having a diversified revenue stream, with both subscriptions and sponsorships. From a day-to-day management point of view, we will have to make careful decisions about how we allocate our time and resources between the two products, and there will be times when we’ll focus more on one than on the other. It will be a challenge, but we think Makerbase and ThinkUp will easily coexist as siblings.+