Filling the do-it-yourself niche
Published: Monday, May 7, 2007 at 3:38 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 6, 2007 at 9:00 p.m.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: In 1993, you developed the first commercial Web site -- known as the Global Network Navigator. How did you come up with the idea?
DOUGHERTY: Late in 1991, I saw a demonstration of the Web from Tim Berners-Lee, its founder, and I became a believer. I began showing it to others and watched as they were amazed by its power -- that you could use a single program to access information on servers around the world. I remember saying: "That page just came from Italy. Just like that." You'd have to remind everyone that it wasn't coming from a local hard disk. I knew this was the future for publishing. I set out to organize a team to build a site but it was never clear how we could make money on it. Before Yahoo, GNN was an early attempt to create a directory of links to what you could find on the World Wide Web; it was also a magazine with some articles on how to explore this new world. We sold GNN to AOL in 1995 for millions, although AOL didn't deliver on the promise to scale it up. (Editor's note: the site is viewable at www.oreilly.com/gnn)
PRESS DEMOCRAT: What was the impetus behind Make Magazine?
DOUGHERTY: People like to do projects. It's fun to make something, even if you could buy the same thing. Plus, it's even more satisfying to share it with family and friends. If you look on a magazine rack, you see magazines devoted to cooking, gardening and woodworking -- all of them based on DIY (do-it-yourself) projects. I didn't see a magazine that applied the DIY mindset to technology, so I wanted to create one, a magazine with a broad range of technology projects. We want to help you make technology do things you imagine it should do, like put a video camera in a model rocket and send it up in the air. Once I came up with the idea, I explored back issues of old magazines, like Popular Science and Popular Electronics, and I realized that there once was a tradition of magazines for tinkerers that had been lost. I wanted to recover it.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: You have grown the paid circulation for Make to 90,000 in two years. How are you accomplishing this rapid growth during a time when some people prognosticate the death of print?
DOUGHERTY: Through the Web itself and word of mouth. Make seems to get people talking, not necessarily about the magazine, but about projects they do or hope to do. We also designed Make to be a great experience in itself, almost like a movie.
It is part-book, part-magazine and we don't have a lot of ads cluttering it up. Readers tell me they sit down with Make and lose themselves in it for several hours. I couldn't create the same experience online today but our online site, makezine.com, plays an important role in showcasing all the projects that people everywhere are doing. The Web site tracks the pulse of our community minute-by-minute, something we couldn't do in print. Our Craft magazine follows the same model.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: What is the Maker Faire, and why is it important for creative minds to come together?
DOUGHERTY: Maker Faire is based on the idea, like the county fair, that you want to share what you make with others. I wanted to bring hobbyists, enthusiasts and tinkerers together and let them meet each other and show their work to the public. Instead of bringing pigs and pies to the fair, they are bringing robots, circuit-bent musical instruments, model rockets, homemade bikes, and a lot of powerful machines, some of which shoot fire. We have all kinds of clever and useful arts and crafts as well as the fashionable remix of clothing. If you bring all this together, you spark new ideas among the makers and everyone who comes to see them. You can see the twinkle in their eyes, young and old alike.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: Make already includes the magazine, the Web site and the fair. What's the next platform?
DOUGHERTY: We've signed a development agreement to work on a half-hour TV show, which we hope will be distributed on PBS. Think of a cooking show combined with "This Old House," but devoted to technology projects.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: It is a little-known fact that you coined the term "Web 2.0," which has become the hottest buzzword in technology. How did you come up with the phrase and what does it mean to you?
DOUGHERTY: Tim O'Reilly is more the expert on what Web 2.0 means. I simply came up with a name to designate that there was a new beginning -- new energy, new ideas, new approaches to problems -- after the dot-com bust. For me, Web 2.0 was a re-affirmation that the most amazing and innovative technology at hand was the Web, once again. It's incredible how quickly we've adapted to the Web, and the Web to us, in less than 15 years.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: So if during the Web 2.0 phase you started Make Magazine, what were you doing during the dot-com boom?
DOUGHERTY: Once we sold GNN, I thought it would be fun to do a soap opera online. We created one called "Ferndale," which was about a group of people living in the redwoods who were taught to practice a new kind of "communications therapy" over the Internet. Characters left sticky-notes on a Web page to tell the story. It lasted six weeks and I tell myself it was just a crazy idea a bit ahead of its time. Crazy but fun.
This interview was conducted via e-mail by Staff Writer Nathan Halverson, who can be reached at 521-5494 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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