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Announcing A New Member of the iFixit Family, Make: Projects

I don’t like to keep secrets. I’d much rather talk about the process of building iFixit as we go, explaining our rationale and motivations. We work most effectively by interacting with you and taking advantage of community feedback: we really do value your perspective and advice.

So I am thrilled to finally be able to tell you about a top-secret project we’ve been working on for a while: Today, in conjunction with Make Magazine, we are launching Make: Projects.

John Park using Make:projects to make an PIR Sensor Arduino Alarm
John Park with his PIR Sensor Arduino Alarm

Make is a DIY publisher started by the best technology book publisher on the planet, O’Reilly. Their mission is simple: to teach people how to make awesome stuff. I absolutely love everything about them. Their community comes out en masse at Maker Faire every year. Their staff are some of the smartest, friendliest, most in-the-loop people in the publishing industry. And they write the coolest, best-documented, and most practical project instructions out there. We are fortunate to be collaborating with them.

The new site runs on the same software platform that we do, making it easy for anyone to publish step-by-step guides that show you how to make things.

Here’s the best way to think about this:

Simple enough! Of course, those are both monumental goals. Make is already off to a good start, though—they’ve already got over a hundred projects online, and more are going up every day.

Modding Tonka trucks with Make:projects
Modding Tonka trucks

The idea for this project came about a year ago when I was talking with Dale Dougherty (co-founder of O’Reilly and founder of Make) about the need for a common procedural manual file format. Dale has even more experience with documentation than I do, having written the book on sed and awk, two absolutely critical UNIX utilities we use for manipulating text. Our “Aha!” moment occured when we realized that iFixit’s repair guides have almost exactly the same underlying structure as Make’s project tutorials. The problem they have is that magazine layouts don’t convert very well to the web.

Make has the same problem most publishers do: their content is stuck in Indesign, and Adobe has traditionally done a very poor job of enabling semantic markup and compatibility with external workflows. That may not matter to you, but it’s the reason they have never really posted their full project library online (their digital edition provides online viewing, but it’s Flash-based and not very web-friendly).

We’ve actually been blown away by how easy it has been to map their projects into our rigid, semantic, step-by-step guide framework. You can see the results for yourself: their projects look absolutely phenomenal online.

We are absolutely thrilled to take the same collaborative software that we use to enable people to work together on service manuals and provide it to the burgeoning DIY maker movement. This will be an invaluable tool for hackerspaces and groups like DIY Bio to build a knowledge base.

What’s in a manual?

Our procedural manuals have:

  • Title
  • Time required
  • Difficulty
  • Tools
  • Parts + Materials
  • Summary
  • Introduction
  • Step-by-step instructions. Each step has:
    • Up to three photos
    • Up to ten bullets
  • Conclusion

Now that two of the largest publishers of DIY instructions are using the same format, there are some exciting possibilities for enabling the community! I’ll be writing more about this soon.

What goes where?

There are some interesting grey areas where the sites may blend, and it will be up to the communities to decide what content belongs where.

What belongs on iFixit:

Instructions to make things last longer. Repairs, upgrades, hacks to existing things that make them work longer, maintenance techniques.

What does not belong on iFixit:

Anything that does not help make things work longer. Examples: mods and hacks that add ancillary functionality.

What belongs on Make:

Instructions to make things. Examples: ways to make innovative crafts, mods like Maquariums, new kite designs, Arduino hacks, and DIY manufacturing techniques.

What does not belong on Make:

Repairs, maintenance, tips for making things last longer. Duplicate builds of existing projects.

Sometimes repair requires manufacturing, like this capacitor discharge tool, thus creating a grey area. (BP’s repair of the oil well is certainly the most prominent example of this, but I doubt they’ll be teaching us how to do what they did.) We’ll work with the combined communities on to further clarify the community policy on what belongs where. This is real-world information architecture, and I’m looking forward to helping coordinate this.

What changes were made for Make?

Those of you already familiar with iFixit may wonder what we had to change to make the platform work for Make. In addition to the obvious facelift, we made two primary changes:

  1. We renamed ‘Device’ to ‘Topic’. So where on iFixit guides are organized by device (like installing a battery or an LCD in a specific iPod), on Make guides will be organized by topic (like Rocketry or Soft Circuits).
  2. You can add Make guides to up to two topics. This makes sense for projects like Arduino Blinking Bike Patch that should be visible by browsing to either Soft Circuits or Arduino.

How do we organize everything?

iFixit is organized by device. The instructions to install an iPod battery are nested this way: Media Player -> iPod -> iPod Nano -> iPod Nano 4th generation.

Make: Projects is organized by topic. To learn how to make a solar-powered LED bracelet, you’d browse through Craft -> Jewelry -> Solar Joule Bracelet.

Now go teach people to make something!

The internet is still quite poor at connecting the digital world with the physical. Make: Projects is a big step forward in our efforts to make the internet better by teaching people how to do real things.