If anyone was suffering under the illusion that Makerbot had suddenly become an evil company that was plotting evil and evily being evil, then Pettis’ new post should put those fears to rest.
Pettis, on behalf of Makerbot, tried to rephrase his original message to the community.
For what it’s worth (I’ve never run a million dollar business), I agree with Makerbot’s business decision(s). The hacker community just isn’t big enough, by itself, to allow Makerbot to grow. Also for what it’s worth (I won’t pretend to speak for anyone else), I agree with Makerbot’s ethical decision(s). Open source means releasing your work for other people to do with as they will. There are no takesies-backsies. If you were a big enough person to use an open souce license (or no license) in the first place then don’t suddenly become a small person when somebody actually does something with the work you released.
What I have a problem with is the thing that illustrates that Makerbot actually IS fumbling their way through uncharted terrain: even with all of his experience as a teacher, and a geek-media personality, and the face of Makerbot, and with a couple days of feedback…Pettis still can’t figure out how to talk about the Replicator 2 being closed source.
- He can’t decide if the Replicator 2 is “groundbreaking” because it’s brand new or if it’s exactly the same as the open source Replicator with a few minor alterations for mass production
- He regularly conflates ethical decisions with financial ones
- He implies that the customers who bought Cupcakes and whatnot when the Makerbot founders were eating Ramen don’t respect the machines because they’d rather “break” them than use them to make other things
- He plays lip service to valuing the discussion, but only quotes people who agree with him
- He has been intimately involved in open source hardware, and business, for as long as anyone relevant but he can’t come up with any specific “wonderful benefits” of corporate/community collaboration
- Finally, he expresses a desire to be credited with “love and support for the sharers of the world” but also wants credit for making the Replicator 2 (and the implication is all subsequent printers) “more user friendly but less hacker friendly”
This shouldn’t be interpreted as a condemnation. I think these contradictions illustrate that Makerbot really is unsure of its position, both economically and philosophically. There are some real issues here. But, Pettis’ failure to deal with them clearly comes of as Machiavellian. I still put enough trust in Makerbot and Pettis to assume that they aren’t being Machiavellian, but apparently they jumped over that shark in the eyes of a significant percentage of the community.
I don’t think it was really the closed product that did it; I think it was the bush-league way Makerbot handled (and is still handling) the community’s concerns. There’s no way they would have done this much damage to their reputation on purpose; the only plausible explanation is that they are legitimately confused.
I think this quote sums it up, “If we are not entirely clear, it’s because we are searching ourselves!“
However, Pettis should probably find someone else to write his Open Hardware Summit speech.
An interesting bit of history is this interview with Make Magazine right after that infamous $10M of VC funding. For what it’s worth, here is what Pettis had to say at the time:
- Does funding change the commitment to open source hardware?
- The funding doesn’t change our commitment to being open source. Why would we change a winning strategy?…In the future, people will remember businesses that refused to share with their customers and wonder how they could be so backwards…I think people worry on our behalf that as an open hardware company, we’ll get knocked off and undercut. First of all, that happens all the time to businesses that are not open hardware. In order to be truly competitive, we’ve got to keep rocking it!
- What do the investors believe they are investing in? Since open source hardware “gives away” some of the IP usually associated with investments, do they understand that others could make MakerBots too?
- The investors are investing in us as innovators and our ability to execute on a vision. Being open source means that our users are our best collaborators. Open source hardware is a viable business model!
- The usual goal for VC firms is to have the company they invest in get acquired or go public. Where do they want to see MakerBot go? Where do you want MakerBot to go?
- Our plan is to make the world a more innovative place filled with MakerBots.
- Now that you’ve got “real money” at play, are you worried about people coming after you over patents? Is MakerBot mostly patent-free? Or are we going to see a good chunk of that 10 mil go towards lawyers? Before, you likely weren’t worth the trouble, but now?
- It’s going to be hard to figure out how to be an open hardware company that lives in the open source future while protecting ourselves from the proprietary ways of the contemporary patent system.