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Instructables show the way

Jan 02, 20063 mins
Enterprise Applications

* The Instructables Web site

Today’s topic is a really simple Web application that shows people how to do it for themselves. By “it” I mean something – anything – that someone else bothers to document.

The Web site is Instructables and the concept is straightforward: Someone with an idea or a technique takes a series of photos of their work, posts the pictures to the Instructables Web site, and adds a commentary. Where this gets really interesting is that other people can make comments and ask questions, with the result that steps in the project that aren’t clear get clarified, and alternative, improved, or new ideas get incorporated.

Instructables describes itself as “a step-by-step collaboration system that helps you record and share your projects.” Instructables was created by Squid Labs, whose motto is, “We’re not a think tank, we’re a do tank.”

To add a project you need to register (registration is free). Projects (also referred to on the Web site as “processes”) are created through a simple form and can be “free tagged” making projects easily found through indexes such as

Some of the projects detailed on Instructables that I particularly like are:

“How to build a 1,024,000 mcd portable light”

“Five foot tall Jacob’s ladder” (which also includes movies of the device in action)

“3D Scanner”

“3D chocolate printer made from LEGO”

So far much of the content is very much along the lines of O’Reilly’s Make Magazine (see the Gibbsblog posting) but I suspect that this could change if any commercial vendors get involved.

For example, imagine software companies posting how-to’s for their applications or car part manufacturers showing how to install their products. Of course, any vendor that gets involved in this kind of platform is going to have to be very mature about the negative responses they might open themselves up to.

On the other hand, for a vendor that can face up to potential criticism – just imagine how a loyal following could be built and how much products could be improved not only by feedback but also from users’ ideas for product improvements.

I predict that this type of aggregator of “how-to’s” will become very popular over the next couple of years and will pose some interesting challenges to vendors both in managing their brands as well as controlling what they might view as anything that affects their rights.

Already, one project has been pulled from the roster on Instructables due to a copyright issue (see what is left of the deleted Scrabble board project).


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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