He founded the web’s first commercial portal and is credited with coining the term “Web 2.0.” But perhaps Dale Dougherty’s greatest achievement is as a publisher and event producer, first as co-founder of O’Reilly Media and today as head of Maker Media, a newly independent company that publishes MAKE magazine and produces Maker Faire. We spoke at Maker Media’s Sebastopol, California, office.
Karen: The Make division of O’Reilly was founded in 2005, the same year Etsy launched. Is there a connection between those two events?
Dale: There’s a deep connection. I met [Etsy founder] Rob Kalin in San Francisco and I was really impressed with what he was doing. At that time, the web bubble had burst and Rob was a signal to me that it was coming back and that small teams of people could build incredible applications on the web. Investors weren’t thinking that was going to happen; they were looking for the next technology after the web. For me, seeing what Rob was doing with Etsy was an early sign of where the web would go. And I saw the DIY connection as well, of course.
Karen: And for you the DIY connection found its expression in MAKE?
Dale: MAKE helped to give a name to what people were already doing, to create visibility around it, and to recognize it as a part of ourselves that has value.
Karen: Why did you choose a magazine as the format?
Dale: Making has so many facets, I thought a magazine was the perfect format. I wanted something visual, exciting, something you could flip through with lots of variety. The trim size of MAKE is an homage to magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. I was fascinated by the role those magazines had in people’s lives. I felt a voice like that could still be fresh today.
Karen: How would you describe that voice?
Dale: There’s a big cultural thing here. If somebody says to me says that I should be a good consumer, I feel deflated, I feel like you are treating me like dirt, and underestimating who I am and what I can do. Consuming is sold as “easy,” but if we only do things that are easy, we don’t end up with a very high valuation of what we can do. Being a maker — being creative and productive — is operating at a different level, and it’s not necessarily easy. So, the magazine offers another voice and set of values. Because of the magazine, I was meeting a lot of people and I thought, “What would happen if they could meet each other? And would the public enjoy talking with them?” That’s what led to Maker Faire. When you put passionate people together, you have a different view of mankind. You see that people are generous, wonderful, and creative. That’s what I think is core in all this, that DIY in its broadest context is a kind of social glue and an instigator of community.
Karen: In the future, where do you see the role of making in education?
Dale: I think DIY has a lot to say about education and learning. We have a top down mindset in education. We take control away from kids and say, “You have to do all these things that we mandate,” instead of working with their motivation and interest. I think the future for education is that kids will have more control over it, and that there will be more choices beyond what the education system provides. I think kids can come to learning from a sense of play. Then, they might want to take what they are learning seriously at some point as a job.
Karen: Do you think there is a connection between the Maker movement and ecological concerns? For example, what role does making play in a world with limited resources?
Dale: In a world of limited resources we need to be resourceful, and the Maker mindset encourages that. If there is something I could wish for America, it’s that we would restore resourcefulness as a middle class virtue. In the old sense of DIY, there was the understanding that if we worked on our home or made our own clothes, we had a better life as a result. We had something that money couldn’t buy —the rewards of our efforts, satisfaction, and engagement with others. Those things are at the heart of how and why we live.
Karen: So as opposed to the old romantic image of an artist working in isolation, you see making as a way of being social?
Dale: Well, let’s look at it — we make things for special occasions, right? Why do we cook when friends come over instead just ordering take out? It’s a sign of caring about people. And when you do it, there is the added plus that you can become a good cook over time, and it also gives you a little moment to shine. But it all happens because you are caring about other people.
That’s really the heart of what led me to focus on “amateurs” at Maker Faire and with the magazine. The root of the word amateur is “to love.” I wanted to focus on people who really love what they are doing and making. I wanted to find that place and stick with it.
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