Open Letter to Google (Sketchup)
Update: Google responded on my blog! To read it, click here.
Below is my open letter to the Google SketchUp team, aimed at Aidan Chopra, SketchUp Evangelist and John Bacus, the Product Manager for SketchUp. I’m writing an open letter for various reasons. My research on communities, open source and distributed innovation shows how important the whole ecosystem is. It also shows that it’s not just about the number of 3D printers installed but also the community, infrastructure and the accessibility of the whole experience. Another reason is seeing Aidan and John’s presentation (see the video embedded below!), which verbalizes very well what SketchUp is all about: “3D for everyone”. John and Aidan’s explicitly recognize the value of physical models to 3D modeling and vice versa. That indeed makes it into an “awesome” experience to which few people could say no. I actually believe they might be susceptible to my moral bribery to practice what they preach (to the full extent, they already do a great job with SketchUp). If this could stimulate (and benefit from!) the democratization of innovation and decentralized manufacturing, that would have a profound positive impact on society and our planet. Feel free to underwrite my letter or join the discussion! I’ll send it via e-mail too after getting a few days’ of feedback from the community.
Hi John and Aidan,
I’m a real fan of the work you’re doing with SketchUp. It is by far the most accessible CAD package, with a very impressive feature set.
I’ve watched your presentation at the i.Materialise conference with much interest, especially because I’m part of, and promoting the RepRap project (and several spin-off projects). You’re probably aware of these fabber projects, but perhaps not of their extent and growth rate. As you know software adoption can be massive (e.g. SketchUp as a perfect example). Likewise, the adoption rate of RepRap machines is also impressive and unlike anything I’ve seen in the physical world: the community has been doubling every ~ 6 months, which means that it grows hundred-fold in just 40 months! It has had this remarkable growth for 4 years now and on a log-graph it shows a remarkably steady exponential growth rate. Today, there are tens of thousands people with their own, or even several 3D printers in their homes. These people are enabling each other to share fixes to physical real-world problems and to innovate with all physical things they care about, To learn to go from thought to object… These are critical skills for this century, and people enjoy learning them. The quantity of 3D printer-adopters today isn’t nearly as impressive as the quantity of tomorrow. And today there are already about as many open source 3D printers in the hands of amateurs, as there are commercial 3D printer units sold, ever (based on industry figures from Wohlers report 2009). This industry took 20 years to develop with – more or less – linear growth rates (while standing still during recessions), and – below the radar – it doubled because of amateurs . They want to learn (from our innate striving for competence), have problems to fix (taps into our desire for autonomy) and find the project meaningful (strong drive for purpose driven people). You and your colleagues at Google seem to have a great understanding of the cognitive surplus (borrowing the phrase from Clay Shirky’s book ) and how to harness it (e.g. aggregating 3D contributions in Google Earth) and how immense a societal value this could create. I’d love to see you take it a step further.
I’ve done work in systems dynamics, and feedback loops and variables like the amount of models out there. The variable “accessibility of 3D modeling software” is just as important as affordable ($ 2K or lower), OK-quality printers. Right now, SketchUp’s newly introduced solid features are critical improvements that makes SketchUp perfect for 3D printing, just like you mentioned in your talk. Yet it is only part of the SketchUp Pro 8 package which is quite expensive. Even more expensive than many people’s 3D printers. I think the RepRap community can, and will, create value for the whole 3D ecosystem, by creating printable models, finding business models to keep doing what they’re passionate about (at which point they could afford a license), post online tutorials showing how easy and powerful SketchUp really is, etc. etc. Plus, as you said in your presentation, making 3D models is awesome, but making stuff from your 3D model is REALLY awesome!
On behalf of the whole 3D community, I’d like to ask you to introduce the solid features for users of the free version, too.
Erik de Bruijn
RepRap enthusiast and ambassador
Open source entrepreneur
Notes and references:
 Self-replicating devices: the statistics – http://blog.erikdebruijn.nl/archives/145-Self-replicating-devices-the-statistics.html
 When I say “Amateurs” I mean amateur in the original sense of the word: those who are passionate about something.
 Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age – http://www.amazon.com/Cognitive-Surplus-Creativity-Generosity-Connected/dp/1594202532
More about myself: http://www.google.com/profiles/erikdebruijn1#about