Eric Wilhelm founded Instructables.com, “the world’s biggest show and tell” Web site where users crowdsource do-it-yourself or DIY projects, from lawnmower race cars to skateboard sails. The site began in 2005 as a way for Wilhlem to document his mechanical engineering work and grad school kite-surfing projects. He’s co-founded Squid Labs, an innovation and design partnership, and a number of Squid Labs spin-off companies including Potenco, producing a human-powered generator for cell phones and laptops; Makani, an energy company seeking to harness high-altitude wind; and OptiOpia, developing low-cost portable vision-testing and lens-fabricating devices. Talked innovation with him in this installment of Five Questions With ….
ID: Who is Instructables.com for? Inventors? Creative types? College kids? People with too much time on their hands?
EW: The site is for everyone. Everyone has an Instructable in them - something they do really well, or a trick they use to make life easier. The people who share are passionate about their projects and want to show them off. The analogy is that people put things they’ve built, baked or created on their coffee table so that they’ll be asked questions about it. With Instructables, we’ve just put that coffee table online.
ID: What’s off limits? Can someone post a dirty bomb or how to hack an iPhone?
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EW: We review every project and don’t let junk through.
ID: We hear anecdotally more people are turning to DIY and entrepreneurial inventive pursuits, particularly in the sour economy. Comment on the link between the emergence of Instructables and macro-economic forces.EW: DIY has always had a strong reuse and re-purposing component. When people watch their budgets more carefully, they naturally look for ways to reuse and re-purpose.
ID: What does the emergence of the DIY scene say about our culture?
EW: Part of the emergence of DIY is a backlash against mass-consumerism. Many people express their identity through the things that they use. If everyone has the same things as you, what does that say about you? DIY is a way to personalize and express individuality.
ID: What’s the coolest idea you’ve ever seen on the site?
EW: A “wheelchair” for Dachshunds.