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The Instructable You

Thu, 10/04/2012 - 3:47pm
Meaghan Ziemba, Associate Editor, PD&D

Providing a How-To and DIY community where people can make and share inspiring, entertaining, and useful projects, recipes, and hacks.

Eric Wilhelm was finishing his doctorate in mechanical engineering back in 2000, when he realized a need for a tool to document his design plan for a kite board that he was building.

After graduating from MIT, he and a couple of his friends got together and created Squid Labs in 2004, a design firm located in Alameda, CA. It was at this very design firm where they produced the documentation tool that is now known as Instructables.

“With Instructables, people can document their professional and personal projects without the hassle of creating a separate webpage,” says Wilhelm, co-founder of Instructables. “We are giving people a place to share what they make with a large and very engaged audience.”

After running the website publicly for five years from a business perspective, Autodesk acquired it in August of 2011.

Sharing & Rendering Ideas

Instructables is a combination of things. It’s a web-based documentation platform where people with design ideas can share what they do and how they do it. They can also learn from and collaborate with others in areas such as technology, living, arts and crafts, food, kids, and outdoor living – the two most popular categories on the site are technology and living. It’s also a great place for engineers from all industries to share their prototypes and finished products – things they actually built.

There is also the instructables themselves: step-by-step descriptions of things people want to share, making them educational, inspirational, and often replicable. “A cornerstone of what makes Instructables great is the comments,” says Wilhelm. “People ask questions, give praise, or offer improvements; this sets up a conversation between the project author and the community.”

A discussion forum is also available for the community to share and exchange ideas, ask questions, and offer opinions. “We attempt to address all industries and to make a place for everyone,” explains Wilhelm. “I love the boundaries where stuff crosses over; for example, we have makers who are taking electronics; such as LEDs or microcontrollers, and sewing them into clothing.”

Contests

To help promote the site, Wilhelm explains how they run various contests created by editorial team. The contests provide a fun way for individuals to create a set of instructions on how to make a certain project dealing with food, technology, crafts, electronics, and more. For example, one of the most recent contests was the “Hack it Contest”, which involved participants to demonstrate how they could reconfigure everyday objects and systems to make them work better.  The individual who came up with the best hack had a chance to win a full electronics workshop upgrade including an oscilloscope, bench supply, and USB logic analyzer.

“We try to never give away cash prizes because we always try to give away tools that would help our makers with their projects,” explains Wilhelm. “We announce all our winners with a post and feature them on our homepage. We will also [write] an ebook about them.”

Becoming a Part of Autodesk

Wilhelm is the Director of Communities for Autodesk. He is using the knowledge that he has gained from running Instructables, and the technology that he has built that surround the community management to build communities for Autodesk’s digital products.

“One of the things that is coming up fairly soon is more interactive aspects of 123Dapp.com, which will be powered by Instructables,” explains Wilhelm. “Instructables will still be the same site; however, we’ll now have the resources to make some improvements to the site that I know our authors and community will love.”

Autodesk gives Instructables the scale and support to grow and improve, build some great apps, and continue its mission of creating a positive impact on the world – and everyone on the Instructables team has become Autodesk employees.

Wilhelm strongly believes that everyone has an Instructable in them. Everyone has some kind of story on how to make or create something that other people could strongly benefit from and/or get inspired from.

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