Instructables

DIY Projects, Communities and Cultures

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A year or so ago, we invited DIY enthusiasts from Instructables, Ravelry, Adafruit, Craftster, Dorkbot, and Etsy to fill out our survey on DIY communities, projects, and cultures. We received 2600+ responses in just a few weeks. Many many thanks to everyone who contributed!!

In this 'Instructable', we share some of our findings. We explore DIY as a broad cultural movement, spanning many domains and materials. This is just one way- and one starting point- for understanding DIY communities, motivations and practices. We would love to hear your feedback!

Please check out our paper. All images are taken from my talk at NordiCHI. Freel free to download the full slide deck as a pdf or a set of images.

Stacey Kuznetsov and Eric Paulos
{ stace, paulos } @ cs.cmu.edu
Human Computer Interaction Institute
Carnegie Mellon University
 
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Step 1: Some Background

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We adopt the Wikipedia definition of DIY (Do It Yourself) as any creation, modification or repair of objects without the aid of paid professionals. 

DIY practices predate recorded history as human survival often relied on the ability to repair and repurpose tools and materials. Over the past few decades, new materials and sharing mechanisms have led to a wider adoption of DIY culture.

One of the earliest “modern era” DIY communities formed among amateur radio hobbyists in the 1920’s. Ham radio communication continued even during World War II, when a ban was placed on amateur radio communication.

Starting in the 1970's, enthusiasts created 'zines' to express the punk aesthetic. Other early examples include non-professionals experimenting with MIDI equipment in the 1980's and the subsequent rave culture; or numerous hacker communities of the 90's.

Thousands of DIY communities exist today, varying in size, organization and project structure. Some allow members to contribute asynchronously on a variety of topics, while others focus on specific projects such as knitting or hip craft. Some revolve around smaller in-person gatherings and some enable hobbyists to trade or sell their projects.  

We focus on a subset of these as a sample of the diverse materials, practices and sharing mechanisms among DIY practitioners.
kelseymh3 years ago
In your Step 4, you show the aggregate distribution of responses about why people post/contribute to online communities. Did you see any significant (say, P>0.1) differences the responses from the memberships of the six different communities?

Putting aside the low statistics of Dorkbot and Adafruit, how similar or different were the Instructables vs. Etsy responses? Were there significant differences by gender, or by age group?

And no, I haven't yet read the paper. If all that stuff is in there, just tell me to go read it :-)
staceyk (author)  kelseymh3 years ago
As I said in step 2, only 20 people belong exclusively to any one single community. For this reason, we did not separate the responses by communities, because pretty much everyone belongs to more than one community...
Wups. Missed that. I knew there was overlap, but didn't notice that it was really that strong. OTOH, you do have non-overlapping gender (11/2484 can be neglected :-) and age groups. Did you see any interesting variations (e.g., more interest in self-promotion among the younger participants)?
I doubt you'll have many people saying that they are interested in self-promoting, regardless of actual motivations - one of the pitfalls of self-report surveys...
staceyk (author)  kelseymh3 years ago
Thanks for the question- no, we haven't looked at the responses by age or gender too closely, but I'll check when I get a chance!
ewilhelm3 years ago
This is fantastic work! I appreciate that you included Instructables.

To the points about who responded, which seem to be the crux of many of the comments: It's difficult for me to judge the seriousness of requests to run surveys on Instructables. We get a couple of these types of requests per month (from non-advertisers), and I usually suggest posting a forum topic rather than immediately offering to run house ads or something more visible outside the forums. The forums tend to represent the core Instructables audience and not reach casual visitors, who make up some 90% of our traffic. Since Etsy's traffic is around 2-3x Instructables, their higher respondent rate makes sense. On Craftster and Ravelry, the forums, or their equivalent, are the core of the site, so posting in them reaches a higher percentage of the total community. I would be very surprised if the respondent rate as defined by number of people taking the survey divided by the number that saw the request for a survey was drastically different across the various sites. Since it's now clear you are serious and are doing good work, if you're looking for more data, let me know and we'll work something out.

Finally, for more demographic information, be sure not to miss Quantcast. http://www.quantcast.com/instructables.com vs. http://www.quantcast.com/craftster.org can be enlightening as to why your data is so heavily skewed female.
metrometro3 years ago
DIY ethnography of DIY FTW.
This is a bit more demography than ethnography. While it's crazy interesting and very useful data, it doesn't constitute much of a portrait of the "culture". Not arguing that it isn't fantastic material but it's not ethnography.
randofo3 years ago
These results are very interesting, but your sampling of what would be considered traditionally non-craft sites in sum total is less than than any single Craft-heavy site sampled (Ravelry, Etsy, Craftster).

I see there is a small overlap between people interested in Craft/Food and Electronics, which from experience with this site, I don't find altogether surprising. However, typically, this breaks down heavily along gender lines and your three largest sampled sites are almost entirely female dominated.

I wonder if you had taken larger samples from some other more technical DIY sites and communities (Make, Ponoko, Hack Pittsburgh, NYC Resistor, Noisebridge), if you would have different results in some of the graphs, especially considering the small overlap between the interests of the two groups. I feel that more technical DIYers (and by extension gender males) are under-represented in these findings. If you were to altogether remove the results from Instructables, Dorkbot and Adafruit, do you think any of the findings would drastically change?

Also, the fact that art is the third largest category is mildly surprising and it would be interesting to know more about why people selected that.
staceyk (author)  randofo3 years ago
We tried to advertise the study equally across all 6 communities. It was posted on community forums (or the Dorkbot mailing list), with pretty much the same text asking people to fill out at 10-min survey.

Instructables actually has more members than Ravelry or Craftster, so it's interesting that the response rate was lower (or alternatively, why the craft folks were a lot more responsive).

When we initially picked the 6 communities, we were hoping to get a somewhat even spread. In fact, our original goal was to compare/contrast findings from communities such as Dorkbot (in-person presentations of 'art'-related projects) vs Craftster ('hip craft') vs Adafruit (tech-focused) vs Instructables (all domains welcome). In fact, we learned that DIY enthusiasts tend to not belong to a single exclusive DIY community, but contribute to many groups and project domains (at least this is true for our respondents, but certainly not all DIY hobbyists).

An interesting follow-up project could actually try to compare/contrast tech vs. craft DIY enthusiasts' practices and motivations. But as someone who dabbles in a bit of everything, I suspect the motivations to 'learn' and 'be creative' might be equally supported across different DIY domains...
randofo staceyk3 years ago
It is mainly Step 5 that I find suspect. We have run similar surveys and have gotten very different results.

For step 8, we have gotten very similar results. Most people tend to feel they have nothing worthwhile to share or are too intimidated by other people to share their work.

It would have been nice to see a more varied sample group for steps 4 and 7.

Another cool thing to have asked would have been time spent making things. That would be interesting to see in contrast to money spent/earned.

I'm sorry not enough people responded. It's hard to get people to take action from our forums. Most of the interaction on our site happens on the projects themselves.

Thanks for sharing this and I'm sorry if it seems like I'm giving you a hard time. This is a subject that is of great interest to me and I'm comparing notes :-)
omnibot3 years ago
Sweet survey. Interresting to se that craft and knitting seems to be so popular.
EmmettO3 years ago
What was your outreach program like to solicit participants? I'm involved in Instructables (obviously) and Etsy and didn't know you were doing this survey.
staceyk (author)  EmmettO3 years ago
We posted on community forums on all 6 sites (e.g. http://www.instructables.com/community/Researching-DIY-Projects-Cultures-and-Communities/ ) It's a fine line between getting responses and spamming everyone :)
jeff-o EmmettO3 years ago
The survey was posted in the forums.
kelseymh3 years ago
Thank you very much for putting this up! And especially, for taking all of the time to repackage it in the form of an Instructable, rather than just uploading a PDF of your slides, and a link to the paper. This is really awesome; featured and rated.