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“Modern technology is creating a society of such complex diversity and richness that most people have a greater range of personal choice, wider experience and a more highly developed sense of self-worth than ever before. For the first time, the common man has the opportunity to establish his own identity, to determine who he will be.” -Buckminster Fuller (1970)

3D Printing may not yet be ubiquitous in consumer homes, but that day is approaching fast. However, we have a bit of a problem with mass adoption of 3D Printing: it’s not such a pleasant experience for the average non-techie consumer. Meaning, at the moment, the software required to operate these 3D Printers is incredibly complicated and unreliable.

At the time of this writing, there are countless 3D Printer manufacturers that are creating their own custom software to operate these printers. One of the motivations for creating such software instead of settling on a proven solution is due to the hope that their solution would be the winning horse in the 3D Printer race.

It’s a perfectly reasonable strategy, albeit, one with its own set of flaws, flaws that may actually slow down the 3D Printing industry as a whole.

Why?

Mass adoption and market capitalization may be the ultimate goal of technology companies, but when is it appropriate to throw in the towel and retreat with your cavalry? Especially when your team is fervently backing up (your) failing solution?

History may not repeat, but it certainly rhymes

Consider the case of Toshiba’s HD DVD and Blu-ray for a moment.  The adoption of these technologies (HD-DVD or Blu-ray) by various Hollywood studio(s) played a huge role in crowning the ultimate victor. This (format) war lasted approximately TWO YEARS with Toshiba finally running home with a bloodied nose and a failed product. Despite the loss, Toshiba’s retreat was not only necessary for the industry; it was necessary for Toshiba itself. After all, burning resources on a losing contender is not good business practice, so it makes sense to abandon ship.

Intelligent retreat is sometimes an underrated skill. If more businesses retreated at the right time, they would be able redirect wasted resources into a better cause instead of forcefully swimming upstream the market.

Naturally, the question is: When is it the best time to retreat with your current strategy when you and your team has so much belief in your product that it is bordering on religious fervor?

As Mark Twain says, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it DOES rhyme.

And as such, we stand at a familiar fork in the road with the 3D Printing industry.

Currently there are countless 3D Printer manufacturers (OEM’s) creating their own version(s) of printer operating software in the hopes that their software will be chosen by the early adopters of 3D printers. While the intention behind this strategy is well and good, one must wonder: is it indeed the best course of action for these companies and more importantly, the 3D Printing industry as a whole?

With such an approach, a likely scenario is more fragmentation of an already fragmented industry. As of this writing, Zeus AIO Robotics, FabTotum, New Matter, XYZ Printing, CubifyMakerBot and Pirate3D are a short list of companies creating their own 3D Printer operating systems that are forcing market fragmentation. But, what if one of these companies end up becoming the dominant player in the 3D Printer Operating System game and the market ends up crowning them as the winner?

That’s an (unlikely) possibility.

In my opinion, a more likely outcome is the following:

The 3D Printing industry as a whole will be slowed down and the end user will eventually pay the price for these (incessant fragmentation) decisions with complex software and less than stellar compatibility with their printers.

3D Printers shouldn’t be reserved for geeks and early adopters; it should be accessible to your grandmother as well. This is the entire point of technology. It’s supposed to vastly improve the lives of human beings.

What we need is a robust, open source solution that will solve both compatibility and ease of use issues for manufacturers and end users alike. If in fact, history does rhyme, I would wager that technology wars are destructive to ALL competitors because, in the heat of battle, consumers will ultimately refrain from adopting either solution out of fear of committing to a losing standard. (See: Dranove, David; Neil Gandal. “Surviving a Standards War: Lessons Learned from the Life and Death of DIVX“. Idea Group Inc.)

Having a single, universal operating system for 3D Printers is actually a win/win scenario for both 3D Printer manufacturers AND consumers because, with this approach, both ease of use and compatibility issues are solved.

It’s a bit like Android in that, not only manufacturers can do what they do best (i.e.: manufacture the hardware) and simply throw in a proven, easy to use, compatible operating system into their printer(s), developers can also build creative applications on top of that operating system which end up benefitting the end user and the industry as a whole. We all know the incredible power and limitless economic implications of this “platform” approach. The applications are only limited by human imagination.

The goal of AstroPrint is to be a unifying solution for the entire industry. AstroPrint is the glue that holds consumer 3D Printers together. Not only that, since AstroPrint is a printer agnostic operating system that is dead simple to use, it also addresses compatibility issues and ease of use for both the manufacturer and the end user.

What more could you ask for?

Speaking of historical context, Android OS is another excellent example.

Ever wonder why Google gave Android OS (sort of) free of charge to OEM’s?

While Android’s core was open source, Google required OEM’s to install Google Mobile Services (GMS, which includes Gmail, Chrome, Google+, Google Maps, Google Docs, YouTube, Google Play etc.) with their free license.

The only requirement for such license was that your hardware got tested for compatibility.

That’s the answer: compatibility.

In the end, Android got mass adoption because of compatibility. It runs on a wide variety of handsets ranging from high-end flagship phones to low cost prepaid phones. Consumers had the option of buying the grand elixir of android phones or a cheap poor mans phone and still run Android.

What’s not attractive about that proposition?

[Side note: Recently Microsoft is utilizing a similar strategy with the introduction Windows 10, which makes it ridiculously easy to port iOS and Android apps to WP10. Microsoft also announced that they were taking control of WP10 updates from carriers (meaning: Microsoft can push OS updates whenever they want). These two moves could potentially make WP10 a compelling contender to Android.]

3D Printing may not yet be as common as mobile computing, but that day is approaching at breakneck speed and the decisions made by industry leaders will ultimately shape the consumer 3D Printing experience. Take a look at the popularity of 3D Printing on Google Trends. The applications of 3D printing are obviously unimaginable and we are already seeing incredibly creative uses of 3D printers. There will be an exponential increase in such creativity in the next decade. The state of consumer 3D printing is a bit more like the “Internet” in the early 1990’s.

As an OEM, the desire to create your own printer operating software is a natural instinct, but one that may be counterproductive to the industry as a whole.

Instead of fragmented solutions, what we need is an easy to use, robust solution that is widely compatible with a long range of 3D printers.

That’s our primary focus.

Sometimes, the most intelligent strategy is to retreat in battle so that one can come back victorious in War.

Ultimately, winning the war is what we are all after.

This post was originally published on AstroPrint on 08/20/15.

 

I am an avid podcast listener, meaning, I have a pool of 200+ podcasts that I have subscribed to and choose episodes from on a weekly basis. (I know, it’s a fuckload)

In any case…earlier this year, I started my own podcast and was looking for a place to host it.
I signed up for a SoundCloud Pro Unlimited account (~$135/year) almost a year ago while they were still in beta. I have used SoundCloud for quite a while now and as a podcaster, I am having second thoughts. I chose SoundCloud over other competitors on the assumption that their new podcasting platform would be superior since they were the ‘new kid on the block’ and I wanted to be directly involved in helping them improve their podcasting platform.

Is SoundCloud for musicians? or podcasters? or both?

My frustration began when SoundCloud disabled html show notes/track descriptions. (I am not the only one, a lot of podcasters are angry about it too)

Since then, my frustration has begun to compound after SoundCloud has repeatedly told me that they are not interested in re-enabling embeddable HTML show notes.

Embeddable HTML Show Notes in Podcasts are important, because:

They allow the listener to focus on listening to the podcast instead of having to take notes or waste cognitive energy remembering references made in the podcast. Most podcast listeners are avid multitaskers and forcing them to remember in-show references makes for an unpleasant listening experience. With html show notes, the listener can easily click a link directly within the podcast instead of having to open up another browser and search. Imagine listening to a 2-3 hour podcast with 20-30 in-show references (i.e: online resources, books, media etc) — without clickable show notes, it would be a nightmare for listeners to find stuff.

You could post show notes on an external websites (which is what I am doing at the moment), but why create an extra step?

Embedded HTML Show notes also help listeners save time. A listener could easily spend 30 seconds skimming the show notes (and checking out key topics/references) to get an idea of the content covered in the podcast and decide if they want to listen to the show.

Those are the main reasons why I believe embedded HTML Show Notes are vital for podcasts. Most of my favorite podcasts already use them and it makes my life easier.

When I asked SoundCloud why they removed this feature, I got the following response from Gina:

I know it’s super frustrating when there’s a change in a product that negatively affects your use. You absolutely were not alone in your frustration, there were many users who used html links in their profile to promote their music and that’s what we are here for – to promote your music.

Sadly, spammers and other malicious users abused the availability of html links. The security of our users is of the utmost importance and in this case, the amount of potential harm was not something we could permit or ignore. You can still add links to descriptions, but they will display as full URLs rather than displaying text that links.

Again, it sucks that we had to do this! We never imagined it would be used against us and our users but that was the case and the reason we removed html code links.

Did you hear that? Spammers and malicious users abused the availability of html links.

Hmmm.

On the surface, this may seem like a legitimate reason, but is it really? I don’t think so.

For one, there’s a widely accepted XML standard called CDATA that allows links in a podcast feed. Even Apple recognizes the CDATA standard. Furthermore, most of the well known and established podcast hosts (i.e: libsyn, podbean etc.) allow html links in their description/show notes section. Not to mention, most well known podcasts are using embedded html show notes!

So, why is it that most of the well known podcast hosts are allowing dangerous, malicious HTML show notes without any issues?

Perhaps because It’s NOT.

This is why I am not buying SoundCloud’s “..Spammers and malicious users abused the availability of html links..” argument.

Furthermore, it’s not difficult to build a parser (by using Markdown for example) that will allow SoundCloud users to use HTML in their track descriptions/show notes without giving them direct access to HTML. For example, one could use [link][/link] tags instead of <a href=”..”></a> tags.

Which leads me to conclude that, podcasters aren’t much of a priority for SoundCloud. It’s primary focus appears to be for musicians.

If SoundCloud doesn’t figure out it’s identity and improve their platform for podcasters by the end of year, I will be jumping ship. I am considering hosting my podcast on my own server or using Amazon Web Services for greater control over my feed.

Are you a SoundCloud user? How has your experience been so far?

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