Makers very often work in collaboration with other people, and several times they share their work online as open source (software, hardware, design, …). I’ve been researching how people work collaboratively especially in Open Design projects for several years, and now a bit also in MAKE-IT as well, especially in how these collaborative behaviours could be understood in connections with platforms and especially Collective Awareness Platforms (CAPS).
Makers (and designers and engineers and …) could engage in Open Design in several ways: designing projects, discussing projects, discussing Open Design itself, building platforms that host Open Design projects (like Fablabs.io, the open source platform of the global Fab Lab network)… and so on. These are among the many activities that could be done in the Open Design world and that have an influence on it, and platforms have an increasingly strong impact on these collaborative behaviours. Understanding collaborative processes by makers on such platforms is also an important steps towards understanding platforms in general. For these reasons I wrote a paper for the Design for Next conference (and published in The Design Journal) and a software library that tries to answer to this research question: how could the analysis of social interactions over time on such platforms improve the understanding of design-related collaborative processes?
Understanding this would enable us to advance our understanding of how platforms connects and influence makers and designers in their collaborative work on Open Design, and to provide support to the activity of Maker and Design researchers and of reflective practitioners as well. In this case I focused on analysing projects managed with the Git software and GitHub platform, which are very popular among software developers especially but also among makers. These tool and platform have been investigated with several approaches, papers and softwares, but not with makers, designers and Open Design as the main focus. Furthermore, it’s hard to find reusable software from these researches so that it would be easier to replicate them, especially for reflective practitioners (you would need to have some programming and data science skills, but several makers already have them!). For this reason I developed a software library in the Python language, since it is arguably the most popular language for data science, and therefore anybody can use the library for extracting data about collaborative behaviours on Git and GitHub; the analysis is up to you, with the tools that you prefer. This is therefore not only research, but also innovation as in disseminating research results and tools to make them available to everybody.
I called this library platform_analysis since its aim is to analyse interactions over time in several platforms; for the moment it works with Git and GitHub, but it will be soon extended to other platforms. The library extracts the data from projects and returns a graph of time-stamped interactions that can be then analysed with social network analysis: interactions can be then analysed for the project as a whole or as they happen through time, and we can see therefore how participants collaborated in a project, in which kind of interactions and when. This would enable researchers and practitioners to understand what is happening in such projects and platforms.
This is one of the software applications or libraries we are releasing from MAKE-IT (we will publish more of them soon!), available for discussion and development in a GitHub repository and for the installation as a Python module. This is based on a couple of previous experimentations and tests, now finally fully integrated and structured in a complete software library that is then much more structured, complete and easier to use for all the researchers and reflective practitioners (designers and makers) for analysing their projects!
Members of the Maker movement are increasingly also focusing on understanding their own practice, studying for example how another platform, Google Drive, enabled collaboration on common projects in the Latin American network of the Fab Lab world. Such research and software could be then useful for makers in order to improve their understanding of collaborative behaviours in their projects. The plan (even after MAKE-IT) is to keep the open source development of this library active and open in order to extend it to more platforms beside Git and GitHub (Twitter, Facebook, …) so that we could then analyse the different collaborations that take place on different platforms for the same project.
We are also working on several data visualisations for a better understanding of the Maker movement for MAKE-IT, and this library and research are part of them, we’ll post more information soon!
Here below you can see the full paper and presentation for it that explains this better, and also applies the library to three case studies!