Aug 24, 2017 | By Benedict

A group of German researchers has conducted a study into the phenomenon of “remixing” on Thingiverse. The study finds remixing to account for half of Thingiverse’s models, and divides the practice of remixing into eight basic patterns.

All makers know how important Creative Commons licensing has been for the 3D printing community. The ability to pool information for 3D printable designs, printing techniques, and indeed 3D printer blueprints has surely been one of the main reasons for the massive interest in additive manufacturing at the consumer level.

A group of researchers from universities in Germany and the Netherlands has now conducted a study into one major aspect of “sharing” in the 3D printing community: remixed models on 3D file repository Thingiverse.

The study, which has been published in the Journal of Information Technology, looks at how remixed Thingiverse models account for around half of the entire website’s collection, and examines the particular ways in which makers rework the designs of others.

“Besides a creative and passionate community, Thingiverse contains so many great designs because designers can inspire each other and nobody needs to fear that reusing someone else’s ideas might be frowned upon or downright illegal,” explains Sascha Friesike from the KIN Research Group of the VU Amsterdam.

Of course, Thingiverse is just one of many places where makers can upload, download, and rework 3D printable models, and the researchers say as much. Focusing on the MakerBot-owned platform, however, allowed the team to conduct an extensive study over a period of six years, obtaining detailed information about the practices involved in the art of “remixing.”

“With the emergence of open internet-based platforms in recent years, remixing has found its way from the world of music and art to the design of arbitrary physical goods,” the paper explains. “However, despite its obvious relevance for the number and quality of innovations on such platforms, little is known about the process of remixing and its contextual factors.”

Until now, that is.

In their study, the European researchers—Friesike, Christoph M. Flath, Marco Wirth, and Frédéric Thiesse—describe eight “compound remix patterns” grouped into the following two categories: convergent remixes, characterized by remix relationships with several parents, and divergent remixes, characterized by remix relationships with several children.

Convergent remixes are those designs which inhererit characteristics from at least two others—its “parents.” The researchers identify four kinds of convergent remix: merge, in which two distinct models are mixed into a new one; compilation, in which a larger number of models are compiled into a single model; sibling, when several creators take the same “parents” but create entirely different “children” with them, resulting in models with the same ancestry but differing designs; and retrospect, which combines the features of several generations of ancestors.

Divergent remixes, on the other hand, are those for which a single design is the source for several new ones. These can be broken down into: fork, when a concept reaches a crossroads and forks into two new models; bouquet, when a model is remixed overproportionately; customizer, when a model is made specifically to be adapted by other users, giving adjustable parameters for customization; and template builder, when a previously non-customizable model is turned into a customizer.

Remixes can have different levels of complexity too, from the smallest aesthetic adjustments to the most radical structural reworks. The researchers talk of this difference in terms of “shallow” and “deep” remixing, with a remix becoming more “deep” the more categories it transcends and the more “parent” designs from which it borrows.

But the report also emphasizes one of the most important elements of remixing: that it’s fine.

“As researchers, we have known for a long time that most ideas are based on existing knowledge,” Friesike explains. “However, it is very difficult to show that. If we go to a company and ask them where their idea comes from, they will tell us, that they came up with all of it on their own.”

Images: Flath, Friesike, Wirth, Thiesse

And therein lies the difference between maker platforms like Thingiverse and traditional design practice, where the “remixing” of ideas can result in big-money lawsuits and certain parties getting in lots of trouble.

“We know that [companies coming up with their own completely original designs] is not true, but most of the time we are unable to show it,” Friesike continues. “Within the 3D printing community the reuse is explicitly allowed and the mandatory declaration of the sources of inspiration allow us academics to explore how ideas evolve. In doing so, we show how much creative potential open knowledge entails.”

Appropriately, the researchers’ comprehensive study is published under a Creative Commons license. It can therefore be read and “remixed” by anyone.



Posted in 3D Design



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