Warning: this is as much a rant as anything remotely
useful. Oh, and don't comment without reading the whole thing
The Internet is not a democracy. More specifically, blog
commenting systems aren't a democracy. Blog authors and
administrators get to decide which comments show up on their
blog, and which do not. On my own blog, I remove spam
messages (or I let Akismet do it in most cases), and the one or two
truly offensive troll comments I get every once in a while --
usually only if a post hits reddit or /. . Other than that, I like
to keep the spectrum of comments, good and bad, on my blog. I don't
pre-moderate as that's just exudes untrustworthiness, and it's a
pain to do.
Not everyone agrees with that approach.
The DIY 3d Printer Blog
When you see a blog
post like this one, and see the overwhelmingly positive
response, you're only seeing part of the picture.
See, in this case, Junior moderates his comments and only lets
through the ones which meet the goals of his business and his
agenda. It's not a democracy, the blog owner gets to decide
what shows up. Silencing opposition is a pretty big and powerful
hammer. As a blog owner, I'm all for keeping this level of
control with the blog owner. But also, as a citizen of the
Internet, I try to be very fair and reasoned in how I wield it.
I've been looking forward to the release of his 3d Printer for
quite some time. What Junior finally announced was a bit of a let
down, but something I would still consider, as the resolution on
the printer is spectacular. These two paragraphs in that
post, however, set off a few alarms:
Because of this, we think would make more sense to move for only
a basic kit, where we would provide all documentation needed to
build the Printer, as well the Resin formula and just sell the
software and the controller board. The documentation would have the
detail technical specification, BOM and Suppliers.
This basic kit (Document + Software + Controller Board) would be
sold around $600 USD, but even for that we would need a good volume
to be able to produce it.
For this reason we're creating a Pre-order list for both Kits (full
and basic), so we can decide the best way to move forward.
The controller board is fairly inexpensive. There are tons of
multi-axis boards out there, including many
OSH (Open Source Hardware) ones. Almost all are under $150.
While I'm sure his controller board offers some additional things,
it's probably nothing out of the ordinary. So the real value here
is the software. This was further corroborated by his
"Wow!!! Thanks for all the emails!!!" blog post where he
enumerated several of the pricing tiers:
Software + Complete CD (399 USD - including
The CD above + full license of our software (features of the
software will be in the FAQ)
Software price after Indiegogo: (549 USD)
Basic Kit I (Software + Controler board + Complete CD)
(599 USD - shipping not included):
All items above + 1 controller board (able to control the entire
(This basic kit does not include motors or linear guides or
Price After Indiegogo: (849 USD)
Unfortunately we will be able to deliver only 250 full kits this
year for this Indiegogo campaign, because of production limitation
and we will probably just take new orders next year once we deliver
all Indiegogo perks.
So Junior isn't *really* selling a printer. He's selling
software. That's ok, just not quite what I had expected. As a
business, it makes sense, as the software is where the margin is.
In contrast, most other 3d printers sales are about selling the
hardware, but the software is all free and open source, constantly
improved by an active community of developers.
Anyway, $400 to $549 for CAD/CNC software from an
individual or small business is a bit scary. So, I wrote a
comment to Junior on the previous blog (before the pricing post,
back when the alarms first went off), asking what his plans were
for support and escrow of his software and code. When someone
offers to sell me software multiple hundreds of dollars,
and they're just an individual, and the software is
proprietary, I want to know what the support policy is going to
be. I wanted to know what guarantees he had in place, and
if he's putting the source in escrow.
Why Escrow and Support are Important
Why is this important? His software is not OSS, and I don't want
to get something proprietary and have him jump ship, leaving me
holding something that can never be upgraded. This originally came
to mind because Junior never answers questions on his blog or on
twitter. Communication is strictly one-way. Back when I worked in
the IT department of a company in MA, I helped develop a bit of
very cool (but small) software we sold to hospitals. Because
hospitals are huge multi-million dollar institutions, and we were
not, they required the software and its source to be placed
in escrow. That meant that if the company I worked for
folded or otherwise failed to uphold its end of the escrow
contract, the hospital would get the source code, data, and
binaries for the application. This is important protection
for any company or individual.
In another example: I bought some CNC software and hardware some
time ago. Shortly after I bought that, the person/company
who sold it went slightly psycho and shut down his support
forums. Before that, if someone questioned him, he'd rip
them a new one and kick them off his forums. He also tried to make
the support forums a for-fee item after the fact. It was…strange. I
stayed on his good side, but support by fear isn't exactly
my cup of tea. Unfortunately, the hardware was proprietary
and the software was also proprietary. That meant that he was the
sole source of support if I wanted to stick with his products. I'm
still stuck with a hardware/software pairing that can't be broken,
and there's been almost no real innovation in the software.
In any case, Junior didn't let my first question through
on his blog. I was equal parts surprised and disappointed,
as the comment was not a troll comment and also wasn't rude, or
spammy or anything.
So, I wrote again (at 4/1 5pm eastern time), on the
"Thanks for all the emails" post. Here's the exact post (I
saved it this time):
Once again, I need to ask about the software.
You are an individual, selling custom proprietary (non OSS)
software for a non-trivial price. What's the guarantee that you'll
be around and will support your product? Are you putting the
software and its source in 3rd party escrow? What's your support
policy/plan? Bug fixes? Supported operating systems?
I know blogs are not a democracy, but please post the question
this time. This is important stuff.
Unsurprisingly, that comment was also not posted on the
3d Printer DIY Blog. Comments posted before and after mine
showed up in his nightly moderation batches. Both of mine were both
posted using Google IDs with a photo -- they wouldn't have tripped
a spam filter or anything. Junior also never answered any of my
early queries over Twitter.
He could have answered it over email if he didn't want it
publicly posted on his blog. Instead, the queries were just
ignored. At the time of this writing, his FAQ doesn't address any
of these concerns.
I was tempted to go to his new indiegogo
campaign and post the question there, as I don't believe he can
moderate posts. However, at that point, it would just be a
vendetta, as he has clearly proven to me that he is not the
kind of person I'm comfortable dealing with. $600 is not
nothing. But hey. I see his indiegogo campaign is doing well, and
there are lots of people for whom this isn't a concern. I
do (seriously) wish him the best of luck with it, and I
really do hope he does something to ensure that folks aren't left
in the cold.
This is in contrast to other products I've seen developed openly
on the web. Shapeoko, for
example, was developed in the open, had a successful Kickstarter
campaign, a wiki with help, a free support forum, and Edward Ford
went way above and beyond in answering questions. He was answering
questions long before he had actual bits in people's hands.
Here's another one I've dealt with. John at Microcarve was happy to help
me out when I bought a Z-axis mount from him. He answered all my
questions and delivered above and beyond. He's also quite active in
the CNC zone community. He didn't pop out of nowhere: he has a
reputation and is trusted. He also has a Yahoo group for support of
his products, Q&A etc.
Other more established examples include Chris Walker at Secret Labs (Netduino, Plus and
Mini) and Gus Issa at GHI
Electronics (Gadgeteer Hydra/Spider/Cerebus + Panda). Both of
these guys are active in supporting their communities. Both make
real money developing products that are, to various extents, open
source software and hardware. Both are people I'm comfortable
sending money to.
What are the lessons to be learned here?
- If you're selling software, you need to be prepared to support
it, and for the questions from people who want a few answers before
shelling out. The people asking the hard questions could very well
be your best customers and advocates. That's just good
- You can make money selling software, but unless you're trying
to build a big business out of it, you may find it easier
to simply develop it in the open, as OSS. If your whole
business is built around selling the software (which is what it
appears Junior was working towards all this time - the printer
itself is just ancillary), this may not work for you.
- When you see overwhelmingly one-sided comments on a blog, and
no one is asking the hard questions, ask yourself if you're
really seeing the whole picture.
- Indie campaigns that aren't OSS/OSH just feel
- Simply being reasonable in your feedback doesn't mean the blog
author/business owner will post it or answer it. Blogs aren't a
democracy. Ok, I take it back. They are a democracy, and
I'm voting with my feet and my wallet.