After completing the projects in the Arduino Project Book I began my exploration of the community by reviewing popular maker blogs, forums, and tutorial sites. My primary goal in this exploration was to gain a better understanding of how this online community is structured. I also saw this as a perfect opportunity to see if/how gender is represented in the community, and perhaps even find some female role models! At this point in my journey I felt it was important to not be too structured with my investigation. Instead, I let one resource lead me to the next. If something sparked my interest, I saw where it could take me.
I began by exploring some of the most popular Arduino Blogs and Forums.
But first… A big Ah-Ha moment…
I thought the most logical thing to do would be to subscribe to the primary Arduino blog. It took me a few days and some confusion to realize that there are actually two blogs (Blog.arduino.cc and Arduino.org/blog). While the articles were different, both sites used the Arduino branding and appeared to be official. Why would Arduino do this? After some exploring I made a very important discovery, which quite frankly I cannot believe took me so long to find.
In early 2015, disagreements amongst the Arduino’s original founders and the manufacturers who produce the board caused the company to split into two separate groups (Allan, 2015). Arduino LLC (aka Arduino.cc) was lead by Massimo Banzi and the spin-off, Arduino srl (aka Arduino.org) was lead by Federico Musto. One of the benefits of Open-Source technology is that it gives people an opportunity to replicate and improve on the original product. Unfortunately, in this particular case it appears that the two companies went down such a similar path (especially for site design and branding) that it did nothing but cause confusion. Figure 1 below illustrates some of the similarities in the companies’ most popular boards.
Figure 1. Photograph illustrating similarities between the Arduino Zero Pro from Arduino.org (left) and the Arduino Zero from Arduino.cc (right). (makezine.com)
This was an important discovery for me. After reviewing a few blogs and forums around this issue, I realized I was not the only one in the dark. I was aware of the fact that there were two manufacturers, but I was under the impression that the separation was due to regional constraints and was not aware that there were two entirely different companies. Subtle differences between the boards and IDEs are enough to cause confusion for a beginner like myself.
Fortunately, this feud came to an end and around October 1st, 2016, when Banzi and Musto announced that both groups were going to join forces (Arduino Team, 2016). However, those subtle differences between boards, IDEs, libraries, and websites remain.
Arduino blogs are comprised of short articles submitted by users. These articles are sometimes used to highlight important makers in the community or innovative projects. Thus far I have focused on the two Arduino blogs previously mentioned: Blog.arduino.cc and Arduino.org/blog.
I was surprised to find that some of the top blogs on the Arduino.org site were written by a woman. It was here that I discovered Tenaya Hurst, also known as THE Arduino Woman. Tenaya has a background in theatre and fashion and her interest in science lead her to the Arduino (Tenaya Hurst, 2017). Now she is the Education Accounts Manager for Arduino.org.
Aside from Tenaya, I found it very difficult to specifically seek out active females in the community for inspiration.
Arduino Forums and Tutorial sites
In contrast to blogs, the Arduino forums and tutorial sites have a much bigger focus on interaction between community members. Thus far I have chosen to focus on three sites due to their activity level and high number of users: Reddit.com/r/arduino, Arduino.stackexchnge.com, and forum.arduino.cc.
Of the three, Reddit appears to have the biggest variety of questions. Posts on this site focus more on individual questions rather than full project tutorials, and if you have a question, Reddit appears to have a very fast response time! The Arduino Stack Exchange is another great resource with a similar feel, but it does not have as many posts as Reddit.
The Arduino Forum was the most organized, in my opinion. Within this forum, posts are nicely structured into predefined topics, which makes it more efficient to search through old posts and quicker to get a response on new posts. As a member of the forum you can comment and ask questions on the existing posts or start a new one. I found their “how to use the forum” post extremely helpful for getting started and learning proper etiquette in the forum.
I was surprised at how kind people were to one another and how much people jumped at the opportunity to help new people out. In a post on June 16, 2017 titled “Felt in Love with Arduino – please, advice how to BECOME an EXPERT J” the user LordKelvin asked for recommendations on how to master the Arduino. A open-ended question like this would have received very angry responses in web development forums that I am used to. Instead, within four days this post received 21 positive responses. I personally found this to be a very helpful and encouraging post!
Figure 2. Screen shot of post from LordKelvin a beginner Arduino user.
Experts can easily be identified in this community based on their rank name and the number of stars they have on their profile. It is not entirely clear how you move up, but I’ve read that it is related to activity in the forum. Ranks include a wide variety of names like newbie (the default for new members), Jr. Member, Edison Member, all the way up to God Member.
First impressions of the community
Active participation and collaboration between members of all levels
This was especially noticeable in the forum and tutorial sites. Communication is literally constant, as people from time-zones all across the world are contributing to conversations. The online platform makes the collaboration between members more visible as well. One member’s questions may lead to a new idea for someone else which may then lead to even more questions for others. The most encouraging thing for me was the fact that members were typically very respectful, and appeared to be generally interested in helping one another. The kindness and patience towards new members was also evident, and is refreshing to see in the tech community.
Gender is not a big part of online identity in these Arduino Forums
In fact, gender was left entirely out of user profiles on the Arduino Forum. User accounts can include a photo and can be connected to social media accounts, but I have found that very few people make use of these features. It is much more common to see abstract cartoon avatars or images of funny pop culture references then it is to see an actual headshot being used for the profile pic. Activity level, member ranking, and projects shared are the primary things that form the online identity of members.
While technically this may put men and women on a level playing field, it poses problems for people like myself who’s belonging is reassured by seeing that there are other members in the community like them (female). This also poses a challenge for new members in general. Since expertise, projects, and merit equate to identity, it can leave newbies feeling like they are just one in a million.
Current opinion on the maker mindset
As part of an Open-Source community, a maker must value collaboration and sharing of ideas. A maker is respectful of others, regardless of their skill level. They are resourceful and encourage new members to reach their full potential. They should not be afraid to ask questions and seek help when needed. Makers are stronger together.
Allan, A. (2015, March 6). Arduino Wars: Group Splits, Competing Products Revealed? Make. Retrieved from http://makezine.com/2015/03/06/arduino-vs-arduino/
Arduino Team (2016, October 1). Two Arduino’s Become One. Arduino Blog. Retrieved from https://blog.arduino.cc/2016/10/01/two-arduinos-become-one-2/
LordKelvin. (2017, June 16). Felt in Love with Arduino – please, advice how to BECOME an EXPERT. [web log post] Arduino Forum. Retrieved from http://forum.arduino.cc/index.php?topic=484102.0
Tenaya Hurst. (2017). Arduino. Retrieved from http://www.arduino.org/tenayahurst
[Photograph comparing Arduino boards] Retrieved June 24, 2017 from https://i1.wp.com/makezine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Arduino-Zero-and-Pro.jpg?resize=620%2C413