3D Printering: The Search For Better Search

There’s no question that a desktop 3D printer is at its most useful when it’s producing parts of your own design. After all, if you’ve got a machine that can produce physical objects to your exacting specifications, why not give it some? But even the most diligent CAD maven will occasionally defer to an existing design, as there’s no sense spending the time and effort creating their own model if a perfectly serviceable one is already available under an open source license.

But there’s a problem: finding these open source models is often more difficult than it should be. The fact of the matter is, the ecosystem for sharing 3D printable models is in a very sorry state. Thingiverse, the community’s de facto model repository, is antiquated and plagued with technical issues. Competitors such as Pinshape and YouMagine are certainly improvements on a technical level, but without the sheer number of models and designers that Thingiverse has, they’ve been unable to earn much mindshare. When people are looking to download 3D models, it stands to reason that the site with the most models will be the most popular.

It’s a situation that the community is going to have to address eventually. As it stands, it’s something of a minor miracle that Thingiverse still exists. Owned and operated by Makerbot, the company that once defined the desktop 3D printer but is today all but completely unknown in a market dominated by low-cost printers from the likes of Monoprice and Creality, it seems only a matter of time before the site finally goes dark. They say it’s unwise to put all of your eggs in one basket, and doubly so if the basket happens to be on fire.

So what will it take to get people to consider alternatives to Thingiverse before it’s too late? Obviously, snazzy modern web design isn’t enough to do it. Not if the underlying service operates on the same formula. To really make a dent in this space, you need a killer feature. Something that measurably improves the user experience of finding the 3D model you need in a sea of hundreds of thousands. You need to solve the search problem.

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Real Time Searching

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With the fresh competition of Bing, we are reminded that search engines haven’t changed much since Google came along. Bing has made some nice advancements, like video previews, but still has a way to go to be truly different than Google. [Long]put together this prototype of a real time search system based off of Bings API. He was inspired by Google Wave which we hope to see soon. Wave is primarily for communication, redefining how email and messaging would work. We can’t help but think that Google probably has some cool stuff in the secret vaults for searching too.  [Long]’s project seems like a decent start, but like the goodtimes.searchengine, we think it needs some work. What happened to the cool video previews? More importantly, why can’t we turn off the parental filter?

Experimental Search Engine Display

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goodTimes.searchEngine is an experimental set up to display search engine results. Be sure you’re using Firefox or IE, because it isn’t working with chrome right now.  [Gordon] pointed us to it and asked for our feedback. We had a pretty quick list of improvements we would like to see, such as the category changes not popping up in new windows, or the new windows appearing on top for that matter. Or most importantly, a way to transition from the fancy preview window to a new tab or window. We are curious to hear your thoughts on this. What would make it better? Is it even needed? Is he building a tool to fix a problem that isn’t there? With Bing showing some nice new features over google, would something like this be of more use?