It used to be that creative types with a good idea had to shop it around to big corporations, hoping to land a deal and “sell out.” But a number of factors are converging today that give do-it-yourselfers new capabilities to go it alone. “Before, only the rich had access to tools and so only the rich were professionals, and the rest were amateurs,” says Noah Glass, co-founder of podcasting firm Odeo. “But now, as the creation tools have become easier to use and more freely distributed through open source,  through the Internet, through awareness, more people have more access to more tools, so the whole amateur-professional dichotomy is dissolving.”  Tools like cheap computer-aided-design (CAD) programs enable users to assemble blueprints and inexpensive manufacturing in China takes the concept from file to finished product. Web sites like Alibaba.com can help match up inventors with Chinese factories eager for the work, and a startup called Squid Labs is developing a do-it-yourselfer online resource tentatively named iFabricate that will host a forum for collaboration and idea-trading, provide access to software for manipulating materials, and eventually enable users to pool resources to purchase raw materials in bulk from suppliers. Meanwhile, a few well-established companies are getting into the act, too. Publisher O’Reilly Media recently launched a magazine called “Make”—a trove of “how-to” info that has quickly attracted a substantial following—and Microsoft is eyeing the market, gauging new potential for its Visual Studio Express software, which is designed to bring coding to the masses.

Fortune 30 May 2005