For many, the apps and programs we use everyday might feel like they were created by companies more than by actual human beings. People like Mark Zuckerberg are known names, of course, but the army of coders, writers, and engineers behind them aren't readily accessible to those who aren't in the know. Tech entrepreneurs Gina Trapani and Anil Dash want to better connect the people in these networks, while also creating an avenue for long-excluded women and people of color to join in. Thus they created Makerbase, a kind of LinkedIn for techies that shows what digital creators are up to everyday.
"If you love apps, there was no way to know who made them."
For Dash, that the talent behind so much of what makes the web work is often invisible seemed like a unique problem worth addressing. "If you love movies," he told The Verge, "you can sit through the credits, and if you love music, you can read the liner notes. But if you love apps and spend all your time on websites, there's no way to know who made them."
Therefore, the guiding ethos for Makerbase is to expose what people do in as clear terms as possible. After logging in with Twitter, users will find people's profiles showing what they've built or contributed to, along with a whole host of projects like apps or even artwork. And developers and projects alike are easily searchable and editable a la Wikipedia. So for an example: say you've come across a engineer who helped design Pinterest. Searching for the engineer will expose what else they've worked on. Meanwhile, searching for Pinterest will expose the other people who worked on it with them.
Using Makerbase this way turns it into a powerful networking tool. And since there's no hierarchy or status structure underpinning the site, there are no boundaries keeping people from reaching out to one another. That means that those who traditionally have difficulty breaking into the tech industry will finally have access to a hopefully more inclusive online community.
Breaking down barriers
"Aside from the skills of learning how to code or design," Dash said, "one of the biggest gaps for any underrepresented community is to break into that network. What Makerbase does is make that visible so that anybody can find their way in."
That's why Makerbase is launching officially at today's White House's first-ever Demo Day. Announced earlier this year, President Obama intends on highlighting the talents of developers and innovators from across the country, regardless of their connection to Silicon Valley. The idea is to address the lack of diversity in the tech industry. In a Medium post published last month, White House officials Thomas Kalil and Terah Lyons wrote:
"Metrics that track participation in the American innovation economy show low participation rates for females and under-represented minorities in the technology sector and the entrepreneurial community. Just three percent of America’s venture-capital-backed startups are led by women — a figure that drops to around one percent for African American and Hispanic entrepreneurs. Only about four percent of U.S.-based venture capital firms have any female investing partners at all. And capital is predominantly available in just a few places, making high-growth business creation a challenge outside of a handful of coastal metro hubs."
And Makerbase is already growing. After building the platform in January, Dash and Trapani invited a handful of programmers to help test the site. In the months since, the site has blossomed organically to more than 100 users who improve on one another's profiles to expand on what they and their colleagues are working on.
Tech companies like Twitter and Facebook have already released diversity reports showing where they need to improve when it comes to their hiring practices, and work is being done to bring disenfranchised groups into their ranks. Showcasing the work of those who might not have been noticed before is an excellent start that could benefit the entire industry.