Autodesk Buys Instructables; Design Software Giant in Consumer Marketing Push

8/1/11Follow @wroush

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the authenticity of the site. That’s the key reason somebody will want to buy the company. They will want to understand how we’ve built that, and how to build it up in other communities.”

Now that’s more than a theoretical statement. Wilhelm’s job will be to help Autodesk attract audiences to new online communities built around Autodesk technologies. “I do think the stuff we know can be applied to other types of communities, and that’s the big reason why we’re doing this,” he says.

Samir Hanna, Autodesk’s vice president of consumer products, shared related thoughts in an Autodesk press release about the acquisition. “Passionate, creative people want communities to support and encourage their endeavors,” Hanna said. “As a result of this acquisition, Autodesk will host a unique ecosystem that combines inspiration, accessible 3D software tools and fabrication services so anyone can be empowered to express themselves creatively.”

It’s not clear yet which technologies Autodesk plans to promote through community-building efforts, and Wilhelm says he doesn’t even have all the details himself yet. But we’re not talking about Autodesk’s high-end design software packages like AutoCAD, 3ds Max, and Maya. Autodesk CEO Carl Bass has been talking up technologies like home 3D scanners and printers, and the company has an existing partnership with TechShop, the Menlo Park, CA-based chain of community fabrication studios. Wilhelm says Instructables will become the community arm of the Autodesk division that makes 123D (a free 3D modeling program), SketchBook (a sketching and drawing tool available on tablet computers), Homestyler (a free home design tool), and Pixlr (an online photo editor).

Existing community members at Instructables will see only “minimal” changes as a result of the acquisition, Wilhelm promises. He says most of the team’s new work will go into creating additional communities for Autodesk.

Wilhelm says in his blog post this morning that “Autodesk is a great cultural fit for Instructables,” given the larger company’s focus on tools for creative people. But having visited Instructable’s cluttered headquarters—which feels more like a community hackerspace than the office of a profitable online publication with two million registered users—I was a little skeptical about that. I asked Wilhelm, whose only prior professional experience was helping to start Squid Labs, a loosely organized technology incubator, how he thinks he’ll fit in at a public, Fortune 1000 company. “I have no idea but I’m kind of excited to give it a try,” Wilhelm says. “I’m curious about what kind of trouble I can get up to in a public company.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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