Things, tags, topics: Thingiverse's object-centred network
This article details findings from a multidisciplinary research team's inquiry into the social uses of 3D printing. It applies digital research methods to 3D printing communities and their digitally shared objects. Thingiverse is one of the most well-known file repositories available for the semi-public distribution of files for use in 3D printers. The site allows for several different means of metadata classification of these files. Previous research on the site focused on the legal concerns related to the different types of intellectual property license 'metadata' attached to objects. Beyond these data points are numerous additional types of elected and automated connections between both users, objects and processes of creation including liking, commenting, tagging, categorising, watching, collecting, remixing, making, sharing, and attribution. Social Network Analysis of the relations between these data reveal interesting patterns towards the use and life of these objects. Our analysis also shows that despite the wealth of social functions, both actively engaged and passively automated, Thingiverse diverges from other social networks: sociality is mediated by reference to specific objects. As such, we claim Thingiverse should be considered as an object-centred social network. While such networks provoke Latourian analysis that is now well established in the study of computational culture, we also point to the need for new forms of social media analysis focused on the ways metadata constitute and guide such communities' communications and govern their potentials.