As many Ars readers know, iFixit has long been a source for detailed teardowns of the latest Apple gear. The company's teardowns not only provide information about the chips and other components in each new MacBook Pro or iPhone, the company also gives users the necessary information about tools and techniques needed to get inside the devices. iFixit now hopes to build a compendium of quality, trusted online repair manuals for almost anything you own that might need fixing.
While iFixit's product teardowns have been widely covered—here at Ars and elsewhere—those teardowns were just the first step in building complete, photo-illustrated self-repair manuals for Macs, iPods, and iPhones. The manuals are usually made available for free on iFixit's website, while the company makes money by supplying do-it-yourselfers with the necessary tools and hard-to-find parts. "We're widely considered the largest Apple parts company, outside of Apple itself," iFixit CEO and cofounder Kyle Wiens told Ars. "We recently added an iPad parts store."
Wiens said that iFixit had built a great model for self-repair for Macs and other Apple products, including step-by-step guides, troubleshooting information, and device-specific Q&A forums, in addition to supplying parts and tools. After traveling to Africa and seeing first-hand the environmental and health problems that e-waste can cause, however, Wiens wanted to extend that model to include as many products as possible.
While some consumer electronics companies (in particular, Apple) have made serious strides in reducing the use of harmful chemicals like BFRs, PVCs, and mercury, tons of discarded devices with these chemicals end up in landfills both here in the US and more often in third-world countries. These chemicals then contaminate the soil, or even the air, as many are often burned in open fires.
Wiens believes that repairing and maintaining the devices we already have, instead of tossing them aside for new ones, can do more to help the problem than even recycling can. "Repair is better than recycling," Wiens said. "We can become vastly more sustainable by fixing things when they break rather than mining them for raw materials."
To further that goal, iFixit is launching what it calls "Repair 2.0." iFixit's staff has written repair manuals for nearly every Apple product, but volunteers testing iFixit's new platform since September 2009 have written detailed repair manuals for game consoles, cell phones, cameras, and even the brakes on recent Dodge Caravans. "In the last six months, [volunteers] have written manuals covering as many devices as we've been able to write at iFixit in the last seven years," Wiens said.
Wiens is pleased with the progress so far, but the aim is to become a definitive source of information for the repair of any electronic or mechanical device imaginable—a "repair manual for everything."
"The Internet sucks at providing repair information—it either doesn't exist, or it's spam-ridden, disorganized, or there's no feedback loop to find out if the information is good," Wiens explained. "At the same time, there is massive pent-up expertise in enthusiast forums where people are posting detailed information about repairs they've done. We are providing a platform for those people to share what they know, and to come together to build a resource that humanity desperately needs."
The new platform is sort of similar to Wikipedia, in that anyone can write or edit a repair manual. The difference is that there is a built-in "reputation" system that users slowly build over time. Users earn reputation points by successfully answering help questions, writing detailed repair guides that are ranked as useful among other users, and finding and editing mistakes in other repair guides.
Each repair manual also builds a "reputation threshold" based on the expertise of those who write or edit them. If someone with a low "reputation" wants to edit a repair manual written by someone with a higher ranking, the edits have to be verified and approved by someone with a higher ranking before those changes are available publicly. The idea is that over time, repair manuals should always be high quality and "trustworthy" (important if you're using it to fix the brakes on the van you tote your kids around in).
iFixit will continue to supply parts and tools to DIYers, though that currently is limited to tools for electronics repairs and Apple parts. "We're especially excited about tools," Wiens told Ars, "but we don't have anything to announce yet." iFixit doesn't plan to stock parts for every gadget on the planet, but will focus on parts that can be used on a wide variety of devices. "We don't need to sell parts for everything," Weins said.
It's no coincidence that iFixit launched its new initiative on Earth Day, as Wiens believes that providing people with the necessary information, parts, and tools to keep things working can have a far-reaching impact on the environment by limiting e-waste.
Even the Environmental Protection Agency is behind the idea. "The EPA would like to see more done about the growing e-waste problem, and iFixit has a novel, community-driven approach to make electronics work longer," Andrew Fanara, product development team leader for the ENERGY STAR program, said in a statement. "We are encouraged by their solution, and are looking forward to observing the environmental impact of iFixit’s platform."
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