If the other indications weren’t enough, the first mutual fund targeted at 3D printing and technology shows that the industry has now entered the mainstream.

In fact, 3D Printing and Technology Fund head Alan Meckler told VentureBeat that 3D printing is Internet-like. “It’s entirely similar to where the commercial Internet was in ’94, ’95, ’96,” he said, where a “paradigm shift is causing creative destruction” across a variety of other industries. It is, he said, nothing less than the “third industrial revolution,” following the birth of the textile industry in 18th century Britain and then assembly line factories, typified by Henry Ford’s in early 20th century U.S.

‘More Than Just Eyeballs’

Meckler, whose history includes Virtual Reality World and Internet World magazines and conferences, Internet.com, SearchEngineWatch, Earthweb and Jupitermedia, is currently CEO of media jobs hub Mediabistro. He said that, like the Web, 3D printing is “changing the economies of scale, giving people the chance to compete” in a variety of industries.

With 3D printing offering a desktop factory and the Web providing e-commerce, Meckler said, “there will be hundreds of thousands of new businesses created from 3D printing in the next few years.”

But there are, of course, differences between this new industry and the great Bit Revolution. Meckler pointed out that we’re not likely to see as many public offerings as the Internet has spawned, and the 3D printing business model “is more than just eyeballs.” Not that VentureBeat wants to pooh-pooh eyeballs, but we’re talking about an industry that creates design models, working prototypes, sculpture, machine parts, physical tools, dishware, printed vehicles and, on the horizon, organic tissue.

‘The Greatest Thing’

Organovo, one of the companies in the new fund, is expected to release its first product this year – 3D-printed liver assays, which are collections of liver cells that can used to test drugs. While Meckler said he had “to be careful because of strict rules,” he was able to mention that other stocks in the fund’s portfolio include Autodesk, Stratasys, which now owns MakerBot, and 3D Systems, which is working with Hershey to make printable food and candies.

Separately from the fund, Meckler’s new passion is also evidenced by his Inside 3D Printing trade shows, which are rapidly expanding. When asked if he felt that 3D printing had entered the mainstream in just the last few months – given announcements by Dell, Adobe, Staples and others – Meckler said that “it’s night and day” between now and, say, 120 days ago.

Part of that stark difference is that people are less frequently confusing 3D printing with 3D graphics. Meckler said that, when he was preparing to launch the fund, he mentioned 3D printing to a financial acquaintance who kept bringing up the great 3D effects in the movies Gravity and Avatar and, consequently, thoroughly misunderstanding the opportunity.

Some time later, Meckler recalled, the acquaintance called to say “that he had made one of the greatest financial mistakes of his life, which he realized when his 4th grade son came home and said he had seen ‘the greatest thing’ – a 3D printer.”