A few days ago I was invited to a party. Party invites are always good, and if I can make it to this one I’ll definitely go. It’s from a continental European hackerspace, and it’s for their tenth birthday party. As I spent a while checking ferries and flights it struck me, a lot of the spaces in my sphere are about a decade old. I went to London Hackspace’s 10th earlier in the year, and a host of other British hackerspaces aren’t far behind. Something tells me I’ll be knocking back the Club Mate and listening to EDM of some form at more than one such party in the coming year.
For most of the decade since I found the then-recently-established mailing list of my local hackerspace I’ve spent a lot of my time involved in more than one space. I’ve been a hackerspace director, a member, and many roles in between and I’ve seen them in both good times and bad ones. Perhaps it’s time to sit back and take stock of that decade and ask a few questions about hackerspaces. How have they fared, what state are they in now, and where are they going?
Has It Really Been That Long?
There was a time when hackerspaces were very few and far between, almost legendary entities that you’d heard about but never visited. If you were lucky enough to be a member of a hackerspace twenty or thirty years ago then I am envious of you, for aside from a brief taste of the required atmosphere during my Robot Wars days my hardware work was pursued mostly in the wilderness. As they spread out from those trailblazers your part of the world may have had its first hackerspace on a different timescale from mine, but they edged into the UK in about 2009 and 2010. First a few larger cities had them, then they spread inexorably to smaller ones so that now it’s a fair certainty that any European settlement from a large town upwards will have one. We’ve seen a few wither on the vine while others have burned brightly and faltered, but have they matured? Can a hackerspace director at last get their hands dirty in the workshop without constantly fighting for their space’s existence?
Different people find their own benefits from the hackerspace community, whether it be in the workshop, the politics, the running or simply the community itself. For me they have provided a stimulating community of like-minded tinkerers through a difficult period in life, and by my observation they provide a similar refuge for many others. Unfortunately though they do not serve everyone in the same fashion, and I find it disturbing how many people I have encountered along the way for whom the community has not been kind. Individual members fade away from their space when they are treated badly, but in particular those involved in the running of a space proceed to inevitable burnout. I shouldn’t have a host of friends in the community who have been damaged by running a hackerspace, yet I do, and I believe the cause of this is reflected in the way the movement has evolved.
What Happens When a Small Group Becomes a Large One?
Hackerspaces arrived here not just in the form of rooms full of tools and machines, but as organisational copies of some of the places that inspired them. For many this meant a model based around consensus and an almost Athenian approach to democracy, in which all voices had a say and for which the idea was that all members would contribute to the running. The phrase “Do-ocracy” appeared, in which tasks and functions could be done at will by anyone, with the idea that they would be done by those most suited for them. These models and concepts can work, indeed there are spaces in which they work well. However they are invariably the smaller spaces, and as the membership grows their flaws become rapidly apparent.
When a space first emerges, it is usually at the hands of a small and well-motivated group of individuals with a common purpose. They become a well-oiled machine, and a space in this phase of its existence can be an exciting place to be a member of. Spaces that stay at this size with somewhere around twenty members are fortunate, because the problems that face larger ones under a consensus model never have a chance to appear. If they can cover their rent and no calamity befalls them such as their landlord wanting the building emptied, they can have a happy future.
As their membership grows though, the percentage of members who share the ideals and work ethic of that original crew becomes ever smaller, and the deficiencies of the model begin to show. Despite the do-ocracy the members expect there to be Someone In Charge, so there will be some sort of board of directors. An uneasy divergence emerges between the three competing influences of directors, do-ocracy, and consensus, as the percentage of members prepared to perform the do-ocracy declines and the directors are left to pick up the slack.
Meanwhile the membership believe themselves to have a say in everything because of the consensus model. The beleaguered directors are under attack from all sides as they try to keep up with the space-running tasks that nobody else will do while simultaneously weathering the onslaught from the inactive members to whom consensus has given a sense of entitlement. Meetings become hours-long nightmares of endless waffle as members with Something To Say exercise their opportunity to drone on for hours that they could be spending taking on some of that do-ocracy work of getting stuff done.
This is a rite of passage for every growing hackerspace. The jump from a few handfuls of people to a large, self-sustaining membership hinges on successfully navigating this in-between time without alienating the people who make up the community of the space. The most successful spaces by my observation have been those that have modified or even moved away entirely from consensus and do-ocracy, and that now sport a more executive model in which a board of directors is left to run the space with accountability in a much more periodic form akin to the shareholders meetings faced by directors of large companies.
Would You Invest In A Home For A Hackerspace?
Having adapted the governance model to fit the growing hackerspace, what remains a threat to it? From where I am sitting I worry chiefly about the insecurity of so many hackerspace venues. It seems everywhere you turn there’s a story of a hackerspace whose lease wasn’t renewed, or whose walls simply can no longer hold all of the goings-on. Whatever the reason, the common problem for the mature hackerspace seems to be location, location, location.
Our advantage is that we are prepared to take on odd spaces that might otherwise be unrentable, but on the other hand those spaces have a tendency to be in locations whose owners have an eye towards redevelopment. I have lost count of the number of times that successful and financially viable spaces of my acquaintance have needed to move for this reason, and I wish that there were some way to be put on a more stable footing.
Some spaces go in with other organisations to occupy a larger space, as the ability to pay more in rent grants additional bargaining power with the landlord. For example my hackerspace in Milton Keynes shares a building with the local Men In Sheds that is rented from the local Community Foundation, but that is an extremely lucky situation. Though the relationship between space and Shed is a largely harmonious one in MK this can be a dangerous path. Other spaces have tried the route of going under the wing of a sponsor, only to hit the buffers when the sponsor loses interest in them.
There are times when I wonder whether there is a viable business model in a community-owned property investment company with the aim of providing accommodation for hackerspaces with the ability to pay a sustainable rent, but I am sadly not an accountant nor an expert in property investment companies so it remains only an idle thought.
…And What Does The Future Hold?
So the spaces around me have not only survived the decade since the movement arrived in my part of the world, but have become the centers of hacker culture. What are the challenges that will face them in the next decade, and how should they cope? I’ve touched upon the lack of security of tenure with respect to physical space, so beyond that I think the chief threat comes from a proliferation of competitors. Whether you call it a hackspace, a hackerspace, or a makerspace, it can sometimes seem as though there are a plethora of spaces springing up, and we can be lost in the crowd.
The answer of course is that very few of them are hackerspaces as we know them. Aside from the FabLabs that many people will be familiar with there is a trend for all sorts of organisations to put a 3D printer and maybe a laser cutter in a room and call it a hackspace. They want to appear innovative and on-trend, but they also want complete control over their resource. Thus they never replicate the secret sauce that makes our hackerspaces special, which is the community and its ability to generate ideas and cool stuff. They do however present a threat, because among them are so-called hackspaces that compete with our hackerspaces for funding and other resources. When a community group is competing with a space run by a much larger entity with professional staff dedicated to fundraising, they will always be at a disadvantage. I can think of more than one British city that has reached saturation point with these spaces, with consequent problems for the community space. Our best hope with respect to these spaces is I think to recognise them as a fad, and trust that they will largely be a thing of the past in a few years time as the Next Big Thing takes their place.
It’s been a bit of a shock to realise that the spaces I’m involved with are all around ten years old, but despite some of the teething troubles and ongoing challenges I’ve noted above, I think the movement remains in good shape. If you’re from a space that has escaped any problems I envy you. If you’re a diehard fan of consensus and do-ocracy then I hope it never goes wrong for you as I have seen it go. Meanwhile, if you have a view on any of this we’d love to hear from you in the comments. Keep supporting your local space, so it is still going in a decade’s time.
44 thoughts on “Reflection On A Decade Of Hackerspace Expansion”
Too me it would seem a natural fit for a Hackerspace/Business incubator combo tied to a local college/tradeschool.
My local college has classes in welding, car repair, and other tool heavy subjects. Even local Highschools have woodshops and other things like that.
There’s a well-funded state university here that tried doing something like that, but only tuition-paying students are allowed through the doors. Even if you pay to take classes, it’s like $300/quarter for non-matriculated students. And IIRC, it was just the typical unmaintained 3D printer + cheap laser engraver combo.
It sounds like the economics might not work out unless you’re willing to treat it like a donation to the local community rather than a selling point to the students. And not many higher-education institutions seem to see themselves as public services.
Maybe libraries could pick up the slack; I’ve seen a few FDM printers at city libraries. But libraries are difficult environments to keep machinery working in – too many hyperactive children and zonked-out adults. Maybe they could start hiring for roles dedicated to physical science education or something. Or maybe we need a new Carnegie-style grant to set up a national system of public ‘techbraries’ to make basic practical science available to everyone.
What d’you say? Any billionaires out there want to solve that pipeline problem that y’all keep wringing your hands over?
I hear you with the “unmaintainted 3D printer”. That is one piece of gear where I only use my own stuff. Most spaces have consumer-grade stuff that nobody in particular is in charge of maintaining, and nebulous rules about who replaces broken parts, etc.
There probably is a niche out there for somebody to build stuff like this which designed for and robust enough to have 100 people sharing it, instead of for use in one person’s home den.
Funny you brought up pipelines. The last independent oil producer had leases connected to Koch pipelines. I use to use YouTube to view Nova episodes I hadn’t seen. In the comments to one, a person expressed surprise that David Koch sponsors Nova.,respond to that comment with a reply: While the Kochs spend a lot of money to convince voters to vote against their self interests, Koch Industries need science literate personnel. To bring this around to topic, there may very well be out right monetary grants for community shop spaces. The thing is there needs to be a local group willing to make an initial investment to create a non profit corporation (USA) for others to make charitable contribution, often other charitable organizations may be handing out such grants. I’d suggest contacting any economic director your city or county has for information. Why would an economic director help? Businesses, individuals, professionals, and others, would rather locate or relocate to communities that display a diversity of interests.
In practice that is an awful idea. It begins with good will, smiles, enthusiastic handshakes, and nice articles in the local press–and ends with the local government entity presuming ownership of all your space’s resources, telling you what your hours will be, what the rules are, and who is/isn’t allowed–or what expensive training they need first.
Are you an entrepreneur using such a space? Commercialize your project that you were seen spending a few hours in the “Community College’s” makerspace space working on, and get ready for their full-time, salaried legal staff to arrive demanding 5% of your revenue.
Yes. This. Beware co-sponsorship deals, the sponsor behaves as if they own you. I bear the scars.
College hackerspaces tend to be for-students only. Even if they want to open their doors to the community they usually can’t because their insurance does not allow it. A college opening a hackerspace is the death-knell of a community’s chance of developing one themselves as students are often the most energetic participants in a hackerspace as well as the ones with the most time to contribute.
As for the business incubator… I hear people bring those up in my area a lot when talking about hackerspaces. I don’t think they get it. Making something as a business means making endless iterations of the same thing and developing that thing along the lines of what the customers demand. It’s a job. It’s not fun. It’s about as opposite of hacking as one can get. I can think of no better way to ruin a hobby than to make it a career. I just don’t think those two ideas go together well at all.
That’s always been a tough topic for me. Sometimes an exec/department head/engineer visits a hackerspace, loves it, and asks if they can pay me to build one at their school / company.
My response is usually something along that lines of ‘only if there’s public access’. Usually that’s a dealbreaker for them, and I explain to them that without a community, it’s just a room full of tools — if that’s all they really want I can send them a suggested bill of materials free of charge. They explain that they need it to be a ‘hackerspace’ for marketing purposes, and I have to explain that unfortunately I cannot accept their money.
Some of them go on to buy the tools they think they need, and put them in a room with employee-only access, only to realize that all they’ve done is build an exact duplicate of their current workshop.
One model I’ve been playing with is to explain this and advocate offering controlled public access to the workshop the company already has. That way there’s some way of addressing liability concerns, the company checks some marketing boxes, and hobbyists can work with excellent tools alongside experienced engineers. It’s not a perfect arrangement — I prefer my hackerspaces free of commercial interests — but it seems like an opportunity to give students and hobbyists access to resources that would benefit them. I live in Vietnam and hands-on experience for young engineers is scarce.
“and hobbyists can work with excellent tools alongside experienced engineers.”
No offence, but as an experienced engineer I predict pitchforks and torches for anyone suggesting such a thing. There are many ways to seriously damage machine tools, and there’s very few shops that actually have the excess capacity that they can afford any machine to be down for repairs because someone made a preventable oopsie from lack of experience.
I teach at the FabLab at Northampton Community College (eastern PA, west of NYC and north of Philly : https://www.northampton.edu/student-services/center-for-innovation-and-entrepreneurship/fab-lab.htm)- we do this exactly. They have an entrepreneurship center in the college that utilizes the resources, but isnt directly connected. Local businesses, students, makers, etc all use the lab. We have 8,000 sqft of laser cutters, 3d printers, computer labs, CNC mills, lathes, routers, plasma cutters, full wood shop, audio recording studio, etc. All the equipment is bought with grants, so classes and memberships just have to break even.
Honestly, I used to be really excited about hacker/makerspaces, but in reality, you don’t seem to get much in the way of community.
I spent a few years looking for a space to see cool projects as people worked on them and maybe collaborate on the occasional installation piece. But IME, most of these spaces are occupied by “one-and-done” people who will see how the laser works, say “ooh/aah”, make a coaster, then cancel their memberships after a few months of doing nothing.
I’m very thankful that we have local plastic and metal supply places which will do small-volume cuts with lasers/water jets/etc as part of an order. They’re more reliable, often cheaper, and much nicer to work with and get to know. I see more community at the local plastic or lumber store than I ever did at the local makerspace!
I dunno, maybe it’s the urban US location. I’m sure that there are plenty of places in the world with curious and bright people who want to share what they know and learn from the people around them. But I no longer aspire to run this sort of shop after seeing what it entails and how it is likely to play out. Personally, my naive optimism about these mythical spaces is dead and buried.
I’d love to know where I can find a local plastic or lumber store like this. Links?
My experience is of European spaces that tend to have more of a community. But location is so much part of that.
Another important post by Ms. List.
“… inactive members to whom consensus has given a sense of entitlement.”
And therein lies the root cause of many organizations’ demise. I saw a forty-year old astronomy club almost dissolve per this sense of ‘rights’. And my very own build space, which is on my property, and equipped and funded by myself, was recently hit by this problem. It started out as a two extra benches added for the niece and nephew, and expanded as they and myself allowed access by our ‘friends’. The only cure for this issue is to shutdown, turn the power off, and do a re-boot
It must be both understood and remembered that a good deed will ever go unpunished and that good intentions are not enough; that is, “Hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works”.
You understand it.
The biggest problem with hackerspaces for me is the cost. For less than a year’s subscription, I can buy my own laser cutter, 3d printer, pillar drill and welder. Year 2, you’re into lathe territory. 100% availability, and yours for years. Sure, you get the social aspects, but you can get that from the internet.
The only way I’d consider a hs is if I didn’t have the space, or I needed heavy enough use that I couldn’t blag time on friends’ kit.
This of course really depends on the cost of membership, which varies wildly across spaces. Practically all Dutch hackerspaces set you back only 25 €/month, and it’s really unlikely that you can buy that laser cutter, 3d printer, pillar drill, and welder, all for only 300 €. But a hackerspace is at least as much about the community as it is about the tools, and even if you could buy all that equipment yourself, you’d have to unbox it all alone.
Here in the states you are lucky to get in for double that. It’s not really the spaces’ fault though. They have to charge a lot just to afford a location. Renting a building or even a room is just ridiculous. And that’s not necessarily the landlords’ fault either. They have to pay their mortgage, and taxes. Buildings are all way overpriced. Taxes are a percent of the appraised value and it’s hard to get something appraised low when records show it has sold high several times in a row. Real-estate has been driven sky high by investors. Meanwhile far too many buildings sit empty. Landlords can get more money writing off an empty building as a loss than they can by renting it out cheaply. I’ve watched several large buildings in prime locations sit empty for years until they are too rotten to be used.
It’s sad. This is why we can’t have nice things.
Very different in Asia too. Here in Ho Chi Minh City, the downtown real estate is the ~6th most expensive in the world, and a decent salary out of university would be about 450 US dollars a month.
So finding a space is very hard, and no one has any money for membership. Basically you need a rich yet hands-off benefactor, a relationship which tends to last only a few years.
At least tools are cheap, no member has any huge projects to store, and no one cares about liability. The sense of community is good and members are willing to put in tons of hours to be around and help out — actually there’s a risk of it just becoming a coffeeshop where people hang out and no hacking happens. A few organized project nights tend to get things back on track though.
Those would be either utter bottom-shelf tools, or the hackerspace you’re looking at the membership price list of has misplaced a couple of decimal points. A Myford lathe? A 2sq.m CNC router? A table saw and a band saw? An A0-size printer? A vinyl cutter? There’s all kinds of stuff that you might not think of buying for yourself, but by having it available you can think up different ways of creating something where you previously had just one. Or none. An often-heard comment from people seeing a particular tool being used is along the lines of “Neat, so can I use this to make too?”, and the answer will usually be “Yes”.
And what you don’t get when owning (and running) all that stuff yourself is someone you can poke and ask “I seem to be stuck, can you have a look at this thing I’m trying to build?”. Maybe that some Internet communities get close, but none of them provide the third hand that (dis)assembling stuff often requires. Or confirming that it’s indeed the DUT is misbehaving where you were doubtful your use of an oscilloscope was correct.
What your Internet community would be quite bad at as well is hearing you call for help after a power tool mishap.
Fair point about the quality of the kit, but if I’m the only user, it doesn’t need to be ‘industrial quality’. And to be equally fair, a lot of the stuff in hackerspaces isn’t either.
Getting stuck and working your own way out of it is the majority of the fun (for me), so that’s not a real pull.
As for power tool mishaps – I’ve seen the aftermath of those, and have developed a strong respect for anything that can or does move (including electrons). Also, as with any solitary activity, always tell someone where you’re going and how long you expect to be there.
The bylaws could/should be written to remove rights from inactive members. A clear definition of active vs inactive members could also be dispersed to everyone or even put in their member portal based on attendance or other measures of activity. Easier said than done but an organization I managed for years never had this type of problem but that was a different type of org.
About 10 years ago, I was thinking of initiating a hack/make space and sharing my wood working/electronics/welding equipment to inspire others to chip in. But, life gets in the way of those things…
Maybe if I had a hobby farm with a large shed…
The Rabbit Hole is the local space now, and it is run by a nice couple, Addie and Whiskers, but it is generally open only on Friday evenings. I consider myself lucky if I can attend once a year.
I think Jenny’s article should be read aloud at any meeting of people who are wanting to “build” a hack/make space,
not to discourage them, but to let them know what may be in store.
“I think Jenny’s article should be read aloud at any meeting of people who are wanting to “build” a hack/make space,
not to discourage them, but to let them know what may be in store.”
Steady on, you’ll give me delusions of grandeur. :)
Related but slightly off topic there are many many different collaborations that appear to be the same on the surface but are unrelated and will attract different people. I’m talking about Hackerspace, Makerspace, Fablab, Library and more.
From my own experience what I’ve seen in the Netherlands:
Makerspaces are government sponsored: “I’d like to order innovation please. How much? €50k? I’ll take two!”
These spaces have collaborations with schools and if lucky have a working 3D printer you are not allowed to touch yourself.
I’m not talking about hackerspaces that adopted the term makerspace as it sounds more friendly. People come here for a limited time. Hours to days in large groups, like a technical zoo.
Libraries have 3D printers. You are not allowed to use it but it’s there. My local library had one printing useless trinkets all day until they decided it was trash anyway and turned it off. They lack the knowledge to keep it running. Libraries have arduino/microBIT and ‘robotics’ classes but at a very basic level and accessible for most people.
Fablabs are many places where inventors and artist go to prototype. Here I was introduced to lasercutters and have been a fan of the tool. Most tools are available for a limited time (15min a go) unless you rent the machine for the whole day (including the privacy you need for getting patents.) Some have school and university sponsorships. “I found this thing on thingiverse.” The people are not too open about sharing information, make a project and leave. I was not allowed to update the lasercut settings on the wiki as “people must figure this out themselves”.
Hackerspaces are not sponsored and are run by the people. Tools are available but likely not the best equipment and poorly maintained. Whenever I do critical jobs I bring my own gear like a functional calliper or even a small drill press. Many people come and I’m glad also many people stick around. It helps that it’s a community with conferences, meetups and collaborations. People come for the tools and stay for the people.
These are just a few. Hackerspaces are different. The people are different. It has many pro and many cons. It’s not a cheap hobby but I’ve learned more here than many years elsewhere. Depending on the space the tools might differ. That’s why I prefer collaboration between spaces.
In the UK, makerspace and hackerspace are pretty much interchangeable.
I’m a board member of a FabLab in the Netherlands (Wageningen, a mere 20 miles form Jenny’s beloved Hack42). I do not recognise your findings nor share your sentiments. We are sponsored by the local University who has given us a smallish workspace but are further an independent foundation. Members (a healthy mix of students, artists and plain enthousiasts) pay EUR 100 / year (I was truly shocked to read what other facilities asked) and can use our facilities for a reduced fee for any length of time. Machinery is good enough for semi-pro usage (want to try our 90 x 120 cm. laser cutter ?) as it is used by start-ups any day.
Not too open ? We try to maintain a healthy community and feel we do pretty well. We talk, we share. We give classes and workshops. We give specific advice to students and people wanting to start a company of their own. We put ‘FabMoments’ on our intra- and internet. And lasercut settings in our Wiki should be updated if you find errors. Period.
The open source software world is facing similar problems in certain cases. The BDFL (Benevolent Dictator For Life) model still seems to be the most stable, with the forkability of open source keeping the dictator in check.
I hope that the brevity of my comment is not interpreted as a lack of the sincerest of interest in a well-thought-out reply.
Why is it that whenever a hackspace, a hackerspace, or a makerspace is the subject of an article, that entity is almost uniquely European (from the article: “…it’s a fair certainty that any European settlement from a large town upwards will have one…”) ; or, to not be so parochial, it is definitely NOT
American, orU.S..-based. Over the years, I have noticed an almost total lack of interest in mention of these venues as regards the U.S.
Can this be ascribed to economics?…to a lack of camaraderie?…to the (somewhat) legendary “…I can do anything I need to do on my own…”American attitude?
I really don’t know, but I DO know that the subject of “…hackspace, a hackerspace, or a makerspace…” as relates to being an “American” thing is almost non-existent
Think about it. Please.
In the context of my work, that’s simple. I’m UK based, and have never been into a North American hackerspace. I last crossed the Atlantic in about 2007. I acknowledge that it’s a gap in my writing because I would prefer not to pass comment on something of which I have little experience. This is why I am at pains to qualify these pieces by talking about where the experience expressed within them was gained.
That said, I believe the dynamics expressed here are universal to all spaces, wherever in the world they are.
As a member of a US hackerspace that’s been around for just over a decade, this article reads pretty close to my experiences. I think we’ve solved some of the issues mentioned here, but not others. We’re definitely at the mercy of our landlord and while we don’t expect huge rent hikes in the next 2 years, that could change in the next 5 as gentrification continues moving into our area.
There isn’t a problematic sense of entitlement from uninvolved members, but there is a significant lack of personal responsibility for those that are active and as you mentioned, this is a burden that the directors of the space end up bearing one way or another.
On the subject of most hackerspace commentary being directed at UK/Europe, it’s because even the oldest US hackerspaces are just now over a decade old and they just don’t have the history of their European counterparts. The oldest US hackerspace that I’m aware of (Noisebridge) only got started in 2007 and got its first facility in 2008. Pumping Station: One and Makers Local 256 also popped up in this time frame.
Jenny no sour grapes from this American, but forgive the sarcasm directed towards Hackady. Imagine if Hackaday created internet forum, and someone created at that forum a topic about spaces concerning the pitfalls, trials, and tribulations, of creating and managing *spaces. What’s that you say? Hackaday used to have such a forum where someone created such a topic.
Being a U.S. maker space director, I can attest that there are a good number of spaces in most medium-sized cities and up. That said, because we’re so spread out, that doesn’t serve our total population completely.
Most likely it appears to be European concentric, because the concept gained momentum Europe first. I first learned of the concept because a Hackaday post about the government of China promoting hacker spaces. Not sure how long you have been following Hackaday. Hackaday’s for big cheese Cab Kraft was visiting and featuring builder- fablab- hacker-maker spaces in the USA, as early as seven year ago. Respectfully I have to ascribe to it is sour grapes, due to insufficient facts or knowledge. I will criticize hackaday for pretty much dropping the ball on covering spaces in the US. At the very least Hackady could make an open invitation for space create a video of their space, and submit to hackaday to be featured.
I’ve always liked the idea of a hackspace, and I’ve been a paid up member of my local hackspace for about 5yrs. Now, I’m not shy about getting involved in these sorts of things (I’ve been heavily involved in other community groups at all sorts of levels), but honestly I’ve been completely put off by the level/quality of internal politics visible on the hackspace IRC, mailing list etc to ever consider getting involved in any of the do-ocracy – or in fact to turn up to the venue at all except for the rare (two or three times in the past 5yrs) meetup of the SIG that got me into it in the first place. I’d love to get to use the tools, the space, meet people, see projects, learn and share skills. But it feels such an intimidating (bordering on toxic) environment that I never want to go.. but I’ll keep funding it in the hopes that it works out somehow.
That being said and just from watching from afar, I wonder if there’s something to be learnt from the British aeromodelling scene, where there’s similarly a bunch of self-governed local clubs with different facilities and histories and communities. There’s also a national association that doesn’t prescribe any rules, but does offer insurance to clubs and individuals, provides assistance to groups in finding or keeping venues or members, and maintains an achievement scheme of different levels of competencies in different disciplines. Most clubs won’t let you fly solo on their site until you’ve got the basic level of competency, and most events won’t let you fly in front of the public until you’ve got the next level of competency. This is a national network of trust and confidence in skills, and saves a lot of faff of trying to assess every members abilities equally and objectively – as well as giving newcomers a clear path in a new community. I wonder if a similar scheme could be developed in hackspaces for basic (use) and advanced (maintenance) levels of competency in common hackspace disciplines such as soldering, laser cutting, FFF etc? I think it could help newcomers have a clear inroad into the community, help old hands transfer their skills between spaces, help new small spaces use these existing resources, and help larger established spaces maintain continuity as members leave and join..?
I think everything in this article is pretty spot-on, and am dealing / have dealt with many of these issues in my own local spaces.
I think it is important to stress that the most important thing about a hackerspace is the community; the people who attend. Those who share their projects, skills, energy, ideas, loves, and effort. A good crew is essential to any hackerspace, and without one, you just have a box of tools that will eventually close.
Events are really your key to serving your membership; without events the community may never be in the space in quantity at the same time. A community that never interacts with each other is no community at all.
Also, it only takes one distasteful person to drive away your motivated members, and I’ve seen more than one group spiral into the gutter as “social clubs for the anti-social”.
Finally, it is important to support your local hackerspace, even when you don’t feel like you need it, otherwise it won’t be there when you do.
It is definitely the community that makes a space worthwhile. Others have pointed out that you could take your membership dues and stock a pretty decent home workshop in just a few years. Well.. unless you live in a big-city type small apartment anyway.
Just thought I’d point out though, it hasn’t been this way forever. 10 years ago having a 3d printer was a huge deal. You had to build it yourself even down to the hotend so most people seeked out a community to share skills and do this together. Laser cutters were far too expensive for most. Cheap K40s were but a gleam in some Chinese maker’s eye. Other tools such as lathes and large drill presses sadly became affordable since then mostly due to auctions at closed factories.
It used to be that we really needed hackerspaces in order to have access to a well stocked shop. But just because we don’t anymore doesn’t make them not valuable. A good space’s community is very much worth the cost of membership.
At my space, five years of membership dues is DKK 9000. That would just buy me a decent 3D-printer with some money to spare. At my space, I have access to multiple 3D-printers, laser cutter, CNC, lathe, mill, welder, embroidery machine, reflow oven, etc., etc. To but all that equipment myself would cost at least ten times that.
That’s not a bad price. Most of the spaces in the US are at least double that… and much more if you are a keyholder!
At my space, all members are keyholders with 24/7 access :-)
I’m for the idea of _small_ hackerspaces. The hackerspace I was originally part of has turned into nothing but red-tape, and government loving rule makers. Instead of a single rule : “Be awesome to each other”, it’s turned into project parking tickets, and factions of people fighting each other, and none of the original ethos of the space has been retained at all. Now it’s just a space for well to do rich kids to hang out and play politics.
I really think the magical number of participants in a space is <50 or so.
There’s an observation named after someone I don’t remember that seems apt, especially for any group with “assets” like Hackerspaces. It’s that every organization inherently has two types of members: those who are committed to (and work towards) the *goals* of the organization, and the ones who are committed to (and invested in) the organization *itself*.
It inevitably results in the latter group taking over, because they can always out-invest the former.
That would be Jerry Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy.
That’s it! Thanks!
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