[hackerspaces] Looking for some insight from other S.O.O.H.

Ross Smith rsmith at i3detroit.com
Wed Feb 9 15:58:03 CET 2011

Great thread!  I second Nate's perspective on the "activity breeds
activity" strategy at i3.  It works very well for us.

At least at i3, activity, organization, and other healthy signs are
basically the outgrowth of a perceived culture.  By "perceived", I
don't mean less than real; I mean obvious.  The more obviously the
space is organized and the more obviously signs and communications are
posted, the more likely members will fall in step with the
organizational pattern that has been laid.  Activity is the same -
when your calendar looks like members from all walks of life are
stepping up to teach classes and run events, that implicitly shows
other members that they can try their hand at it.  (The corollary is
also true.  The less obvious organization, signage, and communication
are, the more likely confusion and a sense of listlessness will set

You can't have that full calendar populated by many volunteers without
the culture, and maintaining the culture of a whole group takes work
from a few committed individuals.  We have a member who stepped up to
coordinate our events, which makes it easier for any one person to
propose and then lead an event.  Because she's there to help you, you
know you aren't jumping in alone.  She's your guide to the process.
An event coordinator and promoter like this will encourage the members
who are most interested in running an event to actually do it.  It
takes a lot of her time and care, though, for which I'm very grateful
and I tell her often!

The key is that it takes a few self-starters to run the initial
events, lay the template for how events are (can/should be) done, and
help others try out this process.  The self-starting hackers who
thrive on chaos will ignore the pattern and do it their own way;
that's completely fine and you won't be able to stop them anyway.  But
for everyone else who needs a little more structure, it will be the
difference between participating with a little help and being
discouraged by what they feel they cannot do within their constraints
of time, knowledge, and even courage.  Show them how it's done and be
there to help.


On Wed, Feb 9, 2011 at 12:19 AM, nicolle n. <superherogirl at gmail.com> wrote:
> i'm right there with you on group classes, and the importance of having
> people in the space.  things like classes and open-to-the-public hackathons
> are great for getting the word out and getting new people into the space.
> co-working is something i've always been a little wary about at a
> hackerspace, though.  people deciding on their own to work on some job stuff
> at the space, fine.  having a desk for people to set out any kind of
> projects that need a desk, fine.  where it may get dicey to invite
> co-working is if, during the day, someone wants to co-work and someone else
> wants to do something fairly loud.  even though that may not usually happen,
> there's a potential for conflict there...and the idea of someone being able
> to play the "this is for my job, knock it off with that project of yours"
> card at a hackerspace might be dangerous for people's likelihood of
> continuing to see the space as a safe and open haven for project work.
> and one thing...just because there are people at your space who aren't into
> infosec doesn't mean you're any less of a "hackerspace".  infosec is just
> another skill, just like lockpicking or knife sharpening or anything else.
> different people at a hackerspace are interested in different things, and
> have different skill levels at them.  the key to a hackerspace is that it's
> a place that people are comfortable and excited to bring themselves and
> their projects, and willing to share their skills with people who are
> interested in learning them.  it's a place of project progress and knowledge
> exchange, not limited to any particular subject--and only limited by the
> interests of the people who come in.
> nicolle
> On Tue, Feb 8, 2011 at 10:46 PM, Nate Bezanson <myself at telcodata.us> wrote:
>> > If anyone else has been through this 'how active should we be'
>> > discussion, and has some good advice, please email me off-list. I'll
>> > give the details there.
>> Nah, I'm not gonna get into the meta discussion here, I'd rather talk
>> about activity directly. And I think that's appropriate on the public
>> list.
>> Activity breeds activity. When you come into the space and nobody's there,
>> you do your thing and leave again. But overlapping activities become
>> hangout time, and when the space is a fun place to hang out, people bring
>> their friends along.
>> Some of this means more members. If the space isn't fully utilized yet,
>> then it can/should accommodate more members! At some point, you'll hit a
>> critical mass where activity becomes self-reinforcing and the space
>> transforms into a vibrant community. Reaching that point is hard.
>> One thing that's worked for us at i3Detroit is entry-level classes.
>> Lockpicking seems particularly interesting to newbies who read the blog of
>> a "hackerspace". Blade sharpening and welding have also been very well
>> attended. Find the entry-level stuff that fits your facilities, and teach,
>> teach, teach! We typically pick up one or two new members from a class of
>> 20. Many of them don't renew after the first month, but plenty do, and
>> there you have more activity. And someone who's new to lockpicking might
>> be a lvl 9 mage at woodworking...
>> Another thing that's brought people into the space regularly is supporting
>> a FIRST robotics team. The high-schoolers don't pay dues (providing them
>> with workspace is one of the community-enriching activities we brag to the
>> IRS about), but they bring ideas and noise and dust and all the other
>> byproducts of learning and doing.
>> And if you're thinking "Welding and knife sharpening? That doesn't sound
>> like the hackers I know!", you're right. I'm resigned to the notion that
>> we're a makerspace. When a member asked what an infosec con was, it popped
>> into sharp relief for me, and I walked around in a daze for a day or two.
>> But I've realized I'm totally okay with the idea, because we share the
>> same ethic, and the more the space is filled with people with *different*
>> skills, the more interesting the community becomes.
>> One other thing: Group projects to rally behind. When we entered that
>> Instructables laser contest, we all went on a
>> call-grandma-and-have-her-vote blitz, which was a bit silly at times but
>> really energized the group. Finishing up our individual (and each other's)
>> projects for Maker Faire was a great last-minute push, which really
>> brought people together. And every few months, we organize a
>> potluck/lock-in/all-night work party to chew down the spacewide to-do
>> list. One or two members will do a bunch of planning and purchasing to
>> make sure that when the hands are available, the work is doable. Turnout
>> for these work parties has been astonishing, and as long as they're kept
>> fairly infrequent, interest seems to grow each time.
>> There's been some talk of dedicating a few desks to "co-working" space to
>> attract some daytime activity, since most members are only around during
>> evenings and weekends, but that hasn't really materialized yet. Personally
>> I love the idea, as I believe the group can only benefit from higher
>> utilization.
>> -Nate-
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> --
> "despite these imperfections
> despite all i say
> inside in recollections
> i'm done with yesterday"
> "Planets"
> by Adema
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Ross Smith
i3Detroit President

"Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually
right." -- Henry Ford

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