[hackerspaces] Hackerspace drama, oh my!

Naomi Most pnaomi at gmail.com
Wed Jul 2 22:49:23 CEST 2014

It's convenient to say "Start a community first and then form an
organisation" with the implication that after doing so one has guarded
against most negative outcomes.

It's also convenient to point to Noisebridge as the exemplar of all
that can go wrong with a hackerspace, but the facts are otherwise:
Noisebridge ramped up for almost a year with a dedicated community
before acquiring a physical space.

Noisebridge also managed to inspire the creation of countless other
hackerspaces before the first time someone painted "At Least We Aren't
Noisebridge" on their wall.


(note to self: paint this on Noisebridge's wall.)

There are more complex reasons why a community succeeds or fails:

* the rate of newbie ingress and how those newbies were invited in or
rejected (Noisebridge's anti-harassment policy came out of noticing
that we were de-facto "rejecting" women and trans folk).

* the stickiness of the founders of the space (hard to maintain a
culture when its leaders don't stick around to enculturate a flood of

* the social/cultural/economic environment in which the hackerspace
exists (countries with working safety nets have hackerspaces with
fewer squatting problems)

* the policies and openness of the hackerspace in question

* the attractiveness of authority positions within the hackerspace

* the rights and privileges of Members and other attendees in
relationship to "authority" roles.


On Wed, Jul 2, 2014 at 10:41 AM, Colin Keigher
<general at keyboardcowboy.ca> wrote:
> Yeah. I can safely say the same thing for Vancouver Hack Space (VHS).
> Prior to moving to a larger (and in a lot of ways better) space, VHS catered
> to a small segment. However, there was a desire to grow and it did but came
> at a cost. Now VHS suffers with a problem where theft has occurred and a
> mindset that didn't exist before has come out in favour of having cameras
> within the space, something that previously would have been outright
> rejected.
> Needless to say my interest in the space has waned in the past few years and
> the discussion of cameras has sealed the deal on my wanting to be around
> anymore. Much of the blame for this shift in culture comes from individuals
> who come from groups like Occupy and amateur radio clubs. When you make your
> space the space for everyone and not put your foot down early on what is and
> isn't acceptable and adopt an anarchistic approach to things, this can be
> the end result. The plague that negatively affects Noisebridge can affect
> other spaces too albeit in VHS' case, there is not (yet) an issue with
> people sleeping there.
> It should be pointed out that I do not condemn these groups but I will say
> openly that I want nothing to do with them.
> In order for a space, organisation, or group to survive change, rules have
> to be set in stone from the get-go and not have them open to
> reinterpretation at a later date should new groups come in and not like what
> is in place. I helped form a non-profit society last year that has been
> setup so it's open to membership but it would be difficult for a group to
> join and usurp us from running it. I've also folded a project of mine
> (https://canary.pw) into the NPO and have made it so I retain ownership and
> rights to it should I decide that I do not find the board friendly to me.
> It's not sure-fire that everything will work as intended but a lot of
> mistakes were learnt from VHS and other organisations and we dare not be
> repeated elsewhere.
> Matt's advice is pretty good. Start a community first and then form an
> organisation; otherwise you're just going to be fighting this battle all
> over again.
> Cheers,
> Colin
> On 01/07/2014 09:24, matt wrote:
> I think this boils down to the dichotomy of hackerspace vs co-working space.
> If you build up infrastructure and expect a community to show up in it,
> don't be surprised if more than one community shows up, or the community
> that shows up is not one you want to be a part of.
> Noisebridge suffers the tragedy of the commons in a pretty severe way...
> having had mole people living in their basement and bi-polar homeless people
> show up and and claim they are 'sleep hacking'.
> That's not what I am talking about.  What I am talking about is the last
> line in that piece :
> "A lot of this can be traced to our collective inability to remember our
> core pillars of consensus, excellence, and do-ocracy. There is no one person
> or event that can be blamed. As a community, we failed to hold close the
> values we had. We were hacked by policy hackers."
> Now I don't know anything about synhak... so I am just going to speak to the
> perspective brought forth by the person who wrote this piece.  This is a
> person who enjoyed the community that arrived at synhak in the early days.
> As the space grew and changed and time went on, so did the culture and so
> did the community.
> I think Torrie is talking specific solutions but not seeing the forest
> through the trees.  When torrie talks about common values along side mission
> statement, and limiting growth of new membership.  What she is really
> talking about is fostering a community rather than infrastructure.  She's
> focusing more on being with the people she wants to be with, than focusing
> on building a space.
> And I think that has worked out very well for NYC Resistor.  We like each
> other.  We've liked each other with fairly decent success for 5-6 years.
> And while folks have grown apart and there has been some inevitable culture
> shift. The community has remained strong.
> So, the answer is simple.  Synhak like noisebridge built a space.  And
> communities fought for it, and some took it and some lost it.  Much like
> noisebridge.  NYC Resistor built a community in a coffee shop... everything
> else came later.
> Advice I give most folks starting a hackerspace, start a community first.
> Find the people you want to start the space with.  Worry about that.
> because at the end of the day, even if you don't have a space, that
> community is worth way way more.
> -Matt
> On Tue, Jul 1, 2014 at 12:02 PM, Buddy Smith <buddy.smith at ieee.org> wrote:
>> Saw this on /r/hackerspaces/
>> https://medium.com/@tdfischer_/rip-synhak-7093ade6b943
>> Anyone involved care to comment? Has something similar happened to other
>> spaces? How did you get past it? How could it be prevented?
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Naomi Theora Most
naomi at nthmost.com

skype: nthmost


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