[hackerspaces] Hackerspace drama, oh my!

matt matt at nycresistor.com
Thu Jul 3 02:36:33 CEST 2014

Quoting for effect:

On Wed, Jul 2, 2014 at 4:49 PM, Naomi Most <pnaomi at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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 was very convenient.  And I think we totally did guard against many
potentially negative outcomes.  Though there are costs to any path you
choose.  I'd definitely be able to drill into some of those if you'd like.
But the biggest one of course is that some folks don't get to be members at
our space.  Even people that I like and think are great people and bad ass
hackers.  And that does suck.

> 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.
I recall when Noisebridge started.  We started at around the same time (
obviously =P ).  It was certainly an experiment for everyone in the US at
that time.  Though I think a lot of folks failed to learn anything from
previous hackerspaces in the US.  Which was... not the best situation I

Former HHH residents could probably have helped noisebridge avoid at least
a few unpleasant experiences.  Hacktory probably as well.  And who knows
what wonderous knowledge L0pht members could have shared had they been so

> 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.

Yeah, about that.  I am not sure that was a good idea.  I mean, yay to
promoting people getting out there and hacking and doing stuff.  But you
know, promoting your model for a hackerspace was just a bad idea from the
get go.  Even if we assume no one could know what model would work... the
better strategy would have been to promote diversity, not uniformity.  As
it happens it looks like more than a few spaces initially standardized on
the Noisebridge design pattern, and several paid for that.  Several seem to
have done fine.  I still would have preferred greater diversity in design

> http://imgur.com/hfFrmDv
> (note to self: paint this on Noisebridge's wall.)
> There are more complex reasons why a community succeeds or fails:
There are as many as there are stars in the sky.

> * 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).
Hrmm I think noisebridge anti-harassment policy was largely brought forth
by some of the biggest offenders in the space.  And I don't see it as being
very successful in increasing the number of women at Noisebridge.  In fact,
it seems to me that a solid chunk of your female population left and
started their own women's only space.  That being said, I've seen no
quantification or a metric of success brought up by anyone, so I can't say
one way or the other.

I will say this, NYC Resistor has attempted to ensure some amount of parity
in numbers exists in our membership.  And we have been largely successful
in that.  And we've benefited greatly from it.  More to the point the
invite only aspect to our space has allowed us to ensure that we maintain
the balance we wish.  Of course, as with all things, there are costs.

> * 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
> newbies)
Resistor doesn't really rely on founders for much anymore.  In fact, I
think most of our newer members end up driving most of the space since the
older members are pretty busy doing stuff like running companies and
raising kids.

Not that the occasional ( hey wtf was going on here ) phone call to someone
with historical knowledge doesn't happen.

> * the social/cultural/economic environment in which the hackerspace
> exists (countries with working safety nets have hackerspaces with
> fewer squatting problems)
Your squatting problems are the result largely of Noisebridge inviting in
and becoming a home to Occupy SF and Oakland.  And we all know that.  That
many local homeless show up and word spreads.

Additionally, It's good to hear the kitchen might finally be destroyed.
That attracted a lot of non hacker element to the space who caused a lot of

> * the policies and openness of the hackerspace in question
Policies can affect culture.  But culture trumps policies any day.  Quite
literally, in fact.  And I believe that was one of the original points.

> * the attractiveness of authority positions within the hackerspace
There are non in ours.  Except for maybe treasurer... and frankly we all
feel sorry for whoever ends up being the guy responsible for getting our
taxes handled.  It's not fun.

> * the rights and privileges of Members and other attendees in
> relationship to "authority" roles.
 There is no Authority among friends.

> --Naomi
As Colin said.  Good luck on the clean up.  I hope you guys can come out of
that with some real honest to god changes that can promote the
establishment of a more hacker-esque community at Noisebridge.

 But frankly, I fear you will fail yet again.  you guys don't have a
unified community.  And you have folks who are more than happy with
noisebridge being a homeless shelter.  And they will continue to block
changes, ignore rules, and take advantage of the space until either they
are made unwelcome or you are.

One of the first problems I saw at noisebridge was that you guys have toxic
membership.  And you refuse to excise it.  You keep trying to be all things
to all people, and the tragedy of the commons destroys any trust that could
establish a community in that space.  So you end up just becoming a
co-workingspace that is exploited by whomever can exploit it best.  In
recent years, that's been homeless people.

But whatevs.  I've made the same points a thousand and one times.  You guys
ignore them every time and continue on the path to destruction unabaited.
Honestly, noisebridge failing might not be such a bad thing.  It might
allow for other spaces to grow outside of it's shadow.


> 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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> >
> >
> >
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> --
> Naomi Theora Most
> naomi at nthmost.com
> +1-415-728-7490
> skype: nthmost
> http://twitter.com/nthmost
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