[hackerspaces] Hackerspace drama, oh my!

Naomi Most pnaomi at gmail.com
Thu Jul 3 03:04:58 CEST 2014

Heh, do you really imagine that I am defending all of what Noisebridge
is, was, and has ever been?

That catalogue of "things that affect how the hackerspace functions"
is informed by the failures of Noisebridge as well as the failures of
every other space I have heard about failing.

Don't forget that this thread began by discussion of SYNHAK, which is
why my list of factors includes points about authority.

The fact that I bring up Noisebridge has to do with the length and
breadth of my experience there -- not its inherent worth as an example
of anything.

The hackerspace world seems to be under the impression that
Noisebridge "fails" and all other hackerspaces either succeed or suck
less.  It's almost impossible to bring experiences from Noisebridge to
bear without a pile-on of:

"At Least We Aren't Noisebridge"

Dudes, we are the canaries in the coal-mine.

We're watching as Sudo Room, for example, gets into its 2nd year and
starts to have the same squatting problems we have.  No Occupy

We *know* we make things hard for ourselves, but we have learned a
hell of a lot from it.

If hackerspaces can't get past the "at least we're not Noisebridge"
thought pattern, many will be doomed to repeat our mistakes as they
will fail to identify having similar problems.


On Wed, Jul 2, 2014 at 4:43 PM, Colin Keigher <general at keyboardcowboy.ca> wrote:
> It is very much true that many spaces are modeled on or inspired by
> Noisebridge. VHS formed in late 2008 based on what was exemplified by your
> very own space. It too started without a space per se except in meetings
> held in the back of Free Geek Vancouver (similar to that of Free Geek in
> Portland, OR) and its initial space was barely larger than the living room
> in my apartment. This is not a point I have overlooked if you feel that I
> otherwise have.
> However, I have in the past five years watched as Noisebridge went from
> being a place to be inspired by with all of its cool projects, jokes (such
> as science for Juggaglos of which is still a favourite), and whatnot to a
> place where it is not ideal to model off of and general digust for the
> malaise on your mailing lists. Criticisms of Noisebridge by myself and
> members of other hackerspaces are very much warranted and should serve as a
> warning when creating your own space.
> I have seen an attempt to improve it and definitely am interested in the
> outcome from it, but I've seen other groups fall apart under similar
> circumstances. VHS is nowhere near this point fortunately, but at the very
> same time I can see how the structure is long-term a hinderance to its
> survival and I feel that at some point the malaise that afflicts your space
> will eventually affect VHS if it hasn't already.
> All of your points you made to how communities fall apart is absolutely
> correct. When the original members begin to pitter out, the new membership
> that takes over is absolutely going to make changes--subtle or not. However,
> I very much disagree that "working safety nets" in your respective locale is
> going to dictate how your community survives.
> The homelessness rate in Vancouver and San Francisco comparetively on a
> percentage basis (600,000 in Vancouver, 800,000 in San Francisco) is less
> than 1% based on a variety of stats that I threw together haphazardly for
> this e-mail. In both cases, VHS and Noisebridge have been in areas that
> homeless individuals tend to gather--downtown east-side in our case and
> Mission in yours. The big difference between Noisebridge and VHS is that VHS
> does not have an "open-door" policy and never previously did. Attempts on
> your end to remedy this with the change in membership still did not fix this
> and again this goes back to how Noisebridge initially adopted this policy,
> let it fester, and then ended up with the mess it has right now.
> And as a result, while your other points are mostly valid in my mind, the
> point about social safetynets is a bit off-base considering that there are
> similar hackerspaces in similar circumstances that have modeled themselves
> on Noisebridge but left one key component out for the better--that policy.
> The joke of Noisebridge being "just a place for homeless people and
> Arduinos" became a thing because of it and I personally think that it's
> true.
> I do wish you guys the best on how your overhaul works out and chances are
> I'll be in San Francisco in the next year, so I'd love to take a look and
> what has changed since I last visited.
> Cheers,
> Colin
> On 02/07/2014 13:49, Naomi Most 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'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.
>> http://imgur.com/hfFrmDv
>> (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
>> newbies)
>> * 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.
>> --Naomi
>> 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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