Saturday, April 04, 2009


David Ronfeldt was kind enough to point me to this recent article on hackerspaces, a phenomenon that I keep meaning to look up but haven't until now:

There are now 96 known active hacker spaces worldwide, with 29 in the United States, according to Another 27 U.S. spaces are in the planning or building stage.

Located in rented studios, lofts or semi-commercial spaces, hacker spaces tend to be loosely organized, governed by consensus, and infused with an almost utopian spirit of cooperation and sharing.


Since it was formed last November, Noisebridge has attracted 56 members, who each pay $80 per month (or $40 per month on the "starving hacker rate") to cover the space's rent and insurance. In return, they have a place to work on whatever they're interested in, from vests with embedded sonar proximity sensors to web-optimized database software.


Many [hackerspaces] are governed by consensus. Noisebridge and Vienna's Metalab have boards, but they are structured to keep board members accountable to the desires of the members. NYC Resistor is similarly democratic. Most of the space — and the tools — are shared by all members, with small spaces set aside for each member to store items and projects for their own use.

"The way hacker spaces are organized seems to be a reaction against American individualism — the idea that we all need to be in our separate single-family homes with a garage," says White. "Choosing to organize collectives where you're sharing a space and sharing tools with people who are not your family and not your co-workers — that feels different to me."

The setup looks at first glance like coworking for the DIY/Dorkbot/Maker Faire crowd. Organizationally, the similarities seem pretty strong. Both coworking spaces and hackerspaces are conceived as collaborative areas. Both types of spaces have adherents that trace their genesis to artists' collectives. Both imply "a reaction against American individualism." Both emphasize creating local community.

However, as coworking folks imply, the two are not quite the same. Let's throw together some hypotheses about the differences, and maybe I'll test these later. Off the top of my head, here are some differences between coworking (as described by the coworkers and coworking literature I know) and hackerspaces (as described in this article):
  • Coworking tends to involve professionals who work for their clients in the company of others with loosely similar skills; hackerspaces are for enthusiasts working on their own projects for their own enjoyment.
  • Coworking spaces, although they often have thin margins and are often loss leaders, are a business; hackerspaces - at least according to this article - are run as collectives.
  • Coworking spaces provide common office equipment such as copiers, printers, and wifi (and coffee machines), but the central tools are actually the laptops and mobile phones that the coworkers bring from home; hackerspaces' tools are mainly shared.
  • Coworking spaces mainly involve using software; hackerspaces mainly involve hacking hardware (and software). That is, in coworking, technology is a tool; in hackerspaces, technology is the object to be transformed.
That being said, I think hackerspaces are part of the general trend that has produced other forms of outworking. I'll try to monitor this phenomenon as I continue to get my arms around this larger trend.

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