Thursday, September 27, 2012

Community-owned Hackerspace


A hackerspace or hackspace (also referred to as a hacklab, makerspace or creative space) is a location where people with common interests, often in computers, technology, science, digital art or electronic art, can meet, socialise and/or collaborate. – Wikipedia

Somehow, I do like the idea of hackerspace. I am a believer if we can group a bunch of passionate like-minded people together, we can do great things together. A comfortable venue for people to easily hangout (on purpose or bumping into each other) is the fundamental of friendship, which foster trust, and eventually allow them to work on projects together (or help each other in various ways), and hopefully form the culture of hacking and creation.

How is hackerspace different from co-working space?

Co-working space is just physical space where anyone can come in to work, equipped with a desk and Internet access for a fee, and perhaps to hold a meeting. You will probably meet all walks of life (not necessary like-minded people), and there is no culture or atmosphere to interact with each other, or to work together. Hackerspace should have the crowd you are looking forward to meet, who understand your lingo, share your passion and can’t wait to help or complement each other.

I believe the infrastructure between a co-working space and hackerspace might be almost similar, but not quite the same (as a Vietnamese told me, same same but different). A co-working place need to provide more rentable places to be profitable, thus the more the table the merrier. A hackerspace should provide infrastructure which encourage experimentation, collaboration, idea & knowledge sharing, and perhaps a quiet space for those who need to concentrate and work. Maybe a lab for hardware hacking, a place to showcase your product so everyone could use it and gave feedback, a reading corner, a place people where people who like to hangout (on weekends as well) because it’s fun and cool.

I might be a software programmer, which I might also be interested to learn about hardware hacking, and I don’t mind trying some art creation. A hackerspace should have enough diversification which can co-exist and complement each other.

Isn’t the existing hackerspace good enough?

I didn’t actually went to any hackerspace before (I am not aware of any which is interesting enough), but I did visit fluentspace once. It’s nice and spacious, with good working chair. Some interesting people work there, some freelancers, some overseas talent on a short visit at Malaysia.

Why I didn’t go there often? I could find myself a few excuses, and let see if it hold:

  • I didn’t know the people there well enough to attract me to the place. Why not go there and make some friends? Well, I’m a shy person. I wish there are some ways to find out who is working there, what are they working on, and find something which interest me.
  • The fee is slightly high for me, RM 600 for a desk and a daily pass of RM 40 per day. I am not saying it’s expensive by market rate, but I am working from home (you can’t beat free). If I am comfortable working from home, why am I looking for a hackerspace? I would probably work from home most of the time (especially when I need to concentrate), but I would like work together with other people occasionally, maybe once a week, or maybe have a more relaxed working day on weekend (btw, fluent space closed at 7pm and weekends). In my mind, I was hoping it would open on weekend for some hacking fun, and perhaps a more flexible walk-in fee (maybe RM 10) for half a day (it’s good for the business if they have surplus).
  • Location: though Kelana Jaya is not that far away from Puchong, but the idea of traffic jam, toll and parking already made me feel tired. It might sounds like a lame excuse, which I agreed this is just a minor factor (it would be cool if it’s within walking distance, or within LRT reach which Puchong have none).
  • Most important is lack of updates on what’s going on there (or who is there working on what), thus nothing to attract me to visit.

How to start a hackerpace?

Personally, I don’t believe a hackerspace should be a business; if you focus (on worry) about profitability, we can’t really provide a real “hacker” experience for the community. Without a business model, how do we sustain the place?

We could borrow the idea from Wikipedia, where every year a donation is held to secure enough funding to run the place for a year. The money come from poor hackers like me, and hopefully some hackers who sold their startup for millions, and perhaps some corporate sponsors like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, MDEC and etc.

We could do it ala Kickstarter way: create a plan, crunch the number, and ask the community if they would like to support the idea. It helps to validate if the idea serve the needs of the community, and the community would get on vote on the location on the 1st hackerspace (follow the majority backers). Those who contribute RM 1000 probably will get 1 year free membership; if you sponsor RM 20,000, you get to name the place (e.g. Hackerspace Professor X).

How to run it?

Trust or Foundation

The place should be managed by a trust or foundation, so that no one party owns the place, and the board members would be elected on a yearly basis (people will move on eventually, and fresh bloods can take over with more innovations and ideas).

Decentralized Structure

I would like to toy with a decentralized structure, where the place is truly run by the community without central management. One thing I dislike about physical office is that the owner needs to be physically present to manage the place (open up, close up, etc.), or employ someone trustworthy (hard to come by) to manage it on behalf; when the worker is on MC, the owner need to run the errant; if the owner is on MC, the place is closed.

For starter, a group of trustworthy people (the keeper) would have access (keys) to the place, so it solves the problem partially where multiple people run the place together in rotation (with backup). What happens when every keeper decide to go on holiday with no one to man the place? How about a member could send a request to enter the place, then the keepers could approve it and perform a remote unlock of door? Or a member could request for a unlock key a day earlier, and use it to enter the place for the day. For this to work, it requires two things: trust and infrastructure.

Trusted Community

A member of hackerspace would be required to create a profile, with your Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Github or LinkedIn so that others could connect with you, and know you a little bit better. You would need to update what are you working on, and what do you hope to achieve by working in hackerspace. Perhaps I am building a Wikipedia for hackers, and I would like to learn about hardware hacking as well.

In order for you to become a permanent member (allow access to the place even at 2am midnight), someone must vouch for you (know you better, make sure you are not here to sell drugs or planning to break-in), or probably a 3 months probation.

A normal member or guest could still use the place when someone is around, though profile creation is still very much encouraged.

Open Source Design

To create a self-governed hackerspace, I believe it requires a certain hardware and software infrastructure, where members would work together to make things to improve the experience.

On the hardware front, we need hacking to allow remote door access, or automatic changing of access code, or a remote lockdown when break-in is detected. Perhaps a smarter surveillance system, notifying the keeper when motion is detected when no one sign in.

On the software front, we need an app to know who is in the house for the day, what they are working on, and what events are planned for the day. Perhaps who is looking for what kind of help, or who is offering what.

We would open sourced such hackerspace infrastructure design, in order to help others create a better hackerspace.

Passport System

Location is the main drawback of a hackerspace, as we can't have a single central space which suits everyone. What we can do is to encourage more people to open hackerspace (with the help of open source design) at their local community, encourage existing hackerspace to form an alliance, or perhaps turn “unofficial” places into a hackerspace (cafĂ©, office sharing, house, etc.).

With a passport system, a member could travel to any hackerspace, either free or with a discounted rate. Most of these hackerspace will share the common infrastructure  (you would know who is there and working on what, so you would feel less like a stranger). With the app, we could easily find hackerspace near us, or any pop-up hackerspace.

24/7

I would like a see a hackerspace which opens 24/7, thus the decentralized structure is required to avoid bottleneck. Some people like ungodly morning hours (5am), some like late nights (2am), and some people only have time on weekends and holidays, and the place should be flexible enough to serve these needs. Sometimes when I am in the flow, and the last thing I need is people telling me to go home because they are closing.

Fee

Not all hackers are equal: some are still struggling with money, while some have some to spare, while others are thinking of ways to share their wealth in a meaningful way. The concept is to pool money from everyone, so that the community could enjoy the benefits.

Most of the setup and running cost are covered by the yearly donation, but fee are still collected to instill commitment, and cover extra benefits like food. Only minimum fee are collected. People could pay RM 200 for a monthly pass, or RM 10 for a day pass, where the fee are fairly negligible with enough flexibility. To encourage new comers, there is a 3 day free pass for first timer.

If you can't afford to pay, we could offer sponsorship in exchange for your work on one of our hackerspace open source project.

Events

I think events are a core part of community. Besides getting speakers to share their ideas and experience, I think it’s nice to have idea validation day, demo day and let’s work on something for the community day as well.

Most events should be suggested by the community, and if it manage to get enough backers, then the show shall goes live; it there is not enough backers, perhaps it’s time to iterate and refine again.

Play Together

Besides hacking together, it's important to play together as well (or at least trying something outside of hacking). Card or board games, organize paint ball sessions or hiking trips; and to test the limit of your comfort zone, a salsa session.

If you insist on going back to geeky stuff, a LAN game or hacking-on-an-island wouldn't hurt as well.

Conclusion


The Cube
I always pass by The Cube in Puchong, which is a RM 4 million semi-d shop house, 3 storeys with plenty of private parking spaces. I always dream that when I make it, I’ll turn one of these baby into a hackerspace for everyone (then again, RM 4 million could do a lot for a startup). Then Setia Walk just opened up, which is a nice community shop+mall (nice environment with water features, and plenty of food), and plenty of office spaces (hopefully affordable). Maybe that would be nice.

Setia Walk
This is not an idea which I alone could accomplish, and even if I am capable of it, it would be meaningless without the community behind it. Some might think that it is just a fancy physical space, but I believe it’s the place which will trigger a shift of culture and mindset. I still remember when I quit my job 6 years ago, not knowing any friends who did the same, and almost dip into depression, but luckily I survive the change. If hackerspace was there, the survival rate would be higher, and the co-operation rate would be higher, and dreams beyond one person’s imagination would come true.

8 comments:

Kai Chew said...

Wow! Interesting!
I found this post when searching "SetiaWalk co-working Space". If you're going to make a hackerspace or just co-working space, I hope to join you!

Desmond Lua said...

Probably 5-6 guys co-rent and co-manage the place would be more manageable :)

The Rake said...

Desmond, Kai Chew,

In fact I am renting a unit at Setiawalk. Just me and a friend for now... 1,500+ sq ft. If you want to check it out let me know.

Desmond: love your malaysiamostwanted.com work.

Deric

Desmond Lua said...

Cool, let's check it out. Perhaps now we have enough hacker/founder/designer in Puchong to hold some gathering, haha :) How to get in touch?

The Rake said...

Renovating the place now. Come around lah, we can yum cha.

Spent some time reading your blog. Strangely, I think we are at the opposite side of the spectrum - I'm more of a marketer, looking for a coder.

You got a number?

Chein said...

Hey, i'm seriously game with this, been around the maker/hacker movement in Malaysia for years now.

Few things i learnt, having a core team to drive this is really important.

The space must also be somewhat neutral (not to focus too much on one niche, ie electronics ONLY). This may lead others feeling out of place. Malaysian hacker scene is fairly small and fragmented, thus it's best to be as niche-neutral as possible.

Lastly, monthly rentals. This is what breaks most spaces. The key is to get a FREE space. Did some legwork on this and found some nice potentially "free" space, but the owner may need some coaxing to let go :)

P/S: I live in Puncak Jalil, near Bdr Kinrara, would love to join if there's some Puchong meetup. Cheers

The Rake said...

Chein - we're completing the renovation of our office space this week. No plans to rent out spare space here but there's only two of us sharing some 1,500 sq ft so we can definitely work something out.

PS: Cool Iron Man repulsor hack... would want to see it for real!

The Rake said...

Hmm. Thread possibly dead, but anyone still interested in this idea do tweet me. :)

https://twitter.com/HackerHubMy