First off, I am broadly in favour of a magazine aimed at makers and hackerspaces and I enjoyed (for the most part) the 1st issue of HackSpace Magazine. I’m generally in favour and supportive of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, Code Club and Eben Upton etc. I do not consider Hackspace Magazine to be BAD PEOPLE, an enemy of makers or Hackerspaces or operating under anything but the best intentions. Also very many of my friends are featured in it… and will be in the future too I am sure. To them I am sorry for not giving you more encouragement in this venture.
You might have seen me tweeting about Hackspace Magazine.
My grumpiness with Hackspace Magazine stems from the naming of it. No one owns the name HackSpace as such and that’s why its very easy for Hackspace Magazine to take the name. I am told that representatives from the Raspberry Pi Foundation asked the current directors of the UK Hackspace Foundation if it was Okay to use the name. “Please, no.” was the response. The official line from the UK Hackspace Foundation is “We’re not happy but there’s not much we can do about it.” Whilst the Raspberry Pi Foundation spoke with the UK Hackspace Foundation about using the word, they had already registered Hackspace Magazine as a trademark and had no intention of changing it.
Why didn’t the Hackspace Foundation do something if its so wrong? I hear you ask. The UK Hackspace foundation is, well, lovable and scrappy, the people who do work on it find it hard to agree amongst themselves. With so many stakeholders represented agreement and universal consent to DO something takes a lot of time. This means that an unfunded and entirely volunteer run group like the UK Hackspace Foundation has a lot of people to consult before it can do anything, many of whom will disagree with even the majority view, each little fiefdom in the Hackspace world will need to be listened too. It is not an organisation capable of rapid decisions and change. Like your own Hackspace (assuming you have more than a handful of members and you aren’t run by a benevolent dictator) it takes a long time, if you are truly listening and engaging with all the stakeholders, to agree something. The answers might be clear in your own mind, but landing something with agreement in a Hackerspace, or flat hierarchy organisation takes time and often its just much easier to run out of time and do nothing.
When an organisation, that on the face of it, is better run, has funds, a mission and a clear leadership comes along, it is very very easy for it to torpedo or hijack a slower less well organised and agreed narrative. Like the narrative of the UK Hackspace Foundation.
You can find the UK Hackspace Foundation’s definition of a space here:
Why does it matter? The UK Hackspace Foundation, perhaps controversially, has tried to agree a definition for what IS and what IS NOT a Hackspace. Why should they do that? Well, if a space wishes to identify as a Hackspace, with the blessing of the foundation there should rightfully be some expectations about what that is. That’s a little difficult to determine because anyone (like for example a magazine) can attempt to own the term Hackspace at any time, the UK Hackspace Foundation has tried hard to stop people attempting to own the term, including themselves. I don’t personally agree with that. I think the Hackspace Foundation should be the keeper of the term, a use it in good faith along with those organisations that not only identify with the Hackspace Foundation, but meet the criteria to be recognised as a Hackspace by the Foundation, which in practice means recognised as such by other Hackspaces.
This, in my opinion, is to safeguard both the UK Hackspace Foundation and the potential member visiting a space. To give you two extreme examples.
- Leslie wishes to learn a lot more about electronics and laser cutters they are constantly being encouraged to visit their local “Hackspace” by a friend who is a member of one in a bigger city. Leslie searches around locally and finds something called a Hackspace. On visiting the Hackspace turns out to be the garden shed of a local maker, not a member run local organisation with elected trustees and is in no way recognised by the UK Hackspace foundation.
- Kerry wishes to learn more about embedded electronics and get access to a sewing machine. They hear about a Hackspace at a local company, however they can’t get in because they do not work at the company and its not for non-employees. They are disappointed.
I feel strongly that the UK Hackspace Foundation, who have been working on trying to provide clear information on what a Hackspace is, have, within the maker community, some rights to exercise control of that term. With even the very very best intentions, Hackspace Magazine can not communicate with all of the stakeholders who currently have something to say about UK Hackspaces. They have no intention of doing so because it would be nearly impossible, it has proved so for the UK Hackspace Foundation, who already struggle to speak for ALL UK Hackspaces. Then how and why would a magazine, run by an organisation that has had almost nothing at all to do with Hackspaces be able to clearly represent the thoughts and objectives of the UK Hackspace Foundation, or even any one given Hackspace?
Most strongly I feel that the “Hackspace of the Month” feature will be a very easy way of confirming Hackspace legitimacy on any given space. The first issue of the magazine features Cambridge Makespace, it has information right there that implies what a Hackspace is… it creates little factoids that start to set an idea in stone, that works to cement a narrative about Hackspace that is not one which is being created by the community, but by the editorial of the magazine.
(UKHF) “We don’t think your for-profit workshop, with a string of complaints about your behaviour is a Hackspace, sorry” … (Not a Hackspace)”But I was Hackspace of the month!” (me…what I’m afraid of I guess).
So what then? Well, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m being needlessly grumpy, I really don’t. Am I trying somehow through ego to “own” the idea of Hackspaces? Maybe. Am I trying to make them noninclusive by dictating what IS and what ISN’T a space? I don’t think so. More than anything I am annoyed at the hi-jacking of a narrative by what should be an allied organisation. Through strong arming they will be well placed, if they mean-to or not, to define the future of Hackspaces in the UK. Maybe that’s fine. They’ve done a great job on the Raspberry Pi after all, and many many members of Hackspaces all over the world are big fans (rightfully so) of the Raspberry Pi and the Foundation. I would very much welcome your insights into this issue. I am more than open to being convinced I’m wrong. I really do want to be a supporter of RPiF and the magazine.
Maybe call it Bikeshed Magazine?
Lazy links list:
UK Hackspace Foundation
Raspberry Pi Foundation
My 2014 blog about Cambridge Makespace
disclosure: It is not lost on me that people might assume that my loyalty to Make: and Maker Faire is clouding my judgement. I recognise here as a form of disclosure that I am definitely a Make: person, however my view is that water raises all ships, and another magazine for makers is a good thing. Just call it something else.