A hackerspace (also referred to as a hacklab, hackspace or makerspace) is a community-operated, often not for profit (501(c)(3) in the United States), work space where people with common interests, often in computers, machining, technology, science, digital art or electronic art, can meet, socialize and collaborate. Hackerspaces are comparable to other community-operated spaces with similar aims and mechanisms such as Fab Lab, men's sheds, and commercial for-profit companies such as TechShop.
In general, hackerspaces function as centers for peer learning and knowledge sharing, in the form of workshops, presentations, and lectures. They usually also offer social activities for their members, such as game nights and parties. Hackerspaces can be viewed as open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops, and/or studios where hackers can come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things.
Many hackerspaces participate in the use and development of free software, open hardware, and alternative media. They are often physically located in infoshops, social centers, adult education centers, public schools, public libraries, or on university campuses, but may relocate to industrial or warehouse when they need more room.
Hackerspaces with open membership became common throughout Germany in the 1990s in the orbit of the German Chaos Computer Club (CCC), with the c-base being probably an example. The concept, however, was limited to less than a dozen s within Germany, and did not spread beyond borders at first. Most likely this was because initial founding costs were prohibitive for small groups without the support of a large organization like the CCC.
In 2006, Paul Bohm came up with a fundraising strategy based on the Street Performer Protocol to build Metalab in Vienna, Austria, and became its founding director. In 2007, he and others started Hackerspaces.org, a wiki-based website that maintains a list of many hackerspaces and documents patterns on how to start and run them. As of September 2015, the community list included 1967 hackerspaces with 1199 active sites and 354 planned sites.
The advent of crowdfunding and Kickstarter has put the tools required to build hackerspaces within reach of an even wider audience. Those tools are for example used by Bilal Ghalib, who had previously worked on a hackerspace documentary, and others to bring the hackerspace concept to the Middle East.
Most recent studies of hackerspace in China — where Internet access is heavily censored — suggest that new businesses and organized tech conferences there serve to intervene in the status quo "from within". The first hackerspace in China, Xinchejian, opened in Shanghai in 2010. Thereafter a network of hackerspaces emerged, nourishing an emerging maker culture. By designing open technologies and developing new businesses, Chinese makers make use of the system, make fun of it, altering it and provoking it. DIY makers often bring and align contradictory ideas together, such as copycat and open source, manufacturing and DIY, individual empowerment and collective change. In doing so, they craft a subject position beyond the common rhetoric that Chinese citizens lack creativity. As a site of individual empowerment, hackerspace and DIY making enable people to remake the very societal norms and material infrastructures that undergird their work and livelihood.
The specific tools and resources available at hackerspaces vary from place to place. They typically provide for members to work on their individual projects, or to collaborate on group projects with other members. Hackerspaces may also operate computer tool lending libraries, or physical tool lending libraries, up to and including creative sex toys in some instances.
The building or facility the hackerspace occupies provides physical infrastructure that members need to complete their projects. In addition to, most hackerspaces provide electrical power, computer servers, and networking with Internet connectivity. Well-equipped hackerspaces may provide machine tools, sewing, crafting, art fabrication, audio equipment, video projectors, game consoles, electronic instrumentation (such as oscilloscopes and signal generators), electronic components and raw materials for hacking, and various other tools for electronics fabrication and creating things. Specialized large-format printers, 3D printers, laser cutters, industrial sewing machines or water jet cutters may be available for members to use. Some hackerspaces provide food storage and food preparation equipment, and may teach courses in basic or advanced cooking.
The individual character of a hackerspace is determined by its members. Many hackerspaces are governed by elected boards selected by active members in good standing. Elected officers may serve predetermined terms, and help direct decisionmaking with regards to purchasing new equipment, recruiting new members, formulating policy, conforming to safety requirements, and other administrative issues.
Membership fees are usually the main income of a hackerspace, but some also accept external sponsors. Some hackerspaces in the US have 501(c)3 status (or the equivalent in their jurisdiction), while others have chosen to forgo tax exempt status. University-affiliated hackerspaces often do not charge an explicit fee, but are generally limited to students, staff, or alumni, although visiting guests from other hackerspaces are usually welcome. Some hackerspaces accept volunteer labor in lieu of membership fees, especially from financially limited participants. In addition, some hackerspaces earn income from sponsoring and staffing high-tech flea markets, where members of the general public may buy and sell new and used equipment and supplies.
There is a loose, informal tradition at many hackerspaces of welcoming visitors from other similar organizations, whether across town or internationally. Free exchange of ideas, skills, and knowledge are encouraged, especially at periodic gatherings sometimes called "build nights" or "open house" days.
Hackerspaces are widely defined on hackerspaces.org as “community-operated physical places, where people can meet and work on their projects”. The exact functioning of the varies from place to place and is determined by its members and while there is no blueprint or set of guidelines to create a hackerspace, they generally follow a “hacker ethic”, which “include freedom, in the sense of autonomy as well as of free access and circulation of information; distrust of authority, that is, opposing the traditional, industrial top-down style of organization; embracing the concept of learning by doing and peer-to-peer learning processes as opposed to formal modes of learning; sharing, solidarity and cooperation”.
Hackerspaces can run into difficulties with building codes or other planning regulations, which may not be designed to handle their scope of activities. For example, a new hackerspace in Nashua, New Hampshire was shut down by the city after an inspection in 2011. The main issues involved ventilation of heat and toxic fumes; the space was reopened after improvements were made to the building.
Many hackerspaces struggle to attract diverse users. One national study showed makerspace users were 81% male. Although many women participate in some form of making, 41% have backgrounds that are in the realms of arts, crafts and design, which are not taken as seriously in maker culture. Because makerspaces are most often dominated by male makers, 65% of whom have physical science or engineering backgrounds, women with more creative backgrounds tend to feel unwelcome. Makers with less technical backgrounds employ a different style of working, taking time to sketch and think. To more technically proficient makers this is seen as a weakness and not just a different style of working. That's especially problematic in light of these spaces' advertised values of Openness, Accessibility, and Community.
Over the years, many hackerspaces have grown significantly in membership, operational budgets, and local media attention. Many have also helped establish other hackerspaces in nearby locations.
A lot of places share values similar to those purported by hackspaces, whether or not they use that nomenclature. A few examples follow:
Public Libraries have long been a place to share resources for learning. Lately some have reconsidered their roles to include providing resources for hacking and making. Those generally call themselves Library makerspaces. For example, Chattanooga's 4th floor may have been the first use of a library as laboratory and playground for its community. The User Experience (UX) is another public laboratory and educational facility. Or according to Forbes, the first public library to open a MakerSpace is the Fayetteville Free Library.
There are over 1,000 active men's sheds in Australia, Scotland, England, Ireland, Finland, and Greece, as of 2012[update]. Instead of seeing themselves as "hackers" they describe themselves as "shedders" and their activities as "shedding". The Men's Sheds Movement is many ways parallel hackerspaces in their aims; although open to anyone regardless of age or gender, they tend to advertise themselves as "men in sheds". In some ways they can be seen as the flip side of working men's clubs, as their community is drawn from a similar age group and their original aims are similar: to provide recreation and education for working class men and their families.
In response to the misogyny shown by the brogrammer culture that sees hackerspaces as 'male', Seattle Attic was founded in the summer of 2013, as the first Feminist Hackerspace in the United States. They were soon followed by Double Union, in San Francisco. Their founding came as a result of The Ada Initiative, and their AdaCamp conferences. Which has also lead to the formation of FouFem in Montreal, the Mz Baltazar’s Laboratory, a start-up organization and feminist hackspace in Vienna, the Anarchafeminist Hackerhive in San Francisco, the Hacktory in Philadelphia and the Miss Despionas in Tasmania, Australia, and myriad others.
Some public schools in the US now also include hackerspaces. The first high school to open a true MakerSpace was in Sebastopol, California,[when?] and now even middle schools are starting to follow the trend. Fore example, White Hill Middle school in Fairfax, California has now opened up their own MakerSpace with a class called "Makers and Hackers".
Fab labs are spaces (part of a network initiated by MIT's center for bits and atoms) whose goal is to enable people to "make (almost) anything." They focus heavily on digital fabrication tools.
Many community art spaces share values with hackerspaces. Some, like AS220 and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts have embraced Fab lab structures to expand the range of media represented in their spaces to include digital fabrication tools.
Universities around the world have at different rates embraced educational possibilities of these spaces. MIT has pioneered the Fab lab movement and implementation of similar spaces in universities around the world. Non-Fab Lab associated Maker and Hackerspaces are also common. Wheaton College is one school pioneering new Hacker and Maker curriculums and spaces, as is Yale University with spaces like its "CEID." Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering has also pioneered Makerist and Hacker curriculum to great success. Broader networks for these hacker-oriented schools have arisen, including MakeSchools, out of CMU and the Higher Education Makerspace Initiative (a partnership that includes MIT, Yale, and Olin)
Makerspaces and Hackerspaces as terms are often conflated, and the difference between them, or if in fact there even is a difference, is debated.
Tool libraries generally don't have shared space for making or hacking things, but are instead serve as a repository of tools people can borrow for use in their own respective spaces.
Repair cafés are places where people can come together to teach and learn how to fix things.
Bicycle cooperatives are places where people can build or fix bicycles.
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