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Literature Review

The Hackerspace Model and its Social and Historical Context

Hackerspaces have history. Hackerspaces are located within a web of broader contemporary trends and past influences. These developments and related communities represent explicit and implicit values that give context to hackerspace organizing. As will be seen, these values and influences are varied and sometimes seemingly at odds with one another. Hackerspaces exist within a contested landscape with a dynamic push and pull of values and practices.

Defining the hackerspace model. How should a “hackerspace” be defined amidst a landscape of similar and related communities? There are many different names for the types of communities organized around hacking and DIY (or DIWO, “do-it-with-others”)

production: hackerspace, makerspace, Fab Lab, and hacklab, are some of them. Moilanen (2012) wrote, “The variety of names for the new 'do-it-yourself' communities expresses the variety and diversity of the movement” (Moilanen, 2012, p. 95). Others have tried to draw clearer distinctions between these names and sub-categories, situating hackerspaces and their development in their comparative, historiographical context (Maxigas, 2012). However, as Moilanen (2012) added, “Scientific attempts to clarify the differences of various 'do-it-yourself' hacking communities are still rare. A shared understanding of how to use the different descriptions and names of the movement is still missing, but some attempts toward a consensus exist” (p. 95).

The definition of hackerspace, along with that of the other related typologies in the larger DIY, peer-production community, has a degree of fluidity. However, various

operational definitions have been put forth, and a survey of these shows that in spite of the

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Returning to Moilanen’s (2012) list, hackerspaces are:

• operated by their members in a spirit of equality

• not for profit and open to the public

• places where people share tools, equipment and ideas without discrimination

• places that emphasize technology and invention

• shared spaces that form the center of a community

• places with a strong spirit of invention and science, based on trial, error, and freely sharing information.

According to the principal online site for sharing hackerspace information,

hackerspaces are “community-operated physical places, where people can meet and work on their projects” (Hackerspaces.org, 2013). People gather to share, learn and experiment together with electronics and digital technology, among other things. Participants work with technology, but as opposed to communities that exist primarily online, hackerspaces bring people together face-to-face to share and work together. Additional nomenclatures to

describe similar spaces include makerspaces, hacklab, and Fab Lab, although it can (and will) be argued that there are important differences and connotations to the terms and the

communities denoted by them. As hackerspace participant and researcher Maxigas (2012) noted, one important distinction is whether the space is primarily generated and led by an existing community or by actors from the formal education or commercial sectors. Fab Labs, for example, are explicitly tied to an institution, in this case, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Bits and Atoms. In order to participate in the Fab Lab network, organizers must meet specific equipment requirements and adhere to a Fab Lab Charter ("Fab Lab FAQ," 2013).

The multiplication of hackerspaces worldwide in recent years has been called a “viral phenomenon” (Maxigas, 2012, p. 1).There are hundreds of hackerspaces listed on

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Hackerspaces.org. Some well-established ones include c-base in Berlin, NYCResistor in New York City, and Noisebridge in San Francisco. On the practical side, the operating costs are typically paid for by member contribution and sometimes also by revenue from offering classes. The solution to the question of how to pay the rent varies between spaces, however they often have membership fees and also encourage donations (Williams, Gibb, & Weekly, 2012).

Hackerspaces are typically welcoming to a variety of people from different

backgrounds. Williams et al. (2012) write, “On a typical evening at a hackerspace, you might encounter hardcore computer programmers, designers, technology novices, weavers,

biologists, and Roomba tinkerers. Any one of those people might happen to encounter your project and offer an interesting idea or even the solution to a problem that has had you stymied. This intermixing creates dialogue and exposes participants to designs and concepts from many different arenas” (pp. 18-19). The learning environment is made more robust by both a culture of sharing information and the openness and diversity of membership.

Often, the aims and goals of a specific hackerspace on a community level are

purposefully painted in broad strokes. For example, the motto of NYCResistor, New York’s first hackerspace, is “We learn, share, and make things” (NYCResistor, 2013). It is this purposeful lack of specificity that allows for a high level of diversity in both participants and activities pursued. In a similar vein, there is often a general resistance to rules and restrictions and a preference for general guidelines such as that of San Francisco’s Noisebridge

hackerspace: “Be excellent to each other.”

Although they share common characteristics and generally define themselves loosely, each hackerspace has a unique, local identity based on the interests and beliefs of individual member participants. Some tend to be oriented towards entrepreneurship, while others adopt a more punk/DIY/hacker ethos, or contain more artists, or scientists. However, whether the

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aim of the individual or the collective orientation of the group is towards producing a product that can be sold, disrupting the use of a product that can be sold (such as veteran hacker Mitch Altman’s “TV B Gone”), designing an interactive art installation, or something else entirely, the experience and use of the space is social, project-based and oriented toward a productive end.

Although commonalities exist between the various communities organized around DIY, DIWO, and peer-production with new technologies, significant differences remain.

Hackerspaces are special phenomena in a number of ways, however in relation to other DIY communities the primary distinguishing characteristic is that there is a large and vibrant self-identified global network of hackerspaces that has developed in a largely “organic” manner, outside of traditional learning, business, or media institutions and their frameworks. In addition, hackerspaces display a particularly rich ideological background and web of connections to other movements.

Hackerspaces at the nexus of contemporary trends in “personal fabrication” and

“commons-based peer production”. More recently, a number of factors have led to a dramatic growth of hackerspaces and similar communities worldwide. The ease of

information sharing and collaboration afforded by the Internet, the increased accessibility and affordability of hardware and software tools, and the hacker and open source movements, have all contributed to the boom in hackerspaces.

Affordable, well-designed open source hardware like the Arduino processors (see Appendix A) or RepRap 3D printers are the product of vibrant open source and DIY communities. This gear did not simply fall from the sky. As Williams, Gibb, & Weekly (2012) put it, “(These hardware platforms) are inexpensive and easy to use because of these communities and the design philosophy they espouse.“ The authors continued on to say, “the tenets of open source hardware foster a proliferation of creative, inexpensive, and

well-‧

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supported tools…which has democratized innovation.” (p. 16) It is the open source

movement that has created the conditions that help hackerspaces and the “maker” movement in general to thrive, which in turn produce further innovations in a “virtuous cycle” (Williams et al., 2012).

The modern open source movement as such, grew out of a number of different subcultures, including the “hacker culture” that developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the 1960s and ‘70s (Powell, 2012, p. 692). Perhaps the seminal FLOSS story is that of the development of an entirely open source operating system: GNU/Linux.

Open source licenses like the GNU license and open source development models like that used to create Linux have had great influence both within and beyond the world of software.

In an example of a linguistic and usage change that perhaps also reflects practice, the term

“open source”, at its root a noun, is now used by many colloquially as a verb; to “open source” something implies a liberating act or practice of sharing. Such “open source

practices” have extended beyond the open source software community to include participants in media and culture (the “Free Culture” and Creative Commons movements), as well as hardware. The use of open source software and hardware is deeply embedded in hackerspace practices.

Open source as applied to hardware. A number of issues arise when considering the application of open source processes to hardware development and production. As Powell (2012) wrote, “The major transformations of software markets promulgated by open source software licences were as much a result of the non-material quality of software as they were of the actions of peer-production communities of practice” (p. 698). In other words, the success of the free and open source software movements has been due in large part to the ease and negligible cost in accessing, duplicating and modifying code, as well as keeping records of these modifications and indicating free or open source status. The very nature of

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digital data in the form of software code allowed for rapid and extensive reproduction of free and open source software (Powell, 2012).

The physical and material nature of hardware presents particular issues in the application and development of free or open source frameworks for objects. There are manufacturing and transportation costs related to hardware. To date there are no easy or standardized “version control systems” for open source hardware as there are for software. In addition, at the intersection of software and hardware, a lack of established free or open source licenses for computing hardware makes it difficult and labor-intensive for the FLOSS community to write and update compatible software (Stallman, 2002a, p. 26).

There have been a number of efforts to codify open source hardware practices.

CERN, the European nuclear research organization, has promulgated an Open Hardware license, in an effort to create for hardware what the GNU General Public License (GPL) is to software (CERN, 2013). Another proposed license highlighted the mix of aims and values embedded in it, saying open source hardware should “maximize the ability of individuals to make and use hardware. Open source hardware gives people the freedom to control their technology while sharing knowledge and encouraging commerce through the open exchange of designs.” (OSHW, 2012)

One additional reason such licenses are important is that they facilitate the survival of technologies and continuity of a development process. For example, the developers behind Arduino were working at an institution (Interaction Design Institute Ivrea) that was going to close, so they “open-sourced” the hardware and allowed the project to continue on without any proprietary constraints (Williams et al., 2012).

The development of 3D printer technology also illustrates some of the issues related to open source hardware. 3D printers use a form of additive manufacturing where objects designed using CAD software can be “printed” layer by layer using materials such as ABS

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plastic thread. Hackerspaces and other related “fabbing” (DIY fabrication) sites and communities commonly use 3D printers. The low cost and wide availability of this

technology is due largely to open source development of this hardware. The RepRap open source 3D printer project, which has as one goal the design of a 3D printer that is capable of replicating itself, has been adopted by a large, global community (Söderberg & Daoud, 2012). An interesting counterpoint to the RepRap project is Makerbot. Makerbot is a 3D printer company that emerged out of the New York hackerspace, NYC Resistor, and was built upon the RepRap open source project. With the release of the Replicator 2 model printer, Makerbot has elected to keep some elements closed and proprietary. This decision ignited a spirited debate in the 3D printing and open source community, with many people expressing anger at Makerbot’s perceived betrayal of its open source roots. The founder of the RepRap project, mathematician Adrian Bowyer, presaged the debate with an article on the RepRap wiki where he stated his reasons for “why RepRap is, and always will be, Open Source” (Bowyer, 2011). Bowyer wrote that while he believes that open source is morally and politically good, the foremost reason for RepRap’s open source nature is that “Darwinian game-theoretic analysis says that Open Source is an evolutionarily-stable strategy for a useful replicating machine that is intended to maximise its numbers in the world” (Bowyer, 2011).

Along these lines, the RepRap rejoinder to Makerbot’s introduction of a partially proprietary scheme would be that such a closed source move will end up limiting the dissemination of their hardware, and the greater “reproductive fitness” of a pure open source strategy such as RepRap’s will always out-compete closed source systems (Bowyer, 2011).

Copyright and patent issues. Interestingly, as 3D printers are objects that can produce other objects, open/closed source, copyright or patent issues arise not only with regard to the printers themselves but also with regard to the objects they produce. There are certainly still limitations to the type of objects that can be duplicated via a RepRap, Makerbot, or the

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numerous other commercially available amateur/hobbyist grade printers, however the explosion in their popularity and the rapid improvement in print quality makes it possible to imagine that objects of greater and greater complexity will be duplicated with the hardware of the future. As technology continues to improve and 3D printer duplicates can increasingly substitute for their commercial versions, there will be clashes between industry and

duplicator that echo those seen over media copyrights in the era of Internet sharing. In his prescient short story “Printcrime” (2006), journalist and author Cory Doctorow imagined a man imprisoned for illegally printing out objects (after the man is released from jail, he decides that instead of printing mere contraband he will devote himself to printing more printers, a la RepRap). Such clashes over the rights to produce certain objects or goods are likely to occur, and this is the terrain that communities like hackerspaces are exploring.

Alternative R&D, personal manufacturing, innovation. The increased availability and accessibility of these technologies, along with their socio-political and community contexts, “is embodied by the global rise of alternative R&D places existing outside of the government funded universities or even corporate R&D labs” (Kera, 2011b, p. 52).

Alternative R&D spaces like hackerspaces sometimes hold seemingly incompatible

ideological influences in some kind of balance: “These low-tech and open source strategies are paradoxically inspired by both EU alternative squat cultures and the American spirit of entrepreneurship. The global and alternative R&D places are made possible by informal networks around the globe that enable very different flows of knowledge and expertise from the official industry and academia. They are becoming testbeds for new models of public participation in Science and Technology but also new models for policy making in which political deliberation merges with design iteration and embraces citizen science paradigms of research” (Kera, 2011b, p. 52).

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Hackerspaces and other fabbing communities often use technology and equipment that are part of the growing trend toward what has been called “personal fabrication” and a

“democratization of production” (Bennet, 2010, pp. 4-5). The declining cost of equipment such as 3D printers, CNC (computer numerical control) laser cutters, and milling machines has enabled many designers to engage in “rapid prototyping” of their works-in-progress, when previously they might need to send their designs to offsite manufacturing facilities.

The movement toward personal fabrication and customization of products offers convenience and new possibilities to designers, hobbyists, and others, and is related in kind to new developments in manufacturing technologies that may hold also broad benefits for society. A movement toward more efficient spatial configuration of productive resources has been described as “heavy near, light (ideas) far” (McLennan, 2011). A combination of factors, including increasing energy costs (both in dollar terms and environmental

externalities) and the ICT revolution brought by the Internet, are leading to the location of

“heavy” manufacturing near population centers, while simultaneously allowing the “light”

traffic of information to circulate over greater distances. The benefits of such a reorganization of economic activity could be seen in decreased environmental impact, costs, and products better suited to local circumstances.

Hackerspaces and related fabbing communities are one embodiment of this trend in production. Inventions and information on how to construct objects are accessed via the Internet, and are then constructed locally using available materials (or, if necessary, small parts ordered online). 3D printers, CNC plotters and milling machines now enable anyone’s product design to be shared globally while the manufacture (“printing”) happens locally. (Of course, if the printers and plastics used to manufacture the object are all shipped long

distances, this cancels out the savings on shipping costs and energy.) It is worthwhile to note, however, that the elements of play and experimentation that are central to much hackerspace

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activity create a different context for the use of so-called “personal manufacturing”

technologies.

New technologies that are widely used in the hackerspace and “fabbing” communities are not completely unproblematic from legal and safety perspectives. Recently, a number of freely available designs for 3D printable gun parts have sparked debate about the potential dangers of the era of personal fabrication. The citizen science and DIY bio movements have sparked debate about potential regulation and how to balance risk and innovation (Kellogg, 2012).

Hacker & maker media: from Popular Mechanics to Make Magazine and online platforms. What media and online platforms cater to the broader DIY, hacker and maker communities? Make Magazine, an imprint of O’Reilly Media, has become an influential player in the broader hacker, maker and DIY community. A Chinese version of the magazine is published in Taiwan. O’Reilly Media is a leading computer book publisher that has

branched out into a number of different tech-related areas, including the maker and DIY communities, and also has started a number of successful event series, such as the Ignite speaking series, Strata, a “big data” conference, and the global Maker Faire gatherings that have also spread to Taipei.

Make Magazine, in one sense, has revived a tradition of tech-oriented hobbyist publications like Popular Mechanics, which evolved into a compilation of hobby projects suitable for a father and son to do in their leisure time (Hertz, 2011). Make Magazine goes further in depth and scope than that description suggests, however, with numerous projects that are often both very creative and complex. In addition to hosting a website with an impressive archive of projects, Make Magzine organizes the aforementioned “Maker Faires”

around the world, two day events that bring hackers, makers, and DIY hobbyists together to

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share their projects, participate in classes or demonstrations, and build connections with other attendees.

A popular website that hosts an amazing array of crowdsourced DIY craft and electronics projects is Instructables.com, started 2005 by a MIT Media Lab graduate, Eric Wilhelm. Instructables.com is an example of commons-based knowledge production that

A popular website that hosts an amazing array of crowdsourced DIY craft and electronics projects is Instructables.com, started 2005 by a MIT Media Lab graduate, Eric Wilhelm. Instructables.com is an example of commons-based knowledge production that

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