Tinker & Talk Thursdays (3T)
March 22, 7 – 10 PM
Brought to you by @DIYGirls, @PyLadies, @ONA & @Annenberglab 

Tinker & Talk Thursdays (3T) is a free monthly event that brings together geeks and students to share projects, solve technical problems and brainstorm creative uses for technology. 3T was created to foster a more inclusive environment for collaboration, and is hosted by the Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC through partnerships with DIYGirlsPyLadies, and ONA. Everyone is welcome.

This week’s show & tells include Twitter sentiment analysis and the debut of the LOONG table, a 12′ long, multi-touch interactive video environment. Then the floor will also be open to anyone else who wants to present (bring stuff!), or we’ll just socialize and tinker.

This is the place to meet cool, like-minded people. If you’re having problems with a project, this is the place to solve them. If you have skills, maybe you can help that person from the last sentence. Or perhaps you just have an idea for a cool project that you’re interested in developing and don’t want to be hassled about your “business model.”

Coffee and light refreshments will be available. No recruiters please.

Directions
Street parking around USC is available in the evenings. The fastest route is to park on Jefferson and walk south on Watt Way to the Annenberg building. The Innovation Lab is located off the west lobby of the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at Watt Ave. and Hellman Way. Signs will be posted around the Annenberg building directing you to the Innovation lab. Please see the attached map, or go to http://web-app.usc.edu/maps/ and search for “ASC”.

Contact
For questions or more information, please contact Andrew Schrock at @aschrock.

There has been a huge amount of international discussion about Twitter blocking tweets based on the country in which you reside. If you’ve missed it, Twitter has publicly stated that if you make a tweet that your government claims breaks the law in your local country, they can request that Twitter block it. Twitter would then decide if they will fulfil the request. If they do, the tweet would not be visible in your country. The rest of the world would still be able to see the tweet.

Twitter is trying to thread a needle of being gaining entry to non-US countries while continuing to grow. They need to remain profitable through paid access to its firehose, promoted trends, and promoted accounts, all of which are research or marketing features. Alongside these very economic goals they also want to be a many-to-many communication medium for the entire world. It’s a pretty difficult thing to do — meet the requests of western marketers to sell products while providing a way for people to collude in the downfall of dictatorships.

You have to read between the lines a bit in their blog post: “we try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can’t. The Tweets must continue to flow.” So let’s start a bit of deciphering to detail why I am not calling for a boycott of Twitter…

1. It is better that Twitter is mostly permitted in other countries than blocked entirely. Twitter cannot simply demand that countries let them into their corner of the Internet. Twitter functions because, like all Internet services, it relies on the layers of networking that make up the Internet. China has opted to try to block it, while during the “Arab Spring” it was heavily throttled in Syria. So there are examples of how a government can deem Twitter too much a risk and block it or make it unusable by fiddling with the inner workings of the Internet. As Nancy Messieh put it, “Twitter isn’t censoring you. Your Government is.” Asking Twitter to not delete tweets where they are breaking local law is a little unrealistic. Twitter will just cease to work in these countries if government or other entities muck with the underlying technology. Furthermore, it is better to have a technology with easy workarounds than an entirely unusable one.

2. Twitter has tacitly endorsed workarounds. Individuals have a long history of finding loopholes in online technologies. There’s currently an easy workaround to blocking by location that could easily be removed, but so far has not been. Other workarounds include proxy servers, which is one more complex way of getting around China’s blocking. Right now the workaround is exceedingly simple and known to anybody who cares to search.

Hey, I was just thinking, how easy would it be to make a Twitter bot use the takedown list to find and retweet from one country tweets that were banned in another, thus making the banned posts visible again? The answer is: really freaking easy. 

3. Twitter will make all requests (complied and otherwise) public through ChillingEffects, which will amplify the “censored” topic. This point has been apparently lost in the vociferous objections to Twitter’s public policy of removing tweets. Google and others already have the same policy. This effectively turns the spotlight toward the governments or entities that made the request. In fact, it will probably amplify the message behind whatever the tweet was about, because the takedown requests appear to have enough information in them to figure out approximately what the objection was to the content. Remember also that people can view tweets in other countries.

Twitter is also not the only way word gets around online. It is one but not the only technology that can flow across borders, and works well in combination with blogs, news websites, and social network sites. Talk about an easy way for journalists to find their next story – what was the repressive government so concerned about that they tried to block it? Check the takedown request, find the offending tweet, then go interview the sender.

4. Takedown requests are woefully inadequate to keep up with Twitter traffic. Twitter is about what is happening right now. Fifteen minutes ago is old news. Hundreds of millions of tweets are broadcast every day. Twitter knows this when they state that “we are going to be reactive only.” A delay of even an hour basically ensures that someone else will pick up an important tweet and relay it. While this is not a guarantee that a voice will not be silenced, Twitter thrives on echos of its own users tweets, so it seems likely the important messages will get out.

In my last post I detailed how takedown requests (all 4411 of them) have been limited in scope (DMCA only), mainly UK/US, and clustered. In other words they have been made by western interests and involve US law (the digital millennium copyright act). China and Saudi Arabia racked up one request each. So far it has been a western conversation fueled by the same piracy concerns that have been around for years. It’s really nothing new. It remains to be seen when and how Twitter complies with other types of requests.

5. What are the politics of platforms? Do companies have different sets of obligations than other entities towards local space? This is the most important open question, and goes back again to the challenges of making money on marketing features while also providing a way for people to politically mobilize. Twitter was built as a platform rather than a program, meaning it has all the back-end functionality for programmers to easily build apps around the service. Tarlton Gillespie describes platforms as boundary objects, where companies and individuals can have competing visions of what a platform should do. For participants in the Arab Spring, Twitter is a symbol of freedom. For Twitter executives, it’s a difficult to monetize technology that has slowed in growth, and dammit, we need to keep expanding! (always and forever… sigh)

Right now users and Twitter are tenuously aligned. Executives want more people to use the service, while individuals want to be able to use the service in an unrestricted way. Yet, local governments have entirely different demands, as do protesters. So you see this delicate dance of wording and features play out over the last few days between Twitter and the rest of the world.

Platforms have also become part of physical space, which complicates frictions between the global and the local. As Eric Gordon and Adriana De Souza e Sila state in Net Locality, “The concept of the web as a metaphorical city has given way to the reality of the web as part of the city” (p. 9). We participate online in an endless series of short encounters that reference physical space as a kind of contextual linkage that may fade into the background, or revealed. A previous post of mine on the PIRT blog about Google Streetview is one example of problematic revealing. People are mostly objecting to Twitter’s decision because this could block online conversation from those who most need to participate in it. This is a very real and valid concern. But in the blocking, the conversation will be amplified through public takedown notices, and the tweets still visible from other countries.

So in summary… this is not SOPA. SOPA would make entire domains invisible at the packet layer. Twitter has offered governments an olive branch in the form of blocking functionality that works merely at the data layer, leaving open a variety of easy workarounds. Takedown requests are also insufficient to keep up with the speed of tweets. If we could take a few collective deep breaths and see if and when Twitter opts to use this functionality we will have a much better idea of the long-term effects. Making the statement to not protest Twitter requires serious trust, but I would much rather offer a mostly usable technology to people trying to organize than have it entirely blocked.

—-

Andrew Schrock is a Ph.D student at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. His research focuses on mediated creativity and collaboration in online and blended (online/offline) communities, as well as cultural histories of cloud computing. He is currently a research assistant to Anne Balsamo (Director of Emergent Technologies and Culture at the Annenberg Innovation lab), an Innovation lab fellow, and a member of Henry Jenkins’ Civic Paths research group.

UPDATE 1/30 @ 4:39: I created a Twitter account that will send out links to all non-DMCA takedown notices as they come in. Just follow @TakedownTweets and please RT to spread the word!

It’s probably a little too late, but before we all freak out and boycott Twitter further, let’s look at who has been requesting takedowns, what media were involved, and where they are from. Twitter posted 4411 cease & desist notices on Friday through Wendy Seltzer’s Chilling Effects website. The Twitter release of takedown notices was strangely timed, immediately following the height of SOPA protests and alongside their (more criticized) public statement that they will work with local authorities to filter tweets accessed from specific countries.

CLICK ON THE MANY EYES LINKS FOR INTERACTIVE VERSIONS. They are really quite a lot more usable.

Takedown requests by media
[ link to many eyes ]

What kind of stuff is being taken down? First, they are all DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) requests. Every one. So Twitter isn’t censoring protesters yet – if they do you can bet you will hear about it – and there’s good reason to think they are trying to err on the side of not censoring tweets. For one, there is a pretty easy work-around, at least of today, 1/28/12. Second, Twitter is probably holding its nose and retaining a good amount of leverage with what is a “reasonable” request. DMCA requests are also totally run of the mill for any service provider and you kind of must comply to stay in business. As Nancy Messieh puts it, “Twitter isn’t censoring you. Your government is.”

Not surprisingly, the requests are mostly related to links to media like music (1225), DVDs [I remember those things?] (142), and movies (141). The company Web Sheriff seems to be particularly vigilant in making requests, and for some reason have their own category of request. So does cricket (hey, it’s popular worldwide). Only 27 out of the 4411 were for adult material. Twitter isn’t a huge porn trading base, with the exception of some pesky bots. A small number (13) were for avatars. Yes, those little images that you mostly see as 48 x 48 squares. Another kind of amusing side to this is that the results on ChillingEffects for images mostly seem to include the links to the image source. (Should we make a takedown request for… a takedown request?)

Takedown requests by requester
[ link to many eyes ]

Who is making the requests? the big media conglomerates are there, but really not in the numbers that you might expect compared with the numbers that they are probably sending out to, say, cable modem subscribers that download shaky hand-cam torrents of pirated movies pre-opening day. Magnolia Pictures, a “theatrical and home entertainment distribution arm of the Wagner/Cuban Companies, a vertically-integrated group of media properties co-owned by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban,” took the lions share.

Takedown requests by Country
[ link to many eyes ]

Where are they? The UK submitted more takedown requests (2194) than the USA (1815), mainly on the back of Web Sheriff, which is based out of England. Next in line was Belgium with 164. China and Saudi Arabia racked up 1 request each. Hardly a case of, as Forbes put it when talking about withholding Tweets based on local government, “accepting defeat by fascists.” Or, if they are fascists, right now they are American and British.

Takedown requests by month
[ link to many eyes ]

When were they made? I don’t put much stock in this data because it seems like companies accumulate lists of problematic tweets and then push out a bunch of requests in a row. So take the above graph with a grain of salt.

What does it mean? The takedown notice data reinforce several points. It really throws into stark relief how ineffective cease & desist orders are in curtailing the flow of content. Requests are mostly about tweets that have links to copyrighted material, such as through a torrent or download site. TechCrunch made the observation that some of the notices referenced bots, or automated programs that automatically collect and relay messages. Cease & desist orders to Twitter do nothing to curtail the spread of media. Remember, Twitter doesn’t host these media and the number of C&Ds is miniscule compared to the billions (trillions!) of tweets out there. It’s also mostly a conversation between and western media conglomerates and tech companies. Given that the requests so far rely on DMCA, this is also not surprising.

Personally I feel that Twitter is doing pretty much the minimum they can to stay in business. Like complying with laws of the United States in a paranoid climate from the Megaupload affair, leading to services such as Filesonic turning off the ability to share files with others and effectively removing any utility the site had. Twitter has done a valuable service by making takedown notices public, which they aren’t required to do. What would be more useful is if they were in a form that could be more easily accessed and reusable than a table-based HTML page. Google’s transparency report is quite comprehensive and provides a raw data set, PDF, and data visualizations. There are a lot of data not available in the visualizations above because they are difficult to scrape from the site.

If anyone wants the complete tab-delimited text file for the scraped data, it has some funky data that needs to be cleaned. You can see this in the set below, which has multiple requesters that should be consolidated. But I’m happy to post it if there’s any interest, just msg me on Twitter @aschrock.

Caveats

  • Data were collected using a “web scraper,” which traverses a website much as you do with a web browser, and automatically collects textual data. Because not all of the DCMA notices followed the same format, not all data could be automatically collected in all cases. They probably could be.
  • Each DMCA notice may be linked to several (likely related) incidents. The above data only looks at the first one. So the data set is of takedown requests, not of the total amount of offending media/links posted on Twitter.
  • The data set used to generate the graphs above is public on IBM’s Many Eyes site. It contains the same information as on the website, just in a more easily-accessible format.

Last month I made a trip up to Calgary to visit Protospace (a hackerspace) and see the Spark museum, which is a brand new science center that took more than ten years and $160 million to build. The transposition of these two types of spaces – one low-profile and grassroots, the other high-profile and formal in organization – got me thinking about how hacker/maker culture can have a conversation with the world of public interactive exhibits in museums. One surprise was how strongly designers and developers in the museum space were inspired by the maker movement. Ann Poochareon and Mark Argo run a company called Aesthetecs, which specializes in designing interactive exhibits. They created a standardized Arduino-compatible platform with a dev environment in OSX for controlling valves, sound, gears, and nearly anything you can think of.

Image

They draw inspiration from the maker movement, both identifying with a hands-on craft background and taking part in events such as make faire. As Ann put it, “There’s so much consumer culture… that getting up and making something is an act of rebellion, and it makes you feel a little more powerful.” I had heard this sentiment among makers, who describe how getting more people to learn to solder is essentially a political statement; the iron is a tool and also a symbol of understanding that hardware isn’t durable, but eminently reconfigurable. It hints at a larger world beyond the confines of our devices, one that has largely been taken from us through walled gardens and black boxes.

What do hackerspaces and museum exhibits have in common? They both engage what I like to call possibility spaces, where creativity and imagination can take hold. We are used to encountering electronics, particularly those used for educational purposes, in very culturally-charged climates. To expand on this, Papert and Turkle discussed what they called epistemological  pluralism necessary for learning. Their example was of a female software developer who felt obligated to think about code using particular metaphors, and that “there is only one right way to approach the computer, a way that emphasizes control through structure and planning.” Engaging with technology thus requires one to feel like they need to become a certain type of person and think a certain way.

While school settings can be said to often reject it, hacking embraces epistemological pluralism through more open and freeform environments. Rather than be confined to prescribed models, individuals can encounter materials and define projects according to their own interests. Both are types of public spaces, with slightly different requirements for entry: Spark will run an adult about $20 for a day, while a hackerspace may require inside knowledge and connections to find. Exhibit designers such as Dana Schloss (video posted above) are inspired by makers, a broad cultural movement that emphasizes DIY skills and tinkering. What is refreshing to me personally is to see the rich connections between the maker and public interactives worlds, with kids getting curious about how technology works.

More on Protospace coming soon… 

Huge thanks to Ben Reed, Andrew Preece, Paul Brodeur, Donna Venzi, Dana Schloss, Mark Argo and Ann Poochareon for being so kind with their time.

Cross-post from Henry Jenkins’ Civic Paths research group at USC Annenberg – see full post here.

“A good idea is a network.”  – Steven Johnson

Eviator Zerubavel has promoted the idea of cognitive sociology and is one of the few academics who reconciles pragmatic and cultural perspectives. He describes “sociocognitive lenses,” or tools for thinking that we gain from being part of different communities. While neuroscientists may be well on their way to mapping the inner workings of our brain’s “hardware,” their search for universal empirical truths blinds them to considering how our brain’s “software” works. Sociocognitive lenses expand or inhibit our mental horizons via enculturation in everyday life.

The above quote by Steven Johnson refers to how the notion of the solo thinker coming up with a breakthrough idea is a fallacy. Breakthroughs come about by combining ideas from different disciplines, time periods, and people. One person’s hunch might become fertile ground for cross-polination with another hunch, and the recombination leads to a breakthrough. Innovation has become a catchphrase that is basically synonymous with “thinking better.” But being innovative is not a process of individual cognition. It is asynchronous group cognition, distributed over time and informed by cultural moments. We can “think better” by positioning ourselves better, sharing ideas better, and building for adaptive change.

Ideas are bricolage-in-action, overlaps between different sociocultural lenses. It’s my contention that the ability for individuals to “try on” these new ways of thinking revolves around liminal spaces (physical and virtual), open sharing of knowledge, and certain time periods. The challenge under late modernity for creative thinkers is not necessarily physical access to ideas – although this is one serious “divide” – but also encountering them in a way that stimulates their potential. People have difficulty gaining access to vital information, but there is also the problem of encountering material in a way that is sensible, stimulative, and meaningful. Creating personalized narratives from media pulled out of the larger system and tacitly describing your connection to them, with an intention to stimulate a similar response in others, can broadly be called curatorial.

Tumblr example: properties of media are highlight, enhanced, expanded through the act of curation. A bearded man may be fetishized for his rugged fashion by workwear fanatics, or for attractiveness by fans of “bears.” The image is seen through its context, and the particular lenses that its micro-community employs. The way this occurs is through practices of reblogging by curators. A “networked counterpublic” is created through attention and curation, leading to a qualitatively different type of distribution that engages with members of a particular subculture. As Alex Cho articulated at the International Communication Association conference in 2011, “connectivity, reciprocity, and borrowing can all be ways to articulate queerness – not just… pink triangles and rainbow flags” (p. 31). Curators do not just think their way through these semi-private, semi-anonymous threads, but also feel their way through them. Tumblr is a success not because it is another blogging platform (it is – technically speaking – nothing unique), but because the founders went to great lengths to engage creative communities and encourage them to connect with graphical forms in a personal and emotional level. Culture here is a first mover, even if later becomes a stimulant for individual cognition, to try on the lenses of others and understand the inner workings of other communities through visual rhetoric.

Library example: the Prelinger Library in San Francisco follows a contexual linking system developed by Avy Warburg. Each section has a well-thought-out connection with the next, making browsing a learning experience crafted by the curators. This freedom gives creativity to moments between sections, making browsing exciting, and often, humorous; the section on “copyright” abuts “western philosophy.” Think also of the record store, an endangered species now, but in years past a place where clerks were given leeway to create sections devoted to what they felt were successful releases.

Hackers and Makers
Jim at Intel started a conversation through an Ignite session about hackers vs. makers, which has also been discussed on the hackerspaces mailing list. I prefer to think of the relationship between the two as an “and” not as a “versus,” because in most ways they are compatible rather than competitive. Both often refer to the same “big tent” of finding enjoyment and peer learning in hands-on tinkering, following on the observations of Turkle and Papert (1990) that there are multiple informal ways to use a computer, “more reminiscent of a painter than a logician” (p. 128). Both encourage encountering of technology in “third places” outside of traditional realms of work and home. Spaces are more accurately described along a sliding scale as more or less hacker/maker rather than fully either. The use of “hacker” in hackerspaces is also somewhat of a misnomer; members understand that these spaces are not just for software hackers in the sense it is typically understood (see Hackers as a Tainted Term, below). Even Make Magazine has some very hacker projects in it (the recently defunct ReadyMade, with its focus on artistic projects for the home & fun, is more maker and generally DIY). Jeremy at The Custom Geek describes the common motivation as,

When a maker/hacker buys something, it’s an entirely different attitude that a “regular” consumer. For the most part, a “regular” consumer wants to get the best deal on whatever they are buying, and they want it to “just work”. Yeah sure, us makers/hackers want the device to “just work” also, but we also want to know how and why it works. If we have full documentation, schematics, tutorials, and access to forums, we can fully understand what we own. And then once we understand it, we can fix, modify, hack it to our needs.

An example of how hackers and makers want to better understand the inner workings of electronics might be their shared enjoyment of fixing broken electronics. A member at Crashspace described a meticulous repair to his wife’s objet d’art robot, which had a malfunctioning light that illuminated a small red beating heart. It failed, leaving the toy devoid of blinky-blink. Instead of settling for a halfway solution, he used a makerbot to create an exact replacement for the plastic “heart” and designed an Arduino controller for the LED. He was proud of his fix, which improved his wife’s favorite decoration, and posted a lavishly illustrated documentary of the process online. The appeal was a pride of craftmanship, adding to public knowledge while improving the device in the process. It wasn’t the cheapest fix, but it was the best one. The motivations for this repair can’t be broken down to either an entirely hacker or maker ethic; this is a “good hack” because it’s making the best use of the available resources to solve a problem, however it’s a project that is rooted in aesthetics – more of a maker trait. This is a good example of how the waters are quite muddied. As with spaces themselves, it’s not likely that we’ll be able to parse out what is entirely maker or hacker.

So on one hand, hackers and makers have much in common in the way they view projects, and these differences aren’t easily teased out. On the other hand, I’m also proposing that the hacker/maker flavor of a hackerspace is important for three reasons: 1) it generally describes the types of projects that are welcomed there, 2) it helps hackerspace members make distinctions between spaces, and 3) the use of terms like “hacker” can be seen as tainted due to hysterical media reports of malicious hackers and the hackers that take a certain glee in wagging the dog.

1. Types of projects: Technical vs. aesthetic. Generally, makers generally are more open to learning for its own sake by working on kits and more aesthetically-based projects (artistic or musical). Hackers emphasize technical prowess and reverse engineering, while makers seem to enjoy the experience of construction, whether it be from a kit or otherwise. More hardcore hackers from the 2600 school consider the emphasis of makers on art and music to be rather “lite” and unserious. Lockpicking is not a maker skill, but a hacker one, back to the days of the MIT Lockpicking Guide and other texts were distributed on BBSs. The histories of hackers are more mapped out than that of makers, and a more complete history of makers will have to wait until I have time to rummage about. It strikes me as a very rich intersection of multiple histories. My friend Kevin Driscoll reminded me of kit and DIY culture in the 1970s, which reads like a predecessor to maker favorites ReadyMade and Make magazines, or even businesses like AdaFruit Industries. The maker movement could be argued to encompass DIY websites such as Etsy and Instructables. This is public media, websites and social media that are more easily accessible to the non-technically-inclined than IRC rooms and mailing lists. Then there are physical venues, such as Machine Project in LA, that don’t formally identify as hackerspaces but are community spaces that are open to performances and making activities of all kinds; the next two events on their site as I type this are “Burritos and beats” [BYOBurrito] and “Exploration of Millnery: Sculptural straw hats class.” The question is: how much of this DIY culture is considered Maker culture? Are FabLabs a kind of hackerspace? What is the role of DIY culture in general? The boundaries are fuzzy, and likely depends on who you ask.

2. Inter-space distinctions. A central tenet of any sociological perspective on communities is that you don’t have inclusion without exclusion. There is no defining a group without also defining who is not in the group. Even if a group is open to new members, there is a process they must go through to be vetted and accepted. History is rife with these informal and formal rituals. In fraternities, anyone can come to a frat party, but not everyone goes through the process to become a frat brother. Hackerspaces reject formal forms of regulation and maintain open-door policies, but also create distinctions among themselves as a way of explaining what makes their group different. In this way, members may feel comfortable in one hackerspace or another, but not through formal rejection (say, asking a new arrival to leave and not come back).

Objective differences in hacker/maker flavor can be emphasized or altered by members. In my experience, self-defined hackers are more likely to come from the DefCon/2600 school of thought, while makers have a more diffuse set of alignments, relating to DIY culture. Hackers may exaggerate objective differences in the ways makers devote their time to artistic activities, or call a “makerbot” (a 3-d printer that can create nearly any shape using extruded plastic) a waste of time. Other spaces may be oblivious to these differences, or draw entirely different ones; there is no guarantee that a more maker-oriented space views a hacker-oriented one using the same vocabulary, for example. This is one way that inter-space distinctions can be drawn. Another way to draw distinctions is through interactive style, a term I am using to discuss the tone of communication (rowdy or restrained) that is welcomed at a particular location.

Although hackerspaces are all open to visitors, they vary greatly in the way members talk among one another. My use of interactive style follows from Eliasoph and Lichterman’s (2003) investigation of the group style (consisting of group boundaries, group bonds, and speech norms) of a bar, The Buffalo Club. They made a convincing argument for how the rowdy and risqué behavior (offensive joking, racist remarks) of a bar signaled an alignment with egalitarian principals. By playing along with offensive jokes, a member of the group signaled that all group members were possible targets for razzing, and thereby demonstrate that he or she is no better than anyone else. Club members were anti-establishment in the way they would, “draw group boundaries against institutions… they assumed they ought to respect each other as human beings pure and simple, and they wanted to give each other ample room to be themselves” (p. 768). They described the group style of the Buffalo Club as active disengagement, because members didn’t know basic information about other members outside of the establishment and “kept group bonds thin, on purpose” (p. 768). To be a participant meant refraining from expressing “serious” opinions, including those that would be typically considered democratic discourse. It wouldn’t be appropriate to talk about one’s voting habits or family in detail, for instance. It was not that kind of deliberative space. In much the same way, a rowdier hackerspace may be more anti-establishment and its speech norms more shocking to potential members than a restrained one, even if the learning in both is beneficial in both types of spaces. Rowdiness may be expressed more explicitly on mailing lists, as it may be easier for individuals who are socially shy (or not often present in a given hackerspace) to type emails to razz others. This is a kind of online speech norm that draws distinct group boundaries that affect who feels welcome in an offline space.

3. Hacker as a tainted term. Calling a particular location a “hackerspace” or “makerspace” – and thus an alignment with hackers or makers – may relate more to the type of people its founders are trying to attract. The “hacker” term is symbolically loaded in the current day, when stories of credit card fraud, identity theft, and voicemail hacking dominate the news cycle. A more closely related term to the illegal aspect of hacking (breaking password encryption, sniffing, etc.) is cracking, but it’s not clear this is in common usage – the average person still associates the word “hack” with risk and threat. Matthew Badeau describes the motivation for his group, HI Capacity, to change its name from a hackerspace to a makerspace: “we’ve had a difficult time trying to get non-techies on board with our idea. Since early June, every time we would mention ‘hackerspace,’ we would get a strange look until we explained ourselves. It gave off the impression that we were harboring black-hat hackers. Then, even within the same conversation, if we used the word ‘makerspace,’ their mood changed.”

It bears mention that public perceptions of what “hacker” means are mostly inaccurate. There is an understanding among hackerspace members that the term refers to the 1960s-era MIT idea of hacker as “someone who applies ingenuity to create a clever result” (thanks to Chris Horton for the timely link). As a recent article on upstart hackerspace Tangleball in New Zealand put it, “the term hackerspace isn’t so much a rigid definition as it is an ethos; one that encompasses DIY, information-sharing, open community, disruptive technology and a dash of anti-authoritarian attitude.” You still have a creative user that knows how to end up with something greater than the sum of its parts, and does so on his or her own terms, but without the accent on legality. Steven Levy defined the hacker ethic as:

1. Access to computers and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!
2. All information should be free.
3. Mistrust Authority Promote Decentralization.
4. Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.
5. You can create art and beauty on a computer.
6. Computers can change your life for the better.

Hackers and makers could probably agree on 1-4. On five, hackers would probably agree that technical feats are beautiful, but waffle at the connection with aesthetics. On six, some hackerspaces are not interested in pro-social causes. For example, the slogan of the NullSpace is that they are “the only hackerspace that is not saving the world.” This relates to another flavor, that of self-directed vs. pro-social, which describes the overall goals of the space. Some are happy to merely be sustainable and help their members, while others more outwardly embrace efforts to help educate, inform, or otherwise use technology to assist others in need.

Four flavors of hackerspaces have been discussed: non-profit/for-profit (previous post), hacker/maker, self-directed/pro-social, and rowdy/restrained interactive style. I also suggest here that they interact in complex ways over time. For instance, what defines spaces that are more interested in pro-social causes, such as HI Capacity helping create a DIY, geomapped geiger counter? Are for-profit hackerspaces more sustainable, or is it a case of more money = more problems because they try to grow too quickly and end up alienating the casual members? Can hackerspaces work in ways other than with a ground-up dynamic? What is the role of the founders in all this? Are hackerspaces rowdier and makerspaces more restrained in interactive style? The most important question of hackerspaces is what makes some productive/creative/generative and others not.

The next post will delve more deeply into the question of how hackerspaces approach education and pro-social causes.