Hackspaces are volunteer-run makerspaces which usually operate on a not-for-profit basis. Running costs are covered by membership subscription fees which are kept as low as possible, often operating on a ‘pay-what-you-can’ basis with the average being £15-20 per month. Everybody is expected to contribute towards running the hackspace in whatever way they can, whether that’s keeping it clean and tidy, ordering new parts and supplies, or donating spare tools or cash if they can afford to.
Because of this focus on hackspaces being run by the community, for the community, and on making them as affordable as possible, the idea of commercial makerspaces is a touchy subject. Lots of for-profit or privately funded makerspaces have been popping up around the UK over the past five years. In some ways, these are really useful: they have members of staff that can show newbies how to use tools, and they keep their machines in working order so you can drop in if you need to manufacture an urgent product run. They normally have a different target audience to hackspaces (product developers and small batch manufacturers instead of hobbyists) and different core operating hours (daytime Monday-Friday, whereas hackspaces tend to be busiest during evenings and weekends). This means they don’t step on each others’ toes too much, and can refer people to each other if they get someone coming in that they can’t help.
But there’s a valid concern amongst the hackspace community that profit-making companies will end up dominating the makerspace market and pushing community-run hackspaces out of business. The Makerspacegate incident earlier this year – when a UK company trade marked the term ‘MakerSpace’ to market a new line of storage furniture – led to a swift reaction by members of the UK maker community, but the general feeling at the time was that this was only one part of a wider movement to commercialise makerspaces and move them away from being community resources.
So, the launch of a magazine called HackSpace by agents outside the hackspace community has raised a lot of hackles. One major issue has been their lack of communication with the UK hackspace community about the name they’d chosen before the launch of the magazine. We’re a tight knit community: hackspace organisers talk to each other, and we’re grouped together under the UK Hackspace Foundation (UKHSF) umbrella organisation which provides a single point of contact and discussion for national hackspace issues. It wouldn’t have been difficult for the Raspberry Pi Foundation to reach out to the community to get our thoughts on their use of the name and get contributions for the first issue of the magazine. Instead, the first time many of us heard about it was when they announced the launch of the first issue a couple of weeks ago.
It turned out they had contacted the UKHSF, who basically warned them that they thought it would be a bad idea to name their magazine HackSpace as it could rub a lot of people up the wrong way. UKHSF organisers offered to speak to the wider hackspace community to get more feedback on the name and were told that they had until the end of November to get any more feedback in before the name was finalised. But, at the start of November the RPi Foundation went ahead and announced the magazine launch, going ahead with the HackSpace name anyway.
Reaction amongst the hackspace community has been mixed, with many people saying that they’re uncomfortable with the name being appropriated by an outside organisation that’s capitalising on the success of the hackspace movement for its own gain. Other people are arguing that the mainstream exposure of the word ‘hackspace’ on magazine stands across the country will be a good thing for the whole community in the long run, and could bring in a whole new audience of makers. There were also debates about the charitable basis of the magazine, with questions being raised around how much profit will actually be diverted from the magazine’s publishing imprint to the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s charitable arm.
The RPi Foundation offered to send out free copies of the first issue before it went on general release, so I’m currently waiting for my copy to arrive. I’m interested in what range of content it’ll cover, and how it’ll carve out a share of the maker magazine market from Make magazine. Having two publications out there aimed at makers would be no bad thing, as the influence of Make on maker culture is itself problematic and Dale Dougherty’s recent controversies are particularly troubling. It’ll also be interesting to see if or how the RPi Foundation respond to concerns from the community, and whether they take this on board in future issues.