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    Saturday, March 6, 2010

    Visit to Philadelphia to see Hive 76, one of Philly's hacker spaces

    I might have one of the most awesome part-time jobs: I am setting up a 5,500 sq ft hacker space in Northern Virginia. I traveled to Philadelphia this weekend to talk with Far McKon, one of the founders of Hive 76. About a year ago, I met Far in the D.C. area and we talked about the idea hacker space. Of course, ideals are challenging to obtain, but some hacker spaces have come closer than others. Hive 76, profitable after only 8 months since it was started, is one of those.

    I met Far and Maggie, from the Prometheus Radio Project, for lunch at the Reading Terminal Market. After living in the Seattle area for a year and enjoying Pike Place Market, I have pretty high standards when it comes to indoor public markets, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Reading market. If I lived in the Philly area, I would do most of my food shopping here. I was also interested to see that most of the shop vendors were Mennonites and Amish.

    At lunch while I enjoyed crepes with Nutella and fruit (I have fond memories of Nutella from my days living in Oxford, England), we discussed ideas such as an international hacker space conference, an organization for helping new hacker spaces get started, and challenges with management, legal, and lobbying efforts with hackers spaces and those faced by The Prometheus Radio Project.

    After lunch, Far and I went to Hive 76. It is situated in a large warehouse/loft space in Philly’s warehouse district, not far from Center City. Upon entering the building, I was delighted to find that access to the 5th floor loft is via an old elevator that looks like it is straight out of the movie Blade Runner; for a moment, I envisioned Sebastian’s bio-engineering workshop apartment with his invented creatures--his hacker space. Entering the caged elevator room through two steel lattice doors and watching the old counter weights go by as we ascended, I was impressed with the engineering prowess of the well-oiled machines of the last century.

    The space’s access is on the 5th floor in a building occupied by artists. Upon entering the loft, the sparsely furnished entryway is accented with little more than a threadbare couch and a large steel frame cubical sculpture. Hive 76 is down the hall, and in contrast to the neighboring artists’ spaces with kilns and easels, this hacker space is comfortably full with tech equipment: laser cutter, cupcake CNC, server racks, a workspace area for computers, and tables for projects. Christmas lights strung from the high ceiling reminded me of the hacker’s workshop in the movie Sneakers. As I sit here writing this blog posting, I have a great view of Center City, Philadelphia.

    Far and I discussed some models for hacker space physical and business organizations: this is why I came. With my huge hacker space (perhaps the biggest in the U.S.) being planned for a grand opening later spring/early summer of this year, I have a lot of work to do to learn from other hacker space organizers to share what works and what doesn’t. I’ve visited a handful of other spaces, and collectively, I have graciously been afforded the opportunity to talk one-on-one with the founders about their successes and failures. I hope to replicate the former, not the latter.

    Some of the discourse we’ve shared: the hacker space size, equipment and memberships should be commensurate to community in which it is located to facilitate success; membership, ideally, should pay for most if not all of the space overhead costs; a national hacker space organization (with Founder conferences and a data base of shared technical, management, and legal resources) would be very helpful in helping manage existing hacker spaces and facilitate start-ups of new spaces; a hacker space in which co-working/hacker start-up companies can rent full-time locking office space that is physically connected to the hacker space. (Image is of an old typewriter being turned into a keyboard for a computer)


    Vik said...

    Very cool. I grew up in Philly (suburbs) and lived there from 1996-2006. I have to say I am happily surprised to hear about this new hacker space. If there is one city where I thought it wouldn't happen, it's Philly. Not that there aren't smart people. Rather, people tend to stick to themselves and there isn't the same sense of community that other cities have.

    So kudos for making it happen and best wishes for continued success!

    Tiffany Strauchs Rad said...


    If Far McKon is organizing a hacker space, it's going to happen no matter where it is; he's a great leader, organizer and is an inspiration for me with the space I'm establishing in Northern Virginia.

    And I really enjoyed visiting Philly. I find it similar to Pittsburgh in which I lived while a student at Carnegie Mellon--it has interesting ethnic markets and a good work ethic.