This is our entry for the Hackerspaces book, which will be released around 25C3. It will probably also serve as the default site for english visitors.
Hackerspace name: Metalab
Hackerspace tagline: open center for meta-disciplinary magicians and technical-creative enthusiasts
Hackerspace website: http://metalab.at
Hackerspace contact email (this might be you): core on metalab.at
Tell the story of the beginning of the hackerspace. How did you come up with the idea? How did you choose the name of your hackerspace? What was your original vision?
We had seen inspirational examples of hackerspaces at CCC and c-base in Germany, and missed a place like this in Vienna: a public living room or laboratory where people could meet and work with friends without having to go to a cafe, pub or work. The name came up because we wanted to have a laboratory, but since laboratories are usually focused on one thing and we try to have many different focuses we tought "meta" would perfectly describe that. Our logo depicts a phone booth – old school, public-access technology that has certain mythical qualities in fiction (think Dr. Who's booth that serves as a gateway into other worlds, or Clark Kent turning into Superman in one).
What are some obstacles that you had to overcome at the beginning of your hackerspace when you were just getting started?
- Critical mass: Many people think, everything that does not exist yet is impossible. In an important early meeting, in which we decided to rent the room, we were about 30-40 people. Without this mass, it would have been risky financially.
- Basics, scouting: It can take a long time to establish the basics, like the real world space you have to rent. The wiki, and regular bi-weekly meetings at a cafe were indispensable in this phase. When someone found an interesting location, he created up a wiki page with the specs and then we would organize meeting with the real-estate agent or landlord. There is some risk that other apartment-hunters will take notice but at this stage one usually wants to find comrades-in-arms, so keeping the process as open and accessible as possible makes a lot of sense.
- Smoking policy: The first big discussion, and one of very few that had to be solved by a vote, was on the smoking policy in the lab. Should smoking be allowed, forbidden, or confined to a certain room? If so, what size of room? A temporary solution ended up becoming the permanent one, and now our lounge (where the gaming consoles are, and movies are watched) is a designated smoking area.
- Pre-existing groups: Initially, part of the plan was to give several pre-existing independent initiatives a shared home at the Metalab -- this didn't work out as well as expected, as some of these groups ended up either renting their own spaces (HappyLab), meeting elsewhere, or dissolving as independent entities altogether (CCC Vienna). The Metalab rather became a new group of its own right, rather than a network and meeting place of others.
- Renovation: We established the infrastructure - like power outlets, the kitchen and the floor - step by step, while actively using the space. This led to an endless Sokoban game, where certain rooms became unusable for many months at a time. It was unavoidable, since we did not have the financial power to fix everything at once. Our advice is, if you can fix the basic infrastructure before you move in, do it.
- Organization: It took a long time until we had infrastructure for membership administration and (automatic) bank collection. Usually, nobody wants to do these "boring" tasks, because people prefer to hack or slack.
Describe your hackerspace. What do visitors to the space notice that is special about the space? What kind of tools and resources do you have at the space?
People will note that its a very creative, if somewhat disorganized space. Self-built machines, huge drawings on the walls, whiteboards where people express their thoughts. Many details that refer to the culture we all grew up with, fE the blinking Spaceinvaders in the Lounge.
- We have a small but well equipped workshop
- A photo laboratory (dark room)
- Lots of electronic measurement tools like oscilloscopes and pattern generators, soldering irons, and other tools needed for electronics development
- A professional etching tank
- A CNC machine
- Fast network and wireless internet uplink
- Audio equipment
- Computers (lots)
- Lounge / Smokers Room with projector
- Well equipped kitchen
How often do you meet? What happens at these meetings?
Our core/organization team (which is not clearly defined, so everyone can join and take up tasks) meets monthly to discuss matters relevant to the whole hackerspace, like current and future renovation projects and equipment purchases. We have multiple special interest groups, which, of course, meet more regularly.
The Lab itself is opened daily usually around the clock. Every regular member can get a key and people meet on a daily basis.
Describe a disaster that occurred in your hackerspace. (flood, lightning, accident or some such thing)
While renovating the lounge and drilling holes in the floor, we damaged the underfloor heating, resulting in water coming out of the hole. We were lucky, though: this heating system is low-pressure...
Marius burned his eyebrow on the 2007 Hackercamp organised by the CCC while operating our homemade Potato gun, Honkhase hit a MIG (the plane) because the potatogun irritated him and got famous for that.
(any "better" [= more spectacular] accidents? anyone?)
What are some things that have come out of your hackerspace that you are most proud of?
Two of the smaller rooms have color-shifting ceiling lights, and one of them can even be set to exact RGB values.
Metalab was also the place where the commercial web startups Soup (personal publishing) and Mjam (food delivery) and art group Graffiti Research Lab Vienna were founded.
Was there anything that you did that was essential to the start of your hackerspace? Do you have any advice for people who might be thinking of starting a hackerspace?
Don't give up if people tell you that it's not possible. Most people only believe in what they can touch. The same people (if they are geeks) will love the place once they can touch it.
Don't establish too many rules. Decide thing when you need to - not just in case. Humans are most productive when they do the things they want to do in an environment that encourages these things. Shared geeky interests can be a wonderful thing. which reminds me of that xkcd ... A hackerspace can approximate this environment very well if everybody cleans up at least his/her own dishes. (hackerspace inequality #1)
We found it crucial to choose a central location in Vienna that is easily accessible by public transportation. In the outlying suburbs it's usually cheaper and the neighborhood might be less sensitive, but it is a big advantage when people can drop by easily after or before work, university, highschool or during their nightlife/leisure time activities.
A geeky hackerspace doesn't mean it has to be restricted to be for coders or electronics folks only. We aimed to establish an open climate conductive to a plurality of interests, professions and genders, thus Metalab.
Don't underestimate the need for storage space and don't pile up junk if space is limited -- everyone has broken old hardware at home, make sure they keep it there ;)
- Get members to tell a story or recount an adventure associated with the beginning of your hackerspace
- Draw a floor diagram.
- Include a manifesto.
- Info: The basics filled in above.
- Text: About 500 words answering the questions above.
- Photos: 5 or more photos of your hackerspace.
- Logo: The logo of your hackerspace (svg)
Thanks! Please send all of this back to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
This project is going to be awesome! We really cannot wait for your reply!
Bre Pettis NYCResistor