[Noisebridge-discuss] Why Consensus Kills Community

John Shutt john.d.shutt at gmail.com
Mon Dec 16 05:09:57 UTC 2013

I want to chime in on this conversation, since Danny pointed towards the
book scanner project as one of the better parts of Noisebridge lately. To
my understanding, I'm the only person in the book scanning group to even
apply for associate membership, and the only one with a doorcode. For
simplicity's sake, I've shared this doorcode with the other members of the
group, as well as a few people I've been collaborating with on other

This has never been a problem until recently. I had a strange experience
yesterday morning, when I was at Noisebridge working on a privacy activism
project. (The website for the Shame on Feinstein
which we launched today, if you're interested.) Soon after I arrived, an
associate member approached me to ask if I was a member, and how I got my
doorcode. I was told that the policy called for members to kick out any
guests who didn't have a sponsor present -- although I wasn't actually
asked to leave, thankfully -- and that the new process to get doorcodes was
to ask one specific member who I don't know very well. He complained about
another non-member in the space being "insolent" about the policy. Then he
went down the list of my current sponsors on my wiki page, asking who they
are and how I know them.

This made me very uncomfortable, since two of my partners on this project
were about to show up, and I had to leave for another appointment soon
afterwards, leaving them unaccompanied in the space. Technically, I
couldn't even sponsor them while I was present, since I'm one signature
short of associate membership. I felt I had to apologize for leaving my
friends alone at Noisebridge, and warn them that they might get booted at
any time.

*Long story short: A strict interpretation of the associate membership and
doorcode policies would result in all of the members of the book scanning
group and Restore the 4th SF getting immediately locked out of the space.*

This would probably be a good place to mention that I'm looking for a
fourth signature on my associate membership application (
https://noisebridge.net/wiki/User:Pemulis) and a second signature on my
full membership application. Most of the people I work with are too busy to
jump into Noisebridge policy discussions and the membership application
process, or simply have no desire to do so. But they're still contributing
to the space in meaningful ways, and are the kind of people we should be
working hard to hold onto. I hate feeling like I can't wholeheartedly
recommend Noisebridge to people I meet because I don't know if they're
going to run into a wall of suspicion and bureaucracy if they show up when
I'm not there.


On Sun, Dec 15, 2013 at 7:36 PM, Danny O'Brien <danny at spesh.com> wrote:

> On Sun, Dec 15, 2013 at 05:47:51PM -0800, Madelynn Martiniere wrote:
> > We've had some great contributions to this conversation: thanks
> > Danny, Al, Adrian, and so many others.
> >
> > This response clearly shows that people are open and aware that
> > change needs to happen. I would encourage us, now, both on and off
> > the list, to talk about solutions. I wouldn't worry about whether
> > something will "pass" through consensus or not, let's just talk
> > solutions and work semantics later.
> >
> > I've used Freeside and PS: One as examples not as an argument that
> > we should "be like them", rather, to demonstrate there are other
> > models that work better than ours. Noisebridge has the distinction
> > of being one of the first US hackerspaces, and that means something
> > in the greater community. If we can capitalize on the unique,
> > vibrant culture that Noisebridge (and SF) has that sets it apart
> > from any other hackerspace, we can be a positive example.
> >
> I'd *really* like someone to define "better than ours", here. I really
> want some kind of metric. My own internal one is "number of successful
> projects", because that seems to be one it has been low on recently, and
> one that simply measuring would highlight the better parts of
> Noisebridge (like the bookscanner, how many people we've taught
> soldering, got jobs, fixed laptops, inspired to contribute to FLOSS,
> etc) instead of the worse bits.
> > Rather than what we represent now: http://imgur.com/hfFrmDv (someone
> > sent me this from the walls of PS:One)
> Yeah, that really makes me want to imitate PS:One.
> Can I tell you what the biggest low-level ongoing stress in dealing with
> Noisebridge is, mostly? I could mostly deal with the weirdness and the
> trauma which is episodic and in its own social worker way grimly
> fascinating. It was going through my Twitter searches on "Noisebridge"
> which would be 80% full of people going "holy cats! this is amazing!"
> and burbling, and then 20% ex-members and people who ran other
> hackerspaces constantly saying how it sucked. Some of it was because
> those people were burnt out but still cared. But a lot of it was ...
> not.
> Like the time when I was fundraising, and some guy from another
> hackerspace just started talking online about how disgusting it was we
> were begging and is currently, I notice, talking about how we're the
> "walking dead". Thanks, neighbour!
> I've always supported other hackerspaces, and then to watch people from
> our supposedly wider community just constantly tear into us like this,
> long-distance, was always the most dispiriting. I understand the
> tendency, but honestly it takes me to the point where didn't want to end
> up like the people in all these other hackerspaces -- who not only were
> constantly negative, but aren't even *entertainingly* negative. At least
> when a person at Noisebridge has a mild critical point to make, they do
> so by wiring a loudhailer to their larynx or by throwing old laserjets
> at each other, or by wearing a cake while naked. I mean, these people
> aren't even sub-tweeting successfully.
> And what was also super-surprising was that I would often end up having
> a conversation with people at these other hackerspaces where they would
> quietly admit to having similar problems as Noisebridge. There is of
> course some selection bias here. If you have a crazy methlab issue, a
> person from Noisebridge is probably the only person in the world you can
> bond with. But, still, some actualy public camaraderie would have been
> nice, rather than the "please don't let the world know we're like
> noisebridge!!!". Like the guy who emailed from a Really Big Local
> hackerspace to ask how we dealt with the homeless, because they had a
> guy who had been staying in their space for six months and didn't know
> what to do with him (I think they were brainstorming having RFID readers
> that they could remotely scan sleeping hackers with to see if they were
> members).
> Or when Noisebridge had carefully documented a creepster who was hanging
> out at NB (and who we threw out) who then headed up to another city, and
> we warned the hackerspaces there, and one of their reps like oh actually
> we disagree with you publicly shaming people in this way. Then THAT DAY
> one of their own boardmembers was arrested for the rape and drugging of
> four women (six years). Guys! At least our public agonising is an
> attempt to *address* these problems, rather than just backing away with
> a crucifix and finding somewhere where you can lock yourself away from
> the world.
> So when people write "At least we're not Noisebridge" on their walls, my
> first thoughts are, I admit, "you'll be surprised how much more you're
> like noisebridge, but without actually having the terrifying honesty of
> a huge sign and logo that reminds you so on your front door". As well as
> thinking "that's an incredibly neatly written piece of graffiti. At
> Noisebridge it'd probably be incoherently scrawled in the blood of a
> dead Rubyist"
> d.
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