Nick Farr of Noisebridge in San Francisco, CA describes what a hackerspace member is: “Since each hackerspace differs slightly on members and the issue of membership, I choose to define a member as a person directly involved with the upkeep and governance of a hackerspace. Most members pay dues to cover rent and expenses and share the obligations of administration, publicity, documentation and other duties essential to keeping a space open and flourishing. Without these members, the Hackerspace itself would cease to exist” (Farr, 2009).
The privileges and responsibilities granted to a member of a hackerspace obviously vary by the actual space the person is a member of. In a situation where access is not limited, it can simply mean that a ‘member’ is a person who donates (money or resources) to the community. Noisebridge, a more anarchist minded hackerspace, describes their attitude toward members:
“Noisebridge even welcomes non-members to come use the space, and Altman says non-members can do everything that member’s can (except block the consensus process). The community governs itself according to the guiding principle expressed on a large poster of Keanu Reeves hanging from the loft: “Be excellent to each other, dudes”. “ (Tweney, 2009).
At BUILDS, a hackerspace run as a club on the Boston University campus, they do not make a distinction between members and non-members. Anyone who comes and participates in the space is a member. When elections are held, anyone who shows up can vote. This is because it is a school club: there is no overhead to run the space, so there is no need to charge for membership (House, 2010).
In a more restricted hackerspace, only members may be allowed into the building, or may be allowed to use the tools or special equipment in the space. A model for many of these commercial hackerspaces is Techshop, what could be considered the “McDonald’s” of hackerspaces, because they are a franchised for-profit brand. In many of these cases, membership may also confer administrative powers, giving paying members a voice in the overall direction of the hackerspace. The restrictiveness of membership may also be a function of the group’s need for anonymity or security. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there are perhaps also those who do not wish to become members for similar reasons. One might not want to be officially associated with an insidious group of miscreants (but still take part in the devious activities).
It is not surprising that there is some contention over these types of hackerspaces. While charging for membership may be necessary, it goes against what some people believe is the very nature of hacking: that information should be free. Due to charging for information, some potential members of hackerspaces might be dissuaded from joining a for-profit organization, when other more hackerinclined options may be available. This conflict may also spark the creation of additional hackerspaces that suit the needs of those with differing opinions on the hacker ethic.