The thing with maker spaces I think is

that they too easily become nerd-collectives, and fail to attract the non-makers with occasional projects, or even appear unwelcoming and off-putting to them without being aware of that.

Whereas,

the success of maker spaces ultimately does not lie in attracting those that would be makers anyway, now just with cooler machines, but in turning occasional making and creative tinkering into the new normal for a much broader group.

It was apparent to me in visiting the Cambridge MakerSpace this week, as it is apparent in all FabLabs, Hackspaces and other varieties of maker space I have visited across Europe.


The Cambridge MakeSpace, excellent facilities.

Yesterday I took a first step in a new experiment: I bought a desk top milling machine (Roland MX-15, see pic). At 750 Euro (compared to 3000 new), this second hand machine is price competitive with anything else currently on the (DIY) market. I bought the machine from Hanne van Essen, one of the founders of the Dutch FabLab Foundation (and on which board I currently serve).

Hopefully it is a first step to creating a ‘mini FabLab’ at home. An idea inspired by Bart Bakker who showed you can set-up a FabLab at home for under 3500 Euro, the great guys at FabLab Amersfoort who bootstrapped themselves into existence for 5000 Euro, as well as my own notions of a ‘Maker Household‘ and turning the home more into a productive unit (in terms of both energy as well as actual production), and creating more resilience in the context of our networks and our connected world.

Other elements that in time will be added to this miniFabLab:

  • a laser cutter (the true work horse of any ‘making’ set-up. There’s a wonderful open source project LaOS. Cost will be 1500 Euro or so)
  • a vinyl cutter (about 300 Euro)
  • a micro electronics workbench (the next thing to do probably, some stuff I already have)
  • a 3D printer (but they’ve got a  way to go before they are truly useful at household level, currently last on my wish list)

The biggest challenge will be finding a space for all this in our home. The utility room would be possible but also needs to fit other things such as the washing machine and dryer, so it’s a challenge space wise. The shed might work space wise, but probably the big variations of temperature over the year in that space (it is not insulated from the outside) are probably detrimental to any equipment.

The experiment has started at least. Next up: planning time in my schedule to figure out how to work with the machine.

It took over two years, but this week a FabLab opened right in my own home town, to both my and Elmine’s considerable joy.
FabLab Enschede has been a long time in the making, with the lead of the project changing hands several times (also between different institutions), but with the consistent and persistent support of civil servant(s) of the city, guiding the project through the various administrative hoops to secure funding. I wasn’t involved directly but on behalf of the FabLab Foundation added our experience with starting other labs, and helped the plan evolve.

In the end, the FabLab has ended up under the umbrella of Saxion Hogescholen (the local university for applied sciences), and has a focus on smart materials and textiles. It is housed directly adjacent to Saxion’s materials lab and product testing lab.

The formal opening was a great and festive event, with a lot of interest from the business community, and also a lot of people showed up who were eager to start making things. That however is not quite possible yet. Machines are still to be delivered (for the opening they borrowed some machines from elsewhere), and there is also still a job opening for the FabLab’s coordinator. So I am curious to see when it really opens, and how quickly it will gain traction in the local community here.

For now I am just extremely pleased that I as a board member of the FabLab Foundation BeNeLux could sign the license for FabLab Enschede, and that there is now a FabLab in my own city.

We in the Dutch FabLab community just released a year book for the FabLab community. The first ever year book actually. Consistent with FabLab principles the release was printing the book physically in the CabFabLab in the Hague, and sharing the digital files online so you can make your own copy. Download the FabYearBook 2010 and instructions on how to put it together.
This post is about how the year book came about, and some of the rationale behind it.

What’s a FabLab?
A FabLab is a workshop that contains industrial quality equipment that is controlled by widely available software like Google Sketchup, Inkscape or Coreldraw. It puts the power to produce basically anything into your hands as an individual. It does for production what social media does for publishing and sharing. You hit print on your computer, and end up with a physical product. There are four of these FabLabs in the Netherlands, and a couple of dozen worldwide. In the past 2 years I’ve seen things being ‘printed’ as diverse as furniture, food, fashion, car and motor parts, jewelry, lamps, and toys. As prototype or as personal unique product. It’s amazing and hugely empowering. Remember how amazing it was when you first started blogging: the relationships suddenly forming, the value of conversations? This is the same all over, but now you’re turning bits into atoms and change your physical environment.

FabYearBook 2010
The idea for the FabYearBook came from two things. First, when visiting the then still very empty space that now is becoming the FabLab Groningen, I saw how Bart Kempinga had put together a reader with print-outs from different FabLab websites from around the world. He had placed that reader on a table in the middle of that big white empty room. Visitors and potential partners leafed through it, and it helped them paint with their imagination a vision of what the FabLab Groningen could be on the bare walls around them.


Bart Kempinga with his ‘scrapbook’ in a still empty FabLab Groningen

Second, I worked with a group of students at the local university in my home town in the spring of 2009. I gave a few guest lectures on knowledge management and community building. As part of their assignment I asked them to generate ideas on how to stimulate community building in the FabLab network, as well as knowledge sharing. In a bigger list of ideas, the students also came up with the FabYearBook. Marloes Wilmink, Anne Heesink, Eva Rennen and Karlein Sanders were the students that planted the year book idea firmly with me.


Presentation slide by my students

We put forward the idea for a year book at the global Fab5 Conference in India last August, and sent out calls for contributions in November. Actual contributions started coming in around January 15th, with the latest arriving this week Monday. Now, Wednesday we’ve printed the first FabYearBook 2010. More than 50 pages, from mostly ‘close by’ sources, but already with interesting variety and diversity.
Making the year book was not just about making a book, it is an intervention in the global network and community as well. There’s two components to that: visibility and rhythm.

Networks, nodes, visibility
In a network all nodes are distributed. That makes it often hard to see the breadth, depth and potential of a network from your perspective as a single node in it. For you and me to perceive the network from our individual position in it, we need to be visible to others and the others need to be visible to us. You probably know a sizable number of the contacts of your own direct contacts, but after that visibility of people/nodes brakes down quickly. To look further, over that ‘2 degrees out’-horizon from your own position, we need tools. Network visualizations are helpful. Sharing stories from the network in the network is helpful too. All this is true for the global FabLab Network as well. Some nodes are highly visible and see a lot, others are mostly dark nodes in the overall network fabric. The FabYearBook 2010 is a first attempt to share stories in a more persistent way, a beacon as it were in the FabLab landscape. So that visibility can improve, and new connections can be made.

Community, rhythm, predictability
Functioning communities show a number of characteristics that can be also purposefully used to create circumstances for community to grow and blossom. Community creates these characteristics, but the characteristics also help create community.
Rhythm is such a characteristic of community. Our society has rhythms on larger and smaller scales. They help us to feel as part of a whole, and give us predictability where there actually is none. Christmas is such a macro-rhythm in the western world. Even if you haven’t seen your family for a full year, you’ll be welcomed at Christmas. Weekends are a rhythm like that too. Morning coffees as well. For the Dutch FabLab community we’ve set a rhythm through FabTables, regular meet-ups at 6 weeks intervals with a fixed date and time. Anyone is welcome, and they always take place no matter what. I’ve done the same with Elmine to get our local GeekLounges going, at a 2 month interval. Even if you have to miss out on one or two, you know you’ll be welcome at the next get-together, and when it takes place. An existing macro-rhythm for the FabLab community is the yearly Fab Conference. It’s FabLab’s Christmas so to speak. You have to travel for it, and meet up with the extended family as it were. The year book hopefully will serve as a new macro-rhythm, about half way (January) between two Fab conferences (August), and it comes to you.


The finished year book

Looking forward to when next year January sees the next FabYearBook coming out!