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Hackerspace Architect: Makerspace Movement needs a Starbucks

Hackerspace Architect: Makerspace Movement needs a Starbucks

Whilst doing a tiny amount of research for this blog post I discovered that the media rhetoric around Starbucks is the OPPOSITE of what I’d have imagined, maybe you’ll be less surprised that it goes something like this:

Local coffee house holds own against Starbucks!

This is the romanticised notion that ever small business is having a sort of Sir Norman Wisdom in ‘The Early Bird” type battle (that’s the one where Norman is a milkman) where the plucky small traditional hand-craft business survives by being personable over the giant faceless corporation. This is a well known trope and it resonates with us. It’s the underdog story. In “You’ve Got Mail” Meg Ryan has a small beloved book shop whilst Hanks builds megastores for rich corporations. Hanks and Ryan send each other emails and hate each other until they realise they actually love each other.

Starbucks ploughed the way. They showed there was money in coffee shops. I’m say without Starbucks (in the UK at least) there is no HUGE revival for the love for a good coffee (I can hear some of you scoff that Starbucks isn’t a good coffee). I for one am very grateful for my favourite coffee being there and don’t think it would be without Starbucks. Why? Yes, of course Starbucks didn’t invent coffee or drinking it in a coffee shop, of the coffee shop feel or the 3rd place or roasting beans from around the world or any of it. It ALL existed, even in the UK before Starbucks. Costa was around since the 70s, the “Seattle Coffee Company” (no I don’t mean Starbucks, literally another company in the UK called that, which Starbucks acquired prior to their 1998 UK expansion) was hardly a household name.

So Starbucks for better or worse ploughed the way forward for the rapid ubiquitous growth of Costa, Cafe Nero and yes, your local artesian coffee shop complete with a hipster Barista, toasted sandwiches to die for and please DO NOT EVEN TRY the chocolate brownie as you’ll never be able to stop wanting them, they’re like crack (or so I imagine).

In “The Long Tail” Chris Anderson describes the “big head”. If you plot something like coffee shops by proliferation of companies in the UK, it’d look something like this:

A graph, yesterday.

A graph, yesterday.

In the green bit on the left (the big head) is Starbucks, Costa, Cafe Nero, Tchibo and so on. then we go out to the long, long yellow tail. (see it doesn’t even have an end?) in there if this was Nottingham at least, would be 2000 Degrees (who have a roasters and 2 coffee shops to my knowledge), Wired (one shop) and Blend (one shop)… even the guy who used to have an espresso machine in a phone box on Middle Pavement (poor chap).

The argument I am making is NOT that the players in the long tail could not EVER have existed without Starbucks, of course anyone at any time could have setup a coffee shop, it’s that they are LESS likely to have done so, without the clear indicator that, YES, there is a HUGE demand for coffee in this way. You couldn’t really buy coffee done like this almost anywhere when I was younger. It’s really true. Coffee was almost always instant or filter, now most places have an espresso machine.

If there was a big head for the makerspace and hackerspace world, what would it be? If it doesn’t exist what would it look like? Is our nascent movement like the coffee shops of the 70s? Somewhat specialised and weird? Will there be a truly popular movement for making? If every TESCO had a makerspace in it, what would that world be like? I am not suggesting that this is likely, but it gives a context for how we could think, in a slightly smaller way than the proliferation of coffee shops, about the proliferations of invention spaces, where people can get hands on with tools, rapid prototype their projects or simply be inspired by a co-operative environment of innovation.

There can be no plucky underdog, if there isn’t a big dog to pluck against. Then the underdog IS the big dog.

Let me know, what would the Starbucks of Makerspaces be like? How might it effect the world?

Today’s thumbnail is Playbox01 https://twitter.com/playbox01 part of Playful Anywhere and today’s post was in part inspired by a conversation with Emma Bearman.

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