It’s not uncommon for a bunch of scrappy hackers to get together and share costs on the things hackers typically need. It’s easy to do this at the scale of a household. With a graph of 4-5 nodes, it’s trivial to divide the responsibility of tasks among them. So in the nature of the Internet, why hasn’t anyone attempted to scale this? So I’ve been thinking how such a community would function and thought it would be a fun experiment to put my vision on the internet to request comments.
Why not a city? ¶
I’m not interested in replacing existing infrastructure which is more efficiently maintained by other parties (governments, utilities, etc). The primary purpose of the community should be to maximize utility to the group and there are some resources which simply do not make sense for a community of hackers to maintain (like city planning, law enforcement, waste management, etc). While a hacker city sparks some interesting mental imagery, I think there is a tipping point where government efficiency-to-size ratio begin growing disproportionately out of favor to the public it serves. I hypothesize that tipping point to be somewhere between a community and city with absolutely no data to support it. More importantly, I think a community is an appropriate size to test with. It’s large enough to exploit economies of scale while still avoiding a lot of the overhead of local government.
So how big is a ‘community’ of people? ¶
This is subjective, but I think 20-30 nodes is a great place to start. It’s very small, but I think it’s enough to generate interest from the outside to grow if the community feels it is capable. Having a small graph makes iterating on ideas for community management quicker which is very important for a prototype but still demonstrates a market need. This isn’t a cap, but more of a suggestion. As the community and its processes mature, I’m certain that this threshold will end up being closer to 100-150. While some may feel this number is still quite small, I feel the community will be one of the most attractive features of this experiment. Additionally, this threshold should not be artificial or manually enforced. Ideally, the number of people who belong to the community will be maintained by some process that logarithmically flattens out to some asymptotic value.
Whose utility are you maximizing? ¶
Defining some universal needs that the community agrees upon are going to be another important foundational element. The community would agree on specific resources that every member would be equally invested in as long as it is beneficial for everyone. Being invested doesn’t necessarily mean monetarily and resources can be services as much as they could be tangible goods. Similar to the way communities are sometimes established for like-minded farming, a hacker community would exist to support the goals of the majority. And in much the same way that farmers need irrigation, feed, labor, and neighbors that are sensitive to (and dependent on) each others’ needs; I believe that hackers would benefit similarly from such arrangements. The existence of hackerspaces, co-working environments and areas like Silicon Valley are prime evidence of this. Specific resources which hackers universally need to grow and develop their trade might be things like solid internet access, inexpensive electricity, access to abundant knowledge and collaboration, and hacker-friendly community governance/processes. Additionally, a like-minded community of hackers would be a strong political force in effecting change in their immediately surrounding communities. (And not in the mafia sort of way, either!)
So how does a community like this benefit its members? ¶
A community of hackers is probably going to have some incredible resourcefulness to find the most efficient way to exist. This is the sort of thing I’m really interested in taking advantage of with such a community. Benefits such as group buying, resource pooling, and local opportunities for collaboration are some of the obvious things. But what happens when incentive is provided for skills to be traded and problems to be solved within the community, or when community members have some motivation for alpha and beta testing early community-wide projects? I think having a physical network of these individuals with the skills to literally reinvent how a small community functions may have some interesting outcomes. Ideas like a free educational system which the community is invested both as instructors as well as participants and community-sponsored projects to improve energy management.