Recently returned from visiting his wife’s family abroad, TX/RX Labs’ RGBIV brings us a look into HackBo, the Bogotá hackerspace, and the striking similarity of experience that can exist among this distributed, transparent and leaderless (not to mention global) movement.

You say “hackerespace,” I say “hackerspace.”

Just a short walk away from Universidad de los Andes, in the Candelaria district of the Colombian capital, is HackBo: Bogotá’s hackerspace. My wife and I had the good fortune to find the HackBo members during their weekly meeting, which they hold each Saturday from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm. There they gather to discuss, well, hackerspace stuff: distributed computing, Python, counterculture and network security. One member offered that his specialty was open-source hardware. I immediately chimed in with an enthusiastic, “Arduino?” But he just shook his head and said, “No… Arduino es demasiado fácil.” Arduino’s too easy. Clearly, I had come to the right place.

After I explained that I was a member of TX/RX Labs in Houston, another member asked whether I was carrying the hackerspace passport. Totally bummed that I didn’t have one, I considered offering my real passport. Then I remembered that U.S. immigration isn’t exactly known for its “laugh with you, not at you” approach to travel documents.

Hello world.

We shared stories about how our groups got started. HackBo is just over a year old, TX/RX about three. Both groups were founded by a handful of members, intrigued by the hackerspace concept and curious to see if they could make it happen in their hometown. Both groups initially met wherever they could – coffee shops, libraries – and eventually moved into shared spaces (TX/RX was at the Caroline Collective for a while). Now based in a cultural center in one of Bogotá’s oldest neighborhoods, HackBo finds itself at something of a crossroads: Do they stay put for now, grow their membership organically and enjoy the cross-pollination that comes with sharing a space with other artists, free-thinkers and activists? Or do they strike out on their own, personally risking their time and treasure on the promise of a dedicated workshop?

It’s not an easy choice. In our case the move to a space of our own was an incredibly disruptive – but overwhelmingly positive – event. Literally overnight our lab had to deal with issues and questions that, as a small group in a shared space, had never crossed our minds. What are the criteria for membership, and is it ever ethical to exclude someone? Who is in charge of administering the space? What about insurance? What about safety? Boxers or briefs? Floor wax or dessert topping?

The big questions.

Over a couple of bottles of Club Colombia, we talked about the big issue that all hackerspaces must eventually confront: How can a horizontal organization govern itself without succumbing to chaos, or alternatively, to dictatorship?

Clearly the folks at HackBo had done their social theory homework. “Horizontal organization is an illusion,” one said. “At the very best, one can only hope to flatten the hierarchy of power. So it’s not about the existence of power as much as how you deconstruct the power.”

According to him, the power relationships aren’t going anywhere. But their negative effects can be attenuated through critical engagement, mutual respect and open dialogue – basically, the traits that make us hackers in the first place.

In the pipeline.

The future is looking very bright for HackBo, which continues to act as a home for various local groups that live on the internet. They count among their partners various Linux groups like Ubuntu Colombia and Debian Colombia, and they’re even working on a city-wide mesh network for the capital that they call Bogota-Mesh (Project Byzantium, anyone?).

Best of luck to all the intrepid hack-stars at HackBo, or as we sometimes say this side of the Red River, buena suerte.

You can learn more about HackBo here.