Decline and fall of Kiberpipa

08.06.2013 16:50

I guess by this time it's a well known fact around here that Ljubljana's hackerspace Kiberpipa has come to the end of its days, at least in its current place and form. A farewell party has been held, good byes have been said and all it remains now is to start unplugging the server rack.

If you haven't been following the news, the simple story is that Kiberpipa's parent organization twice removed decided to convert the place into a restaurant. Destruction of a hackerspace is merely a collateral damage in a grand scheme of converting an old building full of non-profit student and art organizations into a very for-profit hotel in a sweet spot near the center of the city. As it's usual in such cases there's also a back story that involves removing opposition through legalistic procedures and suspicions of personal interests. It was all done under cover and the community found this out only after the contracts have been signed through rumors, hearsay and digging through meeting minutes. An official statement has only been made when media started asking questions even though Kiberpipa had a representative that should be kept up to date with such things.

Kiberpipa storage room.

I'm not and never was involved in the internal politics of Kiberpipa's tenuous relationship with its masters. For me, Kiberpipa was foremost a place to go to after lectures and later after work where I could meet the kind of people that enjoyed idly chatting about technology and various other geeky topics instead of sports events and daily politics. As I was involved in Kiberpipa from the start I did use to have daily responsibilities there, like administration of servers and taking care of network security. Kiberpipa was also the place of my attempt at running a serious free software project. Many hours were spent at weird hours in a cramped server room and I learned a lot from these jobs, but unlike other hackerspaces, Kiberpipa's attractiveness was rarely about having access to equipment that I wouldn't have otherwise. It was foremost the social aspect that kept me returning to the place. I found many valuable personal connections that later led me to start ups and other interesting volunteering work.

That said, Kiberpipa never felt like a tightly knit community. People that frequented the place or used its name on projects were always divided into groups that did not communicate well with each other. Contrary to most other hackerspaces, Kiberpipa was from the start tied to a relatively large non-profit that ran several other, mostly artistic operations, under control of the Student organization of the University of Ljubljana. For majority of my time in Kiberpipa they were kind of a fuzzy entity that only showed itself only when it exercised its power over some official aspect of the organization or left the place in ruin after an unannounced party. Ties between the more technical hacker crowd and arts communities were rarely relaxed. Often there was an unusual reversal of roles where artists were the ones supplying money through various public grants and technical people perceived as moochers playing with their toys. In its early days there was also a strong political activism side to Kiberpipa with which I didn't particularly identify myself either.

Kiberpipa server room.

When a rare project that involved collaboration happened, it was often setup and discussed outside of general channels like the member's mailing list. It's not surprising then that in all years of its existence and numerous formal and less formal meetings and discussions it was never possible to come up with a mission statement or give an answer what Kiberpipa was that everyone would agree with.

Even with hindsight it's hard to say what could have been done differently. It's doubtful that Kiberpipa would be this successful without its partnership with the student organization that ultimately led to its destruction. It provided an accessible, rent-free place and connections to government subsidies that removed the need for membership fees. With them the place would certainly attract a lot less people. Kiberpipa's community also showed a lot of flexibility, changing over the years its external face from mostly being a free cybercafé to a place to go to for lectures and workshops about various topics. Part of this probably comes from the fact that the community never learned how to transfer knowledge between generations, but still it's impressive enough that comments can be heard from old members that they never though the place would survive for 13 years.

Kovchek, Kiberpipa's old mobile video streaming server.

Although I mostly kept myself in the background and had my share of conflicts and grief there, Kiberpipa has been a big part of my life and I'm sad to see it end like this. Things may not be as bad as they look though. The latest generation of Kiberpipa's members are looking for ways of continuing the story in an independent fashion and although I'm not actively involved in that effort I hear that the outlook is good. I'm usually too pessimistic in such writings anyway. For better or worse I am quite certain though that Kiberpipa 2.0 will be quite different from the dark and smelly open source cellar we started 13 years ago.

Posted by Tomaž | Categories: Life


Sad developments I learnt about from Dunja on closing of GOTO1982. Your computers colection is now proudly displayed in Tech Museum. I guess most of the members stay in virtual connection as we hamradio enthusiasts do. BTW I established few computers sections in few radioclubs in Ljubljana and Belgrade in 1980's. Tech learning is part of our statute. Radio propagation research is main item with frustrating events these days :-)

Posted by MMM

Add a new comment

(No HTML tags allowed. Separate paragraphs with a blank line.)