2011/07/23

TechLab Network Innovation Centers & Google Fiber KCK

TechLab Network Innovation Centers (TNICs), or their equivalent, will be developed across the US and the world over the next ten to twenty years, enabled and made more necessary by ultra high-speed Internet access improvement initiatives like Google Fiber KC and by general economic trends.

TNICs will come in numerous flavors, and each will develop its own culture, expertise areas and business model. As mentioned in an earlier blog post about Google Fiber KCK, TNICs are a blend of coworking spaces for internet nomads, TechShops and hackerspaces for hackers/makers, MIT Fab Labs for education, research and entrepreneurs, a community space for casual social interaction and for holding meetings, and a petri dish for germinating and launching Seth Godin's ideaviruses.

The TechLab Network is a sustainable long term community of passionate young people and motivated adults who create and expand the 'personal manufacturing' culture of the region where they live, a group of people who want to 'make' things. People are the main focus of the TechLab Network; the TNIC facility is a secondary focus and is a tool to enable the Network to grow and to provide a workspace for Network members. A primary goal of TNICs is to combine this unique community or network of people with at least one TechShop / Fab Lab / hackerspace / makerspace multi-functional facility in each 'holon,' to provide a physical space to build stuff either by one's self or with others.

Secondary goals of the TNICs include:
  1. an optional 'work' location for telecommuters (coworking)
  2. a social gathering space for those telecommuters and others in the community
  3. a well-equipped meeting space with effective telecollaboration tools for groups who need or want to have remote participants in their meetings or project work sessions
  4. a physical learning facility for students in the formal education system and for non-student residents of the community (more about that in a future post...)
  5. a place for entrepreneurs to develop and create prototypes of their ideas, to meet potential co-founders for new ventures, to launch new ventures and to set up pilot production facilities for manufacturing physical goods.
The number of telecommuters in the USA will likely increase dramatically over the next ten years, making TNICs more valuable to and necessary for the community's residents and the economy of the region. A recent article by Alexis Madrigal explains why he feels there is a coming explosion in telecommuting.
"...the real reason that telecommuting hasn't taken off …is that it's just less fun, particularly for the people most likely to adopt it. For younger people, going to an office is more fun than sitting at home. It's where they make friends and find camaraderie. Home is great for a few hours, and then it's kind of lonely and dull. While there are coworking spaces and coffeeshops, the easiest solution is to just go into the office…As the Internet-native generation, which communicates by IM even in the office, starts to have kids, they'll care less about office life and more about home. Telecommuting will take off. The…fun factor will be delivered by social tools like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ as well as better and easier video conferencing like Skype-in-Facebook and Google Hangout..."
Establishment of two TNICs in KCK will have benefits for the Google Fiber KCK project, for the city and residents of KCK and Wyandotte County, and for innovation in the gigabit internet access sector. One of the KCK TNICs should have a major sponsor, similar to the one supported by Ford Motor in the Detroit area. This 'major-sponsor' KCK TNIC will be highly focused on entrepreneurism and advanced manufacturing, although it will still be welcoming to creative and innovative hackers and makers whose main interests are in social activities, virtual goods and services, non-profit activities or the arts. The facility will likely use an existing building or group of buildings, although it could be new construction if a group of investors viewed that as a worthwhile step in boosting the KCK economy. This TNIC facility will have paid contractors do extensive construction or remodeling of the building's interior prior to opening, with creation of meeting rooms and workshops and installation of many pieces of advanced manufacturing equipment. KCK people will be highly involved with the design of this TNIC and make the final decisions about the building, but other TechShops and 'advanced manufacturing centers' will strongly influence the layout of the facility. The KCK TNIC enabled by a major sponsor will have a strong marketing team to recruit TNIC members, much like a YMCA recruits new members. It will build a strong network of advanced manufacturing equipment vendors and serve as a test-bed for new equipment and emerging manufacturing technologies.

The other KCK TNIC needs to be more of a grassroots effort with the TechLab Network for this facility being launched and expanded to a sustainable size before beginning extensive work on the facility. This TNIC design will primarily come from the KCK residents who are active in the grassroots TechLab Network and will be strongly influenced by the culture of the region and the passions of youth who get involved with this TNIC. The organically-developed TNIC will more closely follow the concept of the Bucketworks facility in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, which has been referred to as a 'physical wiki.' The ideal location for this TNIC is in the downtown KCK area in a large unused building which is updated with modern electrical and HVAC service and internet access, with some beginning building blocks for meeting, creating and working, and with basic safety and handicapped access improvements. The bulk of the interior development, however, will progress as the TechLab Network for this facility begins to use the space and figures out what their needs are for more dedicated spaces and more equipment. There will always be a certain amount of open or unfinished space that can be adapted to short term needs, events and projects. The grassroots TNIC will attempt to recreate the innovation culture of some of the early Bell Laboratories research facilities, about which Dr. Richard W. Hamming says "...ideal working conditions are very strange. The ones you want aren't always the best ones for you."

The grassroots TNIC will be supported and made possible by a wide-spread community coalition of business, educational, professional, and government organizations, somewhat similar to the support base for the EIGERlab in Rockford, Illinois, USA. It will also be good to garner support of organizations which are highly involved in key focus issues of the TNIC. These 'key issue' organizations may be from elsewhere in the USA or from other countries. Building a strong national and global network will have numerous benefits for the growth and reach of the grassroots TNIC.

These two KCK TNICs will create two different cultures and enable two approaches to gigabit innovation for the Kansas City metro area and the Google Fiber KC initiative. Neither one will be better, or the right way to create and run a TNIC, and each will provide something that a different group of people need and will enjoy and support. Learnings from these two TNICs can be used at future TNICs in other communities, including those where new gigabit Internet projects are launched. Fascinating and worthwhile opportunities for ventures and citizens of the Internet of the Future will abound at these KCK TechLab Network Innovations Centers.

"Google Fiber -- KCK's Connection To The Future!"

*****

Because the educatione

TechLab Network is first and foremost a long term sustainably-structured community of people who want to make things. The people are the primary focus, not the TechLab facilities

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