Sister Free Geek

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This is a thought experiment, not a plan. As a thought experiment, we don't need to pay too much attention to pesky little details like how much this would cost. Rather we can assume that it's possible that we might have to do something like this for financial reasons, or we might drift towards something like this scenario without intending to. In thinking about the Meta Question we go through the exercise of fleshing out what Free Geek would look like if we spun off another group (or groups) to take up the slack.

The gist

Say we continue to grow, feel like we are getting too big for our space (or just don't like the cultural ramifications of getting bigger), and so we decide to spin off a clone or ourselves elsewhere in the Portland Area -- a sister Free Geek. What might this look like?

Phases of implementation

It seems like there'd be a few phases to making the first sister come into being:

Creating the spinoff group

  • In this stage, a minimal amount of energy would be put in from the mothership.

We'd need to shepherd into existence a group dedicated to making a sister Free Geek a reality. This spinoff group would probably operate out of The Mothership until a new site was acquired.

Preliminary Location

  • In this stage, a minimal amount of energy would be put in from the mothership.

First we'd want to think of a logical spot to set up a sister organization. Would it go in one of the burbs? North to Vancouver, East to Gresham, or West to Hillsboro, or South to Oregon City? What would the impact of locating in the suburbs be for a new Free Geek? Part of the mothership's ambience is the fact that we are very easy to get to for inner city people. Who would make up a suburban Free Geek?

If we chose Vancouver, we'd end up dealing with a new set of state laws and such. (But evenutally the sister group would take that over.)

Alternatively, if we started up another inner city Free Geek, say in North Portland, how would that affect the mothership's volunteer pool and economy?

Getting the startup cash

  • In this stage, more time and energy would be put in from the mothership, mostly grantwriting.

While we're pondering that, it seems like we'd need to gather some seed money to get the thing started. The mothership started with a grant of $35,000 which bought us four months. In retrospect, that was skating on pretty thin ice, but it seems clear that we'd need to find grant money to do this kind of expansion.

Acquiring the site

  • In this stage, a lot of time and energy would be put in from the mothership.

Oso went through acquiring this site. He might be able to muse on what it would be like for us to acquire a second one.

Starting the seed programs

  • In this stage, a great deal of time and energy would be put in from the mothership.

Some programs would need to start right up. But starting all of them is too much too fast. The logical first programs would need to attract volunteers and generate income streams. Anything else could be offloaded to the mothership until the sister group gets big enough. This might be the list or preliminary programs:


This is needed to (a) get the raw fuel that allows Free Geek to exist (gizmos), and (b) give the volunteers something useful to do.


This is a necessary step for the remaining pieces to work. This is not just card and motherboard sorting, but (at a minimum) sorting any gizmo into these categories:

  • Keep for Sister Group's store
  • Send to the mothership
  • Send to recycling


We'd need to at least test monitors at the sister group.


This could sell some locally tested components and StoreBoxen furnished by the mothership.


Same as in the mothership. We might be able to coordinate pickup efforts though.

Adoption class

We'd need to show people how to use their computers.

Tier II tech support

For tier I tech support, adopters could call the mothership. But it may prove unrealistic to make them cart them all the way into town if the sister group has closer facilities.

Adding the rest of the programs

  • Throughout this stage, the time and energy put in from the mothership should decrease.

As fast as the sister group can grow the capability, they would take over all the remaining programs necessary to make them self sufficient:

  • System Evaluation
  • Advanced Testing
  • Build
  • Coding
  • Hardware Grants
  • Other support of nonprofit organizations (a.k.a. NAP and GAP)
  • More Education

Future experimentation

With more than one Free Geek, each acting autonomously but cooperatively, we would be free to experiment in one location without jeopardizing the other.

New programs could be tried out in one spot. If a new class works particularly well, for instance, it could be replicated elsewhere is a similar fashion. If it fails, the next place could try out the idea after having learned from the mistakes of the first. The mothership might actually end up learning from the new little sisters.

Outside perceptions

No matter what we do (short of changing the name of one group) it is likely that the public would think of the two groups as related -- and in fact, until the sister group was up and running, they would be related. We would need to set up methods of communication and business referral between the two groups. (Someone calls us with a question about a donation and we ask where they are. We can then say "Haul that to the Vancouver|Gresham|Hillsboro|Oregon City Free Geek. They're closer."

Coordination issues

Beyond communication and referring business there would always be a need for coordination between the two groups. This would be substantially more involved than current support for distant Free Geek Startups. Each Free Geek would probably need a committee to oversee this stuff.

A bumbershoot?

Especially if there were more than two Free Geeks locally, it might be a good idea to have a coordinating group to work with all the sister Free Geeks. Many people would call it an "umbrella" organization, but since I'm writing this, I get to call it a "bumbershoot" instead.