I’m getting tired of hearing about how telecentres have failed. They haven’t. I know, I know. The name sucks. Here’s a quick definition:

A telecentre is a public place where people can access computers, the Internet, and other digital technologies that enable them to gather information, create, learn, and communicate with others while they develop essential digital skills.

Check out the Wikipedia article for a full list of alternative names and an overview of the range of models. (Some of which, I understand, have failed — especially those following the let’s-put-a-squillion-computers-everywhere-then-walk-away approach.)

Telecentre enthusiasts consider libraries with computers to be a type of telecentre. Library folks don’t like that so much. Understandably. Personally, I have way more warm fuzzies toward the word “library” — waaaaay more. Libraries get me all excited. But that’s another post, uh, and likely better suited to a different blog 😉

Right. So libraries and telecentres, telecentres and libraries. It’s a debate. Some folks resolve it by using the term “public-access venues“. Did you just cringe? Good. Welcome to my world.

A public space where you can learn how to make technology work for you. That’s the main takeaway. So maybe we should call them hacker spaces. Hackers understand and manipulate technology — software and hardware — often using it in ways its designers never intended. Hackers take what’s available and tinker with to solve a specific problem. There are plenty of cool examples of this from all over the world. (This is also why open technology is important — designing stuff from the outset to be hackable. Or “extremely configurable” as Mark would say — he’s been  thinking about this in his efforts to build a better Internet. Beth talks about it too — using systems instead of fitting into them.)

But there’s an even more important dimension: public space. Places where people can be in community. Third placeagora, whatever you want to call it. What’s important is the ability to gather with others and the possibility to be accompanied in your work. To be able to ask questions and bounce around ideas. I’ve been thinking for some time that public-access venues and coworking spaces are connected. This is why. They provide access to helpful people — librarians, dinamizador@s, infomediaries, the-guy-sitting-across-the-table-from-you. People willing to help you accomplish your task. And I suspect that people in communities with stronger social ties will succeed faster because they likelihood of being helped, or feeling okay about asking for help, increases. It also has some interesting implications for public-access venues struggling to become more sustainable — what if they pushed the coworking/colocation angle?

There’s more thinking to do here. But here you have the basics.

PS. This is also why mobile devices will complement but never replace telecentres or libraries. We need to come together.

PPS. The photo for this post was taken by Luis Carlos Diaz. The two women in it are taking a citizen journalism class in Venezuela. Luis is part of Global Voices. I like how they appear to be solving a problem together. It depicts l’esprit d’accompagnement that I want to explore here. (Photo used under a Creative Commons license.)