'Give One Get One' Is a Hit, So OLPC Wants To Kill It

from the misplaced-priorities dept

When the One Laptop Per Child project announced its "Give One Get One" program in September, I praised it as an opportunity to get some laptops in the hands of real users. And apparently the program has proven a big hit, raking in as much as $2 million a day in revenues. With numbers like that a normal firm would be looking for ways to expand the program. But not OLPC. While they have extended the program through the end of the year, Nicholas Negroponte is apparently anxious to phase it out after New Years, so that they can focus on a "give only" strategy. It almost seems like Negroponte believes there's something dirty about having people actually pay for his product. That doesn't make any sense. There's nothing wrong with making a profit, especially when those profits would presumably be plowed into giving away more free laptops to poor kids. Somebody has started a website devoted to talking some sense into Negroponte and the rest of the OLPC project. They advocate not only continuing to sell laptops to interested parties in the developed world, but also making the laptops available for purchase, possibly at a discount, in poor countries. This makes a lot of sense. It will allow the OLPC program to gain a foothold in countries whose governments aren't necessarily interested in buying the laptops in batches of 100,000. And it will ensure that the first laptops go to places where they'll actually be used. It's hard to see what the downside is. Negroponte will still be free to solicit government contracts, or to approach Western donors to finance larger gifts. A tech startup would be crazy to turn down an opportunity like this, and doing so doesn't make any more sense for OLPC.

It also appears that Negroponte is still bitter at Intel for introducing a competing low-price laptop. His angst seems rather misplaced. The goal is to get laptops into the hands of poor kids. If that goal is being accomplished, it doesn' really matter whose laptop ends up being the most popular. Poor countries have as much right to seek the best products they can get as anyone else. Intel has apparently used its considerable engineering resources to produce an attractive alternative to the XO. If third-world governments choose Intel's laptop over his own, Negroponte should be congratulating them for helping achieve the goal of universal laptop ownership, not griping about the fact that his product didn't make the cut. Besides, it's a big world. There are thousands of different computer models being sold in the developed world. Why would anyone think that a single laptop could possibly meet the needs of hundreds of millions of poor kids?



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    John Duncan Yoyo, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 2:06am

    It sounds like a wonderful plan to scale up production to where it actually is a $100 laptop. Just sell these things for $200 in the developed world and continue the G1G1 ethos. Heck they could even start a G2G0 plan for a donation pool. That sure sounds like a win win to me.

     

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    Weasel, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 2:20am

    I see the problem

    I think one of the original worries to do with laptops for children was the fact that they could become a kind of currency, and could be stolen off children by ne'er-do-wells.

    Having the laptops for sale in the targeted countries makes this problem a bit worse, as the aforementioned ne'er-do-wells have a market.

    But I guess it might be an idea to rely on local justice and get those laptops out to those kids.

     

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  3.  
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    Nick, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 2:51am

    Not the goal at all

    "The goal is to get laptops into the hands of poor kids."

    No it isn't, no matter how many times you (or other people) say it. As Negroponte has said many times, this is meant to be an education project, not a "give kids free laptops" project. The laptops are intended as collaborative teaching tools for communities of children, not just a toy for an individual child to play with.

    I would imagine that Negroponte is also seriously concerned that a large commercial offering of the laptops will divert too many resources towards providing support to and dealing with complaints from individual users with unrealistic expectations about the low cost machines they have purchased. The core development team is going to have its hands full just dealing with any issues raised in the education environments that are their real target.

     

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    Da_ALC, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 2:55am

    Is this OLPC still solar/ wind-up powered? I bet its not. And I bet Intels efforts arent either.. Im not sure kids will be able to afford to run these if they have to plug them into a wall.

     

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  5.  
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    Max Powers, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 3:06am

    Great Intentions

    I commend those that bring projects to life that help children from third world country's. In this program I thought it would have been better to get these laptops into the schools first, to make sure each student in a school would have computer time for learning.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 3:09am

    Re: Not the goal at all

    dealing with complaints from individual users with unrealistic expectations about the low cost machines they have purchased.
    Translation: They're afraid they'll look bad by comparison.

     

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  7.  
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    Ali Khalid., Nov 27th, 2007 @ 4:42am

    Re:

    Its Hand Powered.

     

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  8.  
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    Michael, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 5:18am

    Re:

    The laptop has four alternate power sources, a crank, pedal, pull-cord and it can also recharged by a directly connected solar panel.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 5:24am

    Re: Re:

    Its Hand Powered.
    No, it isn't. They used to show off some mock-ups that had little hand cranks on them but they gave up on that idea. The XO now is supposed to come with an AC adapter. Like other laptops, it can also be powered by optional external hand or foot powered generators, solar cells, wind turbines, vehicle adapters, gasoline generators, etc.. In other words, external things that can generate electricity. But those things aren't part of the XO.

     

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  10.  
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    Wolfger, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 5:45am

    Re: I see the problem

    Having the laptops for sale in the targeted countries makes this problem a bit worse, as the aforementioned ne'er-do-wells have a market.

    Right. Because things that aren't for sale simply have no market at all. Like illegal drugs and prostitution. No market at all, because they're simply not sold. Right?

    Seems to me that people will be even more likely to steal something, or buy it from somebody who stole it, if there is no legal way to obtain it.

     

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  11.  
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    Enrico Suarve, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 6:18am

    He's not bitter...

    From the link in the original post....

    "I'm not good at selling laptops," Mr. Negroponte has told colleagues. "I'm good at selling ideas."

    "From my point of view, if the world were to have 30 million" laptops made by competitors "in the hands of children at the end of next year, that to me would be a great success," he said in a recent interview. "My goal is not selling laptops. OLPC is not in the laptop business. It's in the education business."

    Doesn't sound that bitter to me - sounds reasonably chuffed. I don't blame him - if it weren't for his vision to try and do this in the first place I doubt there would be as much interest from the big boys yet.

     

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    reality bites, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 6:23am

    Nice Idea but really who's kidding who?

    I saw the advertisement for this. It sounds like a great plan! Lets educate the uneducated.

    Lets be realistic, shall we... I bet the majority of these kids get the laptop and instantly try and sell it off to buy other things like oh i don't know... food.

    There are supposedly "developed" nations like India where child slavery/labor is still a common reality.

     

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    webcat, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 6:29am

    dont know what there guys are smoking

    who the hell needs a laptop in countreis where food , water,shelter and primary education are in grave need.


    what in the hell will be accomplished with the laptop i do not understand. seems to accomplish nothing here in USA where school grades are falling.

    another thing which makes me laugh, wind up power and wireless internet ha ha ha, who the hell will wind up the router.

     

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    Phillip (profile), Nov 27th, 2007 @ 6:44am

    How about some food

    A lot of these kids are poor, starving, and have horrible medical care shouldn't these things be more of a priority than a stupid laptop? What good is an education if they die of malnutrition or an easy to cure disease.

    It's a good idea, but rather than focus on third world countries where they could end up getting pawned for basic necessites why don't they send money there for those and start off with poor inner-city schools throughout the world where the schools can't really afford computers?

     

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  15.  
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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), Nov 27th, 2007 @ 6:48am

    Re: Re: I see the problem

    What? Illegal drugs and prostitutes are free? A lot of people are getting ripped off through an anomaly market. /your an idiot

    Your argument doesn't make sense. If the laptops are free and available to the customer then why would they bother buying a stolen laptop? It's like stealing leaves.

     

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  16.  
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    Phillip (profile), Nov 27th, 2007 @ 6:57am

    Re: How about some food

    Here's a quote on a simliar line:

    "Dr Igwe Aja-Nwachuku said: 'What is the essence of introducing One Laptop per Child when they don't have seats to sit down and learn; when they don't have uniforms to go to school in, where they don't have facilities?' "
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7094695.stm

    However, I think the bbc misses the point, its not politics getting in the way, its the practicality/usefullness of this project. Just having a computer doesn't magically make you smarter or more able to learn. If there is no place to learn and no one to teach them what good is a laptop other than an expensive toy?

     

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  17.  
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    Jordan, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 7:15am

    Beggars Can't Be Choosers

    "Poor countries have as much right to seek the best products they can get as anyone else."

    Well, do they really get a say? They don't exactly get a "dollar vote"...Consumerism and letting the market decide works great when there are actual customers, but if they are only giving these things away, I'd think those poor people would be happy with what they have...

     

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  18.  
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    Eric, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 7:21am

    Some people are just never going to get it...

    Yes, these people need food and water and medicine - but did you ever hear the phrase, 'give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime'? This is all about education - these laptops are not going to be handed out to random kids in undeveloped countries - they are going to be part of a school system (no matter how primitive that might be), intended to be integrated into their curriculum. They are intended to teach them skills that will help them long term to make a better life for themselves.

     

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  19.  
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    Tarky7, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 7:35am

    The Reailities of helping people in Third World

    I think many of your are missing the point about the usefulness of a laptop to a child in the third world and the realities faced by these kids:

    What stands in the way of children getting access to decent schools, health care, etc. is the inherent corruption that exist in many of these countries at many levels of society. Just throwing money at problems (eg to buy food, medical supplies, build schools) does not usually work, due to the fact that the money never makes it to the people it was intended for. Then build in another layer, where the money gets diverted for political aims at the local level and you have a spiral of violence and deeper corruption that destabilizes governments. The road to hell being paved with good intentions.

    Negroponte's idea and his basic plan of distribution seems to take these realities into consideration.

    A laptop is small and portable, easily hidden.

    You all seem to be discounting 'desire' as a powerful motivating factor. Kids covet and desire small shiny personal electronics, even if they have no idea what the thing is for. How many times have you seem some kid pick up a gameboy type handheld game and figure out how to play without any instruction.

    Once a child gets a hold of one of these laptops, you can be certain he or she will figure out how to use it. There you go, the kernel of education happening at the most basic level, being fueled by desire and volition.
    Once the process has started, even if the laptop is lost or stolen, the child will have made the conceptual leap into the digital age, the window will have been opened and the goal achieved.

    The laptop represents an access point for the child to educate him or herself through the process of learning how to use the thing. This event sets up a dynamic that gives the child the possibility of building on this experience and learning other operating systems down the road, giving a chance at a future with a new skill set.

    I think it's brilliant.

     

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  20.  
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    webcat, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 8:03am

    Re: Some people are just never going to get it...

    obviously you have never been to any of the countries the laptop is being aimed at.

     

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  21.  
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    Tim Lee, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 8:59am

    Re: Beggars Can't Be Choosers

    Negroponte is trying to get third-world governments to pay for the things. Third world governments, not surprisingly, shopped around before spending $100,000,000 on laptops for their kids. And a lot of them decided that Intel's Classmate PC was better value for the money.

    The kids might be "beggars," but the governments he's trying to get to pay for them aren't.

     

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  22.  
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    Phillip (profile), Nov 27th, 2007 @ 10:16am

    Re: The Reailities of helping people in Third Worl

    using a laptop and picking up the gameboy are in no way related. One was created to be easily pickedup and enjoyed by everyone. Laptops do not have such a specific purpose. They can be used for research, programming, games, homework, and a lot of other things.

    And actually this is in no way different than giving food and other stuff, because for the most part these are to be sold to the same corrupt governments in batches of 100,000 units. Then the few that get given to potential "schools to be worked into the curriculum will mostly never get properly utilized.

    How many teachers in this country have computers in their class rooms? I know throughout my high school and siblings middle schools it was almost every single one and almost no teacher actually used them as part of the curriculum. The teachers aren't trained how to properly utilize them or given good things to do with them.

    So most sit there and the teacher plays online while the students take tests or they enter grades on them. Nothing really better or different then before they got them.

    So how are they going to get utilitzed over there when schools and schoolrooms are hard enough to find and who is going to train those teachers on good ways to integrate the computers into the teaching?

     

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  23.  
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    le Blue Dude, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 10:18am

    I like the idea

    More people on the 'net is always a good thing. I wonder if he's going to buy a satalight later for a 'hot-spots everywhere' network?

    Even if not a $200 computer (overall) is probably less expensive then 10ish high-school level education books, or 2 college level ones.

     

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  24.  
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    Jon, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 11:20am

    The Realities of Technology in the Third World

    Some thoughts from a former Peace Corps Volunteer (sent to teach computer literacy in East Africa, involved in a first-of-its-kind IT Summit amongst us volunteers "actually on the ground working with IT instruction in the third world"):

    1. Technology prices don't depreciate in the third world: meaning, if an importer bought a computer for $2000 back in 1990, running Win3.1, then that computer is still in his warehouse for sale at $2000. So if the laptop has a $100 price tag (good, but still not entirely manageable for people who "survive" on $50 a month, and still have to grow their own food) it will always have at least a $100 price tag. But will people buy them?

    2. People spend their money on technology. Even when they "can't afford it". I don't have the data on me, but a study was done (and the results given to us volunteers), of the poorest peoples in the world, and what they do as their income increases. Expenditure on food/shelter stays flatline, transportation grew slightly (gas is expensive), but technology grew exponentially. Especially with the invention of cell phones and satellite TV (I've seen starving families where the father will spend $150 on a fake Motorola Razr phone). Technology is a status symbol. So what about tons of free computers?

    3. Companies donate computers all the time. Sadly, it usually just creates problems. Authority figures (ie. school headmasters) think that "getting computers will solve their problems", even if no one is trained on how to use them. There were plenty of schools that got windfall computers (or even worse, spent good money on those 286s), but they were so paranoid about them breaking, the "computer lab" is never unlocked. Students aren't allowed to use them. It seemed either they had one computer (for staff only, justified that no one student should get its benefit over his/her 2000+ schoolmates) or the school had rooms full of dusty, dying computers because no one knew how to turn them on, or use them, especially as part of curriculum. Free computers are great, but only if they come with the people trained to use them, and more importantly to main them. (Other costs: shipping. Someone has to pay for those big shipping crates. And the trucks to drive the laptops to the schools. Lots of donated computers never make it to Africa because there's no-one on the other end that can afford to pay to have them shipped over).

    4. Supplementing curriculum? With poor educations themselves, teachers don't have the requisite skills to use computers to teach. Computers require complex problem solving skills. Someone mentioned that kids can just pick up games and play them? My money's on that being in the first world. With education systems still based on rote-memorization (imagine hordes of 1st graders taking notes all day, notes that are actually just word-for-word from a textbook because the teacher doesn't know what they're doing), most students just don't have the critical thinking skills to write a paragraph in their own words, let alone use a computer. I had high school students that sadly didn't realize that they weren't even playing the game on the computer, that it was the computer running through a demo mode. Ok, so let's say they get complex problem solving skills (there are always lucky ones) they get computer literate and even know how to use computers in an education environment... what about maintenance?

    5. We watched a locally made documentary (at the Zanzibar International Film Festival) about architecture, and the one line that made all the aid workers laugh (but of course not the tourists, or the locals), was when the head architect said: "There is no word for 'maintenance' in Swahili." And it's true. People don't think in the long run, when life is so hard in the short term. Computers break down (especially in uncontrolled climates). Broken computers just take up space, gathering dust. Even "maintained computers" (say, in an internet cafe, or a lucky school), will be loaded with WindowsXP (on 64MB of RAM, the first thing to be stripped to cut costs), and so virus laden to be unusable. Ever catch the Brontok? Ever catch the Brontok from every computer in the entire country? Maintenence skills are great but not universal. Lots of times the donated computers are so proprietary (old machines with weird hardware) that there simply isn't anyone around who can fix them.

    6. Corruption. If kids aren't allowed access to anything of value already (you know, like text books), and computers have a high perceived value, kids won't have access to them. I've SEEN it.

    Bottom-line: OLPC is doing a lot of things right (low maintenance machines, rugged, cheap), but there are still a lot of systemic issues that need to be addressed before the computers will actually help people (other than making donors get the warm fuzzies). The computers need to come with trained people. The need to be cheaper/free (governments spend so little per child now, you think they're going to cough up more for computers AND actually give them to the students? Who's going to stop adults from stealing them?) The education systems need to be at least marginally successful before computer aided learning becomes viable.

    Disclaimer: Some/all of this may not apply to other areas of the world. This is from my first-hand experience (and the experience of other tech volunteers) in East Africa (though during our summit, we had information from tech volunteers the world over, especially from Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean). I say this only because it seems a lot of people talking about this are first world tech people/non-profits/politicians who only have vague speculations on life in less-fortunate countries, and so their charity becomes misdirected.

    Final Note (seriously, didn't intend to write this this morning): Also, it's not a lost cause, it's just that these "top-down" approaches tend to sound better on paper, and their implementation goes all to crap. Local non-profits reaching out do better than foreign non-profits reaching in. My school had the benefit of a German sister school that provided computers, and the training to use them. A local non-profit (V-Africa?) would take in old pcs, load them with win98 + education software, setup a rudimentary lab with a headless linux server, a printer, and (most importantly) provide technical support. They've got some nice labs going.

     

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  25.  
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    4-80-sicks, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 11:37am

    Re: He's not bitter...

    I agreed with this at first; but further on in the article, it says:

    He seems most frustrated with Intel, whose overseas sales force has trumpeted the Classmate over his laptop in Nigeria and Mongolia, using marketing materials that claim the Intel machine is superior. ... Mr. Negroponte says he communicated this month with Intel's chief executive, Paul Otellini, and demanded that Intel stop selling the Classmate. ... In May, Mr. Negroponte appeared on CBS's "60 Minutes" and blasted Intel, suggesting it was trying to drive his nonprofit out of business.

    No real reason is given for this. Sounds like Intel is giving normal market competition in a new, if unconventional, market. Whatever else there is to say about Intel's business practices, there's nothing wrong with this, but Negroponte appears pretty steamed about it.

     

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  26.  
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    Tarky7, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 11:59am

    Re: The Realities of Technology in the Third World

    Re: Jon

    Awesome breakdown of the realities of getting technology and computers to the third world.

    You helped me get a clearer understanding about the real hurdles out there. Thanks for clarifying !

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 2:12pm

    Re: Beggars Can't Be Choosers

    Well, do they really get a say? They don't exactly get a "dollar vote"...Consumerism and letting the market decide works great when there are actual customers, but if they are only giving these things away, I'd think those poor people would be happy with what they have...
    You have a major misunderstanding of the situation. OLPC isn't planning to give these things away for free. They're going to sell them to governments who are going to buy them on behalf of their people, using the people's money, whether they want them or not. (With many of those government officials of course expecting large bribes.) The people don't get any say in the matter even they will ultimately pay for them.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 2:32pm

    Re: The Reailities of helping people in Third Worl

    Once a child gets a hold of one of these laptops, you can be certain he or she will figure out how to use it.

    Use it? To do what, eat? Filter water? I doubt it. To work? There isn't exactly a large demand for children with laptop skills in these areas. Seriously, these kids live in a different kind of world than you do.

     

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  29.  
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    Daz, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 2:58pm

    Re: Re: The Reailities of helping people in Third

    We live in one world, can't you count?

    OLPC allows the user to educate themselves, the classmate does not. The classmate requires a teacher, the OLPC does not. If you learn Linux you have a leg up on learning any other OS. What's not to like? Would you prefer to keep "these kids in a different kind of world" than you?

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 5:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: The Reailities of helping people in Th

    We live in one world, can't you count?

    And there's your problem. You have no idea how different things can be from where you live.

     

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  31.  
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    duane, Nov 27th, 2007 @ 10:18pm

    Capitalism will win

    eeePC is better. gg OLPC. pwned.

     

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  32.  
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    Michael C. Neel, Nov 28th, 2007 @ 11:21am

    Missing the obvious marketing genious

    Right now OLPC G1G1 is very successful and do not overlook the fact it's a "limited time offer" helping sales. OLPC is a work in progress and it's impressive to see this demand for a V1 product (I G2G2 myself) but consider what might happen if you knew it was going to be permanently available - would you wait a bit to order and see how these V1 unit do? Maybe wait on a V2 unit with the hand crank? If there were any plans to keep the program going the time to announce it would be after this run completes and the units shipped prove to be operating well.

     

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  33.  
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    Sean, Nov 30th, 2007 @ 3:31am

    Education Education Education

    This isn't about SELLING LAPTOPS. It's not about magically making CORRUPTION dissapear, making undertained teachers better, or adding more users to the internet.

    It's about putting a tough tool into tough places to facilate the education of children, without the need for a lot of expensive infrastructure. It's about letting children, who may have only a few hours per week in school, take home a device that will let them continue their learning at home.

    If there is no education going on, this tool will not help. If the government is corrupt, this device will not help.

    Producing laptops for sale in the 1st world DOES NOT EDUCATE children in the 3rd. It reduces the amount of OLPC devices available for distribution by half, or by one-third, or by whatever ratio you care to use. And are you seriously teling me that you want a diskless, low-power, low-CPU device running a stripped down OS designed specifically for children? What are you, a child???

    And before anyone starts banging on about how likely these are to be stolen/misappropriated or otherwise not reach their target audience should read the actual specs and see what steps are being taken to reduce this risk.

     

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