OLPC Acting More Like What It Is: A (Non-profit) Tech Startup

from the walk-before-you-run dept

The One Laptop Per Child project has been struggling to meet the lofty expectations it set for itself a couple of years ago. India decided not to participate in the program last year, and Nigeria and Brazil have apparently backed out of the program as well. A year ago they were expecting orders of five to ten million laptops; now they're struggling to reach 3 million orders. They're trying to jump-start things by offering Westerners a deal: buy a laptop for a third-world child and get one for your own use. It's a smart idea, and it’s a shame they didn't try this strategy from the outset. The OLPC project is essentially a tech startup (albeit a non-profit one) and they might find more success if they acted more like other tech startups: first get the product in the hands of some real customers so you can get some real-world feedback. Only after you've learned how the product performs in the real world do you start worrying about producing them in volume. For example, there are plenty of schools here in the United States that might be interested in a $200 laptop. Few American kids experience the level of poverty experienced in Nigeria, but there are certainly kids here who don't have a computer at home. If they'd started out by selling a few thousand laptops to districts—or even individual schools—here in the United States, they could have demonstrated the product's usefulness in real classrooms and gotten feedback about how the product could be improved.

Until recently, OLPC has pursued the opposite strategy, trying to sell its laptops in batches of a million to third-world governments while working to prevent individuals from buying them. Not only is it difficult to convince a poor nation to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on computers, but such a top-down approach almost guarantees they won't be used effectively because, as we've said before, simply giving kids laptops won't do much without proper support. Apparently, the OLPC project only conducted their first focus group with American kids last month, and a focus-group interview is a far cry from seeing the laptops used in a real classroom for an entire school year. So here's a suggestion: OLPC should distribute some laptops to poor kids in its own backyard, in Boston. The laptop has gotten glowing reviews from the few American kids who've gotten to try them, so distributing a few thousand laptops to poor American kids should generate additional buzz for the project. Only after they've worked out all the kinks in small-scale trials does it make sense to approach cash-strapped third-world governments and ask them to place seven-figure orders.

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Comments on “OLPC Acting More Like What It Is: A (Non-profit) Tech Startup”

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John (profile) says:

Why are we so concerned with other countries...

… when this country is facing similar issues?

Why are we rushing to get laptops into the hands of third-world countries when children in US cities could use the laptops? Like the article says, children in low-income sections of Boston would be a much better test of this program.

Why are we so concerned with rebuilding schools in Iraq and Afghanistan when there are schools in Florida that receive a “F” grade?

Why doesn’t the government work on improving things here in the US before working to improve things in other countries?
I mean, who cares if Florida schools get an “F” as long as the schools in Iraq are top-notch?

Petr?a Mitchell says:

Testing in classrooms

The OLPC was designed with the constructionist goal of obviating classrooms altogether, and so a test in a classroom wouldn’t have provided a proper evaluation of what its creators wanted to do. The American kids who’ve tested it have all grown up in well-off, tech-savvy households, and so they aren’t a terrific test population either.

A good test in the US would be to take a batch of laptops to the most wretched corner of New Orleans, hand them out to a bunch of kids there, and see how things go. (In fact, New Orleans has been suggested as a test lab for a while.)

Morgan says:

no accountability

Negorponte’s got to be laughing all the way to intentions bank. He doesn’t get a shred of serious criticism even though this program is jack squat compared to what he brazenly claimed as he asked for taxed monies around the globe.

So he’s got the reputation of a saint, he’s got no financial risk, and the computer comes out of the OLPC lab like it dropped from the hind end of a dog.

@3, it in fact has no built-in generation, read up on both the features list and on the power and batteries wiki that OLPC maintain. They are still debating the best add-on method for it, so it’s not even included into the now doubled cost of a very late product in an industry that gets cheaper by the year.

The reason there hasn’t been testing is that the project was based on a feeling, not on a measurable goal. He let some Cambodians use a laptop and had his epiphany, and everyone else has paid for his visionquest while he reaps the reputation.

As for that goal, that of being a visionary savior for third-world education, he’s got that cemented with his intellectually lazy fans even if not a single computer ever comes off the line.

One other funny point– they are claiming they don’t want to interrupt cupply so they’re limiting the sales run to 25,000. 25,000 laptops interrupting a supply that was supposed to dominate worlwide laptop production and actually require major infrastructure to meet the massive demand.

You can re-read the interviews. The guy is a putz, he’s gotten his gains, and risked nothing in the process of failing every claim he made. It’s the thought that counts anyway, just send out a bunch of solar calculators.

Google (user link) says:

not bad but

The reason there hasn’t been testing is that the project was based on a feeling, not on a measurable goal. He let some Cambodians use a laptop and had his epiphany, and everyone else has paid for his visionquest while he reaps the reputation. At first, it was a good project, but now, asus is on the market with his 701, less than $299, good quality, design and performance, what is the future of the olpc… don’t know, but asus’s future will be better.

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