'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?

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Filed Under: $100 laptop, nicholas negroponte, olpc


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  1. identicon
    Tarky7, 27 Nov 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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