OLPC News recently ran a (somewhat tongue-in-cheek article on How to buy an XO Laptop, which mainly pointed people to eBay. Which is sad, but eBay has long been the best place to get your hands on an OLPC if you're not a large government, international development agency, or cutting edge developer.
At the IADB seminar on ICT in the classroom, I asked Nicholas Negroponte why not sell the XO laptop -- at or near cost -- to anyone who wanted one? This gets beyond the hassle of having to convince bureaucrats of the value of the laptop without running pilot programs and delaying the eventual adoption. It (hopefully) creates some side markets in support, software development for non-educational uses of the laptop like rural healthcare, and could enable educational uses without going through the schools themselves, even.
Granted, there are some concerns. OLPC has thus far maintained a clarity of focus by working towards their mission of universal access, rather than having to worry (like Intel and Microsoft) about capturing an emerging market. Working at the ministry level potentially could reduce the transaction costs of each "deal," but more importantly, it guarantees some level of equitable distribution of the laptops, ensuring not just those with money will get access.
And this equity is important - for a education project within a school; you have to have all the students with laptops, or you by definition don't have a 1:1 program and you don't have a good shared computing setup either. Lack of computer saturation also opens it up to higher risk for theft.
This month's Technology Salon approached last-mile connectivity problems from an entrepreneurship standpoint. What are the barriers to creating small, possibly local-only telcos using various technologies, and how can those scale through investment, international development assistance, or franchising?
The on-the-ground situation is good connectivity in urban and peri-urban areas, often including land-line support as well as mobile coverage. As you get further out into rural areas, coverage dwindles; without populations large enough to support (currently) the cost of installation and maintenance of a cell tower, the large firms are not interested. The telecom industry is often dominated by 3-4 large companies, often heavily regulated and/or in cahoots with the government.
Via Morgan Collett we learn that OLPC is discontinuing it's "small" deployment support of 100-1000 XO laptop purchases:
Unfortunately, as some of you might have heard "Change the World" aka "Give a School" aka "Give 100, Give 1000" will cease to exist. We are just waiting for the info to be taken off the main website (any second now). We are doing this in an effort to refocus back to large-scale deployments that create change in a major way. We WILL honor all requests that we have received prior to the info being taken off the website.
As I commented last night, this is ridiculous - why can't OLPC perform remotely as well as every other computer manufacturer on the planet? Especially with a first-mover product with (for now) unmatched features.
I want 1-laptop deployments, 5-laptop deployments, and 10-laptop deployments. I really hope there's a good reason why that's not as easy as it seems.
This entry is part four in the series, "The XO Files: I Want to Believe in the XO" Read Part I here, then Part II, The New 4PC Market, and its Failings, and Part III: Re-imagining the OLPC Distribution.
The XO Files Part IV: New Years Resolutions for 1CC
The XO Files: I Want To Believe
To (finally) close up my "I want to believe" series on how things went wrong, and how things could go very right with the OLPC dream, let me offer some resolutions for the Foundation to consider for 2009.
I will decide on a mission statement
That is, "I will accept that OLPC is and has always been a laptop project, not an education project". And that's OK, if presented as such. The world needs a laptop like the XO, and it can still help improve education. But let's agree that the XO is a laptop and not an education miracle, and treat it as such - a wonderfully well-designed and flexible tool that can be used in many contexts in international development projects and in more quotidian ways as well. This opens up more "markets" for the XO, widens the potential scope, and creates a much larger and diverse user-base who can benefit from and contribute back to the ongoing development of the XO.
I will stop overreaching