Tuesday, November 27, 2007

the intel dream compared with the OLPC dream

Groklaw (Some Ideas for Marketing the OLPC) analyses the differences between how Intel markets their Classmate and how OLPC markets their XO

the Intel dream:
What dreams are Intel selling? Here's the Classmate demo showing the parental monitoring/policy control feature. Intel is using that to market the thing. The parents can allegedly force kids to turn off the laptop and control what they can do with it, even in the classroom, even turning off the laptop while the child is in class. Why would a parent ever want to do that? In real life, they never would, I'm thinking. It's the illusion, just knowing that they can, not any reality, being sold.
the OLPC dream:
The real one -- that your children can have a better life than you do. That they can leap over the boundaries that restrict you, by learning more than you know, even if the schools are underfunded and understaffed and technically backward, even if you have no money to spend on their education, and that after they learn they will show you, too. Is that not every parent's dream? That their child will succeed beyond what the parent ever did?
Update (29/11): The Groklaw analysis is a response to a Wall Street Journal article subtitled 'How a Computer for the Poor Got Stomped by Tech Giants' which suggests that the OLPC project is failing at the marketing level:
An order from Uruguay for 100,000 machines appears to be the only solid deal to date with a country, although Mr. Negroponte says he's on the verge of sealing an order from Peru for 250,000. The first mass-production run, which began this month in China, is for 300,000 laptops, tens of thousands of which are slated to go to U.S. consumers. Mr. Negroponte's goal of 150 million users by the end of 2008 looks unattainable.
In response, Groklaw suggests that OLPC should take a leaf out of Intel's book and market the OLPC with the aura of control, which will promote this illusion:
keep your children in a playpen you can control by pushing some buttons
I agree with the sentiment of the response from Stephan Wagner in the comments to Groklaw's blog:
To generate a pseudo-control will not work in our community, because everything is open, and so the fact it will not work will be.

Open Source depends on trust, which pays back in the long range. 'Selling' a feature while calling it foolish to insiders in the background would be a very bad experience to the hocused customers.
On the broader issue of whether the OLPC is failing, I did discuss this in an earlier blog:
The best article I found was 10 Reasons Why Negroponte Should Change OLPC Distribution by Alexandre Van de Sande. He effectively challenges the whole concept of only selling millions of units to governments:
  • Many third world governments are corrupt and populist
  • The real DO-ERS are local enthusiasts, NGO's, eccentric billionares and early adopters. Best to use them.
  • Selling in thousands, rather than millions, achieves critical mass and better logistics.
With respect to forces in the world pushing for progressive social change, I'd like to see more analysis of the role played by a few progressive philanthropists in the world today, for example, Negroponte (OLPC), Mark Shuttleworth (Ubuntu Linux, Kusasa), Brewster Kahle (Internet archive). Philanthropy's New Prototype by James Surowiecki about Negroponte's philanthropy is worth a read.

5 comments:

Emma Duke-Williams said...

I've not seen the advertising for the classmate before, but I agree with the point you're making.
I think that it's a great shame that many of those who have belittled the OLPC have totally failed to appreciate the educational model, which I think is its real strength.
The technology's good, but it's not its strength.

Mark Miller said...

Two things I saw emphasized were applications that performed different functions, and administrative control. It's like a miniature version of the IT infrastructure we have now. Having said that I think the XO laptop is a little different, not a lot different. It allows freedom to explore, without the administrative constraints. With the exception of Squeak, I think, the functions of the laptop that enable different things are in different applications, like a word processor, a web browser, etc.

I can imagine parents in some of the developing countries really appreciating the administrative features, blocking certain sites, mainly for moral or ideological reasons. To a certain extent I can appreciate it, because as I said in an earlier discussion one of my worries with the XO is access to extremists. For example one of the ways that jihadists are gaining recruits is through the internet. If you allow totally open access, you allow for the possibility that some kids will find this stuff.

I can kind of see the value in limiting the amount of time on the computer, but it does seem a bit excessive. If I were implementing this I'd have just a "kill switch", not a schedule. I see it possibly being needed because kids can get addicted to computers. It's happened in every generation of kids that grew up with computers, including my own. Back when I was a kid I used to read stories sometimes about parents being distressed about their son who had basically locked himself in their basement and wouldn't come out, not even to eat. I remember one where the parents' only solution was to turn off all the power in the house.

The thing is are parents even going to have the courage, much less the knowledge, of how to use these administrative tools appropriately? Even in the U.S. I hear stories all the time of kids using the internet unsupervised because the parents don't want to touch this stuff with a 10-foot pole.

One of the hopes that Negroponte has is since the XO is totally open to exploration the kids will take the opportunity to explore the code, and open the box and explore the innards. This is something I'm sure the Classmate doesn't give them.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to be able to buy one of the laptops for each of my kids. But I can't. Go figure.

Bill Kerr said...

Doug Holton points out that the Eee PC 701 laptop is outselling the OLPC by 14,000 a day compared with 3,000 a day ( little laptop with big ambitions )

However, you need to factor in the fact that the OLPC is only being offered for non third world sale in the USA and Canada - and also that currently you have to buy two to get one

sylvia martinez said...

Groklaw is missing the first law of marketing, which is to understand your product. And he's making a classic mistake to market to where the competition is.

That said, I'm not sure I agree with you that pitching to a small group in the hope that there will be some "tipping point" achieved is going to work. Hey, I'm happy I got on the list to get one, but I'm hardly a step in the right direction. In fact, me and others like me might even be a distraction to the bigger picture.