OLPC Is All About Marketing

   
   
   
   
   

Today Atanu Dey proposes several alternatives schemes for India now that its dropped the OLPC $100 dollar laptop is his well written OLPC - Rest in Peace - Part 3 post.

Namely the very innovative "One Blackboard Per School" (OBPS), "One Teacher Per School" (OTPS), and "One Set of Basic Facilities Per School" (OSOBFPS) schemes that we can all agree are very worthy ideas for India and around the world.

Before deviling into the cost benefit of each, he took the following diversion:

Time for me to take a brief digression with tin-foil hat firmly atop my head. Why is it that you find billion dollar projects such as the OLPC but never hear of even million dollar proposals such as OBPS? The answer, I believe, lies in the nature and structure of the computer industry.

Broadly it is oligopolistic. The major players can be counted on the digits of your hands. Heard of Intel, AMD, Microsoft, HP, Dell, etc? Of course you have. They have deep pockets and concentrated interests in pushing their wares on whichever market they can serve. Can you name any blackboard and chalk manufacturers? Nope. They are many, small, and barely eek out a living.

So there are no OBPS schemes hitting the headlines screaming “The Blackboard Divide” unlike the OLPC and their wonderfully alliterative “Digital Divide” which strikes terror in the hearts of the do-gooders who are convinced that empowering children means giving them an expensive gizmo that neither they nor the economy can afford.

Atanu has a point, multi-billion dollar multinational technology companies are desperately searching for new million-unit opportunities as their sales flatten in the developed world. They need the growth to satisfy Wall Street and their stock-optioned staff.

But I don't think market need is why you hear of the OLPC more than say OBPS. It's all about media friendliness. Atanu's ideas have all the imagination capture capacity of a moldy textbook. Raising money for blackboards, even a fancy next generation one? Not photogenic. A teacher? Too long to train, too expensive to pay, and not scaleable. Chalk, pencils, desks? Yawn.

Now a cute little green thing, one with a hand crank and smiling kids on the front? That's media friendly. Distributing them to children worldwide, with images of kids' faces lighting up, both physically and with the possibilities of technology? Priceless.

Nicholas Negroponte co-founded the MIT Media Lab. Note the word "media". He knows his marketing and that's why we have OLPC, not OBPS, OTPS, or even OSOBFPS. And as much as I worry that the OLPC might be a giant boondoggle, I give Nicholas Negroponte the utmost credit for moving the Digital Divide debate from its has-been post-dot.bomb discreditation to the front and center of the international development discussion.

Without that foolishly idealistic initial hand crank marketing gimmick, Kofi Annan would not have made worldwide news with technology for the developing world, Intel would not have an Emerging Markets Division, and Microsoft would not have developed FlexGo.

Let's all just hope that Negroponte knows more than marketing.

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5 Comments

There are 2 forms of income in this world.

Wage: The value traded to workers for labor performed.

Profit: The value traded to owners (beyond real costs) for access to the Means of Production. Profit increases as access decreases.

Owners can separate these by offering the Means of Production (the Land, Water, Tools, etc.) available to any worker for Free as in Freedom with the rent 'floor' at no more than real costs.

The GPL already does this with information. We could apply this to physical production with a legal document that disallows owners from every collecting royalties (profit). If the consumers are the investors it makes perfect sense.

It reminds me of the http://www.nextbillion.net mentality - that it's not enough to pay-off the costs of the machines, and pay workers a good wage, but that 'profit' must be always be extracted to help anyone out.

WOW, thank you for another view.

Uh, Ownut, I suggest you get yourself back to school and finish Econ 101. Profit is vital, without it the whole economy would go to shit. A factory costs a whole crapload of money to build and run and once it is built there stands a good chance that the venture will fail and lose the investor a lot of money. Profit is the only reason anyone bothers risking a huge chunk of capital on a venture, it's the reward for the willingness to take risk and the intelligence to manage it properly. Take away that motive and you've got a Soviet economy - no-one takes risks, technology stagnates, shortages, overproduction and mismanagement are crippling and so on. Capitalism is the best way anyone's come up with thus far of ensuring that the people who know what to do with capital have control over it, that people who have no capital but brains can get access to it and that commercial risk is borne by the individual and not society. The trouble with the labour theory of value is that labour has no fixed, implicit value - the labour of a doctor is worth more than a roadsweeper because of scarcity. Like anything else, labour is made more valuable through investment - no-one would suggest that a neurosurgeon is an evil capitalist for spending ten years training but you communists would regard someone who worked his ass off for ten years to buy a few lathes to set up an engineering firm as a class enemy, as witholding the means of production from the working man. Every man has the right to keep his share of the product of his labour, even if he decides to spend the product of his labour on tools or tractors.

Making software is a largely riskless activity - the only investment required is your own labour. The end product can be infinitely reproduced at negligible cost. Making any other product requires an investment of capital, in the case of computer hardware a whole shitload of capital that becomes worthless after three years. Each copy of your invention requires raw materials and labour. Get it wrong and you piss a fortune up the wall - it is only right that people who take that risk should be rewarded and that people should only be allowed to take that risk with their own money or money people have chosen to invest. Applying open source principles to manufacturing is utterly laughable unless you've figured out some way of offering fuel, food and shelter via bittorrent.

This site is cool but more information on marketing need to be provided.

"some way of offering fuel, food and shelter via bittorrent."

And let's not forget illustrated primers for young ladies, while we're at it. ;-)

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