Just Who Mis-Spoke What on OLPC Sales to the BBC News?

   
   
   
   
   

In my frantic preparation before a business trip, I happened to save the BBC News story entitled "Public can purchase $100 laptop" that we based our "OLPC: XO To Go Retail In 2008!!" article on. It's a good thing I did too. Here is the original text:


Did Michail Bletsas mis-speak?
The backers of the One Laptop Per Child project plan to release the machine on general sale next year. But customers will have to buy two laptops at once - with the second going to the developing world.

Five million of the laptops will be delivered to developing nations this summer, in one of the most ambitious educational exercises ever undertaken. Michalis Bletsas, chief connectivity officer for the project, said they were working with eBay to sell the machine.

"If we started selling the laptop now, we would do very good business," Mr Bletsas, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show, told BBC News. "But our focus right now is on the launch in the developing world."

And yet, if you look at the article now, you'll note the substance of the article has changed. It now reads very differently:
The backers of the One Laptop Per Child project are looking at the possibility of selling the machine to the public. One idea would be for customers to have to buy two laptops at once - with the second going to the developing world.

Five million of the laptops will be delivered to developing nations this summer, in one of the most ambitious educational exercises ever undertaken. Michalis Bletsas, chief connectivity officer for the project, said eBay could be a partner to sell the laptop.
"If we started selling the laptop now, we would do very good business," Mr Bletsas, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show, told BBC News. "But our focus right now is on the launch in the developing world."

Nicholas Negroponte, chairman and founder of the OLPC group, emphasised that the launch to the poorest parts of the world was the organisation's main task. Of plans to sell the machine, he said: "Many commercial schemes have been considered and proposed that may surface in 2008 or beyond, one of which is 'buy 2 and get 1'."

Now why would a news organization as esteemed and reputable as the BBC News change its story? A half-hearted rationale is presented by Darren Waters in "Taken in good faith":

Did Nicholas Negroponte call?
So why the change?

Several hours after it was published I received an e-mail from a PR executive at OLPC who told me that there was definitely no plan to sell the laptop.

One frantic call later and it was clear that the "plan" to sell the laptop was no more than a desire, perhaps even just a consideration. I was told that the executive had mis-spoke.

Mis-spoke? How had Michail Bletsas mis-spoke? He is the Chief Connectivity officer for OLPC. He should know better than most what is in the works for OLPC in 2008. But apparently he doesn't know as much as Nicholas Negroponte. In an update to the BBC article, Ars Technica reports:
Nevertheless, OLPC told Ars Technica in a statement that the company has no plans for a consumer version of the laptop. "Contrary to recent reports, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is not planning a consumer version of its current XO laptop, designed for the poorest and most remote children in the world," said Nicholas Negroponte, OLPC chairman. He added, "XO will be made available to governments in very large quantities to be given to all children free, as part of the education system."
So might it have been Nicholas Negroponte who made that "frantic call" to the BBC News to quickly try and pull back Darren Waters' recording of Michalis Bletsas' OLPC eBay sales offer? And if so, why?


We all want one or two - dozen

Hmm.. I will hazard a guess. I say Nicholas Negroponte doesn't want the Children's Machine XO to be domestically available for two simple reasons:

  1. It's an education project, not a laptop project: Negroponte believes that the OLPC XO will only be a paradigm shift in education if he has critical mass, both in numbers of computers and in influence over the educational process.

    Remember, he is pushing a Constructionist learning methodology, with the laptops as a means to achieve that, not trying to sell XO's. A million OLPC XO's scattered across America will not have the same overwhelming effect as a million OLPC XO's in one hyper-connected community.

  2. Domestic laptop manufactures: Dell, Apple, even Microsoft are all scared of a significant drop in computer price points. Laptops for $100, even though we're talking the limited CPU Children's Machine XO, would still create massive downward price pressure on all computers in the most lucrative markets. A profit drop that the computer hardware manufactures would fight to the death (of themselves or OLPC) to prevent.
Taken together, would you be surprised if the very first frantic phone call was from Michael Dell to Nicholas Negroponte? I know if I were either, I'd be very, very cautious about teasing American consumers about buying a "$100 laptop".

Not that eBay OLPC sales aren't inevitable anyway, but no need to rush it.

Related Entries

12 Comments

Why would the BBC change or distort a story ?

http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2006/08/corruption-of-media.html

Wayan, thanks for the detailed clarification and for keeping up with all this. The excitement around OLPC generates a lot of press, it must be difficult for you to track all of it. I appreciate your comment over at NextBillion directing our readers to more reliable info. Keep up the good work.

Well,
even though there has been some negative opinions about the OLPC News site, I also appreciate the cooling-down stories you publish once in a while. There will be chill out behing the OLPC door.

I'm still having trouble understanding why OLPC doesn't want to go forward with selling this laptop to developed countries, especially if it's done with a buy 2 (or 3) get one method. Wouldn't that just make it easier for the governments of developing nations to get laptops into the hands of their students? It all just doesn't make sense to me.

Quin wrote:

" I'm still having trouble understanding why OLPC doesn't want to go forward with selling this laptop to developed countries, especially if it's done with a buy 2 (or 3) get one method.

Wouldn't that just make it easier for the governments of developing nations to get laptops into the hands of their students? It all just doesn't make sense to me."

It's pretty obvious, really: who the hell is going to pay $200 or $300 for this TOY?

You can't INSTALL any applications on this, for God's sake. It's NOT a real laptop.

Actually, Troy, you can install applications on the OLPC. It is a "real" laptop, not a toy. Many people are building new applications for the OLPC XO right now. Here are a few OLPC designed applications: http://www.olpcnews.com/software/applications/
And here are 3rd Party apps:
http://www.olpcnews.com/software/third_party/

Wayan

I'm not talking about "toy" software. I'm talking about installing what REGULAR FOLKS (the ones expected to buy this "bargain machine") will expect to install on it: office (not neccesarily MS) software, flash, some mainstream media player, etc. The stuff they normally use.

Regular folks will expect that they can store files (at least a few gigs worth) on this "computer".

When they discover that "regular software" (as in "software of their choice") can't be used with this machine, a full refund will be quickly requested.

That's what I meant.

Troy,

The computer is not meant for "regular folks". It is targeted specifically for children in the developing world to use as an educational tool. Think a very comprehensive e-book + experimental learning platform, not a office automation tool.

Read more about the goals and target audience here: http://wiki.laptop.org

Wayan,

I know about the proposed target audience. I know it is targeted at children. However, the topic we are discussing IN THIS POST is the possibility of a "consumer version", isn't it?

To that extent, I reaffirm my point: there won't be a "consumer version" because consumers would not accept this "laptop" for the reasons I mention in my previous posts...

Am I wrong?

Wayan,

A "retail version" would be targeted at "regular folks", wouldn't it? That is the point of this thread, isn't it?

Troy,

If there is a retail version, it will be aimed at developed world children to learn learning. Not you or me to load Windows on it. You are confusing the idea of a cheap laptop with the OLPC, which is a way for children to learn and explore.

Sorry to be so persistent, Wayan, but I don't see your point, because the entire article (your original post) is full of apparent contradictions, much like everything Negroponte. I'll cite a few:

>>>
The backers of the One Laptop Per Child project plan to release the machine on general sale next year. But customers will have to buy two laptops at once - with the second going to the developing world.
>>>

No mention of a different version there.

>>>>
And yet, if you look at the article now, you'll note the substance of the article has changed. It now reads very differently:
The backers of the One Laptop Per Child project are looking at the possibility of selling the machine to the public. One idea would be for customers to have to buy two laptops at once - with the second going to the developing world.
>>>>

Two paragraphs later, it is still the SAME laptop (the one for the children)...

>>>>>
Hmm.. I will hazard a guess. I say Nicholas Negroponte doesn't want the Children's Machine XO to be domestically available for two simple reasons:>>>

That's you, Wayan, implying it is THE SAME laptop...

>>>>
Remember, he is pushing a Constructionist learning methodology, with the laptops as a means to achieve that, not trying to sell XO's. A million OLPC XO's scattered across America will not have the same overwhelming effect as a million OLPC XO's in one hyper-connected community.
>>>>

That's YOU, again, Wayan, this time confirming IT IS THE SAME machine

>>>>>
...Laptops for $100, even though we're talking the limited CPU Children's Machine XO, would still create massive downward price pressure on all computers in the most lucrative markets. A profit drop that the computer hardware manufactures would fight to the death (of themselves or OLPC) to prevent.
>>>>

That's YOU, Wayan, still stating it is the SAME machine.

Finally, even if we forget all the evidence above, common sense dictates that the only way such idea (of seeling the machine) would make financial sense is by selling the SAME machine, one for the price of two. In other words, the XO machine would be sold to regular folks for twice the price countries would pay for it. IF (and this is a very important if) Negroponte were to sell a REGULAR laptop for, say, 200 bucks, he would soon lose a lot of money, wouldn't he?

Please, correct me if I'm wrong here, but I don't see it...

XO Tablets for Sale

Buy Your XO Tablet on Amazon.com
OLPC is selling the new XO Tablets on Amazon.com for just $149. Buy yours today!

xo-tablet-amazon.jpg

Discussions

Recent Comments

Community Forum

Close