OLPC Should Consider Harnessing Starbucks Envy

caffeinated coding
X0 computing with coffee

The folks running the OLPC project, to the joy of many, have not only retreated on their initial plans to make none of the XO laptops available to paying customers in First World countries, but have extended the window in which anyone who can finagle a Canadian or U.S. mailing address can finally order one.

If some back-of-the-envelope calculations are right, G1G1 machines in aggregate already constitute the 2d highest "order" placed yet from OLPC, and rising. (The customers are called "donors," it's true, and it's a tribute to OLPC that many of us think the XO seems to be a bargain as a product at more than twice its manufacturing cost.)

In what seems to this armchair quarterback a titanic marketing blunder, though, even the revised order period for the Give One Get One (G1G1) program seems certain to exclude a huge number of enthusiastic would-be buyers.

I'm talking Starbucks Envy!

Those of us with a "Day One" XO-1 expected sometime before Christmas are unlikely to keep it under wraps: I know I expect to use mine at Borders bookstores and at Starbucks, at the very least.

I'm not even a big fan of Starbucks, but I know they dispense caffeine and host T-Mobile hotspots, and the year of T-Mobile hotspot access that comes with the machines is a major selling point. Not that they're absolutely everywhere yet, but no-charge WiFi access points are ever more common, too, from Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market to highway rest stops in Texas, not to mention well-equipped libraries all over the country.

The XO is light and sturdy, is suitable for reading in brighter light than any laptop I've ever owned, is distinctive in color and shape, and has a generous battery life and advanced WiFi reception: in short, it's the perfect public computer, and it's hard to mistake for anything else.

Some significant portion of the coffee-drinking public will want one, even if they don't yet. Face-to-face contact really is critical. (The public has been primed to look for OLPC laptops, too, with a surprising amount of mainstream media coverage fixated on the hardware as well as the vision for a connected world of kid-centric, computer-aided education.)

That means that I fully expect my XO (and all of the others out there in the wild) to draw interest and questions. Anyone with an XO at mid-December who uses it outside his house I think should brace for a string of questions, from mundane ("What is that thing, anyhow?") to philosophical ("Is that really a worthwhile project for places where poverty is severe and chronic?") to utterly practical ("Where can I get one of those?").

caffeinated coding

Expanding the G1G1 Message

It's this last one where the G1G1 program is missing a gigantic opportunity by cutting off sales just when most orders are probably still in transit, but a slew of first-day enthusiasts will be finally able to show off the goods to anyone interested.

Early, optimistic adopters are well and good, but if OLPC could see fit to open that order window a few more weeks at least, the G1G1 program might just see a rush of orders.

From people who see their neighbor's XO, or notice that the guy with the funny green laptop sure had good WiFi reception in the airport lounge, or wish they could read books on a daylight readable screen without being tied to a single-purpose e-book reader.

That's what I mean by Starbucks Envy -- seeing the XO in action is going to trigger some well-justified desires to have an XO, both for adults and for their kids. I plan to have a few OLPC information sheets with me to hand out to anyone who seems intrigued; the scope of OLPC, and the innovations of the hardware in the XO, defy 10-second explanations.

I've made these information sheets, XO Flier Jpeg and OLPC Flier PDF. Then Ian Issitt made this one and Fricka made a colorful G1G1 flyer.

Where is yours?

This story was submitted by Tim Lord, a law student at Temple University in Philadelphia. You too can write for OLPC News today!

Related Entries


I'm expecting my OLPC to be a better chick magnet at starbucks than my MBP. Is it time to create a secret handshake, say, "let's mesh" and extend a hand with all the fingers splayed out? ;)

I'm a first-day donor whose XO hasn't arrived yet, but I have had the same thoughts, and you can be sure I'm excited about showing mine off! Great work with the fliers too!

As much as we all want to get our grubby little hands on an XO, and as much as we want to show them off, please remember that this is an education project directed towards developing nations. I'm guessing that they don't want to be diverting too many laptops away from this purpose, nor diverting resources for things such as technical support or software development, in order to create some sort of chique geek status symbol.

I've been amazed by how many folks have come up to talk with me about my Asus Eee while working at Starbucks, and I'm sure OLPC users will have an even greater reaction, with its bright color and distinctive "ears."

Would love to see the XO Flier jpeg and OLPC Flier pdf, but the links don't work.

Hi, thanks for posting my flier in your article! (the one in the thumbnail shot) You spotted it quick as I just uploaded it to flickr around 2am my time :)

I'll be uploading the PDF versions of both my color and black and white fliers to my own host but I want to make those available as Public Domain (the flickr versions are only Creative Commons licensed). Anyone know how I can designate the PDFs as Public Domain? Do I just need to create a webpage containing links to them saying so or do I need to put something on the fliers themselves?

Flier locations fixed - thanks for the catch. And Fricka, if you put the fliers up, people will use them. No need to get all technical on the rights.

Do let us know here, so we can download the big versions.

The PDFs are up here:

I asked about PD because a flickr group for OLPC mentioned that items included must be designated for the Public Domain or they could not be included in "content packages". I want the fliers to be as useful as possible but once given, a Creative Commons license can not be revoked.

You're right that it doesn't matter for most users though.

~ Fricka

Perhaps olpc could get Starbucks to put it on the menu. "I'd like a double latte and one of those little green computers"

I think that jordan is right. "As much as we all want to get our grubby little hands on an XO, and as much as we want to show them off, please remember that this is an education project directed towards developing nations." It is about the kids, and furthering education. Sure, some people are going to use the XO's for themselves, but when they are in a coffee shop using the XO, it may perk the interest of someone who doesn't know about OLPC. That is why we produced the pamphlets. Spreading the word about OLPC. Getting there philosophy of education out there. They will initially be drawn to the XO, and then through further research find out what OLPC is really about. And if they don't care and all they want is "some sort of chique geek status symbol", well, they still have to give their money to the organization, and one computer will still go to a child in need.
Also everyone please feel free to make suggestions about what you would like to see in a pamphlet, and we would be more than happy to create more. We have been working on different designs and content to appeal to the broadest audience.

I can create more poster/fliers as well. I didn't make a humanitarian focused one as it seems there was already enough material on that topic but if desired I can add to it.

Also it should be noted that the official Give One Get One poster/flyer is located here:

Wow, Jordan and Ian--I guess I should rethink my strategy. I'm still going to bring my XO to the coffee house with me, but I'll put a shroud around it so no one will be able to see that it's an XO.

The last thing we'd want is for people to think buying one and giving one was cool.

Doing good things clearly should remain in the peripheral and should not be made to seem "cool" or "chic." We wouldn't want that because, it might distract resources from the main point of OLPC which would really take off if only we had some way of advertising it!

/ sarcasm

Come on, guys--what you're saying makes no sense. OLPC may be, at its core, an educational program, but this limited thinking that it should ONLY be for educating 3rd World kids is depressing. The XO represents a whole new way of doing business!

Here's how I see it:

1) I go to Starbucks with my XO.
2) People see the XO, ask about it, I hand them one of Fricka's fliers and explain that when you buy one you give one.
3) They think "$400 is cheap for a laptop and I don't need something that will cut digital video on and I like that it helps kids! I'm getting one!"
4) OLPC tells Quanta to make two--one for a 3rd World kid and another for a 1st World adult.

I don't see how there's a problem with that scenario. Within that process both the 1st World person who wants the XO and a 3rd World kid benefit. On top of that, the 1st World adult will go out to their Starbucks with their XO, thus influencing more people to go do the G1G1. Assuming NickNeg is smart enough to extend the program, aside from shipping and other issues exclusive to 3rd World "customers" of the XO, this program could potentially *pay for itself*.

I do *not* understand all the naysayers who comment on this site.

Then you should think about the effect this kind of success would have on other people not interested in being the next Micro$oft. They'll see that something like this can be done--that a *non-profit* can put people first and succeed at not just making a cool product but also in helping those kids!

I must be missing something in your guys' arguments. I'm sorry if I am. I'm very passionate about this whole thing and have been following it since it began. I think Negroponte isn't just reinventing the laptop, but the way to innovate. I see so much potential here.


What's an MBP? :) My chick magnet obviously has been damaged; perhaps my MBP is defective ...


No, Thepete, I think you missed what I was trying to say. You stated it perfectly, the point of the pamphlet is to get the word out and sell more XO's. I don't see how that was confused. I'm not nay-saying OLPC in the slightest. The reason I agreed with jordan, (on his first sentence), was because, I too follow most of the news articles on this site and others about OLPC and some of the trends that I'm seeing are, as you put it, the "1st World adults" are becoming more fascinated with the hardware alone that I feel that they are loosing site of the core issue. And that being, creating more educational content for children, continuing to create cheep perishables, and getting more people aware of OLPC.
Now I know that there are some posts about these issues. But more often or not, it seems to me, that most of the discussion is on whether Windows will run on it. And honestly I don’t care what it runs as long as it is the best software with the best educational programs for children. Which personally, I don’t think Window has.
And, yes, the XO is really cool, and a marvel of engineering, and it should be talked about, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that where are the articles about the innovations in the software? Where are the posts on new Activities?
So by saying, “this limited thinking that it should ONLY be for educating 3rd World kids is depressing.” Educating third world kids is not depressing! I realize that the potential for the XO is endless. But I just want people to not get too wrapped up in how neat their brand new XOs are going to be, and try to think about what’s next. What can I do next to help? I have contributed money, and gave a laptop to a child in another nation, now what else can I do? I know not everyone is a programmer, but you could still offer suggestions that a programmer could run with.
So I apologize if you thought I was nay-saying. That is the exact opposite of what I’m trying to get across.

For Tim's original point, there's probably a lot of people who are halfway thinking of getting one but wanted to see if Mr. Negroponte could actually deliver (or they were wanting for Santa to deliver some cash). Now that the users are getting them and having a chance to really test them out, demand should increase, which subsidizes the program.

Note: I'm talking about selfish people like myself who don't buy the whole education thing but are willing to subsidize it to get their hands on the hardware.

Suggestion a programmer could run with? Aquasugar so older children can use the machine.

BTW, I used to think Mr. Negroponte was the most arrogant man in the world but recently I read something by Mr. Dvorak from PC Mag. I stand corrected.


You're right about Dvorak, and about my main point :)

Seeing is believing -- and seeing is sometimes also convincing. I think (and I was just talking with Ian online on the same topic) that how you (I) view the larger issues of OLPC is basically orthogonal to your (my) opinion of this small issue (whether they could better leverage G1G1 as a source of donations by extending it well past the point that people have them on hand to show off).

The didactic focus is cool, but I am a mostly and so far a sucker for the hardware; I think the vision of laptops as important for (but certainly not the whole of) education has now been well-rooted, thanks to OLPC. I don't mean that any particular battle has been won, but that in a way, OLPC has now succeeded in sending that meme into all kinds of corners. So if Nick ran away with all the OLPC money to a non-extradition treaty, the idea is already out there ;)



Suh-weet. I didn't even think of this kind of viral marketing happening before. Though as a late donor I only have a faint hope to provide free advertising for OLPC. They already caved and expanded the timeframe once; they can do it again, right? Right?

And I'm guessing MBP = MacBook Pro?

ThePete is right in that the OLPC project should not focus THAT much on education AND third world children. First of all, they should make the XO available for 1st world children too (and without the $200 G1G1 premium). Secondly, they should make the XO available for everyone who is interested in buying it and using it.

Artificial limitations like the ones OLPC is operating within are the most likely reasons for failure anywhere, not only in philantropic efforts. I hope they succeed with their original goals but it would definitely help if they were a litle bit more flexible. Every XO sale would make more and more certain that the education goals will succeed later on.

Tim, Ian, Fricka, et all,

I've started a Discussion Board on the OLPC News Forum for y'all to post your fliers for sharing. The form will take images too, so you can show off your designs in your post: http://olpcnews.com/forum/index.php?board=7.0

I was looking for Dvorak's idiotic comment when I stumbled across this:

(Bill Thompson)
Dvorak is so wrong that it pains me.

He misrepresents both the laptop’s capabilities and the plans for how it will be used. He ignores the educational uses and its sophisticated mesh network and acts as if the sole purpose is to get online, asking what benefit the ’spam-ridden Information Super Ad-way laced with Nigerian scams, hoaxes, porn, blogs, wikis, spam, urban folklore, misinformation’ has to offer.

And he demeans the people who will receive the computers, asking his readers if they will feel ‘better about the world’s problems, knowing that some poor tribesman’s child has a laptop’, apparently contrasting a ‘tribesman’ with a real person like himself, safe in his Western affluence.
Dvorak seems to have fallen for the Intel and Microsoft line that something they aren’t involved with could not possibly be all that good. The XO-1 is powerful, effective and designed to be used by those with little experience of new technology, and even those who are less than fully literate.

Yes, there will be problems. The computers need to be properly integrated into the educational curriculum; power supplies and stable network connections have to be provided; some will be stolen, some will break, some will not get to the people who need them. But that is not a reason to stop.

A century ago campaigners for a working wage were adamant that just having enough to live on was not enough, that there should be space for culture and enjoyment in life, and in 1912 strikers at a textile factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts are said to have rallied around the slogan ‘We want bread, but we want roses, too!’

Well, we need to give the poor of today’s world rice, and housing, and water, and healthcare, but they need the laptops and all that they symbolise too. Those who argue otherwise, like John Dvorak, would condemn the poor countries to another century of want and dependency by depriving them of access to the technology that has already transformed life for the rich and privileged.

Perhaps he’s just afraid that a Nigerian schoolchild, empowered by the technology entrusted to them, will take him to task for his patronising attitude, or perhaps even turn out to be a better journalist.

It wouldn’t be hard.