The Lost Tribe of OLPC, Continued...


This is the second part of "The Lost Tribe of OLPC".

So here we have a local, grassroots community. Active, organized, enthusiastic. Confused. Lost. Like a lot of us.

First confusion: OLPC Boston (and close associates, like Brightstar) appear to have all the power. All that power is in one single nerve pressure point which is very easy to control: the availability of XOs. If XOs were available in the market on reasonable terms, the Community might take off and be successful, which apparently doesn't seem to be OK for the Foundation. Currently too many are trying for 1CCs' preferment, pending on a nod for yea of fearing a shake for nay. Grumbling is optional, but rather discouraged, as that would make you look like a bad "team player". No XOs for you!

Groveling doesn't seem to help either...

Windows XP computer-lab

Second confusion: OLPC Boston (a.k.a. 1CC, OLPC Foundation, OLPC corporate) is not, repeat, not, the same thing as the international OLPC Community. It took me months to understand it (I am a bit slow). While Boston might rebuff, tar, dunk you in the Charles river, the OLPC Community (a lot of them in Boston, a lot of them working for OLPC also) might still love you, though some might be wary of being seen in public in your company.

Third confusion: The Community has not yet shown a "persona" of their own. Yes, there's Sugarlabs, but to too many (including myself) their role in building grassroots is not clear. In what ways can or should the Community thrive, away from 1CC? In any case, the community has for now not much to give except warm fuzzies, and, not organized, scarred and scared, seems to have even less of a clear game plan than 1CC itself.

Fourth and last for today: What is our goal? Is it an-education-project, or what? Do we believe in training teachers? Do we believe in curricular content? How does this get to the kids? Have we given any attention to what the public's *perception* of OLPC is versus our pride in the bestest ever piece of hardware?

What can we do?

The urgent: liberate the XOs.

If the XOs are so good as hardware, and we really, really want them to get to the kids, then let them be cloned! That formed the success of the Apple IIe, of the IBM PC. Maybe not for their companies in the short term, but it sparked the PC revolution, no less. This eventually will become a moot point, as other 4PC alternatives eventually do build a market, and the XO goes to the same box I keep my Sinclair ZX81 in. A deaf OLPC corporate becomes irrelevant either way, once the grasp in the throat of distribution is no longer the basis of their power to say what is and what is not. This is urgent, but might not be important, since in all likelihood it will sort itself out.

The important: build, build, build community.

Some community is built out of perceptions, of image. Nicholas Negroponte was quite successful at that, and I sincerely admire the man. He brought an idea up from ideals and failures to the point of being a contender for the Nobel prize.

Deep, meaningful community is built out of shared goals, respect and opportunities, of relationships. That has not gone too good. Yet. It takes a while. At least not to the point to be working in a scalable way.

For one thing, people like to be appreciated as valuable. People like to be told of the good and also of the bad of what they are asked to do. People like a level playing field where all are given chances to advance, with clear procedures.

Actually, this builds up from the very, very bottom of the question: This is an education project. The only valid, meaningful outcome of successful, quality education is successful, quality community.

Anything else is failure, at any scale.

If we cannot figure this out one way or another, we have no business in the make-believe that we can reach the millions and teach them something. No business at all if we have not learned ourselves.

Let's build community with teachers and users, with 1CC even, while we are in the tens of thousands of XOs, even if educator-driven development is seemingly not an OLPC-1CC priority, and let's learn, learn, learn. Until 1CC makes it a priority of listening to the users, this probably has to be kick-started by the Community.

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Freeing the XO is not only urgent but important too.

The whole OLPC effort will simply fail without it. It is disgusting to see how OLPC limits the supply of XOa to grassroots movements which don't do things as they think correct.

When will Mary Lou Jepsen come up with a commercial, ebook-reading-capable computer?

I'm affraid my XO will also end up in a box without much use. The keyboard now stuck again and no replacement offered by OLPC (not even for money). No correct suspend-resume (a suspended 703 still drains the battery like hell), fried SD cards, an mostly-unusable operating system (Sugar). (and I don't consider a hacked, hibernate-suspend-resume-less Ubuntu a solution)

Things look pretty bleak indeed for OLPC. I can't imagine who in their right mind will participate in a G1G1 again.

Building a better XO isn't particularly difficult (specially if you don't mind giving up x86 compatibility), though the current low cost, small laptops coming out might lead you to think so. The hard part would be having a similar (or better) display, and this is exactly what Mary Lou is working on.

control through scarcity
very important issues, I think, thanks Chrisoph

Six XO systems that our "green team" just left with the primary school in Kenya where we spent two weeks literally "on the ground" in our tent were re-flashed to Build 703 just before we left. I guess that (the battery drain) is why one system that we left running a video was (tempoarily) "dead" when we noticed (we were outdoors, in late afternoon, not far from the equator. I am typing in Nairobi before our flight back to U.S. Our six are "liberated" now, in the loving hands of four selected primary school teachers that we worked with in training and learning these past two weeks. We also plan to return in one year, as we have periodically throughout our (so far) twenty-year partnership.

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