Both Seth Godin and Bruce Nussbaum have expressed their opinions over the latest move by the One Laptop Per Child group to sell one laptop while giving one away for free in the developing world.
Nussbaum think it’s time to call it a failure. Expressing design flaws such as “top down” design and lack of research:
“Cell phones are far more popular as the means to connect to the net in much of the Third World and cell-phone type devices rather than cute little laptops might have made much more sense. Tons of research show this to be true.”
Nussbaum does have a point, spoken word, may be better ways to communicate some information in parts of the “developing world”. At the same time the laptops provide the capability of more comprehensive (larger with clearer information) video and animations which are also recognized as powerful communication tools in areas where literacy may be low.
Seth Godin takes a longer-range approach towards evaluating the project:
“The marketing: Everything, even laptops for kids, works its way through the innovation diffusion curve. That means that most countries, most organizations and most communities aren’t going to adopt this tool for a few years. It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect… these things take time. Smart marketing embraces the curve and doesn’t insist that it must change for this project, right now.”
I lean towards Godin’s evaluation. Some types of change take more time than others. The OLPC group is adapting to the current dynamics of the philanthropic marketplace. And I’m glad that they’re being innovative in their approach.
We also have to remember that the goal should not be to sell lots of laptops, (or phones) but rather the goal is to make a positive change in a community. This will require some contextual user research to determine the needs and requirements (as Nussbaum hinted). This will also require looking at the challenges from a systems-wide perspective. At all times the goals and feedback from the individuals in the target communities should be the guiding light in front of these projects.
Eventually we may find ourselves with solution systems aligned to make a difference. A phone is not the solution to all challenges. Neither is a laptop. But they both have potential to being valuable elements for positive change. This change will depend (heavily) on the contextual needs of the populations.
Seth’s Blog: This changes everything >>
Bruce Nussbaum on BusinessWeek Online.
It’s Time To Call One Laptop Per Child A Failure,>>
TED Video: Nicholas Negroponte: The Vision Behind One Laptop Per Child >>
ONLPCNews: Americans Want to Help One Laptop Per Child >>