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Negroponte Unveils Second Generation OLPC


Just a few months after shipping the first laptops, the One Laptop Per Child project (OLPC) is getting ready for round two. Chairman Nicholas Negroponte just unveiled the second generation laptop, going by the name XO-2 or XOXO.

Xoxo, So here’s what it’ll look like. (Note the Matrix-like picture language? Ah, good times.)

Needless to say, from what Negroponte has shown it’s pretty amazing. (Am I biased obsessed? Well, in that case I think I can live with it.) The new generation is roughly half the size of the current version (or rather: the whole new machine seems to fit into the foldout screen of XO-1), and it features a dual touchscreen. Basically, it just consists of a dual touchscreen. So it’s a premium e-book, or a dual Pong screen, or half keyboard, half screen. Either way, it looks like the future is now. Think Minority Report meets International Aid.

And while that’s good news for developing countries, it’s probably good news for the industrialized world, too, namely for us gadget geeks: Just as the OLPC project pretty much created the low-price laptop segment (like the Asus EEE), XOXO will also push the prices for touch screen devices all the way down. I so want one! However, it’ll be another few years, aimed launch is 2010, for a planned cost of $75 per piece. (Again, it’s unlikely that they’ll hit that price, but even if they manage to produces these machines for, say, $100, who’s going to complain?)

Gizmodo has a picture gallery and a concise write-up, more coverage available directly from OLPC.

ATT & Cargo Cults


Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia Image by One Laptop Per Child (CC by)


As BoingBoing reports, a leaked memo indicates that AT&T will introduce a creepy and stupid policy: If a user is suspected of copyright infringement (by which means is unclear – Hadopi style maybe?) repeatedly, AT&T will block access to Youtube and other sites and instead re-direct that user to an “on-line education tutorial”, and only after completing said tutorial will allow their users again to access the web as they please.

All the enforcement issues and the details of this particular instance aside, the political implications of what’s been going on in the world of copyright enforcement over the last 10-15 years are so creepy and skewed that it’s hard to believe we’re still even talking about this. And that a company would still even consider the option to screw their customers without a legal warrant or equivalent, just like that. When did that become acceptable?

I’m guessing that in 10 years or so we’ll look back at this era and laugh about it like today we laugh about Cargo Cults.

Unless, that is, we won’t be laughing about it because this is still going on, but then it’d be a world I wouldn’t want to live in.

Catch up to the 21st century some time soon & find business models where you get paid voluntarily without suing or surveilling anyone?

More on Boingboing.

iPad, Wired App, ecosystem. Or not.


Igor and the iPad

I’m a big fan of Wired. I read it online all the time, I used to have a Wired US subscription (that didn’t work out that well both in terms of shipping times and price, at about 10 times US subscription prices with shipping). These days, I have a subscription to Wired UK that I’m very happy with. So I was really curious about the next steps for the digital version of Wired. The iPad app promised to be just that. So while my Twitter feed starts filling up with posts about the first batch of iPads arriving in Germany, I took the time to read up a bit.

And ended up writing a rant on the iPad’s product philosophy. Please note that I don’t own an iPad, I’ve only ever played around with one on a few occasions.

The Wired iPad ap is like a CD-ROM from the 1990’s

Interfacelab has a great rant analysis of the much-hyped Wired iPad app. The Wired app doesn’t get the best review here. I’d like to quote the whole thing, it’s that good. But I’ll try to stick to the most important parts:

I’m starting to believe that the physical magazine’s “interface” is vastly superior to it’s iPad cousin. However, what strikes me most about the Wired app is how amazingly similar it is to a multimedia CD-ROM from the 1990’s. This is not a compliment and actually turns out to be a fairly large problem… ( …) There are certain interactive elements to the articles, but – and I apologize to all of the people who put in a lot of back breaking work into this – they’re pretty lame. Tapping on a button-looking element switches out part of the page with another image. You can drag your finger across certain images to make them sort of animate like a flipbook (and in truth, that’s what it is – a series of PNG or JPEG images). There are videos you can tap on to view fullscreen. There are audio clips that you can play. The interactivity in the Wired application is very 1990’s.

It’s not interactive, it’s a slide show

This is very true – I’m told the whole magazine doesn’t only not feel all that interactive: it just isn’t. It’s just a slide show. Which explains the huge size of the Wired app. Just to do some quick & dirty math: If you own the smallest iPad with its 16GB of memory and pack it with 20 movies (say 500MB each) and 10 magazines (Wired: 500MB), it’s full. You couldn’t even fit any music on then. Just saying.

A side note: The iPad’s main line of defense usually is it’s supposedly inspiring and groundbreaking design. But look at it – is it really that amazing? As Cory Doctorow points out (TWIT #249), it’s really only a “moderately well-assembled piece of south-Chinese electronics.” It’s a classic effect of glossy, fullscreen video that we go “aaaah, ooooh”, but does it really live up to the expectations?

What Apple is building is not an ecosystem, but a zoo

What’s more, of course, is that the iPad is built to be a part of the iTunes ecosystem – if you want to use that term in this context. An ecosystem is a living, breathing thing that can sustain itself; it’s has by definition an element of chaos, of not being controlled. The iTunes system is the opposite. The more appropriate metaphor might thus be: a zoo. You can look, but you can’t touch. (Ok, you can point.) You certainly can’t really interact with the animals except for shooing them back and forth within their cages.

If you buy an iPad, you don’t really buy a device. You most importantly buy into a system of software, services and contracts. The iPad is built around iTunes, which most certainly is an only moderately well-assembled piece of software. You must know, buying content through iTunes, that you will never be able to leave iTunes/Apple and take the stuff you bought with you. You will either always have to depend on Apple, or you will need to leave behind whatever you bought – every song, every book, the Wired app – if you move on to the next new system. Apple won’t be around forever. But maybe you appreciate a fresh, clean plate every now and then.

Maybe you also like burning down your house with all your belongings in them whenever you move.

The points above apply, by the way, equally to consumers and developers.

Jeff Jarvis, never short of a good quote, summarizes it graphically as always (sorry, no penis quote here):

I see the iPad as a Bizarro Trojan Horse. Instead of importing soldiers into the kingdom to break down its walls, in this horse, we, the people, are stuffed inside and wheeled into the old walls; the gate is shut and we’re welcomed back into the kingdom of controlling media that we left almost a generation ago.

The question is: Can large corporations compete with amateurs?

So what’s at the core of all this this? Why do these “multimedia” (is that term still around?) apps feel so… stale? Maybe economics, pure and simple. As Danny O’Brien points out, technology often makes production of digital goods much cheaper – for amateurs. At the same time, production costs for professional products often skyrockets:

But can you re-gear a newspaper or a publishing house to produce the level of interactive complexity that a $5 app is going to demand, when it is competing with games and films in the same app niche? Honestly, it might be possible. We’re not in the age of CD-ROMs now. Our price-points are all over the shop, and a sealed environment like the iPad permits all kinds of unnatural pricing inversions. We’ll pay more for a ringtone than a full MP3. We pay $10 for a README file on our Amazon Kindle, and a dollar for a pocket application that plays farts. But if you want to play that game, you’re running against the clock. Other applications are going to make yours look ridiculously clumsy in a matter of months (honestly, in a year people will be amazed anyone paid $14 for a bunch of text, a rotating picture of a rock, and a quick Wolfram Alpha search). Plus the seals on that environment get corroded by open competition every day.

The announcement by One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) to be building a $75 Android-powered tablet for developing countries might just be a point in case. (Their first model wasn’t all that great and not very successful, but arguably has contributed strongly to the mainstream development of netbooks.)

So why does everybody (or rather: journalists) look so enviously at the iPad? Is it really the big hope, or are journalists (sorry for the generalization) really just too desperate to think clearly? In Cory Doctorow‘s words:

I think that the press has been all over the iPad because Apple puts on a good show, and because everyone in journalism-land is looking for a daddy figure who’ll promise them that their audience will go back to paying for their stuff. The reason people have stopped paying for a lot of “content” isn’t just that they can get it for free, though: it’s that they can get lots of competing stuff for free, too. The open platform has allowed for an explosion of new material, some of it rough-hewn, some of it slick as the pros, most of it targetted more narrowly than the old media ever managed.

Or as the Information Architects put it, referring to the iPad edition of Wired:

The future of journalism is definitely not a stack of banners spiced with videos, exported from a paper layout program. You need to try harder.

Don’t get me wrong. By now I’m all infected with the excitement about the form factor of a tablet. I never thought I’d say it, but I do see a niche in my life where the tablet fits in. But it has to be more open. If I use a device to store all my content, if it is my direct way of accessing culture in all its forms, I have to really own it. And I’m not even talking about taking apart (I think it’s important that’s possible, but I hardly dare doing that) or installing Android on an iPhone. But I like a world where that is possible. I mean you should be able to install what you like, and take your music along to the next device you get.

I just can’t have a company being able to pull the plug on me with a software update anytime they choose to do so.

Image: Igor, who doesn’t like iPads the least bit, in the tempting glow of an iPad, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from mbiddulph’s photostream

Valley Trip Summary: Half-time.


I’m about half-way into my trip to the Bay Area, i.e. Silicon Valley, so I figured it’s time for a first summary. First of all, I’ve been neglecting this blog, and to some degree even Twitter. This isn’t just because I’ve been spending my time doing and seeing a lot of stuff and a bunch of cool folks, but also due to a certain lack of infrastructure.

Sounds weird? Well… just when I was packing my bags for this trip, I got notice that my OLPC Laptop had (eventually) arrived. Excited to try it out, I decided to take the risk not to take along my real laptop, and instead to rely on the little green kids laptop. Turns out, that was a bit optimistic. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but it’s not exactly the perfect tool for today’s knowledge worker if you know what I mean. (No, not even when you work mostly web-based. Trust me, I tried.) The main problems I can see after just a few days are the tiny (and very soft) keyboard, browser performance and the pretty regular crashes when trying to open more than two browser windows. Again, this is not what this laptop was intended for, it’s just my experiences. On the plus side, the battery is great, it’s super light and the screen is simply amazing: You can read perfectly in direct sunlight.

What else, besides my personal geek issues? This part of the West Coast is absolutely gorgeous, even more so than I expected. What struck me even more, though, is just how well-connected and highly energetic the web and tech community in the valley is. Within just a few days, I’ve had the chance to meet a whole bunch of cool & interesting folks. Even during this short time, I feel like I’ve learned a fair bit about startup culture and how different it seems to the German secene. It’s almost a cliché, but practically every person I’ve met works in either tech/web, finance/VC or academia. The speed new connections are made here amazes me. On the other hand, once you just get outside and stroll through the streets of San Francisco, time seems to slow down and people seem very laid back. (Is it a sun thing, maybe, and the mild climate has a soothing effect?) I could totally see myself working here for a while.

Anyway, as soon as I have some more time (and a slightly bigger keyboard), I’ll write proper wrap-up. Maybe I’ll be able to post first thoughts on some of the brainstormings we’ve been doing already as well.

I’ll be in the Bay Area until Thursday; if you’re around and would like to meet up, drop me a note!

One Laptop Per Child Project Launches Social Media Campaign


One Laptop Per ChildAs I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative, which aims at giving kids in developing countries a rugged laptop so they get easier access to educational material and so they get a chance to bridge the digital gap on their own.

If you’d like to support the OLPC project, there’s a great way to do so: You buy two laptops and it’s Give One, Get One. One of the awesome green things is mailed to you, the other one goes straight to a soon-to-be-hacking kid. (The program is available to U.S. and Canadian citizens only, so far, so to order from somewhere else, you’ll have to do so through friends in the States. Which, admittedly, can be kind of a pain.)

This Give One, Get One program is, of course, a fundraiser, but first and foremost a means to raise awarenesss. The OLPC project is also accompanied by a very solid social media campaign. As Chris Brogan has pointed out, this is a great example for how social media can drive social responsibility campaigns.

The OLPC campaign includes updates through Twitter, both for transparency (Peru just ordered 260,000 laptops) and to point out other supporting projects, such as Luminaire, a fundraiser by artists for OLPC. You can support OLPC through the Facebook cause, or even give this greenest of all laptops directly through Facebook.

There’s a joint story telling campaign by UNICEF, OLPC and Google, Our Stories:

The Our Storiesâ„¢ project helps people share the stories of their lives, no matter where they live or how their stories unfold. We’re providing resources to create and share personal stories from all over the world, starting with children in developing countries who are using One Laptop per Child (OLPC) computers or those who are working with UNICEF radio producers to record and share interviews. Children are asked to record the stories of elders, family members, and friends.

Personally, I’d still like to see what happens if you hook up the OLPC Laptop with Twitter. My idea? It’d go boom, in a good way. But that’s just me.

(If you speak German, you might also be interested in Markus Beckedahl‘s take on how the web offers good opportunities particularly small political organizations. Having been active in the online campaigning field for a long time, he knows the ropes and shared his insights in this interview he gave for my client

How to build your own mesh network?


As you may know, I’ve been obsessing about the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC) for awhile, for both its aims and potential. Here’s another project that ties right in, a simple guide on how to build your own mesh network. (The OLPC laptops support meshing out of the box, but if there’s no network to connect to…)

Wireless Africa has a guide for building your own DIY Mesh Guide. It’s particularly aimed at rural areas, and it features real step-by-step explanations (including a planning sheet) which should be useful even for non-tech folks.

DIY Mesh Network (image courtesy of via Creative Commons) Image courtesy of Wireless Africa

Download the DIY Mesh Guide (PDF, 3.2MB). It’s released under Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA).