One Laptop per Child Prototypes

May 31, 2006

Nicholas Negroponte unveiled a working prototype of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) PC this week, and Dan Farber posted a great update on the project. The OLPC has also been called the $100 PC; however, this is not currently accurate, since the PC will cost $130 – $140 at launch and is not expected to hit the $100 mark until 2008. They plan to launch these Red Hat Fedora Linux-based systems in April of 2007.

These systems are not intended for consumer purchases, but they will be made available working with local governments. Nigeria, Brazil, Thailand, Argentina, China, India, Egypt. Russia, Mexico and Indonesia have all shown interest in these laptops according to Farber.

I admire the goal of getting computers in the hands of every child, and I like Negroponte’s approach of designing the systems with the specific needs of emerging nations in mind. Features like the hand crank for power, screens with good visibility in full sunlight, and rugged form factors to handle rough conditions match the unique needs of these users. I am still a bit skeptical, so I will be curious to see how well these work when they start getting them in the hands of the users. Will they use them? Will these computers create security problems (theft / bodily harm) for the children who receive one? Will these unique features really meet their needs?

I am anxiously waiting to see the results of this project.


Mozilla’s Millions of Dollars

May 29, 2006


Mitchell Baker, Chief Lizard Wrangler at Mozilla, was recently interviewed by the Telegraph, and she talked about how Mozilla is dealing with their millions of dollars in revenue. Mozilla is not trying to hide the fact that they are profitable; although, the exact figure is still unknown. Mozilla is reported to have revenue in the tens of millions of dollars, but slightly less than the $72 million rumor from March. Much of this revenue comes from their search partner, Google, who pays about 80% of the ad revenue generated from user searches back to Mozilla.

The fact that Mozilla is making money really irritates some people within the open source community who see Mozilla as a sell out who might become more focused on bringing in buckets of money instead of focusing on open source. This type of thinking is really unfortunate. Mozilla has done a fantastic job with Firefox, and we should give them the benefit of the doubt that the money earned will be well spent. In the Telegraph interview, Baker said that the money would be spent on product improvements, building their infrastructure, strengthening Mozilla’s ties with developers, and a rainy day fund. The reality is that Mozilla is still trying to figure out exactly how this money should be spent. This is also a good sign. An organization should take some time to plan how to best use their resources. A less mature and less responsible organization might have spent the money as it came in with little thought put into how the money can best benefit the organization.

Firefox has been growing at an incredible rate and is becoming a worthy competitor to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Keeping up with a growth curve of this magnitude will be difficult for Mozilla, and having some money to support it may help.


Serendipity

May 27, 2006

I just read an interesting BBC piece by Bill Thompson, “Serendipity casts a very wide net“. Bill talks about how some people, like William McKeen, believe that our heavy use of the internet limits our ability to find information serendipitously. According to McKeen, we use highly efficient search engines to find exactly what we are looking for, which makes it unlikely that we will run across new and unexpected nuggets of information.

Bill Thompson disagrees with McKeen’s assessment as do I. The Internet makes it more likely, not less likely, that I will serendipitously run across unexpected information. I have a large number of RSS feeds that I look through every day, and I frequently read an article or a blog with an interesting title containing information I would never have searched for. It is also common for me to take a serendipitous trip down a chain of links to other interesting information starting from one of the blog entries found in my RSS feeds.

Internet communities, including open source communities, have been built on serendipity. With open source software, the mailing lists are used to share ideas and get feedback from other developers hoping that someone will add their input to improve the software in an unexpected way. Online communities, like Digg, have made an art form out of serendipity. Digg allows anyone to submit a technology news story, and people vote on the stories to push the most interesting stories to the home page. Those of us reading Digg will find a wide variety of stories with information that we would never have deliberately looked for.

Interestingly enough, Bill Thompson found McKeen’s article through a serendipitous journey from an RSS feed to a blog post to McKeen’s article in the St. Petersburg Times, a Tampa Bay newspaper that he never would have read without the Internet. Likewise, I do not regularly read Bill’s BBC column despite regularly listening to his contributions on the BBC Digital Planet Podcast; however, while reading Techmeme, I ran across Bill’s article and links to related stories, which I followed to McKeen’s original story. Sounds like serendipity to me.

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Crowdsourcing, Open Source, and Web 2.0

May 25, 2006

In The Rise of Crowdsourcing, Jeff Howe looks at outsourcing in comparison to web 2.0 and other collaborative online communities:

“Remember outsourcing? Sending jobs to India and China is so 2003. The new pool of cheap labor: everyday people using their spare cycles to create content, solve problems, even do corporate R & D.” (Wired)

People are increasingly looking to online communities to accomplish tasks more efficiently, more quickly, with higher quality and lower in cost than more traditional solutions. Howe has a number of examples of this phenomenon. First, the high priced stock photography market is being cannibalized by companies like iStockphoto that collect images shot by amateur contributors that can be sold at a much lower price. Second, media channels like VH1 and Bravo are looking to the web for funny and outrageous viral videos already becoming popular with their audience and putting them on television. Third, and most interesting to me, companies are using the internet to facilitate innovations and R&D for complex problems, like how to put fluoride into toothpaste tubes without getting the fluoride in the air.

This is not a new phenomenon. Open source projects have been doing this for years. Within the open source community, people work together online to create very complex products, everything from the Linux kernel to open source databases to open source web browsers. Creating complex products requires quite a bit of innovation, and communities have a unique opportunity to focus on innovations that are created by users or that build on the ideas of other people as discussed in Democratizing Innovation by Eric von Hippel. Firefox extensions and themes are a great example of user innovations shared within the community of Firefox developers and users. Like anything else, the quality of open source products can vary; however, many of these open source projects are of a very high quality partly due to what Eric Raymond called Linus’s Law: “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”

Although “crowdsourcing” has existed in the open source community for years, the difference now is that the technology has evolved to allow anyone to participate in these communities. Fifteen years ago, you almost needed a computer science degree just to use open source products, not to mention actually contributing to them. With the web 2.0 technology of today, even those with minimal computer skills can join and become active participants in online communities to contribute thoughts and ideas via blogs, photography via Flickr and iStockphoto, and maybe even solve a complex R&D problem for a major company. “Crowdsourcing”, while not a new idea, is now becoming a mainstream phenomenon.

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Wikipedia: Premature Death or Evolution?

May 24, 2006

Nicholas Carr has pronounced the death of Wikipedia:

“Wikipedia is dead. It died the way the pure products of idealism always do, slowly and quietly and largely in secret, through the corrosive process of compromise.

There was a time when, indeed, anyone could edit anything on Wikipedia.

… A few months ago, in the wake of controversies about the quality and reliability of the free encyclopedia’s content, the Wikipedian powers-that-be – its ‘administrators’ – abandoned the work’s founding ideal and began to impose restrictions on editing. In addition to banning some contributors from the site, the administrators adopted an ‘official policy’ of what they called, in good Orwellian fashion, ‘semi-protection’ to prevent ‘vandals’ (also known as people) from messing with their open encyclopedia.” (Rough Type)

I must respectfully disagree with Nicholas. This is not the death of Wikipedia; it is the natural evolution of the online encyclopedia. In a sense, evolution is like death. The original species becomes extinct and is replaced by one that is better adapted to the current environment. In human evolution, previous species like Homo habilis and Homo erectus became extinct leading up to the evolution of modern Homo sapiens.

The open source community can be used as an example of how to make online communities function smoothly to produce a high quality product. We can certainly argue that Linux and other open source applications are high quality products that are created by a collection of people online, similar to Wikipedia. However, open source projects rarely (if ever) give access to the source code to anyone who wants to contribute. A smaller group of people have access to commit changes, while newer and less experienced members must submit code to others who review it and make the changes (or not) based on the merits of the contribution. These are commonly accepted practices that have been proven to work over time within open source communities.

As Wikipedia evolves, it is adopting practices that are similar to those used by open source communities. Unregistered users and very new users are not given full access to edit any article; however, after a few days they can earn the right to make changes. Those that abuse the privilege to edit articles by vandalizing pages will no longer be allowed to make changes. This seems like common sense, especially when compared to the commonly accepted practices of open source communities. These practices help to prevent controversial entries from being edited with incorrect or incomplete information in order to protect the integrity of the information in Wikipedia and to preserve the notion that Wikipedia is a reliable and credible source of information.

Most of us would never have an opportunity to contribute to a traditional encyclopedia, so Wikipedia is still very open when compared to other alternatives. In an ideal, utopian world where people always do the right thing, maybe we could have complete openness without restriction. These changes do not mean that Wikipedia is no longer “open”. Wikipedia has simply evolved as an online community in order to maintain its survival.

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Ham Radio and Being Geeky

May 20, 2006

Someday I will rule you all.

This has nothing to do with open source software, but I had to get a little geeky. I am also exposing my ham radio past, which I have not actually used in maybe 20 years.


Firefox is Big in Canada

May 20, 2006

The Canadians love Firefox. According to OneStat.com, Firefox currently has a 16% market share in Canada compared to an 11.8% Firefox market share worldwide. As a frame of reference, Internet Explorer usage in Canada is only 77.4% compared to IE’s 85.2% market share worldwide. In the US, Firefox has a 12.8% market share, while IE is at 82.5%.

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