The OLPC effort in India would be going through a sufficiently critical phase. While a large chunk of work is being done at the backend in getting Indic rendering, printing etc fixed on the browser and applications, getting the physical keyboard layouts in place – the focus would now be required to be put on to how to get buy-in for the product. There has been a by now controversial buy-in of the concept, the next obvious stage would be to figuring out a “GoToMarket” strategy for the project.
Such a strategy would include the details that allow potential pilot sites to assess where and how they stand vis-a-vis requesting a pilot, a set of codified preliminary requirements for a pilot and a set of objectives or lessons_to_be_gleaned from the pilot. This would translate into having a means to actually have the hardware on the ground. For developers, an emulation environment or (a single unit) serves well as the platform. The platform for a pilot is the hardware itself. A mashup of the hardware with appropriate content would enable the India team to assess and quantify what they want to achieve with the project and where they stand with the current roadmap. Right now there are a large number of queries happening about “How do we pitch in” but barring G1G1 there’s no real input or map towards getting the hardware in place. In fact, there is not much in terms of how to replicate Karjat in various other suitable places.
The other jarring note is the explicit lack of community around the OLPC in India. Conversely, there seems to be a growing sense of attachment to the Asus driven hardware. When I say community it is not the community limited only to developers. From what I read and here there are a few developers who are actively contributing to it. A community in this case would be the target audience, the potential audience, the potential contributors and the mavens who find more uses for the program by pushing the envelope. A small but not unimportant bit of the task of Community Engineering involves putting in place the infrastructure that allows inclusive participation. One of them is the Pootle deployment for translators which is an awesome thing to happen. At this stage of the program in India, a larger part is played by evangelising the Project. Till date, the negative PR that has happened has fortunately been limited to a small set of press notes. A coherent and cohesive effort at Community Relations through various media means available would actually allow more folks to “get the message”. There has been some thought around this for sure,
OLPC cannot survive without a strong community. From where I sit, OLPC engineering is in a classic trap right now -- all work on production, but almost no work on capacity. Community building is capacity building; that's why it's so important.
The reason the “capacity” bit is important over here is because without it the OLPC would only remain as a marvel of what a concerted effort at innovation can achieve in the field of computing technology. And if that is the only reason for OLPC to exist, then it is a sad one indeed. Perhaps it is more of a “vision” thing. Figuring out the intersect between the EEE and the Classmate and the OLPC (in terms of OLPC software) may just be a way forward. Would it be a good thing to have installable LiveMedia with Sugar being available so as to get folks to test-drive and if happy install an OLPC interface on their conventional desktops ? Would that increase the disconnect between the target users and developers ? Is that one of the possible ways ?