The One Laptop per Child (in less than $US 100) initiative is designed to provide access to technology in the classroom for the developing world. Addition of a social networking component to series of Google products
There have been two pieces of news on the technology front that have not elicited the amount of attention that they deserved this past week. The first item is with reference to Microsoft joining the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative. The other is that Google is rumored to be planing a social networking site. Why are these items important? Because both initiatives are on the cusp of the digital divide between the developed and the developing world. The One Laptop per Child initiative is obvious, in that the initiative is designed to provide access to technology in the classroom for the developing world. The project has been bogged down in infighting with regards to which processor and which operating system to be used in the specially designed computers that are supposed to cost less than $US 100. The second item is less obvious at first blush. With the addition of a social networking component to their series of products that includes among others, Gmail and Google Docs, Google will have a very strong line up of components that go fall into the Web 2.0 category.
Unlike designing a new computer such as the OLPC initiative, with all of the potential for infighting and frayed egos, Web 2.0 offerings don’t care which processor or operating system they use. The browser becomes the operating system for many people in the developing world, as they simply go to the nearest Internet cafe and log onto their Gmail account or access their Facebook profile. It doesn’t matter to them whether the computer is running Linux, Windows, BSD or some entirely different operating system. The ability to browse the Internet, send e-mail, contact people with similar interests in other parts of the world, create documents, etc. are many of the basic features that personal computers first attracted a large user base with, but Web 2.0 has the ability to do this without a large investment in hardware.
Perhaps it will be possible to narrow the digital divide in the near future, through a combination of subsidized Internet cafes in small towns and villages, coupled with Web 2.0 applications. This would provide a far more cost effective use of processor cycles and electrical power than today’s personal computers and has the potential to empower populations that have up to this point not had access.