OLPC on 60 minutesWayan Vota from OLPC News

While writing a recent article, on the OLPC XO Laptop, one of the all time most popular articles on Techlife, we got to meet Wayan Vota the founder of OLPC News. Wayan’s a strong, independent voice in the community of OLPC and the XO Laptop. He was featured on 60 Minutes for his work. (see 7:06 mark on Techlife TV for Wayan) I appreciated his grasp of both technology and non-profits and how the two mesh, so we sat down with him to learn more about what makes Wayan tick (tick, tick.) (unabashed 60 Minute pun for the OLPCNews readers who know me.)


Lesley Stahl discusses the 60 Minutes piece on the OLPC on Techlife TV.

Techlife: Wayan Vota. Interesting name, what are the origins?

Wayan Vota: Born on Bali to hippie folks. Got a local name in the process.

TL: Why did you start OLPC News?

WV: In the summer of 2006 I noticed there was much hype around OLPC, but little thoughtful analysis of its proposed methods and assumed impacts. I wanted to explore the details of OLPC’s implementation plan – how it expected to actually get laptops in the hands of children worldwide – in public form of open commentary and discussion. With ~5,000 daily readers, over a dozen writers, and too many contributors to count, I feel that OLPC News is successful beyond my wildest dreams.

TL: When did you first hear about an OLPC?

WV: In early 2006, a reporter for the Guardian newspaper in London called me looking for my opinion on this “$100 laptop scheme” from a Nicholas Negroponte. At that time, I’d never even heard of Negroponte, but the idea was captivating as I was exploring low-cost computing issues for Geekcorps, the organization I ran at the time. The model sounded very intriguing, but the details were lacking, making me wonder if it was just hype.

TL: When did you first get to manhandle an OLPC?

WV: I first held an OLPC at the Refresh DC Meetup where I explored its impact on website design with leading DC designers.

TL: When did you get your first OLPC?

WV: I didn’t have my own XO until G1G1, and then it was delayed until Xmas eve. With my wife working all day on Christmas, I geeked on the XO till my fingers hurt.

TL: Are you a member of any OLPC user groups?

WV: With the OLPC News XO User Group Forums I helped organize many of the user groups across America, and I co-founded the OLPC Learning Club DC with Mike Lee which he now leads. Recently, I’ve helped organize Portland, Vancouver, and NY XO users into groups of co-learners.

TL: What’s an interesting thing one of the user groups did recently?

WV: While visiting the Vancouver XO User Group, I witnessed one of the more amazing OLPC tricks: face juggling an XO laptop.


Watch for Wayan in the last second of this 60 Minutes promo on Techlife TV.

TL: Is your OLPC your primary machine?

WV: I think I’ll side with Aaron of OLPC Austria when I say that the XO laptop is an educational device for children. Its not meant to be a replacement computer for me, and my professional needs are beyond the scope of the XO.

TL: How close are you with any of the leaders of the project?

WV: While I talk with Mary Lou Jepsen and Ivan Kristic on occasion, Nicholas Negroponte and Walter Bender are not fans of OLPC News. Apparently the concept of criticism, which is integral to Constructionist learning, doesn’t agree with the OLPC leadership.

TL: What do you think they have done well to date?

WV: OLPC, and Nicholas Negroponte in particular, can be credited with reinvigorating the debate around education and technology. No longer is it why should technology empower education, but how, and how, now? In addition, the XO laptop is a revolution in computing – low in cost, high in functionality and performance in the developing world context. The first practical, purpose-build, high-volume educational computer.

TL: What do you think they could improve upon?

WV: The hardware is literally clock-stopping hot, but the software has yet to live up to its promise of high ease of use and high reliability. Hopefully, we’ll see it progress as fast as the hardware process, and have a world class system by the end of this year.

TL: Would you consider leading the OLPC organization?

WV: Hahahah! You’re not the first to ask, yet I am no where near qualified to lead OLPC. I could contribute in the implementation process, helping design and rollout laptop distribution in the target countries, but to run the organization, you need a seasoned technology executive or a strong primary education practitioner.

TL: What do you think of the impact of $75 laptop as Pixel Qi wants to bring to market?

WV: Mary Lou Jepsen’s Display Centric Design process, which brought us the XO and she’s commercializing with Pixel Qi is a radical change in computer manufacturing that will have less to do with a random laptop price than reorganizing how every computerized device is designed – from cell phones to ATM’s. I would not even begin to know where her ideas will lead us, but I am grateful to her for the idea and execution.

TL: What do you think of the Eee and other affordable sub-notebooks?

WV: OLPC’s greatest legacy may well be that it awoke the rest of the IT industry to the demand in the sub-$300 notebook market – targeted computers offering basic functionality at prices that make them commodities. At $300, rich consumers can have a quiver of laptops to match moods, and an African can have a laptop, period, with the resulting spike in democratization of information around the globe.

TL: How is niche publishing better than general publishing?

WV: I love micro-publishing. With OLPC News I can assume a level of fluency with the subject matter that allows me to pass by the generalizations and explore the details of One Laptop Per Child with a rabid readership that knows and debates every nuisance of our shared subject matter. In addition, the readership directly contributes to the site, from comments to submitting Guest Posts to becoming writers for OLPC News themselves.

TL: Have you gotten stories that you couldn’t run for some reason? Why?

WV: Oh the stories I wish I could tell! Since OLPC News is the blog of choice for the One Laptop Per Child community, I am often privy to information that is best left unsaid. And for the betterment of the OLPC community, I leave it that way.

TL: Where do you see the future of OLPC News?

WV: I find great joy in publishing OLPC News. As long as One Laptop Per Child is a going concern, I hope OLPC News will be there to chronicle its existence – tangible proof of OLPC’s ability to inspire and motivate.