[Grassroots-l] What's up with OLPCorps?

Mel Chua mel at melchua.com
Tue Mar 10 01:23:15 EDT 2009

Ok, I'm going to be somewhat presumptious here.

I've been watching the community reactions to 
http://www.onehereonethere.org and the OLPCorps program and have been 
hearing a lot of frustrations and a lot of questions - the vast majority 
of which I share, actually - and decided to ping Paul Commons to see 
what I could learn about what they were trying to do. We just had our 
first conversation tonight, over the phone; it was a tough but good 
conversation, and can be generally summarized by "there's a community of 
very smart and awesome people out there and you should talk with them 
and ask them things." "how?"

To go out on a limb here - and I could be wrong - it seems to me that at 
least some of this frustration comes from (1) Paul being still in the 
middle of learning how to work with the kind of volunteer communities 
that OLPC has, and (2) from the impression that after multiple years and 
untold thousands of man-hours of volunteering for OLPC without much in 
the way of thanks or support, here drops this BLESSED PROJECT! from the 
sky with these people you have never heard of with no prior contribution 
record that you know of magically getting all these resources from 1cc, 
including lots of shiny press, for no apparent reason, and that just 
seems... unfair. Regardless of the actual situation, I'm guessing that 
it might /seem/ that way to some people. (It did to me, and still kind 
of does, though I know that's likely due to me missing huge swaths of 
the story.)

I still don't know the actual situation. It's kind of silly to think 
that anybody does. But I think I know a little more now, enough to 
conclude that we can't deal with (2) until (1) gets a little further 
along - so I was really happy to hear that Paul is trying to make the 
workings of OLPCorps more transparent and trying to figure out how to 
respond to the feedback - especially the criticism - we've offered on 
many different forums. He needs help/advice on how to do it - learning 
the unwritten rules of how to participate in a new community is hard.

In that vein, and with the long prelude finished, instead of asking Paul 
all the questions I had over the phone, we agreed that I would send a 
first round of my questions about OLPCorps out over a public mailing 
list (hi!) so that Paul could respond and we could continue our dialog, 
so here it is. (Paul, I know you're incredibly busy right now, so holler 
back when you have time.)

1.It's hard to get a sense of who you are and what you're working on 
from the (very professional!) descriptions! at 
http://www.onehereonethere.org/board.asp. When we talked on the phone 
tonight. You told me a far more interesting backstory about how your 
involvement and the OLPCorps project started, and how you worked alone 
for a long time on an unsupported project to make this happen before it 
was picked up and supported by 1cc, which is inspiring (and encouraging 
and instructional for those of us who've been trying to get support for 
our own projects for a while. ;) How can we hear more about this?

2. What previous deployments (including "unofficial" grassroots 
deployments like http://blog.olenepal.org/, 
http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Boston pilots, http://waveplace.com/, and 
http://www.olpcfriends.org as well as the many deployment teachers at 
http://lists.laptop.org/listinfo/olpc-sur) have you spoken to? What was 
their reaction/feedback? How will what you're doing affect/help their 

3. Ditto above for 
http://wiki.laptop.org/go/University_chapters#University_Groups, noting 
that not all students volunteering for OLPC are in university, not all 
university students volunteer as part of a group, and not all groups are 
listed on that page.

4. Why are we emailing olpccorps at laptop.org for more information or to 
offer help? Why not olpccorps at lists.laptop.org, where people can view 
previous introductions and comment on and welcome new inquirers? (It 
won't happen automatically - opening something publicly up to volunteers 
will not magically solve all your problems - but this makes it possible 
for us to help.)

5. Is there a possibility of publishing emails like the ones on 
http://lists.laptop.org/private/support-gang/2009-March/005198.html so 
that people not on the private support-gang mailing list can see them? 
Can we see the rough planning emails that have been going back and 
forth, and otherwise see why you made the decisions you made, what 
you're trying to figure out, and what you're having trouble with so that 
we can help? (There are a good number of people here who have run or 
mentored internship programs before.) I know they're rough and show a 
lot of mistakes - this is the equivalent of publishing your source code 
so that other people can help you find and fix the bugs. We know from 
all the things you've made so far that you can definitely operate very 
professionally and produce polished things when you need to, but it's 
hard to get invested and involved if we can't see and join the conversation.

I have a million more questions about training, publicity, follow-up, 
sustainability, how you'll gauge your impact, etc. but I'll save them 
for a second round. ;)


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