Negroponte Steps Down From MIT Media Lab to Pursue $100 Laptop Initiative

$100 Laptop Initiative
It looks like Nicholas Negroponte has stepped down as Chairman of MIT’s Media Lab to pursue the $100 Laptop Initiative.
I’ve covered the $100 Laptop Initiative fairly well on this blog– here are a collection of links to previous posts:

Hal Varian Plugs the $100 Laptop In The NY Times

Technology Review Defends the $100 Laptop

UN body backs $100 laptop for world’s kids

It seems to me that this initiative is really picking up momentum!

Google and Social Responsibility in China

Google and Social Responsibility
A few weeks ago, Google made an agreement with the Chinese government to remove specific websites from its search engine in return for getting unblocked access to China’s internet users. You can read more about it in this BBC News article from Jan 25th.

Since the announcement, there has been significant “buzz” in the blogosphere protesting Google’s decision.
Here is a link to the blog of a well known venture capitalist, Brad Feld, who points us to two links:

1. A link to an image search for Tiananmen Square on Google US,
2. A link to an image search for Tiananmen Square on Google China

The results speak for themselves– the US engine returns images of tanks and student demonstrations, while the Chinese engine returns some pretty pictures of the square.

Each day, this Google/China issue seems to get bigger. I just found this parody logo that represents the sentiments expressed by many people online. This logo seems to be catching on and it was recently spotted at demonstrations by exiled Tibetans in India.
Google and Goolag

This is a tough issue to grok, and I think Usher Lieberman says it best in the comments section of Brad Feld’s blog:

I am personally conflicted in my thoughts about Google. On the one hand, I’m a big believer in constructive engagement as the best way to see other societies liberalize. On the other, there’s a really good argument that American companies, NGOs and government in absolutely no way contribute to the suppression of human rights anywhere in the world as doing so limits our own credibility and ability to speak with moral authority. On the moral authority piece, the Chinese government certainly believes (and not without justification) that we are in no moral position to preach to them about human rights and constructive engagement.

In this case I think Google is helping the forces of evil even as it does the admirable work of opening more of the world’s knowledge to more of the world. In so doing, Google risks its brand reputation on a gamble that clearly has great potential rewards (and perils). Only time will tell if this roll of the dice was the right move.

Diggin’ Out of Snow

New York City Snowstorm
We just had a record snowstorm over the weekend here in New York City. The snow started about mid afternoon here in Midtown Manhattan but didn’t start sticking until after midnight on Saturday night. The next morning when we woke up, it was still snowing and the accumulation was pretty high. At that point you could we were about to break some records.

So we were stuck indoors on Sunday so I spent a nice chunk of my day playing around with this blog. I learned a fair amount about the technology that powers this blog and how all the pieces work together. PHP, MySQL, CSS. I’ll try to piece a little tutorial on how it all comes together and post it here.

In the meantime, if you guys are dying to get yourself a WordPress blog, just email me at john at at I’ll give you a quick tutorial via email.

Hal Varian Plugs the $100 Laptop In The NY Times

The NY Times published (sub. req.) a piece today by Hal Varian, a well known economist based out of the University of California at Berkeley.

I can’t seem to get off this topic, because I think its an interesting case study on approaches in social entrepreneurship (I’ll go into more detail in a moment). But before I get into that, let me do a quick link round up and give some background on what I’m talking about.

The $100 Laptop concept was around for a little bit, but seemed to really take off after it was presented (and commented on) at the World Economic Forum in Davos just a few weeks ago.

Here are my previous posts on this:

Tech Review defends the $100 Laptop
UN Body back $100 Laptop
Social Entrepreneur Focus: Negroponte and his $100 Laptop (Introduction)

There have been a flurry of articles about this but to summarize, there seems to be two camps forming around the idea of providing the world’s poor (particularly children) with computing and internet technology– those backing Negroponte and the $100 Laptop, and those backing Craig Mundie’s (CTO of Microsoft) view that using cellphones are a better and more economically sound technology.

From my vantage point, I completely agree with Hal Varian on his assessment– that both sides are right, but because both sides have different priorities. Negroponte has a strong focus on “revolutioniz[ing] how we educate the world’s children” while Microsoft believes that “cell phones are a better way than laptops to bring computing to the masses in developing nations,”

Its simple to see that the two camps have different values/priorities, and thats why there is disagreement on the approach.

Inefficiencies– The Bottled Water Industry

Many investors have identified investment in water rights as the next big thing and it makes sense– as the population grows, we need more drinking water. More future demand means rise in price.

Here is an article that shows us just exactly how much “waste” today’s bottled water market produces.

Its an interesting read and I feel like there is a huge social entrepreneurship opportunity here and I want to blog it to get it on everyone’s radar.

Technology Review Defends the $100 Laptop

Last week in Davos, Microsoft’s Craig Mundie commented that using cell phones might be a more sustainable approach than the development and deployment of the $100 laptop project for solving the digital divide problem .

A new Technology Review article defends the laptop, and offers some opinions of researchers and professors involved with the project.

John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation comments that:

“Cell phones make a lot of sense from a certain standpoint,” says John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation advocacy group. “They’re great for calling and for a certain kind of e-mail. But if you want to experience cyberspace in any meaningful way you can’t do it with a cell phone.”

Also in support is Seymour Papert, Professor Emeritus at MIT:

“If we think of technology as purely access to information, and education as access to information, you might start making a case for the cell phone,” he says. “But education is not just access to information. It’s doing things, making things. You can’t program on a cell phone.”

However, in the end, Tech Review says that its all about creating value and closing the digital divide, so whichever proves to do that better should deserve to be the winning technology:

Whichever device ends up being most useful in third-world cultures as a conduit for information and education, the entire world will benefit, as millions of minds are stimulated.

Global Discovery Contest– Calling All Social Entrepreneurs!

I can’t believe it February already– I just got my Feb. edition of the NetImpact Newsletter and boy are there lots of things going on this spring! Starting with the most important, NetImpact and Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit at Case Western Reserve University is inviting all social entrepreneurs to enter the Global Discovery Contest. The contest is sort of an inquiry to discover innovative business practices and models that:

re-define the role of business in society and provide alternative profitability models of mutual benefit.

Why? Because:

In September 2000, one hundred ninety-one United Nations Member States signed the Millennium Declaration, which challenged the world to reach seven diverse goals spanned across such issues as poverty, health, education, ecology, gender equality, and cooperation, by year 2015. To date, much work has been done by various organizations and agencies to move towards the targets. However, little attention has been paid to the role of business in achieving the Millennium Development Goals

So find a business that is working to address one of the items in the Millennium Declaration list, conduct an interview with the social entrepreneur to learn more about the business, and then write it all up in a nice article. The article with the most votes wins $500.

The competition, in many ways, is trying to do the same thing I am with this blog– shed more light on to the works of social entrepreneurs and get the word out about this movement!

There were a few other interesting things in the NetImpact Newsletter which I’ll blog about in my next post.

Have a good weekend!

Google Misses Earnings, Partly Because of the Cost of Creating Google Foundation

Google released their fourth quarter 2005 earnings today at 1:30PM Pacific Time. To summarize, although Google performed spectacularly, they didn’t please Wall Street, resulting in after hours trading activity that shaved 10-20% off the stock price. This translates into a 60-70 dollar decline in the stock price. Its a BIG deal when stuff like this happens, and money swings so much in such a short span of time.

The reason why I write about it here is because part of the reason why Google said they didn’t perform as well in the fourth quarter was because of its contribution in the creation of The Google Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of Google.

Here is a link to Henry Blodget’s blog. Blodget is a famous former equity research analyst and he gives us his opinions on what happened today to Google’s stock.

The early brouhaha about an “earnings miss” seems a bit exaggerated, because much was attributable to the company’s gift of $90 million to the Google Foundation and an unexpected spike in the tax rate.

I think its great that a company can do this much to support philantrophy but their stock certainly paid for it. The problem is that a corporation can’t work if shareholders aren’t happy, and this sort of generosity is hard to sustain if the tradeoff is decline in the price of company stock.

In Memory of Coretta Scott King

Human rights activist and former wife of Martin Luther King Jr. has passed away. Link here to AP article:

…in 1969, founded the multimillion-dollar Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

King saw to it that the center became deeply involved with the issues she said breed violence — hunger, unemployment, voting rights and racism.

Here is a link to her at Wikipedia.

Microsoft Pitching In To Close the Digital Divide: Cell Phone Based Internet Connection

Some more good news came out today from Davos about how Microsoft is trying to tackle the problem of the growing digital divide. Its exciting to hear that other organizations are thinking about how to solve this problem (thanks to Negroponte and his $100 Laptop Project for building the momentum).

I like how Microsoft is thinking about this from a social entrepreneurship point of view. When asked about Negroponte’s $100 Laptop project, Craig Mundie, CTO of Microsoft, said:

“I love what Nick is trying to do,” Mundie told the Times. “We have a lot of concerns about the sustainability of his approach.” He said there was no firm timing for the cell phone computing strategy, but that Microsoft encouraged such innovations in the past by building prototypes for consumer electronics manufacturers.

Sustainability is requisite to building a solution that creates social value over a period of time and Mundie brings up a relevant point. Finding a sustainable solution is the toughest part of social entrepreneurship, and I hope we see some developments here that we all can learn from and use going forward.