January 2007


In my last post of 2006 I said that the new year was likely to see a growth of wi-fi and mobile services. The Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, opening today in the US, will be showcasing many of the hand held devices that will be vying to speed this process.

Improvements in battery life, brighter screens and more memory are contributory factors and are all part of the story.

Just as important though is connectivity and access. When I was in Seattle last year, I spent a morning with David Keyes, the city’s Community Technology Officer talking about Mayor Greg Nickells’ plans for free wi-fi access. These have attracted considerable corporate sector interest and will involve a pilot project in two neighbourhoods and four downtown parks. [Digital Nations in the making: Update Page 68-69 – Seattle]

Things have been moving fast though on this side of the Atlantic too, spurred among other things by the Government’s Digital Challenge initiative. Ten local authorities were short-listed last summer and final details of their proposed strategies and action plans for digital inclusion are being hammered out this week to meet the 19th January deadline.

Manchester’s bid ONE-Manchester, coordinated by the City’s Digital Development Agency (MDDA), looks strong on digital inclusion, has taken a bottom up approach and has succeeded in drawing in neighbouring Salford, Tameside and Trafford to create a unique ‘city-region’ laboratory for digital experimentation and testing.

Its outline bid had some interesting elements of a framework like Digital Action Places and Personalised Netstart programmes for local residents and organisations, which will need some thinking through prior to implementation.

Importantly the City has like Seattle gained a lot of national attention for its wider plans; and it’s gathered substantial corporate sector interest in establishing a 100 square mile free wi-fi network, Europe’s biggest, to help draw in the 40% of residents not presently engaged.

As Dave Carter, Head of MDDA told me when I met him, Manchester and its partners are now taking digital inclusion very seriously as were the company representatives at the Request for Information and Comment (RFIC) meeting I went to in December.

The bid is a strong one and deserves to do well in a very competitive field. Whatever the outcome, Manchester could be creating models and structures for implementing the Information Society in large metropolitan areas for the next decade. [Digital Nations in the making: Update Page 108 – Greater Manchester]

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Illustration of laptop prototype. Illustration of laptop prototype for Nigeria. Illustration of laptop prototype with wind-up handle.

More news this time after my posting of 4 December 2006  from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the details of this scheme which will provide $150 laptops to children in the developing world. A key feature is that “the laptop’s creators started from scratch in designing a user interface they figured would be intuitive for children”, according to a recent Associated Press report. One curious feature is that the user interface does not appear to have been trialled with potential users in developing countries.

The XO machines – as they are called – using a slimmed down version of the Linux operating system, are organised round an automatically generated journal, and not through folders. Though the experience will be very different from a conventional PC, there is still the opportunity to create a word document, browse the web and use a RSS feed (for blogs). The project has received at least $29 million from companies like Google, Red Hat and News Corp.

The MIT Review article (1 January 2007) is worth reading in full and there’s a good website on further details of the project at  (http://www.laptop.org). The site also has a FAQ area and a Wiki section which explores many of the issues relating to the ‘One Laptop’ project in more detail.