Trickle Up Innovation

I have read two really interesting articles about the idea of “Trickle Up Innovation”.  The first article is “How Innovations from Developing Nations Trickle-Up to the West” in Fast Company magazine.  The basic premise of Trickle Up Innovation is ideas are developed, tested, and vetted in developing markets.  Ideas that have a big impact in reducing costs or increasing business will get noticed and implemented back West.  For example, it is much easier to launch a cell phone application in Kenya that allows people to list and search market goods with location maps.  You could never launch this in the US – too many people web shop from their desktops – there is no reason to waste your time doing it on your phone.  In Kenya they bypassed the copper-based land-lines, and their primary means of communications is the mobile phone.  If the mobile phone based purchasing application works, it may make its way back to the US.  Other ideas are being tested in banking, finance, farming, communications, computing, etc. 

Two thoughts:

·         It’s a shame to think that the US is too expensive for new ideas.  I guess our wealth is a double edged sword.  It takes a lot of capital and investment to push the boundaries like we are doing, but once a market is set, like the wireless industry – a $100B industry, it becomes too expensive with too many gatekeepers to play and test new ideas. 

·         It seems like a good symbiotic relationship with the developing nations to test new technologies that will benefit them immediately and morph into something that will enable the West as well.

The second article, The Netbook Effect, is concrete example of Trickle Up. The one laptop per child (OLPC) laptop initiative was a gutsy initiative by Mary Lou Jepson.  Her motivation was to create a laptop cheap enough that the developing world could purchase and use to get connected to the rest of the world.  At $100, the price constraints forced her to be incredible innovative in the design.  Drop the spinning hard drive and go with flash to conserve power, use open source Linux instead of expensive Microsoft, develop an innovative LCD display, choose a slower AMD processor that is much more power efficient.  The laptop manufacturer Quanta teamed with them to produce the end product.  A competitor, Asustek, created an ultra-cheap laptop, similar to the OLPC device, that they thought would be purchased by the rising middle class in China and India.  Shockingly, the majority of the lot were purchased by people in Western countries looking for a smaller laptop that fits in a purse or satchel that can be used to peak at Facebook during the day. 

Two Questions:

·         How many applications do you run a day on your laptop?

·         Have you ever used Google Docs, FotoFlexer, or any other web-based applications?

Two Thoughts:

·         If all that you are doing is blogging and checking Facebook on your laptop, there is no need the horsepower pushed by most laptops.  Why pay 3x the cost for a laptop, when a netbook will do everything you need it to do?

·         The developers of the online applications have the benefit of observing the most used parts of the applications you run on your computer and have made focused web apps that do the same.  How many of you have Photoshop?  Do you use all of the functions available, or do you just use it to adjust the contrast, scale and edit photos?  For what I do, Fotoflexer look to be more than adequate.  I will be trying it over the next couple of weeks to test this.

A tool developed for children in developing nations is reshaping the world computer market. I have played with a OLPC laptop at the STAR-TIDES demo (GATR participates in many STAR-TIDES demos).  Pretty amazing little computer.  I think my next home computer is going to be a netbook.  I can’t justify the price and horsepower just to write blogs, edit photos, buy books on Amazon, and update my status on Facebook.  At home all I need is a wireless connection and a web browser.  I bet that’s all you need as well.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Trickle Up Innovation

  1. My wife and I have our own business and try to cut costs where we can. I do all the IT support for the business. We travel a lot and take two laptops with us: a new Acer AspireOne Netbook with XP and a 10 year old Toshiba Tecra 8000 running Ubuntu with a 366mhz intel and 256 mb. Between the two of them we are able to completely and indefinitely run our business on the road. We use a mix of web apps and open-source software. The Tecra is not as fast as the Aspire, but it does the email, surfing, and organizing work that I need. The only place I have run into problems with the netbook is watching streaming video…a bit jerky but that is on a hotel wifi.

  2. G Sloan, thanks for the comments. I have not had the chance to really exercise a netbook. My question to you is this – If my netbook doesn’t have Word or some other application installed, how can I work and edit documents on a plane? (I travel a lot as well). Do you have to be connected to the web to have basic functionality, or are there open source word precessors that come with it and operate on flash? your feedback is appreciated.

  3. Larry I have OpenOffice installed on both laptops. We also use Inkscape for vector drawing and Faststone for photo editing. My Acer does have the 160gb drive installed so I have no problem installing local apps. The models with the 16gb flash drive would have to be monitored closely. The fact that you may not always be able to connect is a real problem with web apps and as a result I have not totally embraced Google Docs — yet. We do Facebook, Flickr, blog and website updates using Firefox. On the other hand I probably would not recommend using a netbook as your primary computer at home or office. As mentioned, video streaming was jerky and we also do some video editing which the netbook can’t handle. I think as some point you would run into some web app or java app the would frustrate the netbook. For the office we use white boxes as they are cheap, easy to upgrade/repair, and powerful. Bottom line IMO, netbooks are great and can handle most of users needs, but they are not powerhouses designed to handle memory/processor intensive apps. btw, I had opportunity to play with OLPC and found the OS very difficult to “get”. I think this is because I am so conditioned to the windows environment and I try to apply it to OLPC. I think if you know nothing about windows though, it may be very easy to pick up.

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