How can Playpower foster the use of radically affordable computers for education, and how do we enable our hundreds of volunteers to help us?
In the case of Playpower's starting platform, the 8-bit TV-computer, the technology is radically affordable for a number of reasons. Two of them relate directly to the fact that 8-bit is, well, old.
1. Production and distribution is established and optimized -- the factories have been built and running for years
2. The platform is based on open hardware -- in this case because relevant patents are expired.
So how do you organize motivated communities and stakeholders around a technological platform that some call "accessible", others call "retro", and others just call "old"? For us, the answer varies based on the community. Artists and musicians who currently work in 8-bit as a medium, retro-gamers who use or emulate the platform to explore or relive recent game history, computer industry veterans who developed for the platform in the 80s and 90s -- all of these groups and more are invested in the possibilities of 8-bit computing for different reasons, and bring different skills to the table as volunteers.
These skills and understandings are important, because they make the difference between a set of technical challenges that are well understood on the one hand and obscured by time on the other -- between an educational medium with a history of clear successes and failurs on the one hand, and one whose lessons have been lost on the other.
For Playpower, our biggest practical organizational challenge is to take the huge volunteer pool signing up with us, distill these skill sets into focused working groups. We've experimented with discussion forums and listservs, project wikis, and other enabling communication technology, but we are still really just getting started in terms of thinking through how to connect everything that could be done with everyone who is eager to help. Playpower needs to make it as easy as possible to contribute meaningfully towards our long term goal -- low cost educational computing developed globally by local educators and distributed directly to the people who need it.
In order to do that, we need help the people who understand what 8-bit computing can do at an aesthetic and technical level in their collaborations with the people who have a vision of what low cost computing offer our global cultures of learning.