Notes from THM 2011 breakout group on changing technology

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The Future of Free Geek in a World of Changing Technology

Report to the Free Geek Board of Directors
1st Annual Town Hall Meeting, Sunday, October 2, 2011

Upcoming Challenges Identified by the Tech Discussion Group

  1. End-user experience/desires may branch out or transform, and/or may have already done so
  2. Technology releases are becoming more closed-source, with proprietary software more integrated with hardware
  3. Newer devices on the market (tablets, smartphones etc.) - can we keep up with production? (Challenge to both income stream and volunteer programs)
  4. How to adapt volunteer giveaways to newer production areas (will desktops, or even laptops, still be relevant to our volunteers when they're producing primarily rebuilt smartphones?)
  5. Competitors in hardware resale
  6. Staying competitive with for-profit e-cyclers
  7. Data security concerns with new devices

Opportunities: Adapting to Meet Change

  1. Focus on the facts of the markets we serve. Don't believe the hype! (that all users want laptops and not desktops, for example.) Pay attention to the end user (experience-based v. business-based computer use.) Direct volunteer energy and staff time/$ to production that's wanted and will earn revenue.
  2. Create a plan for the tech future we want (open-source, reusable) and fight for it! Speak publicly against closed-source tech development. Support and educate hacker culture. (People are now hacking machines that we will see on the market in three years.)
  3. Find alternative forms of reuse that still support our mission (giving phones to shelters, repurposing old cpu's to build thin-client terminals and give them to nonprofits for business use, etc.)
  4. Again, Don't believe the hype! There will be a market for desktops for a long time. There is much more discussion and planning to be done about this.
  5. Continue to participate actively in BAN/R2 standards conversations/developments. Separate into 2 branches: 1 nonprofit and 1 for-profit company.

Back-up Options: Adapting Away from Change

  1. Refocus revenue pursuit toward sources other than the Thrift Store (Recycling, other programs)
  2. Re-examine mission in concert with all other stakeholders
  3. Make sure the Board has prepared an end-of-life plan in case the organization cannot adapt to these changes quickly enough.

Potential for Mission/Principles Conflicts

  1. The mission to dispose of e-waste properly conflicts with mission to self-support and reuse when rapid technological change and marketing of handheld devices as “fashion accessories” drives both rapid turnover of devices and production of restricted proprietary tech (e.g. iPhone.)
  2. Any dimension of buying into closed technologies such as iOS or Windows would be a huge departure from/conflict with our founding values/ethics and democracy.

Other Suggestions from Volunteers

  1. Collaborate with Portland Community Media Coalition for Metro Community Round-Up Partnership – PCM holds “Tech Rummage Sale” and we pick up from a central donation site.
  2. Free Geek's business model is flexible – no need for long-term planning for technology changes.