MDP missing in action?

Someone noted that out of 100 (incredibly lucky!) folks selected for the MDP, a paltry 10 MDP profiles with perhaps two dozen plus projects between them seems like a very poor return... for both LEGO and the community. I'm not upset (or even very surprised) at that comment, but I think there are some other points that need to be considered. And since a lot of you applied to the MDP program, or at least expect to "reap the rewards", I think this deserves a very public response. So here it goes...

First, being in the MDP was not a paid position, and so all this testing, learning, building, and playing had to go on around our "day jobs". In my case that was stay-at-home Dad for the summer, so I had a distinct advantage (in the fall I start teaching college-level physics again, and my on-line presence will certainly take a hit). While the MDP in general is a very very enthusiastic group, it was not a group of people with unlimited time - just a group of talented, enthusiastic folks trying to do as much as possible with the tools at hand. Yes, some of the MDP worked harder than others, because of interest or time constraints. And some undoubtably had other commitments come up later that reduced their contribution. I think that's probably standard for any group of people in this sort of situation.

Second, much of that time was spent doing exactly what LEGO asked us to do, things like testing the software intensely. Outside the MDP (and the NDA) this wasn't seen, but it took a good bit of time and is one of the reasons the finished product works as it does.

Third, as Jim mentioned, there's new stuff coming to light every day, and I suspect this will continue for some time. Not all of it will be through LEGO, however: for instance, Microsoft is jumping on the NXT bandwagon, and due to the MDP there is already someone to provide critical comment on some of their attempts (thanks Matthias). That's another continuing spin-off of the MDP.

Finally, the MDP was (and is!) very diverse group of people. We were actually not brought together to generate content for the LEGO MDP profiles - far from it! There are...
  • Teachers, who have already developed curriculums or modified FLL coaches guides, provided feedback to LEGO as well as FLL and homeschooling communities, and in general jump-started the process, before product release, of how to apply it in an educational setting.
  • Writers, some of whom already have books in progress (several, at last count), and some of whom are planning books, or helping as reviewers
  • Extreme builders, who have tried their hand at building studless, and using new design elements like Hassenpins, in some cases putting these out in Brickshelf, or other forums.
  • "Bare metal" types, who within hours of getting their NXT's, had opened them up to began the reverse engineering process to jump-start the hardware community.
  • "Close to the metal" types, embedded systems programmers, who immediate began working on ways to reprogram the NXT at a very low level, first understanding and eventually hopefully replacing the firmware.
  • Sensor builders, to design, protoype, build, & test, and then actually get production started on custom third-party sensors... all to be released nearly at the same time as LEGO launches the NXT, instead of years later.
  • Higher-level programmers, developing environments for other languages, on various platforms (PC, Mac, PDA, cell phones), as well as third-party utilities to edit and create .rso files, .ric files, etc. Some of this is also already come to light, even though it's still before the "official" release date.
  • Artists, to give their own view on a new technology and the consequences in a wider cultural context.
  • Torture testers who spent time trying to break the new toy in different ways, to expose flaws in the hardware or software, reporting these back to LEGO or other members of the MDP to be addressed.
  • Bloggers (such as Jim), to provide an on-line presence and link between all these seperate elements and the growing community of NXT users. And in some cases, folks like Jim have leveraged their ability be bringing new bloggers in to the field (like me).
Note that only a very few of those groups above (& I'm certain I'm still missing some important ones) are going to have a lot of visibility. One of the reasons the MDP was created was to provide a seed to grow a community around, and to allow this to happen faster than it would otherwise. And in this case, I think LEGO did a wise thing and scattered 100 of those seeds very widely, to make sure that some of them took root.

As I said before, I am NOT upset by folks who feel "sour grapes" towards what the MDP has provided them with; you have every right to ask those questions and hold those opinions. But I wanted to present a larger picture of what (at least I feel) the MDP entailed. Now there are members of the MDP spread out all over the place as seeds of a diverse community... and if you are dissatisfied with the direction that is moving, good! Because it means you (yes you!) can help craft a stronger community. The MDP are seeds - time to join us.

Brian Davis


Anonymous said…
I remember having discussed the topic with Matthias when I met him.

As probably anyone, I did of course apply for the MDP; and I wasn't chosen - but to be honest I didn't expect to that much. Even at the time I had a few names in mind of people which I felt had to be in there rather than me. These people got in there, so I felt that as far as I was concerned the choice was probably good.

I have no idea what I would have been able to bring the MDP program myself - maybe even nothing; I just don't know; and as such I don't want to bring any judgment on those who were in it.

Out of the 100, it was bound to be that some would have more exposure (as you explain in detail); and I guess it was also bound to be that a few wouldn't actually do anything at all - and not always because they didn't want to. In any case, only the MDPers really know how many of them actively participated (through the MDP forum); and that's a number I don't even really want to know.

What I think is important is the success of the MDP as a whole; as you say there'll be much more stuff available at about the same time as the NXT itself which would not have been seen for years otherwise. And that's not even mentionning the benefits to the product itself - I heard it did improve a lot through the MDP feedback.

Lastly, I'm glad that whatever participation the MDPers had... there was none to breach the NDA (well I didn't hear of any). This is very important in the relation between TLC and its customers; which is definitely improving nowadays.

All in all, even I can't help feeling myself "dang, there certainly were people in the MDP who did nothing, I could have done more myself" in a corner of my mind, the rest of said mind just wants to say this to all MDPers:

Anonymous said…
I feel somewaht diferently than Joubarc. For instance, I know that I couldn't have done better. I'm not a writer and at the time that the call went out for the MDP'ers, I didn't even own a Mindstorms set. I thank all the MDP'ers that came out on blogs, personal websites, or just on brickshelf. Keep up the good work.
Anonymous said…
Don't get me wrong, I probably would not have done any better at all either... I see that what I said at the end could easily be seen as a bit enthousiastic (read: pretentious).

It's just a corner of my mind which thinks that way; but I got it, huuh, cornered.

It's more like "well, if there really was someone who did nothing in there, it could have been me; I would have been very good at doing nothing myself". But we don't even know for sure there was any MDPer at all who didn't do a thing anyway; it's just a random guess from me that there were a few. And if not, all the better.

But again, I'm pretty much happy about how the MDP apparently turned out; and in addition to the MDPers, I think we ought to thank the LEGO company itself for following that kind of road in the first place.
Anonymous said…
Don't forget that LEGO will release a complete description of the hardware and the firmware source code only in August. Until then much important information about the hardware is still confidential, so MDPs are not even allowed to talk about that yet.
Anonymous said…

So you're saying that it is posible that all sorts of NXT hacks are out there waiting to be released, but cannot due to the NDA?
Great post, Brian... really nothing to add.

Anonymous said…
I, like so many, did not get selected for the MDP - I would be quite disappointed if the product started to ship and 100 excited MDP members posted about their creations. It would feel that everything had been done already.

Going back to the MDP selection for a moment, nearly 10000 people saw the Wired article and applied to join. Now consider how many of these 10000 are visible in blogs like this or posting to Lugnet. 100, or 200 perhaps?

If the MDP is representative of the apllicants it is not really a surprise that only a few have the time, knowledge and inclination to be visible.


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