One good thing about audio on the Web is that I can listen to things while I’m
working. Which is precisely what I did this morning with Tim O’Reilly’s
keynote speech
at the Open
Source Convention
currently being held in the US. The audio was done by IT Conversations,
rapidly becoming one of my favourite websites. O’Reilly’s speech was 45 minutes long
and I jotted down some brief notes while I worked (stretching my multi-tasking muscles). I may as
well write them up into a blog entry now, then I’ll come back to them later on when I
have more time to reflect. So these aren’t definitive notes and I expect I’ll be
editing the quotes later. Here goes…

Tim O’Reilly is one of my tech heroes. He’s got a great strategic brain and he’s
happy to share his insights. In particular I’ve been following what he’s been saying
about e-publishing, as that’s a niche I’m getting into in a big way right now (more
on that in a later post).

The first thing O’Reilly said today that made my ears prick up was: “We don’t
publish books.” (“we” meaning his company O’Reilly Media). He said their aim is to
“capture knowledge” (ack, I hate when the word ‘capture’ is used with the word
‘knowledge’) and to “spread the word”. This touches on what Cory Doctorow and
others have said about e-books: they’re a practice, not an object. Which ties in with
the Social Media stuff that Ross Mayfield in
particular has been writing about lately. Publishing and books (and music) are increasingly a social activity carried out on the network, rather
than a physical thing you hold in your hands. I’ve got some posts coming up in which
I explore this further…

Anyway back to Tim O’Reilly’s speech. He talked about “new transformative
technologies”, which we’re using to “find the future – little pockets of it – and
move along with it”. His point here, I think, was that innovation is done at the edges
and you can see the mainstream future by seeking out these currently minority
“pockets” of technology. He then talked about companies like Google, Amazon and eBay
being applications, which he’s discussed at length before.

One quote I liked
from this part of the speech (about 14 mins in) was when he said the likes of Amazon
take “the intelligence of all its users…and put it in the interface”. (ps I may have
his words slightly off, I’ll fix later). He referred to it as “added value is the
data”. As an illustration, he compared Amazon to Barnes & Noble – concluding that
user participation is roughly 10 times more at Amazon than at B&N, and that this
is reflected in the search results (Amazon being 10 times more comprehensive). He
talked about incorporating “user added value” and that you need a “participatory
layer around the data”. All of this is on the theme of people as producers and
consumers – the read/write web. So of course I’m lapping it up 🙂

At around the 21 minute mark, Tim (if I may be so bold as to be on a first-name
basis with him!) talked about social software. I must admit that whenever people
start talking or blogging about social networking, like Friendster and Orkut, my eyes
glaze over. I’m just not into that stuff. But I did like what Tim said about social
networking apps needing to use more peer-to-peer technologies – because “we own the
data”. He went on to talk about Apple and the iPod/ITune/iEtc – that it’s a seamless
integration from “the handheld to the server”. As he put it, it’s the “get out of the
PC and into the network” metaphor.

Back to books, he said that books should “get out
of the physical object and into the network” (may have to check that quote, not sure
I wrote it down exactly right). The upshot is that it’s about “taking our content and
using it as a network data source”. In this regard he referred to the O’Reilly Safari
software as a “set of services” rather than a single app. As an example he talked
about a print-on-demand project that he did recently, which showed the Safari
experience is “more participatory” than other such services.

He ended his speech by discussing stats visualisation tools and “hardware
hacking”. Re visualisation, as an example he showed that PHP is increasing its
popularity, while Java is going down (which he said Paul Graham would like! See an IT Conversations
with Paul Graham for background on that).

Tim O’Reilly signed off with this nice little catchphrase: “You guys are our

So there are my very rough and quick notes. I apologise if I’ve misquoted Tim in
places, I will probably have another listen and tidy up this post later on. Stay tuned for more Read/Write Web posts on the themes that have been expressed
here. I’m also currently in the middle of preparing a new topic-focused blog. I bought the domain name for it last
night, before I listened to Tim’s speech. It took me well over 2 hours last night to find a suitable (or more to the point, available!) domain, but I’m happy to report that my choice has been
vindicated even more today after listening to Tim’s keynote! More soon…