May 25

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Government Thinking about Web 2.0

I recently received the following mail from someone who desired to remain anonymous:

"My unit leads the website for a scientific agency of the federal government. We are beginning the process of overhauling our site and have an opportunity to do something more than just a minor update. I've been reading about the principles of Web 2.0 and can imagine a site that leverages our scientific expertise and credibility and engages the public in a manner that allows the cumulative experience of our public and our partners to make the content, experience, and impact grow exponentially over time. The challenge is that as a governmental website, there are significant limits to our ability to collect information from/on users and limits to our ability to allow users to add their own feedback and content without undermining our scientific credibility."

Aside from the fact that the need to remain anonymous is a very bad sign with regard to the possibilities for this agency, what advice can radar readers give? I do note that the USPTO has recently floated a plan to get user input on patent applications, so it's not entirely impossible to move the government into the Web 2.0 era.

My first advice is that it's important to distinguish between collecting private information, and collecting or monitoring aggregate or public information. Declan Butler of Nature is doing a great job mapping H5N1 news reports onto Google Earth, for example. At the end of the day, it's not even about collecting information on your site. The best way to make yourself web 2.0 is actually to expose your data in ways that let other people re-use it. What if your data could be a layer on Google Earth?

In general, Nature is doing a great job of applying Web 2.0 to science, so studying what they are doing would be a great starting point with regard to your worries about credibility.

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Comments: 56

  Dan Craig [05.25.06 11:15 AM]

One of the best examples of a government agency doing this is the National Weather Service. They announced last year that they were publishing all their data openly in XML. They also have a very cool section of their site for aviation that uses JavaScript tools for interactive plotting of weather data. They do not require any identifying information from the user. A lot of this was in the works before the Web 2.0 concept became popular, but they seem to be doing it right. It's nice to see your tax dollars going to effective and useful government agencies.

  Deepak [05.25.06 12:22 PM]

Declan Butler, Timo Hannay and others at Nature are doing a wonderful job with Web 2.0 in science. Wider acceptance is still some ways away, but in general the winds of change are evident. A number of publications now offer RSS feeds. Some allow commenting, especially the open access journals. I hope that scientists, in time, will embrace the concept of the social web. There is still a lot of skepticism out there.

  Anthony Eden [05.25.06 12:38 PM]

There is already a big push to share information in electronic format between government agencies (including but not limited to the military), but progress getting from here to there is going to take years. A lot of government data will never be public but there can still be interagency "Web 2.0".

  Paul Browne [05.25.06 01:49 PM]

Any comment on this?. Have O'Reilly gone over to the 'dark side'?

  adam [05.25.06 02:12 PM]

My thinking about Web 2.0 is that O'Reilly should stop pretending he has some sort of claim to it. Honest to god!

  Timo Hannay [05.25.06 04:07 PM]

Thanks for the nice comments about Nature, Tim and Deepak. Web 2.0 concepts, as articulated by Tim and his colleagues, have had a big impact on our thinking about scientific communication in the age of the web. We've done a fair amount in this area already, but there's a lot more to come. We write about it here and would be really happy to hear from people who want to share ideas about how scientists can get the most out of this medium, because we're really passionate about it.

We also work with a number of government agencies, mostly in the US, and I know it's difficult for them to experiment in certain ways. OTOH, in other ways they have a lot more freedom to innovate (no quarterly revenue targets, for example). Web 2.0 is so multifaceted (even ill-defined, some would say) that there are opportunities for organisations of every stripe if you look closely and think deeply enough.

As for the credibility issue, my personal view is that there is a far greater danger of losing credibility -- and even relevance -- if you don't make the most of what information technology can offer than if you try to push the envelope, even if your experiments fail every so often, as I'm sure some of ours will.

  Jonathan [05.25.06 04:08 PM]

Perhaps Tim could comment on

"On the other hand, they’re threating to send in the legal heavies for the use of the Web 2.0 tag in a forthcoming Irish conference"

How can we educate the world on Web 2.0 if we are not allowed use it as a recognizable "tag" to alert non tech types to changes and evolution in what can be delivered via the Web. People are used to hearing things described as being a "Web 2.0" whether the "tag" applies to companies , paradigms , class of product. or perish the though a non O"Reilly conference.

  Bernie Goldbach [05.25.06 05:10 PM]

The concept of Web 2.0 is important for government agencies because there's a lot of savings enjoyed by leveraging privately gathered information. As a former Pentagon analyst, I worked on teams that had to rely on data generated outside of the Beltway. On some days, I had an entire (physical) shopping cart full of print-outs to distill. Doing this kind of work via an addressable API would be much faster and as long as the data were cross-validated, the taxpayer benefits with less costly consultancy services engaged to produce much the same analysis through much the same Web 2.0 nodes.

  Stephen Downes [05.25.06 05:13 PM]

I'm going to be, I guess, just another one of those writing here and saying, what, this has got to be a hoax, right?

Because the reason why I have a row of O'Reilly books on my shelf is that I thought that O'Reilly, you know, actually got the whole web thing.

I guess not. I guess it's all about trying to own the whole things after all. Claiming that you have invented something all by yourself, when really, you were riding on the coattails of the millions of people who are putting in their own time to make this thing work.

What I'll do, I guess, is wait for the announcement that it was an error or a hox or something like that. Something that restores my already jaded faith that there is some good in the publishing world.

In the meantime, I will keep the hard earned dollars I've earned on the web - old and new - in my pocket. No more O'Reilly products for me, not until I know this was all just a mistake.

  Anonymous [05.25.06 05:19 PM]

Tim...You used to be my hero to some extent. I heard your podcast where you talk about "Future is here - its just not equally distributed".Now you suck...why do lip service to open source and start sueing helpless organisations for using web 2.0. This is insane man. [05.25.06 05:52 PM]

The paperwork reduction act, created so you don't have to spend 5 hours filling out a 20 page web form so you can access a govt website, requires govt webmasters to carefully think through the information they collect and then have it put though a series of reviews (that of course includes lawyers).

You can ask questions of users. If they include privacy information - SS number, phone number, etc - you have to show how you are going to protect the privacy of the users and show you how you are going to explain to users what you are and aren't going to do with their data.

But this process can take 2-9 months to complete. Only once in my agency have we seen a project group willing to take the time to complete the process. Thus, they tend to complain that they can't do it at all.

I happen to think these safe guards are a very, very good thing. Can you image if you had to answer 25 questions everytime you wanted to check the weather?

  web 2.0 sue me [05.25.06 06:03 PM]

out suing 2.0 companies tosser?

  Bob Matsuoka [05.25.06 09:51 PM]

Hmm...I'd like to hear a response on the Web 2.0 cease and desist as well. Looks like it is CMP, not O'Reilly, but they certainly are tossing your name about.

  dnl2ba [05.25.06 09:54 PM]

If "Web 2.0" means "Ajax" (or at least "lots of fancy JavaScript"), my biggest suggestion is to make sure it degrades gracefully for users with less capable browsers, especially if it's for public access.

If, OTOH, it means syndicated content (either raw data or human-consumable), community contributions, etc., well, that's great too.

  JP [05.25.06 10:42 PM]

Hey Tim, regarding your attempts to trademark "Web 2.0": you are a complete tool. Actually, that's a great money-making idea for you: try trademarking the word "tool" and submit that cheesy headshot of you at the top of your blog as prior art. You look like you're taking a dump in that picture. So O'Reilly's gone the way of SCO (claiming IP rights over Linux) and Amazon (patenting the use of cookies), eh? So that drivel at the top of your blog about you being "an opponent of software patents and other incursions of new intellectual property laws into the public domain" is just some lie written by some marketing intern flunky, eh? So you'd rather sue non-profits than innovate, eh? Good for you, Tim. I can't wait to never buy another O'Reilly product and I can't wait to publicize this abomination to everyone I know in the tech industry. Boycott O'Reilly!

  Yagiz Erkan [05.26.06 02:08 AM]

We heard about O'Reilly's attempt to trademarke Web 2.0. Well at least the intent is clear now. How can we blame him? There are some many stereotype managers drooling just with the mention of the acronyme-du-jour, he's trying to make money.

As the famous venture-capitalist Guy Kawasaki says "When people say to me it's a Web 2.0 application, I want to puke"...

  BW [05.26.06 02:45 AM]

I'm trademarking Web 2.1, Web 3.0, Wwb 4.6 and Web 5.3

I'll let you know what they are as soon as I make it up.

Boycott O'Reilly II

  Kieran [05.26.06 03:02 AM]

Boycott O'Reilly
Boycott O'Reilly
Boycott O'Reilly
Boycott O'Reilly
Boycott O'Reilly
Boycott O'Reilly
Boycott O'Reilly
Boycott O'Reilly
Boycott O'Reilly
Boycott O'Reilly

  Yagiz Erkan [05.26.06 03:05 AM]

Well that may be the end of my best publisher:

Boycott O'Reilly!

  dontsuemetim [05.26.06 07:14 AM]

Hey Tim,

How does the trademarking of Web 2.0 fit in with Web 2.0 functionality. IMHO it doesn't.
How can we discuss Web 2.0 without getting sued for trademark infringemnt. How can we have discussions and nerd nights if we cannot advertise them as such.
Will my blog get sued if I call it a web 2.0 blog. If you are not acting to stop this Trademarking and Cease and Desist Lawyer Fest then this asshat must be yours.
You have the power of authority, people listen to you, lead by example.
I'd like to give you my details so you answer me but I do not want to be cease and desisted.

  Peter Boling [05.26.06 07:28 AM]

Esto es la cosa mas ridicula que jamas he visto.

Please explain how you own "Web 2.0". No actually, don't. I don't need to feel sick right now.

Quite possibly the stupidest C&D letter I have ever heard about.

Have your lawyers lost their minds? I realize that your lawyers are probably not 'in touch' with the tech world. But are they really so far removed that they think they can trademark "Web 2.0"? And if those granting trademarks actually give it to you, due to their own lack of sensibility with tech issues, what will you do?

Maybe you think that the fastest way to a make a quick $billion?

I'd thought about purchasing several of your books today for a new project I'm starting... heh. Good thing I read the news first. :)

  tc [05.26.06 07:43 AM]

The biggest issue for Web 2.0 in government (Federal, at least) is 508 compliance. Since so much of Web 2.0 relies on Javascript, Web 2.0 needs to solve 508 compliance prior to Federal implementation. It doesn't make sense to me spending alot of time developing 2.0 sites and having to also maintain a separate compliant site.

For example, Web 2.0 needs to handle how to notify screen readers of changes.

  Nathan [05.26.06 08:25 AM]

I am so disappointed with you personally and your company over the embarrassingly petty and unneeded legal spat on the trademark name Web 2.0. Would you like for the government agency to also pay a fee to mention it in an e-mail? In an age and day when increasing litigation threatens technological innovation and creativity, it's a shame that a reputable computer book company have descended to this level. Shame on you. I used to prefer purchasing your books, my own way of supporting your business and ethics. However, from now on, I'll consider you no less ethical than anyone else. Congratulations, you've just lost a loyal fan.


  J. Knecht [05.26.06 09:45 AM]

I am a developer who owns probably more than 50 O' Reilly books (not including books I purchase for my work).

Tim, if this whole trademarking "Web 2.0" thing turns out to be true and as it seems, you've seen my last dollar.

  U. Grant [05.26.06 11:50 AM]

I'm claiming prior use on

Web 2.6
Web 2.7
Web 2.8
Web 2.9
Web 3.n
Web 4.1
Web 5.4

Don't use these in any of your books unless you want a legal letter from some jack-ass company (Oh, wait).


You Suck O'Reilly

  Cyrus [05.26.06 12:09 PM]

Tim, this is a joke right?

I'll wait for a response before I start telling anyone and everyone who'll listen to BOYCOTT O'REILLY. Way to create animosity in your own fanbase.

Good thing I checked the news today before I want to the bookstore.

  Dave [05.26.06 12:43 PM]

I too use a lot of your books. No more though. I thought you "got it" Tim, but it appears that I was wrong.
I am very disappointed.

  Scott [05.26.06 12:44 PM]

Wow, sad that you have to refrain from using the works Web 2.0. Guess ill remember that the next time I need to go buy a tech book from the store.

  Patty O'Furniture [05.26.06 12:56 PM]

Tim, if this is true, I'm sorry but I can no longer purchase any of your books. If it is not true, then I would like to hear your response immediatly.

  Chris [05.26.06 01:00 PM]

WTF were you thinking, you don't own the rights this Web 2.0 you jerk.

Screw you and you crappy network. Blow your books at your asshole, wanker!

  Matt [05.26.06 01:12 PM]

You can't copyright that phrase, and if you could it would be an asshole thing to do. So please don't. Save yourself some dignity.

  Anonymous [05.26.06 01:13 PM]

Hey, asshole. Yes, you! The one who is trademarking Web 2.0! FUCK YOU!

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Web 2.0

Oh shit, I just said Web 2.0, what are you going to do, sue me?

  CyberMage [05.26.06 01:24 PM]

Your threats against the IT@Cork conference are appalling. How can you think you can trademark a buzzword AFTER it's already in use in media worldwide?

I imagine you guys were thinking "bad publicity is better than no publicity." Unfortunately that doesn't hold true anymore in today's Internet age.

  Web 2.0 [05.26.06 01:34 PM]

I can appreciate that maybe you want there to be a distinction between two seperate Web 2.0 conferences. But to invoke lawyers instead of working with the community makes you the punchline of a terrible joke.

I recently got into Linux and heard O' Reilly was the place to go for books. I'm slightly embarrassed that I own a couple. I'm very embarrassed that I thought they were worth paying full price for.

If this is all as bad as it seems, I hope O' Reilly fades as fast as the buzzword.

Web 2.0

  Web 2.0 mhark [05.26.06 01:41 PM]

Some of these comments are embarassing and dumb, but overall, I'd say O' Reilly is going to be facing one hell of a backlash from devs all over the world is this Web 2.0 suit happens to be true. I don't agree with it at all, I think it's a stupid ploy for money.. and if that's true, than you've lost all future money you were going to get from me and countless other devs who buy your books.

  Web 2.0 Guy [05.26.06 01:42 PM]

Look, I understand your obviousy business logic behind attempting to cut any of your competitors off at the knees by attempting to trademark Web 2.0...but Web 2.0 is being termed a revolution by many...not some catch phrase. Of course its catchy and of course it may make one of your shitty books pop off the stands...but its more or less a revolution of the internet. When was the last revolution trademarked? Anyone?

Well I couldn't think of any off the top of my why don't you get over yourself and your ridiculous notion and remove your trademark request. Let's be honest...sure you come up with a couple decent publications, I've picked up a few at book stores, but I've quickly put them down and as a technical person who uses the phrase Web 2.0...I will no longer even give your books a glance and will insist that my friends don't either.


  Lance Fisher [05.26.06 01:44 PM]


Come on trademarking Web 2.0?! As if the term wasn't stupid enough. Do you want it not to catch on? Quit bugging this guy. Ugh, and I used to like your books. Now I just resent your company. You should apologize.


  withheld [05.26.06 02:28 PM]

I'm burning my O'Reilly books as I type...

  heavymeta [05.26.06 02:37 PM]

Echoing the other comments on the web 2.0 trademark - ridiculously short-sighted to go after that considering the ill will you'll earn as a result - couln't possibly be worth it.

  Chris Stephens [05.26.06 02:49 PM]

If O'Reilly continues its lame threats and potential lawsuit I predict they will go the same way as SCO.

You are pissing off your best customers. Smart.

  Ray Jones [05.26.06 05:10 PM]

I'm not buying any O'Reilly books, and will encourage all my friends to avoid them as well, until they retract and apologize for the Web 2.0 legal threats.

  Web 2.0 [05.26.06 05:29 PM]


  Mike Oligny [05.26.06 05:44 PM]

I have no doubt Tim is in a position to stop this - and I certainly hope he does - otherwise I will feel obligated to point this out whenever someone suggests an O'Reilly title. He should probably change his plans and go to the conference to give a public apology on behalf of O'Reilly and CMP, as well. Hmm...

  Anonymous [05.26.06 06:04 PM]

I have probably 50 O'Reilly books. My first books were on curses and make. They weren't even bound, they were stapled, probably close to 20 years old.
I will purchase no more until this is crap is taken care of.

  billy [05.26.06 08:55 PM]

F U, Tim, for this whole "Web 2.0" cease and desist BS. I hope you and your company rot in hell.

  Ozzy Osbourne [05.27.06 12:01 AM]

I suppose the government won't be moving to "web 2.0" apps now they will have a fear of being sued for using your trademark.

Former Customer.

Will forward this to our IT department and suggest they don't buy O'Reilly books. Those who have seen this laugh for about 5 minutes then get very very angry....

  Mortimer N. Cobblepop [05.27.06 01:24 AM]

Wow, I'm glad I torrented 80 O'Reilly books instead of actually paying for them!

  Anonymous [05.27.06 03:32 AM]

I think this pr disaster may be the moment your company jumped the shark. Bummer for you.

Let this be a reminder to those that will take your place to not be as greedy and arrogant as you were.

  MoMo [05.29.06 10:36 AM]

What do you expect? O'Reilly is a business man and a smart marketing guy! The Open Source is for him not more than a "Business Model" and nothing more!

  Mark [05.29.06 11:37 AM]

It really is appalling that it's now Monday the 29th and Tim still hasn't written anything personally about this. I have to say, I never did buy the "on vacation" story. Don't tell me Tim O'Reilly was totally out of contact to the extent he couldn't deal with a reputation implosion like this; the unfortunate fact is that, most likely, his silence means he was the one who was directly behind it from the get-go. If you believed O'Reilly was about a different way of doing business, your trust was misplaced.

  paul [05.29.06 04:10 PM]


This is quite a serious issue. I suspect it will be a while before you hear from Tim. Regardless, I am not going to be buying any more O'Reilly books. The attitude of the people at O'Reilly stinks.

  dave cormier [05.30.06 09:17 AM]

mmm... 30th. Still no official response. The "we'll get it sorted out on Monday crowd" also seem strangely silent. I'd really like some info on how all this is going to wash...

  Jerry [06.01.06 01:50 PM]

Oh, It is fantastic that I can get access to O'Reilly's personal blog. I believe the books published from O'Reilly are really popular around the world. Like those very much.
Thanks for every efforts for Tim, may come back often.

  Patrick Cormier [06.05.06 12:38 PM]

Anyone interested in the application of web 2.0 to governments should take a look at Government 2.0 Think Tank at:

  digitaljhelms [06.27.06 07:57 AM]

I'm not surprised to see what is happening with this Web 2.0 movement and the direction it's coin-phrase pioneers are taking in trying to protect their so-called investments. I mean, someone had to take the "Gates" attitude and initiative towards the whole concept.

Look out World, there's another pirate-pioneer on the loose...

Noteworthy: Makes me consider registering Web 3.0 or Web 4.0 as a trademark to ensure my legal rights to a concept that .. how did O'Reilly put it .. "doesn't have a hard boundary."

  digitaljhelms [06.27.06 08:19 AM]

Also, you're response to this backlash only confirms that you ARE claiming rights to "Web 2.0", and you even state that it is a concept you created.

Although, I must say, your tasteful twist on the reason for doing so sure did help your community ratings. Bravo, everyone loves O'Reilly again...

What a joke.

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