Jan 14

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Oldies but Goodies: The Network Really Is the Computer

I was looking for a reference in something I'd written earlier, and happened to see this paragraph from my 2000 keynote at JavaOne, The Network Really Is the Computer:

If you believe me that open source is about Internet-enabled collaboration, rather than just about a particular style of software license, you'll open a much larger tent. You'll see the threads that tie together not just traditional open source projects, but also collaborative "computing grid" projects like SetiAtHome, user reviews on, technologies like collaborative filtering, new ideas about marketing such as those expressed in The Cluetrain Manifesto, weblogs, and the way that Internet message boards can now move the stock market. What started out as a software development methodology is increasingly becoming a facet of every field, as network enabled conversations become a principal carrier of new ideas.

It's worth noting for two reasons:

  1. Even now, a lot of people don't see the connection between Web 2.0 and open source.
  2. This connection reminds us how we can often see the shape of the future by thinking hard about the behavior of early adopters.

I came to my formulations about Web 2.0 because I was thinking about what open source really meant, and how the deep trends would play out over time, as they spread beyond the open source software development community and other pioneers. What else can we see now in the behavior of today's early adopters? That's the next set of questions.

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Comments: 5

  terrie [01.14.07 09:38 AM]

I was surprised that developers haven't more excited by the possibilities with web apps on the iPhone...especially if the network is the computer, or the web is a platform.

  Douglas Reay [01.14.07 01:05 PM]

Here's how I put it, back in 1995:

Intelligence is the scarcest resource.

Everything else derives from this:

  • Dividing computers into hardware and software, the very idea of making programs easily changable, allows them to be worked on seperatly.
  • Further abstractions such as operating systems, layered protocols, and compiled high level languages serve the same purpose.
  • Unix, GNU and shareware. Distributing sources allows more people to work on the code.
  • Networks, usenet, the web. By allowing people to add as they will, rather than control it, things get added faster.
  • Copyright, encryption, standardisation, web indexes, you name it.

Another way to put it is Survival of the Cooperative. In other words, whenever there have been two ways that computing could go, it has moved in the direction of the path that lets more people work on the same thing simultaneously. Even windows fits this pattern, because by creating a standard, it increases portability and lets more people work on code using the same platform.

  Tim O'Reilly [01.14.07 08:33 PM]

Very insightful comment, Douglas. If you don't mind, I may promote it to the top level as a new entry to get some discussion going.

  Michael Sparks [01.15.07 09:08 AM]

Hey Doug, on your site you have the same point, but you preface it with: "Some time ago I wrote that there were two main things you should remember about the Net.

Since then it has occured to me that there is actually only One thing you should remember about computing" ...

What was the other thing ?

  Douglas Reay [02.06.09 09:04 PM]

I don't mind at all. Go ahead.

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