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Mar 15

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

O'Reilly Radar Executive Briefing at Etech

etech logoAs I did last year at OSCON, I've prepared a special one-day O'Reilly Radar Executive Briefing at Etech on March 26 in San Diego. This is a chance to get an up-close look at some of the people and topics on the O'Reilly Radar. Unlike most of our conferences (except the Web 2.0 Summit), this is an executive conference format: light on presentations, with a focus on interviews with movers and shakers. And it's a small enough group (limited to 200 attendees) that there's a good opportunity for audience interaction.

Two major topics we're exploring at this year's Executive Briefing are:

Web 2.0 and Wall Street. It occurred to me recently that Web 2.0 (particularly the emerging Google economy) and financial markets have a lot in common. Both are highly networked information markets with a lot of money sloshing around in them. What can the Google economy learn from Wall Street, and what is Wall Street learning from Web 2.0? We'll talk about this subject with Peter Bloom, now a managing partner at General Atlantic Partners and the former CIO/CTO of Salomon Brothers, and Bill Janeway, former vice chairman of Warburg Pincus. I thought this might be a provocative topic, but the deeper I dig into it, the more excited I become -- and the fact that I can't get anyone from Google to come talk about the subject from their side makes me even more convinced that I'm onto something!

The on-demand manufacturing revolution. There used to be a gulf between the hardware hackers we celebrate in the pages of Make and the kind of stuff we buy in stores. That barrier is breaking down, as new on-demand manufacturing networks put not just the workshop but the factory at the hacker's disposal.

Dale Dougherty, publisher of Make:, will co-host this session with me. We'll be talking with:

  • Brian Warshawsky, VP of Operations for Potenco, the company that is building the innovative power supply for the One Laptop Per Child project. It was a conversation with Colin Bulthaup, the CEO of Potenco, that got me started thinking about the manufacturing revolution. Colin casually showed me a table full of prototypes of the pull-string based charger for the OLPC, all of them looking like they'd come fresh from a blister-pack at Best Buy.

    How'd they do that? No hand-made prototypes these. They look like something you'd buy in a store. And there were a half-dozen different versions strewn across the table.

    "We're now able to iterate on a hardware design on a weekly basis," Colin told me. "This is leading to rapid exploration of ideas in hardware analogous to what we've gotten used to in software. Up to a year ago, what you'd get were mockups. Now you can get fully functional mechanical prototypes."

    In addition to talking with us about cutting edge prototyping, Brian will show us the current incarnation of the One Laptop Per Child.

  • Bunnie Huang, hardware designer for the Chumby, will give us a first hand view of Chumby's adventures finding Chinese manufacturers. Chumby is the wifi-enabled clock radio of the future that you can "hack with a seam ripper," according to Steve Tomlin, its CEO. Chumby is interesting not only because of its manufacturing experiences, but also because of it's open source hardware/web 2.0 services business model. (Note: O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures is an investor in Chumby.)

  • Jacob DeHart and Jeffrey Kalmikoff of skinnycorp, the web design firm behind, the user-generated t-shirt design firm. Threadless lets its users submit and vote on designs digg-style (though we should perhaps say that digg lets its users vote on news threadless style, since threadless started doing this in 2001!) Shirts that get enough votes get manufactured. As a result of its reversal of the normal order of business, threadless has sold out of every product it has ever created.

  • John Hagel, author (with John Seely Brown) of The Only Sustainable Edge, will be joining us to talk about what he and JSB call "global process networks." These are networks of as many of 10,000 incredibly specialized suppliers, many of them in China, India, and other emerging countries, who represent the distributed factory of the future. He points out that "there is a lot going on in terms of collaborative networks in manufacturing but equally, if not more importantly, these same network orchestration techniques are being applied to product innovation and design."

In addition, we'll be taking a closer look at some intriguing new companies and asking what they tell us about the shape of the future:

  • Robert Cook, the co-founder and chief architect of Metaweb's freebase will show us freebase, and talk to us about the marriage of Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web that it represents. My recent blog posting on freebase got a lot of buzz, and I know a lot of people would love to take a closer look.

  • Ed Kozel of Skyrider Networks will talk to us about the emerging advertising economy on P2P networks. P2P has fallen off of a lot of people's radar, but it's still a booming economy, and Ed (the former CTO of Cisco) and his team at Skyrider are finding new ways to monetize it.

  • Seth Goldstein will debut his latest brainchild, is still not public (so there's just a single page there at the link), but imagine your web surfing habits as the Truman Show. Where are the boundaries between privacy and exhibitionism in the attention economy of the future?

  • OK, Jeff Jonas doesn't have a new company to show us. He's still Chief Scientist at IBM's Entity Analytics Division after selling them his company, Systems Research & Development, in 2005. Jeff got his start in "identity resolution" detecting fraud for Las Vegas casinos, and he's the one of the deepest thinkers about extracting meaning from large databases that I know.

Last but not least, Roger Magoulas, O'Reilly's director of market research, will show us the numbers behind the trends. He'll show some of our latest quantitative research on the Second Life economy, differences between technology adoption among startups and the mainstream market as shown by online job postings, and much more. In addition, LeeAnn Prescott and Bill Tancer of Hitwise will provide insights they've gleaned from the web traffic logs of more than 25 million worldwide users.

I'll be publishing the actual schedule for the day shortly. I'm juggling a few things, and trying to squeeze in a few more fascinating people and topics. But it goes from 8:30 to 5, just like the conference tutorials, on March 26. There are still a few places left, so if you're interested, you can register here.

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Robin   [03.16.07 01:22 AM]

Please fix the link to

kind regards

steve   [03.16.07 02:29 AM]

This is clearly a commercial post, advertising for an event in which you have a financial interest. It would be good if you could separate your "isn't this interesting" stuff from your "give me money" stuff.

The mixture of the two makes it difficult to discern the value of your information. You tend to push harder than something is worth when it's for one of your companies or contacts, and it takes a bit of digging around to find out when you're doing one or the other.

At the moment, it's leaving a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, like sugar and salt combined. Either definitely has its place, but mixing them is not a good idea.

Simon Wardley   [03.16.07 06:57 AM]

"The on-demand manufacturing revolution" - excellent topic.

Just need more open hardware + hybrid printers (lab based at the moment) + Spime Script and then Nick Carr can write a book on "Does it MATTER? Fabrication and the erosion of competitive advantage" and we'll be on track to commoditisation of the manufacturing process (i.e. distribution and ubiquity) and all the joys that will bring.

Timely post by the way, see

Nanoident printing chip factory

Tim O'Reilly   [03.16.07 07:54 AM]

Steve --

Yes, it is a commercial post, but it's clearly marked as such. You're free to ignore it.

Meanwhile, both the blog and the conference (and any investments we make and disclose) are true reflections of what's on our radar.

Yes, I could have done separate posts on "Web 2.0 and Wall Street" and "The On Demand Manufacturing Revolution", two separate subjects that are very much on my radar -- and then done another post that said, "hey, those things I was talking about in those apparently non-commercial posts are being covered at my conference" but that would have seemed less disclosive than the way I did it.

Take on-demand manufacturing. This is a huge topic -- and Simon Wardley just pointed to one aspect I'm not covering, namely the fab revolution. Why? Not because it's not interesting but because a lot of people in our community are already aware of this via Neil Gershenfeld's book (and his presentation at Etech last year, or the year before), but there really is something new I wanted to frame as I've watched hackers harness remote factories in China for their projects.

If you find that less interesting because I'm also featuring it at a conference, I'm sorry. But that's the business I'm in. I study emerging trends, and I publish information about them on this blog, but I also publish books about them, organize conferences, and make investments. I clearly disclose my commercial interest in each case.

And no, I don't tend to push harder when something is for one of my companies or contacts. There are a whole lot of things I feature that actually compete with my companies or contacts.

Take my recent posts about Adrian Holovaty. His book is being published by one of my competitors. I wish I was publishing it, but I'm not. But that doesn't keep me from saying "pay attention to this guy!"

You have to remember the firing order. I write about things that I think are interesting. I also publish and organize conferences about things I think are interesting. They spring from the same source. I don't write about things just because I publish them, or just because they are at my conferences. If I did, you'd see hundreds of posts each year about books that are coming out from O'Reilly, and about sessions at each of our dozen conferences.

And frankly, as to the value of the information...I probably wouldn't have posted about the Web 2.0 and Wall Street thing if it wasn't going to be at the conference. Why? Because I think it's a really valuable thread that could guild some very interesting VC investment strategy. I debated long and hard about whether to put it in the conference, and so expose my thinking to the world, or just set my venture group on it... So yes, I think it's extremely meaningful to a lot of people to know what I think is important enough to feature in a conference.

I'm sorry if you're not one of them.

Simon Wardley   [03.16.07 10:31 AM]

Hi Tim,

That's me reading between the lines too much - I saw "rapid exploration of ideas in hardware analogous to what we've gotten used to in software" and "prototyping" and thought, well electronic or hybrid fabs must be in there somewhere.

However, it's as you say a huge field, and there are many paths. The use of rapid manufacturing services such as you describe and the movement towards individual or small scale manufacture is highly relevant. Overall it sounds like an excellent session.

rektide   [03.16.07 04:17 PM]

My parent's town has a couple who do upholstery for the local boat industry. Even the resident engineer-in-the-woods uncle doesnt grasp how quickly rapid prototyping is changing things, not like these guys: theres all sorts of cloth materials available with profound levels of customization and pre-cutting options. A couple years ago they used to just buy a couple rolls of fabric in bulk for the season, now half of their projects are half done by the time the fabric gets to the shop. I talk with a lot of people about new fabbing technologies, but I find it hard to explain what is so potent about new computer automated system, & I have a hard time convincing people how powerful customization and integrated production can be: by and large most people dont believe there is a demand and dont see where demand would grow positing a newly arriving supply. Returning home and engauging in a long conversation with some incredibly talented fabric artists about how their jobs have been completely changed inside the last four years has been one of the most encouraging conversations I've had in a long time. They've clearly siezed on the new materials and customizations available and used it to maximize their craftsmanship.

The lockheed martin polecat always comes to mind when talking about rapid prototyping. A spy drone with an 18 month turnaround, built with 3d printers forming composite materials. Composites are often regarded as expensive material requiring extensive tooling, but if you build the correct tooling (3d printers), there can be immense benefits.

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