Jenn Webb

Jenn Webb is a veteran of the newspaper industry turned freelance scribe, editor, and researcher. She is a nerd with a passion for technology and cultural disruption. She currently serves as O'Reilly Radar's managing editor and helps to investigate topics in the Design, IoT+, Data, and Emerging Tech spaces.

Our future sits at the intersection of artificial intelligence and blockchain

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Steve Omohundro on AI, cryptocurrencies, and ensuring a safe future for humanity.

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I met up with Possibility Research president Steve Omohundro at our Bitcoin & the Blockchain Radar Summit to talk about an interesting intersection: artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain/cryptocurrency technologies. This Radar Podcast episode features our discussion about the role cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies will play in the future of AI, Omohundro’s Self Aware Systems project that aims to ensure intelligent technologies are beneficial for humanity, and his work on the Pebble cryptocurrency.

Synthesizing AI and crypto-technologies

Bitcoin piqued Omohundro’s interest from the very start, but his excitement built as he started realizing the disruptive potential of the technology beyond currency — especially the potential for smart contracts. He began seeing ways the technology will intersect with artificial intelligence, the area of focus for much of his work:

I’m very excited about what’s happening with the cryptocurrencies, particularly Ethereum. I would say Ethereum is the most advanced of the smart contracting ideas, and there’s just a flurry of insights, and people are coming up every week with, ‘Oh we could use it to do this.’ We could have totally autonomous corporations running on the blockchain that copy what Uber does, but much more cheaply. It’s like, ‘Whoa what would that do?’

I think we’re in a period of exploration and excitement in that field, and it’s going to merge with the AI systems because programs running on the blockchain have to connect to the real world. You need to have sensors and actuators that are intelligent, have knowledge about the world, in order to integrate them with the smart contracts on the blockchain. I see a synthesis of AI and cryptocurrencies and crypto-technologies and smart contracts. I see them all coming together in the next couple of years.

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Signals from the O’Reilly Fluent Conference 2015

From user-centric performance to cognitive resources, here are key insights from the O’Reilly Fluent Conference.

Experts from across the Web development world came together in San Francisco this week for the O’Reilly Fluent Conference 2015. Below we’ve assembled notable keynotes, interviews, and insights from the event.

User-centric performance metrics

Paul Irish, PM at Google Chrome, says it’s important to look at performance the right way. Rather than ask “what is slow,” instead focus on “what does the user feel?” Irish outlines four phases of interaction and what users expect to experience. “Focus on the user,” he says, “and all else will follow.”

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Chaos Monkey for systems of people: The ultimate performance hack

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Alois Reitbauer on performance hacking, DevOps applications, and fostering a culture of respect.

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In this week’s episode of the Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Courtney Nash chats with Alois Reitbauer, chief evangelist at Ruxit, about how DevOps is deeply woven into the Ruxit culture. Reitbauer also talks about how the term “performance hacking” came about at Ruxit, why Chaos Monkey should be applied to systems of people, and why trust across — and between — all departments in an organization is essential.

DevOps beyond DevOps

Performance hacking is a term that emerged at Ruxit about a year ago as the company prepared for the beta launch, Reitbauer said, when they realized as the company scaled up, they needed to bring everyone from all their teams together. “The idea of performance hacking, then,” he noted, “was really, how can we scale up this collaboration between the DevOps teams, the product development teams, and our go-to-market growth hacking teams while we grow as an organization.” The ultimate aim was to figure out how to continue to act like a three-person, one-room startup as the company scaled to a couple hundred people.

One of the approaches embraced at Ruxit is to apply some of the DevOps best practices to their growth hacking and product development strategies. As an example, Reitbauer offered up the idea of Chaos Monkey, as applied not to AWS instances, but to the organization as a whole. The way it works, he explained, is to send a member of a team — any team — away on short notice (or no notice) and see what breaks. Reitbauer said that they’d actually done this and outlined what they learned from the exercise:

We have done it, and it also came up as part of our regular organizational practices. Like, when we had our first very strong conference season — we sent people to different shows all over the place; we picked people from the team who had to go somewhere. And even if people knew they were going to be out of the office in a couple of weeks, they still started to behave as if they would be around all the time, that they wouldn’t be leaving the office. Then, suddenly they were on a plane. They had no time to do their everyday work, and suddenly they realized where they really needed help. So, you don’t even have to make it a total surprise. You just have to plan how to get people out of their regular working behavior to do something else. Then we were able to figure out, ‘We really need somebody else to be able to jump in here or to help somebody out over there.’ It might be a regular holiday or just not daily routine.

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Experience design gives you the competitive edge

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Andy Budd on the rising value of design, the bright future of agencies, and designers on the brink.

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This week on the Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mary Treseler chats with Andy Budd, a partner and UX designer at Clearleft. Their wide-ranging conversation circles around lessons learned at Clearleft, understanding who your user really is, and why design agencies have a bright future. Budd also offers some insight into the people and projects he’s keeping an eye on, or rather, as he explains, keeping a look out for — the next big things probably aren’t yet on our radar, he says.

As Clearleft, a user-experience design consultancy, has matured over its 10 or so years, Budd says they’ve gotten a lot more interested in the psychology and philosophy behind design, how designers’ actions affect the world and society in general. The value of design, Budd notes, has been increasing over the past few years, becoming equal to — or even beginning to surpass — the prominence technology has traditionally enjoyed:

When I used to go to technology conferences, six, seven, eight years ago, the general narrative was around actual technology. It was around the developers as heroes around the technical stack being the main differentiator. Design was often lost in the conversation. Now, I think that’s changed. I think in the last three or four years, actually the technology stack, and the technology in general, has become a lot more commoditized, with the rise of rapid prototyping tools, with the rises of libraries and frameworks, and also just the general maturation of products. I think it’s very rare nowadays that a startup or product company will have, particularly in the Web space, will have a massive competitive advantage, just through technology alone. Read more…

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Better currency through programming

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Vitalik Buterin on bitcoin, the blockchain, Ethereum, and the future of money.

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In this Radar Podcast, I chat with Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum and co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine. We met at our Bitcoin & the Blockchain summit in San Francisco to talk about the disruptive potential of the bitcoin and blockchain technologies. He also outlined some of the problems he’s trying to solve with Ethereum and weighed in on how the use cases of money are going to change over the next 10 to 20 years.

Buterin told me that his father initially introduced him to bitcoin in 2011, and he wasn’t immediately interested — in fact, he outright rejected it, thinking, “It looks like it has no intrinsic value, and it’s obviously not going to work.” As he kept hearing about, he decided to investigate more and came to the realization that ultimately led him to create the Ethereum platform:

I immediately recognized that the way bitcoin works is the way that money should work. It’s exactly the correct approach, where you have: here’s the address you’re supposed to send to, here’s how much you want to send, here’s the button to send it. It’s money made for the Internet, not like the credit card approach, where you just basically give everyone the details to take as much as they want from your bank account.

On a trip to Israel, Buterin encountered projects, such as Colored Coins and Mastercoin, using blockchain technology for things other than bitcoin currency. “They were trying to let people issue their own assets,” he said. “They were trying tack features on top, tack financial contracts on top.” The protocols, Buterin noted, were overly complicated and he realized there might be a better way: “You could make it much simpler just by replacing everything with a programming language, and then if you do that, then people can write as many features as they want in the programming language after the fact.”

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The 3 best experience design things we saw this week – April 3, 2015

Designing for discomfort, redesigning death, and a civic-human interface.

Our design editors curate the most notable, interesting, and important material they come across. Below you’ll find their recent selections.

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Designed for discomfort

An elevator delivers you one floor below the floor you requested. A keyholder drops your bike lock key to the ground when you grab your car keys. A lampshade gradually closes unless you to touch it to retain illumination. These are not design flaws; they’re just a few examples of products designed to encourage behavior change.

elevator_Gideon_Tsang_FlickrSource: Cropped image by Gideon Tsang on Flickr

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The 3 best experience design things we saw this week – March 27, 2015

John Maeda's top 5, Josh Clark's wise words, and Tim O'Reilly on the underestimated impact of the IoT.

Our design editors curate the most notable, interesting, and important material they come across. Below you’ll find their recent selections.

Get the weekly design newsletter to see more links and tips.


John Maeda’s top 5

When former RISD president John Maeda, now design partner at VC firm Kleiner Perkins, was asked to name 5 things he can’t live without, his list didn’t include many “things.” Declaring himself a “post-possessionista,” he explains why some of his favorite things are more concept than object.

5-4-3-2-1_Neon_Countdown_Steven_Depolo_FlickrSource: Cropped image by Steven Depolo on Flickr
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How the DevOps revolution informs software architecture

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Neal Ford on the changing role of software architects and the rise of microservices.

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In this episode of the Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mac Slocum sits down with Neal Ford, a software architect and meme wrangler at ThoughtWorks, to talk about the changing role of software architects. They met up at our recent Software Architecture Conference in Boston — if you missed the event, you can sign up to be notified when the Complete Video Compilation of all sessions and talks is available.

Slocum started the conversation with the basics: what, exactly, does a software architect do. Ford noted that there’s not a straightforward answer, but that the role really is a “pastiche” of development, soft skills and negotiation, and solving business domain problems. He acknowledged that the role historically has been negatively perceived as a non-coding, post-useful, ivory tower deep thinker, but noted that has been changing over the past five to 10 years as the role has evolved into real-world problem solving, as opposed to operating in abstractions:

“One of the problems in software, I think, is that you build everything on towers of abstractions, and so it’s very easy to get to the point where all you’re doing is playing with abstractions, and you don’t reify that back to the real world, and I think that’s the danger of this kind of ivory-tower architect. When you start looking at things like continuous delivery and continuous deployment, you have to take those operational concerns into account, and I think that is making the role of architect a lot more relevant now, because they are becoming much more involved in the entire software development ecosystem, not just the front edge of it.”

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The 3 best experience design things we saw this week – March 20, 2015

UX evolution, tooting horns, and a rambunctious rant.

Our design editors curate the most notable, interesting, and important material they come across. Below you’ll find their recent selections.

Get the weekly design newsletter to see more links and tips.


The evolution of UX

From da Vinci to Dreyfuss to Disney to Donald Norman, interactions between humans and technology have marked each key milestone in the longer-than-you-think history of user experience design. Here’s how UX design’s past sheds light on its future.

Arts_and_Crafts_Follow_the_Light_US_Army_FlickrSource: Image by U.S. Army on Flickr
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Design’s return to artisan, at scale

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Matt Nish-Lapidus on design's circular evolution, and designing in the post-Industrial era.

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In this week’s Radar Podcast episode, Jon Follett, editor of Designing for Emerging Technologies, chats with Matt Nish-Lapidus, partner and design director at Normative. Their discussion circles around the evolution of design, characteristics of post-Industrial design, and aesthetic intricacies of designing in networked systems. Also note, Nish-Lapidus will present a free webcast on these topics March 24, 2015.

Post-Industrial design relationships

Nish-Lapidus shares an interesting take on design evolution, from pre-Industrial to post-Industrial times, through the lens of eyeglasses. He uses eyeglasses as a case study, he says, because they’re a piece of technology that’s been used through a broad span of history, longer than many of the things we still use today. Nish-Lapidus walks us through the pre-Industrial era — so, Medieval times through about the 1800s — where a single craftsperson designed one product for a single individual; through the Industrial era, where mass-production took the main stage; to our modern post-Industrial era, where embedded personalization capabilities are bringing design almost full circle, back to a focus on the individual user:

“Once we move into this post-Industrial era, which we’re kind of entering now, the relationship’s starting to shift again, and glasses are a really interesting example. We go from having a single pair of glasses made for a single person, hand-made usually, to a pair of glasses designed and then mass-manufactured for a countless number of people, to having a pair of glasses that expresses a lot of different things. On one hand, you have something like Google Glass, which is still mass-produced, but the glasses actually contain embedded functionality. Then we also have, with the emergence of 3D printing and small-scale manufacturing, a return to a little bit of that artisan, one-to-one relationship, where you could get something that someone’s made just for you.

“These post-Industrial objects are more of an expression of the networked world in which we now live. We [again] have a way of building relationships with individual crafts-people. We also have objects that exist in the network themselves, as a physical instantiation of the networked environment that we live in.”

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