Mac Slocum

Mac Slocum is director of online content at O'Reilly. He's been writing, editing and producing web content in various forms since the mid '90s. He also dabbles in video interviews from time to time.

Signals from Foo Camp 2014

O’Reilly editors explore the ideas and influences that are poised to break through.

Foo Camp logoFoo Camp, our annual gathering in Sebastopol, Calif., brings together people we know and admire, and those we’d like to know better. It’s also a way for us to discover the ideas emerging at the edges of technology, business, art, science, and society.

The latest Foo Camp wrapped up recently, so we pooled our notes and collected the major trends we spotted across sessions and conversations. Consider the following an early look at big things to come. Read more…

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Radar gets a refresh

Radar is rolling out a new editorial approach and a responsive design.

Today we’re excited to roll out a number of important updates that refine Radar’s content and freshen up the site’s design.

A new approach

The most notable change is also the least obvious.

In the months ahead, Radar’s editorial mission will evolve through our exploration of new topics and new techniques. Of particular note is our theme structure, which helps us interpret important ideas and developments and, in turn, share how we believe they’ll affect you and your world. You’ll soon see insightful posts from all of our content leads that put our best thinking into these essential areas.

There’s also things you won’t find here at Radar. Generic tech news and flavor-of-the-moment coverage don’t have a place, nor are we interested in bombast or drive-by attention.

What we’re really looking to do is create and nurture a dialogue; a true give-and-take that challenges our assumptions and shapes our perspectives. To pull that off we need your help. So consider this an open invitation to take us to task and point us in new directions. Read more…

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Aereo’s copyright solution: intentional inefficiency

Aereo's backward architecture could be the thing that keeps it in business.

Aereo, an online service that sends free over-the-air television broadcasts to subscribers, scored a big win in court this week.

At first glance, it would seem the service has to violate copyright. Aereo is grabbing TV content without paying for it and then passing it along to Aereo’s paying subscribers.

So how is Aereo pulling it off? Over at Ars Technica, Timothy B. Lee deconstructs the service’s blend of tech and legal precedent:

Aereo’s technology was designed from the ground up to take advantage of a landmark 2008 ruling holding that a “remote” DVR product offered by Cablevision was consistent with copyright law. Key to that ruling was Cablevision’s decision to create a separate copy of recorded TV programs for each user. While creating thousands of redundant copies makes little sense from a technical perspective, it turned out to be crucial from a legal point of view …

… When a user wants to view or record a television program, Aereo assigns him an antenna exclusively for his own use. And like Cablevision, when 1,000 users record the same program, Aereo creates 1,000 redundant copies. [Links included in original text; emphasis added.]

Creating lots of copies of the exact same content is inefficient. No one can argue that point. But if you can get past the absurdity, you have to admit Aereo’s architecture is quite clever. Take thousands of tiny antennas, combine them with abundant storage, and now you’ve got a disruptive service that might survive the onslaught of litigation.

Note: Aereo’s recent win only applies to a request for a preliminary injunction. Further court proceedings are likely, and you can bet there will be a long and winding appeals process.

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If you’ve ever wondered where those O’Reilly animal covers come from …

Edie Freedman reveals how the animal covers came to be and how you can help those same animals stick around.

Exploring ExpectThe exchange often goes like this:

Stranger: “Where do you work?”

Me: “O’Reilly Media.”

Stranger: “O’Reilly …”

[Long pause while he or she works through the various "O'Reilly" outlets — the TV guy, the auto parts company.]

Me: “You know the books with the animals on the covers?”

Stranger: “Oh yeah!”

And off we go. Those covers are tremendous ice breakers.

The story behind those covers is also notable. Our colleague Edie Freedman, O’Reilly’s creative director and the person who first made the connection between animal engravings and programming languages, has written a short piece about the genesis of the O’Reilly animals. If you’ve ever wondered where those animals came from, her post is worth a read.

(Something I learned from Edie’s post: the covers that get the best response feature 1. animals with recognizable faces and 2. animals that are looking directly at the reader.)

Edie’s “Short history of the O’Reilly Animals” is part of a larger effort to raise awareness for the plight of the O’Reilly animals, many of which are critically endangered. You can learn more about the O’Reilly Animals project here.

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The media-marketing merge

Can good content come from pay-to-play relationships?

I ran across a program Forbes is running called BrandVoice that gives marketers a place on Forbes’ digital platform. During a brief audio interview with TheMediaBriefing, Forbes European managing director Charles Yardley explained how BrandVoice works:

“It’s quite simply a tenancy fee. A licensing fee that the marketer pays every single month. It’s based on a minimum of a six-month commitment. There’s two different tiers, a $50,000-per-month level and a $75,000-per-month level.” [Discussed at the 4:12 mark.]

Take a look at some of the views BrandVoice companies are getting. You can see why marketers would be interested. Read more…

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Why I’m changing my tune on paywalls

A Pew report says paywalls could yield content that justifies a price tag.

The Pew Research Center is out with its annual “State of the News Media” report. Much of it is what you’d expect: newspapers and local television are struggling, mobile is rising, digital revenue hasn’t — and can’t — replace traditional print revenue, and on and on.

But read carefully, and you’ll find hope.

For example, Pew says the embrace of paywalls might improve the quality of the content:

“The rise of digital paid content could also have a positive impact on the quality of journalism as news organizations strive to produce unique and high-quality content that the public believes is worth paying for.”

I used to criticize paywalls. I thought they could only work for specialized content or material that’s attached to a desired outcome (i.e. subscribe to the Wall Street Journal, use the insights to make money).

My concern was that publishers would slam walls around their existing content and ask people to pay for an experience that had once been free. That made no sense. Who wants to pay for slideshows and link bait and general news?

But content that’s “worth paying for” is a different thing altogether. Publishers who go this route are acknowledging that a price tag requires justification.

Will it work? Maybe. What I might pay is different than what you might pay. There’s that pesky return-on-investment thing to consider as well.

However, my bigger takeaway — and this is why I’m changing my tune on paywalls — is that value is now part of the paywall equation. That’s a good start.

Comments: 14

What tools do you use for information gathering and publishing?

O'Reilly staffers reveal some of their go-to curation tools. We want to know yours, too.

Many apps claim to be the pinnacle of content consumption and distribution. Most are a tangle of silly names and bad interfaces, but some of these tools are useful. A few are downright empowering.

Finding those good ones is the tricky part. I queried O’Reilly colleagues to find out what they use and why, and that process offered a decent starting point. We put all our notes together into this public Hackpad — feel free to add to it. I also went through and plucked out some of the top choices. Those are posted below.

But I know I’m missing some good ones and that’s why I’m throwing this open for public discussion. Read more…

Comments: 3

Three lessons for the industrial Internet

Simplicity, generativity and robustness shaped the Internet. Tim O'Reilly explains how they can also define the industrial Internet.

The map of the industrial Internet is still being drawn, which means the decisions we’re making about it now will determine the extent to which it shapes our world.

With that as a backdrop, Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly) used his presentation at the recent Minds + Machines event to urge the industrial Internet’s architects to apply three key lessons from the Internet’s evolution. These three characteristics gave the Internet its ability to be open, to scale and to adapt — and if these same attributes are applied to the industrial Internet, O’Reilly believes this growing domain has the ability to “change who we are.”

Full video and slides from O’Reilly’s talk are embedded at the end of this piece. You’ll find a handful of insights from the presentation outlined below.

Lesson 1: Simplicity

“Standardize as little as possible, but as much as is needed so the system is able to evolve,” O’Reilly said.

To illustrate this point, O’Reilly drew a line between the simplicity and openness of TCP/IP, the creation and growth of the World Wide Web, and the emergence of Google.

“The Internet is fundamentally permission-less,” O’Reilly said. “Those of us who were early pioneers on the web, all we had to do was download the software and start playing. That’s how the web grew organically. So much more came from that.” Read more…

Comment: 1

Curiosity turned loose on GitHub data

Ilya Grigorik's GitHub project shows what happens when questions, data, and tools converge.

GitHub Archive logoI’m fascinated by people who:

1. Ask the question, “I wonder what happens if I do this?” and then follow it all the way through.

2. Start a project on a whim and open it up so anyone can participate.

Ilya Grigorik (@igrigorik) did both of these things, which is why our recent conversation at Strata Conference + Hadoop World was one of my favorite parts of the event.

By day, Grigorik is a developer advocate on Google’s Make the Web Fast team (he’s a perfect candidate for a future Velocity interview). On the side, he likes to track open source projects on GitHub. As he explained during our chat, this can be a time-intensive hobby:

“I follow about 3,000 open source projects, and I try to keep up with what’s going on, what are people contributing to, what are the new interesting sub-branches of work being done … The problem I ran into about six months ago was that, frankly, it was just too much to keep up with. The GitHub timeline was actually overflowing. In order to keep up, I would have to go in every four hours and scan through everything, and then repeat it. That doesn’t give you much time for sleep.” [Discussed 15 seconds into the interview.]

Grigorik built a system — including a newsletter— that lets him stay in the loop efficiently. He worked with GitHub to archive public GitHub activity, and he then made that data available in raw form and through Google BigQuery (the data is updated hourly).

This is a fun project, no doubt, but it’s also a big deal. Here’s why: When you shorten the distance between questions and answers, you empower people to ask more questions. It’s the liberation of curiosity, and that’s exactly what happened here. Read more…

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Now available: Big Data Now 2012 Edition

O'Reilly's annual data anthology explores the maturation of big data and data science.

Big Data Now 2012 EditionIn the first edition of our free Big Data Now anthology, the O’Reilly team tracked the birth and early development of data tools and data science. Now, with the second edition, we’re seeing what happens when big data grows up: how it’s being applied, where it’s playing a role, and the consequences — good and bad alike — of data’s ascendance.

We’ve organized the 2012 edition of Big Data Now into five areas:

Getting Up to Speed With Big Data — Essential information on the structures and definitions of big data.

Big Data Tools, Techniques, and Strategies — Expert guidance for turning big data theories into big data products.

The Application of Big Data — Examples of big data in action, including a look at the downside of data.

What to Watch for in Big Data — Thoughts on how big data will evolve and the role it will play across industries and domains.

Big Data and Health Care — A special section exploring the possibilities that arise when data and health care come together.

You can download free editions of Big Data Now 2012 in PDF, Mobi and EPUB formats here. The 2011 edition is also available.

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