"minimum viable product" entries

Rethinking and redesigning at beta.oreilly.com

O’Reilly’s new beta site puts the focus on learning and ideas.

Screenshot from beta.oreilly.com

Some while back, we realized that O’Reilly is really in the education business — very specifically, the self-education and self-improvement business. People read our books, come to our events, and watch our videos because they need new skills and have the discipline and initiative to seek them out on their own. In a lot of ways, the history of the company has been searching out new ways to achieve the same goal, which 15 years ago I articulated as “changing the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators.”

That goal requires us to notice the ideas and technologies that are new and important; to find the people who have figured out how to make the most of those technologies; and of the people who’ve figured it out, to discover who has the willingness and the ability to invest in helping others to follow in their footsteps. Over time, pursuit of our goal has also required us to learn how to write, edit, publish, and distribute books; to run events that bring people together to learn from each other; and (more recently), to develop video training courses and other online learning products.

We aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed that O’Reilly is a learning company. I was delighted to see oreilly.com chosen as the #1 online course provider, ahead of MOOCs, video training companies, and others who explicitly position themselves as training providers. I like to think that the breadth of ways that we give people to learn — print, video, in-person, and interactive online — is unique because it doesn’t restrict itself to people who have one single learning style.

All of this is by way of explaining the redesign that we’re rolling out at beta.oreilly.com. Over the years, we’d let oreilly.com become mostly a front end for ecommerce, selling access to books and videos and conference seats, with a dose of reporting and advocacy on the side. Read more…

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Lean Urbanism

What is the “minimum viable product” for urban renewal?

Through an interesting confluence, I recently came across three different instances of the same question: what is the “minimum viable product” for urban renewal? Last Monday, I visited the O’Reilly Media office in the old Pfizer building in Brooklyn, and was struck by how unfinished space was side by side with finished, how the remnants of the old laboratory had not been removed but rather just incorporated into the existing space. It is a kind of urban office-steading, pioneering a gritty frontier, as opposed to a more standard style of development in which the building is stripped, upgraded, and then opened to tenants, perhaps with a bit more character than an all-new building but with substantially the same sanitized promise. I posted photos and some reflections on Google+.

The next day, I sat in on a webinar with Carol Coletta of the Knight Foundation and Andres Duany of  the Project for Lean Urbanism. Duany’s idea is for “pink zones,” where, for purposes of exploratory redevelopment, red tape might be thinned out. The goal is to find what regulations really matter — and which don’t — and to start fresh to see if we can achieve urban renewal at lower cost. Read more…

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Data Jujitsu: The art of turning data into product

Smart data scientists can make big problems small.

Having worked in academia, government and industry, I’ve had a unique opportunity to build products in each sector. Much of this product development has been around building data products. Just as methods for general product development have steadily improved, so have the ideas for developing data products. Thanks to large investments in the general area of data science, many major innovations (e.g., Hadoop, Voldemort, Cassandra, HBase, Pig, Hive, etc.) have made data products easier to build. Nonetheless, data products are unique in that they are often extremely difficult, and seemingly intractable for small teams with limited funds. Yet, they get solved every day.

How? Are the people who solve them superhuman data scientists who can come up with better ideas in five minutes than most people can in a lifetime? Are they magicians of applied math who can cobble together millions of lines of code for high-performance machine learning in a few hours? No. Many of them are incredibly smart, but meeting big problems head-on usually isn’t the winning approach. There’s a method to solving data problems that avoids the big, heavyweight solution, and instead, concentrates building something quickly and iterating. Smart data scientists don’t just solve big, hard problems; they also have an instinct for making big problems small.

We call this Data Jujitsu: the art of using multiple data elements in clever ways to solve iterative problems that, when combined, solve a data problem that might otherwise be intractable. It’s related to Wikipedia’s definition of the ancient martial art of jujitsu: “the art or technique of manipulating the opponent’s force against himself rather than confronting it with one’s own force.”

How do we apply this idea to data? What is a data problem’s “weight,” and how do we use that weight against itself? These are the questions that we’ll work through in the subsequent sections.

Read more…

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