Recreation.gov should be a platform, not a silo.
President Obama’s well-publicized national open data policy (pdf) makes it clear that government data is a valuable public resource for which the government should be making efforts to maximize access and use. This policy was based on lessons from previous government open data success stories, such as weather data and GPS, which form the basis for countless commercial services that we take for granted today and that deliver enormous value to society. (You can see an impressive list of companies reliant on open government data via GovLab’s Open Data 500 project.)
Based on this open data policy, I’ve been encouraging entrepreneurs to invest their time and ingenuity to explore entrepreneurial opportunities based on government data. I’ve even invested (through O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures) in one such start-up, Hipcamp, which provides user-friendly interfaces to making reservations at national and state parks.
A better system is sorely needed. The current reservation system, managed by the Active Network / Reserve America is clunky and almost unusable. Hipcamp changes all that, making it a breeze to reserve camping spots. Read more…
Truly disruptive services don’t just digitize the familiar. They do away with it.
The Apple-Pay web page gushes: “Gone are the days of searching for your wallet. The wasted moments finding the right card. The swiping and waiting. Now payments happen with a single touch.”
What’s wrong with this picture?
It’s describing the digital facsimile of a process that is already on its way to becoming obsolete. But truly disruptive new services don’t just digitize the familiar. They do away with it.
I never search for my wallet when I take an Uber. I never search for my wallet when I walk out of a restaurant that accepts Cover. I never search for my wallet when I buy something from Amazon. I don’t even search for my wallet when buying a song from iTunes — or, for that matter, an iPhone from an Apple Store.
In each of these cases, my payment information is simply a stored credential that is already associated with my identity. And that identity is increasingly recognized by means other than an explicit payment process. Read more…
Safari Books Online is now a wholly owned subsidiary of O’Reilly Media.
I’m pleased to share some exciting news. On Friday, August 1st, O’Reilly purchased Pearson Education’s 50% ownership share of our Safari Books Online joint venture, and Safari is now a wholly owned subsidiary of O’Reilly Media, Inc.
O’Reilly believes strongly in the direction Safari is heading, and we came to believe that there are substantial opportunities for both organizations working much more closely together. O’Reilly is primarily a media company (books, events, online in-person and video training, expert network), and Safari has the technology, sales, and distribution channel for bringing content to the widest audience possible, especially a B2B audience.
Going forward, O’Reilly and Safari will work together to create new features and products, but Safari will continue to operate as an independent entity, as it did when jointly owned by O’Reilly and Pearson. There are no changes in Safari’s products, staffing, offices, or operations. The Safari brand and domains remain the same, and Pearson will remain a key strategic content partner of Safari. All their current materials remain available, and their future books and videos will be added to the service. Read more…
The IoT requires thinking about how humans and things cooperate differently when things get smarter.
Rod Smith of IBM and I had a call the other day to prepare for our onstage conversation at O’Reilly’s upcoming Solid Conference, and I was surprised to find how much we were in agreement about one idea: so many of the most interesting applications of the Internet of Things involve new ways of thinking about how humans and things cooperate differently when the things get smarter. It really ought to be called the Internet of Things and Humans — #IoTH, not just #IoT!
Let’s start by understanding the Internet of Things as the combination of sensors, a network, and actuators. The “wow” factor — the magic that makes us call it an Internet of Things application — can come from creatively amping up the power of any of the three elements.
For example, a traditional “dumb” thermostat consists of only a sensor and an actuator — when the temperature goes out of the desired range, the heat or air conditioning goes on. The addition of a network, the ability to control your thermostat from your smartphone, say, turns it into a simple #IoT device. But that’s the bare-base case. Consider the Nest thermostat: where it stands out from the crowd of connected thermostats is that it uses a complex of sensors (temperature, moisture, light, and motion) as well as both onboard and cloud software to provide a rich and beautiful UI with a great deal more intelligence. Read more…
When health care institutions are charging outrageous prices, we need to stand up and say, "That's insane."
I was struck recently by two stories in the New York Times. The first, “Bishops Follow Pope’s Example: Opulence Is Out,” tells how bishop after bishop, either inspired by the Pope’s example or afraid of being shamed for not doing so, is moving out of his expensive, newly renovated residence and emulating Pope Francis’ emphasis on living simply. “Francis has very definitely sent out a signal, and the signal is that bishops should live like the people they pastor, and they shouldn’t be in palaces.”
I contrast this in my mind with the “do as I say, but not as I do” style of leadership shown by the US Congress on health care, where the message of “bending the cost curve on health care,” and limits on “Cadillac plans” was for everyone else. Congress’ own gold-plated plan remained in place, despite posturing to pretend that members of Congress were in the same boat as everyone else.
But when the leaders themselves don’t lead, sometimes individuals stand up to be counted. Read more…
I published a long piece on LinkedIn yesterday, reflecting on Steven Brill’s excellent Time Magazine cover story, “Code Red_“, about the rescue of healthcare.gov by a small team of volunteer techies from Silicon Valley.
“It was only when they were desperate that they turned to us…. They have no use for someone who looks and dresses like me. Maybe this will be a lesson for them. Maybe that will change.”
I am hoping that it will change, and I’ve spent a lot of my personal efforts over the past half dozen years trying to get more people from the technology community to apply their skills to improving government. Love it or hate it, it is a huge part of our economy, both in the US and around the world.
It’s interesting to me how many of the early comments on the LinkedIn piece show the libertarian disregard for government. I find that puzzling. We celebrate startups all the time that disrupt established industries. We celebrate innovation in big companies. Why would we not celebrate people who are working to disrupt government “business as usual” and make things better for all of us? Read more…
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…
There was a great passage in Alexis Madrigal’s recent interview with Gibu Thomas, who runs innovation at Walmart:
“Our philosophy is pretty simple: When we use data, be transparent to the customers so that they can know what’s going on. There’s a clear opt-out mechanism. And, more important, the value equation has to be there. If we save them money or remind them of something they might need, no one says, “Wait, how did you get that data?” or “Why are you using that data?” They say, “Thank you!” I think we all know where the creep factor comes in, intuitively. Do unto others as you want to be done to you, right?”
This notion of “the creep factor” seems fairly central as we think about the future of privacy regulation. When companies use our data for our benefit, we know it and we are grateful for it. We happily give up our location data to Google so they can give us directions, or to Yelp or Foursquare so they can help us find the best place to eat nearby. We don’t even mind when they keep that data if it helps them make better recommendations in future. Sure, Google, I’d love it if you can do a better job predicting how long it will take me to get to work at rush hour! And yes, I don’t mind that you are using my search and browsing habits to give me better search results. In fact, I’d complain if someone took away that data and I suddenly found that my search results just weren’t as good as they used to be!
But we also know when companies use our data against us, or sell it on to people who do not have our best interests in mind. Read more…
Eric Raymond’s “Myth of the Fall,” an account of the rise of software portability and reusable open source code (rather than the fall from a free software eden), should be required reading for free and open source developers, and for anyone who cares about the future of technology.
It exactly matches my experience working with Unix starting in the early eighties, although I’ve always talked about it from a somewhat different angle: because Unix was a portable operating system running on incompatible hardware, the only way you could distribute your free software was in source form. In other environments, while there was a “freeware” culture (just there is today on smartphone platforms), that was always binary freeware. You would just download the program and run it, whether you were on CP/M or DOS or the Mac. Only on Unix did you have to compile the source code into binaries for your brand of machine. The reason open source culture grew from Unix was not political, it was architectural.
And because 9-track tapes were a bitch to ship around, and it took forever to send around programs (even the relatively tiny ones of the day) on slow networks, we used tools like Patch to share just the modified code as tracked by version control systems. Unix’s philosophy of portability, which included not just a programming language (C) optimized for portability, but also an architecture of small, modular programs communicating using standardized rules for input and output, also shaped the design of the internet and applications like email and the World Wide Web that grew on top of it. Read more…
I wanted to provide a bit of perspective on the donation, announced on Wednesday by the White House, of a Safari Books Online subscription providing access to O’Reilly Media books, videos, and other educational content to every high school in the country.
First off, this came up very suddenly, with a request from the White House that reached me only on Monday, as the White House and Department of Education were gearing up to Wednesday’s announcement about broadband and iPads in schools. I had a followup conversation with David Edelman, a young staffer who taught himself programming by reading O’Reilly books when in middle school, and launched a web development firm while in high school. He made the case that connectivity alone, without content, wasn’t all it could be. And he thought of his own experience, and he thought of us.
So we began brainstorming if there were any way we could donate a library of O’Reilly ebooks to every high school in the country. Fortunately, there may be a relatively easy way for us to do that, via Safari Books Online, the subscription service we launched in 2000 in partnership with the Pearson Technology Group. Safari already offers access to corporations and colleges in addition to individuals, so we should be able to work out some kind of special library as part of this offering. Read more…