Tim O'Reilly

Tim O’Reilly is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media Inc. Considered by many to be the best computer book publisher in the world. O'Reilly Media also hosts conferences on technology topics, including the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, Strata: The Business of Data, the Velocity Conference on Web Performance and Operations, and many others. Tim's blog, the O'Reilly Radar "watches the alpha geeks" to determine emerging technology trends, and serves as a platform for advocacy about issues of importance to the technical community. Tim is also a partner at O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, O'Reilly's early stage venture firm, and is on the board of Safari Books Online, PeerJ, Code for America, and Maker Media, which was recently spun out from O'Reilly Media. Maker Media's Maker Faire has been compared to the West Coast Computer Faire, which launched the personal computer revolution.

Follow Tim O'Reilly's insights on LinkedIn.

Leading by example: two stories

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…

Code Red_: “They have no use for someone who looks and dresses like me”

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.

http://content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20140310,00.htmlThe title of my piece took off from a comment by Google Site Reliability Engineer Mikey Dickerson, who is quoted in Brill’s article as saying:

“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…

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…

The creep factor: How to think about big data and privacy

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…

Reflections on Eric Raymond’s “Myth of the Fall”

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…

Self-directed learning, and O’Reilly’s role in the ConnectED program

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…

More Lessons Learned from Failure

My recent post, How I Failed, drew a huge amount of reader interest, and I wasn’t surprised. In fact, as we’ve been organizing the first Cultivate event—our new conference on how to build and sustain great companies by building a great culture—we’ve realized that people can learn more from  what leaders have done wrong, and learned from, than from their successes. (In fact, what inspired me to frame my talk around failure was the series of successful sessions on that subject that Joshua Schachter has led at Foo Camp over the past few years. They are always a great hit.)

We asked some of Cultivate’s speakers if they had their own failure stories they’d be willing to share. Not surprisingly, their answers were widely varied. It’s clear that even the people we see as most successful have lessons to learn. And these stories show that wisdom often comes from mistakes, not necessarily the vision that sets you on fire or the goals you’re aiming for.

Here are a few of their stories.

Yeah, I Had a Lot to Learn
Elaine Wherry, Meebo

At 24, I assumed I would be a good manager. I was smart, hard-working, creative, and had lots of leadership bullet points on my high school and college resume. But I quickly discovered that I had a ton to learn. Read more…

Resharing Differences Between LinkedIn and Radar

I recently posted a long thought piece entitled “How I Failed” on LinkedIn, and then a few days later, republished it here on my own Radar blog. (I published it on LinkedIn first because I wanted to reach the more business-oriented audience on LinkedIn, and not just the technical audience that we reach here with Radar.)

This morning, I decided to check on the resharing stats that are published at the top of  posts on both LinkedIn and here on Radar (a WordPress based blog).  I normally look at these stats to see the relative impact of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn on the readership of my posts.  But this time, I realized I had another data point available – the differences in the use of these services by my Radar readers and my LinkedIn readers.

When I compared the stats this morning, a couple of things surprised me.

As you can see, there was a lot more Twitter activity resulting from the Radar post than from the LinkedIn post, and as expected, a lot more LinkedIn resharing on LinkedIn itself. That wasn’t surprising (although I suspect the amount of engagement LinkedIn has achieved through its Influencer program is a surprise to many people.)

As is usually the case for my posts, I find that Twitter tops Facebook and Google+ for resharing, and that Google+ is a significant fraction of both Twitter and Facebook – showing far more engagement than many critics allow. That is interesting, but wasn’t surprising either.

But what did surprise me a bit is that the share count is identical for both Google+ and Facebook. They both seem to have detected that the two posts were the same, despite the different URLs. Twitter and LinkedIn did not.  I expected that of Google. I didn’t expect it of Facebook.


How I failed

Six lessons learned.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

O'Reilly MediaWhen you start out as an entrepreneur, it’s just you and your idea, or you and your co-founder’s and your idea. Then you add customers, and they shape and mold you and that idea until you achieve the fabled “product-market fit.” If you are lucky and diligent, you achieve that fit more than once, reinventing yourself with multiple products and multiple customer segments.

But if you are to succeed in building an enduring company, it has to be about far more than that: it has to be about the team and the institution you create together. As a management team, you aren’t just working for the company; you have to work on the company, shaping it, tuning it, setting the rules that it will live by. And it’s way too easy to give that latter work short shrift.

At O’Reilly Media, we’ve built a successful business and have had a big impact on our industry, but looking back at our history, it’s also clear to me how often we’ve failed, and what some of the things are that kept me, my employees, and our company from achieving our full potential. Some of these were failures of vision, some of them were failures of nerve, but most of them were failures in building and cultivating the company culture. Read more…

The Stories I Enjoyed Most in Last Week’s Sunday New York Times

I used to read two print newspapers every morning. Now, I get most of my news online, but I still treasure my Sunday New York Times in print. This week, due to travel, I didn’t get a chance to catch up with it till a plane flight on Friday. The news was dated, and I’d seen some of it online, but there was still so much of interest that I would otherwise have missed. The Sunday Times is a gathering of fascinating minds reflecting on the issues of the moment; it’s a conversation well worth being a part of.

Normally, you see a flood of tweets from me on Sunday as I share my favorite articles. This week, on a plane without wifi and nearly a week late, I still have the impulse to share, but this time, I’m going to gang up the list of my favorite articles into a single post.

Here are some of the things from last week’s Sunday Times that I think you too might enjoy reading. (Note that the titles online don’t necessarily match the titles from the print edition, which I use below.)

The Joy of Old Age. This is a lovely reflection by neurologist and author Oliver Sacks on life as he looks toward his eightieth birthday. The last paragraphs are particularly moving. I’m 59, not 79, but even now I can see many of the changes – both positive and negative – that Sacks talks about so eloquently.

A Hidden Consensus on Health Care. Ross Douthat makes the case that there are two types of consensus on health care reform – the political consensus, which resulted in Obamacare’s preservation of the broken system of employer-provided healthcare, and the policy consensus, that “the status quo is actually the problem.” While I think there is a lot to like in Obamacare, I totally agree that we could do way better if we scrapped the current system in favor of more profound change. Too bad politicians are so lacking in courage, and have such a hard time actually enacting sensible policies! But what I found most useful in this article is the very notion of the “political consensus” vs. the “policy consensus” as a way to understand what is most broken about Washington. Read more…