Today we had the great pleasure of hearing Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media speak at Judge Business School. He was a speaker I was really looking forward to hearing, and he didn’t disappoint. (He’s on the left in the photo above.)
Tim has a very engaging speaking style, and his presentation was 100 slides of great photos, examples, and quotes. (Much better than the 5–6 slides of 13-point that Bob Diamond of Barclays used!)
The topic of the day was “Watching the Alpha Geeks,” which is something he’s been doing for 20+ years. (He’s been giving a version of the talk for about 7–8 years…) The technology and things that geeks and hackers use or do day-to-day is the stuff that becomes cultural mainstream in 5/10/15 years. It was nearly twenty years ago when the first webcam was hooked up to the Internet at the University of Cambridge. This was pre-WWW, by the way, and the sole purpose of the webcam was to show the level in the office coffeepot so that “the hackers” didn’t have to walk down the hall to check it! Now webcams are clearly mainstream. (Tim didn’t mention this, but I wanted to throw in a little Cambridge-specific info.)
The great phrase that Tim used a couple of times was:
The future is here. It just isn’t evenly distributed yet.
That’s a really powerful statement, and so very true. The future of the next 5/10/15 years is in research labs, startups, and homes of hackers right now. It just takes time and cultivation to get society to use it.
Tim talked quite a bit about Web2.0; not about the technology but instead about the principles behind the technology. His thesis was that there is an incredible amount of data that already exists; Web2.0 is the way different threads tie together to change the world. The most prominent example is Google. Google took information that already existed (links between web pages) and used it to provide the dataset for a much more powerful and useful search engine. Mashups that merge public data on crime with webmaps is another example of two datasets that are poor on their own, but very useful when tied together.
As Web2.0 becomes Enterprise2.0, this is going to shift even further. Sensors which already exist are going to be leveraged in new ways. The data that companies have in their ERP systems in regards to their customers, their suppliers, and their internal operations will be utilized in new ways to provide incredible new insights. And most importantly this will be done real-time, without judgement.
He clearly cares about the environment a lot, and spent a good chuck of his talk on technologies and ideas that are at the forefront of changing how we as a global society think and act in relation to global warming.
Another interesting note came in the Q&A portion; he was asked what technologies that he had been bullish about that didn’t pan out. After saying that quite a few didn’t mature on the timescale he had originally envisioned, he was a bit of a loss for words. But then he simply said, “I don’t think about failure a lot.” I think it was important for the room to hear this for two reasons:
Failure’s not bad. While Europe is getting better with this attitude, it’s not quite as acceptable as it is in the US.
- There’s going to be lots of failure on the bleeding edge of innovation. Get used to it.
I highly recommend hearing him speak. (You can check out his recent talk at the Web2.0 conference by clicking this link.) If you are fascinated by technology, he’ll lead you on a fascinating journey.
It was great to hear Tim O’Reilly speak today, and highly recommend seeing one of his talks if you’re ever able to.