Tim O’Reilly – Web Meets World Keynote

At O’Reilly we tend to look at folks at the edges because they know where we’re going. A conclusion we’ve come to is that the next stage of Web 2.0 is going to be driven by ambient computing and distributed sensors.

A college student wired up (twitter.com/laundryroom) their laundry room to twitter. You can follow when your laundry is finished. Every Mac has a motion sensor in it and some folks came up with the Quake-Catcher Network, a distributed earth sensor. Botanicals uses asterisk VoIP so your plants can call your cell phone when they’re thirsty, they also talk on twitter. In the competition to make mapping 3d every camera is becoming a sensor. 3D models are being built from collections of your photos. This changes the way designers are thinking about stuff. In a talk with CEO of Autodesk the workflow is starting to look like a rap star and folks are sampling the world of photos before getting into their work. Location sensing is going to be one of the fundamental services of Web 2.0.

Why is the phone company different than Google? Massive databases, data mining of customer behavior, etc. Difference is the real time services offered by a phone aren’t being exploited. When people talk about Web 2.0 in the Enterprise they talk about social media like Dell Ideastorm. Dell had a Web 2.0 root long before Ideastorm. Their original breakthrough was the supply chain that sensed when trends would happen which would influence part orders and operations on the floor.

Web 2.0 is to take systems and collect data from your users. Let users into your back office. Make the information available to developers so that they can participate with you against your data. Web 2.0 is fundamentally about data. For Web 2.0 to move to the enterprise we need to take that sensed data and feed it back out.  If you are a start-up, I urge you about entering markets with real products and applying the data driven concepts of web 2.0.

Let’s talk more about Web Meets World. When we have oil price shocks, global warming, water scarcity, exotic diseases cropping up, dysfunctional political system, and what are our best and brightest working on? Facebook. Is something wrong here? Are we living in a reality bubble?

There’s a science in business called scenario planning. A lot of charts in business which looks like this (growth chart slide).  Here’s what really happened. You can build your business on a house of cards. In scenario planning they try to figure out really extreme cases. On one axis we have singularity on one end and the other on global economic & environmental collapse. On the other axis is china takes over and the us takes over. Scenario planning tries to identify what will make sense no matter what happens.

Robust Strategy #1: Work on stuff that matters. Do what you love and what you’re passionate about. Yes, but do stuff that needs to be done. We may be coming into a time that we don’t love but we have to do and we’ll need to learn to love this. At O’Reilly we stress the saying create more value than you capture. When you look at the attitude in the industry we take an attitude of let’s take more in. This Wall Street crowd is the great example, they took a lot more value than they actually created.

Pascal’s Wager was if you believe in God you’re going to live a good life and you’re going to be virtuous. If God doesn’t really exist will you still had a good life. We have a new version of Pascal’s wager: things will work out if we work on problems that matter. Business is the engine of innovation.  We have some real problems to solve today. Just check out Wattzon.org. We look at congress, we look at health care, we look at the decline in science, we look at foreign slavery, and we might ask ourselves “How can I make any difference?” Great quote from Eliot Janeway, “A victory small enough to be organized is too small to be decisive.”

Some of the problems we face are our best opportunities. Folks are going back and volunteering to teach programming in schools. Instedd.org, is a fantastic Web 2.0 on preventing the spread of rare diseases. Ushahidi is working on disaster control. Witness is a YouTube like site to prevent human rights abuses. James Buck was in Egypt and twittered the word arrested. He got out.

Great challenges are great opportunities. Always loved the idea of the Berlin Airlift. When Soviets blockaded the city milk and food were flown in. In the course of that airlift they developed the techniques of modern air control. Saw the whole development of cargo aircraft which helped build Lockheed and Boeing.  Big challenges have created big opportunity.

Omidyar network, Google.org are investing in businesses promoting positive changes. Amee, Energy Camp, click diagnostics (How do you use mobile forms for doing remote health care?), 23 and me. “Visionary companies are not afraid to make bold commitments to big, audacious ideas.” People like to bash Microsoft but they were visionaries. It didn’t have to be that way, they made it happen. We’re living in a world that that group of people created. “We’re going to organize all the world’s information.” We’re living in a world Google created. You better be working on something you believe will make a real difference.

A plug for an idea that has been meaningful for me in my life. There’s a poem about Jacob wresting with an Angel. Reads: “The Man Watching”.

Tim O’Reilly is making a ‘Get out the vote! Plug!’ He’s a Barack Obama supporter. “Bad politicians are elected by people who don’t vote.”