Thoughts on the Success of Google Hacks
by Tim O'Reilly
I wrote this letter for the Summer 2003 direct-mail catalog. If you'd like to receive our catalog by mail, fill out the Catalog Request form.
As many of you may know, Google Hacks rocketed to the top of the bestseller charts as soon as it was published in February, and has stayed there ever since. (It has been the #1 computer book at Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble for most of the past three months, and even made The New York Times business bestseller list, debuting in the #9 spot. By the time you read this letter, I'm hoping it will be even higher on the list.)
Obviously, the success of Google Hacks is more than anything a testament to the success of Google itself. "Googling" has become a part of pop culture. However, I'd like to celebrate not just Google itself, but its meaning as a milepost on our road to a truly different computing future.
Each new era in computing has had its signature "killer app." Google's ascendancy is, in many ways, a sign that the "post-PC era" is truly upon us. Previous killer apps of the Internet era, such as the web browser, were still primarily personal computer applications. They were used to access the Internet, but they ran on PC hardware, used familiar PC user interface idioms, and followed many of the same development practices as other shrink-wrapped software.
But Google, like Amazon, EBay, MapQuest, and other true Internet era applications, is something else entirely. These are huge server-based applications, most often running on a Linux or Unix platform, incorporating huge dynamic databases, and updating their products not on 18-month release cycles, but daily, even hourly, through constant interaction with a sea of data, customers, and suppliers. The personal computer gives us a window into these applications, but the Internet itself is their native platform. This is truly a new world.
Now, excitingly, the most forward-thinking of the Internet apps, like Google and Amazon, have released public Web services APIs that allow outside developers to build new and creative extensions to their functionality. This is the next frontier for developers--how to weave all these wonderful new tools, and the vast databases behind them, into an even more exciting future.
A Sense of Fun
The other thing I want to celebrate about Google Hacks (and all the Hacks books, because Mac OS X Hacks and Linux Server Hacks have also been bestsellers) is their sense of fun. One of my favorite Amazon reviews makes this point: "The authors . . . are smart folk. But they have a much more important quality: a sense of adventure and, at times, a giddy quality of fun in what they do." In these sometimes gloomy times, it's great to explore the joy of computers again. The Hacks books celebrate the fun of tinkering as well as the benefits you can gain from increasing your knowledge. Upcoming titles, including Tivo Hacks, Amazon Hacks, EBay Hacks, and Windows XP Hacks, all follow in this grand tradition.
We're also exploring how to make learning a new computer language more fun with a revolutionary new book entitled Head First Java. This book uses games, puzzles, and stories to teach both the concepts and the practice of Java programming. We think it's remarkably effective, and will set a new standard for how to teach programming languages. If you like the concept as much as we do, there will be a lot more books in this series as well!
Fun is also a signature element of the Missing Manual series. And the three newest Missing Manuals focus on Apple's "fun productivity suite:" the iPod (and iTunes), iMovie 3 and iDvd, and iPhoto 2. Of course, it's a lot easier to put your feet up at the end of a long day and turn your mind to hobbies like digital photography if you've gotten your work done first. And of course, O'Reilly books continue their tradition of providing just the information you need. Fun doesn't mean fluff to us. It means doing business with verve and elan.