Pick the Hat to Fit the Head

, originally published in O'Reilly's Fall 2004 Catalog
October 2004

The results of a new study on how people use our Safari Bookshelf service reminded me of the old saying: you pick the hat to fit the head. For some users, Safari is an online book: they read chapters or entire books online. But the majority use Safari in addition to (rather than instead of) print books, and they use it differently depending on the task at hand. They search for answers on the fly, find and copy code, and bookmark often-used reference material. And nearly half use Safari to preview books before they buy them.

So why do we keep publishing a paper catalog? Because I'm willing to bet that a good number of those who shop via Safari also settle down with this catalog when it arrives in the mail (see Safari subscriber Liz Donaldson's letter about the O'Reilly "wish book"). It's a handy format for browsing, and it works even when you're away from your computer, whether you're on the train or sipping coffee. Larry Wall once said, "Information wants to be valuable," and the form in which information's presented contributes to that value.

The Safari API

The web sparked new ways to create value with the information in our books. From the start, we conceived of Safari as an evolving set of services that drew from our database of book content. The Safari Bookshelf was our first implementation, and we're now launching the second generation of Safari services.

O'Reilly Network Safari Bookshelf Articles to help explain the Safari Affiliate Program and how to implement the Safari Web Services API:

Opening up the Safari API (Application Programming Interface) is an important step in the process. The interesting services built on top of eBay and Amazon by independent developers are evidence of the power of making APIs public. We can't wait to see what will come out of the new Safari Affiliate Program, which lets developers integrate Safari content into web sites and IDEs (Integrated Development Environments). There's already an Eclipse plugin for Safari, and one for NetBeans is under development.


SafariU SafariU, our new publishing platform for teachers and trainers, demonstrates the power of the Safari API. Using the same back-end database of more than 2,000 titles from O'Reilly and Pearson, SafariU provides an interface that allows professors to create custom textbooks. Most courses have a main text ("the required" textbook) plus many supplementary texts, as well as materials that the professors themselves put together, such as exercises, tests, and course notes. Students must often buy multiple books, using only a small part of each one. With SafariU, the professor can select only the material he or she wants from all the texts used in the course, and can include additional material--from the web or other online sources, or that has been created just for the course--into a single, integrated textbook. The student gets a print-on-demand version of the textbook, plus a semester-length Safari subscription to the full text of all the books used in the course, and an online syllabus with links into all the selected portions of the online texts. What's more, we've created a "learning object exchange," where professors can share (and eventually even sell) their supplementary materials.

But that's not all. We realized that the SafariU functionality is also a great way for corporations to create custom documentation sets for their internal users. And we're working with a number of non-profits to create custom documentation sets for users in developing countries--a networking starter kit, for example. The flexibility of the API allows us to easily build new "applications" of Safari--and we're sure we're going to get lots of new ideas from developers playing with the public API. Stay tuned!

New Distribution Partner

SitePoint Our newest distribution partner, SitePoint, also offers a rich mix of online and print information. After seven years as a successful web site, they're publishing books for beginner to intermediate web developers. In an interesting twist, the books are built from content that's developed and road-tested on their popular site, www.sitepoint.com.

Take a look at SitePoint's books, plus O'Reilly's new titles and the offerings from No Starch, Paraglyph, the Pragmatic Programmers, and Syngress. Our "wish book" may not be as thick as the old Sears catalog, but as you look through it, we hope you'll find what you need and dream about what you want.

Tim O'Reilly
President and CEO, O'Reilly Media, Inc.