Technology and Tools of Change

by , originally published in O'Reilly's Summer 2004 Catalog
June 2004

Technology often impacts society in unexpected ways. A case in point is the news of Iraqi prisoner abuse that dominated headlines this past spring. This story came to light in part because U.S. soldiers were carrying (and using) their own digital cameras, preserving images that later came to shock the world and put the Bush administration in the hot seat. It's a prime example of the phenomenon explored in Dan Gillmor's provocative new book We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People. Dan, a respected technology columnist and the first mainstream journalist to have a blog, looks at how the Internet, cell phones, and digital media make it possible for ordinary people to provide almost-instant online coverage of anything happening anywhere on the planet. We're at the cusp of a deep shift in how we make—and consume—the news, and Dan's book is required reading for anyone who wants to understand this profound change.

Hackers and Bloggers

Blogging features prominently in We the Media. And one of the bloggers Dan mentions is Wil Wheaton, whose Just a Geek is one of the first books to grow from a blog. Wil, who starred in the movie Stand By Me at 13 and grew up on television as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, created his blog to tell his own story, rather than leaving it to the Hollywood press. In the process, he became a web developer, open source advocate, and skillful writer. Wil's book is a very personal account of his struggles as an actor, the joys of being married and raising two stepchildren, the development of his voice as a writer, and the experience of growing up on the Starship Enterprise.

Paul Graham's Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age rounds out a trio of books that offer a unique take on the intersection of technology and society. (Expect more of these in the Fall.) When I first encountered the title essay online, I was immediately hooked by Paul's erudite and opinionated views, and I'm delighted to publish this collection on topics as diverse as the importance of beauty in software design, why nerds are unpopular, and spam filtering that really works (see these books online at

The Internet Operating System

I said that technology affects society in unexpected ways. It also affects business. For the past year, I've been giving a talk entitled The Open Source Paradigm Shift, which explores the surprising direction in which open source has pushed the computer industry. Software as we know it is being commoditized, which in turn is driving value and profits "up the stack;" to services provided by web powerhouses like Google, Yahoo!, Amazon, MapQuest, and that are built on top of Linux™ (or FreeBSD) and Apache.

I see this move ultimately fueling the development of what I call the Internet operating system, "software above the level of a single device" (in Dave Stutz's perfect phrasing), as the pioneering web applications turn themselves into platforms providing services not only to PC-based web browsers, but to cameras, cellphones, automobiles, and other consumer devices.

Web 2.0

That's the subject of a new executive conference called Web 2.0—the Web as Platform—that we're holding in San Francisco October 5 - 7. This conference focuses on the profound change in business rules that we'll find in the new paradigm, in which competitive advantage comes not from controlling software APIs (which are standardized and commoditized), but by leveraging user contribution to create powerful network effects. Find more on the program and speakers at And to immerse yourself in the state of the art of open source, join us at OSCON in Portland, July 26 - 30.


In the spirit of "eating our own dog food," we're launching a service that exemplifies the Web as Platform this summer—SafariU. Built on our Safari Books Online service, SafariU is a web-based platform for teachers and trainers to build custom, print-on-demand books (culling content from the more than 2000 titles in the Safari Books Online database and mixing it with content from other web sites and their own materials). It promises to be a disruptive technology, delivering a custom book that replaces both primary and recommended texts, plus online course content, to students for less than the average cost for a single textbook, as well as allowing professors to share their customized materials with others who are teaching the same subjects.

Building the next generation of technology won't be easy, and will require developers, entrepreneurs, and the customers they serve to learn new skills. And that, of course, is where this catalog comes in! It's our collection of new and favorite tools for building the future.

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