Tim O’Reilly

Web 2.0 and the Emergent Internet Operating System

An archive, in reverse chronological order, of essays, interviews, and talks relating to Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 2010 Debrief — November 2010. Right after the Web 2.0 Summit, John Batelle and I sat down at an FM event and debriefed each other on what we learned.

The Battle for the Internet Economy — October 2010. In this webcast with John Batelle, founder and CEO of Federated Media Publishing, we introduce the Web2.0 Summit schedule with a discussion about the topic driving the conference this year: the points of control and the future of the internet economy. We talk about the players and the big questions facing us in the most exciting transitional times since the dot com bust.

There are some really powerful strategies in play that are going to affect every developer, every entrepreneur, and you need to figure out whose strategies are going to hurt or help you and who you can ally yourself with in order to achieve your goals.

Crunch Time for the Web — May 2010. The interview where I tell the BBC's Maggie Shiels that it's crunch time for the Web and expand on my Web 2.0 Expo keynote comments about each of the major players.

Web 2.0 Expo SF Keynote — May 2010. My Web 2.0 Expo keynote entitled "State of the Internet Operating System".

MySQL Conference 2010: Keynote Address: The Internet of Things — April 2010. The future of data and open source: Where is it taking us in the age of the cloud? "The future is inconceivable and we need to get our brains around that future… we haven't seen far enough into the future. At O'Reilly we try to find the people who are living in the future already."

The data itself is becoming the source of building new applications… (The future is) real time cloud based intelligence delivered to mobile apps. Build for the data based world that you can see coming.

The following two posts are the ones I mention in the address above.

State of the Internet Operating System Part Two: Handicapping the Internet Platform Wars — April 2010. As I wrote last month, it is becoming increasingly clear that the internet is becoming not just a platform, but an operating system. The question is whether a single company will put together a single, vertically-integrated platform that is sufficiently compelling to developers to enable the kind of lock-in we saw during the personal computer era, or whether, Internet-style, we will instead see services from multiple providers horizontally integrated via open standards.

The State of the Internet Operating System — March 2010. Ask yourself for a moment, what is the operating system of a Google or Bing search? What is the operating system of a mobile phone call? What is the operating system of maps and directions on your phone? What is the operating system of a tweet? I've been talking for years about "the internet operating system", but I realized I've never written an extended post to define what I think it is, where it is going, and the choices we face. This is that missing post.

Six Years in the Valley — March 2010. This interview with the Economist at their Innovation event in Berkeley, March 2010, covers the origins of the Web 2.0 Conference, the rise of advertising as a business model, and the core lesson of Web 2.0: that users add value. I talk about lessons from Google, the idea of applications that get better the more people use them, and what that means for the future of the web.

A particularly interesting moment came when the Economist asked me why there were so few big Web 2.0 successes. "It's too early to tell… Roll back the clock to the 80s, when there were hundreds if not thousands of personal computer software companies. And most of them failed. Would you say that there was a paradox in the software industry business model because most companies were not able to actually become successful?"

Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On — October 2009. The piece I wrote with John Battelle in the fall of 2009 to make the case that collective intelligence applications driven by sensors are a key element in the next stage of the Internet's evolution.

Say "sensor-based applications," and many people might imagine a world of applications driven byRFID tags or ZigBee modules. This future is conveniently far off, with test deployments and a few exciting early stage applications. But what many people fail to notice is how far along the sensor revolution already is. It's the hidden face of the mobile market, and its most explosive opportunity.

TechCrunch50 Interview — September 2009. I was interviewed after the morning's panel discussion and was asked why I was critical of some companies and what I liked about others.

I like the companies that are looking toward where technology is going. They are pursuing a future that will help us build better tools. Even if they fail, the interesting startups still leave the soil richer.

FORA.tv Interview — April 2009. In this interview by Blaise Zerega, president and CEO of FORA.tv, we talk about the origins of the term and the meaning of Web 2.0; the development of the internet as a platform; what amazon and google got right; how twitter has added real time to the internet; why I think RFID is an evolutionary deadened; what publishers can learn from software developers; why I did not take venture capital even early on in the life of my company; and my view of collective consciousness as part of human evolution. "Although there is much about human beings that is the same, there are significant changes occurring as we respond to increasingly global and automatic connections that are a direct result of technology."

Five Technologies that Tim O'Reilly says Point Past Web 2.0 — April 2009. This is a good summary of the keynote I gave at this Web 2.0 conference.

Static on the Dream Phone — My December 2007 New York Times op-ed about the need for phone carriers to embrace internet-style open platforms. (Registration Required)

In the future, the cellphone and similar wireless devices, not the personal computer, will be the primary interface to the cloud of information services that we now call the Internet

Technology and Tools of Change — June 2004. Building the next generation of technology won't be easy, and will require developers, entrepreneurs, and the customers they serve to learn new skills. O'Reilly has a collection of new and favorite tools for building the future, including a new "Technology & Society" book series, a new "Web 2.0—Web as Platform" conference, and a new print-on-demand, custom books service called SafariU.

What Is Web 2.0 — September 2005. Born at a conference brainstorming session between O'Reilly and MediaLive International, the term "Web 2.0" has clearly taken hold, but there's still a huge amount of disagreement about just what Web 2.0 means. Some people decrying it as a meaningless marketing buzzword, and others accepting it as the new conventional wisdom. I wrote this article in an attempt to clarify just what we mean by Web 2.0.

Read/Write Web Interview: Web 2.0 — November 2004. In Part 1 of this Read/Write Web interview, I talk with Richard MacManus about the Web 2.0 Conference, the relationships between Apple and the web and Microsoft and the web, and data ownership and lock-in. In Part 2, we explore business models for web content, including discussion of RSS. And Part 3 focuses on eBooks, social networking, collaboration, and Remix culture.

We're All Mac Users Now — January 2004. Wired News talked to a bunch of folks (including me) for comments on the 20th anniversary of the Mac. Nice words from all of us about just how important the Mac has been to the computer industry.

Apple has been able to reinvent itself because it has what is, at bottom, an aesthetic vision, rather than one that is solely based on profit and loss. Like Shaw's proverbial "unreasonable man," they try to bend the world to their vision. And they articulate that vision consistently, and persistently.

A FOSDEM Interview: Reinventing Open Source — February 2004. I'll be speaking at FOSDEM this year on the subject of how next-generation applications are changing the rules of the computing game. In this interview, I talk about O'Reilly's book publishing program, past and present, and my goal to create the maximum value for users, developers, and everyone in the software ecosystem. Today that means coming to grips with the way the computer landscape is changing, giving up old open source battles from the 1980s and 1990s, and focusing on how we might reinvent open source in this age of the Internet. (Slides from my talk are now available in PDF: The Open Source Paradigm Shift [4.4MB].)

My fundamental premise is that the world we all grew up in—the world of both Microsoft and the Free Software Foundation—is fundamentally challenged by the Internet. The Internet (not Linux) is the greatest triumph to date of the open source approach, yet it has changed the rules of software deployment so fundamentally that many of the techniques embraced by the open source community as first principles don't necessarily give the desired results. We need to reinvent open source in the age of the Internet. My talk gives some suggestions for what we need to think about.

My Wired News Wishes for 2004 — December 2003. Michelle Delio of Wired News asked a bunch of geeks what we wished for in 2004, and what we thought would really happen. My answers are on page 2 of the story. Unlike many of the people interviewed, I actually have hope that many of the things I wish for will happen, but a few of them are beyond the pale of probability (especially the one regarding software patents). Since Michelle had to edit my answers down, I decided to publish my complete, original comments in my weblog.

The Future of Technology and Proprietary Software — December 2003. In celebration of its 25th anniversary, InfoWorld did a feature on where technology has been and where it's headed: 25 Years of Technology. I did an email interview to contribute to that article. Many of my comments were included at the end of the InfoWorld article, but I thought I'd supply the complete original as well.

All Software Should Be Network Aware — October 2003. Apple's original Human Interface Guidelines laid out Apple's vision for a set of consistent approaches for GUI applications. Even though Windows ended up with a different set than the Mac, the idea was simple and profound: create a consistent set of user expectations for all applications and live up to them. Now that we're moving into the era of "software above the level of a single device" (Dave Stutz), we need something similar for network-aware applications, whether those applications live on a PC, a server farm, a cell phone or PDA, or somewhere in between. Here are some of the things that I'd like to see universally supported.

The Software Paradigm Shift — September 2003. The operating system doesn't really matter anymore; applications now live above the level of a single device. In this IT Conversations interview, available in audio and as a transcription, I talk about the software paradigm shift that is taking place—and that we'd do well to heed.

We're at the beginning of a massive transformation that's going to come as we start to think about computers not as things that sit on our desks. The personal-computer era was major, but we're at the end of it, and we're at the beginning of something profoundly different. Whether you call it pervasive computing or network computing or whatever, there are a whole host of new applications ahead of us. Cell phones and handhelds, laptops and wireless—all of this kind of stuff is just going to make computing something that surrounds us and that we interact with in our daily lives in completely different ways. And when everybody is connected, when all these devices are connected and networked, a new class of socially conscious software, if you like, can be developed and exploited. We don't know what all those applications are going to be, but we damn sure know that there are going to be interesting times ahead!

Digital Rights Management Is a Non-Starter — July 2003. In an interview with stage4, I write:

I believe that the content industries will flourish online once they stop fighting their users and start offering them what they want at a price they think is fair. That's the way it works in every other field of commerce! … And as the content industries are discovering, existing copyright law is quite enough legal protection for them to put a stop to the most serious of copyright infringers. This is much the same lesson learned by software vendors. … I'm also quite clear that the question isn't whether P2P networks will spell the end of media companies. The question is whether the companies that succeed on the new medium will be upstarts or existing players.

An Interview with PC Pro — July 2003. In Part 2 of this interview with PC Pro, I talk about O'Reilly's involvement in developing the new java.net portal, what the openness of open source should mean, and my interest in propagating the idea that we all collectively own and, therefore, should set the standards for the Internet.

O'Reilly in a Nutshell — This article is based on a June 2003 interview with Apple Pro. Joe Cellini writes:

The same intimate push and pull that characterizes O'Reilly's editorial relationship with hackers informs his marketing efforts, which by design come across more as activism than hucksterism. By seeding, screeding and evangelizing ideas across his websites and conferences, O'Reilly attracts devoted readers and turns up expert authors, substantial grist for his publishing mill.

Piracy is Progressive Taxation — My December 2002 reflections on internet file sharing, and why the lessons of my career in publishing lead me to think that the RIAA and MPAA positions don't hold water. Here are the seven lessons, in brief:

  1. Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.
  2. Piracy is progressive taxation.
  3. Customers want to do the right thing, if they can.
  4. Shoplifting is a bigger threat than piracy. [This one is really worth thinking about, because if you understand the reasons why, you understand everything else in the article.]
  5. File sharing networks don't threaten book, music, or film publishing. They threaten existing publishers.
  6. "Free" is eventually replaced by a higher-quality paid service.
  7. There's more than one way to do it.

An Interview with Tim O'Reilly — November 2002. Ideas running through my head, prompted by the Mac OS X Conference and the Emerging Technology Conference.

Author's note: Talking with Tim O'Reilly bears more than a little resemblance to riding the Shinkansen Bullet Train—keep up, or miss the details as they whiz by. If you've talked to him once, you know that he's a man who likes to kick back and riff on his current favorite technical topics. We set the tape rolling—yes, we still use tape—and from iPod to Web services to O'Reilly's upcoming Emerging Technology Conference, here's what Tim's thinking about as of late.

Alpha Geeks, Open Source, and More — An interview in Rational Edge composed by Johanna Ambrosio based on a talk I gave at Softpro in Burlington MA in April 2002, plus a followup email interview. Covers much the same ground as the WWDC keynote, but has additional reflections about the significance of open source and collaborative development, plus some tidbits about company history and how our various businesses fit together.

JA: What do you predict will really matter to the industry when you look back in four or five years?
TO: To tell you the truth, what I really want, what I care about, is that this industry continues to be as much fun as it's been for the past twenty years. A lot of industries get boring as they mature. Alan Kay, who was at Xerox PARC, said the best way to predict the future is to invent it. It's much more interesting to go out and build the future than it is to talk about it. I look forward to seeing what people build—someone in this audience may create something just wonderfully compelling.

Watching the "Alpha Geeks": OS X and the Next Big Thing — The prepared text of my lunchtime keynote at the Apple World Wide Developer's Conference on May 8, 2002. Similar themes to Inventing the Future (below) but a bit more of an OS X slant, and some more development of the intellectual background of some of the key points.

The best platforms know how to find a balance between control and hackability, and the best companies learn how to disrupt themselves before someone else does it to them.

Tim O'Reilly on the Future of Mac OS X Computing — A nice summary of the WWDC keynote above.

In a talk titled, "Watching the Alpha Geeks," O'Reilly stated that disruptive innovation is again changing the computing landscape, as innovators and hackers are using the Web, wireless communication and built-in services to push aside the old paradigms. According to O'Reilly, information is being distributed more widely, reused in new ways, and applications are being built into the platform. O'Reilly painted a picture where there is less focus on ownership and more on letting the user determine an evolving "architecture of participation."

Inventing the Future — An April 2002 article based on my current "stump speech". It focuses on the way that hackers and other "alpha geeks" give us a sneak preview of the future. And specifically how they are showing us a side of web services that isn't getting much attention right now. This article is also available in InfoWorld's CTO zone as a pdf file.

So often, signs of the future are all around us, but it isn't till much later that most of the world realizes their significance. Meanwhile, the innovators who are busy inventing that future live in a world of their own. They see and act on premises that are not yet apparent to others. In the computer industry, these are the folks I affectionately call "the alpha geeks", the hackers who have such mastery of their tools that they "roll their own" when existing products don't give them what they need.

We Can Work it Out — An April 2000 column by Steve Gillmor of InfoWorld based on an interview he did with me at JavaOne.

O'Reilly sees the roots of innovation in architectures that encourage developer participation and experimentation. "A lot of the focus in open-source discussions on licensing misses the point," he emphasized. "Open source is a lot about architecture: Does this system architecture let someone hack it easily, or is hacking hard?" O'Reilly said that if it's easy, you get lots of experimenting, and later, these hacks are replaced by technologies that make things accessible to more people.

The Future is Here — A March 2002 interview with Steve Gillmor of InfoWorld, held at JavaOne. This was the basis for his April column.

…periodically we feel like we need to do something activist. And the activism is often when we see the stories in the media diverging from the reality… [With regard to web services] We hear news like Microsoft just figured out they don't know how they're going to make money, so they're going to have to go slow. And meanwhile, the hackers are in fact progressing apace. And so I thought, well, I've got to start letting people know that [Web services are] happening and are going to happen, and you can either get with it or you can wake up a year from now and go, darn, I missed that market… What I see happening is a combination of factors that are just starting to come together. And the fundamental change is that connectivity is no longer an exception.

Opening Remarks: O'Reilly P2P Conference, Feb 14, 2001 — (Video Presentation.) P2P not just as a style of decentralization, but as a sign that the next generation internet is upon us. Why I included areas such as web services and distributed computation along with pure P2P topics like freenet and gnutella in the program.

Getting to the Bottom of .Net — An August 2000 audio discussion between me and Jim Farley about some of the implications of .Net and its vision of the next generation internet.

Bookster? — October 2000. A posting to the StudioB mailing list, in which I respond to a "scare" posting that suggests that books are next in line after music to be free. I explain why p2p doesn't mean complete disintermediation, and why new hierarchies of intermediaries will always emerge.

The idea that all content will be free is a myth that is spread by people who are trying to sell book security services, and popularized by people like the RIAA. I predict that the impact of ebooks is that content will be available in more forms and formats, and that we'll find ways to monetize many, if not all of them. Money is about exchange of value, and if you provide value, I guarantee you that ultimately, you can figure out how to get people to pay for it, because if you don't, you stop producing it.

Everything is Connected — An article I wrote for Fawcette's special Future of Software magazine. The magazine appeared in October 2000, but the article was written in the late summer. (See also the interview roundtable Opening Pandora's Box, which is nominally on open source, but addresses many similar themes. This roundtable was recorded at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention during the summer of 2000.) In this article, I argue that p2p is really just the rediscovery of Sun's slogan, "the Network is the Computer," and argue that metadata and xml are going to end up an important part of the mix.

Everything from peer-to-peer file sharing to distributed computation includes a large dose of metadata management. Who's got the file? Who's got the bandwidth? Who's got the spare cycles? Millions of individual transactions take place between systems, but someone must broker the introductions. Who controls the metadata controls the world. We already saw this happen on the Web, where we went from believing that "content is king" to discovering that the search engines and directories such as Yahoo, which facilitated access to content, had the most valuable Web real estate.

How the Intel P2P Working Group Ought to Be Organized — My public feedback to Intel about the October 12, 2000 meeting of the P2P Working Group.

Yesterday, at the first meeting of their proposed Peer-to-Peer working group (attended by over 300 people) Intel proposed an organization for the group that was shocking in its distrust of the very decentralization that peer-to-peer is supposed to enable.

Remaking the P2P Meme — An article I wrote about the P2P Summit held on September 19, 2000. In addition, Jon Udell and Andy Oram each wrote up descriptions of the Summit. I also contributed some discussion of this topic in the decentralization mailing list, in the threads O'Reilly P2P Summit and It's already P2P.

This whirlwind tour of a new list of canonical projects allows us to tell a very different story about peer-to-peer. Not only is it fundamental to the architecture of the existing Internet, but it is showing us important directions in the future evolution of the Net. In some ways, you can argue that the Net is reaching a kind of critical mass in which the network itself is the platform, more important than the operating system running on the individual nodes.

The Web is a Giant Supercomputer — An interview with Mike Dempster of Interactive Week for their Internet 2004 special issue looking at the future.  I talked about how technologies like Napster, Seti@home, Jabber, SOAP and Jini are all telling me a story about how the net will work in the future.

…a variety of companies, including United Devices—co-founded by the creator of SETI@home—and Popular Power, are building generalized systems for this kind of shared computing. As Marc Hedlund, chief executive of Popular Power, said to me: "What we're really doing is building an operating system for the Net." An operating system doles out tasks to various subsystems. If Napster is a sign of what the file system of the future "network as computer" looks like, SETI@home is a preview of its CPU.

The Network Really is the Computer — The text I prepared for my June 8, 2000 keynote at JavaOne in San Francisco. The page also includes links to a webcast and a transcript of what I actually said, which is close but not identical. I talk about wide area networking as a key element in the history of open source, about the need for an architecture that allows people you don't know to use programs you write in ways you didn't expect, and how that architecture is going to change in the era of applications delivered as internet services rather than downloaded and run locally. While most of this talk focuses on open source, it is a starting point for my thinking about pervasive computing, p2p, and web services.

We Need a Sierra Club For the Internet — April 1998. In 1996 and 1997, I gave a number of talks entitled "We Need a Sierra Club For the Internet!" I recently came across a file on my disk in which I'd written down an abbreviated text for this talk. It was dated April 3, 1998. While some aspects of the piece are a bit dated, it seems like a good idea to make it available on the net, since the issues I addressed are more important than ever.

The Peer to Peer Intranet — November 1996. An op-ed that I wrote and then turned into the opening essay for the Winter 1996 edition of our direct mail catalog, which we briefly referred to as the "Peer to Peer" catalog, until Dan Doernberg, who'd just launched Peer to Peer Publishing, complained about our use of the name. Someone turned this up recently after P2P became the buzzword du jour. It's fun to remember that I was interested in this concept back before it was fashionable.

Ultimately, everyone who has a web browser ought to have a web server. That was our slogan when we launched WebSite, the first desktop web server, back in May of 1995, and it's becoming increasingly clear that we were right. The Internet is about information sharing, not just information browsing… The ability to serve documents needs to be as ubiquitous as the ability to send email or pick up the phone. The power of the Intranet—as with the Internet—is in letting people manage their own information, not in centraizing that power.