From ON Magazine
By Tim Devaney and Tom Stein
Obviously your relationship with the Web starts from the very early times. I think you had one of the very first publications to write about the Web and talk about the Web 2.0, on a personal level, what impact has the Web had on your life?
Well, it was really the first wave of transformation at O’Reilly. It was actually my colleague, Dale Dougherty, who brought the Web to us. He had been exploring hyper-tech and how to do our books as online publications in the late eighties. He discovered the Web, and it was like the Holy Grail. There were only a couple hundred websites at that point. We were in the process of publishing a book called “The Whole Internet Users Guide & Catalog,” which by the way went on to sell something like a hundred million copies. It was really the book that brought the Internet to people.
The next big step was that I had hired a guy named Brian Irwin originally to help us do PR, and he later became our VP of Marketing. Brian was formerly the director of activism for the Sierra Club. He came on, and he says to me, “Tim, nobody cares about books. They care about the ideas and issues behind the book. So, we’re not going to market this book. We’re going to market the Internet using the book.”
That was really the beginning of my career marketing my activism, which I did originally around the commercialization of the Internet and then later with open-source software. We realized that the best way to move the ball forward was to promote big ideas, and then the follow up by effectively helping people to follow those ideas.
As a publisher, are you fascinated by the evolution of advertising on the Internet and the evolution of publishing—or the demise of traditional publishing—with the rise of online publishing?
Absolutely. It has been transformative in the way that every new medium is transformative. If you go back and read the history of the telephone, for example, people in the beginning said, “This is going to be the means by which concerts are broadcast to remote towns.” They had no idea it was going to become a sort of personal communications medium. There were all these revolutions in communication that came about as a result.
What’s the most surprising thing that the Web has developed into if you look back over the course of the 20 years? What surprises you most up to this point?
Well, I think it’s the fundamental change that I wrote about in my “What is Web 2.0” paper. That is, it started out with database-backed websites. What it turned into at some point was a system in which we’re building services in which these databases get better through interaction with their users. For many people, they go, “Web 2.0 is advertising. Web 2.0 is search.” I think it’s the design of databases and that the application gets better the more that people use them. If you look at how that’s playing out today in Google’s latest product, you can really see it. There was an announcement recently that they’re offering turn-by-turn directions on the Google phone, competing with TomTom.
The Internet is becoming an operating system. I first started making that claim around 2000, long before we started calling it Web 2.0.
The last 10 years have really started to prove you right on that score.
Absolutely. You look at the way Google is owning more and more databases and is building services that only they can deliver because they have these database assets.
What do you think the impact has been and will be or continue to be on the way we work and the way we operate as a society?
I think there is a fundamental change that has come upon us gradually such that we have forgotten what it was like before the Web. In preparation for the new science fiction series, “V,” I thought I’d go back and watch the old TV series from the eighties, the mini-series. It’s kind of amazing. It’s a world where television was the dominant medium by which people got information. You go, “Oh my God, we have come so far in having this universal communication instrument.”
Tim, what do you see happening over the next 20 years?
The thing I’ve been thinking about for quite a while, and that is becoming more and more true, is that the next stage of the Web is driven by devices other than computers. Again, we’re talking here of the Web in a much broader sense when your phone is reporting your location, and that’s being used by an application on your phone. It knows where you are and gives you results that are local to you. Is that really the Web anymore? It’s the Web in the broader sense of the Internet and the network of network.
We’re getting into this world in which our devices are driving these databases. The kind of applications that are coming will take data from our devices and data that have built up in big user-contributed databases and mash them together in new kinds of services. All these cooperating databases and cooperating sensors and such are the kinds of things that we’re going to have in the way of assisted, augmented technology that is connected to these applications.