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O’Reilly Radar

From afar you would think O’Reilly is a book publisher and organizer of Conferences.
At the Emerging Technology Conference this week Tim said that what they are really doing is listening to what the geeks/hackers are brewing with the conferences giving them a platform to exchange ideas.

The word hacker has often a negative connotation, as people that illegally crack into computer systems. Tim defines hackers as the people that are comfortable around technology.

The process goes like this:

  1. The hacker sees a technology and wonders what else can be done with it. By tweaking it in unintended ways or adding other technology to it, often something new and interesting happens.
  2. Entrepreneurs apply hacker insights and make technology easier for users.
  3. Technology gets incorporated into ubiquitous platforms.
  4. Hackers move on.

Here are a couple of things that Tim has heard lately from his hacker buddies:

  • The Internet is the platform and the killer applications are done at Google, Ebay, Amazon, Paypal, Yahoo and MapQuest. (Often with open APIs that are heavily used by external developers.)
  • The interesting thing is, that everyone is using Linux as the underlying operating system. They are built on top of open source, but are not open source themselves.
  • It is a services not a packaged applications model. [Comment: Sure, and nobody is buying any mainframes anymore.
  • His suggestion to developers is to explore how to become platform players via Web services APIs.
  • The most successful businesses are more than software providers, they are data aggregators and find ways to make the best use out of this data. Example is Amazon with their “people that bought … also bought …” cross-selling suggestion feature.
  • User contribution is key to market dominance. If there are two competitors, the one who finds a way to engage the user wins. Again: Amazon 10 times as many book reviews than Barnes and Noble.
  • There is no clear winner in the maps space so far. The first one who gets the mapping service right will be the winner. He predicts that Microsoft is going to be the one, because they are offering an API.
  • MoveOn.com built a very powerful activism site, by listening to their members suggestions. People are the killer app.
  • Tim showed a graph that proved that the price for Google AdWords very closely resembles book sales. If you compare Java, PHP, Perl only the Python AdWords were a bit more expensive.

First Mile Solution BikeHe also showed a beautiful picture similar to the one to the left that points to a hack that solves the first mile problem for rural areas in Cambodia:
It is a digital pony express: five Motomen ride their routes five days a week, downloading and uploading e-mail. The system, developed by a Boston company, First Mile Solutions, uses a receiver box powered by the motorcycle’s battery. The driver need only roll slowly past the school to download all the village’s outgoing e-mail and deliver incoming e-mail. The school’s computer system and antenna are powered by solar panels. Newly collected data is stored for the day in a computer strapped to the back of the motorcycle. At dusk, the motorcycles converge on the provincial capital, Ban Lung, where an advanced school is equipped with a satellite dish, allowing a bulk e-mail exchange with the outside world.

You can find further conference coverage at the official ETech Webpage. The more far out ideas I will post at the Future Salon Weblog.

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