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In episode 6 of Developer Love, Patrick speaks with Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media. They unpack the enormous influence Tim has had on the web, updating our mental models around technology, and the rise of commercial open source.
About the Guests
Tim O’Reilly is the Founder, CEO, and Chairman of O’Reilly Media. A seasoned veteran of the early web, Tim had a hand in popularizing the terms “open source software”, “web 2.0”, “the Maker movement”, “government as a platform”, and “the WTF economy.” He is also the author of many technical books published by O’Reilly Media.
Patrick Woods: Tim thank you so much for coming on to Developer Love, it means a lot, I'm excited to have this discussion and I know our audience will be as well.
To dive right in, I really want to start with the idea of community, your career is marked by the convening of interesting people or influential people to tackle big interesting questions, including the reframe from free software to open-source.
As mentioned the audience of this podcast skews really heavily towards community builders, largely developer communities.
So I wonder what lessons and tactics have you picked up over the years of building communities that have sustained impact?
How would you describe the sort of lessons learned from a career of changing people's views on things?
Tim O'Reilly: They're really a couple of very closely intertwined lessons and they really start with noticing things that other people don't notice.
Because what you're really trying to do is not create a community, you're trying to recognize one that already exists.
I actually kind of first heard that idea from a guy named Brian Irwin, who I worked with in the very early days when we were first published "The Whole Internet User's Guide."
And he had been the director of activism for the Sierra Club.
We'd hired him to do PR with the very early days of the Internet, just, we were marketing on Usenet and he once said to me, it's very hard to assemble a community but it's a lot easier to find one that already exists.
And so he was just very good at just finding people who cared about things and he gave them free copies of the book and he kind of taught me in a certain way the whole marketing by activism that I practiced ever since.
So if we go all the way back to that free software and open-source moment, it was really that I recognized that I was part of a set of different communities through the books I was publishing.
And I recognized that they had a lot in common and I was surprised to find that the free software community did not include things that were so obviously part of the same movement.
So you would read the account of the free software movement and it was all focused around the new license, like the new system and the GPL.
And I say, well, gee, why don't they include, all this stuff that came out of Berkeley Unix.
Now again, I had really come in to the developer community and the Unix and the Internet through Berkeley Unix, much more than through Linux.
And Berkeley Unix was sort of a little bit on hold because they'd been sued by AT&T but I had been a tech writing consultant working with private companies that were licensing either System V or BSD or taking elements from each of them before Linux even existed.
And I kind of knew that there was this software developer community around Unix and it had nothing to do with the free software foundation which was sort of a relative late comer to the Linux party, the idea that we're going to build a free version of Unix actually came after the communities that had originally built Unix, I knew that there were all the software that I had used, I gotten copies of software from various universities and it was this shared software community that had started from the very beginning of Unix.
So I said, why aren't you including those things and why aren't you including the World Wide Web, why aren't you including the Internet?
And so what I tried to do with the event that became the Open Source Summit, only a couple of us were familiar with the term at the time and I was not one of them, but it was just saying that, "Hey all you, people ought to be talking to each other."
Like I knew that people over from the Internet community, I knew the people from the BSD community, I knew people from the Linux community and the Free Software foundation community.
And I said, "Let's bring all these people together and talk about what we have in common."
And it was at that meeting, it's just a couple of weeks before Mozilla had just released their browser's open-source and it was patchy.
And I just said, "Well, let's bring all these people together, it's at the same team."
And then of course, at that meeting Christine Peterson, a few weeks before had come up with this new name, open-source and it was just there was one of the topics of discussion and we said, let's do a vote.
And then of course I had already arranged a press release at the end of the day and that was the tutelage Brian Irwin from our earlier, five years earlier we'd been marketing the commercial Internet in the same way which is this new thing you all know about it.
And in some ways this was a continuation of that marketing for me because the storylines that I told to the assembled reporters who came because I had credibility from that earlier work on promoting the Commercial Internet and the World Wide Web.
They came and I said, "Look, you guys think of free software as this rogue thing that's hostile to commercial software and I'm here to tell you that you already use it, you all use it."
You guys say newyorktimes.com, do you know why that works?
'Cause there's this guy here, Paul Vixie, he wrote maintaining something called the Berkeley Internet named daemon, which is what translates IP addresses into domain names.
Oh, you send email this guy, Eric Allman also from Berkeley, you know, wrote Sendmail which routes to that point about three quarters of the Internet's email.
And so I kind of went down the line and I finally got to Linux tarballs, I was like okay, and you know, some of you may use Linux and it was a really, really interesting experience for me because there was this sort of sense of disbelief.
And then I got interviewed by people for I don't know, what's the name?
A week or two just intense interviews, 10 a day and then it became the accepted wisdom that the Internet was built on this new thing that was called open-source.
And so the point was that we had made a community, we had seen and recognized one.
And I think of a similar kind of thing that my colleague Dale Dougherty did around the Maker movement.
You know, there's a class of people who didn't think of themselves as being part of the same movement and they all kind of created this new name that said you all belong in this big tent.
And I think about things like at the very first Maker Faire, one pavilion belonged to a group, it was basically doing modern clothes and then having a fashion show at the end of the day.
And the next booth over was the Alameda Contra Costa Computer Recycling Society showing off their bio diesel powered supercomputer made out of recycled DCS.
And the fact that these two things were defined as being part of the same movement, it had enormous power.
And the other piece about this was it had an identity, Maker is an identity, an open-source Developer was an identity Web 2.0 company was an identity people aspired to it, it meant something, it was a story.
And in each case there were people who kind of stood out as exemplars of that identity.
Like in the case of open-source software, it was Linus Torvalds, it was Brian Behlendorf from Apache, I mean, after we did that press release I think it was "Forbes" or "Fortune" kind of did this spread of these developers who nobody had heard of and suddenly they were like superstars.
And in the case of the Maker movement, it was projects like ours, we know 3D printing and people associated with these things.
And it was the people behind the technologies that were part of it.
And it still goes on, I think of when we really kind of bolt together the DevOps community with our velocity conference or when we first started to really look at big data Web 2.0.
But also even recently I was just talking with a guy, Tito Jankowski, who's somebody who I've known for a long time, but haven't been in touch with, and he called me up with this new effort, he's working in clean energy, around carbon capture.
And he started something called airminers.org.
And I said, "Oh, Tito, that's such a great name" "because you're tying together, everybody from people who are extracting carbon dioxide to sell to Coca-Cola with people who are making concrete in new ways, you've created this crazy great identity."
I'm an air miner, and this is whole resonance and again this is a little far from the developer community but you can kind of get that idea that I was just urging him you have to tell a story about the opportunity and the size of the movement.
You've got this great meme now, fill it out.
Like when I wrote "What Is Web 2.0" I know I had some ideas that we started with the idea that the Web was coming back after the .com bust it wasn't over and we started to identify characteristics of the companies that had survived versus the ones that had failed.
But then I realized, oh, I had been talking about this whole idea of the Internet as platform, I've been talking about the rise of big data and so I wrote this paper that tried to kind of give this intellectual backstory to this identity.
So I guess I would just say if you're trying to build a developer community, think about who else is in it, besides you.
And the people who-- Like I think a mistake a lot of companies make is they think that their developer community are simply the people who use their software.
And you have to actually think of it a little bit like the Japanese idea of the Keiretsu people who use my software also use this and here's what we have in common.
And if you can find an identity and a movement that links you with a bunch of other people, potentially people who are bigger and more visible and more powerful than you, that's really great.
Patrick: Yeah, I'm curious about the frameworks or the mental models you've applied to identify these people that are placing these best, or are starting these conversations in interesting new arenas whether it's open-source or Web 2.0 data or what have you.
What are the models or frameworks you've applied to identify those people and bring them together?
Tim: Well, a lot of what I try to do, I think you know I was deeply influenced in my early life by the work of, again, Alfred Korzybski, founder of general semantics.
And his most famous line is, "The map is not the territory. "
And I think one of the issues is that so many people think in terms of these perceived maps, that tells a story a particular way.
And there's a certain scale in looking at the world and saying what's missing?
If you just are kind of in a receptive place and it starts to bother you, like, again going back to that original free software example, saying why aren't they talking about Apache?
Why aren't they about the World Wide Web?
Why aren't they talking about TCPIP and all this associated suite of utilities and going well, we need a map that includes all of those things.
So rewriting the map, I think is a really important part of what I've tried to do throughout my career.
Sometimes there's more success than others.
If you know like four or five years ago, I started really working on something that I was calling the next economy, and I have been very, very concerned about economics and the way that I'm still kind of working that one.
And it hasn't quite crystallized but the same thing was true in say Web 2.0.
I mean, in some ways I've done one body of thought, that was I keep throwing a map that gets bigger and bigger. You know, I started with the commercial Internet, hey, how could that be?
And of course the Internet rely a lot on our open-source, which led me there, probe was at one point called the duct tape of the Internet and so I got deeply into free software.
And then I was trying to explain it and then the more I thought about it and I said "Oh, all this focus on licenses is wrong, it's really about new software enabled collaboration, it's about everything from crowdsourcing to new kinds of software development methodologies, it's about collaboration at a distance."
And I also had this idea it's about the commodification of software and then I go, "Oh, well, well one thing commodifies something else becomes valuable which got me thinking about, well, what will be the thing that becomes valuable and the new source of lock-in?"
I came up with this kind of big data and it was just because I was just trying to make sense of the world from first principles and then tell a story about it that was actionable and useful to people.
And I'm still trying to do that, I've been reading a lot of economics over the past five years.
I'm trying to understand platform economics and a lot of ways, like I've used it to guide my own thinking at my own company.
But also just what's going wrong with Facebook and Amazon and Google, in terms of they're building and economic system that they're really in charge of and is it reproducing a lot of the problems of our broader economy, i.e. the haves and the have nots.
And the returns go to a disproportionately small number of people over time and why is that and how do we fix it?
But I haven't come up with the meme yet that kind of captures that in part the right way.
Patrick: Yeah, it's actually a great transition.
You wrote once that just as gene engineering allows us to artificially shape genes, meme engineering lets us organize and shape ideas so they can be transmitted more effectively.
I'm interested from your perspective, what would you say are the characteristics of a meme that's more likely to spread, what are the contours, are they characteristics of that?
Tim: I wish I knew, I do think that my personal focus has been much more trying simply to tell the underlying truth that I see.
And often the name has arrived unasked.
So for example, back to open-sources, Christine Peterson who came up with that in a separate meeting a couple of weeks before the one that I organized.
In the case of Web 2.0, I had actually been for three or four years, I had been talking about the Internet Operating System, which was to geeky, even people who were, yeah I still remember Bram Cohen, the founder BitTorrent making fun of it, even though it's pretty obvious now that the Internet was becoming the platform and it didn't have the same characteristics as a previous operating system, but that was my whole point.
It's like operating systems are changing, we're going to be making our application calls to things in the sky.
And yeah sure, we are now with, in 2004 that seemed really crazy but it was, Dale Dougherty who kind of came in with this idea that we should do a conference about the second coming of the World Wide Web.
And I just said "Oh, that's a great name for this thing I've been talking about."
And Dale came up with the Maker Movement kind of framing as well and in the case of the DevOps, we did come up with the name, we did organize the event but that was also driven by our communities that came to us.
Literally, we were at OSHCON and a group of I don't know, a half dozen people came in, Artur Bergman, who's founder of Fastly which was never successful company and he went public and the diverse, successful--
I think it was Jesse Robbins who was the so called master of disaster at Amazon, and they said to me, you wrote this piece where you said that, I wrote a blog post called "Operations: The New Secret Sauce."
And they said it was the first time anybody had said that our tribe was important.
And they sent me to make a gathering place for our tribe, that's where we started something called the Velocity Conference out of that whole conversation and bringing the people together the term DevOps was coined and then much later SRE kind of came in as a part of that.
But I think a lot of it is kind of seeing people who belong together and then bringing them together.
And it's kind of what I do also with our free annual event called Foo Camp, Friends of O'Reilly Camp, which we've done since 2003 and a version of for science with Google and nature since 2004 and more recently on big data in the social sciences with Sage and Facebook and it was just like bringing people together.
And we're actually doing a Foo Camp this year as sort of a rolling series of virtual sessions spanning months and it's really kind of fun because it's actually, I think it may be a more effective modality than bringing people together for the weekend.
Even though it's not as much fun we're all drinking whiskey and staying up till odd hours playing werewolf but it's kind of great because we invite somebody they propose a talk, it's an unconference, people propose talks, and then we'd go, oh like we had one on, what do we need to do to fix democracy?
And in the course of this talk, which was proposed by some of you, who we'd initially invited, we were like, oh wow, we really want to have these other six people in this conversation and we'd go, "Oh, because it's not just this one weekend let's schedule another session in three weeks and invite them too."
And so we're kind of bringing together now a community of all of these people already, even in this meeting this morning there were people who I happened to vote that, who didn't know each other who were working on different parts of the same problem and you start bringing them together.
I think the other thing I would say a piece of advice is have patience, I worked on the Web 2.0 story, which I didn't know was a story for four years before we actually lost that mean, in fact it was maybe five years.
I remember giving a talk in '99 in Berlin, where I had this argument with Richard Stallman where I was sort of saying, "If you had all of Amazon's source code, you wouldn't have Amazon because it's a process."
And he's like, well, it doesn't matter 'cause it's not running on my computer, so I don't have any moral issues about it, I was like well you put some practical point.
But you know, so I was thinking about it all the way back then in '99, but then Web 2.0 name we didn't come up with it until 2004.
So it's like if you're really engaged, like if you think it's a problem of marketing, you're probably not going to win.
If you think it's a problem of I'm trying to change the world, and I'm trying to move this discussion along and bring these people together, it's just a work and the community is built through the work.
You don't build the community kind of as this sort of marketing exercise.
Patrick: As you think about the transition to online channels, being the primary place people meet, this is a question that's top of mind for our audience in a big way.
You think about developer, communities and conferences are shutting down, it's all online.
And folks have a lot of questions about how to conceptualize you, what is the new map of community that's strictly on online space?
So interested if you have any lessons learned or pieces of wisdom, it sounds like you've had good success transitioning boot camp online.
Are there other observations you would make?
Tim: I think the first thing is just reset your expectations.
I would say one lesson is, and I've always felt this way about online, the unit or participation is different.
And this is in everything from, back again, going back to those early open-source days.
I wrote a piece once about the architecture of participation and one of the big differences in open-source was, and this came right out of the architecture of Unix, in my opinion of the Internet, which was sort of in some sense the cousin, and that was a communications oriented system made up of what David Weinberger once called "small pieces loosely joined."
It was a protocol oriented system in which everybody agreed on the rules of communication.
And this really clicked for me, I remember once one of our people was talking to Linus Torvalds and he said, "I couldn't have built Linux for Windows even if I had all the source code, the architecture just didn't support it."
And I thought it was just like this giant hairball and I've kind of had, partly as a result of that, I remember giving you advice to people like the game team or the open office team, I said, look, it's not going to work because you have this giant original proprietary hairball of code--
You have to actually, and Mozilla figured this out, they had to re-architect it to make it have that architecture where people could work on a piece that could get their hands around.
And it came up again with Wikipedia where wikis first got super exciting and people were like we're going to write Wiki books and none of them worked because the book was the wrong participation, the article is the right size, people who were passionate about a particular topic, it's small enough, they can get their hands around, they can track it, they can work it.
And all of the best open-source projects or a module or in a fairly profound way.
And one of the things that I'm seeing like with Foo Camp or with our, as we've taken our conferences online you kind of deconstruct it.
So here it is, the atomic unit of the online Foo Camp is the session, it was like literally we're curating the communities that we want around the session not the community that we want around the whole thing.
And yes, once you come to a session you're invited to the whole thing but it makes the whole thing very fractal and it's a very different experience. And I think in a way, giving people lots of affordances for where and how they can plug in is super important. Again, I think that this idea of what is your architecture of participation is super important.
And that's everything from if you have an API, how do people access the end points?
Is it easy? How easy is it?
And I think that good developer programs make it really easy for people to use the stuff, to play with it to use it for whatever they want, not what you want.
Patrick: Yeah, I think one thing we've seen is that the shift to online community has created the space for re-imagining and making explicit those points of entry and those units of contribution or participation to your point.
Tim: Quite frankly, so much of what's happening in software development today is already virtual and online anyway.
The only thing that's changed is what happens in the big companies and then a small company, look at O'Reilly, how our software development team is all over the country already, our internal team, all over the country already.
Yes, we do have, or had offices where we had a couple of hundred people at each, but you have to have, like if you're not one of the big guys today and you're not a super well funded startup, you have to have a geographically diverse strategy because that's how you can compete with, people can dangle enormous carrots.
Patrick: Shifting back to open-source and the themes you've tracked over the years since popularizing the term, I'm interested how you would assess the map of the territory at open-source today, and namely things like the rise of commercial open-source and very large companies, big belt, with open-source technologies at their core.
Did you foresee that when you made the first mean map there's this a sort of a new emerging thing?
Tim: I guess what I would say, first off, I did say pretty early on that I thought that the most successful companies would not be selling open-source software or they would be people who are using it.
If you look for example, at Google and Amazon, as examples of that trend, they're orders of magnitude bigger than say a Red Hat.
And that fundamental shift that happened with the commoditization of software.
I got a lot of hate from the free software community when I was saying these things but I was just saying look, a lot of things that are religion in the open-source community really don't matter.
And I don't mean this, they do matter, they matter immensely, and in particularly in some fields more than others.
But there's a kind of unbundling of all the ideas that people thought had to go together.
And again, that goes back to the map is not the territory, if you have a map and it does not match reality, are you're going to come a Cropper.
And so if you think the only way to succeed is if you have the open-source license and I don't know, I got credited.
I didn't even realize it at the time, I just threw off the idea and I got contacted some years back.
Well, will you write a preface to this book on inner source you've coined the term and had some meaning.
I was at IBM in 1998, I think, where they were trying to wrap their heads around open-source.
They said, "Look, if you have a big enough developer community there's no reason why you couldn't use all of the tools and techniques and community approaches of an open-source community within your company and with your customers."
I said, "You could have a gated open-source community," and somewhere in there I threw in the term "inner sourcing."
You know, I kind of went, "Hey, all these things don't have to go together, that's not to say that, I do think there's real value in open-source licenses."
You know, if you look at my patent protests against Amazon in 2000, it was like dude, you've taken all this stuff and you're not giving back.
But again even there, I just always tried to make the argument that this is good practice, that open-source is science, not religion.
It's not like thou must do these things, It's "like dude, if you actually look at what works, you will find that if you don't give back your community eventually dries up."
And that's my argument right now not even with software developer communities but with Google and Amazon saying look at your ecosystem, Google used to send, when you went public, you said, our job is people come to Google and we were different from all the portals, they come to Google, we send them on their way.
I said, do you get now that more than half search of searches and on Google because you, that traffic, you used to send the websites, you don't send to them anymore.
That's just like what happened with Microsoft, the developers are going to go elsewhere dudes, it's self-interest you should be figuring out how you keep that game going.
Because you depend on it, the web goes belly up, you are a much less interesting company, but it's hard we're trying to figure that out in my own company, how do you have an ecosystem where the economic incentives are kind of lined up with building the community?
Because it's so easy to say well, we have to maximize our take.
Patrick: Yeah, you've used this ecological metaphor frequently in your writings, in your speaking marketplace as ecosystem.
So what examples do you have of that working really well? Or do you have any favorite examples of that metaphor in practice?
Tim: Well, for a long time, I felt really good about Google because they worked very hard to make their ecosystem work, I think Amazon did too.
And I think, both of them lost the plot maybe seven or eight years ago and they were in a bit of a dark period for that kind of enlightened self interest I think.
I think Github they still kind of a good example, in terms of companies.
I think under Satya Nadella, Microsoft is actually, you know, at his book, "Hit Refresh" and an interview I did with him when that came out, he talks a lot about going back to the original vision of Microsoft.
He said, "I realized what had gone wrong, our original goal was to enable software developers in other words, to make other people successful and we lost sight of that."
And so his goal was to try to make Microsoft go back to that and I think they've done actually surprisingly well which also happens to fit with another of my predictions come through, I actually back in the late '90s, right when it was sort of the, I said, one day Microsoft will be the greatest friend of open-source.
And who would have thought that Microsoft would be the owner of GitHub and subsets the platform for shared community source code.
And they still, obviously, they're still are a company that wants to make a profit and a pretty serious way but they do have a sense that they depend on a community in a way that Google seems to have forgotten.
Patrick: What do you think causes companies to lose the plot so to speak when it comes to self sabotage around their ecosystems?
Tim: I've been using this metaphor that our financial markets, so the first rogue AI are hostile to humanity.
In my book, "WTF" I actually kind of tried to develop that argument, I think I tried to shoe-horn too many different things into that.
So it's a memoir, it's a three or four different conceptual buckets, but one of the extended arguments is that if you look at AI systems there are really big data algorithmic systems of various kinds.
You have Google search, Facebook newsfeed and ultimately as we get into machine learning, you see that there are these optimization systems and they're given an optimization function.
And what we see for example with Facebook, is if you get, like I use Google as an example of it, they're best, they got it right.
Their goal was to send people away and all of the things they were measuring and all of the signals they were using was did people get they wanted?
And we'll make money on the side and they kind of kept the money making, the ad business was literally off to the side of the fundamental user interaction.
And then they started to blur the lines and over the last, it's really 2011, 2012, they've been slowly chipping away at that wall that they used to have and putting their commercial stuff front and center, but why are they doing it?
It's because in some sense this optimization function, this pattern that I recognized that, oh, all of these things have an optimization function, our economy does too, our economic optimization function is shareholder value.
It's like, make your stock price go up and the companies think they have this answer in the form of, well, we have super voting stock, so we can be long-term thinkers, but it just doesn't work.
And the reason it doesn't work is because they're immeshed in a system, if your stock price doesn't go up, you can't pay people with appreciating stock, so you're no longer the most attractive place to go work.
So they go, "Oh, suddenly they're caught by the machine."
And that machine quite frankly is a lot like Nick Bostrom's paperclip maximizer or I like Elon Musk's version of the AI gone wrong is the strawberry picking robot that is self improving and decides that humans are in the way of strawberry fields forever.
And I go, well, here we are, Facebook, engagement is the most important thing, they set that optimization function.
Google starts to say, oh well actually we were just kidding about sending people away, now we were telling ourselves it's good enough if people actually, they came and they got what they wanted, that's better for them.
And in some way, arguably it is, anyway I can go down that rat hole for awhile but the point I'm making is the optimization function that runs all through our society says, "increase your profits, people are a cost to be eliminated," that's Nick Bostrom's paperclip maximizer in a nutshell.
I mean, we built one already. And it runs our society at least in America.
And that's the economy story that I'm trying to tell which is, I think there's this incredible opportunity with AI, big data and algorithmic systems of all types, to take more factors into account and to build systems that are really not actually so single pointed.
I think we'll get to actually a kind of true machine intelligence when we take more factors into account when we don't have these single pointed optimizers.
Our conversation with Satya Nadella we talked about the fact that human beings are satisfiers. We're trying to satisfy a whole lot of conditions at once.
And if you look back at Google Search or Amazon when they were originally doing really good results as opposed to kind of just feeding people what their advertisers were promoting or their own products, they were taking a lots and lots of factors into account saying, "What's really best?"
And there are projects where this is happening with AI, it's only called "something-sustainability project" but basically where it's AI used to do economic sustainability analysis and it's just like how do we take more factors into account?
And Paul Cohen, who is the Dean of the IT group at University of Pittsburgh, former program manager for AI at DARPA had this great line, he said, "The opportunity of AI is to help humans model and manage complex interacting systems."
And I'm super excited about that possibility that we actually could in fact build an economy that isn't based on money.
All that stuff that we have in science fiction, "Star Trek" or Data Powers to lighten the lightning where it's just like a completely different way of organizing our society with the aid of machines, it's really possible.
Patrick: So if the optimization function for the economy currently is maximization of shareholder value, what advice would you have for early stage founders as they're sort of entering into the market?
How can they take into account the sort of complex system you're describing that that has more inputs than just the singular function?
Tim: Yeah, I mean, I think the first thing that--
My advice to founders is don't get seduced by the Silicon Valley gold rush. I think we're maybe getting to the end of that. Most of the great companies were started by people who wanted to solve a problem or they wanted to make something happen. They weren't primarily motivated by cash and the check.
And that's to say that, "Hey, Steve jobs was not ambitious, Bill Gates was ambitious, the founders of Intel were ambitious."
But I think that we have a great tradition of people who were just like the Google founders, I don't think they planned to get rich, they could copy as a web they felt they could do something really cool with it.
And I always love people who just want to do this thing that they love and then the money is a way to do it, and as a tool it's just very hard to keep that, that attitude, but I think more people need to work for that, remember what is it you're really trying to do?
And I do think that there is a lot of value in moving away, which is what we've tried to do with OATV and the project Indie.vc that my partner Bryce Roberts just defined companies that are kind of like O'Reilly where we were just trying to do a job that we liked and made money doing it, so we can keep doing it.
And I think there are companies like that, but as we're Silicon Valley is a lot like Hollywood where these actors and directors and producers who are trying to make a hit movie and they're going man, shot "NATO 3," whatever, it's why we have remakes and big blockbuster type movies all the time when there's this chance of hitting the ball out of the park and a lot of times they're lousy, same thing as Silicon Valley.
I actually say a lot of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs aren't entrepreneurs at all, they're actors, they're actress in some venture capitalists movie.
And your way you can tell is when you say how's your company doing and the answer is, well, we just raised a series D, that's not how your company is doing that's how your fricking fundraising is doing.
And the people, I love it when you talk to people and they're like, "Oh my God, we've got these customers who are really succeeding with our product."
I say your company is doing, I guess that comes back full circle to this question about community.
Because if you have a real community, you care about the people in it, you want them to succeed.
They're not there for you, you're there for them.
And a little bit goes back to kind of one of our slogans at O'Reilly, "Create More Value Than You Capture."
And we actually, that goes back to actually, it was Brian Irwin again, I was telling the story of yet another .com billionaire who had told me they started a company with a couple of O'Reilly books, and I was saying, I actually felt pretty good about that, and we got 35 bucks or whatever, and they got a billion and price was here and we create more value than we capture we kind of remained into our slogan.
But how often is that? That we played a role in starting eBay and we got 35 bucks for it?
We got a role in starting Mark Cuban's fortune, yeah, there's all these people who basically they went and made money because we gave him some knowledge.
And we're really proud of that, that we basically enabled a lot of the Internet revolution, and we're not there, like, damn we could have got more out of that. Like awesome, look what we did.
I just feel like there's so many particularly when you look at open-source.
It's like you enable people and there are companies like Stripe, they're really happy or Shopify, they're like they're all about like we are enabling an ecosystem.
And I think that's probably the most important thing, really care about your community because if you do, well, everything else will flow from that
Patrick: Couldn't agree more, one more question and this podcast is called "Developer Love" and you've had a front seat look, you put yourself in the driver's seat of many interesting and incredible trends.
I'm interested thinking about your past and your present, what's one thing you're loving right now?
Tim: Well, we've been working a small company called MISO on a new thing, we're just actually in data with right now, which is a new interface on the O'Reilly content on our O'Reilly platform, and it's sort of an answers interface.
In a lot of ways, we have this massive library of content and what people do is I want to go find out about, so let's just say I want to learn, they find a book, they find a video whatever, but what if you just need the answer?
And this is really based on a metaphor I've been working with, which is Google Maps.
I started thinking and I've been giving this talk called Learning in the Age of Knowledge on Demand.
And I start the talk with what's called the knowledge of the streets and monuments of London, the London taxi cab exam.
There are people study for three or four years to become a human GPS basically.
The exam consists of being given two points in London at a particular time and you have to recite the turn by turn directions that you've used to get from one to the other.
And it goes on for four hours or two days, I forget how long it is, but it's a long multiple, multiple questions of that form.
And so I asked this audience of online learning professional assists, so what is the answer to improving the knowledge and with today's technology like some kind of super duper training so you could cut that three years of driving around on a motorcycle using virtual reality so they could learn it in six months instead?
And they didn't know it was Google Maps.
I was giving this talk at Moscow, I said, here we are at the hotel in the outskirts of Moscow and I said, how do I get to Red Square?
I do it once following Google Maps, now I can do it by myself.
And I go the thing I'm doing right now is I'm asking myself how do we do that for software developers?
And I've been wrestling with that question.
A big chunk of it of course is, well, what library do I want to go?
Because a lot of this is building blocks, you're not coding shit from the ground up a lot of the time, it's just like knowing, wow, there's some way to do it and I just need to find out what it is so can you get the answer?
And then bang it's kind of like getting around in Google Maps.
And so we're working to build some technology and then the other side of that is this environment.
We acquired a company called Katacoda which is basically this great sandbox kind of system where you can intersperse documentation and code, people can execute the code and in some ways it's a broader version of Jupyter Notebooks, and which I also really love, but I have this idea of, for many people who are not full-time programmers, they do some tasks occasionally.
Why do we actually give them instructions when we could just give them something executable?
So I'm really trying to kind of think through and reinvent this, how do I get some answer?
And then tie that directly to an environment where you can actually deliver the answer in a way that people could then work with and customize and modify so that you're, oh, actually I'm going to go around that way, because I can see the route.
So it was more affordance for people to know how to get from where they are to where they want to go.
So I'm trying to get some of that insight in to O'Reilly.
Patrick: I love it, I could go on all day, these are wonderful metaphors and perspectives, you've been super generous with your time today.
So thank you so much for sharing all this, really means a lot.
Tim: Oh great, well, I'm really glad to do it with you.