Tim O’Reilly announces a new conference: Tools of Change for Publishing. That’s a good idea; publishing needs to better grapple with and embrace these new tools and the new architecture of information and media. But I have two reactions: First, most of the tools that matter are lite and open and easy and the people who create them, use them, and know them best are not the big-iron technocrats of the media industry. How will you get them to share what they know on and off the stage? They’re not going to pay thousands to come to a conference to do that. Second, I was stuck by the West-Coast hubris of the announcement: “We’re the originator of the term Web 2.0.” I think the time has come when I wouldn’t brag about that. And: “San Jose? Why not New York? Because we think that Silicon Valley, not New York, is the epicenter of the changes that are driving publishing.” No, there is no epicenter. The internet obsoletes epicenters.
: LATER: Tim O’Reilly tried to post a comment and my damned spam filter zapped him and then zapped me when I tried to do it in his place. So here is his comment. Sorry for the delay, Tim…
A couple of responses:
1. I completely agree that “most of the tools that matter are lite and open and easy,” but I explicitly noted in my post (and in our thinking about the conference) that many of the things that seem so obvious to those of us in the tech industry are actually NOT obvious and easy to people in publishing. At the Stanford Publishing Course, I had a debate about the Google Library book scanning project with a big name literary agent, and in the course of our debate, as I was trying to explain how a book search index was just like a web search index, I discovered that not only did she not know what an index was, she had never even tried Google! Now that’s an extreme, but in my dealing with people in publishing, I have found that many of them fall into two camps: the *very* clued in (like Brian Murray at Harpers or Timo Hannay at Nature) or “confused and slightly dazed.” Even those in the middle are looking for best practices. In fact, part of the reason I do a conference like this is to learn myself. If you’ve ever heard Mitch Kapor’s talk on what works about Wikipedia, you realize that there’s far more to wikis than you realized. They may be quick and simple, but the reason most wikis don’t work as well as people hope is that people don’t really understand some of the social and architectural factors that make the best wikis work. Ditto blogs. There *are* best practices, and a lot of cool new tools that have been applied on the web but not to more traditional areas of publishing. (For example, I bet even you haven’t thought through all the implications of SEO on book search — that’s still a story in the making, and nobody has figured out a lot of what will be common practice a few years from now.)
I also agree that “the people who create [these tools], use them, and know them best are not the big-iron technocrats of the media industry,” which is why I find it puzzling that your very next point is “Why San Jose and not New York?” You just gave the reason.
And as to “getting [the innovators] to share what they know,” that’s what O’Reilly events are known for. Anyone who’s been to a conference like OSCON or etech knows that we’re darn good at that.
I’m not saying it’s a slam dunk to get established publishers and the new breed of publishing technologists and publishing innovators together and make magic happen, but it’s definitely worth trying, for all the reasons I cite in my original post.
I’m sorry you’re a skeptic, but I’d love to have a chance to convince you. Let’s talk, and I hope to get you involved.
P.S. You say that you wouldn’t brag about being the originator of the term “Web 2.0?” I don’t consider it bragging to mention it in the context that I did. But in any event, why not? In 2003, we set out to reignite enthusiasm in the computer industry, which was still reeling from the dotcom bust, by doing some storytelling about why we were still bullish on technology. It worked. A lot of people have benefited. Yes, there’s been some hype, but I think the good far outweighs the bad. And I’ve heard from a lot of entrepreneurs that the ideas at the heart of my What is Web 2.0? paper have been incredibly useful to them.