Another conference

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…

Jeff —

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.

  • Except for earthquakes.

  • Pingback: On The Turning Away » A “Publishing 2.0″ Conference()

  • Interesting insights on the new conference. Love this — “No, there is no epicenter. The internet obsoletes epicenters.”

    I think it is still important to meet someone face to face at least once (or through very trusted referrals). But after that, I agree with you that internet obsoletes partly the idea of an epicenter (for people anyway, not for earthquakes as BK pointed out).


  • “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.”

    Translation: “Better that you fly five hours to come to us, than we fly five hours to come to you.”

  • John

    Silicon Valley, for the most part, IS the epicenter because the innovations used on the web come from there – at least vastly more so than New York.

  • I love the use of the word “obsolete” as a verb. Bravo!

  • Hal Johnson

    In all fairness to Tim O’Reilly, think of all the people they would have to fly out to New York if the conference were held there. The tech geniuses (aka alpha geeks) that live in San Jose are homebodies and don’t like to leave home as much as the people who run the publishing world.

    It makes more sense for the publishers, who need desperately to know the secrets these geeks posess, to come to the mountain, to learn from the masters. I’m sure it will be worth it. All O’Reilly conferences are packed with useful information and get only the most interesting people.

    Stay home at your own risk! :-(

  • The big O’Reilley’s Web 2.0 crusade is about that Tim Berners-Lee went so far. Fundamentally the browser was crippled by not having a localized database (the web is about content) and a great easy to use scripting language. Apple’s Hypercard had all this in spades. The building blocks towards the Ajax tagging community-tools is now evident. As for East vs West Coast – The Internet makes “who’s king of the world” a silly contest – Jeff’s key epicentric observation.

  • Tim is right. His publishing conference needs to be out here. This year is like none other for the publishing industry. It’s the year that technology (specifically the ability to digitize content) has cracked open the containers (books and magazines) that hold ideas, and the ideas are spilling out everywhere.

    Now we have to figure out how to re-think publishing’s business models in order to maintain the incentives that create top-quality content. And we need the best entrepreneurial thinking we can get. This is what we’re talking about in this summer’s Stanford Publishing Course. And I assume it’s what Tim’s conference will cover.

    Where better to re-think the business models than in Silicon Valley?