The Future Is Here

… it’s just not evenly distributed yet.

This quote from William Gibson was pretty much the text from which revivalist Tim O’Reilly preached his opening keynote for O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology conference. His basic thrust, now as always, is that if you want to spot the trends before they become mainstream, you need to watch the “alpha geeks”, where you’ll encounter magic (or at least something “sufficiently indistinguishable“), on a daily basis. Usually the entrepreneurs come after the geeks, and try to make these technologies work, in the wider sense. But there was a massive distortion recently, with too much being led by the focus of making money, and everyone trying to find the control points. Now (thankfully) the hype has died, and everything is percolating from the bottom again. The new internet operating system means that everyone can play, but this time they should learn to play better together. Everyone should figure out simple rules for co-operation, the control points shouldn’t throw their weight around, and everyone should strive to follow The Robustness Principle (aka the Golden Rule of the Internet: “Be rigorous in what your emit, but forgiving in what you accept”).

Marc Andreesen once famously denigrated Microsoft Windows as “Just a bag of drivers”. In Tim’s view this is completely correct, but profoundly wrong. That bag of drivers allows developers to forget about everything but those standards and APIs.

Tim warned that big companies should remember the fate of Lotus, who made a bet against the GUI with 1-2-3, whose market dominance crumbled in the face of Microsoft, who obviously bet very strongly for it. As a current example, he cited MapQuest, a true “killer app” of the traditional internet, but one which risks losing out to an application which allows you to extract the information you require (e.g. distances, for expenses claims, without the map or driving directions). In the future applications should aim to be part of the “bag of drivers” of the new Internet Operating System.

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