Carl Malamud: Internet Talk Radio, flame of the Internet.

Malamud: This is Geek of the Week. We’re talk­ing with Tim O’Reilly, who’s the pub­lish­er of O’Reilly & Associates. O’Reilly & Associates of course is one of our spon­sors. This isn’t just a shame­less plug for one of our spon­sors. As you’ll see, Tim is actu­al­ly inter­est­ing per­son to talk to. Welcome to Geek of the Week.

O’Reilly: Hi Carl. Thanks.

Malamud: Tim, you’re a pub­lish­er. You take lots of paper, and you pro­duce it and you sell it. Granted, a lot of that paper is about the Internet and it’s about Unix and things like that. But is online pub­lish­ing gonna destroy your paper busi­ness? Is this is a dif­fer­ent world we’re get­ting into here? Is it gonna replace you?

O’Reilly: Well, I don’t know what’s going to hap­pen to pub­lish­ing as a whole. To me it’s…for our busi­ness it’s per­fect. We’ve always been real­ly an infor­ma­tion com­pa­ny. We start­ed out in tech­ni­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion doing con­sult­ing. And one of the things you do as a doc­u­men­ta­tion com­pa­ny is you pla­gia­rize shame­less­ly. You know, you go in, some­body says Oh, we need a man­u­al in two months” and you go, What do you got?” And you take what­ev­er they’ve got and you build on it. 

And real­ly our pub­lish­ing busi­ness real­ly got launched in that same way. We found that we were— We did man­u­als, for exam­ple our X books, which were built on top of the free doc­u­men­ta­tion from MIT. We added val­ue. We went in there, we took some raw mate­r­i­al, we improved it, we arranged, we added to it, we built on it. And turn it into some­thing that we’re able to sell. So here was some­thing that was essen­tial­ly free, and we added val­ue to it in such a way that peo­ple were will­ing to buy it. And for exam­ple, we license it to com­pa­nies, who could have done the same things them­selves. In fact some of them did and they said Gee, it’s cheap­er just to buy it from O’Reilly. Why should we bother?” 

And the Internet pub­lish­ing real­ly fits so com­plete­ly to us because there’s a big ocean of infor­ma­tion out there. There’s so many free resources. But they’re gen­er­al­ly poorly-organized, poorly-maintained, and often rel­a­tive­ly inac­ces­si­ble. So we see enor­mous oppor­tu­ni­ties in what is in a way a very tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ing activ­i­ty, which is act­ing as a fil­ter, as a selec­tor, as an enti­ty that brings focus in par­tic­u­lar areas.

Malamud: Well but let’s say you’ve come up with the ulti­mate one-page descrip­tion of what send­mail is. You’ve just added some val­ue to the basic man­u­al pages and things. How are you going to sell that? What hap­pens— You know, you put one copy on the net and then every­body else copies it. How do you actu­al­ly base a busi­ness on value-added on an Internet?

O’Reilly: Alright. Well, that’s a good ques­tion. And cer­tain­ly you know, mov­ing tan­gi­ble goods is a very proven eco­nom­ic mod­el. It’s some­thing that every­body knows about, and in fact you know peo­ple, are very com­fort­able with the idea of oh yeah, I bought this book. And they think that they’re buy­ing the hard prod­uct. They don’t real­ize that actu­al­ly that book prob­a­bly cost about two bucks to man­u­fac­ture, even though it may sell for $25. The real cost is in two things: the devel­op­ment of the infor­ma­tion, and the distribution. 

Now, in the Internet, dis­tri­b­u­tion is a lot eas­i­er but it still does­n’t go away. In fact in some ways it’s more dif­fi­cult. People think about the fact that you could put up a serv­er any­where. But the fact is if you real­ly want to get that infor­ma­tion to a lot of peo­ple, you’ve got­ta have a big pipe. So they’ve got to pay for the pipe. And so there are infra­struc­ture issues that need to be devel­oped. By the time you’re serv­ing you know, tens of thou­sands of peo­ple you need a big com­mu­ni­ca­tions pipe, you need a lot of com­put­er equip­ment. So there are real costs and then the ques­tion is how do you recoup those costs. 

With our online pub­li­ca­tions we’re real­ly look­ing at a wide range of mod­els. And we don’t know which one is real­ly going to be the tick­et in the end. Our first online pub­li­ca­tion, some­thing called The Global Network Navigator, which is a World Wide Web-based infor­ma­tion ser­vice, in some ways you can look at it as a com­peti­tor to America Online, with a big dif­fer­ence: we don’t own a lot of the infor­ma­tion that we point to. It’s a lay­er. It’s oil on the water, so it floats on top of the Internet. 

And you say well, gee. How do you get added val­ue? We’re look­ing at three things. One is we’re try­ing to cre­ate areas of edi­to­r­i­al focus that will attract adver­tis­ers, some­thing that’s very anal­o­gous to a tra­di­tion­al print pub­lish­ing. You know, online—not online… Printed mag­a­zines. You know, Communications Week, InfoWorld. Their adver­tis­ers sup­port a pub­li­ca­tion. Somebody says We’re going to cre­ate edi­to­r­i­al con­tent that will attract a cer­tain class of read­ers, and there­fore will get peo­ple to adver­tise because they want to reach those read­ers.” And real­ly we’re look­ing at is an advertiser-supported business. 

A very good exam­ple with­in the mar­ket­place, which is one sec­tion in GNN, we cre­at­ed a trav­el sec­tion to pro­mote a new line of trav­el books we’ve launched. And before long we had a lot of oth­er trav­el pub­lish­ers who want to put their infor­ma­tion and were will­ing to pay us to basi­cal­ly put infor­ma­tion up so that the peo­ple who come to this area on the net say Oh yeah, this is the best resource for trav­el. We’ll come there.” And then they can go to the catalog. 

People right now think oh, it’s easy you know. You just put up a Gopher cat­a­log, or even put up a web serv­er. But the fact is that once you Get past the nov­el­ty val­ue and you have tens of thou­sands of servers on the net, nobody’s gonna notice but your own cus­tomers. And so there’s still a role for edi­to­r­i­al con­tent to draw adver­tis­ers. And what’s more, there’s a real­ly much bet­ter mod­el there than there is in the tra­di­tion­al print pub­li­ca­tion. Right now, you read a mag­a­zine and you cir­cle read­er ser­vice #69 and send off the Bingo card, and six weeks lat­er comes back a pack­et and you scratch your head and say, Why did I get that?” Or maybe it arrives, by then you bought a com­pet­ing prod­uct. Now, with some­thing like the Web with active hyper­text links, you can col­lapse that entire process. There can be an adver­tise­ment, some­body can click on the ad to read it, they go Gee, I want more infor­ma­tion,” they retrieve the spec­i­fi­ca­tions, they go yeah this is real­ly the prod­uct they want, they can click some­where else, and send an order by email. You can col­lapse that entire process. 

Malamud: Well with direct mail­ing, one of the things you ask is what per­cent­age of the peo­ple you send these things out to actu­al­ly both­er cir­cling the Bingo card, or look­ing at your sem­i­nar brochure. In an elec­tron­ic world it’s much eas­i­er to skip over things. You don’t even have to phys­i­cal­ly turn the page, you can just not both­er click­ing on that ad. What makes you think that peo­ple are gonna actu­al­ly want to go in and look at advertisements?

O’Reilly: Well, our evi­dence is that in fact they do. Part of it is there’s a big bias in a lot of peo­ple who think about the Internet where they Oh, gee, com­mer­cial infor­ma­tion. This is bad.” But it’s all infor­ma­tion and peo­ple want it. Particularly if you’re inter­est­ed in a par­tic­u­lar sub­ject, com­mer­cial infor­ma­tion may be what you want more than the stuff that’s there for free. So, peo­ple do in fact vis­it the mar­ket­place sec­tion of GNN more often than they vis­it the detailed mag­a­zine part that has the in-depth pol­i­cy arti­cles about the Internet, for exam­ple. Because they want com­mer­cial information. 

And a lot of the prob­lem is an edi­to­r­i­al prob­lem. And for us, for so long adver­tis­ing has had only the abil­i­ty to do quick hits. So to try to shake some­body by the lapels and get their atten­tion. And it’s become bas­tardized. In fact if you think about it, the job of an adver­tis­er to get infor­ma­tion that peo­ple want out to those peo­ple, it’s actu­al­ly very very inter­est­ing. We have a cat­a­log that we’ve put out in print. We call ora​.com that’s basi­cal­ly a cat­a­log of our books wrapped in a mag­a­zine. And peo­ple want that mag­a­zine. People have asked us if they can buy it. You know, we’ve made our adver­tis­ing so attrac­tive that peo­ple con­sid­er it worth pay­ing for. And there’s a real edi­to­r­i­al chal­lenge there. So that’s one thread of how we’re try­ing to devel­op an eco­nom­ic mod­el for online pub­lish­ing. In oth­er words, to have peo­ple who want to get their infor­ma­tion out work with us to cre­ate valu­able edi­to­r­i­al con­tent that will draw peo­ple to their prod­uct offerings.

Malamud: Now, the oth­er mod­el in the tra­di­tion­al world is you have adver­tis­ing and you have sub­scrip­tion. Are you going to ask peo­ple to pay per bit of infor­ma­tion, or per month­ly access or some­thing of that sort?

O’Reilly: Well, we’re look­ing at the idea of month­ly sub­scrip­tion fees. This is main­ly dri­ven by anoth­er prod­uct we’re work­ing on called Internet in a Box which is an attempt to make it very easy for peo­ple, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the PC world, to get Internet access all in one. Not every­body wants to be a net surfer,” as the phrase goes now. And GNN real­ly pro­vides a point-and-click inter­face to use­ful Internet infor­ma­tion. At the same time our part­ner in this project, Spry, has put togeth­er a very easy way for peo­ple to get an Internet set­up so that you can basi­cal­ly fill out a form, click, [crosstalk] and the whole thing will set up an account.

Malamud: Several ven­dors are work­ing on a sim­i­lar project.

O’Reilly: So we’re real­ly look­ing to make a prod­uct there that we can sell that will make added val­ue. That’s again anoth­er pos­si­ble rev­enue stream. You actu­al­ly asso­ciate that infor­ma­tion with a tan­gi­ble prod­uct that peo­ple are will­ing to buy. 

But any­way, in con­nec­tion with that we felt that it may be nec­es­sary for us to offer GNN as a priced prod­uct so that we can then bun­dled it in with the prod­uct, just sort of— In many ways it’s estab­lish­ing the per­cep­tion of val­ue as it is the actu­al val­ue you offer. 

Malamud: You’re a busi­ness­man on the Internet. The Internet start­ed out as an ARPA research project. It start­ed out with a very…populous, non-commercial, research…flair. Is it good to have busi­ness­men in this world? Are you going to be able to suc­cess­ful­ly fit into this cul­ture of a non-commercial Internet? Or is a non-commercial Internet just a myth?

O’Reilly: Well there’s two sep­a­rate issues there. One is I don’t think that the Internet has ever been non-commercial. It was just whose goals was it serv­ing. You know, in the old days of the ARPANET, it was serv­ing the goals of the peo­ple who were work­ing with the gov­ern­ment on the var­i­ous projects. Those are very def­i­nite­ly com­mer­cial activities. 

Now it’s sort of gone out, and by cross-fertilization with Usenet it’s sort of seen as the uni­ver­sal access medi­um. And in my opin­ion, that is its real strength, the fact that indi­vid­u­als can play, that busi­ness­es can play. And the fact is this is a pro­found­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic medi­um, and I think it’s great for every­body to be on it. And it real­ly is a lev­el play­ing field in a way that we have not seen in a long long time.

Now when you say I’m a busi­ness­man, I’m some­body who basi­cal­ly did the tra­di­tion­al start in the garage” kind of thing. And in a way we doing that with our Internet busi­ness­es. We’re not com­ing in as a big busi­ness, we’re sim­ply try­ing to devel­op a prod­uct that peo­ple will find valu­able enough to pay for. 

And I guess that gets onto one of my kicks. I’m real­ly inter­est­ed in find­ing a new mod­el for busi­ness going for­ward through the 90 and into the next…next cen­tu­ry, real­ly. Business by so many peo­ple is seen as exploita­tive. And in fact, you know, there’s no rea­son why busi­ness ide­al­ism is not possible. 

The real chal­lenge of any busi­ness is in fact to pro­duce things that peo­ple val­ue enough to pay for them. And that’s fun­da­men­tal­ly a humane activ­i­ty, you know, if you’re real­ly try­ing to serve peo­ple’s needs. Now, things get caught up in dynam­ics that’re beyond those orig­i­nal goals. But I find that a lot of peo­ple who work in the non­prof­it sec­tor are very…sloppy-minded, in a way, because they’re not sub­ject­ed to that rig­or of the mar­ket­place. I start­ed out with­out an inkling about busi­ness, but I real­ly came to like it. Because it forces you to think through what you’re doing and to real­ly serve some­one. You know, if you can go get a grant to do some worth­while activ­i­ty, all you have to do is con­vince some admin­is­tra­tor some­where. But if you’re actu­al­ly sell­ing a prod­uct you’ve got to con­vince a lot of peo­ple. And you’ve got to real­ly pro­duce some­thing that they want. And I think that’s a real­ly good thing to be added to the Internet mix. 

Now, I’d hate to see it all get con­trolled by a few play­ers. And that to me is a very very dif­fer­ent proposition.

Malamud: Now, you talk about a lev­el play­ing field like we’ve nev­er seen before. What does that mean, and what do we need to do to keep that lev­el play­ing field in place?

O’Reilly: Well, the biggest part of it is simply…when you have a gov­ern­ment peo­ple talk­ing about the National Information Infrastructure or the nation­al infor­ma­tion super­high­way, there real­ly I think are two com­pet­ing mod­els. And one is the Internet, and the oth­er is the cable broad­cast tele­vi­sion mod­el; they talk about the 500 chan­nels. Well, I don’t real­ly— Even 500 chan­nels is not ter­ri­bly inter­est­ing, as long as it’s got one gate­keep­er who sits there and says Oh yeah, you want to put on a pro­gram? Sell it to me.” The Internet is a peer-to-peer medi­um. The fun­da­men­tal nature of it is the same tech­nol­o­gy is used to be a cus­tomer as to be a provider. You know, to be sure run­ning a serv­er is dif­fer­ent than run­ning a client. But, it’s a bidi­rec­tion­al com­mu­ni­ca­tions medi­um. And as long as that’s main­tained as we go for­ward, that we have an infra­struc­ture where the dif­fer­ences between provider and con­sumer are rel­a­tive­ly small, we have an incred­i­ble oppor­tu­ni­ty for it to be a medi­um that empow­ers peo­ple instead of makes them pas­sive vegetables.

Malamud: Well the con­nec­tiv­i­ty to the home appears that it may be pro­vid­ed by the cable com­pa­ny; they may give you tele­phone, or tele­vi­sion, or oth­er ser­vices. It might be pro­vid­ed by the tele­phone com­pa­ny; per­haps ISDN, per­haps fiber. It might be some weird thing like an elec­tri­cal com­pa­ny. But in any case, how do you ensure that every­one can talk to every­one in that envi­ron­ment? Are there laws we need to pass? Do we need the equiv­a­lent of anti-trust laws for the Information Age that says You must have an open inter­face for the set-top box, or you must allow peo­ple to pro­vide service.”

O’Reilly: That’s a tough one. I’m not a good per­son ask ques­tions about laws, because so often laws pro­duce the oppo­site effect from what they intend. I think I’d rather see it sim­ply be that the tech­no­log­i­cal solu­tions that we adopt are open solu­tions. Whether or not… I don’t think the dan— I think the indus­try will pro­duce open solu­tions, in the absence of laws. I think the greater dan­ger is that some­body will…in an ill-advised attempt to get this thing launched, will back a tech­nol­o­gy which is fun­da­men­tal­ly a closed tech­nol­o­gy instead of an open one.

Malamud: Is there a role, then, for the gov­ern­ment to be play­ing? Should they be wor­ry­ing about gov­ern­ment infor­ma­tion online? I mean, are there things that our pol­i­cy­mak­ers in Washington should be focus­ing on?

O’Reilly: Well, one of the things that I would love to see gov­ern­ment focus­ing on is how to use the Internet as a com­mu­ni­ca­tions tool. Most peo­ple who are new to the Internet, par­tic­u­lar­ly in big com­pa­nies or in gov­ern­ment, don’t real­ize the full range of its capa­bil­i­ties. They think either of Well we’ll put up an email address and we’ll be flood­ed with mail” or We could put gov­ern­ment data online,” but not real­iz­ing that there’s a con­tin­u­um between those two, and that the Internet is unique­ly suit­ed to play along that con­tin­u­um. For exam­ple when I was talk­ing to some peo­ple at the House and they’re say­ing What should we do?” I said don’t just open the flood­gates for mail. What you want to do is start pub­lish­ing on the Internet, putting out infor­ma­tion about ques­tions that you want feed­back on. You know, putting out your pol­i­cy papers, ask­ing for feed­back about par­tic­u­lar things. Creating direct­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Opening the chan­nels in a way so that it’s guided.

Right now, the noise lev­el on the Internet is pret­ty high and that scares away a lot of the peo­ple who are…I say in big com­pa­nies or in gov­ern­ment, and that’s what dri­ves them towards that mono­lith­ic mod­el where they like to keep it all under con­trol. And in fact, what I think we’re try­ing to devel­op in my busi­ness are mod­els for how do you cre­ate infor­ma­tion spaces in which dia­logue can hap­pen, in which there is direc­tion, there is focus, there is added val­ue, and yet at the same time you keep that won­der­ful qual­i­ty of the Internet where every­body can participate.

Malamud: So just putting vicepresident@​whitehouse.​gov” up as an email address is not real­ly cre­at­ing a very sophis­ti­cat­ed infor­ma­tion space because you’ve only got one avenue to com­mu­ni­cate with the Vice President. It sounds like you’re say­ing that you need a more sophis­ti­cat­ed approach to the Internet if you want to live on that world?

O’Reilly: Well, I guess I’m say­ing that in any con­ver­sa­tion, there are two sides to it and you have to real­ize that there are two sides. When you sim­ply say Here’s my email address, send me mail” you cer­tain­ly open the pos­si­bil­i­ties of get­ting ran­dom input. But heck, you get that with let­ters. And there’s noth­ing real­ly added. The respon­si­bil­i­ty of peo­ple who are in posi­tions of pow­er or in posi­tions of infor­ma­tion high ground, if you like, is to cre­ate invi­ta­tions for par­tic­i­pa­tion. In oth­er words to release infor­ma­tion that gen­er­ates feed­back, to start dia­logues going. So for exam­ple, the kinds of things that I think that any Washington pol­i­cy­mak­er who want­ed to be involved in the Internet would be to try to devel­op con­stituen­cies, peo­ple who are inter­est­ed in the kind of issues that they’re inter­est­ed in get­ting feed­back on, and try to har­ness some of the ener­gy and enthu­si­asm of those peo­ple. People do need direc­tion. And real­ly the activ­i­ty— This kin­da brings it back to pub­lish­ing and my busi­ness. You know, there’s a shap­ing activ­i­ty that peo­ple need to per­form. Now, whether it’s some­body in busi­ness say­ing I have a vision of some­thing that peo­ple want and I’m going to try to build it for them,” that sort of direct human ener­gy, in a way. And in a sim­i­lar way, you know, one of the goals of gov­ern­ment needs to be lead­er­ship. You know. They need to basi­cal­ly have a vision of going some­where. They need to artic­u­late. They need to bring peo­ple in to the dis­cus­sion and get buy-in. And you get buy-in in a way by what you put out as much as by what you take in. 

Malamud: Tim O’Reilly, you talk about build­ing infor­ma­tion spaces. You talk about that hap­pen­ing in gov­ern­ment. You talk about GNN as an infor­ma­tion space. Are we sim­ply talk­ing using Mosaic and the World Wide Web, or are we talking…a whole range of tools that could be brought in to build that space? Are we archi­tects in try­ing to build these vir­tu­al rooms that peo­ple can talk in?

O’Reilly: Well I cer­tain­ly think that the Web is the most inter­est­ing tool, at least from a pub­lish­er’s point of view, that’s cur­rent­ly avail­able on the net. Because it does allow you to put togeth­er infor­ma­tion spaces that map— Basically I think of the Web as a tool for tak­ing a small infor­ma­tion space and map­ping it onto a much larg­er space with hyper­links between the two. Good exam­ple, if you can imag­ine sort of a legal analy­sis doc­u­ment that sort of talks about the case law on a par­tic­u­lar area. And that real­ly becomes a user inter­face to a body of infor­ma­tion. And real­ly that’s one of things that I find most inter­est­ing about the Web, is that— 

Maybe this is jump­ing a lev­el, but I believe that we’re on the verge of a new kind of soft­ware, if you will. You might call it infor­ma­tion­ware.” They used to give away soft­ware so they could sell hard­ware. And then for a long time they gave away information—the man­u­als, the whatever—that went along to sell the soft­ware. Information is the next fron­tier. Well, where’s the val­ue in that infor­ma­tion? What it real­ly is is in cre­at­ing spaces where rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion is grouped, orga­nized, framed, in a way that makes it more use­ful. And the Web I think is very well-suited for that task. 

What peo­ple thought about the prob­lem of online pub­lish­ing, the biggest prob­lem is that the damn book is such a suc­cess­ful medi­um. It’s very hard to think how to do it bet­ter. And peo­ple have tra­di­tion­al­ly looked at how to add val­ue to the book. And the first thing they found was…um…well I’m not sure of the order but, mul­ti­me­dia. You can do won­der­ful things with mul­ti­me­dia. You can do won­der­ful things with hav­ing search inter­faces. And the Web real­ly pro­vides a third thing. Or the Web style of hyper­text tech­nol­o­gy. That is real­ly this idea in which you cre­ate small, man­age­able infor­ma­tion spaces that map into much larg­er spaces. And in fact, what you’re cre­at­ing is a user inter­face to a very large body of data. 

Good exam­ple, GNN includes an online ver­sion of the Whole Internet Catalog from Ed Kohl’s book. And we orig­i­nal­ly did that as a demo, and then we look at it and we said heck, this is a prod­uct. What it is is a point-and-click inter­face to the Internet. The Internet in this case is a very large infor­ma­tion spaces, and what we’ve done is we’ve put togeth­er a small mod­el that is rel­a­tive­ly easy to nav­i­gate through. You can look through it, you can read it. And when you find some­thing you want, you click on a but­ton, and you go to the real thing. And there are a lot of infor­ma­tion prod­ucts that I see pos­si­ble using that mod­el. You know, where you have a large body of infor­ma­tion and then you have a small infor­ma­tion inter­face. And what’s excit­ing to me about this is that it’s a real oppor­tu­ni­ty for pub­lish­ers, because that’s all they’ve ever done. They fig­ure out who are the good authors, what’s the good infor­ma­tion, how do you get to it. And so it becomes a clas­sic pub­lish­ing prob­lem to put those kinds of things together.

Malamud: Are the pub­lish­ers tak­ing to this tech­nol­o­gy? Are they com­ing online?

O’Reilly: Uh…it’s slow, because most pub­lish­ers are tra­di­tion­al­ly not very up-to-date with tech­nol­o­gy. You know, we spent a lot of time when we were first work­ing with this tech­nol­o­gy try­ing to pros­e­ly­tize to pub­lish­ers because we felt the more peo­ple who were using the same kinds of tech­nol­o­gy, the more we cre­ate an inter­est­ing mar­ket­place. And…a lot of them, cer­tain­ly we’re still fight­ing the bat­tle of No no, we want it to have fideli­ty to print.” And in fact that bat­tle is still going on. Products like Adobe Acrobat, which basi­cal­ly guar­an­tee to a pub­lish­er We can make it look just like the print­ed book” are in fact— I think are gonna hold back the indus­try. I think that SGML the markup lan­guage which allows the appear­ance to change depend­ing on the brows­er, the—you know, the way the thing is dis­played, real­ly makes much more sense for an online envi­ron­ment. And that’s where again that fits right in with the Web, which uses HTML as a markup lan­guage. HTML is a DTD for SGML, essentially.

Malamud: Are we going to see a new gen­er­a­tion of pub­lish­ers? Are you the next McGraw Hill, or are they gonna— Are you eat­ing their lunch? [chuck­les]

O’Reilly: Well, I would­n’t say that. Some of these com­pa­nies are so large that— I don’t know that— It’s very dif­fi­cult to aspire—even if one thought it was possible—to want to become that big. But, I think we’re cer­tain­ly being a mod­el for a lot of those pub­lish­ers. We know that in the pub­lish­ing indus­try we’re very very well-known, a lot of peo­ple are study­ing very care­ful­ly what we’re doing, and they’re very very inter­est­ed to hear from us. 

And I think a lot of the com­pa­nies are mov­ing in that direc­tion. Certainly there are ones who are mired in the past, but there are a lot of oth­ers who real­ly see them­selves in the infor­ma­tion busi­ness. And often even own var­i­ous online prop­er­ties as well as print properties. 

Malamud: So do they stomp on you when they come into busi­ness? Are you going to be able to survive?

O’Reilly: I don’t think so. I just… People ask those kinds of ques­tions and they don’t seem that rel­e­vant to me. You know, we grew up in a very com­pet­i­tive mar­ket with our Unix books. There were play­ers who were much big­ger than we were, and the idea was well gee, how are you gonna com­pete? We just did— We did some­thing that was a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. We’d do some­thing that was bet­ter. But it was­n’t head-to-head. It was typ­i­cal­ly in the spaces. You know, we looked and said what are they not doing? And in fact, as areas become more com­pet­i­tive my inter­est is to go some­where else. Similarly, I just start­ed this trav­el com­pa­ny. And in fact, despite the fact that it’s a very com­pet­i­tive mar­ket­place with a lot of play­ers, we’re off to a real­ly good start because we found a dif­fer­ent kind of prod­uct and in fact were able to devel­op coop­er­a­tive rela­tion­ships with some of the lead­ing trav­el pub­lish­ers to help pro­mote our books. We’re doing trades with peo­ple like Lonely Planet where we’re help­ing them to get their stuff on the Internet in return for them pro­mot­ing our books to the trav­el trade. Because there’s syn­er­gy every­where. And so I think that the idea of being stomped on, or stomp­ing, are…not at all where I like to focus. I think that there’s end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties for coex­is­tence and cooperation.

Malamud: And do you think it’s going to be easy for indi­vid­u­als to become pub­lish­ers in the Internet? You know, we hear the AJ Liebling quote that Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one?” Is every­one going to be a pub­lish­er, or is there still a spe­cial­ized group of peo­ple that fill that role?

O’Reilly: Well I think there’s two issues there. One is peo­ple have to real­ize that pub­lish­ing is not as sim­ple as it looks. A lot of the ser­vices that are put up on the net are thrown togeth­er hasti­ly. They’re not main­tained. And yes, you can put some­thing togeth­er but there’s a lot of work that goes into pro­duc­ing a qual­i­ty prod­uct. So, yes the oppor­tu­ni­ty is there, but you have to work at it. You know, it does­n’t just come nat­u­ral­ly that you can throw some­thing up there. You have to build infra­struc­ture to sup­port it, to make it real­ly worth having. 

Malamud: So it’s not mag­ic. You actu­al­ly just got­ta roll up your sleeves and do some work.

O’Reilly: That’s right.

Malamud: That’s a nov­el con­cept. Well there you have it. This has been Geek of the Week. We’ve been talk­ing with Tim O’Reilly.

Malamud: You’ve been lis­ten­ing to Geek of the Week, a pro­duc­tion of the Internet Multicasting Service. To pur­chase an audio cas­sette of this pro­gram, send mail to audio@​ora.​com. You may copy this file and change the encod­ing for­mat, but may not resell the con­tent or make a deriv­a­tive work. 

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Geek of the Week is pro­duced by Martin Lucas, and fea­tures Tungsten Macaque, our house band. This is Carl Malamud for the Internet Multicasting Service, flame of the Internet.