SXSW Day One: Fireside Chat with Tim O’Reilly, interviewed by Jason Calacanis

Day one at South by Southwest has come to a close, and I already have some important things to think about. I’ve heard Tim O’Reilly talk about the direction of Web 3.0 and what he would do if he were President. I’ve listened to a lively discussion on the fundamental rights of users on social networks, and who should govern those rights. I listened to a team discuss their methodology behind the “Net Promoter Score” and how it can be used to measure your customers’ loyalty and enthusiasm.

Tim O'Reilly & Jason Calacanis @ SXSW 2011In this first post, I’d like to share some thoughts from the fireside chat between Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, and Jason Calacanis. Tim O’Reilly is someone I’ve followed for several years as a thought leader in technology and Web innovation, and I was fortunate enough to grab a front row seat to his talk.

O’Reilly’s beginnings

Though some may not know this, O’Reilly Media didn’t begin with the intention of being a publishing company. In what Tim O’Reilly describes as “a series of happy accidents that came from ignorance,” O’Reilly launched as a technology documentation consulting company, and with the decline of the industry in the 1980’s, transformed its business model to print its own manuals. At the time, writing tech manuals in the second person was considered outlandish, but ultimately O’Reilly Media’s style and distinctive cover design (many of us are now familiar with the wild animals that grace their manual covers) helped to differentiate the brand and give it a personality.

“Great brands have a core — they mean something.”

O’Reilly kept returning to the characteristics of great brands (some examples he gave: Microsoft, Google, Facebook). He emphasized the need for brands to have clear missions that extend beyond their own walls. Products do not only belong to the companies that create them, but to the people who use them.

The Internet as an OS

If you ask O’Reilly what his talents are, he’ll tell you that he only has one: pattern recognition. In the infancy of personal computers, he recognized a shift in emphasis on hardware advancements to software and operating system advancements (think: Microsoft Windows). Now, he sees the Internet as yet another iteration of the operating system — our activity is no longer tethered to a particular device, but is portable because of web applications and social networking.

Tim O'Reilly @ SXSW 2011Tim O’Reilly for President?

“I’m not terribly interested in politics,” O’Reilly said, “I’m interested in government and how we can make it better.” He believes we’re too focused on the image of a “vending machine government,” wherein we believe that if we put in our money (in the form of taxes) we’ll get what we want out of it. In reality, O’Reilly believes, we have to be instrumental in the way the system operates. Through policy (think: Regan moving to open GPS technology, previously only intended for military use, to the public), major changes in industry and technology can occur (Garmin, smartphones, Foursquare have all benefited). Governments should be mindful that they are catalysts of this change and act accordingly. Additionally, with projects like Code for America (think: City Year for geeks), tech-savvy individuals can not only help bring local government up to speed with the latest in technology and open-source government initiatives, but can teach them how manageable and beneficial it actually is.

“Web 3.0” vs. “Web 2.0” — what it actually means

“Web 2.0” was originally interpreted by O’Reilly as a way to describe the buiding of databases based on user contribution. Google’s indexing of the world’s information and Pandora’s Music Genome Project come to mind. This drives the question: what is “Web 3.0” supposed to describe? O’Reilly argues that Web 3.0 will come when the data is mainly generated not by people typing on keyboards, but by sensor-driven applications driving collective intelligence. (what he calls “web squared”).

Stay tuned for more takeaways from day one, and more from South by Southwest Interactive 2011.

Images courtesy inUse Pictures on Flickr / Creative Commons.

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