Building Better Online Communities

So narrate your work in public, make sure that you tell the story of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it.

And keep telling that story until you get other people to come with you. Now keep in mind that sometimes it takes a long time. I think of some of the movements that I’ve been associated, it takes a long time.

We launched MAKE Magazine in 2004, right. And it’s only now that the VCs are all over it; what’s that, eight years? I started talking about this idea of data and that the real business model of open source being these network effects and data and what became cloud, again I started talking about that in 1997.

And that we were building an Internet operating system, I gave the conference called building the Internet operating system, in 2001 and everybody said what the hell are you talking about? So just keep at it. Over here? Great. So speaking of stories, can you tell us your story? I mean, you’ve had a really long and illustrious careers doing all these amazing things.

Where were you when you were at the age of most of the students in this room and how did you get from there to here? The shortened version. All right. The short version of how I became Tim O’Reilly. So, my initial — I got out of college and I didn’t want to have a job.

Simple as that. I had this notion that I wanted to have interesting work, but I didn’t want to be constrained; I wanted to build the kind of lifestyle business and somebody said, joked that O’Reilly was just a lifestyle business that got out of control.

My initial business plan was, interesting work for interesting people. And it was not more than that. And what we did originally was a tech writing consulting company, but I started getting asked to write manuals for the same kinds of products and so I started retaining the rights.

These were things like ‘oh, well you want a Fortran manual? We’ve already got one, and we’ll sell it to you’. And then that turned into the publishing company because we realized that — we were originally selling directly to companies, so we’d license — effectively we’re a documentation company, we say ‘okay, you can pay us $25,000 and have it in six weeks instead of $50,000 and have it in six months.

‘ But then we realized that people were more excited to actually buy individual copies. And the big turning point in our business was Sun Microsystems had turned us down on a $25,000 license fee for our Xlib programming books and then a year later they bought $1 million worth of printed copies of the same books.

And we went ‘oh, okay wait’. And — but again when we really thought about that, it actually made sense because when we sent — sold them a source license they had to go manufacture tens of thousands of copies of these things and this is in the day when you would print out — companies would print out their manuals on a dot-matrix printer and put it in a binder and it cost them the same amount of money as buying the individual copies from us.

So it was actually not as crazy as it looked.

So again, getting a little deeper I think into your customers problems is a really important part of understanding the business. We launched our conference business because — it was really actually because of a Microsoft ad campaign I think, it was in 1997 when they were promoting a technology called ActiveX and they actually had television commercials.

And Andrew Schulman who was an author who was working for me at the time, had done a lot of books about Microsoft Technologies said that in this particular ad campaign all of the sort of activate the Internet things that they were demonstrating in the ad were done with Perl, except for this one little animated taxicab which was the ActiveX control.

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