The Digital Frontier with Tim O'Reilly

  • The delivery modality is not what we do: The reason we diversified into conferences, electronic publishing, and online learning is because we fundamentally understood our business was knowledge transfer from people at the cutting edge to people who wanted to follow in their footsteps. We organized our business around that.

  • What I do in my book [Whats The Future: And Why It’s Up To Us] is take lessons from technology platforms: There is this idea that they are matching platforms. Better matching is a huge part of the technological advantage they have. It’s an important concept for anyone in publishing to understand.

  • Being against DRM came very naturally to me: I’ve always had the idea that our goal was to get our knowledge in as many hands as possible. There are people who will never pay you that could benefit from the ideas.

  • A platform dynamic that I originally saw with Microsoft: Microsoft said we are the platform owner. We will take the application categories as well - spreadsheets, word processors - thank you very much. Google and Facebook are eating away at the revenue of their ecosystem [like Microsoft]. The lesson Microsoft teaches us is that when you do that people go somewhere else. It is incredibly shortsighted on the part of Google and Facebook. When you become the only producer you have to do more of the innovation. You find out that you are not as good at it as all the people you displaced that went somewhere else.

  • Ad-supported media turned out to be a race to the bottom: A transaction where you give people something that they value enough to pay you seems like a better business.

  • There is a spectrum between support and subscription: Is your membership to NPR really a subscription? Well not really. You can get the content for free. It is support. You are saying: I want to support the creation of this content.

  • Think about the kinds of things you offer that make a subscription valuable and sticky: One of our most valuable products is live online training. It is scheduled at a particular time. It is limited to 200 seats. It’s kind of like a performance within the context of the subscription. It makes the subscription much more powerful.

  • What a lot of current startups are: A person calling themselves an entrepreneur that is really looking for getting a temporary, high paid job with a venture capitalist. VCs are creating a financial instrument [the company] that they want to sell to other VCs or the public markets. They are increasingly creating bad products like Wall Street did in 2007.

  • Why innovations come from outsiders: I asked Jeff Bezos if he was worried about competitors in cloud computing [like Microsoft and Google] who have much better resources. He said I’m not afraid of them BECAUSE they have better resources. I’m a retailer. I have terrible margins. Cloud computing is a better business for me. They have these incredibly profitable businesses. Cloud computing will never be as profitable for them as the businesses they are in now. This means they won’t invest in it until it is too late. 

  • There is a bit of mythology that technology is moving faster: I don’t really see it. The differences between the 1960s and today are far less striking than the difference between 1900 and 1960. 

  • The head economist at Uber handed me a book: Who Gets What and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design. The author won a Nobel prize for the redesign of kidney transplant marketplaces. Using different math saved lives.

  • This idea that the only thing that technology is good for is to eliminate people as a cost and then do the same thing is crazy: The whole history of technology tells us that you win by using technology to do things that used to be impossible.

  • Full podcast here.