OSCON 2.3/3.1: Tuesday Night and Wednesday Morning

by Geoff Broadwell

Related link: http://conferences.oreillynet.com/os2005/




I waffled a bit when deciding whether to write about the evening "extravaganza" last night, and the morning keynotes today. Eventually I decided that while I didn't have much to say about any individual talk, there were some common threads worth mentioning. So here I sit, writing for you instead of playing Robotron at Randal's annual party. Feel my sacrifice!




First, a lot of awards were given to various deserving people, but there's something just plain odd about listening to several completely separate awards ceremonies, most without much rehearsal, recipients who actually were there, or in one case anything to give out (because the awards got shipped to the wrong place). It would be nice if they had planned things a bit better and actually did all the awards at once. Perhaps even (perish the thought) told recipients that they had been nominated and might win, so that they would bother to show up.




Hmmm, perhaps that's something to put on the conference feedback form so I can try to win one of the Gibson guitars or bits of computer equipment being given at random to people who submit their feedback. Quite the incentive, that. I wonder if we can convince a car company to be a major sponsor next year . . . .




Second, many of the speakers spoke of coming to a new level of network effects in the Open Source world. Depending on the personal biases of the speaker, each described this differently, but fundamentally it seemed they all agreed on a few things. Basic infrastructure is there, they all said, and now all the cool people are doing stuff on top of it. No longer do people have to worry about how to simply get computers to speak to each other. Energy that's no longer spent trying to fill in the basic foundation for modern Internet living is now used to create user-centered web technologies (del.icio.us, for example), services companies (SpikeSource), enterprise software (SugarCRM), and so on.




The key point is that several of these new creations absolutely depend on social and network effects. The value in del.icio.us comes directly from its users; SpikeSource would be untenable if they couldn't get help designing tests and fixing bugs from hackers on all the projects they work with. New web sites and web tools are popping up right and left that extend these network effects beyond just one closed world controlled by a single company (eBay, for example), whether the corporations involved like it or not. The Greasemonkey Firefox extension allows people to create tools that force companies to network -- the Google Maps / craigslist user script that makes every street address bring up nearby housing offers is just one example of this.




Tim O'Reilly, both in his keynote and in the fireside press chat, seemed to be spending a considerable percentage of his neurons trying to puzzle out where this is going, and O'Reilly has created several websites recently playing around with various concepts surrounding network effects, information markets, consensual filtering, and so on.




From the outside at least, it seems that Tim is doing what Paul Graham spent some time discussing in his speech -- trying to get in on the next big thing not by assigning employees to work on various old boring projects, but letting people try the entrepeneur thing by launching a completely new wacky concept to see where it goes. I can only hope Tim will let the lucky people who come up with the next big thing share in the wealth.




Finally, a few old traditions came through again. Larry twisted another metaphor to the breaking point (and might I say that his kids have a great start on the spy card game they are creating). Damian twisted minds and code in 5 dead languages (Lisp, PostScript, C++, SPECS, and Latin), which somehow involved dozens of scary pictures of Russian Lara Croft imitators. Jonathan Schwartz frustrated another interviewer (Nat) by refusing to be led into battle on several topics, and even said some good things amongst the usual corporate officer evasions. (I think corporate officer evasiveness may actually be an SEC regulation.)




All in all, a fun bunch of talks.