I was invited to the 2013 fooCamp this past weekend. It was actually my second fooCamp, having gone in 2007 as well. It is an amazing, exhilarating weekend where 250 ‘Friends of O’Reilly’ come together to have an unConference. They now do Ignite talks, where you have 5 minutes to run through 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. Nerve wracking but very very focusing.
O’Reilly posted the video of my talk but as I’ve been asked for my slides, I’m posting them here.
My name is Scott Jenson, I’m a UX designer, writing about smart devices and the internet of things. I’ve also been very active speaking at conferences, pushing for deep changes to the way the mobile web works
But that’s not why I’m here! I’m here because every time I talk, very nice people come up to me with big smiles on their face and say “Scott, that’s amazing! I know how you can fix the internet! You need to start a company!!!”
These people are well meaning of course, but this drives me crazy. I’m so worried that the internet will turn out to be some happy accident. We are so enamored by stock options and startups that we assume if an idea can’t make money in 6 months, it can’t possibly be a good idea. The internet wasn’t built this way…
Look at this this way: FedEx couldn’t exist without a municipal road system. Great companies are built on great public infrastructure. The world of ideas is broken up into only two simple groups: truck ideas and road ideas. Truck ideas are about making companies, road ideas are about creating infrastructure.
The problem is that everyone wants to build their own trucks and even create their own tollroads. Then they even end up suing other people that try to use their toll roads. I’m not naive, I understand that protecting your value is a core business asset but this seems so incredibly wasteful.
Now, there ARE more companies doing open source and thats a great step forward, but many of these companies are really only wrapping themselves in the flag of open source as it’s usually their client APIs that are open. The internet isn’t just open source, it’s also federated. People so often forget that.
Does anyone know this guy? This is my hero. Malcom McLean was the first business man to see outside of this defensive model of capitalism. This is the guy that invented container shipping, he was the Steve Jobs of shipping.
Back in the 1950s you had to load and unload all sorts of different sized cargo from trucks to trains to boats. McLean created a standard container size that let you use cranes to do the unloading, it was 26x cheaper than doing it by hand. He made a mint.
But you know what he did? He gave it all way. He had patents on everything but made them all royalty free. Was he some type of commie pinko? Of course not, he was a hard nosed capitalist. He realized his system was a road idea. If everyone used his system, it would create a much bigger pie. And guess what, he made even more money. The guy cashed in big time.
We need more communism if only to break out of our little dog eat dog world and grow a bigger pie. What would you rather have 75% of this little pie or 25% of a much bigger one? Stop thinking with your ego and start thinking with your wallet.
Malcom Mclean, this visionary from the 60s, has a lot to teach our patron saint of VC from the 80s: Gordon Gekko. We’ve got to step away from the feeding trough of money and realize that there is a place for communism in our thinking.
The only real difference between Communism and Capitalism is time scale.
What worries me is that we’ve lost some of that crazy vision. We tend to only do small increments because it’s all we can fit that within our budgets. Here are just 2 provocations to show how we aren’t thinking big enough.
Let’s start with the web browser. It’s really two very separate things: the magic DOM window that gets all of the love
and that silly URL bar at the top, that thing you have to type into in order to go anywhere. What’s wrong with this picture? We taken the most amazing rendering engine on the planet and strapped a command line UI on top of it!
The super power of the web is that interaction can be like water, it can flow from any smart device to any smart display. Instead of solving this physical discovery problem, we are forced to write hundreds of native apps, one for each device. If you believe in Moore’s Law in any way, you know this clearly can’t scale.
Don’t take my word for it, the big boys see the potential and they are experimenting with all sorts of ways to connect up smart devices. The problem is that they are thinking of this as series of Truck ideas, not Road ideas. They aren’t open or scalable.
The second provocation is streaming video. Each solution has deep issues but what gets me most is that they don’t even tackle the general problem. I don’t just want to stream “Friends” to my TV, I want a general system of discovering and connecting to multiple displays. This could unleash all sorts of potential new application models but we are no where near that.
Now are these ideas utopian, even a bit naive? Absolutely. This isn’t an easy way of looking at the world, it’s full of stumbles and dead ends. It’s not enough to be open source, it has to be big and audacious, just like the original internet.
If we don’t think big, we’re just going to increment ourselves to death.
What’s making me to adamant is that I consult to internet of things startup companies and, for the most part, they get it, they want more road ideas. It would make their life SO much easier. They don’t have the means or the patient investors to tackle these issues. There’s a way, just no will.
I don’t have a monopoly on insight. There are clearly lots of great open source things happening. I’m not alone. My point in this talk is that there isn’t nearly enough. The world has far too many truck ideas and people trying to make money off of their own toll roads.
If there is any crowd on the planet that can do something about it, it’s this one. Let’s be a bit more like communists, let’s think big and build much better roads. It’s the best path to better capitalism…