advertisement
advertisement

Do IT Yourself

Doc Searls is senior editor of Linux Journal. What follows is a partial transcript of his Supernova remarks: This is the after-lunch session so you need the red pill rather than the blue pill. I don’t know if I have enough time to blow your mind, but I hope to. I’m a writer, and writers write stories. Over the years, I’ve seen that there are two stories in IT. One is the outside story. The inside story is not as glamorous.

Doc Searls is senior editor of Linux Journal. What follows is a partial transcript of his Supernova remarks:

advertisement

This is the after-lunch session so you need the red pill rather than the blue pill. I don’t know if I have enough time to blow your mind, but I hope to. I’m a writer, and writers write stories. Over the years, I’ve seen that there are two stories in IT. One is the outside story. The inside story is not as glamorous. The interesting thing is what vendors do for customers. So we have pretty pictures of what they do. You only get good-looking people working in perfect places. But you don’t get the IT guy with three days’ growth. And it’s never about what customers do for themselves. That’s what I see in the Linux world. Linux was not developed by any vendor at all.

Inside stories, on the other hand, are mostly about what customers do for themselves. That may or may not involve vendors, and it’s mostly about saving money and getting stuff done. Guess which are easier for media to tell? How many vendor sports stories are there about attractive executives with marketing departments? How many are about the techies?

Case in point: Wi-Fi. What is the Wi-Fi story? If we go to BusinessWeek, it’s your standard story about what’s coming next. How about this one: “Intel, King of the Wi-Fi Frontier?” I think the king has a problem! I took a picture of this banner because if this banner is hanging in an airport, chances are that there is no Wi-Fi. There’s an inverse relationship. This is in SFO, and here’s a kiosk. Wi-Fi only works on weekdays. In addition to having the blue screen and no Wi-Fi, the banners are not enough. You have to set up an entire kiosk not to have Wi-Fi.

It’s not working, right? The real W-Fi reality is about DIY, right? It’s about do it yourself. This is a grassroots thing. Apple came out with the AirPort in 1999 or whatever, and credit to Linksys and whomever else were early players in this thing. I was at LinuxWorld at Javits, and with the unions, they have this elaborate blame pointing system. A Mobius strip of blame pointing. The Wi-Fi wasn’t working at the convention center, but I got into a cab, and I could get online just from driving past people’s apartments.

Even big vendor IT is doing DIY. Take the case of Verizon. There’s a Wi-Fi attenna. Here’s a payphone with a little hat. Paul Perry is the guy who did this. It was an internal project. They need to deploy Wi-Fi in phone kiosks. And they didn’t use consultants or outside vendors. They used Linux. The cool thing here is that Linux isn’t really authorized internally at Verizon.

Then there’s J.P. Rangaswami at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein. They deployed something called OpenAdaptor. He went open source several years ago. Open source allows the sharing of costs. And not surprisingly, he was named CIO of the year in 2003. And Adam Hertz has been pursuing DIY content management at Ofoto. They work with a terabyte a day, still work with a big vendor, but it’s still mostly DIY. He’s even said they’re allergic to vertically integrated goods.

advertisement

The story here is that the customer leads the vendor. And the bleat goes on. But what’s really happening? The vendor-siide market view is kind of simplistic. The vendor makes stuff. And customers buy it. That’s the pie chart view. The market reality is a lot more complicated than that. You’ve got the developer community all around it. You’ve got customers giving information to the company. You’ve got the company working with customers.

The interesting thing to me is where the technological development narrative comes from. David Weinberger refers to most companies as Fort Business. There’s a fortress mentality. The DIY view of IT history is a lot different. We have a lot of opportunity for companies to do their own stuff. It’s a move from dependence to independence and monoliths to modules. We want to build these things ourselves. The computer industry is turning into a construction industry.

We have architects, builders, designers, and tools. We build sites with addresses and locations that are under construction. We work in crews on projects.

But it’s not like the vendor side goes away. The vendors play a huge role, just not a central role. If you look at a house, you don’t build a house on one vendor’s platform. It’s wide open. You can build with anything you want. The interesting thing to me, though, is that every house is full of intellectual property and intellectual property not being a big issue like it is in our industry. There’s also a lot of open source, but there’s no conflict between the two.

We can learn a few things from the construction industry. Use value subordinates sale value. Sharing know-how is natural. Commodities are OK. Margins under 80% are OK. Like my editor in chief says, “Information wants to be $6.95.” It doesnt want to be free. And there’s room for everyone.