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Tracking the Hackers

I’ve ducked in quickly to the Where 2.0 Conference in San Francisco today, to see a couple sessions.

I’ve ducked in quickly to the Where 2.0 Conference in San Francisco today, to see a couple sessions.

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Tim O’Reilly, founder of the publishing and event company O’Reilly, which organized the conference, is making the case for observing what hackers, technophiles, and hobbyists are working on, if you care about where the next opportunities lie in high-tech. (He’s using the positive definition of the term “hacker,” meaning someone who plays with new technologies to explore the possibilities, much like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak did in creating the first personal computer.)

“Hacker activity is teaching the industry, teaching entrepreneurs which way they should be going,” O’Reilly says. “Companies are getting hip to this, and they’re engaging with these early adopters.” Some companies and industries, however, still “look at hacker activity and say, ‘We dont like this. We’ve got to shut this down.'”

Since the theme of the conference is information and applications related to location, O’Reilly mentions a few cool examples of what hackers have done with maps:

O’Reilly says its a good thing when sites open up, and give people access to their content (using APIs, feeds, or other tools that open up sites to smart programmers), without requiring them to sign a contract or do a complex business deal. It’s scary, but the outcome can be beneficial, O’Reilly says.

Tim O’Reilly’s business is tracking trends. But his talk got me thinking about how important it is to play around on the Web, and with other rapidly-evolving technologies, to really internalize what the possibilities are — how they can best be used.

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O’Reilly (the company, not the person) also maintains a great group blog about emerging technologies that I recently stumbled across, called O’Reilly Radar. (Youll notice the URL makes a really clever reference to the TV show M*A*S*H.)

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