The Great Predictor

Article excerpt

Byline: Carlye Adler

In 2001, after the dotcom bubble burst, technology guru Tim O'Reilly threw a party. His company, O'Reilly Media, hosted a free "un-conference" to celebrate technology--and declare that it wasn't over. This was the first of the much-hyped Foo (Friends of O'Reilly) camps, a sort of Woodstock for technophiles like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Google cofounder Larry Page.

But O'Reilly's first love, and what gave him a cult status, isn't "un-conferences" but books. In the '80s he took computer manuals from the academic realm and reworked them for a wider audience, creating consumer-friendly guides that tackled individual topics like C programming and Unix. Ironically, the same technologies O'Reilly helped promote--the computer and the Internet--have since displaced much of the publishing world, including a part of O'Reilly's own business. But where others see the sky falling, he sees opportunity. "Many existing publishers will go out of business, yes, but that was happening before the digital revolution, as part of the ongoing 'creative destruction' of capitalism," he says. "To adapt, publishers need to cannibalize their own business, experimenting with new forms, new formats, and new business models"--something that O'Reilly has a lot of experience doing.

O'Reilly, who lives in California, has predicted and advanced nearly every major trend in publishing. His company was involved with e-books 20 years before anyone had heard of a Kindle or Nook. It also created the first commercial website, And his O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures invested in Blogger, a major blogging platform now owned by Google. The man "has always been able to recognize big changes in how technology will impact people and industry," says Paul Maritz, CEO of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based tech company VMware.

O'Reilly, 56, is an unlikely futurist, as his interests--from gardening to making scones--are charmingly old-fashioned. …