TED Conversations

Tim O'Reilly

CEO, O'Reilly Media


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William Gibson said "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet." What futures have you seen that are here, but unrecognized?

In the late 70s, when the Homebrew Computer Club was meeting, its members were beginning to experience the world that we all now take for granted. In 1992, when I published the Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog, there were only 200 websites, but we featured the WWW in the book because it was so clearly the shape of things to come. When Jeff Han demoed his multi-touch screen at TED in February 2006, he prefigured the iPhone launch a year later. When the kids at the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition are modifying bacteria, they are showing us homebrew genetic engineering around the corner. Make Magazine's enthusiasts are becoming tomorrow's industrialists, with companies like Makerbot, DIY Drones, and Willow Garage Robotics turning what once seemed like an curiosity into real businesses.

In each case, these people were already living in a future that was soon to rush upon us all.

What have you seen lately that has made you stand up and say "Whoa! That person knows something I don't, is living in a world I haven't seen yet?" The answers can be from technology, but can also be new social forms, and can be positive or negative.

Point me to companies and individuals who tell you something about the shape of the future by the way they are living or the work they are doing.


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    Feb 16 2011: A member of the Flattr community asked a similar question: "What will be the next Facebook"? I speculated a bit in the thread as you can read in full here:


    In short, I would guess the following:

    1. Flattr will to a large extent replace advertising such as Google Adwords.
    2. The educational system will change into something that looks significantly similar to the Khan Academy.

    This would happen within the next ten years. Speculating beyond the singularity, I humbly leave to our future robotic overlords ;).

    1. Two minute video describing Flattr: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zrMlEEWBgY
    2. Systems like the Khan Academy and its derivatives will change our educational system just as much as the invention of the book changed the ancient educational system: http://khanacademy.org
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      Feb 17 2011: Sorry, I don't get Flattr - why would I pay to consume something I currently get free because of advertising? Please explain....!
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        Feb 19 2011: As I'm interpreting your question, you're really asking "why would I pay for something I am already getting for free?".

        Do you tip your waiter at the restaurant? Do you donate to your favourite congressman? Do you donate to charities like the Red Cross?

        Even if you personally don't donate anything to any of the above, a significant percentage of the human population choose to donate. Flattr is a service that makes it significantly more effortless to make donations than doing so through for example Paypal.

        If a street performer, Alice, would have a computer terminal running a web browser with the Paypal web page preloaded, she would earn much less money from "music consumers" passing by, than would Bob, who performs the exact same song, but has chosen to offer a simple hat "consumers" could put a few coins in. Bob earns more because his donations system, the hat, is simpler and quicker to use.

        For whatever reasons people are already donating, Flattr makes it as easy to do in the online world, as it already is in the physical world. It actually even makes it a bit easier, because when you donate by throwing coins into a physical hat, you always have to decide how many coins you're going to throw. The Flattr system is (as its name suggests) a flat rate system. It divides your donations so you don't have to.

        I'm not advocating Flattr per se. Flattr /as a system/ is what I think will to a large extent replace advertising. It might very well turn out to be one of Flattr's competitors who'll become the next Google.

        Personally I donate to various things for several reasons. It may be because people who offer a service tend to be influenced in their decisions by people who give them money. I want to influence people, not only politicians, and do so by throwing money at them. If they stop doing what I want them to do, I simply stop donating to them. But the main reason I donate is because it makes me feel good. I'm buying that feeling for just 2 € / month ;).
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          Feb 19 2011: In support of your point, I am told that several endeavors offering chiropractic services for a fee were losing money, but when they started offering the service free, asking for donations based on out-going good feeling, they actually increased their revenue against their former billing schedule.

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