October 15, 2009
Remove Web Barriers: Tech Guru
Vito Pilieci, The Ottawa Citizen, October 7, 2009
One of world's leading technology industry observers believes the only way to continue to foster innovation is to ensure unimpeded access to the Internet and related technologies.
Creeping restrictions on Internet access and other technologies could send the world into the digital Dark Ages, open-net activist Tim O'Reilly warned Wednesday.
"The Internet happened off the radar," he told the Government Technology Exhibition and Conference (GTEC) in Ottawa. "So many of the breakthrough web companies were done by outsiders to the industry. You need to have two crazy kids in a garage working on Twitter."
O'Reilly said Internet service providers should not be allowed to "traffic shape" web service, and cellphone companies should not be able to ban applications or services on their devices, because that hinders the ability of other firms to innovate. Civilian GPS and innovations such as Twitter, Facebook and even Google came as a result of big ideas that were not bound by red tape, he argued.
"You look back at these skinny guys starting Microsoft who had an amazing idea to put a PC on every desk and in every home. That was very ambitious then," he said. "Or, look at (Google founders) Larry (Page) and Sergey (Brin). They said: 'We are going to give you access to all of the world's information.' "
O'Reilly is the founder of an U.S. media company that has published hundreds of books and web sites on technology and helps put together tech-related conferences. He is credited for coining the term "Web 2.0" in 2003 as he charted the fundamental shifts in Internet technology that would bring about the birth of social media companies such as Facebook.
O'Reilly said the personal computer changed the way the world worked in the 1980s and the Internet changed the way the world communicates in the '90s.
Now he believes another wave of change is coming and smart-phone applications (apps) will lead the charge, doing everything from navigating their owners' vehicles to reminding them about garbage day.
He applauded off-the-wall thinking by developers such as the team behind CrimeReports.com, which uses Google Maps to peg police crime reports to their neighbourhood of origin. He said more new ideas that "mash-up" existing technology are necessary.
The biggest threat to new services and technology will come from Internet and cell companies that filter the applications available to customers, he warned. Doing so will kill creative ideas that would not have come up otherwise.
He used Microsoft as an example. The company did such a good job of getting its software onto PCs and killing competition that by mid-1990s it had hit a wall in terms of innovation, he said.
Without competition to keep it sharp, the company began releasing products like the failed BOB desktop, which featured a big nerdy smiley face as its mascot and was designed to be a novice user's guide to Windows.
Sales were dismal and BOB was quickly pulled from shelves. PC Magazine later ranked it the the seventh worst product of all time.
"Microsoft had killed everybody else and it was up to them to come up with cool new features and they came up with that," O'Reilly said.
"We are now going through an enormous revolution and it's not going to happen if the cellphone companies can dictate what goes on (the phone) and what doesn't.
"They will end up with Microsoft BOB."
The three-day GTEC event concludes today at the Westin Hotel.
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