On Monday here at ETech, CEO Tim O'Reilly's keynote described the way in which the tech industry has been living in a bubble and declared that it should now turn its attention to the 'reality bubble' and work on 'stuff that matters'. For too long, he said, the industry has been focussing on pretty gewgaws instead of addressing problems that have been mounting for years whilst the best and the brightest have been preoccupied with throwing sheep at each other on Facebook. He emphasised the need to use our extensive skills to address the world's greatest challenges. This will, of course, include working with nonprofits, which statement rang a bell with me. A few weeks ago I interviewed Stewart Brand, who has a pretty successful record of persuading big companies to experiment with digital futures of all kinds. I asked Brand whether there were any examples of when his methods had failed, and he thought for a while then responded that he had failed to engage non-profits. The reasons, he felt, were cultural and related to the risk-averse nature of many non-profit agencies who are usually dependent on portfolios of funding from sources, often very traditional and not transliterate (the latter is my term, of course, not Brand's), whom they dare not offend.
I'm sure this is something O'Reilly will be thinking about as they move towards their challenges, and especially in relation to the first upcoming O'Reilly Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington DC this September.
I'll be posting more about ETech and San Jose when I get back to Santa Barbara. Am about to hit the road. One word though - I met quite a few O'Reilly people this time and found them all very friendly, energetic, and interesting. Quite an impressive mini-ecology going on in that company!