My keynote at the Twilio developer conference on September 19, 2013 in San Francisco. Reflections on the internet as a platform, why applications like Square, Uber, and the Google autonomous vehicle tell us what that platform makes possible, and why it's imperative for entrepreneurs to create more value than they capture. I also talk about Code for America, government as platform, and Twilio for Good.
“The skill of writing is
to create a context in which other people can think.” -Edwin Schlossberg Monday, September 23, 13 I like to begin my talks with a quote, because, as Oscar Wilde once said, “Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.” Edwin Schlossberg once said...
The Internet as a Platform
Monday, September 23, 13 Now, one of the big, context-setting ideas I’ve been working for the past dozen years or so is the idea that the internet is a platform.
2004: How can you call
the Internet an operating system? No kernel No memory management No processor Photo: Patrick Tufts http://www.flickr.com/photos/zippy/50537423/sizes/o/ Monday, September 23, 13 Later, when we introduced the Web 2.0 conference in 2004, we focused on the Internet as Platform. In his talk at that conference, Bram Cohen of Bittorrent gave me a bit of a roast about the Internet as operating system idea. He pointed out that the Internet was lacking many of the features that characterize operating systems.
An application that depends on
cooperating cloud data services: - Location - Search - Speech recognition - Live Traffic - Imagery Monday, September 23, 13 But as the mobile era accelerated, it became clear that I was right. What is the operating system of an application on a smartphone? To be sure, there are local functions, managed locally by the device OS, but there is a more powerful service layer that resides on the internet. In this slide from a few years later (dated to 2010 by the Nexus One phone in it), I make the case that yes, there is an operating system for mobile devices that consists of software above the level of a single device. Applications like Google Maps make numerous calls to data services provided by this cloud “operating system.”
Keep in Mind That There
are Two Types of Platform One Ring to Rule Them All Small Pieces Loosely Joined Monday, September 23, 13 Now in the case of Google Maps, all of the Internet Platform services come from one vendor. This has a few uncomfortable echoes of the era where Microsoft ruled the roost, and its operating system displayed what devotees of Lord of the Rings might call the “One ring to rule them all” strategy. But there is another model, which has always been the model of operating systems like Linux, and also for the Internet itself. I call this “small pieces loosely joined” - a model where services from multiple sources are nonetheless woven into a seamless whole. I’ve long represented this model with a routing map of the Internet.
Monday, September 23, 13 Twilio
is a great example of one of these “loosely joined” services. You built out an operating subsystem layer for communications. Your platform allows other companies to rely on a service from the cloud rather than building out that service themselves. Collectively, all these services are coming together into a kind of cloud operating system. It is still evolving.
Monday, September 23, 13 I’m
going to start by looking at a couple of startups or tech projects that I find really interesting, and try to explain why I find them interesting, both from a technical and a business perspective, and as a way of helping you to develop your own “interestingness” filters. I want to start by talking about Square. There’s so much to learn from this business. How many of you have ever bought something from a store with Square’s iPad cash register? How many of you had the Square Wallet app running on your phone when you did that?
Monday, September 23, 13 It
automatically checks you in when you walk into a participating merchant. Your name and face appear on the register, and since your payment details are already on ﬁle, all the retail clerk has to do is conﬁrm your identity, as shown in this screen shot.
Lesson #1: Do Less Monday,
September 23, 13 This is so key. The phone already knows you’re there. Why make you “check in” manually? This makes sense for apps like Foursquare, but it’s so important to think through what the sensors in the phone let you take out of the UI. This is going to be one of the big voyages of discovery over the next few years, as we design interfaces for devices that have “senses” of their own.
Lesson #2: Get creative with
hardware, not just software Monday, September 23, 13 Square started with this creative hardware hack, a little free dongle that uses the phone’s microphone jack to turn it into a credit card reader. The Maker movement isn’t just about 3D printing and robots. It’s about the way that sensors are changing the landscape of applications.
Lesson #3: Build “software above
the level of a single device” Monday, September 23, 13 But with the addition of the cash Register app, Square saw the possibilities of building a system that actually connected buyer and seller in a more profound way. The software system includes both an app on your phone, and an app on the merchant’s ipad, and a cloud database and services in between.
Lesson #4: Harness network effects
in data Monday, September 23, 13 When I ﬁrst talked to Jack Dorsey about Square, he talked about it as a data business - using social network data to make better credit scoring decisions. Long term, once square has millions of participating merchants and consumers, they have built a powerful data system that literally gets better the more people use it. But even apart from this banking angle, think how Square transforms the way a small merchant operates, bringing “knowing your customer” to a new level. Square has my face, my credit card info, and, potentially for a repeat buyer, my preferences, like what kind of coffee I normally order.
Monday, September 23, 13 Another
example of someone rethinking the workﬂows in retail is the Apple Store. Where most stores (at least in America) have used technology to eliminate salespeople, Apple has used it to augment them. Each store is ﬂooded with smartphone-wielding salespeople who are able to help customers with everything from technical questions to purchase and checkout. Walgreens is experimenting with a similar approach in the pharmacy, and US CTO Todd Park foresees a future in which health workers will be part of a feedback loop including sensors to track patient data coupled with systems that alert them when a patient needs to be checked up on. The augmented home health worker will allow relatively unskilled workers to be empowered with the much deeper knowledge held in the cloud.
Monday, September 23, 13 This
may be the real opportunity for new information retrieval UIs like Google Glass - in specialized settings where access to a computer can be seen as a powerful kind of human augmentation. I expect it to be used in professional settings before it becomes popular as a consumer device. (In social settings, it will require even more profound resets of behavior than the “always-on” mobile phone.)
Monday, September 23, 13 Aaron
Levie of Box said it perfectly in a tweet: “Uber is a $3.5 billion lesson in building for how the world *should* work instead of optimizing for how the world *does* work.”
Monday, September 23, 13 Many
of the notions that I highlighted about Square also show up in an app like Uber. A driver and a passenger both augmented with a smartphone changes our expectations about transit, and has the ability to change the way we organize public transit. Uber also shows us the principles of Software Above the Level of a Single Device, the use of sensors (both you and the driver have phones that know where you are), a data back end as part of the system, and “doing less.” Because your credit card is already on ﬁle, they’ve taken payment out of the workﬂow. And replaced it with reputation - they ask you to rate the driver, and the driver to rate the passenger. And like Square, they have a focus on building value for stakeholders - every driver I talk to loves the service because it increases their utilization and thus their income. It’s a win-win all around.
“What I learned from Google
is to only invest in things that close the loop.” - Chris Sacca Monday, September 23, 13 Investor Chris Sacca, who used to run special projects for Google, and who is an early investor in Uber, once remarked “What I learned...” This is what Google did with advertising, ﬁguring out how to predict what ads people would click on. And in the case of Uber, it’s fundamental to the value proposition. With a taxi, you wait and hope to ﬁnd one. With Uber, you know where the car is, when it’s going to arrive, and can even watch its progress towards you. Uber closes the loop and takes the uncertainty out of the experience.
Applications Like Uber Rely on
that “Internet Operating System” Real Time Location Sensing Real Time Communications Identity Payment Reputation Monday, September 23, 13 And at Twilio, you should be really proud to have identiﬁed one of those key subsystems of that operating system. I love the way Twilio lets the Uber driver and passenger communicate in real time without having to share phone numbers.
Lesson #7: Create More Value
Than You Capture Monday, September 23, 13 But I want to return to Square. There’s one other great lesson there. Create value for more than yourself. Jack’s original inspiration for Square was that he wanted to make it possible for anyone to take a credit card. He wanted to enable a fairer, more evenly distributed economy. Don’t just think about how much value you can create for yourself, your company, and your investors. Think about how much value you can create for your customers.
“There’s a wonderful section in
Les Miserables about the good that Jean Valjean does as a businessman (operating under the pseudonym of Father Madeleine). Through his industry and vision, he makes an entire region prosperous, so that “there was no pocket so obscure that it had not a little money in it; no dwelling so lowly that there was not some little joy within it.” And the key point: “Father Madeleine made his fortune; but a singular thing in a simple man of business, it did not seem as though that were his chief care. He appeared to be thinking much of others, and little of himself.” Monday, September 23, 13 I’m reminded of this wonderful quote from Les Miserables.
I call it “the big
lie” of modern business Monday, September 23, 13 This is in sharp contrast to the dominant ideology of modern capitalism over the past few decades, which says that the only responsibility of a company is to make money for its shareholders. Leaving aside the fact of excessive executive compensation as prima facie evidence that no big company really believes that principle, this notion misses the point that an economy is an ecosystem.
Lesson #8: Work on stuff
that matters Monday, September 23, 13 Perhaps the more general lesson here is to work on stuff that matters.
Open Source Web 2.0 The
Maker Movement Open Data Open Government Monday, September 23, 13 But there’s one more lesson here. Let me point to some of the things that matter that I’ve worked on. In each of these cases, I did some good for my business, but I was mainly concerned with telling the story of an industry movement, and trying to create awareness and value that beneﬁted many people besides myself and my own company.
Lesson #9: Idealism is the
best marketing Monday, September 23, 13 People are hungry for meaning. When you really care about creating value for more than yourself, and work hard at it, people understand it. So don’t be afraid to talk about your values, and why what you do matters. Tell it to yourself, and then tell it to your customers. That’s another reason why the Twilio for Good announcement is important. You encourage others to do likewise.
Why I love hackers Monday,
September 23, 13 One of my best experiences with doing this was when I gave a talk at my Emerging Technologies Conference in 2008 entitled, “Why I love hackers.” They work on what is hard. I recited a poem by Rilke, the Man Watching, which talks about Jacob wrestling with an angel. He knew he couldn’t win, but came away strengthened from the ﬁght. The poem ends with something like this: “What we ﬁght with is so small, and when we win, it makes us small. What we want is to be defeated decisively by successively greater beings.”
Monday, September 23, 13 A
great example of this is a company called Makani Power, which is building drone aircraft for high altitude wind farms. One of the early employees left a Wall Street hedge fund not because he thought he’d make more money, but because, as he said, “the math is harder and more interesting.”
Twilio for Good Untitled copy
Monday, September 23, 13 I was really pleased to see the announcement of the Twilio for Good initiative this morning.
Monday, September 23, 13 There
are lots of ways to work on stuff that matters. Code for America, a non-proﬁt I’ve been working with, brings talent from the tech industry to work with local governments to build simple, beautiful and easy-to-use interfaces to government services and helping government to reinvent the way it engages with citizens.
Monday, September 23, 13 The
White House Presidential Innovation Fellows, inspired by Code for America, offers similar opportunities to bring technology expertise into the Federal Government. I encourage any of you to apply to either of these programs.
Show Twilio related projects Monday,
September 23, 13 We use Twilio in a number of Code for America applications. Here, side by side, are Textizen, which we built to let Philadelphians weigh in on city planning issues without having to go to planning meetings, and CityVoice, which we built for South Bend, to let people give feedback on abandoned properties. Both use Twilio’s inbound messaging capabilities.
Monday, September 23, 13 Prompt.ly
is an app in San Francisco that uses text messages to remind social service recipients of required reporting and other alerts, to make sure they don’t lose their services.
Text My Bus Sadly, that’s
not an uber-like timeframe. But at least knowing is a big help. Monday, September 23, 13 TextMyBus lets schoolkids in Detroit know when buses are coming. They don’t all have smartphones, and Twilio’s messaging platform lets anyone with an SMS-enabled phone get information about when the next bus is due. This photo was taken in summer, but our fellows noticed this as a real problem last winter. Sometimes kids were waiting in the dark, in freezing weather, for half an hour, to get to school. Knowing when the bus is coming really matters in a situation like that. Of course, the fact that the bus comes only every half an hour may be a problem of another sort.
Government as a platform Monday,
September 23, 13 Public transportation is one aspect of what I’ve called Government as a Platform. So are roads, sanitation, power and water and other regulated utilities. But there are also twentieth century examples of government as a platform, including the National Weather Service and the GPS satellite system.
Government as a platform means
an end to the design of only complete, closed “applications.” Instead the government should provide fundamental services on which we, the people, (also known as “the market”) build applications. Government as a Platform Monday, September 23, 13 That’s why I’ve been trying to shift the mindset from government as a vending machine for services paid by taxes, to the notion that government should be a platform. This doesn’t mean that the government doesn’t provide any “applications” - any more than the iPhone as a platform means that Apple outsources everything!-but it does mean that government should provide affordances for the private sector to build on.
Federal Aid Highway Act of
1956 Dwight Eisenhower Monday, September 23, 13 One of the clearest expressions of this notion are national highway systems, not to mention the role of government in setting and enforcing rules of the road. But apart from aberrations like the Road to Nowhere, the crowdsourced destinations we call cities determine where the roads go, and we the people are free to use them to go where-ever we want. The US Interstate system, which provided a transformative economic foundation for our country, was championed by President Eisenhower in 1956.
“We’ve opened up huge amounts
of government data to the American people, and put it on the Internet for free.... And what’s happening is entrepreneurs and business owners are now using that data -- the people’s data --to create jobs and solve problems that government can’t solve by itself or can’t do as efficiently.” Barack Obama Monday, September 23, 13 Last month, when President Obama talked about his second term management agenda, open data, and its role in enabling private sector to build on government as a platform, was a key part of the message.
google home page / information
age Monday, September 23, 13 Government has been in this business for a long time. Consider weather. Here’s Google’s forecast for San Francisco yesterday when I was creating the slides for this talk. But where did that data come from? I’ve always found myself wondering why people aren’t more aware of how government data powers non-governmental services that citizens take for granted, many of them never taking the time to think how much government investment went into building the infrastructure that makes it possible for the private sector to offer services like weather predictions.
GPS: A 21st century platform
launched in 1973 Monday, September 23, 13 How about Global positioning satellites? Here government investment in a hard, long term project, is paying off in uncounted new private sector developments. A huge project with uncertain return, started in 1973 and now showing enormous fruit in the 21st century, with huge value add from the commercial sector. Everything from maps and directions on your phone to future self-driving cars spring from this platform investment, and the key policy decision to open the data and make it available for commercial use. No one dreamed of the unexpected applications that became possible by opening up this data. That’s why we need open web services by default.
Monday, September 23, 13 Health
care is another area where today’s skills can be put to use working on stuff that really matters. Here’s a report I co-authored last year that covers some of my ideas on the subject. I don’t have time to go into all the details today, but the report is a free download.
Monday, September 23, 13 And
there are also amazing entrepreneurial opportunities building companies that also solve interesting social problems. Jen Pahlka, who founded Code for America, wrote a blog post recently that summarized one of these opportunities, which we’ve been brainstorming recently. How do you reinvent the corner store so that it delivers what people really need, at affordable prices, in a walkable city?
Monday, September 23, 13 These
are the kinds of opportunities that we’re looking for at O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, our early stage venture ﬁrm. If you want to apply the principles I’ve outlined here to build a great business that also just happens to make the world a better place, we’d love to hear from you. email@example.com