Let's assume you've at least heard the phrase "Web 2.0" - forget for the moment that you may even be growing tired of it. Well, there may still be some debate over who officially coined the phrase, but there's little doubt that Tim O'Reilly helped bring the concept to the masses.
It was back in 2004 when, along with John Battelle and MediaLive, O'Reilly-the founder and chief executive officer of O'Reilly Media, a publishing and event-producing house established in 1978-introduced the Web 2.0 meme to a sold-out crowd in San Francisco. Five years later, the conference still attracts upward of 10,000 people (even amid the recession, the event took only a mild hit) in order to extend the conversation on just what Web 2.0 is and what it means for how the world conducts business.
This isn't the first time O'Reilly has had a hand in mainstreaming an idea that emerged from The Land of the Geeks. In 1992, he published The Whole Internet User's Guide & Catalog, later selected by the New York Public Library as one of the most significant books of the 20th century. In 1998, the term "open source" was formally adopted at a summit of free-software leaders hosted by O'Reilly, and he was consequently rewarded with Infoworld's Industry Achievement Award for his role in open-source advocacy.
"The thing that Tim does so well is he has his finger on the pulse of things that are yet to be explained or come to fruition-he can see the impact before it hits the market," explains Jennifer Pahlka, the general manager and co-chair of the Web 2.0 events at TechWeb. Even more important, she says, is that "he's able to put things into the broadest possible context in a way that makes sense for people."
His next initiative? Government as a platform. "People don't recognize right now the impact he will have on government," Pahlka says. "We're working on an event series called ‘Gov 2.0,' and Tim is in D.C. socializing ideas in a powerful way. I see how strongly it's resonating with the people in government who want to apply the principles ofWeb 2.0, because it's exactly what government needs right now."
Even as the forward-looking intent of the "2.0" concept begins to feel like an historical artifact-the proliferating "3.0"/"4.0"/"5.0" references are a sign of that-O'Reilly is already out there ahead of us, scouting the next wave we'll be surfing before we know it. Just his proven track record might warrant his inclusion among our Influential Leaders, but his ongoing efforts to shape the industry's framework are what's creating a lasting impact.