Entrepreneur, journalist, author, professor, "band manager" for one of the most popular blogs in the world (BoingBoing.net), John Battelle has a history of speaking up on information issues. At the age of 26, he co-founded Wired magazine, then went on to found and chair Standard Media International (The Standard), publish The Industry Standard and TheStandard.com, and co-found and chair Federated Media Publishing. He's helped launch more than 30 magazines and Web sites and founded the Foursquare conference on intellectual property-leveraged industries.
He also writes a column for Business 2.0 and in 2005 published The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture (Portfolio). Battelle is a UC Berkeley alum, a former visiting professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and the first information industry insider to answer our "10Qs."
1. You talk about the difference between being a "knowledge worker" and being a builder of today's "knowledge refineries." What do you mean by knowledge refineries? And what skills will the "architects who drive how knowledge itself is created" need?
In a world where, thanks to search, information is freely available, the most valuable skill is to make sense of information — for yourself and for others. Companies that do that are refining information into knowledge, and people who are good at that — the architects and builders — will be in high demand. The single most important skill is critical thinking, which a culture based on test-driven learning simply does not promote.
2. You have three kids. What kind of Internet world do you expect them to inhabit when they begin their careers some years from now?
I think it will be far more robust, having swallowed most of the media world — television, print, radio. And I expect search will be a core skill taught in school. My kids will have their own communities online — many of them — and doing so will be as natural as breathing to them. Plus, their phones will be extensions of the Web.
3. When you co-founded Wired magazine, whom did you envision as your audience? How about The Industry Standard?
To be honest, we made Wired for ourselves, and hoped there were a lot more folks with the same information needs as us! The surprise was how many there were; we declared a community, and that community certainly showed up. The Standard was driven by my desire to read a publication that solved a particular problem for me — that there was way too much information on the new Internet industry, but far too little analysis and knowledge.
4. Your new book about Google and its late start and transformative role focuses on the biggest ideas of "search." What are those big ideas and where are they going?
As a culture, through search on the Internet, we are creating a new artifact of human culture, which I call the "Database of Intentions." In essence, we are taking what was once ephemeral — our clickstream — and making it eternal. This is a new idea: that our digital lives can be recorded, archived, tracked, subpoenaed — forever. And we’ve only begun to think about the implications.
5. On your Searchblog, there's an image of a desk with a couple of screens on it. Is that your office?
That's where I wrote the book, and where I continue to write Searchblog and work on various other projects. I love having a long view and losing myself in it from time to time. The sun does get in the way sometimes but I just put up with it. Every few months I reorganize my office; it's an old habit of mine. But for the most part, I always sit facing out the windows.
6. Do you listen to music while you work?
I have speakers plugged into my computer, and I run iTunes. I have ripped most of my CDs to my computer. I rarely if ever buy music online. Dunno why.
7. At the UC Berkeley School of Information, we're educating the next generation of human-friendly knowledge leaders. What are we doing right? What boat might we — or any other academic institution — be missing?
I think the creation of media experiences is really, really, really important. I think that folks are missing that boat.
8. What's the coolest thing that's come to you via your Searchblog?
Hmmm. Well, a lot of opportunities to meet amazing folks, a lot of press and speaking requests. And a few old friends. But nothing too surprising!
9. Why did you decide to put ads on your Searchblog?
I do it for two reasons: First, to learn as much as I can about online media and marketing, and second, to help me turn that learning into a successful business, Federated Media Publishing, which is my next business.
10. What's the best part of your work day and why?
At night, I catch up on email while having a glass of wine and watching my kids run around. Or even later, I just hang out with my wife. My work rarely follows a strict set of hours.