Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I'm happy and honored to announce that I've been named the new executive director of the MIT Media Lab.

In November of last year, I was attending Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford, a very cool event where a bunch of folks from Silicon Valley go to Oxford to hang out with entrepreneurs, students and others. As often is the case with conferences like this, it was a great opportunity to catch up with old friends.

Megan Smith, one of the coolest people I know, was there and we were talking about everything, which often happens when I see Megan. Suddenly, Megan said, "Would you be interested in being the Director of the MIT Media Lab? I'm talking to Nicholas Negroponte on email about that right now." I answered, "Umm. Yeah, of course!" Megan smiled and immediately started tapping into her phone.

A few weeks later, I was in Catalina Island off of Los Angeles trying to complete my Search and Recovery training in a kelp forest with terrible visibility. Between dives, wearing my drysuit, I took a call with Nicholas to talk about the position. The connection was terrible and we could barely get a sentence completed before our calls dropped - a kind of ironic failure in technology. I was able to express my interest and we agreed to try to meet and talk face to face.

Several months later, I found myself at the front entrance of MIT Building E14. It's an amazing building designed by Maki and Associates. Together with the existing Wiesner Building (designed by MIT alumnus I. M. Pei), the two buildings make up the MIT Media Lab.

As I walked into the building, I felt like a pilgrim from the Middle Ages entering a cathedral. I was in awe and a bit of shock wondering if I would fit into an "institution" like the Media Lab and MIT.

After a day of non-stop meetings with a bunch of the faculty and students, I realized that I'd found my tribe. Everyone was super-smart, driven, working on very cool stuff. They weren't afraid to try anything. There was extreme diversity but also a common DNA. I felt a sense of mission that seemed driven by the physical proximity created by the space and the empowering brand and legacy of the Media Lab. It created a power to think long-term with agility that I'd never seen anywhere else.

People talked matter-of-factly about getting sensors from this lab, maybe we need a tissue scientist, and robots from that lab, and visualization from this lab to take this research in this other direction.

It was a firehouse of interconnections and creativity - I was completely energized and felt totally in my element.

While a huge believer in the risk-taking and agility of Silicon Valley venture backed startups, I'd been exceedingly frustrated by the tradeoffs in long-term impact that we often have to make because of the nature of venture capital and the public markets.

Government and large company research labs can be longer-term, but are increasingly unable to move quickly enough or be flexible enough to tackle the high speed and complex problems facing us today.

I had created a life for myself that was scattered across non-profits, venture startups, relationships with large research institutions and networks of people all over the world in my search for long-term yet agile solutions.

John Seely Brown often talks about "The Power of Pull" - how instead of stocking assets and resources, we should pull them, as we need them. Instead of pushing intelligence, orders and "stuff" from the center, one should create a context where we can pull them from our networks. Instead of planning every detail, one could embrace serendipity and chart a general trajectory, pulling the things together in a highly contextual and agile way.

The Media Lab seemed like it had all of the right elements to tackle this problem and attract all of those people like us who thrive in the chaos and complexity that scares most people away. In addition to the people and the mandate to think creatively, the Media Lab had relationships and the ability to have even more relationships so that the impact and the outcomes could be realized in academia, the public sector, in venture startups, in large companies, in the arts, in journalism or in social entrepreneurship and non-profits.

I decided that if I was lucky enough to be offered the job, I would take it. I was, and I did.

In the press release announcing my appointment, Nicholas Negroponte, Media Lab co-founder and chairman emeritus says, "In the past 25 years, the Lab helped to create a digital revolution -- a revolution that is now over. We are a digital culture. Today, the 'media' in Media Lab include the widest range of innovations, from brain sciences to the arts. Their impact will be global, social, economic and political -- Joi's world."

I really felt at home for the first time in many ways. It felt like a place where I could focus - focus on everything - but still have a tremendous ability to work with the team as well as my network and broader extended network to execute and impact the world in a substantial and positive way.

One of my missions will be to integrate my network with the Media Lab so I urge all of my friends to get to know The Lab and its work through the LabCast videos ( http://labcast.media.mit.edu/) , the research areas on the website ( http://www.media.mit.edu/research ), but better, to come visit the Media Lab. Many of your companies are already sponsors of the lab, but I really want to make sure that we're spending enough time together so that our visions become one and the magic happens.

For those of you who aren't sponsors of the Lab, I urge you to come visit and hang out and consider joining the team. I sincerely think that the Media Lab has an essential role in providing context and innovation for the future and the first step is to make sure all of you are at the table and part of the conversation.

In any case, I'll be writing and talking about everything I'm doing at and with the Media Lab and I look forward to interacting with everyone at every level.

John Markoff posted on his blog, The New York Times, before I did! Thanks for the encouraging article John.

The Media Lab has a press release.

A New Culture of Learning

As an "informal learner" who dropped out of college and managed to survive, "The New Culture of Learning: cultivating imagination for a world of constant flux" captures and provides a coherent framework for many of the practices that guide my own life. If their suggestions are able to be weaved into the discourse and practice of formal education, informal learners like myself might be able to survive without dropping out. In addition, even those who are able to manage formal education could have their experiences greatly enhanced.

John Seely Brown has continued to help give me confidence in the chaos + serendipity that is my life and have helped those who seek to understand people like us. This book brings together a lot of his work and the work of others (like my sister ;-) ) in a concise book definitely worth reading.

One year after winning an Academy Award for best documentary, the filmmakers have released The Cove dubbed in Japanese for free online. In addition a local group called People Concerned for the Ocean are distributing a DVD to all of the citizen of Taiji, the city where the dolphin killings and The Cove takes place.

I've been trying in my own way to try to get more attention to The Cove in Japan. There are criticisms by some Japanese about the film. Some ask "why dolpins and not cows?" Others complain that it's picking on local Japanese culture. Mainly, Japanese don't like foreigners trying to cause change inside of Japan.

The Japanese are not unique about this however - just listen to the Chinese or the recent speeches by Mubarak or Gaddafi. Japan has a very strong nationalist movement that is against any kind of criticism about Japan from the outside.

Why the online release of the film in Japan is so important is that the Japanese people should watch the movie and make up their own mind. Regardless of what you think about the film, banning it is unexcusable. A small group of people from Taiji along with nationalists have prevented the film from being broadly screen in Japan.

The Japanese people should decide whether the claims and criticisms in the film are valid and if it resonates with enough hearts and minds of enough Japanese, then the Japanese will make it a domestic issue and call for an investigation and a change.

The film has a few threads that I think will attract the attention of different groups in Japan. The "save the dolphins" aspect of the film will attract the dolphin lovers, divers and animal rights people.

There are many Japanese who don't care about dolphins. However, the film reveals evidence of very high mercury content in dolphins and the possibility that this meat is being sold as whale meat and being put in children's school lunches. Knowningly causing mercury poisoning in school children is the kind of corruption that would move a completely different set of Japanese - possibly even those conservatives who are pro-whaling.

I urge everyone to send this URL to any Japanese person you know. I will be posting a Japanese translation of this blog post soon.

The URL is: http://thecovemovie.com/freejapanesedownload

Yuri Kageyama has written about this in Forbes.

The Japanese distributors of the DVD appear to have gotten the downloads from Japan blocked but some bad bad person appears to be mirroring the download. http://goo.gl/hww2K

When I joined the board of Creative Commons in January of 2003, I thought I'd just be "helping Larry out with his cool non-profit." I was a huge Creative Commons fan, but not a law professor and wasn't really sure exactly what I'd be contributing.

As Creative Commons continued to evolve from a very cool idea to a critical part of the sharing infrastructure, the organization continued to grow and thrive and I became more and more involved. In December of 2006, the board appointed me to Chairman of the Board and I worked closely with Larry who was CEO at the time and the board, working on strategy, fund raising and continuing to develop Creative Commons.

In 2008, Larry announced that he wanted to shift his focus to fixing the corruption problem and would continue to serve on the board of and work closely with Creative Commons, but that he wanted a successor for the CEO role. In April of 2008, not being able to find a suitable full-time CEO, I was appointed by the board to be CEO and board member.

The CEO role at Creative Commons has been an extremely exciting, but challenging one. After running my incubator, Neoteny, through the crash of the Internet bubble in Japan, I had vowed not to take operating roles anymore and focus on investing and board positions. Also, I was not sure about my ability to run an organization in San Francisco with my insane travel schedule. Finally, I wasn't completely confident that I would be able to wrangle all of the nuanced complexity that Creative Commons sits at the nexus of.

I took over the role of CEO just as Creative Commons was evolving from a visionary leader and board driven organization to a staff driven organization. The vision of the organization stayed unchanged, but the day-to-day operations of the organization were becoming increasingly complex and voluminous as our adopters began to increase in number, scope and in geography.

Partially due to my lack of physical presence in San Francisco and mostly due to the amazing quality of the Creative Commons team, the staff and management team at Creative Commons picked up the slack and worked with me to build an excellent organization. Because of this, I was able to focus a great deal of my energy on the external and international relationships. While a lot of the work that Creative Commons accomplished were milestone adoptions like Wikipedia, Al Jazeera and The White House, a huge amount of the work that the staff accomplished was expanding our international network of partners and putting together an excellent organization with great teamwork, a solid back office system and a first class work ethic.

I'm really proud to have been a part of this transformation.

However, as the challenges for Creative Commons become even bigger and more exciting and as we begin another chapter in both our strategy and fund raising, my part-time non-resident CEO position was clearly suboptimal.

Cathy Casserly was our program officer at Hewlett, which funded the initial growth of Creative Commons. Cathy is the godmother of the Open Educational Resources movement. After we recruited Cathy to join the Creative Commons board, I have been working closely with her on fund raising, strategy and generally getting her advice on many things. Cathy is strong in all of the areas that I am weak. The added bonus is that she lives in the Bay Area.

Over dinner at the last board meeting, I casually asked her whether she might consider being CEO of Creative Commons. To my surprise and excitement, she said she'd be interested.

Since that initial discussion, we've been working hard trying to figure out how all of this will work. We still have some details to work out, but Cathy will be taking over the CEO role of Creative Commons and work day to day in the Bay Area office.

I will continue to serve Creative Commons as the Chairman of the Board and I think that as a team, Cathy and I can cover many of the bases with the support of the staff, board and our amazing network of affiliates around the world. I will continue to work on international projects, the Middle East and venture innovation and Cathy will bring her deep expertise in education and the foundation work to the organization.

Most importantly, Cathy is an amazingly warm and thoughtful person that I've grown very close to and I'm super-excited to be working with and am sure will be a perfect fit for the staff in the Bay Area and our global network of the brightest and coolest people I know.

View from my hotel room in Lavasa

Yesterday, Mizuka picked me up at Narita Airport and we stopped by Doutor Coffee for breakfast on the way to our house. As we sipped our small, slightly boring coffee with our perfectly shaped sandwiches, I noticed a quality control staff member taking the temperature of all of the drinks he was served, measuring the distance between the items of food on display and using a stopwatch to time each activity of the poor girl working the shift. I watched this insane obsessiveness as I tried to explain my India trip to Mizuka.

The INK Conference in association with TED was organized by the amazing Lakshmi in Lavasa, India. Lavasa is a new development in the mountains on a beautiful lake. It is a kind of walled garden community that has just opened. Many of the speakers received an email from an NGO asking us to boycott the conference because of the ecological issues caused by the development and the displacement of indigenous people who lived there.

As someone concerned with these issues and as a board member of WITNESS which is fighting against forced evictions, I was very concerned with these allegations. Unfortunately, we were all notified in the 11th hour after everything had been booked and paid for. I scoured the Internet and talked to the organizers and I was unable to conclusively determine the scale of the problems so I made the decision to attend the event and talk to people in the region directly and make up my own mind about Lavasa.

The tricky thing about force evictions is that even if something is legal, it's not necessarily ethical or right - usually the people who are displaced unfairly don't have the law on their side. On the other hand, it's very hard to determine what is "fair" and what the value of a development is on a local economy. I'm still digging into the issue of Lavasa and will write a follow up post if I find out more, but I wanted to note here that I took the issue seriously and am not "brushing it off".

This was my fourth time in India and I've slowly grown to be prepared for the somewhat chaotic nature of logistics and other things and try to go with the flow. This trip was probably the most "successful" trip I've made to India - while I had minor logistical hiccups, it was relatively smooth considering Lavasa was a 4-5 hour drive from Mumbai.

On the trip to Lavasa, I shared the car with Anand Kumar. Anand is a math teacher from Patna, Bihar who teaches math to extremely poor people. His school has had an amazing 212 students who have been accepted to the Indian Institute of Technology.

I attended more session than I normally do at conferences although I missed a few because of conference calls and naps. The stories were great and I really enjoyed meeting so many people who risk their lives every day to do good. I met the amazing Sunitha Krishnan, the anti-trafficking activist fighting against girl child trafficking for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. She risks her life every day as she organizes rescue missions and runs a facility to rehabilitate those she saves. It was humbling and a great experience to share time with people like Anand and Sunitha and hear their thoughts about the world.

There were other great social entrepreneurs and inspiring people. There were many old friend as well as new "keepers" that I met. The atmosphere, people composition and the size was perfect.

Because of my logistics paranoia, I had the car leave 7 hours for the drive and I ended up with 2 hours extra in Mumbai. I met Roshan D'Silva via Twitter who gave me a quick tour of Mumbai and we had a great conversation over coffee. He took me to the beach and showed me how the "bottom of the pyramid" retail worked in Mumbai. It was fascinating and probably deserves a whole separate blog post. Thanks Roshan!

Whenever I leave India, I always end up comparing it in my mind to China and thinking about "the cost of democracy". India is messy, has slums, has its share of corruption, but it is democratic and democracy is messy and inefficient. On the other hand, China is extremely efficient and well organized at one level, but pays for this in a lack of political freedoms. It's not fair to compare the two countries too directly, but the contrast in their approaches as well as the potential of both countries is something that I look forward to watching as the scenarios play out.