Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

On May 24, together with Nate Silver, Caterina Fake and Kahlil Gibran Muhammad, I will receive an honorary doctorate from The New School. Thanks to Nancy Lublin and everyone at The New School for making this happen.

It turns out that I'm actually an alum of The New School. Back in the fall of 1985, I took and completed two online courses - "Artificial Intelligence & Life" and "Propaganda: Lit Science" which were part of a batch of the first fully online graduate school courses for credit. (MOOC schMOOC!) It used a pre-World Wide Web system called EIES. I remember these courses fondly, especially the Propaganda course. They were really engaging and involved a lot of peer learning.

With all of the excitement about massive open online courses (MOOCs), it's interesting to reflect that we've been doing versions of these since the 80s.

Last year, MIT asked me to walk with the faculty during commencement, but I didn't have a academic robe. MIT offered to let me wear an MIT robe, but I felt it would be "grammatically incorrect" for me to wear a robe posing as a college graduate so I opted not to attend the official commencement. This year, I'll be able to walk with the faculty proudly wearing my gown from The New School. ;-)

And no, I won't make you call me "Doctor Ito". Ha!

Shaka and Joi

Shaka just released his book, Writing My Wrongs that you can buy on his website. It's an amazing book and an amazing story. I just attended the book launch party earlier this week and have posted some photos on Flickr. Shaka is one of the MIT Media Lab Director's Fellows, a Knight Foundation BMe award winner and one of the most inspirational friends I have. I was honored to write the following foreword to the book.


On July 1, 2012, the MIT Media Lab announced that we would be creating an Innovators Guild-a team of scholars, executives, and designers that would go to communities around the world using the power of innovation to help people. Our first focus for this was Detroit.

Three weeks later the Knight Foundation, which was funding our trip, organized a meeting with Detroit community leaders. We gave presentations about MIT and the Media Lab and about how we had come to Detroit to explore how we could create innovative solutions to long-standing problems.

Then, during the Q&A, a tough-looking black man with dreadlocks stood up and spoke. "Many well-meaning people come to Detroit with a missionary mentality. Then they get discouraged when they realize how just how tough our problems are. If you want to make a real impact you have to go out among the people in the communities and not buy into the romanticized view of Detroit based on Midtown and Downtown." Although there were other comments expressing skepticism, this one stood out. We realized, for the first time, that we were looking into the face of reality-The Truth.

After the formal part of the meeting, the man came up to us and introduced himself as Shaka. He said that if we were willing he would show us the real Detroit. We immediately accepted the offer. On the next trip we avoided Downtown altogether and went straight to Brightmore on Detroit's West Side, a neighborhood full of burned-out, vacant homes and liquor stores fronted with bulletproof glass. Shaka told us stories that had none of the romance, but they were real.

We quickly realized that we couldn't just fly in, do good, and go home. We needed to introduce ourselves to the community, learn about the people who live there, and build trust. If we wanted to have a positive impact on Detroit we had to be there for the long haul.

In the following weeks, my team from the Media Lab and creatives from the design firm IDEO flew to Detroit, working with Shaka and others to come up with a plan for how we might be able to join the community and work together. We then invited Shaka and the Detroit team to the MIT Media Lab to meet students and faculty and see and learn about what we do. Bonds began forming between the Lab and the Detroiters.

In October, we all converged on Detroit-setting up a base at the headquarters of OmniCorpDetroit, a vital, local organization. We were a team of community leaders, chief innovation officers, students, and designers. Each of the teams started working on projects ranging from solving the streetlight issue to urban farming. Shaka emerged as our natural leader, keeping the energy high and the teams working together.

By the end of an insanely productive three days, I had a plan. I would make Shaka a MIT Media Lab Fellow and he'd be our man in Detroit-our connection to the incredibly important world he represents. Since then, Shaka and the Media Lab team have started to work together extensively, and Shaka continues to inspire and challenge us.

In December, Shaka emailed me that he had a rough draft of his memoirs and asked if I was interested in reading it. I read the entire book in two sittings, riveted. Shaka is, among his other talents, an amazing storyteller. The book is funny and moving and astute and by the end I felt as if I had been the one convicted of murder, as if I'd spent seven years in the hole, and gone through the dramatic transformation from angry, scared young boy, to enlightened teacher and leader.

And by the end I could begin to see how a generation of bright children full of promise are channeled into a system that sees them as little more than felons-in-waiting. Yet again, Shaka has inspired me to help right the wrongs by, in this instance, helping him "write the wrongs". The book may be about Shaka's past, but it points to a future in which we all take the next step to build a more just society.

Back in the early 90's, I had a small startup called Eccosys. It was started by a rag tag team of friends in my apartment. We knew a lot about the Internet, but few else in Japan did. As the Internet started to get more and more press, a lot of companies started creating and trying to sell Internet products.

Eccosys struggled to get "real" Internet related work. Then, I met Kaoru Hayashi, the CEO of From Garage. From Garage was a small advertising production and planning shop that had literally started in a garage a few blocks from my apartment. Dentsu was one of From Garage's biggest clients. From Garage and Eccosys made a unique team of Internet-enabled producers, and we helped a bunch of companies launch Internet-related products like Sun's Java, IBM's OS2 Warp, and Lotus Notes' Merchant Server. It turned out that in the early days, there was much more money to be made helping people talk about the Internet than actually making money doing anything on the Internet.

As more and more work from Dentsu and others went "digital" Kaoru and I decided that it made sense to formally join forces and in 1995, we created Digital Garage and merged all of our companies into one company. At Digital Garage, with the help of the ad agencies, we launched Infoseek Japan and began the first effort to sell ads by CPM - Cost Per Thousand (impressions).

In Japan, there are a number of huge ad agencies. As the story goes, each of original ad agencies picked a medium and specialized. Dentsu, which is short of "electronic communications" in Japanese, picked radio and TV and hit a jackpot as these media turned out to be the winners. In a uniquely Japanese way, Dentsu not only advertised, but they lead the way in the development of the media supporting their innovation and business development.

Digital Garage and Dentsu have worked together closely for decades, but I'm super-excited that we are now "family" with today's announcement of the decision for Dentsu to make a significant investment in Digital Garage and create a business alliance.

Jeff Howe

Jeff and I spent the day cranking on our book. Feeling good about the structure of the book and we made a lot of progress.

One of the things I decided I need to do is to get my blog voice back so - hello!

We still don't even have a real title for the book, but we're close. Watch this space for more about the book as we get rolling.

What open means to you


joi / CC BY

On March 15, 2012, Bassel Khartabil was detained in a wave of arrests in the Mazzeh district of Damascus. Since then, his family has received no official explanation for his detention or information regarding his whereabouts. However, his family has recently learned from previous detainees at the security branch of Kafer Sousa, Damascus, that Bassel is being held at this location.

Bassel Khartabil, a Palestinian-born Syrian, 31, is a respected computer engineer specializing in open source software development, the type of contributions the Internet is built upon. He launched his career ten years ago in Syria, working as a technical director for a number of local companies on cultural projects like restoring Palmyra and Forward Syria Magazine.

Since his arrest, Bassel's valuable volunteer work, both in Syria and around the world, has been stopped. His absence has been painful for the communities that depend on him. In addition, his family, and his fiancée whom he was due to marry this past April, have had their lives put on hold.

Bassel Khartabil has been unjustly detained for nearly four months without trial or any legal charges being brought against him. --

This is our statement of Support to Bassel, his family and friends.

Creative Commons supports efforts to obtain the release of Bassel Safadi, a valuable contributor to and leader in the technology community. Bassel's expertise and focus across all aspects of his work has been in support of the development of publicly available, free, open source computer software code and technology. He pursues this not only through his valuable volunteer efforts in support of Creative Commons, but in all of his work in the technology field. Through his efforts, the quality and availability of freely available and open technology is improved and technology is advanced.

Please help us #FREEBASSEL by signing the support letter at

Cross posted from the Creative Commons Blog