Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

On January 17, 2012, we will hold a one-day event - MIT Media Lab @Tokyo 2012 about "The Power of Open: Scaling the Eco System." This is a meeting for existing Media Lab members, industry thought leaders and companies and individuals interested in becoming part of the Media Lab network. It's quite an interesting program.

We will be selling tickets to help cover the cost of producing the event and the seats are limited to 150 so are taking registrations on a first-come, first-serve basis.

You can see the program and the registration here:

Here are the details:

  • Title: MIT Media Lab @Tokyo 2012
  • Theme: Power of Open, Scaling the Eco System
  • Date: January 17, 2012(Tues)
  • Registration: 9:30
  • Conference:10:00~18:30
  • Reception & Mini-Demo Session:18:30~20:30
    ※Schedule is subject to change

Place: Dentsu Hall, Dentsu Inc.
1-8-1 Higashi-Shimbashi, Minato-Ku, Tokyo 105-7001

In collaboration with: Dentsu/ISID, Kadokawa Digix Inc., Digital Garage Inc.
Contact us:

Here's how the article that I wrote for the New York Times started before it turned into "In an Open-Source Society, Innovating by the Seat of Our Pants". The New York Times version isn't bad, but here's the original "unabridged" version.

The Internet, innovation and learning

The Internet isn't really a technology, it's a belief system - a philosophy.

I remember very clearly the day I installed a tiny piece of software, MacPPP on my computer, which connected the programs running on it to the global Internet. It immediately transformed my computer from a fancy telex machine to a very early version of the multimedia Internet that we take for granted today.

I was working in television, motion pictures and music at the time. I remember thinking that the Internet was going to change everything and that I should immediately quit the media business and stop climbing those career ladders and start building the Internet.

My first step in this transition to help build the Internet was to work on the first commercial Internet Service Provider in Japan, PSINet Japan. I became its first CEO. I remember the battle against X.25, a competing standard to the Internet being stewarded by the large standards body affiliated with the UN called CCITT. Large inter-governmental agencies have experts from government and the largest companies in the world gather to work on the standards that govern a variety of the telecommunications infrastructure's DNA - the technical standards that companies build their networks and products against.

The battle between X.25 and the Internet was the battle between heavily funded, government backed experts and a loosely organized group of researchers and entrepreneurs. The X.25 people were trying to plan and anticipate every possible problem and application. They developed complex and extremely well-thought-out standards that the largest and most established research labs and companies would render into software and hardware.

The Internet, on the other hand, was being designed and deployed by small groups of researchers following the credo "rough consensus and running code," coined by one of its chief architects, David Clark. Instead of a large inter-governmental agency, the standards of the Internet were stewarded by small organizations, which didn't require permission or authority. It functioned by issuing the humbly named "Request for Comment" or RFCs as the way to propose simple and light-weight standards against which small groups of developers could work on the elements that together became the Internet.

As we all know, the Internet won. It was the triumph of distributed innovation over centralized innovation.

The belief system of the Internet is that everyone should have the freedom to connect, the freedom to innovate and the freedom to hack without asking permission. No one can know the whole of it; it cannot be centrally controlled and the innovation happens in small groups on the "edges" of the network.

This belief system has created a massive network of distributed innovators. Internet innovators develop standards with each other and share the products of their work in the form of free and open source software. Lately they are even sharing electronics and physical designs.

The architecture of the Internet and the abundance of free software and components has driven the cost of manufacture, distribution and collaboration - the cost of innovation - down massively. Software companies used to cost millions of dollars in venture capital to start - today for little or no money, entrepreneurs are able develop and release a "minimum viable product" and test it with real users on the Internet before they have to raise money from investors.

In fact, it is now usually cheaper to just try something than to sit around and try to figure out whether to try something. The map is now often more complex and often more expensive to create than trying to figure it out as you go. The compass has replaced the map and the idea of "rough consensus running code" has spread from the ideology behind network architecture to a fundamental philosophy for startup companies and the "lean startup" movement.

3D printers, laser cutters, online distribution, supply chain services and even sophisticated manufacturers have become cheaper, standardized and connected via the Internet. We are seeing the emergence of a community of hardware hackers and open hardware designs very reminiscent of the communities of developers who write the open standards and free and open source software of the Internet and I anticipate an explosion of grass-roots innovation around hardware as we saw in software. The Media Lab is very involved in all of the elements of this movement.

At the Media Lab, we have a multi-disciplinary group of faculty, students and member companies working together to invent the future by applying the philosophy of "rough consensus running code" to a wide variety of fields in addition to the future of hardware design.

At the Media Lab we focus on learning through creation instead of instruction. We are empowering individuals to experiment, create, and iterate. We produce demos and prototypes and share and collaborate with the rest of the world through the Internet and a distributed network of connections and relationships. We are not about centralized instruction but rather a node in a broad network of distributed creativity.

What has been a wildly successful model for consumer Internet startups in Silicon Valley turns out to be an extremely good model for learning and for a wide variety of fields and disciplines, and we are trying to empower more and more communities to also have access to technology and the ability to participate and create.

For example, in the High-Low Tech group we are designing new materials and technology to allow an extremely diverse non-technical group of online and real-world communities to learn how to build their own electronics and learn about technology.

In the Lifelong Kindergarten group, we are managing a massive community of young people around the Scratch programming language, which allows very young children to write their own software and share their projects online and build upon one another's code and ideas.

Neoteny, one of my favorite words, means the retention of childlike attributions in adulthood. Childlike attributes include learning, idealism, experimentation, wonder, and creativity. In our rapidly changing world, not only do we need to continue to behave more like children - we can teach our children to retain those attributes that will allow them to be the world-changing, innovative adults who will help us reinvent the future.

Benjamin Mako Hill

Earlier this month, Mako circulated an email about Iron Blogger. Sounded useful and easy enough so I signed up... and failed. I missed the first deadline and I owe $5.

Off to a bad start, but I'll try not to miss anymore. Looking forward to blogging as well as the meetup.


I want to blog frequently but usually don't seem to find the time for it. I'm not above tying myself to the mast if it means blogging more.

Iron Blogger is a blogging and drinking club based on this premise. The rules are pretty simple:

  • Blog at least once a week.
  • If you fail to do so, pay $5 into a common pool.
  • When the pool is big enough, the group uses it to pay for drinks and snacks at a meet-up for all the participants.

Nelson Elhage ran the original Iron Blogger for about a year before the effort ran out of steam. I've started a new instance with a couple people from the previous group and a bunch of folks from Berkman, MIT, and beyond.

If you live in Boston and want to join, there are still a couple of spots available. I'm going to cap the current group, at least temporarily, at about 30 people because I think that's the maximum we'll fit into a local pub. Look over the site and send me an email if you're interested.

If you don't live in Boston but want to organize your own Iron Blogger, you can use the software in Nelson's git repository (or my branch) to automate nearly the whole process of tracking posts, generating reports, and updating the ledger of debts.

Today marks the official launch of the 2011 Creative Commons Annual Campaign! As the Chair of the CC Board, I invite you to join us in powering an open future. We've made tremendous progress in the last year, including:
Europeana's new Data Exchange Agreement which releases the metadata for millions of cultural works into the public domain using CC0;
Flickr reaching the 200 million mark in CC-licensed photos;
YouTube adding a CC licensing option;
The US Department of Labor requiring CC BY for a $2 billion grant program;
Brazil and New Zealand introducing CC licensing for government-funded works;
CC releasing The Power of Open, a book showcasing phenomenal use cases of CC licensing.

Creative Commons relies on donations to build and constantly improve the technical and legal tools that enable openness to flourish. The future of openness is bright, but ensuring that future requires urgent and sustained effort. CC is continuing to improve the usefulness of our licenses and helping even more artists, institutions and governments share their works. We are reaching a critical mass and need your support now more than ever. Donate now!

Learn more at the CC blog:

Here are some thoughts about leadership as I prepare to participate in IBM's THINK Forum.

The Internet has enabled the cost of the production and distribution of ideas and information to plummet nearly to zero-resulting in an explosion of ideas and a low cost of collaboration. This has prompted a great deal of innovation, but also a complexity, speed and capacity for amplification that makes the world a difficult and dangerous place for many organizations and human-made systems designed for a slower and simpler era.

The cost of planning, predicting and managing rapidly changing, complex systems often exceeds the cost of actually doing whatever is being planned and managed. In fact, it can be often easier to try something and iterate than to try to predict the outcome and manage the risks. Most great ideas as well as dramatic failures have been unpredictable and are only obvious in hindsight. (Don't get me wrong: foreknowledge and planning are useful and, often, necessary; they're just not sufficient.)

In such a world, leadership hinges on the ability to master a broad set of skills and character traits necessary for fostering a robust system, including courage, flexibility, speed, values and a strong vision and trajectory. It's more important to have a strong compass than a detailed street map since the map is probably outdated and wrong.

These kinds of decentralized models of leadership have been evolving and emerging in a variety of situations ranging from battle (virtual and real) to religions. The Internet has just super-charged the importance of this type of leadership in almost every organization.

Managers in large corporations no longer have the promise of promotions and long-term employment to keep employees obedient and hard working. Central corporate R&D and planning organizations can no longer provide detailed maps of the world to their staff and partners. Innovation is happening in the most unlikely parts of the organization-often outside of the organization.

Leadership today is about empowering those around you share your vision, embrace serendipity, have the courage to take risks and learn from failure rather than be crushed by it. Diversity must be embraced and organizational borders made porous. Assets such as intellectual property and lines of software code must not prevent aggressive agility. Organizations must be willing and able to pivot away from attachment to such assets lest these assets become liabilities holding back innovation and progress.

In this new world, leaders must be courageous, visionary and comfortable in an environment where control and complete knowledge are impossible and their pursuit futile and counterproductive.