Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Martti Ahtisaari

Martti Ahtisaari, Marko's father, just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Martti "is a former President of Finland (1994-2000) and a United Nations diplomat and mediator, noted for his international peace work.

Ahtisaari's most recent appointment was as UN Special Envoy at the Kosovo status process negotiations, aimed at resolving a long-running dispute in Kosovo which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008." (Wikipedia)

Marko is an old friend that I've known and worked with for many years and have had the opportunity to meet his father Martti on several occasions. I was always impressed by Martti's strong, patient and thoughtful style. It is also interesting to note that Marko embodies many of Martti's qualities and demeanor.

Congratulations on a very well-deserved award and thank you for your contribution to world peace.

The photographs

I thought you should see these photographs. They're both powerful and moving. They highlight the awful disease XDR -TB, a new and deadly form of tuberculosis that is threatening to become a global pandemic.

By viewing and passing on this link we can help to spread awareness, which is the first step to halting the disease. XDRTB.ORG (

(As background, the photographs were taken by leading photojournalist James Nachtwey and were 'unveiled' on October 3rd, 2008 in more than 50 cities on seven continents as a deliberate attempt to highlight this new danger faced by the world.)

I first learned about drug resistant TB when I read Mountains Beyond Mountains by Paul Farmer. (Thanks for giving me that book Reid.)

These photos add another level of reality to the story that Doctor Farmer tells and also reminds me that I really haven't done anything about it.

If you don't know about XDR - TB, watch this slideshow and visit the site.

Via Jim via TED

As an amateur photographer I found the following talk by James Natchwey very powerful.

TED talk by James Nachtwey

In the early 1990s, construction investment overall in Japan consumed 18.2 percent of the gross national product, versus 12.4 percent in the United Kingdom and only 8.5 percent in the United States. Japan spent about 8 percent of its GDP on public works (versus 2 percent in the United States -- proportionally four times more). By 2000 it was estimated that Japan was spending about 9 percent of its GDP on public works (versus only 1 percent in the United States): in a decade, the share of GDP devoted to public works has risen to nearly ten times that of the United States. -- The colossal subsidies flowing to construction mean that the combined national budget devotes an astounding 40 percent of expenditures to public works (versus 8 to 10 percent in the United States and 4 to 6 percent in Britain and France). -- by 1998 it (the construction industry) employed 6.9 million people, more than 10 percent of Japan's workforce--more than double the relative numbers in the United States and Europe. Experts estimate that as many as one in five jobs in Japan depends on construction, if one includes work that derives indirectly from public-works contracts. -- In 1994, concrete production in Japan totaled 91.6 million tons, compared with 77.9 millions tons in the United States. This means that Japan lays about thirty times as much per square foot as the United States. -- By the end of the century...shoreline that had been encased in concrete has risen to 60 percent or more. -- There are more than a thousand controlled hazardous substances in the United States,...In Japan, as of 1994 only a few dozen substances were subject to government controls...

Japan spends more money on roads than on education and more on building hospitals than on paying doctors. Construction and politics in Japan are extremely intertwined. This I find it amusing when the new Prime Minister is the former president and from the family of one of the largest cement companies, Aso Cement. Nothing personal for or against PM Taro Aso, but it's just so clear. ;-)

Goodbye letter from Lehman Brothers

I get a sense that this sudden "wait a sec, do we really need investment banks anymore?" is the tip of the iceberg of a collapsing of a whole genre of financial services and products that are just obsolete once you have easy access to information and low transaction costs.

While derivatives and securitization of risk so other people can buy it makes sense, the incentive of a company full of people getting paid a crapload of money to do this is to make products that they can sell for more than they're worth. Even with regulation, risk information is omitted and the focus is on selling, not on providing the buyer/user with complete information and low transaction costs. Instead, information is hidden and there is transaction friction everywhere from management fees and transaction fees.

Hand made markets like this made sense when transaction costs costs were high and all this stuff needed to be aggregated and managed, but it doesn't REALLY make that much sense anymore.

This is similar to academic publishers who charge professors to print their papers in journals that the publishers then charge schools and libraries to read. What the professor wants is to be most widely read. Before the Internet, this made sense and was worth the hefty ($10K+ for a single physics journal subscription) price because having physical distribution to libraries was the only way to make sure your paper was distributed to every school. With the Internet, it just doesn't make sense anymore. Now the copyrighted materials can't be viewed without subscriptions and a huge percentage of our academic works are "dark" to developing nations and non-academics.

I think there are a lot of industries and services which were once super important, but have yet to face the reality of our low-cost digitally connected world.

My guess is that even in financial services, there is a bunch more stuff to go. As I bounce from bank to bank trying to find the cheapest exchange rate, I just can't imagine why things like foreign exchange just can't happen with less friction and more information. Banks want to charge a ridiculous percentage/spread/transaction fee and I have so much incentive and ability to avoid this. In fact, I bet MOST things banks do could be redesigned to happen without them.

I can imagine a sort of Web 2.0 for financial services with paypal-like services that store your money and all kinds of financial transactions provided by a huge number of global providers. This would drive competition to increase quality, lower price and would also foster an industry of analysts and information providers who independently helped you make the right decisions. If all of this could be integrated, much like how a lot of the consumer Internet services are grouping up around open standards and specifications, you could get rid of a huge chunk of costs and skewed interests where the people who are giving you advice are also the people who are trying to make money off of your transactions.

Of course we need regulation and fraud protection, but I'm sure there is a more effective way to do this than having some bureaucracy oversee a bunch of overpaid suits who don't understand technology.

My apology in advance to my friends who work at banks. I don't think banks will go away, but I think they need to aggressively adapt to technical changes and rethink why they exist and what people need them for and stop relying on legacy notions and government regulation to protect them from competition. As we have just recently witnessed, things can change VERY quickly.

I'm not a banker or an economist, so what do I know... but just some thoughts from an amateur.

Mizuka, Yoshiaki Ohkami, Keiji Takeda, and Maria Yogo

I just got back from my second trip to Dubai. (Flickr Set)

I first visited Dubai (Flickr Set) with Jay Dvivedi and Mr. Yashiro after our trip to Bahrain (Flickr Set) in December 2007. The Bahrain trip was to attend a conference organized by Della van Heyst.

The trip to Bahrain and Dubai last year, combined with my recent interactions with my Creative Commons team in the Middle East made me understand just how important this region was culturally and politically and how completely ignorant I was about everything going on there.

Since December of last year, I've been working hard to try to understand the region by talking to Mohamed at Al Jazeera, Donatella who is working for Creative Commons in the region and everyone else I know who knows a lot about the Middle East. However, I realized that there is only so much you can pick up second hand.

I spent a week in Dubai with Mizuka meeting various people. I met some local Japanese including Japanese Ambassador Hatano (in Abu Dhabi), Hiro Hosoi of NTT Communications, Mr. Takeda and Mr. Ohkami from Keio University and Maria Yogo. I hung out with Jay and his friends Balall and Nazia as well. (Special thanks to Jay, Balall and Nazia for spending so much time taking us around.)

My conclusion after this visit is that I really want to spend some time getting to understand the Middle East and that I will make Dubai my base because of the strong infrastructure, relatively freedom and proximity to the rest of the Middle East and eventually Africa (which I want to get into next.)

Luckily, it looks like there will be plenty for me to do. I'll be visiting Jordan in November to speak at a university there about CC, then I've been invited back to Abu Dhabi again in November to speak as well. (This is possibly not confirmed...) It looks like we'll be doing something with Al Jazeera in Doha next year as well. (Stay tuned...)

Also, Creative Commons has a relationship with Ziad Marqa in Jordan and Hala Essalmawi at The Library of Alexandria in Egypt and I'm looking forward to spending more time with them.

Anyway, I plan to spend an increasing amount of time in the Middle East and will try to document it a bit more thoroughly than I've been documenting my travels recently. (Yeah, I'm slacking on my blog. Sorry.)