Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Gilberto Gil
This photo is actually one that I took at the CC Birthday Party

I'm at Google Zeitgeist and just got a copy of the talk that Gilberto Gil gave. (Thanks Claudio!)

I wish we had such a cool, smart and articulate Minister of Culture.

Since 2003, when I took office as Minister of Culture of Brazil, we have been looking into Digital Technologies as cultural phenomena.

We, at the ministry, have insisted on the strategic role of culture in policy making. This has obliged us to change radically the way to conceive of Politics, State, Society specially in relation to digital technology.

In politics and especially in governments, radical changes are only possible at specific historical moments. Through the insertion of Culture and cultural diversity as a policy making device in the political and managerial governmental equation, we offer society the oppotunity to achieve radical change, step by step, using the day to day inputs of new industrial and social technologies, without the earth quaques of classical revolutionary action. If we look at the new digital possibilities we could easily conclude that they bring a built-in revolutionary device in them selves. Digital Culture initiatives, can play a fundamental role in shaking away the inertia of the traditional politics that has secluded society from public life, generating a vacuum of critical political thinking and even producing cynicism, especially in governmental sectors. We need to aknowledge that traditional politics is failing in advancing democracy and social development.
The conversion of the digital technologies, has created around the Internet a totally peaceful revolution. A bottom up unrest, happening everywhere, which I see as a very positive sign of the rising of a non governmental political movement that I believe to be a direct and matured result of cultural and countercultural movements of our most recent history, in their increasing power to influence public policies.

It is the rise of a peer to peer culture. Peeracy!

What I see in Brazil and in many cuntries, is that these new contemporary political movements don't come from traditional politics. They don't depend totally on representative democracy anymore. On the contrary, they operate outside the electoral system and influence it to some degree. People are more and more eager to engage in politics in a new and proactive way. It seems to me that this collective unrest that can only be met by governments if they really understand the cultural diversity issues and peer to peer actions, and it's implications in the new model of development for the 21st century.

The 21st century technologies represent a huge challenge to regulations. The revolution generated by the convergence of digital technologies obliges us to reinvent the way we do almost everything. I believe that anybody with public responsibility should look into the digital distribution of Intellectual Property as the most direct and powerful way of democratizing knowledge in the history of mankind. But instead we see almost every formal institution insisting on bluntly calling the digital distribution "Piracy".

We should rather be looking at new business's models... and into a burst of freshness in the political regulatory analysis.

The work I have witnessed with the idea and practice of Digital Culture in the Ministry shows us that it is possible to have another form of consonance, somehow radical, I would even say, a "symbiosis" of the State with the civil society.

Many corporations and governments all over the world have positioned themselves conservatively and are trying to block the advance of these digital new possibilities. Every technical revolution creates a reaction like that. Digital distribution of intellectual property, if seen from the analogical perspective, represents a threat to business, security problems and a loss of social control. These perceptions are but momentary setbacks which shall soon be resolved. However, we must be ever vigilant as digital technology, like any other technology, can be used against individuals and society's interests.
That's why I am sure we have not only to humanize, but also politicize these technologies, which means thoroughly discuss them and make them available to society and every citizen. Regulations should be there to insure freedom and open access to knowledge, not just for "business as usual" purposes.

I want to quote my friend Lawrence Lessig, a great contemporaneous thinker and activist; in his book CODE 2.0, he points out to the necessity of new forms of regulation to guarantee the new forms of freedom and human connectivity. Lessig defends the necessity of the presence of the state to guarantee that the internet survives into maturity with its radical social-innovation potential fully in place. For that (he points out) we have to discuss a new political understanding of governance. That if we want to guarantee the collective and emancipating existence of cyberspace, we need to come up with a brand new regulatory framework of thoughts otherwise these libertarian possibilities created by digital technologies will be amputated.

We have brought digital multimedia studios and access to the internet (peer to peer culture) to about 700 hundred grassroots communities all over Brazil.

Today, in Brazil we have traditional communities recording and publishing in the internet their songs or videotaping their work and culture. This burst of fresh air is unchaining new vital ideas, new innovative productions, generating a real empowerment process of an emerging creative society. This process is encouraging and inducing the formation of a network of new cultural multimedia producers in Brazil, a network which will soon be consolidated into a new generation of authors and artists.

This experience with digital technologies in the Pontos de Cultura, the Hotspots, made possible a symbolic exercise, a dialogue between socio-cultural grassroots communities with digital new concepts and contemporary languages. This very rich process begins when the communities, the new cultural producers, start networking and, by doing so, engage in a process of autonomy, free from government or any other control. The transformation starts when the kids in the communities recognize the digital technological devices as cultural performance tools, as a source of diversified references, as a platform for esthetic creation and re-symbolization of their experiences. In other words, social change starts when they understand cyberspace as a territory of their own, when they understand uploading before they ever heard of downloading when they start publishing. This is the exact moment when empowerment takes place. 
Sheer magic!
I want to invite you all to come to Brazil next year to discuss these issues. We will be joining efforts with many institutions both governmental and from civil society as well as companies to thoroughly look into the perspectives of these new digital realities.


In January, my company Digital Garage invested in Twitter and announced plans to work together with Twitter to create a Japanese version of the service. That service just went live.

It's still part of the main Twitter service, but the UI will be in Japanese. One interesting thing that we've done is that we're launching Japan with advertisements. For instance, one of our first advertisers is Toyota which has a Twitter account where they talk about events and products. The ad directs people to their Twitter account where the users can follow that account. Toyota can easily see who their fans are and follow what their fans are saying about them.

Twitter has always been big in Japan. I think it was nearly 30% of Twitter earlier on and has gone to about 13% as the US user base has grown. However, according to Twitterlocal, Tokyo is still the biggest Twitter city.

It's interesting that Twitter is so popular in Japan. It didn't even work properly in Japanese when it launched. (You had to put a Latin space at the end of any Japanese post to make the Japanese appear properly.) Also, Japanese mobile phones don't SMS properly with Twitter as far as I know. Still, it got crazy early adoption in Japan from the beginning. One of my theories is that a lot of services in Japan to be either closed or over-featured portals and simple services with good open APIs are not as common as in the US and it attracts developers and users who are sort of sick of a lot of the bloaty Japanese services.

Hopefully, with this Japanese language version launch, we'll see even more adoption in Japan. Congratulations to the teams at Twitter and DG who worked on this. Good stuff.

UPDATE: ustream of Twitter Japan press conference going on now.

UPDATE 2: Post on Twitter Blog.

Oki Matsumoto of Monex sent me another interesting GDP slide supporting the idea that IT is equalizing GDP per capita.

Before the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, the GDP share of the world was in ratio to the population of each country.

However, due to the rise of ideologies such as capitalism and communism and differences in technology development have significantly influenced the GDP share over the past 150 years.

Nowadays, thanks to IT that allows high propagation of technologies, as well as the commingling of ideologies, the GDP share is moving back to what it had been before the Industrial Revolution.


I ran into Loic at MIPTV in Cannes where I was giving a talk about Creative Commons. MIPTV is "The World's Audiovisual and Digital Content Market" attended by television and mobile phone content industry people. When we were walking along the beach, Loic did a video interview. I got a bit carried away and blunt in the interview. ;-) Apologies for being a bit rude to the champagne-drinking participants of the meeting.

The conference was focused on commercial content so I was talking mostly about CC in the context of marketing. Obviously, there are many other reasons for CC including free culture, open courseware, research, etc.

Shinsei Bank, one of great success stories in Japan, has always been an example of how legacy companies in Japan can be turned around with good management and smart methods. The "methods" include a great deal of innovation towards simplicity by one of my heros Jay Dvivedi. Jay has been evangelizing his approach to IT which uses mostly open Internet, small, off-the-shelf components and a way of breaking complexity into small pieces. I've sent a number of my friends to Jay to have him share his inspiration, but the methods are so different that understanding and believing that they work often takes more than just a conference room meeting.

We had been discussing various way to try to share these ideas. Virginia A. Fuller and David Upton wrote a case for the Harvard Business Review, which is great, but alas is available only to those with permission to read the HBR.

We came up with the idea to release the methods under a CC license and to try to support universities to create open courseware based on these methods. Jay and I met with the president of the bank, Thierry Porté. He liked the idea and told us to move forward. (Video of Thierry Porté and me on YouTube) This week, the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur announced that it would work with Shinsei Bank to develop courseware based on Shinsei Bank's methods and license them under a CC license.

We are working on other universities as well.

I think that the idea of companies sharing the business practices and methods in the form of courseware is a big win for everyone. It establishes them as the domain experts, allows outsiders to validate and contribute to the methods and helps make any universally applicable "upgrades" become part of common practice very quickly. It allows directly feedback and fast iteration. I think that there will always be a place for business schools and academic rigor, but the Internet-like "rough consensus/running code" style of interaction is much more likely to happen through collaborative courseware development than through just cases analysis.