Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Thank everyone for all of the constructive feedback and support in getting my thoughts to where they are. This was a community effort and a great example of emergent democracy itself. I've posted version 1.0 of the paper. I'm going to get the translators started on this. I missed various points that came up in the email dialog. I hope I can integrate them in this paper or work with everyone on the next paper. I'm happy to continue to get suggestions for version 2.0. It was a bit rushed since the publishers are on my case to get this finished, on the other hand it probably wouldn't haven't gotten this far so quickly if it weren't for the pressure. ;-)


Last paragraph:

resist increasing control if intellectual property

-> of intellectual property.

I agree with that, but note that the Koizumi government wants the opposite, as in the IP Basic Law and the report promoting a "Nation Built on Intellectual Property".

Thanks Karl-Friedrich! Fixed the typo and believe the IP plan of the Japanese government is probably flawed although I am not an expert. Can you tell me where I can learn more? Your blog?

Joi, it occured to me the other day to ask if you have read Malcom Gladwell's "The Tipping Point". If you have not, I definitely think you would enjoy it, what with a desire to create a revolution. Might give you some ideas.

Here's a link to a recent radio interview with him.
(and the amazon link to the book, just for convenience)

Yes. I've read it. I think that's where the law of 150 comes from...


I am doing a translation of the IP Basic Law on my blog (linked in my post above) and there is also the link to the English version of the commission report "Nation Built on Intellectual Property" in my post above.

More details (in Japanese) are here.

I think it would be fair to say that Japan is set firmly on a course of IP inflation right now.

Do you have any french translator ?

Otherwise, time permitting, i could give you a rought one.

François, that would be totally fantastic!

This article has really grown. Was inspired to look at the pieces of a blog in the current state of the art, just enumerate the pieces for what it's worth, as it's not exactly off the shelf or standard, and can safely say too bad, this, et seq., is not the way to go about it, as there is making a blog, posting to it in various ways, and then there is the dynamic, interactive result. Comment mechanisms, for example, are quite variable. Basically, it's up to the author to not only post, but install and maintain the medium for the post to varying extents. The recent evolution of Justin's Links is a perfect example. This electronic paper is quite different from paper as otherwise considered to be.

What of the silent majority, the non-active participants in a time of great ferment and challenge? In the case of not-bloggers, this might be still be 99% and above even when limited to considering people who are computer literate. The very idea of posting. It must be a case of the massive power of a wise inertia to resist harm no matter what, and proceed like always. In the case of weblog initiatives, if it is co-opted by surveillance worst case, then non-participation is rewarded. If tracking and profiling turns out to be a tolerable annoyance like credit rating, then more and more people will join the party, deal with the pitfalls and move forward, with perhaps a few lingering concerns about future adversarial situations, particularly the adversary's day in court where some embarrassing detail in the record or cache is dredged up perhaps totally out of context.

The weblog phenomenon is global in reach if not impact at the moment. In photoSIG, a member routinely encounters considerable international participation, where authors write in whatever languages they can, though English is clearly key. The difficulty in access to appropriate, accurate expression across linguistic barriers is a barrier, a challenge, but in media such as photography and music, this point is moot.

I found the essay both succinct and thought-provoking. Ultimately, however, there seems to be way too much emphasis placed on the tools, on the technology.

Instead of being viewed as enablers, the tools come across as drivers of a process. Ultimately, the human experience is missing from the picture.

respect, ashley

Good job, Joi! As you know, I believe it is important to include a discussion of the public sphere a an important component of democracy. I recommend reading Lee Salter's paper that I sent you as an attachment -- it isn't on the web anywhere yet -- as one of the best contemporary takes on that. I believe that a lot of what you are talking about has to do with new means of acces to the public sphere.

Thanks for the comments. I just made a similar comment in another entry, but I tried to focus initially on the toolmakers because they are testing the medium and creating the architecture. Until the Net is more ubiquitous and the tools easier to use, it will not be truely part of the democracy. My thought is that by the time it is available to everyone, much of the architecture will be decided.

If you look at the development of IP and the Internet. A LOT of the Internet, for instance, Alternet that because UUNet was built because geeks wanted to exchange porn, talk about drugs and generally do things that the government didn't want on their network. By the time that non-geeks started using the tools, much of the tools were done. That's one of the reasons we have spam. SMTP, the mail protocol, doesn't authenticate the sender when it receives mail. People didn't think about it when they created the protocol and now it's too ubiquitous.

Therefore, I am trying to get the toolmakers to understand that they are doing a lot more than building tools for diaries and that things should be built into the architecture from the begining to enhance democracy, protect privacy, protect the commons, etc.

I do think the paper is a bit weak about how it expands into the public sphere and becomes more inclusive. I will have to work on it. Thanks for the paper Howard!

Addressing the brilliant comment from ashley benigno, it is perhaps extremely important to discuss under the "Democracy" heading a strong drive itself, similar to the hunger for democracy in China that the statue in San Francisco, Portsmouth Square commemorates. Many potential tools for advancing the cause of democracy have come and gone with disappointing results, but perhaps a participatory tool such as a weblog is a step in the right direction, at once simple, just write, but on reflection very complex, involving as it does advanced technology and quite formal ways to use it.

Interesting essay. I agree with Howard about the emergence of new public spaces. However, in his Smart Blogs and in your essay, I don't recall a single reference to "should," to ethics. We are not swarms of ants. We are people endowed with choice, ethics, responsibility. What responsibility do we have as citizens, rich or poor, in the public sphere. I am uneasy with the Zeitgeist being the deus ex machina here. Democracy isn't some law of the telcosm. It is, I think, a matter of rediscovering the language of the public sphere and reawaking its hold on our conscience, even to the extent of putting the language of the market, or even of technology, aside for a moment. Rights? Duties? Obligations? Social contract? "Endowed by the Creator..."

Or would feel more at home with ants?

Joi Ito, thanks for the reply. You make a valid and interesting point. Interesting because it implies that we need to bring a variety of perspectives, a multidisciplinary outlook to the things we do. Valid because more often than not this does not happen (and here, as a random example, I think of “analog” architecture and all those supposedly functional concrete tower ghetto blocks that have virulently spread across the urban zones of the globe).

And yet it is vital that we bring a renaissance style of thinking to our activities – the ability to mix science and arts, ethics and imagination, can help ignite the(r)evolutionary potential implicit in our digital artifacts.

We can employ our tools to help us design and implement a different world, a different way of living. Alternatively we can fall prey to the allure of techno-fetishist fantasies.

Anyway, don't want to take up too much of your comment space. But I've added a few more considerations on my blog under "F15, the blogosphere and emergent democracy" (sorry but permalinks are not working on blogspot at present)

Thanks again for your comments everyone. We've been having a parallel debate on email and have come upon some of the same issues. Steven Johnson, the author of Emergence writes about this in his blog:

Steven Johnson
The objection revolves around the fact that humans are both more nuanced than ants in their assessments of the world and their decision-making capacity, and that they're capable of understanding the dynamics of the larger system in ways that ants cannot. As Adina Levin says, "The atoms of ant action are simple: pick up crumb, bring crumb to ant colony. The atoms of human action are more complicated: identify people and groups interested in opposing Total Information Act, encourage people to persuade local congressperson."

I think there's a lot of validity to the distinction, but I still think there's value in thinking about ants in this context. To me, when you're talking about emergent democracy in the online world, the equivalent of the ant is not the individual human, it's the software. The atoms of human action are indeed incredibly sophisticated ones, but the atoms of software that enables those actions to connect in new ways are much simpler. It's more like: "follow this link, connect this page to other pages that share links, look for patterns in the links." The decision-making process that leads one human to link to another person's page is indeed more complex than the instinctual actions of ants following pheromones, but the decision of the software to manipulate those links, and learn from them, is much more like the way ants behave ---- or at least it could be, if we choose to build it that way. I think the problem with my paper is that it mixes the human behavior stuff with the behavior of the tools. (If you could call it that.) I think that emphasising the public sphere, WHY we do what we do, and the human aspect IN ADDITION to the the more scientific "techno-fetishist fantasies" would make it better. I would try to work on a re-write this weekend. I do think that the scientific analysis of emergence is important, but that I need to emphasize the human side so that it doesn't get eclipsed by the technology. Or should this be a separate paper?

Also, Ashley, you've added a great deal of value to my blog and this discussion so I do hope you will continue to post here. I'm going to add your blog to my RSS reader so I'll be watching you there as well.


I really love the idea of emergent democracy, but I think there are some more things we need to do if we're serious about bringing it about in addition to the ones mentioned in your essay. I've contributed to the discussion as best I can on my blog.


A thoughtful and thought-provoking paper. I found myself asking a whole series of questions outside of the technology focus of the paper, about whether people will really engage with a greater level of direct democracy and, if they do, whether that is necessarily an improvement. I have no answers but my questions can be found here.

For slightly obscure technical reasons, my questions (see previous comment) have been moved and now appear here. Apologies to anyone who ended up at a blank page.

There are still a few typos and other errors in the text as published, so I offer some suggested corrections

Red means "delete", green "insert"


Thanks Chris! This will get me off my butt to do another revision.

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