Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I was noodling around trying to organize "the space" in my head and put this picture together. The x axis is the "context". IE low context is stuff like CD's and books which don't change, are worth approximately the same amount to most people and don't have much timing or personal context. The far right is very personal, very timing sensitive, high context information such as information about your current "state". Then there is everything in between. The top layer is the type of content sorted by how much context they involve. The next layer is how they are aggregated and syndicated. Below that are substrates that are currently segmented vertically, but could be unified horizontally with open standards. Anyway, just a first path. Thoughts and feedback appreciated.

UPDATE: Changed color to red and edited the examples to be brand agnostic.



It's interesting. I think you might want to consider the information theory implications of ties, though. Weak ties are high novelty, thus high information (in Bateson's sense), while strong ties are low novelty, thus low information. This impacts in how you should consider your diagram.

I also think your substrates are ordered as they exist, rather than as they should be. Go ahead, fill in the security box... Make my day. :)

Very interesting Joi and nicely visualized. What about video, I guess that belongs with voice?

I think Privacy should be built on top of Identity; then users can choose to be anonymous but backtracked if they aren't behaving.. useful for example for tracking and blocking anonymous spammers. Another example of Privacy on top of Identity is political voting; you need privacy, but you also need the ability to verify that each vote is given by one person eligible for voting. :)

Joi ! I thought you had given this slide to me confidentially... I wanted to use it -saying it was my own- now I cannot do it anymore everybody knows about it ;=)

Eh, my slide! I gave it to Joi last week! ;-)

(Blagues du lundi)

Loic, after reading your entry about ideas being worth nothing, I decided to post this and get feedback instead of thinking it was actually worth anything. ;-)

Hi...I hope you don't mind if I probe your diagram also. I'd like you to consider the relationship of blog and email- a blog post reaches the whole world instantly! My email still takes hours to arrive..if it does.

I see the top line as self (identity), the second as friends and family (social/rec), the third as work ($)...and network becoming the zero level because you forgot needs (food/clothing/shelter). Friend or Foe? Your friend, Mary (


And to what use might one put something like this?

Well, when more or less complete one could ask what's missing? I mean by that things you may think of interest that somehow didn't get into the mix. For example, for some time I have carried in my task list "Review Globalization and Its Discounters by Joseph Stiglitz." But I never seem to get to it. This is, of course, a very specific thing, but it represents an interest in globalization than I am not developing as fully as I think I would like.

Which, of course,leads to the question "Why not?"

This, in turn, causes me to wonder what this "brain map" might look like if I mapped atop it time spent on each of the activities.

Are there any revelations in this exercise that tell one more about oneself and lead to behavior change?

It's a bit like taking inventory, isn't it?

I'm also wondering whether writing this down changes reality. That is, one's biases affect the outcome. One would tend to understate the bad and overstate the good. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle appled to the mind, as it were.

Very provocative idea.


Joi = I like your thoughts about content and context. Take a love letter -- perhaps it is one from your father to your mother, quite old.

Maybe it is one from Napoleon to Josephine, even older, perhaps more valuable, but is it more or less valuable to YOU than your parents' letter?

Maybe it is a love letter to your partner from someone else, you came home early and got the mail to find the treacherous screed -- a stranger saying such things to her?!?

Or perhaps it is something private you wrote to someone and somehow ended up posted to the web for all to read.

On the web (and elsewhere), sex and love are always hot content because no matter what else we pretend to be busy doing here on Earth (building bridges, solving world hunger, writing nifty software) we know we are here to mate.

Cheers -- H

epistimologically, this is a an ok beginning; to map out the context and coorelate it to aspects of loose connection versus tight connection: "Mann's Family area Network" is useful. the detourment idea should be worked in to figure out how the ideas go beyond Kantian geometric catagorization to better mirror the enginneering that is increasingly sculpting our social structures; the non eucleadian has also architecual influence on persons like virilio who bring speed into such consepts; speed then infuencing the building and roads that funnel our behaviours.

how democracy and current social structure evolves from your hypothesised chart would make for an interesting article; I did try to meet you in NYC to discuss how hospitals are evolving given this new technology.

please change colors for us color blind...

as for the heisenberg uncertainty; please refer to the end of post modernism when 9/11 happened; there is no more room for uncertainty in a world of terrorism with weapons of mass destruction; therefore using this as a metaphore is old fashion right now;

LaPlace is more important given its function in both Schroedingers equation; Professors manns pipes in the Decon building as well as Napoleans logistic planning; all makes sense to me...well most of it does...


Hi Joi,

You may want to check out 'Beyond Culture' by Edward Hall, if you haven't already. He talks about the continuum of culture from low context societies to high. His work is about social relationships within cultures but I think your extension to relationships with data is an apt one.

In my own opinion, I think most efforts at forming communities on the web are attempts to create higher context relationships using a low context medium (bits of text or 1s and 0s if you get down to the lowest level).

Hally, did you read kierkegaard'd "For Self Examinations"?

there is a passage about a love letter and misunderstandment and the idea of faith; Kierkegaard goes on to argue the task of the translator of greek to danish...Babblefish changes this argument fundamentally.

Voice still domainates in any network and if you think about it, voice is basically a consumer content for the consumer. This is similar to what we are seeing in blogging. Hence, I dont think there is a need to differentiate producer and consumer.

and aviod hegelian thoughts!

Foucalt's idea of the gaze works better...the ability to real time and measure all gazes from an Eye Tap perspective could work either for democracy or against....diffusionism refers to multiple shooting back nodes against injustice...but the individuals need to be mentally prepared for how they work together as post decon agents.

It is also interesting to think how the information moves on this matrix.
For example, "Somebody tells very interesting weblog article by e-mail to the friends ", or "give my favorite CD to my brother" etc..

I recently finished reading
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud, and perhaps it helps me understand something with respect to your "High (personal) context" vs. "Low (personal) context" and the "audience reach" of a particular item?

If I make a phone call to my father, it reaches (or is mainly interesting) to just us two.

If I blog about my phone call with my father, it may contain less personal content than the original phone call but has reach for a wider audience: my brother, sisters and family. Perhaps even on a private blog.

If I write a book, movie, comic strip, etc. about a generically recognizable character calling their parent, it contains still less "personal" content (although it can still contain some), but reaches a broader possible audience in the least time critical or 'personal privacy' requiring way.

The actual information content exchanged in all three cases can even be roughly equivalent, but the form (or context) changes as the potential reach grows (and the "very personalized" content drops).

Just a thought

writing with chop sticks on pocket pc;

video phone is evolving as is applied projective geometry which is reconvergance of forms with practicallity; just as limitations of parrallel lines do intersect in the 2-d world of image processing (INCLUDING video).

this brings down kantian catagorization which reflects immature understanding of neuroscience;

furthermore, organizing things in terms of the private removes issues of how advertising spams the consciousness and theft of solitude cpu. parrallel processing begins with natures most effetive processor, the brain. removal of concepts to the abstract forms has reach a current limit and now we come back to the practical with invention...which removes uncertainty and brings us to the decon era; the decon theatre representing removal of our tools and demostrating to ourselves reflectionism of detournment to the n th power...the square root of derrida appraching simultanous degrees of freedom and privacy reflective of our biologic stage of age. the cycles of history go in different directions until the accident or catastrophy to redirect us...for better or worse.

To say that music is low context is to ignore the dramatic shifts that are occuring in Digital Media. You may want to think about future vectors that shift current standings on your "context" rankings.

Hi Joi,
Your 'mapping the space' thing is interesting to me, as I've been working on graphic continua to characterize phenomena in CALL (computer assisted language learning). E.g. fig. 3 of my recent paper, Semiotics of CALL, seems to overlap your graphic in a fertile way. Thanks for the stimulus.

Nice diagram! You could also add the idea of media cycles: let's say I wrote something for a newspaper, and the newspaper adds my web address (or I'm easy to google). Then people can go to my website, read other stuff I wrote, then perhaps proceed to my blog or wiki and comment about it, and even go personal with e-mail, SMS or IM if provide them with means to do so... I've been playing with this idea in practice for a while and it works, so now I'm trying to model it...

Yeah, I erased a bunch of company/product names to protect the innocent and the guilty. Sony is on the low context side because I was referring to their consumer electronics division.

Yes. Speed/time is an axis I was thinking of adding. I think it's important. I think, as Mary points out that high context stuff isn't necessarily faster.

Poo : Yes, OmniGraffle... I love it.

Halley : true... I think everyone HOPES their mating is highly contextual. ;-)

David : I love Beyond Culture and talk about it a lot here.

Jun : exactamundo. The relationship between and the movement between the different modes is a whole other thing that needs to be explored. Roji, in the trackbacks below starts exploring that as well.

James : Yes... I'm going to check out that book.

Stefanos : I think video can be one to one, one to many or many to many and can be in any context... no?

Jake : true... I guess I should re-lable that "music produced and protected by the RIAA"

Enrique; right... cycles is a good word.

OK, so maybe I'll take another hack at the map of the space, but how do I visualize the cycle/movement/relationship-between-the-pieces everyone is poking at?

Joi, maybe it has to have a moving element? Like an animated gif or a small movie? Or maybe Flash-animated such that you could follow various paths through the map?

I'm not sure, but I think to the left of your "Major Label CDs" might still be one more: something akin to "advertising", company logos (icons/symbols), etc.? i.e. a form of communication exchange perhaps requiring the least person-to-person context and having the broadest reach?


One question and one comment; take a penny, leave a penny. ;)

1) What do you mean when you say DMCA'ed Players?

2) One of the issues you haven't dealt with is relationship. It would be hard to argue that cellphones are not a medium and mode of high and contrasting context but the distribution is 1 to 1 (for the general case). Something like IRC on the otherhand is a medium that is 1 to Many. This relationship in some instances holds *more* context than a 1 to 1 relationship as the "presence" as you term it is more far-reaching. Perhaps if you were able to tie these ideas together with your commentary on Emergent Democracy you could have some very interesting ideas on Emergent Democracy as a form of movement. (perhaps?)

Your thoughts?


intr.v. Slang noodled, noodling, noodles

To improvise music on an instrument in an idle, haphazard fashion

James and David. Good thoughts.

I was trying to be vendor agnostic, but I was talking about Media Player when I wrote DMCA'ed player.

Also, I think some of you are taking my doodle turned noodle way to seriously. ;-) Let's start a noodle train...

I do need to re-edit the Emergent Democracy Paper again though. Treating your thoughts here with mroe respect and taking a hack at the paper together makes a lot of sense...

Linking it and showing relationships needs some pivoting mechanism--it'd show some intestings differences by demographic, etc.

For me the most interesting piece of this diagram is how empty the middle seems. For developed and emerging nations, the masses basically are the at the high and low extremes (i.e. everyone has phones, friends and watches TV). In the middle, however, these are spaces that are less clearly synchrnous/asynchrounous, take more thought and more consciousness. I'd guess that geeks with disposable income would fill up this middle.

I think it's because in the middle are basically access technologies to help someone move closer or away from the endpoints. For example, if you're trying to become a mainstream author and sell your writings a blog may one day help you move into getting exposure on a mass market web site, moving you to the left and hence more exposure until you can get a book deal. Or, if you're looking for a spouse/emotional fulfillment, weak tie social networks and IMming with strangers will move you to the right, eventually talking on the phone with someone and meeting them in person. Of course these are the extreme examples but could these just be ways to manage how 'connected' we really want to be.

also remember that the brain processes info in different parts; part of Mann's brain wave experiment was in relation to alph wave in the occipital lobe; this is where the brain also processes faces as well as other images; the amagdalia in the middle part of the brain processes emotions; Alzheimer's studies demonstrate a loss of ability to remember faces early on but emotional identification is later on;

the brain also processes moving pictures differently from still images;

brain mapping with stronger tesla magnets is showing where the brain light up with different stimulus;

so to contextualize the stuff above, ones thoughts broadcast could act as a artificial memory bank using an Eye Tap prothetic;

moving and emotional ques could get around damaged neural fibers; this is what xybernaut is doing in treating aphasic patients; both old from strokes and young with autism;

my one autistic patient responsdes to pop music and can flip channels as a form of communication...but one has to be open and very observant to understant that there is a two way communication using consumer technologies build into the hospital entertainment system. so what to you and I seems like enviromental clutter, one can cut and paste to make meaningful statements...remember that Kana and Kanja language are processed in different parts of the brain...good referance in Kandell and Schwartz, which is the standard neuroscience text that no body has time to read in med school any more.

attending asstive tech lech; ieee; got to hear about wearables and disabilties/...somehow, privacy changes with illnes

This is a great exercise. Thanks for taking a swag at it, Joi. I have two points to add. One is that Aggregation Search needs an Aggregation Store side of the equation, as once I find what I am looking for (email, web content, photos, multimedia, information listings, etc.), I kind of don't want to have to find it again. Plus, the same piece of information may have multiple contexts, but ideally I only need to maintain one copy of the information.

Two is that there is an interesting straddle point between the low intimacy, broad ties of social networks and the high intimacy, deep ties of personal networks. Ideally, I can either start wide and then go deep, as contexts define themselves, or start deep and go wide, as breadth becomes apparent. Halley's comments speak to scenarios along these lines, but my main point is that the straddle point needs to support information flows propagated in either direction.

I think this is great and I've been staring at the brand-specific version all day after pulling it on an RSS feed. Before I got back online looks like everyone has said what I was going to. This is going to be very interesting. Right on.

a. Maybe a grad thesis: Attention economics + memetic flow using your chart as a Leontief Input/Output Table. Like money moving through sectors of the economy, person-minutes of attention (and ideas) flowing through segments of context space. (thanks, Enrique, for bringing this up)

b. You defined all things telephony as highest context. Do tools that enable real life, non-mediated interactions (meetups, internet cafes, bars, school cafeterias, bordellos) have higher context than phones?

c. You're showing producer/consumer in the middle of the spectrum, but with p2p telephony on the right and DIY CD/DVD/TV on the left, shouldn't this be a separate dimension? Or not on the chart at all?

d. I'm not sure I agree about the left side of the branding layer. Corporate brands are a mix of multiple personal relationships (strong and weak ties), and aggregate reputations; I'm thinking of all the airline people I meet when I take an trip. A better grid for branding might be context quantity (individual vs. collective) and context quality (strong vs. weak).

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