Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Posted By Thomas Crampton

Blogs have lowered the barriers to entry into the marketplace for ideas: With what implications?

It formerly took powerful ideas (Marxism, Buddhism, Democracy) or those backed by capital (ie: printed in publications) to galvanize large audiences.

Now anyone, of any age, anywhere with Internet access and time can put their ideas into the marketplace.

The result is that not only do Blogs/Internet open the way to easily transmit mediocre ideas (such as this posting!), but they also open the way for a new style of collaborative thinking. (Will we start seeing idea mergers and hostile idea takeovers? - to absurdly follow the market analogy.)

This new marketplace brings certain strengths and weaknesses.

Will it increase ideologies or weaken them?

Seems clear it would de facto support a pro-technology ideology. Bloggers may find they resemble one another in some ways more than they resemble people in their own countries.

That said, large groups of people can have both intelligence and a mob-mentality.

Will Blogs/Internet change our methods of thinking?


I love the phrases "idea merge" and "idea takeover." It reminds me of years of bickering I've seen regarding forums conversation ettiquette. Some places are very strict about being "on topic" while others seem to welcome or even encourage taking the conversation in any direction it wants to go, as long as it's interesting and unrepetitive.

It is difficult to find a place that encourages serious arguments though. It tends to fall into trollishness and rhetorical attacks far too quickly. In part I think this is because many people don't converse via text using the same social rules they apply face to face. I'm sure all of us have met "internet blowhards" more than once. The level of respect doesn't seem as high as I expect. Perhaps the social barriers that keep people separate from each other in "real life" have simply melted here, with conflict resulting?

I'm very curious about how wikis and things of that ilk are maintained... I am a bit cynical and find such open-ended collaboration hard to believe. I always expect to find someone ready to throw a monkey wrench in the gears just to amuse themselves.

For someone in the US this seems like a novelty, but elsewhere it's clearly a life or death struggle. Discussion of "internet addiction" clinics in China on slashdot the other day brought that clearly into focus for me.


If there is a "marketplace" for ideas, it is still the same old marketplace. The only difference is that the vendor fees are reduced.

The existing marketplace already has things like idea mergers and hostile idea takeovers (witness any modern political campaign). I don't see that there is going to be any difference in this regard. Propaganda in the service of ideology is nothing new.

I think that the marketplace analogy is a bit weak in that people do not purchase ideas. They search around for ones that might fit them and modify them as necessary. It does seem apt in that like a market, people only "buy" what they need. Increasing the number of boxes on the shelves does not fundamentally make people consume more ideas. They take what they want and after that, the market has no power to push more. The possibility of more variety of ideas is exciting to idea junkies like me, but even I find that original ideas are few and far between. The most frequent result of reading someone else's idea is either that it tests my own existing ideas or it makes me think someone else is an idiot :-). Facts on the other hand are immensely useful in putting power behind ideas.

Personally, I don't think that the changes made will fundamentally change our methods of thinking. There will be change on the margin, but the process of thinking itself looks to be pretty similar to that of the earliest recorded thinkers. The facts available and perhaps the speed of testing ideas may be faster.

Anyway, it is something to think about.

As for bloggers supporting a pro-technology ideology, well, that takes a pretty narrow view of blog writers and readers. There is nothing to convince me that pro-faith bloggers won't exist and won't have a powerful voice. Even I am a luddite at times.

Well blogs connected people all over the county in 2003 and 2005 took a former doctor and small-time governor of Vermont and created a massive movement that changed politics, motivated millions of young voters, changed campaign finance through small donations from citizens and ultimately put an outsider into the head of the DNC to reform the party from the top to reflect the changes at the bottom. The 2004 election is over but the Dean revolution is no where near from being over. Blogs are helping a movement that is taking back the Democratic party and ultimately the White House and Congress.

Jacob Metcalf
Tech Director Young Democrats of Washington State.

You're looking at this the wrong way. The barrier to entry is not really lower than it was before, since the 'entry' can be as simple as one person telling another an idea they had.

What web/blogs/internet *has* done, is increase the transmitability of ideas (to borrow an epidemiological metaphor).

I'll leave you to draw your own extensions to the metaphor, with corolaries to the rise of cities, more robust immune systems of humans in urban populations, and native populations decimated by 'virgin field' epidemics.

Anyway, we will probably see (are seeing?) initial strengthening of ideologies as that is a local-maxima response for ideas to protect themselves, eliminating competing ideas that are less, hmm..., jingoistic. However, in the long term, more sophisticated idea filters must evolve in response to the competitive pressures that will, literaly, decimate ideas (and likely, their carrying populations) that are too inflexible.

Eventually, we will have some form of public 'mental hygene' analogous to a public health system (including childhood memetic innoculations, etc.), but that is probably several decades away at the soonest.

I am, in all likelyhood, glossing over quite a few horrors along the way. Imagine idea-equivalents to lamarckism, eugenics, and segregation, for starters.

Sorry, I meant 'anti-miscegenation laws', not 'segregation'.

"Will the internet change our thinking ?" Pretty big question.

I think so. The internet is changing the way we think because it breaks down barriers and (information) hierarchies that were in place before.

In my view, it is the next chapter of a development which is a long one: the factors of your current local destination become less important as time passes. A long time ago you were not able to travel fast and far, nor were you able to communicate with people that were not in your vicinity. Noawadays, everybody and a lot more things are accessible, no matter where you are.

The place at which you are now is not as relevant anymore. And I think that this development is not over yet. Just think of Rheingold´s scenario with your friends leaving invisible digital tags on cafes and restaurants as you pass them.

Does this change your thinking ? I think it does.

Great thoughts! (Supporting my idea that Blogs will help thinking)

Jack: I like the idea of blogs allowing speed-testing of ideas. That might imply that thinking does not improve, but bad thinking can be more quickly eliminated.

Michael: The disease analogy is great. The mutation of ideas over time is a strong concept.

Vasco: I am very curious to see the relationship between location and people over time. While I think you are right in many ways about the declining importance of where we actually are, I do think physical location will remain very important.

The evolution of borders between physical being and digital being will be very interesting to watch. (This touches on the point of digital addiction raised by Laconic.)

When barriers to entry were higher, there was a strict weeding process for ideas. Not necessarily fair, but strict.

Now, barriers to entry are low. Anyone can shout ideas. This might mean that we generate more ideas, but it also means that the same bad idea gets generated over and over, just as many people open up new neighborhood restaurants that fail, or the same novel is written over and over by different authors.

(Of course, if you have a *good* idea, the blog / franchise concept means that the idea can grow a lot faster.)

I think in the future 'value' will be less about having ideas, and more about finding the 'right' idea, and knowing how to use it most effectively.

If one thinks about creating change as knowing information, understanding it via ideas or concepts, and acting, I think that the most interesting step is now the 'acting' step.

This can be seen in business, urban design, public transport government, maybe even in art. It's easy to collect information to understand what is going on. The ideas and concepts to understand where we are, what is going on, and where we want to go are becoming more ubiquitous. But having the *right* idea and understanding *how* to travel from where we are now to where we want to be (whether in creating a vibrant arts scene, a loving marriage or a profitable financial services company) is a land of ambiguity.

Blogs are the idea virus. It also permits the convergence of disparate ideas to come together for the best of breed harvest!!

Blogs also permit a piblic 2 way emthod of discourse - this by itself is the mechanics for the "cluetrain".

Thirdly, blogs permits relationship and content mngt like no other technology.

One of my favorite implications is that Blog readers do not necessarily know the age (or other personal baggage) of people contributing.

This lack of information makes a blog discussion about ideas more pure since we are not distracted by incidental elements (such as one person being a professor and the other a student).

Ideas are forced to live or die according to their own strength, not based on the person supporting the idea.

The internet is drawing like-minded individuals together and simultaneously pulling them apart from old affiliations, like nation states. I have a lot more in common with online friends from Tokyo, Berlin, and Buenos Aires, than I do with most people in America.

The same goes for my ideas about politics, consumerism, the environment, and popular culture.

Well, here's an idea sort of reminiscent of Seth Godin's Squidoo.

My thoughts on Squidgy

Will the internet change the way you think? for me it has. My learning style has gone from mostly visual to almost entirely kinesthetic in the scope of a few years with only the net to blame. The expectation of what's behind a link can alter how your mind works. I'm sure that smarter people will read the better blogs, and the network of links and comments will create new ideas for readers.

Sorry, should have posted the link to the Squidoo debate on BuzzMachine.

Read the whole debate here

Noel: very interesting discussion.

For those as uneducated as me:

Kinesthetic learner:

* Learns through moving, doing and touching; these students learn best through a hands-on approach, actively exploring the physical world around them. They may find it hard to sit still for long periods and may become distracted by their need for activity and exploration.

Okay, enough metablogging. Let's test it. Let's just drop a random idea into a blog, like a cork in a stream, and see where it goes.


The "discourse of presupposition" is the cycle of communication of unstated claims presupposed by openly-articulated propositions.


"Harriet Miers will be the type of judge I said I would nominate: a good conservative judge." (George Bush)

The claim Bush is making refers to the issue of whether Miers will hold a conservative line in the Supreme Court, if confirmed, or moderate her views as many conservatives fear, based on their disappointment with previous Republican appointees. The presupposition, an old rhetorical trick, is that Harriet Miers will be judge. Repeat this enough times in the context of different claims, and the public will accept the inevitability of her appointment.

A proposition, even a strong, definitive one, invites opposition by its very syntax. A presupposition, however, buries a strong claim in the part of a proposition that no one is expected, or invited to discuss. If Bush were to say "Harriet Miers will be confirmed" he would, paradoxically, reduce her chances because his claim would introduce doubt.

Political language in totalitarian regimes is characterized by heavy use of the discourse of presupposition, and the Bush administration exercises this mode of communication with great mastery. The discourse of presupposition causes passivity in a populace, and renders it incapable of raising what should be important issues to the level of open debate.

I like the term "competition of ideas". I think that in a democracy the competition of ideas is an essential method for deliberation. Voting is only half the equation and the recall in Calfornia was more like a "vote" button on your TV remote. I really think that increasing the participation of citizens in a deliberative democracy is going to be the pillar of democracy in the 21st century and lowering the barrier is one thing, but protecting freedom of speech is essential.

I agree. And I think that blogs are one of the best means for people to speak their minds freely. It's interesting that the government may come to regulate them and also interesting that many of the blogs themselves won't post your comment without first approving it, which means essentially that they must agree with what you said or they won't let it through. Some will edit it. As I have said somewhere before, editing or 'moderating' comments on someone else's behalf is the worst form of censorship because those people are putting your name to their version of your ideas and/or opinions.

Chris: I like the presupposition tactic. Will keep that in mind when I push for a raise. I find it very interesting studying political rhetoric for the tightness of expression in the way you are pointing out. Poets and politicians parse phrases very carefully.

Noel: Am I public enemy number one in your eyes?!! "Moderating" comments is exactly what I do every day as a journalist writing a story. I often spend more than two hours interviewing someone only to decide that none or perhaps just one phrase of what they said is interesting enough to share with readers in a quote from that person.

Thomas, I think there is a difference between a newspaper and a blog - there's no shortage of space on a blog. Also, blogs are built to openly allow people to share their opinions and engage in debates; newspapers are not. As I'm always saying, the Ancient Greeks would have loved blogging!

When reporting what a person said, even if it is only an excerpt, I would say you report exactly what they said, word for word, and not your version of it, i.e., attribute an exact quote to someone that they did not make. Editing a post on someone else's behalf and leaving their name on it is equivalent to putting words in their mouth.

Having read some of your articles in the International Herald Tribune (pretty much my only source of news these days aside from blogs), I'd say you fall into the category of professional journalism; a rapidly shrinking category, but it's nice to know that some publications and journalists uphold standards.

Re: competition of ideas vs. marketplace of ideas: I was trying to express a thought that what's actually happening is an evolution of the ecosystem of ideas, an ecosystem that has elements of both competition and cooperation, parasitism and symbiosis.

Ecosystems provide many metaphors for the noosphere. For example, Ideologies can be seen as a particular genus of ideas, with many species. In the short-term, ideologies will exploit the increased transmittability enabled by the internet/blogosphere and we will see increased speciation. You can also still see some of the aftereffects of techno-libertarianism's species early colonization of cyberspace (initially a very small eco-niche), though as the niche became larger and more attractive, it is being pushed out by other 'invasive' ideology species.

And so on.

What I found interesting about blogs, is the fact that any of us, as participants in a blog, are lacking information about other participants. As Thomas was mentioning, you may not know the age of who is arguing for or againts you. Not only that, you do not know the country of origin or his or her background. But most importantly, you are not biased about that person´s opinion because do not see how he or she looks. Tall, small, attractive, unattractive, and all those other things that influence our perception of others and subconciously dictate our judgment on that person as well as on his or her opinions.

Developing on this, I would argue that this is as well what provokes absolute free speech and probably allows for inadequate comments with regards to the audience. But since you are not visible, recognisable nor accountable for, you loose all inhibation and share your opinion openly, like you would not do not even with close friends or relatives.

Of course the price for all this freedom and low barriers of entry is quality of opinions and arguments. I suppose and hope that they filter out naturally. This shall be the beauty of it.