Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

January 2006 Archives

Dagny And Joi Ito Get Jiggy Wid It
Yesterday Larry asked me if I could go to a Creative Commons party with him. "Sure!" I said. "Hamlet Linden has the details. It's at 1PM in Second Life." I showed up in Second Life around 1:30PM and messaged Hamlet who teleported me to a beautiful tree house. Everyone was in kilts dancing. I clicked the play button on the music and my room was filled with the music they were dancing to. I was looking kind of drab in my semi-default gear, so I was quickly handed a kilt. Then I clicked the dance ball and I was dancing around with the rest of them. Soon Larry arrived and talked to everyone about Creative Commons. It was great meeting all of our new friends in such a beautiful place.

See Hamlet Linden's blog for a better post about this party.


Thanks to all who helped contribute a total of L$37,178 to the Creative Commons donation box provided by Pathfinder Linden. All funds are transferred to Lawrence Lessig's Second Life account, and from there sold and converted into US$ that are deposited directly to Creative Commons' official PayPal account. More events to benefit CC will be planned this Wednesday and Saturday; join the Free Culture group to get involved!
Yay! Thanks!

The Live Door thing is dragging the whole Tokyo Stock Exchange down, but there is particularly high impact on IT companies. I'm sitting in a cab right now talking to the cab driver and he's now convinced that all Internet and IT companies are run by scoundrels. "I knew all of this new economy stuff was bullshit," he says. It will be interesting to see what the long term repercussions will be on our industry. On the other hand, we recovered from the Hikari Tsushin collapse so I'm sure we'll recover from this.

Last night all TV channels were running "specials" of Horie and his rise to fame and his recent troubles. The newspapers and TV reports were so amazingly detailed you might think they had been preparing these shows for months. The shows remind me of the scenes in movies where the mob throws vegetables and jeer at the accused during public hangings. This swing from hero to villain is a common thing in Japan. However, I think Horie pissed off more than the usual share of big-shots so he's got a number of powerful constituents fueling the flames. Regardless of his guilt or innocence, I find this public flogging and mob jeering rather disgusting.

My wise attorney in Japan always tells me to try to stay out of the press. There is an old saying in Japan that the press always get to use you twice. They write about you to push you up and they write about you to tear you down. This is clearly the case with Horie.

Things Horie has said in his book and on his blog are being featured prominently in the media. In his book, Horie makes some strong statements. He says that money can buy anything and also talks about cutting chonmage (the samurai hair knots). Both of these statements are stupid and provocative statements in my personal opinion. Note to self: be careful about what you write and say.

This also reminds me of various other public figures that I've known in Japan. I used to work closely with chairman Shima of NHK (the national broadcasting company) and watched as he rose to fame and gained a sense that he was running Japan. I remember being in his office watching a Diet meeting. He grabbed the phone and called someone and told him, "I TOLD so-and-so not to say it that way!" and slammed the phone down. He also regularly told foreign heads of state that he ran Japan. However, when he decided to take on the ruling party and try to make the public broadcasting independent of government control, he was smacked down hard and fast by the LDP. (NHK's budget requires approval by the Diet which is controlled by the LDP.) Ousted with a minor scandal, I remember going to the funeral of his son shortly after his ejection from NHK. The company had ordered former co-workers at NHK not to attended his funeral. Mr. Shima passed away several years later lonely and completely powerless.

There is a long list of people who have been hyped and then smacked down by the media. I would say that those who piss off the media and the ruling party seem to get smacked down the hardest. I know a number of people who have fallen with various scandals, but have rebounded several years later. Many people who were smeared with the Recruit scandal years ago are now back in play.

My advice to people who are thinking of becoming public figures in Japan:

1) Manage media exposure - Take breaks from media appearances and be wary of articles that want to make you look better than you really are. Try to get out from under labels that at first glance may appear flattering but could piss people off or make you look stupid.

2) Don't believe the hype - Obvious point, but EVERYONE seems to get a dose of invincibility madness when the get glowing press and get shuttled around in motorcades. This madness is the weakness that will be exploited.

3) Don't say or do ANYTHING that might be used to tear you down - Japan (not only Japan) is full of situations where people break the law because everyone else does it. Sometimes it feels like securities and corporate statute are at the level of traffic laws - things that can be ignored as long as you don't get caught. The problem is, just because everyone else is doing it, it doesn't mean it won't be used against you. Especially if you are going to take on the establishment, you have to keep yourself squeaky clean.

4) Don't piss people off for fun - There are plenty of situations where people will get pissed off with what you do. There is no point in pissing people off on purpose. Resist the urge.

Just watching the news. The CEO of Life Live Door and 3 others have been arrested. The TV is flooded with this news.

I spent part of the day today in court. I was defending myself against the landlord of a friend of mine who has been unable to pay rent. I am the guarantor on the lease and the landlord has decided to come after me for the money. This is probably the fifth time that I've had debt collectors of various sorts come after me because of guarantees that I've made. I'm sure people wonder why the hell I keep guaranteeing things. The odd thing is that it is so common in Japan. It is as good as required for any significant transaction such as renting an apartment or borrowing money from a bank. Even government affiliated loans require personal guarantees by people other than the principles.

My first experience with these guarantees was back when I was just starting to work in Japan over 15 years ago. I signed a document that listed a transaction breakdown between two affiliated companies. I thought I was a witness. Later, when one of the companies closed down, the other company (owned by the same parent company) came after me as the guarantor of the transaction. I quickly learned what "to guarantee" means and ended up having to pay.

Since then, briefly as the headmaster of a small school, as the CEO of various companies and the friend of people starting companies, I've been asked to and have signed as guarantors for various contracts. The really horrible thing about this Meiji era practice is that it is so common. People seem to think nothing of asking for it and without it it is almost impossible to function. I've spoken with various people in government and business about the damage that this system causes and most people agree. However, I don't see any changes.

When Digital Garage was still not public, the bank required the two founders including myself to guarantee all loans. At one point I had millions of dollars of guarantees outstanding. The crazy thing was that the bank made me sign a "and all lines of credit in the future" form. Even after I left Digital Garage to be chairman of Infoseek Japan, I was still a guarantor for Digital Garage and was only released at the IPO.

One of my portfolio companies failed several years ago. As the lead investor, I went around to the other investors and explained the situation. Two of the other investors asked me to PERSONALLY cover their loss. Both of these companies were public Japanese companies. I didn't pay of course, but they seemed to think that it would have been nifty if I had. I've never heard of such a thing happening in the US.

As I blogged before, this is a major source of suicides since bankruptcies cause a cascading serious of bankruptcies to friends and family. The shame often drives entrepreneurs to suicide. It is no wonder that entrepreneurship isn't very popular in Japan.

Anyway, I was reflecting on this and remembered that this was on my list of "one of the things we need to change here" as I sat before the judge trying to defend a case that I know I have no chance of winning.


Interesting that Toshiba Elevator and Building Systems Corp. will use so-called mag-lev technology in an elevator for the first time.

Mag-lev allows near frictionless movement by suspending objects in midair through a combination of magnetic attraction and repulsion, but the story's kicker is that while the mag-lev elevators will be quieter and more comfortable, Toshiba said conventional elevators can travel more than three times faster.

Meanwhile, Fujitec has announced a system to organize elevator riders in order to stop bottlenecks and speed the flow of people to the correct floor. I have seen such systems in Hong Kong's municipal buildings. They are annoying at first ("Elevator 3 will now go to the 14th, 17th and 18th floor. Take elevator 4 to the 9th, 11th and 14th floor"), but they are efficient.

Regulating passenger flow is pretty low tech compared with suspending elevators on magnets, but that system seems likely to get you to your floor much more quickly. Are there any other notable low-tech solutions for high-tech situations?

(I cross-posted this conversation on the International Herald Tribune blog)

As part of my work with the Open Source Initiative, I've been thinking a lot about open standards. Open standards are a really important part of the open source, open network, open society ecosystem, but there is also a risk that big companies use the word "open standards" to attack the open source movement. For instance, many companies such as Microsoft would argue that even if they control a standard, just making it "open" makes it an open standard.

One of the biggest players in this space is IBM and I had the opportunity to ask Irving Wladawsky-Berger the Vice President of Technical Strategy and Innovation of IBM a question about this at the HICSS conference I attended in Hawaii a few weeks ago. Irving was the "Distinguished Lecturer" and I was "Plenary Speaker". I've been a huge fan of Irving's since I first met him in Japan. (He blogged about the conference.) I asked him what his definition of open standards was. The following is a summary of his response. (I just confirmed with him by email about its accuracy.)

If a crunch comes between the interests of the shareholders and interests of the community, a business has to choose the interests of the shareholders. A business creating a standard that it controls and says is "open" and that people should "trust them" is not robust from that perspective. Business should prevent itself from getting into these situation. Working with neutral professional organizations makes it impossible for such conflicts to corrupt the process and is key to good open standards.
This is great news and exactly what I think of when I think of open standards. Go IBM!

Live Door, one of the large Internet portal/verticals run by the now well-known maverick Horiemon, was raided last night the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor's office on suspicion of illegal securities trading. (Japan Times artice) Apparently they raided around 6PM last night and were there until this morning. One person who was visiting for a meeting reported that he was not allowed to leave for a long time and had to leave his papers there. Unlike the US, Japanese courts do not have a "discovery" process and often have to rely on these surprise raids to get necessary documents. It makes for good TV News.

Horiemon has been rubbing old-school Japan the wrong way by challenging the establishment with clever financing and takeover attempts of the media etc. I can see how he would get targeted. On the other hand Japanese companies like his tend to be sloppy so I wouldn't be surprised if they find something. It would be unfortunate if they end up slapping Livedoor down since I think he was serving an important function in Japanese business and this looks like a typical set-up.

Thanks to iMorpheus for reminding that I should probably blog this.

UPDATE: I haven't confirmed this, but I just heard a rumor that the National TV Network (NHK) was reporting the raid before people at Live Door knew they were being raided. ;-)

UPDATE 2: Live Door is Skype's Japan partner.

UPDATE 3: Apparently the first notice Live Door got of the raid was when Network TV called for an interview. TV knew before they did.

I blogged earlier that I had joined the board of my junior high school, Nishimachi International School in Tokyo. Yesterday was our first board meeting. I hadn't been to the principal's office there for over 20 years. We had the board meeting in the library. The last time I sat there, I was probably 3 feet tall. I know from my wrestling weight class that I weighed around 101 pounds at the time. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland after she drank that potion that made her into a giant.

It was a weird experience talking about my former homeroom teacher who had just retired and looking at the budgets of all of the activities that I was involved in when I was there in 1981. The school seems to be in great shape with a cool headmaster and a good board. Of course I can't influence admissions or hiring, but I'd recommend the school to any elementary or middle school teachers or students who are in, or want to be in a great school in Japan. The school is unique because it focuses on diversity and a multi-lingual environment and I was impressed at the energy that goes into maintaining the perfect balance.

Also, if you're an NIS alumnus and you're out of touch, let me know. We're going to be working on more and more alumni activities.

The lighthouse station called Arctowski is probably the most southerly lighthouse in the world. Built at the Polish research station in Antarctica named after Henryk Arctowski, the famous 19th century Polish geographer and Antarctic explorer. Situated on King George Island in the South Shetlands group, its geographical position is 62o10'S, 58o28'W.

The following is the transcript of the actual radio conversation of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland:

Canadians: Please divert your course 15 degrees the South to avoid a collision.

Americans: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees the North to avoid a collision.

Canadians: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.

Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.

Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.


Canadians: This is a lighthouse, over...

via Michael

No idea if this is really a true story, but very funny. Does anyone else have a source for this?

UPDATE: Snopes says it's false. (Here's the US Navy denial.) Thanks Six Picas. I broke the first rule of blogging. Check Snopes first. Shows how out of it I am these days. ;-)

As a journalist, I admit to having more than a passing interest in the future of media/publishing. For "next generation" publishing, I currently see two main technical developments...

-wireless connections for ubiquitous Internet, and

-smaller and easier-to-read screens,

...that are bringing two main social changes...

-increased trust/reliance on peer-to-peer communication, and

-a more conversational style of journalism that contrasts with the previous model (that more resembled lecturing).

You can see the changes already having a concrete effect, with U.S. news magazines responding to the Internet -- in part by cutting back their foreign staff and editions.

What other broad forces (social or technical or others) will lead the next generation of publishing?

(I cross-posted this conversation on the International Herald Tribune blog)

MAKE and #joiito Macworld meetup at Moscone Center SF!

Come to the MAKE and #joiito IRC channel MacWorld Meetup, Thursday, January 12, 2006 (12:30 PM - 2:30 PM). Moscone Center, San Francisco, Ca. The plan is to meet at the O'Reilly Media Booth #1017 where we'll will be hacking iPods and showing how to get DVDs and videos on your iPod - then we will all migrate from there." Link. If you need a free pass to get in, here's a PDF.

I won't be there, but I expect a full report. Have fun. I'll try to be online if I can.

Google Full-1
Lawrence Lessig has posted a torrent to an mp4 file of his presentation about whether Google Book Search is Fair Use. It's a typically great presentation, but his description on how he put the presentation together is also very cool.


It is now official! The IHT blog has been launched.

Check it out.

Comments on the IHT Blog may be used in a column that will run in the International Herald Tribune's technology pages - print and Internet - if we get enough good comments.

Dan Gillmor has launched his Center for Citizen Media. According to his post on Bayophere, "Starting in 2006, I'll be putting together a nonprofit Center for Citizen Media. The goals are to study, encourage and help enable the emergent grassroots media sphere, with a major focus on citizen journalism." I have joined his board of advisors. Good luck Dan! I think this direction is perfect for Dan.

As many of you know, I've been spending most of my free time in World of Warcraft. We started the guild on September 3 and the guild is now 67 accounts and 109 players big. I've hit level 60 which is currently the maximum level for the game. My sister pointed out to me that most people really aren't that interested in the details of what goes on inside these games, but I thought I'd give you a short update.

It turns out that although it's quite a struggle to get to level 60, it's really just the beginning when you get to this maximum level. After that, there are several tiers of better equipment that you need to get in order to be tough enough to do the more difficult quests. Each item you need requires doing quests with groups of trusted friends. One of the difficulties at this level is that the groups of trusted friends you need to complete quest increases from five, to ten to twenty to forty. To do a forty person raid, you either need a very large guild or alliances with other guilds. I find myself spending a great deal of time networking with other guilds and players to try to put together the dream team while trying to grow our own guild. One of the tensions in growing a guild is that on the one hand, you want a small, friendly and social guild. On the other hand, you want a guild with enough diversity and number of high level players to go on quests together. We are slowing running into the growing pains of any growing community. However, like the #joiito community, which seems to have hit a stable size and culture, I'm confident that our guild will be fine considering the quality of core people we have.

I'm going to stop talking about Warcraft too much on my main blog. If you are interested, I suggest visiting Jonkichi's blog where he will be talking about his adventures. (Jonkichi is my character in WoW.) For other interesting blogs, I would suggest Kazpah's blog and Bastiana's blog.

I'm off today to attend the 39th annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences in Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii. I will be giving a keynote at the conference. Not sure how my connectivity will be but hopefully I'll be able to post some pictures or something.

I did a postcast with Tim Pritlove at the 22C3 meeting. He had an incredible podcast setup which I think I'm going to try to copy exactly. He's been doing radio for years and it shows. He's uploaded the podcast. Most people who read this blog won't find much new stuff in the interview, but it's on Tim's site. It starts with a German intro, but the interview is in English. I should say that it was a slip when I said that "my teachers in High School were mediocre" when I was talking about one of my incentives for using the Internet. I should have said, "some of my teachers were mediocre". ;-)

If you speak German, I suggest checking out the Chaosradio Podcast series.


Currently in rural southern Ireland and unable to connect to my Gmail account.

Problem could be Gmail server overload with so many people on holiday or it could be the slow dial-up connection.

It has been interesting, however, to see how I quickly turned to my blog as a form of communication to reach the outside world.

As someone who is a relatively recent convert to blogging, it reminds me of the adage that once you go digital, you never return to analog.

Having been a sceptic about blogs, I am now a convert. This is a new medium of communication that will be integrated into our lives over time.

In that vein, the BBC had an interesting piece on Digital Citizens.

Exciting to watching the emergence of digital socialization!

Videopodcasting seems an obvious candidate to take off in the next 12 months, but any thoughts on what other new aspects of digital socialization will emerge in 2006?

I just returned from Berlin on LH710. LH710 is one of the long-haul Asian flights that is supposed to have the new Boeing wifi connection. I took an early flight to Frankfurt so I would have time to use broadband in the lounge. I arrived in the lounge with several hours before my flight and I found a lounge full of very frustrated businesspeople unable to log into the wifi network. The landing page wasn't even showing up. The customers were irate, but the staff in the lounge just sort of shrugged. (I'm not blaming them...) I was able to find the Vodaphone hotline. It was "conveniently" a German toll-free number which didn't work from my mobile phone. I borrowed the phone at the reception and called. After about 10 minutes of waiting and 15 minutes of convincing the first tier support guy that it wasn't a problem with my computer, (He kept saying that English language Macintoshes had problems sometimes) I was connected to the next tier guy. He was much friendlier and he explained that Frankfurt sucked for them because they had to go through the airport network once and it often caused problems. He said he'd try to figure out the problem and call me back. Two hours later, there was no call and I was beginning to get withdrawal symptoms. However, I knew I would have broadband on the plane so I was able to bear it. I read a newspaper.

The plane was practically empty since it was new years eve. I anxiously waited for the plane to it cruising altitude. As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign went off, I had my computer plugged in and started searching for the connection. I couldn't find it. I asked a flight attendant about it. She said that the plane wasn't equipped. HUH? There was a USB port and an ethernet and instructions on connecting in the seat pocket. In the past I've connected from LH710. I was in shock. What was I going to do for the next 10 hours? I did email, watched a movie and slept.

As we were landing, the flight attendant came and asked me if I enjoyed the flight and if I had any feedback on their service. I just stared at her. It reminded me of the one-line joke: "Other than that Ms. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" Looking at the happy face of the flight attendant, I realized that non-addicts probably couldn't imagine my frustration. I also reflected on how one year ago wifi on a plane was still a dream for me. I thought about how much progress had been made in the last year. I also reflected on how addiction and obsession will never be satiated.

Monthly Archives