Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

September 2007 Archives

Joi with Timothy Leary terminus
Me with Timothy Leary's terminus made of his mortal remains

As Timothy once said, "everyone out there gets the Timothy Leary they deserve". WAV File

Today, I did an interview with agent etoy.Monorom and agent etoy.Silvan for their Mission Eternity project. My job was to channel Timothy Leary who is one of the test pilots of the project. The project involves a terminus made from the mortal remains of Timothy which are connected to a sarcophagus installation. It keeps track of and maintains a network of volunteer angels who keep his archival identity parts alive on the Net. In many ways it is still a work in progress and I was contributing in my own way.

I had told etoy that several of us had had experiences in the past where Tim asked us to channel him. When he was busy or needed to do other things, I would be asked to play his role by answering questions and explaining thoughts. I was working on a book with him at the time and would talk about the ideas from our book, The New Breed. Most silly questions looking for an answer were responded to with a, "think for yourself!" In the past, I did these interviews in chatrooms with Tim often in the next room so it wasn't that hard to imagine what Tim would say. Now 10 years after his death, I had to think a deeply about what Tim would think about the current state of affairs and try to play this role.

It was a lot of fun.

While I was preparing for this, I reflected on Wikipedia where someone edited a comment on my Wikipedia article from "Ito is Timothy Leary's God Son." to "Ito has claimed that he was one of Timothy Leary's so-called 'God Sons'". Someone nice edited it back eventually. Also, somewhere along the line, my name was also scrubbed from Timothy's article as well. I realize that to some people my relationship with Tim is not notable or interesting and possible annoying. I don't really feel like being greedy about it at all. It just feels a bit sad that something I said on my blog has been reduced to a claim that looks like some kind of heavy name dropping...

As I thought about this more, I remembered the quote from Tim. I also remembered that Tim touched people deeply and made them feel special. I think EVERYONE he touched directly or through his work came up with their own Tim. I don't feel I have any right to take away from that. However, I think that it would be great if we can understand Tim as the aggregate of all of our Tim's and somehow come together to help him come back to life through our memories. I really think that this is what etoy is trying to do with Mission Eternity and that makes me happy.

What's amazing to me now is that as more and more information becomes available online and we are able to talk to each other about our memories... Tim can come back to life instead of fading and through us, maybe he becomes much larger than what he could be if he were all in one piece right now. I look forward to working together to bring back his spirit instead of bickering over the pieces and the details of the past.

Update: Chris found a video of Timothy calling me his godson. Thanks Chris!

Federated Media is doing a campaign with Wikia for HP to get people to talk about PC’s to promote the hot new HP Blackbird. The Blackbird is a high-end, water cooled mod-friendly PC designed for gamers and other high-end users. They are trying to get people to talk about PC needs and the Blackbird on the Blackbird Wikia site.

They asked me to do a video so here it is.

FWIW, I think it’s a cool idea. I wasn’t paid to do the video although I’m an investor in Wikia so obviously benefit from this.

Oh, and they are giving away free Blackbirds to some of the people who participate in the conversation on the Wiki.

Larry just posted about the Texas suit against Virgin and Creative Commons

On the Texas suit against Virgin and Creative Commons

Slashdot has an entry about a lawsuit filed this week by parents of a Texas minor whose photograph was used by Virgin Australia in an advertising campaign. The photograph was taken by an adult. He posted it to Flickr under a CC-Attribution license. The parents of the minor are complaining that Virgin violated their daughter’s right to privacy (by using a photograph of her for commercial purposes without her or her parents permission). The photographer is also a plaintiff. He is complaining that Creative Commons failed “to adequately educate and warn him … of the meaning of commercial use and the ramifications and effects of entering into a license allowing such use.” (Count V of the complaint).

Please read the rest of his post.

This is a very good example of the complexities of copyright and other rights and the necessity of educating the public and ourselves about what copyright exactly is. As Larry points out, the posts on Slashdot are for the most part accurate and correct, but in a nutshell - Creative Commons is about copyright and NOT about privacy or other non-copyright issues. Just because something is licensed under a Creative Commons license, it DOESN’T mean that you can do anything you want with it. Different jurisdiction around the world have a variety of different laws, but depending on where you, property rights, moral rights, privacy laws and other laws may restrict what you can do with a photo. It is the responsibility of anyone reusing or remixing works to understand what rights may apply in their particular application. In particular, commercial use can trigger a variety of restrictions and a CC license on the photo by a photographer only relates to the rights that the photographer might typically have.

One of the things that I’ve been working on with our small group of photographers in the iCommons Photo-Commons node is to discuss things like model releases in combination with Creative Commons licenses to address exactly these sorts of issues. Above all, what is important is to create a way for subjects, photographers and people using these photos to have a clear way to decide and communicate what rights they would like to reserve and what rights they would like to permit. Creative Commons is one important part of this process, but we clearly need more than just CC to make this all work.

Tom's Intimate Contact Based on the true story of Tom Coates

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Tom Coates Comic

The saga of Tom Coates will continue…

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A few days ago the New York Times contacted me and asked me to write an Op Ed about Prime Minister Abe. I pondered a bit about it, but wiser minds advised me to do it. I wrote: In Japan, Stagnation Wins Again which is running in today's paper.

Thanks to Toby of the New York Times for thinking of me for this, to Jun for getting me started, to Toshi for helping make sure it makes sense in a Japanese context and to Gen and Mimi for the final review.

Also, good news for CC. The new contract that the New York Time gives us joint ownership and allows me to share the article under a CC license 30 days after they run it.

UPDATE: Here's a link to a version of the skit on YouTube with English subtitles for "Sonnano Kankeinei" referred to in the article. It's sort of crappy quality. Interestingly, the subtitles translate it to "So Fuckin' Waht?" I suppose that's the spirit, but I'm not sure what part of "Sonnano Kankeinei" mean's "fuckin'". ;-P

UPDATE 2: Here's video of a small child doing "Sonnano Kankeinei". I THINK this is a Spanish guy doing it. And a sports mascot doing it on TV.

UPDATE 3: Looks like they removed all of his videos from YouTube. Doh. Here's a link that still works.

Copyright Joichi Ito and the New York Times:

September 18, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor
In Japan, Stagnation Wins Again

Inbamura, Japan

SHINZO ABE, who stepped down as prime minister last week, is what we call in Japan an "obocchan." An obocchan is a type of well-to-do, slightly spoiled child of a powerful family. Mr. Abe may have been an obocchan but, wanting to be liked by everyone, he made efforts to address the concerns of the working class. Yet despite his efforts, most Japanese felt that he was unaware of working-class issues, and that -- more than any political scandals the press has been crowing about -- may have been his undoing.

More broadly, while most people liked Mr. Abe and believed him to be smart, the Japanese news media often called him "Kuuki ga Yomenai" or, for short, "K. Y." "Kuuki" means "air" and "yomenai" means "cannot read." Not being able to read the air means that you don't know that your guest wants another cup of tea or that you should be serving cold tea because it is a hot day. Reading the air is an essential trait for a Japanese politician.

This shortcoming put Mr. Abe at a severe disadvantage compared with his predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi. Mr. Koizumi is famous not only for being the master of reading the air but also for his unmatched ability to ignore the advice of the political elite. I would call this the "sonnano kankeinei" style. The catchphrase of a popular Japanese comedian whose routine has spread widely on YouTube, sonnano kankeinei is a crude way of saying, "So what? I don't care." It would be an uncommon attitude for a politician even in America, and in Japan was simply unprecedented.

It was a tough act to follow, and Mr. Abe tried to read the air but ended up following too much advice and yielding to the various centers of power and special interests to which his Liberal Democratic Party has owed its 50-year near monopoly. The result, unsurprisingly, was wishy-washy, ineffective policy.

For instance, he had the right idea in trying to shake up the government's stagnant bureaucracy. But instead of taking on a single group of bureaucrats in a winnable battle -- as Mr. Koizumi did when he pushed through a bill privatizing the postal system in 2005 -- Mr. Abe tried to change the broader fundamental laws governing federal agencies. The bureaucrats and their supporters in the Parliament turned on him, and he was stuck in a fight he couldn't win. Very K. Y.

The biggest example of his weakness, however, came when the government lost the pension records of 50 million workers. In most countries, this would have caused a riot, if not a revolution. Although concerns over possible missing records spread among the public late last year, Mr. Abe did not act until the spring.

Many in the public felt he delayed because the government bureaucrats and business executives closest to him probably didn't know anyone who was affected by the mismanagement of the records. Possibly, but again I think his failure stemmed not from his insulation but from his crippling Kuuki ga Yomenai.

These sorts of misjudgments, combined with the string of scandals resulted in the resignation of several cabinet members and the suicide of another, were what most pundits feel caused the Liberal Democrats' disastrous showing at the polls in July. To some extent that is true. But another huge factor that went to alienating voters was concerns over what the government and news media like to call Japan's current economic "recovery."

The problem is that most Japanese know that the so-called recovery is fueled by exports to China, particularly construction materials and energy. The steel, cement and coal companies are prospering. Chinese money is filling the coffers of the industries that have fueled the political system since World War II and were a big part of the bubble collapse that has left the economy stagnant for more than a decade.

Chinese demand is pumping up the value of the large raw materials and construction companies, trading firms with positions in commodities like coal, and businesses that sell overseas. But most domestic companies are seeing only an increase in their raw material costs without a significant increase in demand or margins locally.

Most of this money is viewed as sloshing around in the markets and the bank accounts of the elite, with very little trickling down to small companies or the average salaryman. One of my favorite indicators of the word on the street is the Tokyo taxi drivers, and when I bring up the subject, every one asks me something along the lines of, "Why do they keep saying that our economy has recovered?"

The other problem with this "recovery" is that it reinforces the old stereotype that Japan's strength lies in construction and exports. While this was a good strategy for the postwar recovery, it now slows down reform and diverts valuable human and public resources from the stunted service and high-tech industries that Japan needs for long-term growth.

It's no coincidence that before he entered politics, Mr. Abe was an executive at Kobe Steel. And his successor will be more of the same: the two contenders for his job both have backgrounds in raw materials. Taro Aso's family company is one of the largest mining and cement concerns in Japan, and Yusuo Fukuda's business experience is in oil.

This reflects a fundamental problem with Japanese politics. In a policy supported in part by the American fear of the threat of communism, the conservative Liberal Democrats stamped out all liberal resistance by either destroying the careers of members of the opposition or co-opting them. This resulted in a single-party system, with disputes negotiated and settled within the Liberal Democratic Party though a complicated process of factions and committees.

Many Japanese called this a "democracy in democracy." Perhaps, but this democracy in democracy was only visible to those in power and is managed mostly through a system of pork-barrel politics.

In July, the people had had enough and voted against the ruling party, but the result could be even worse. In deposing Mr. Abe, who despite being part of an old political family was still something of an outsider, they will see a return of the Liberal Democrats' old guard.

Nor is the opposition any better. The leader of the Democratic Party of Japan is Ichiro Ozawa, a student of Kakuei Tanaka, the prime minister who in the 1970s fashioned a public-funds-for-votes system and "rebuilt" Japan by paving the countryside with concrete.

Perhaps there is a silver lining: the weakness of the Liberal Democrats may give us the first sustained period of two-party politics since 1955. If so, the real question is whether it will allow any fresh blood in the political system.

Unfortunately, Japanese politics is a time-consuming and thankless task. Young entrepreneurial types shun public service. Mr. Koizumi made a serious effort to get people from outside the old party to run, but most of those young politicians have already dropped out. (I've rejected entreaties by both parties to run for office and have no regrets; according to my friends in junior positions in the Liberal Democratic Party, their first years have been spent in minor working groups, never being allowed to speak up at or attend any meetings of importance.)

The heart of the problem is that true multiparty politics should have started in Japan decades ago. Soon the members of our own postwar baby boom will be retiring. The looming crisis of a bankrupt Japan, a overburdened pension system and a corporate ecology of pumped-up old-economy companies will be upon us.

The man on the street knows this, but in a country that boasts of never having had a successful revolt of the people, or even a popular uprising resulting in significant reforms, it's unlikely that such awareness will be enough to punch through the K. Y. elite and make things change.

Maybe it's time for a revolution.

Joichi Ito is the chief executive of a venture capital firm and chairman of Creative Commons, a nonprofit group that develops flexible copyright arrangements.

The New York Times
Times to End Charges on Web Site

The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its Web site, effective at midnight Tuesday night, reflecting a growing view in the industry that subscription fees cannot outweigh the potential ad revenue from increased traffic on a free site.


Tom Coates Tom Coates

Fiona and danah Fiona and danah

I’m at one of my favorite meetings of the year - the Microsoft Research Social Computing Symposium.

It’s being streamed here: - open in VLC as MMS

We also have an IRC back-channel on

Also hanging out on #joiito as usual…

Uploading photos in a Flickr set.

Jun Murai Jun Murai giving opening remarks

It started at noon today Japan time, but don’t miss Mozilla 24, a 24 hour global event organized by Mozilla.

Radar, which focuses and helping groups of close friends share photos mostly on phones has added a new sharing feature. While Radar's focus is still allowing small groups to share their private moments, Radar now allows you to share those photos that you don't mind everyone seeing. They've got the necessary widgets and stuff to make this easy too.

I invested in Radar because I think that the small group co-presence sharing is different from "publishing" like this blog and that this market is still underserved. However, I do think that there are some moments we all want to share and think this shift is a good direction for Radar.

It will probably get me to use it more too since I tend to be... *cough* slightly more "open" than the average person.

Read more about it on their blog.

Eight months since I started my vegan diet, I still feel much healthier than when I started, but with more alcohol, bread, pasta, rice and salt, I've slipped off the wagon a bit. I'm meditating less, exercising less, regained about 25% of the total weight I lost and don't have the euphoria that I had at the beginning. So as of today, I'm going to do the Eat to Live six week detox plan again. Basically the same vegan diet I'm on right now, but no salt, refined grains, alcohol or oils. See you on the other side. ;-)

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Gerfried Stocker
Gerfried Stocker

Other than being 7 degrees celcius and raining most of the time, Ars Electronica this year was a lot of fun. It was packed full of work for me this week with five talks and ten media interviews, but with Sandra, Elizabeth and Fumi's help, everything went smoothly and I survived. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to see all of the installations or talk to as many artists as I would have liked, but I had more than enough interesting conversations to make it great.

I went to Ars Electronica this year together with the MOGA unit which is a collaboration between Professor Inakage's lab, Joi's lab (mostly Fumi) and Hiroyuki Nakano's Peacedelic team. MOGA set up the "Jump" installation in Linz. Yuichiro Katsumoto, also from Professor Inakage's lab presented Amagatana. It was fun seeing the students I had been working with in the Ars Electronica context.

I think that most of the talks will end up online somewhere, but I'm not sure where. ;-) I did see one video interview on

The theme of this year's Ars Electronica was privacy.

The first session I participated in was with the Austrian Association and Judges and members from the Ars Electronica community. I talked broadly about the generation gap and the how the behavior and use of the technology was very different among the new users of the Internet and how difficult it was, yet how important it was, for the older generation to try to understand the way the new generation used the new medium. I was really impressed in the conversations with some of the judges and how forward looking they were. I also talked about the importance of Global Voices in the future of global democracy. I suppose that federal judges can think more long term about democracy and things like the cost of privacy than their politician brothers. Having smart judges is a great thing as the recent ruling by the 10th Circuit Court in the US shows.

Summer Watson
Summer Watson

The second session I participated in was a discussion about future trends with some of corporate executives. It was a good group with a number of interesting presentation. The presentation that was the most interesting to me was Summer Watson, a British soprano opera singer, who announced that she is going to ski the last degree (from 89 to 90) of the North Pole and sing an Aria at the North pole as a call to action on environmental issues.

I had coffee with her afterwards and we talked a lot about Creative Commons and online identities and was inspired to start the Summer Watson Wikipedia article.

I also did a session about WoW which I think you can imagine without me going into too much detail.

Volker Grassmuck
Volker Grassmuck

I did a session with Leonard Dobusch to talk about importance of Free Networks and Free Knowledge. Again, I'm sure readers of this blog can imagine what my position was. Leonard, who is also the son of the Mayor of Linz, had some interesting perspectives on the role of municipal governments in supporting public access. He had co-edited a book recently where they discussed many of these issues. He cited an article by Volker Grassmuck where Volker argued that having a public space for hosting content on the web was important.

Finally, I was on a panel as part of a awards ceremony and a kick-off meeting for Fair Music. The idea behind Fair Music was sort of a music parallel for the Fair Trade mark. Whereas the Fair Trade mark tries to identify products where the production meets basic Fair Trade parameters and requirements, Fair Music marks were awarded to companies and projects where the artists and consumers were treated fairly. Fair in this context means a number of things including the artist receiving a fair share of the remuneration or the project promoting diversity against the bias of "Northern" dominance in the music business.

I mostly talked about the need for new business models and the role of Creative Commons in this context.

I uploaded my photos a Flickr set.

Dopplr announced the closing of their seed round which I participated in.

Dopplr is social network for travelers. While it is possible to sync your travel schedules with people using other applications, no application that I know of has focused on and delivered the answer to the "when are we in the same city next?" question so well. The upside of Dopplr is that it does this VERY well and is perfect for people like me who usually meet my friends while traveling. The downside is that it's not that useful for people who don't travel or don't have any friends who travel.

The other great thing about Dopplr is that it was founded by, funded by and is being developed by some of my best friends..

Although I still haven't decided which camera to take with me, I'll be leaving for Linz in a few hours to attend the Ars Electronica Festival. According to my bio page on the site, this is the 10th year that I've participated. Most years I've gone twice - once for the jury and once for the festival. I think that makes Linz the city I've visited the most in Europe.

I love Ars Electronica and all of the people involved and I'm excited to going back after missing last year. I'll be giving a few talks and will be on a number of panels. A few of them are linked from the speaker page. Otherwise I will probably be wandering the installations and the talks with my camera.

See you there!

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