Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

May 2008 Archives

Just about everyone I talk to is very excited about mobile Internet. In 2006, the Japanese government proudly announced that more people used the Internet through their mobile phones than through their computers. Online services are all talking about their "mobile strategy" and VCs are flocking to fund the latest "mobile startup".

I don't think there is anything wrong with mobile or with some of the great new mobile applications and devices, but we have to be careful to remember that most mobile networks that actually work are built on infrastructure that is operated by a small number of mobile operators who use a lot of regulated and closed technology.

The reason that we have vibrant startup driven innovation is because the Internet is open by nature. Anyone can participate without asking permission and anyone can compete with anyone else at every layer of the stack. This DNA of open and free competition (except for the occasional semi-monopoly) is what allows startups like Google to come in and displace incumbents. If it weren't for the Internet, I'm positive that the telcos would have determined that it was the most efficient that THEY design and operate the "online directories".

We can criticize Google for becoming large and dominant in the market, but a huge percentage of the money that Google makes goes back into distributing money to startup companies and even non-profits like Mozilla. Google acquires many companies and buys equipment from vendors that mostly create open platforms.

The money that the mobile operators make mostly goes to boated and expensive internal R&D and paying for equipment from a small number of vendors that make the telecom equipment.

In 2006 in Japan, mobile advertising was only $330M vs Content (Ringtones, Song-tones, Games) at $2.2B and Commerce at $4.7B. ( Although all of us are experimenting with advertising and advertising is increasing on mobile, the overwhelming percentage of money spent on mobile devices goes to paying for and the collection of payments for a small number of not so innovative products from a small number of providers.

I don't really blame the carriers. In most countries they are struggling to operate with the burden of a huge auction purchased spectrum license on their books. In most countries, they are heavily regulated. The fact that they are typically a small group of government licensed businesses make them an easy target for regulation that also increases costs and lowers competition.

For example, there is a move on the part of the Japanese government to provide content filtering to "protect youth" from "bad content". The Net is trying to fight this sort of filtering system that would regulate content on the Internet. In the mean time, the government quickly forced mobile carriers to implement a content filter for minors which is now in place in Japan. A mobile Internet is much easier for governments to regulate and control and make "safe" against the bad guys as well as small annoying startups and disrupters.

People point to the hacked iPhone as an example of how "we're making mobile open." I do applaud it and I think it's great that we can now run our own apps on the iPhone. However, what do you get at the carrier level? Yay, you now can chose Vodaphone or Sprint instead of AT&T. This doesn't solve the basic problem that at the carrier level, we're still closed.

In the short term, MVNOs like e-mobile will help drive prices down, but they are still built on an architecture that isn't really open to competition and the prices will only go down so far. What we need in the long run is open spectrum and alternatives to 3G.

In Japan, services like Mixi have announced that their web usage is decreasing, their mobile usage is increasing and that more of their users are using their services from mobile and than the web. I don't think mobile monetizes as well (for the company) as the web. I think that if we move over to mobile too quickly we're risking moving our game to a platform where the DNA is not what we're used to on the Internet and most importantly, putting money in the pockets of people who do not redistribute it to startups, but instead feed giant vendor ecologies instead.

Maybe those smart companies in the mobile space like Vodaphone and Nokia who see the future should create a fund to invest in open innovation on mobile. We definitely could make the argument that in the long run, a healthy ecology on mobile is better for at least the strong companies involved in the ecology, just like the Internet increase the telecom economy as a whole. It reminds me of the big oil states investing in alternative energy. If this could happen, this could be a good thing and I'd be happy to help. ;-)

Today, Creative Commons announced that we will be exploring the idea of a copyright registry.

A registry could solve a variety of problems that we have. For instance, the orphan works problem where it is not clear who to contact in order to commercialize could be solved. A registry facilitates attribution which is a core part of Creative Commons. A registry could also help sites that allow users to post content to clear and clarify rights.

The exact architecture of what a registry system would look like is still not clear and requires a lot of discussion and work. One model is to build on existing registries -- such as that maintained by the copyright office -- rather than trying to develop a completely separate one. Another idea is to create a federation of registries maintained by an network of providers that somehow peer with each other. Because of our experience with machine readable licenses, metadata and creating a global network of compatible license, we believe that we can add value to design and possibly the operation of such a registry system.

I'm sure that the astute readers will notice that in the press release we mention that we will also be exploring revenue generating services that CC might provide. I can imagine that this might raise some red flags for some people so I thought it might be prudent for me to try to explain this aspect a bit more since it involves a number of issues that we've been working on.

When I had a long chat with Pierre Omidyar last year about Creative Commons, one of his suggestions was that he thought that in order for non-profits to be responsive to the public, it was often better for them to be providing some sort of fee-based service instead of just being funded by an endowment or foundations. He explained that when eBay started charging, the community became much more vocal about what they wanted in their feedback and he became much more responsible and responsive to their requests. Offering a service for free is great, but having a paid services creates a more rigorous expectation on both sides of a quality of service and responsiveness. I've been thinking a great deal about this "market sensitivity though fee based value added services" and this is something I think we should continue to explore.

We are currently supported by foundations, corporations and individuals who have generously contributed to the mission of Creative Commons. We have secured an important set of commitments for the next five years which gives us a strong base on which we can build. However, I think that we need to consider augmenting that support with revenues generated by providing value added services.

However, Creative Commons benefits from the broad support of a community of users and contributors who help Creative Commons because it's not a greedy money-making organization. I am acutely aware of the necessity to stay focused on the core mission of providing free and open licensing tools while exploring CC's capacity to provide additional services that will generate revenues to help sustain the free and open sharing infrastructure CC provides. In exploring this possibility, I take it as fundamental that we avoid any action that we might make or be perceived to be making that undermines our position as a balanced, transparent and neutral party.

So, to reiterate what we say in the press release. CC will always continue to provide licenses for free. Also, as we explore the idea of a copyright registry or a network of registries, we will try very hard to participate in a process to design a system that is first and foremost technically and operationally robust. CC will not try to build itself into the system just for the sake of trying to make money. The idea is that IF we find some sort of role for CC such as running a piece of this system or providing a service to the system that users or businesses might pay for, we will explore whether a fee based model makes sense.

Boing Boing TV post with the video is up.

Ever since I moved to the boonies, I've posted photos and other notes about my bamboo shoots on Flickr and my blog. This year, after my first post about this year's bamboo shoots, Xeni contacted me and told me that I should make a video. With Mizuka's help, I made a short video of collecting and cooking bamboo shoots and sent it to Xeni.

Xeni and her team edited the video and mentioned that it would be cool if I could find some Creative Commons licensed music to go with it. I looked at some of the stuff that I'd made in the past and looked around online, but couldn't find anything that seemed right for a bamboo cooking video.

I asked Keigo (Cornelius) and got a, "hmm... Bamboo shoots? I think Ryuichi Sakamoto would be better at that." I then asked Ryuichi whether he had any sounds lying around that I could use in a bamboo shoots cooking video. We showed him the video and Ryuichi thought it was funny and agreed to do a proper score.

Thanks you so much Ryuichi for the score. Thanks to Xeni and everyone at BoingBoingtv for getting this going and all of the editing. Thanks to Fumi for capturing and sending the file. This was really fun.

I blogged about how I met Ryuichi Sakamoto earlier.

My recipe below:

TAKENOKO (Young Bamboo Shoots)

How to slice:

Cut tip of takenoko at an angle. Cut vertical to down middle to front.

"Akunuki" process to remove bitter taste:

In a large boiling pot add:

* Dried Chili X 3
* Rice "Nuka" husks 2 handfuls

Cold water 2 liters

Add takenoko with the cuts and husks. Full heat from water for approximately 20-40 min (until you can stick a chopstick into the takenoko). Lower heat as it comes to a boil. After completed, cut heat and leave over night.

The next day, remove husks and cut to smaller pieces and boil for 10 min.

Making "Wakatakeni":

Make 2 cups stock from "Kobu" (seaweed) and "Katsuo" (Bonito flakes). Add Thin Soy Sauce - 3 table spoon, Sugar - table spoon, Sake - 2 table spoon. Add takenoko and boil for 8 min. Add "Wakame" (seaweed) and boil for additional 2 min.

Top with "Kinome" (Japanese herb) and eat as it is OR

Make Takenoko rice:

Make stewed Takenoko above but use "Oage" (dried tofu) instead of "Wakame". Take the sauce from Wakatakeni" and add as flavor to rice in a rice cooker and prepare rice normally. After rice is done, add the stewed takenoko and oage and mix. Enjoy.

Note: "cups" are Japanese size cups which are 200ml or 200cc.

On panel with Jun Murai, the father of the Japanese Internet

Today is the 20th anniversary of the WIDE project which created the Japanese Internet. Thanks to Skype (is there a good h323 client for the Mac?), I'm in two places at once and was able to join the panel in Japan even though I'm in the UK. I think Vint Cerf also joined by video. It is working much better than I expected considering I'm just on hotel wifi, although the connection is probably super-charged with Google magic. (I'm at the Google Zeitgeist conference in the UK.)

Maybe I CAN stop flying around as much and attend these sorts of things by video... on the other hand, maybe I'll just end up having keep traveling and join panel discussion in the middle of the night by video more.

I realize video conference isn't a new thing, but it seemed easier and more casual than I remember it being.

Over the last few years, my blogging slowed down and came nearly to a halt. I tried to figure out what had happened. Had I written about everything that I was interested in already? Was I just sick of blogging? Was I sick of my tools and the design of my site? Was I spending too much time playing World of Warcraft? I'm not exactly sure. It was probably a combination of all of these things.

I had also gotten sort of sick of social software tools, conferences about social software tools and talking about social software tools.

Sometime last year, I was talking to Anil and he was REALLY excited about Movable Type version 4. He explained all of the new features and how excited the crew over at Six Apart were about it. It was a long time since I had heard Anil excited about anything and it was sort of contagious. Boris and I had been talking about a site renewal for a long time so we decided that MT4 would be a good occasion to revamp the site.

Granted, MT4 still has some kinks, but it's a great improvement and I'm really happy. (Although it wasn't me dealing with the kinks.)

So here's the new look. We're still working on a lot of things right now and this is a "soft launch" of the new framework. The idea is that the top page is more of a dashboard and not a blog, although the last blog post is featured there. I'm trying to turn this social network stuff a bit inside-out and see if I can make my own site the destination and the social networks the branches.

What we're working on next is the community pack that works with MT4. If it works correctly, I will be able to create profiles of my friends and let them add links to their social networks. This will replace that old "faceroll" I had with something a bit more dynamic. I don't expect my site to become yet another social network, but I would like to allow people to see the connections between the people I'm connected to on my own site in the way I'd like to display it. Once we get this going, I'll be looking to everyone for feedback on what I should and shouldn't do.

While the haiku-like constraint of Twitter is really neat, I'm starting to miss blogging again. ;-)

Thanks to Boris for the awesome design work. Thanks to Kuri and Jim for the back-end help. Thanks to Anil and the Six Apart team for pushing us along on MT4. Thanks to Susan Kare for the nice new logo. Yay!

PS: Try clicking on the little icon of Jonkichi on the top right to see the super seekrit Rupture include.

Gilberto Gil
This photo is actually one that I took at the CC Birthday Party

I'm at Google Zeitgeist and just got a copy of the talk that Gilberto Gil gave. (Thanks Claudio!)

I wish we had such a cool, smart and articulate Minister of Culture.

Since 2003, when I took office as Minister of Culture of Brazil, we have been looking into Digital Technologies as cultural phenomena.

We, at the ministry, have insisted on the strategic role of culture in policy making. This has obliged us to change radically the way to conceive of Politics, State, Society specially in relation to digital technology.

In politics and especially in governments, radical changes are only possible at specific historical moments. Through the insertion of Culture and cultural diversity as a policy making device in the political and managerial governmental equation, we offer society the oppotunity to achieve radical change, step by step, using the day to day inputs of new industrial and social technologies, without the earth quaques of classical revolutionary action. If we look at the new digital possibilities we could easily conclude that they bring a built-in revolutionary device in them selves. Digital Culture initiatives, can play a fundamental role in shaking away the inertia of the traditional politics that has secluded society from public life, generating a vacuum of critical political thinking and even producing cynicism, especially in governmental sectors. We need to aknowledge that traditional politics is failing in advancing democracy and social development.
The conversion of the digital technologies, has created around the Internet a totally peaceful revolution. A bottom up unrest, happening everywhere, which I see as a very positive sign of the rising of a non governmental political movement that I believe to be a direct and matured result of cultural and countercultural movements of our most recent history, in their increasing power to influence public policies.

It is the rise of a peer to peer culture. Peeracy!

What I see in Brazil and in many cuntries, is that these new contemporary political movements don't come from traditional politics. They don't depend totally on representative democracy anymore. On the contrary, they operate outside the electoral system and influence it to some degree. People are more and more eager to engage in politics in a new and proactive way. It seems to me that this collective unrest that can only be met by governments if they really understand the cultural diversity issues and peer to peer actions, and it's implications in the new model of development for the 21st century.

The 21st century technologies represent a huge challenge to regulations. The revolution generated by the convergence of digital technologies obliges us to reinvent the way we do almost everything. I believe that anybody with public responsibility should look into the digital distribution of Intellectual Property as the most direct and powerful way of democratizing knowledge in the history of mankind. But instead we see almost every formal institution insisting on bluntly calling the digital distribution "Piracy".

We should rather be looking at new business's models... and into a burst of freshness in the political regulatory analysis.

The work I have witnessed with the idea and practice of Digital Culture in the Ministry shows us that it is possible to have another form of consonance, somehow radical, I would even say, a "symbiosis" of the State with the civil society.

Many corporations and governments all over the world have positioned themselves conservatively and are trying to block the advance of these digital new possibilities. Every technical revolution creates a reaction like that. Digital distribution of intellectual property, if seen from the analogical perspective, represents a threat to business, security problems and a loss of social control. These perceptions are but momentary setbacks which shall soon be resolved. However, we must be ever vigilant as digital technology, like any other technology, can be used against individuals and society's interests.
That's why I am sure we have not only to humanize, but also politicize these technologies, which means thoroughly discuss them and make them available to society and every citizen. Regulations should be there to insure freedom and open access to knowledge, not just for "business as usual" purposes.

I want to quote my friend Lawrence Lessig, a great contemporaneous thinker and activist; in his book CODE 2.0, he points out to the necessity of new forms of regulation to guarantee the new forms of freedom and human connectivity. Lessig defends the necessity of the presence of the state to guarantee that the internet survives into maturity with its radical social-innovation potential fully in place. For that (he points out) we have to discuss a new political understanding of governance. That if we want to guarantee the collective and emancipating existence of cyberspace, we need to come up with a brand new regulatory framework of thoughts otherwise these libertarian possibilities created by digital technologies will be amputated.

We have brought digital multimedia studios and access to the internet (peer to peer culture) to about 700 hundred grassroots communities all over Brazil.

Today, in Brazil we have traditional communities recording and publishing in the internet their songs or videotaping their work and culture. This burst of fresh air is unchaining new vital ideas, new innovative productions, generating a real empowerment process of an emerging creative society. This process is encouraging and inducing the formation of a network of new cultural multimedia producers in Brazil, a network which will soon be consolidated into a new generation of authors and artists.

This experience with digital technologies in the Pontos de Cultura, the Hotspots, made possible a symbolic exercise, a dialogue between socio-cultural grassroots communities with digital new concepts and contemporary languages. This very rich process begins when the communities, the new cultural producers, start networking and, by doing so, engage in a process of autonomy, free from government or any other control. The transformation starts when the kids in the communities recognize the digital technological devices as cultural performance tools, as a source of diversified references, as a platform for esthetic creation and re-symbolization of their experiences. In other words, social change starts when they understand cyberspace as a territory of their own, when they understand uploading before they ever heard of downloading when they start publishing. This is the exact moment when empowerment takes place. 
Sheer magic!
I want to invite you all to come to Brazil next year to discuss these issues. We will be joining efforts with many institutions both governmental and from civil society as well as companies to thoroughly look into the perspectives of these new digital realities.

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