Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Most recently in the Open Source Software Category

This year, the Shuttleworth Foundation asked me to be the honorary steward of the September 2016 fellowship intake. This meant that I would help review and recommend the people who would receive the Shuttleworth Fellowship which funds the fellow's salary as well as their project up to $250,000. It's one of the most interesting and successful fellowship programs that I know for funding unique, provocative and unconventional individuals and their ideas. I'm a huge fan.

We saw some great applications and I was really happy with the three fellows selected for the round that I worked on, Achal, Isha and Ugo. Through the process I got to know their work quite well and I was excited to get a chance to meet Isha when I was in New York last week.

Isha Datar works on cellular agriculture research, the science of growing animal projects in cell cultures instead of farmed herds. It's a very new field with a lot of challenges including questions about how to make non-animal based nutrient systems, how to make it taste good, how to make it energy efficient, how to scale it, etc. At her non-profit organization New Harvest, Isha is working on the core research as well as funding and coordinating research across the world. What's exciting and important to me is that she's decided to do this in an open source and collaborative non-profit way because she and her colleagues believe that the field is still very early and that it would be advanced most effectively through this non-profit structure.

In a previous post, I wrote that I believe the Blockchain has the potential to be as disruptive -- and unlock as much opportunity and innovation -- as the Internet and that it could become a ubiquitous, interoperable, reliable, low-cost network for transactions of various kinds. But along with that enormous potential, the Blockchain also faces challenges that are similar to, but in many ways very different from what we had and continue to have with the Internet and the Open Web.

I'm worried about the current situation of Bitcoin and the Blockchain.

Partially driven by the overinvestment in the space, and partially by the fact that Bitcoin is much more about money than the Internet ever was, it is experiencing a crisis that didn't really have any parallels in the early days of the Internet. Nonetheless, the formation of the Internet offers some important lessons -- most importantly, on the question of the talent and knowledge pool. In those early days, and at some layers maybe even still today, there were only a very small number of people who had the background, brain type and personality to understand some of the core elements that made the Internet work. I remember when there were only a handful of people in the world who really understood Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) and we had to hunt them down and share them with our "competitors" when we were setting up PSINet in Japan.

It's very similar today with Bitcoin and the Blockchain. There are a small number of people who understand cryptography, systems, networks and code and are capable of understanding the Bitcoin software code. Most of them are working on Bitcoin, while some are working on Ethereum and other "related" systems and a few more are scattered around the world in other places. It's a community including some who have been around since the 90s, before the Web, going to crazy conferences like the Financial Cryptography conference. Like any free and open-source software community on the Internet, it's a bunch of people who know each other and mostly, though not always, respect each other, but which fundamentally holds a near monopoly on talent.

Unfortunately, the wild growth of Bitcoin and now "the Blockchain" has caught this community off guard from a governance perspective, leaving the core developers of Bitcoin unable to interface effectively with the commercial interests whose businesses depend on scaling the technology. When asked "can you scale this?" They said, "we'll do the best we can." That wasn't good enough for many, especially those who don't understand the architecture or the nature of what is going on inside of Bitcoin.

Many companies that are used to making decisions around less complicated systems -- like building a website or buying and running Enterprise Resource Planning systems -- felt they could either just hire other engineers who would listen to the customer needs better or became so annoyed with the, "we can't promise but we'll try" attitude of the core developers that they lowered their standards and went with whomever would promise to meet their demands.

The future of Bitcoin, decentralized ledgers and other Blockchain-like projects depends on this community. Many people call them "Bitcoin Core" as if they are some sort of company you can fire or a random set of developers with skills that you can just train others to acquire. They're not. They're more like artists, scientists and precision engineers who have built a shared culture and language. To look for another group of people to do what they do would be like asking web designers to launch a space shuttle. You can't FIRE a community and, statistically speaking, the people working on the Bitcoin ARE the community.

If you try to build "something like Bitcoin but better!" it will probably turn out insecure, underwhelming, and will go against the the fundamental principles that give Bitcoin the potential to be as impactful to banking, law and society as the Internet has been to media, communication, and commerce.

Bitcoin is an open project, with a sometimes-inefficient-but-open community process that always pushes for the fundamentals of decentralization, robustness, and innovation. But Bitcoin isn't a single installation, it's a living, working system that presents a $6.5Bn bounty for anyone who can break it. This high valuation causes a great deal of caution and testing before anything is deployed on its network, but we can be quite sure that many many people have been thinking about how they can break the system and have so far failed.

Ethereum and Ripple are probably the two next largest networks in the $100's of millions range (Etherium is currently $400M+) - Ripple with a fundamentally different consensus protocol and Ethereum with interesting and useful features. If you can't do certain transactions or develop certain application on Bitcoin, I can see why Ripple or Ethereum might be interesting. If you're serious about security and stability -- and you should be -- Bitcoin is almost the only choice with the largest bounty, and largest community, with the most practical modern experience deploying to a broad and active network in the real world.

Many people who are so excited about the potential applications that they have ignored completely the architecture of the system on which they would run. Just as many Internet companies assume that the Internet works on its own, they assume that all blockchains are the same and work, but blockchain technology is not as mature as the Internet where you can almost get away with that. They often view the people working on Bitcoin as a bunch of crazy Libertarians who came up with a cool idea but believe that a bunch of hired guns could put the same thing together given enough money. Governments and banks are launching all kind of plans without enough thought going into how they're actually going to build the secure ledger.

I fear that we'll build something that at the application layer looks like what Bitcoin and the Blockchain promised, but under the hood is just the same old transaction system with no interoperability, no distributed system, no trustless networks, no extensibility, no open innovation, nothing except maybe a bit of efficiency increased from new technology.

We have a good example of that. One of the key benefits of the Internet was that the open protocols allowed innovation and competition at EVERY layer with each layer properly sandwiched between standards developed by the community. This drove costs down and innovation up. By the time we got around to building the mobile web, we lost sight (or control) of our principles and let the mobile operators build the network. That's why on the fixed-line Internet you don't worry about data costs, but when you travel over a national border, a "normal" Internet experience on mobile will probably cost more than your rent. Mobile Internet "feels" like the Internet, but it's an ugly and distorted copy of it with monopoly-like systems at many layers. This is exactly what happens when we let the application layer drag the architecture along in a kludgy and unprincipled way.

Lastly, but most importantly, we're burning out those developers who we most need to be focused on the code and the architecture. Many are dropping out or threatening to drop out. Many are completely discouraged and depleted by the public debate. Even if you believe that we will eventually have a new generation of financial cryptographers, you can't train them without this community. We have many smart people on all sides of this debate and I think that most of them are doing what they are doing with good intentions. However, those of us on the sidelines fanning the flames, making uninformed and provocative statements and fundamentally disrespecting and undervaluing the contribution of the Bitcoin community to the past, present and future of this possibly world-changing innovation, are doing harm.

I've been sitting back quietly hoping that things would just calm down, and they might eventually. But I see more and more misinformation and hype with "Blockchain" being reduced to the same useless suitcase words that "IoT" and "The Cloud" have become and it makes me sad and a bit mad.

I've decided to spend the next chunk of time trying to counteract or balance some of the most misguided stuff that I'm seeing in areas that will have an impact on our future. It feels like while the Bitcoin Core development community is robust, the ecosystem of stakeholders and the understanding of how decisions are made and information is shared is still fragile and vulnerable. I fear that the communication and now emotional rift between various key groups and individuals is wide right now, but I believe it's imperative that we try to bring the community together and focus on executing on a shared technical plan that represents our best shot at broad consensus from both a technical and a practical perspective. Hopefully, we can build a community and a process that is more robust and can handle the inevitable disagreements in the future in a less emotional and more technical and operational way.

If you're thinking already about holiday gifts, I suggest you take a look at the MAKE Magazine Open Source Gift Guide. Lots of very cool stuff that you can REALLY "play with" after you get.

Socialtext just released their wiki code under the OSI-compliant Mozilla Public 1.1 license. You can downloaded it here. The package is called Socialtext Open, and according to the press release, it is "the first open source wiki with a commercial venture as its primary contributor. Over 2,000 businesses run Socialtext Wiki products today as a hosted service or appliance." I'm on the board of Socialtext and we've been talking about doing this for a long time. Socialtext has always been an open source contributor, but this is a fairly important step forward and a shift in the business model. I think this puts Socialtext solidly on the right side of the open source movement.

Congratulations Ross et all.

Technorati Tags: ,

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!

I just finished my keynote for the 22C3 conference. I'd been mulling over what to talk about from about 2AM or so this morning. After reading the program and the amazing breadth of the 150 or so talks and imagining the 3000 leet hackers that I would be talking to, I decided to put together a brand new talk hitting a lot of the points that often skip because they are controversial or difficult for me to discuss. I was a bit nervous kicking off what I think is one of the most important conference I go to. I am happy to report that it was the best crowd ever. ;-)

Although there is a bit of preaching to the choir, (I got cheers for just saying "open network"), judging from the hallway conversations I had afterwards, it was a smart and motivated crowd and I'm honored and happy that I was able have people's attention to allow me to talk about some of what I believe are the most important things going on right now.

The Syncroedit guys set up an instance for my talk where you can see my notes and things others have said. (Use Firefox please.) Please feel free to add stuff. It's still a test install and fragile so please don't try to break it. It's not a challenge. ;-)

Anyway. Thanks much to everyone at 22C3 for the invite and look forward to spending the rest of the week hanging out with everyone.

A video of the presentation should soon be up at


Looming French copyright law may not be as dire to Open Source as Cory Doctorow suggested on Boing Boing.

In one strongly worded post entitled France about to get worst copyright law in Europe? Cory said French lawmakers had "run amok" and were "subverting the lawmaking process" to pass a law that would hinder the development of Open Source and even ban some software.

It appears that the main source for Cory's assertions are statements by an Open Source advocacy group EUCD.

Kevin J. O'Brien, my colleague at the International Herald Tribune, contests that stance in an article on the law:

BERLIN: In the places on the Internet where free-software activists hang out, discussion groups are abuzz with news of the French government's plan to ban open-source software.
The problem is that there is no such plan. But the French do have some proposals to revise copyright law, changes that could affect programmers.

Any reaction to the clashing perspectives?

At EuroOSCON, Microsoft announced new software licenses including some variations that may meet the Open Source Initiative (OSI) Open Source Definition. This is great news. Most of the OSI board members are at EuroOSCON (unfortunately, I'm in LA and missed EuroOSCON) and I hope they have some good meetings with the Microsoft folks. I look forward to seeing their licenses submitted to OSI license-discuss so that OSI and the community can give them feedback on the licenses.

See Tim O'Reilly and Danese Cooper's blog posts for more information.

As the Web 2.0 bandwagon gets bigger and faster, more and more people seem to be blogging about it. I am increasingly confronted by people who ask me what it is. Just like I don't like "blogging" and "blogosphere", I don't like the word. However, I think it's going to end up sticking. I don't like it because it coincides with another bubbly swell in consumer Internet (the "web") and it sounds like "buzz 2.0". I think all of the cool things that are going on right now shouldn't be swept into some name that sounds like a new software version number for a re-written presentation by venture captitalists to their investors from the last bubble.

What's going on right now is about open standards, open source, free culture, small pieces loosely joined, innovation on the edges and all of the good things that WE FORGOT when we got greedy during the last bubble. These good Internet principles are easily corrupted when you bring back "the money". (As a VC, I realize I'm being a bit hypocritical here.) On the other hand, I think/hope Web 2.0 will be a bit better than Web 1.0. Both Tiger and GTalk use Jabber, an open standard, instead of the insanity of MSN Messenger, AOL IM and Yahoo IM using proprietary standards that didn't interoperate. At least Apple and Google are TRYING to look open and good.

I think blogging, web services, content syndication, AJAX, open source, wikis, and all of the cool new things that are going on shouldn't be clumped together into something that sounds like a Microsoft product name. On the other hand, I don't have a better solution. Web 2.0 is probably a pretty good name for a conference and probably an easy way to explain why we're so excited to someone who doesn't really care.

While we're at labeling the web x.0. Philip Torrone jokingly mentioned to me the other day (inside Second Life) that 3D was Web 3.0. I agree. 3D and VR have been around for a long time and there is a lot of great work going on, but I think we're finally getting to the phase where it's integrated with the web and widely used. I think the first step for me was to see World of Warcraft (WoW) with its 4M users and the extensible client. The only machine I have where I can turn on all of the video features is my duel CPU G5. On my powerbook I have to limit my video features and can't concurrently use other applications while playing. Clearly there is a hardware limit which is a good sign since hardware getting faster is a development we can count on.

Second Life (SL) is sort of the next step in development. Instead of trying to control all real-money and real-world relationship with things in the game like Blizzard does with WoW, SL encourages it. SL is less about gaming and more about building and collaboration. However, SL is not open source and is a venture capital backed for-profit company that owns the platform. I love it, but I think there's one more step.

Croquet, which I've been waiting for for a long time appears to be in the final phases of a real release. Croquet, if it takes off should let you build things like SL but in a distributed and open source way. It is basically a 3D collaborative operating system. If it takes off, it should allow us to take our learning from WoW and SL and do to them what "Web 2.0" is doing to traditional consumer Internet services.

However, don't hold your breath. WoW blows away SL in terms of snappy graphics and response time and has a well designed addictive and highly-tuned gaming environment. Croquet is still in development and is still way behind SL in terms of being easy to use. It will take time for the more open platforms to catch up to the closed ones, but I think they're coming.

Web 3.0 is on its way! Actually, lets not call it Web 3.0.

Posted by Thomas Crampton

Just returned to Paris from Munich where I went to write a story on the progress of Open Source implementation by the city government: Microsoft Chief Dines in a Linux City

The project has been troubled but is still on track.

Attended a small dinner hosted by Dr. Hubert Burda of Hubert Burda Media that was attended by the CEOs of BMW, Adidas and other major German companies. Steve Ballmer, the guest of honor, spoke briefly about Open Source and Google.

Ballmer clearly views Google as enemy number 1. He said something like Google had better watch out because the people in Microsoft will be forced to work “harder and harder and harder and harder and harder and harder until we offer better services” repeating the word half a dozen times. Quite forceful and you can see his drive.

He was also interesting about the future of the corporation when confronted with open source. Corporations offer consistency over time and user support, Ballmer argued.

Several members of the audience disagreed: “Have you ever tried to call Dell or Apple or Microsoft for a problem you have? No, you go to online forums to look up what other users recommend.”

As for consistency over time, one reason the city of Munich went for Open Source is that they were angered about being forced to pay for an upgrade to Windows XP.

They expect the savings, however, is expected not in the licensing fee for the software, but in the ability to switch service companies. If you buy Microsoft, only Microsoft can provide servicing. If you use open source, you can change service providers.

To come back to the original question: How will corporations look in a world where collaborative volunteer efforts do things for free on the Internet? Will corporations disappear?

Want to file for aid online? Better run Windows

FEMA site requires assistance seekers to use Internet Explorer 6

The good news: If you've survived Hurricane Katrina, the government will let you register for help online. The bad news: But only if the computer you're using is running Windows.

Yes, it turns out that to make a claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Individual Assistance Center, your Web browser must be Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 6 or higher and you must have JavaScript enabled. It even says so right on the page itself. One problem: IE6 isn't available for Macintosh or Linux computers.

This is bad on many levels. I am conflicted because I'm now involved in Firefox through the Mozilla Foundation, but I think this is just rude. I think it's bad when companies argue that Internet Explorer is good enough for everyone, but the government should be held to a higher standard. The government should not be reinforcing monopolies and building such critical services on platforms that are exclusive.

danah boyd has some thoughts on this issue.

One of the great things about going to OSCON was getting to know some of the interesting people involved in the various open source projects. The OSI team and Mitchell Baker, the Chief Lizard Wrangler of the Mozilla Foundation introduced me to a lot of people in the context of having joined both of their boards recently.

One meeting that Mitchell set up was with Allison Randal - the president of the Perl Foundation, Zak Greant - the former MySQL AB Community Advocate, and Cliff Schmidt who until recently managed standards and open source strategy for BEA's WebLogic Workshop product. Since we are going through various changes right now at the Mozilla Foundation, Mitchell has been talking to various people to try to get thoughts on how successful open source projects are managed. She's trying to get as much input as possible to as the Mozilla Foundation grows and transforms. I've recently been invited into the conversation and it is fascinating.

This particular meeting, which reflected some of the wonder I felt during all of OSCON, was an eye opener. Mitchell asked everyone to introduced themselves and explain their roles and what was required in their roles. Allison was first and Mitchell recalls on her blog that it went something like this:

mitchell's blog
So, for example, what does it take to guide a foundation, as Allison does? Well, it takes a sense of people, and good intuition for what sorts of seemingly simple topics are likely to generate giant tensions if not handled delicately. It takes knowing when to let an issue fade away and when to make sure it is completely resolved. It takes an ability to find a common ground, and enough presence (or trust, or reputation, or *something*) to get people to consider that common ground.
It turns out that everyone had job descriptions and skills that were quite similar.

This reminds me of the Leader-Follower essay by Dee Hock - the founder of VISA. (You should read the whole thing.)

True leaders are those who epitomize the general sense of the community — who symbolize, legitimize, and strengthen behavior in accordance with the sense of the community — who enable its conscious, shared values and beliefs to emerge, expand, and be transmitted from generation to generation-who enable that which is trying to happen to come into being. The true leader's behavior is induced by the behavior of every individual who chooses where they will be led.
His notion of leadership is bottom-up, community and coordination oriented and not focused on the exercise of authority.

What I saw in the leaders of open source projects and in the communities in general was a very strong sense of this kind of leadership. Open source projects have their share of politics and petty problems and clearly leaders of other types of organization do and should exhibit these sorts of leadership traits. However, I definitely saw something special in these open source leaders which reminded me of the leaders that Dee Hock described. They had strong ethics, were humble, were extremely sensitive of the needs of their community and lead more through coordination and management of processes than through exercise of authority. This was in stark contract to some of the conversations I have had at various CEO forums where people talked about "human resources" as if they were cogs and seemed to feel that the CEO had some divine right to more money and more power. Again, I would add that there are a great number of exceptions in both groups, but generally speaking, the conversations with the open source leaders made me feel like I was seeing the future of organizations compared to my experience with CEOs of normal for-profit companies.

I think that the Mozilla Foundation and the success of open source is a test and will be an example of a new kind of organizational management style which I believe will have lessons applicable to all kinds of organizations. (Note: DBA tag.) Enlightened leaders in other areas are also developing methods that involve treating their staff, customers and other stakeholders as a communities, but this still appears to be the exception, not the norm.

Technorati Tags:

I'm at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland. Perfect weather, nice town, good conference, good folks. This is my first time in Portland (I think), and my first OSCON. Having recently joined the OSI and Mozilla Foundation board, I'm getting to know the open source community and I am enjoying it very much. I have always had a respectful, but slightly distant relationship with the community having found it a bit intimidating. I'd always been a supporter, promoter and friend, but now I am becoming a participant. I saw Steve Gillmor and Doc Searls wandering the halls of OSCON together and they were totally in their medium.

For now, I think my contribution to this community will be help with the international perspective and help with some of the non-profit organization issues. It is amazing how many of the same issues many of these non-profits face, particularly on international issues. Desiree, Veni and I have been talking about making a "starter kit" for new countries. It would have instructions on how to set up local presences for CPSR, ISOC, Mozilla, OSI, CC, Wikipedia and a variety of other Open Source/Internet/Free Culture movements. More so than in the US, the people involved in these movements in the smaller countries are often the same people.

I bought a discounted IBM T42 ThinkPad and installed Ubuntu on it. I decided that I would try to get switched over to Linux (for now) before I headed off to OSCON later this week. It was amazingly easy to install and wifi, suspend and various hardware goodies seem to work. I still haven't gotten my printer set up or my DVDs to play... Anyway, we'll see if I'll be able to make this trip without bringing my PowerBook.

Karen Copenhaver, Black Duck Software, speaking at Mass Open Source Special Interest Group

And since there are a lot of attorneys in the room, I always tell this story, but it's just to level set everybody, because sometimes I'd look out and see a sea of attorneys, and they're acting like you developers that put this Open Source into the source code, like you're drunk and disorderly or “Oh! They're out of control, putting all this source code into their source tree.” But if I ask the lawyers in the room how many of you would ever start writing a contract with a clean sheet of paper? I mean, how many of you, if you had a contract to write, and you had to get it done on time, which developers, believe it or not, have very, very tough time schedules, just like you, and you had to bring it in at cost, would you rewrite every piece of boiler plate in the contract?

And if I had a tool that could recreate every contract you ever read and scan every contract you ever wrote, how many clauses would I find that were copied from Microsoft contracts? [laughter] And what would your defense be? Let me give you your defense. Your defense would be, “I didn't notice the copyright notice.” [laughter] Which Microsoft has, I'm not sure if they still do, but for a long time all their contracts were copyrighted, and if you're an attorney you know the're copyrighted anyway, right? Then you'd say, “No, no, it's purely functional, [laughter] that little piece, that export clause, no expression in there, purely functional.” If you didn't get away with that one, you'd go de minimus, quantitatively. But you copied it for a purpose. And you know why you copied it? You copied it because it was peer reviewed. You copied it because it's something that's been out there, and many, many eyeballs have looked at it, and it's passed the test of time.

Nice example. Reminds me a bit of the lawyer who was trying to assert copyright of his C&D letter saying it was original expression.

via Groklaw via Michael

UPDATE: Met Karen at OSCON and took her picture.

Category Archives

Monthly Archives