Joi Ito at SXSWi 2010

Photo credit: jurvetson

Joi Ito is a remarkable individual, he is an activist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, journalist and photographer. Like Clay Shirky’s appearance at SXSWi he was there to flag up some important issues, and analyse how the Internet has changed society. He was there to make us think.

Ito was born in Japan, and grew up in Canada and the US but now lives in Dubai, “I wanted to better understand the middle east and get out of my comfort zone”. He recommend we try as much as possible to connect with people from different cultures as much as possible. Smaller countries are usually humble and willing to learn, unlike China, US and Japan which are all arrogant.

Ito’s presentation got an early round of applause when he said, “My religion is the Internet”. He continued and told us that, “The Internet can solve some of the most challenging problems, but creates new non-linear complexity.” It can solve such problems thanks to the decentralisation it offers that allows us to find small changes and amplify these globally. Fundamentally we can all participate in a movement but don’t any longer need permission. He’s not interested in pursuing a career in politics, telling us that big Governments are so corrupt it’s basically impossible to change anything, it’s just impossible to get leverage.

In the last ten years the cost of using the Internet has been dramatically lowered, thanks in part to open source it is no longer engineering that is the major cost of the internet. The risk of failure has been significantly reduced and this has increased innovation. (It does not mean that in every organisation the cost of failure has been lowered, in large Japanese corporations there is still a significant cost of even contemplating a new project.) The Internet depends on interoperability and that today, there is still just one Internet. However, the openness and interoperability is not guaranteed and it’s usually incumbent telcos who are the biggest barrier to change – in many countries using IP telephony is illegal or impossible – the reason these companies have such influence over the Government is that they are usually the biggest taxpayers in a country.

The barrier to further development online is now a legal one, and that’s why Creative Commons was established. Ito is the CEO of this San Francisco based organisation which has for the last 8 years been promoting an alternative to the traditional “all rights reserved” copyright notice. Creative Commons helps people share their and collaborate on others work in a new legal framework. (This blog adopts one of the most permissive CC licences meaning people are free to to copy, distribute and display what I have written and to make derivative works from it, as long as they give me credit as the author.)  Already there are over 100 million works licensed using CC and it’s not just bloggers like me using it, Al Jazeera was the first broadcaster to adopt the permissive CC licence.

This was an ideal presentation to have on the first full day of SXSWi, and was followed on the next day by Clay Shirky who shared with us some key lessons and themes for development. On the day after that Gary Vaynerchuk put it in layman’s terms, “the web is still just a teenager, it’s not even had sex yet.” The web is now part of our daily lives and it’s going to be fascinating as we all participate in this life changing technology.

During the course of his presentation Ito recommended a couple of books:

  • “Small pieces loosely joined” by David Weinberger
  • “The age of the unthinkable” by Joshua Ramo

The slides used during his presentation are available here.

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