Jonathan Zittrain on the Future of the Internet

Jonathan Zittrain on the Future of the Internet

“Open code, open education, open talk, open.” — Charles Nesson on the core values of Berkman.

“I was skeptical of studying the Internet at a law school … it seemed like proposing to study the telephone at a law school.” — William Fisher, during the introduction of Zittrain.

“Jonathan is the Berkman Center.” — Dean Elana Kegan while introducing Zittrain.


Photo Credits: wseltzer

Time to get started … the first real talk is kicking off with Jonathan Zittrain, author of The Future of the Internet. I admit that I have his book resting on my desk in my office, but I have yet to read it. I am very interested in getting to it as it has been recommended by some very smart people, Lessig in particular talked at length about it during our lunch together at the 2008 TLT Symposium. Off to his talk … BTW, while some of this I really tried to capture, much of it is a collection of quotes I found interesting and want to return to for later reflection.

The network is the IT ecosystems’ dark matter. The founders of the Internet lived in a position where they lived without constraint … a very interesting insight in that as compared to proprietary networks the Internet didn’t have to bill someone or count the number of people using the service. There is something important in that as it relates to some of the services we provide to our faculty and students. Should we measure logins? Or should we be focused on just creating an ever expanding platform of “dark matter” for great things for our audiences to build on. I like that and want to return to that as a thinking point going forward.

“There is no main menu for the Internet.” Wow. “BYOC — Bring your own content” … and they/we brought more content than the proprietary providers could (AOL, CompuServe, etc).

“You cannot build a corporate network on TCP/IP.” IBM 1992 … they were telling people they needed to use their proprietary network.

“If the content people could go back in time 10 years and rub out these two guys (creators of Kazah, Skype, and now Juiced) there wouldn’t be any problems.”

On Twitter … “It does not get much more inane than Twitter…. I know that’s being twittered right now.” Blogs provoked deep thought, while Twitter changes that game into 140 character bursts of content.

Part 1, The social dimension frays … his so called, “snake in the garden” … you know, the problem. The open Internet is very venerable to the garbage that actually helped make it so powerful in the first place. He is showing the pending comments on his blog — if you have a blog you know what he is talking about. PCs are essentially designed on open faith — machines run any code we give it (or just shows up) and this is a new challenge for us all … a quarter of a billion machines around the world are running code on them that are just waiting for instructions to do evil. Scary stuff. “We would not allow our cars to be used routinely for joy riding.” When youtube got shut down in Feb, it happened b/c one ISP in Pakistan told a lie in a routing table. Imagine if 100 of these ISP

“The Internet is a collective hallucination.”

Point 2 … When we can’t trust ourselves … “This just in, the Internet is down. Can we tell anyone? No the Internet is down.”

“Kaplan has no sense of humor, no vision and no beer” — John Katzman, Princeton Review … very funny example of how people were jumping on domains back in the day. Princeton Review bought kaplan.com and when Kaplan found out they got really angry. Princeton Review offered it to them for a case of beer … Kaplan sued.

The future of all this is that, according to Zittrain, the PC will be dead — in its current form. We’ll be forced to go from an open environment to more closed systems where devices do specific things. As an example, the cell phone menu is decided upon by a select group and we get what we get. He showed an Apple commercial that emphasized how important it is that Apple holds the keys to the whole platform — essentially you are fine as long as you do all your business with just one vendor. Interesting perspective and one that Lessig discussed at the TLT Symposium — the iPod kicks ass, if you only want to buy your music from one place — Apple. Again, there are things in this argument that I want to spend some time thinking about.

Getting rid of most of the rules can actually make people safer … he is citing experiments done in the Netherlands related to traffic signals and “safety” devices. Interesting. Comparing this to wikipedia through the moderation and discussion builds collaborative buy-in — in essence, it draws people into collective norms and makes them feel like they are part of a “collective fabric.”

“This is about ethics …” related quote to the discussion of the omission of the Star Wars Kid’s name entry on Wikipedia.

I really enjoyed this and I am more interested than ever in reading his book. Much of the above content is stream of thought, but does serve as a set of sign posts if you will for the things that jumped out at me. I’ll be going back and cleaning this up — or not. Comments and discussion are encouraged and appreciated.

5 thoughts on “Jonathan Zittrain on the Future of the Internet

  1. I watched the keynote over the Berkman streaming server and found Zittrain to be as insightful on the social underpinnings of the internet as Lessig was regarding the legal aspects.

    I’m encouraged to hear that both take the position of informed moderation. By that I mean to say that some aspects are best left governed by the people through norms, ethics, and basic courtesy while there are areas that do call for stronger regulation. And we should recognize each type for what it is and act accordingly.

    I also agree with their stance that this ‘regulation’ should work from the ground up.

  2. Jim … He is a very good presenter and his thinking seems to be very clear in this area. I am moving to his book as soon as I finish the latest from David Weinberger, “Everything is Miscellaneous.” So far the Weinberger book is a great read. I have a few new ones cued up — maybe we need a new book club?

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