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The Future of the Internet--And How to Stop It [Hardcover]

Jonathan Zittrain
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 14, 2008 0300124872 978-0300124873 First Edition

This extraordinary book explains the engine that has catapulted the Internet from backwater to ubiquity—and reveals that it is sputtering precisely because of its runaway success. With the unwitting help of its users, the generative Internet is on a path to a lockdown, ending its cycle of innovation—and facilitating unsettling new kinds of control.


IPods, iPhones, Xboxes, and TiVos represent the first wave of Internet-centered products that can’t be easily modified by anyone except their vendors or selected partners. These “tethered appliances” have already been used in remarkable but little-known ways: car GPS systems have been reconfigured at the demand of law enforcement to eavesdrop on the occupants at all times, and digital video recorders have been ordered to self-destruct thanks to a lawsuit against the manufacturer thousands of miles away. New Web 2.0 platforms like Google mash-ups and Facebook are rightly touted—but their applications can be similarly monitored and eliminated from a central source. As tethered appliances and applications eclipse the PC, the very nature of the Internet—its “generativity,” or innovative character—is at risk.


The Internet’s current trajectory is one of lost opportunity. Its salvation, Zittrain argues, lies in the hands of its millions of users. Drawing on generative technologies like Wikipedia that have so far survived their own successes, this book shows how to develop new technologies and social structures that allow users to work creatively and collaboratively, participate in solutions, and become true “netizens.”

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Editorial Reviews


“This book is fundamental. It will define the debate about the future of the Internet, long after we haven't stopped it. Absolutely required reading.”—Lawrence Lessig, Professor, Stanford Law School, and author of Free Culture and The Future of Ideas
(Lawrence Lessig)

"This remarkably researched and highly entertaining book is a must-read for all who take the ubiquitous nature of the Internet in our everyday lives for granted. The future of the internet is NOT a positive one, unless we all work collaboratively to ensure its lasting success. Zittrain’s analysis is first-class and should be widely heeded by leaders from all sectors of society."—Dr. Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman and Founder of the World Economic Forum
(Dr. Klaus Schwab)

“The most compelling book ever written on why a transformative technology's trajectory threatens to stifle that technology's greatest promise for society. Zittrain offers convincing road maps for redeeming that promise.”—Laurence H. Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law, Harvard Law School
(Laurence H. Tribe)

“Jonathan Zittrain does what no one has before—he eloquently and subtly pinpoints the magic that makes Wikipedia, and the Internet as a whole, work. The best way to save the Internet is to turn off your laptop until you've read this book.”—Jimbo Wales, Founder, Wikipedia
(Jimbo Wales)

“A superb and alarming discussion, from one of the most astute and forward-looking analysts of the Internet. Zittrain explains how the glorious promise of the Internet might not be realized—and points the way toward reducing the current risks.  Absolutely essential reading."—Cass Sunstein, Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence, The University of Chicago Law School, and co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness 
(Cass Sunstein)

"A useful starting point to understanding the choices that lie ahead."—Richard Waters, Los Angeles Times
(Richard Waters Los Angeles Times 2008-05-12)

"The Future of the Internet identifies and analyzes many of the key issues, obstacles, and tradeoffs that will define our future."—Science
(Science 2008-07-25)

"In the web counterrevolution that Jonathan Zittrain foresees, users will lose the ability to control content, companies will gain the power to censor data, and security will trump innovation. It's a gloomy scenario that his new book Future of the Internet, says is already underway."—Katie Baker, Newsweek
(Katie Baker Newsweek 2008-05-31)

"The thrust of Zittrain's book is that the shift back toward sterile technology cannot be entirely avoided, though the dangers can be mitigated. . . . Ignore Zittrain's warnings and we may prove his forecast right."—Paul Starr, The American Prospect
(Paul Starr The American Prospect 2008-07-01)

"This book is a must-read for any student of technology and policy, and its prescriptions are a must-do for the future of innovation in the digital age."—Hal Abelson, American Scientist
(Hal Abelson American Scientist 2008-12-03)

From the Author

A conversation with Jonathan Zittrain


Q: You have a curious title to your book. Most people think the Internet is a good thing, so why try to stop it?

A: The Internet is a great thing—and it's largely a historical accident that we have it at all. As late as the early 1990s, people in the know assumed that one of a handful of proprietary networks would be the network of the future. Those networks carefully groomed the content to be presented to people. The Internet came out of left field as an entity with no plan for content, no CEO—not even a main menu. PCs are similarly surprisingly successful. Unlike "information appliances" such as smart typewriters and word processors, the programs on a PC can come from anywhere. This has vaulted the PC into the front lines of business environments, not just homes. Unfortunately that's not how the future is shaping up. Our own choices, made in fear, are causing the most valuable features of our modern technology to slip away.


Q: You warn that the Internet, and the computers that sit on the ends of it, will become more like appliances if we aren’t careful. What do you mean by that?

A: Devices like Apple's iPhone are incredibly sophisticated—and flexible.  But they can be programmed only by their vendors. That's very, very limiting—and yet consumers will ask for that because it makes for a more consistent experience, and because our generative PC and Internet technologies are less and less useful due to spam, spyware, viruses, and other exploitations of their openness. We need to combat these exploitations in ways that don't sacrifice fundamental openness.


Q: Is it possible to have it both ways: to have a secure Internet that remains open to the possibilities you describe in your book?

A: Yes, and the book goes into detail about how we might thread this needle. If we fail, we return to the old models of consumer technology that we had already (and rightly) forgotten thanks to the Internet's success.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (April 14, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300124872
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300124873
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #915,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
194 of 222 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, Engrossing, Useful, Relevant, Alarming March 25, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I ordered this book on the strength of the title, and on receiving it, discovered that the author is the Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at Oxford University, and co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at the Harvard Law School (they hate it when we just say "Harvard"--must be a culture thing). So right off I know this is at least as serious a book as I hoped for.

The book is instructive without being tedious, alarming without being hysterical. It is balanced, informed, and most relevant to all of us.

The entire book focuses on the transformation of the Internet from one in which the innovation could be done at the edges, with generative innovation that built on the provided software or hardware, to one in which we are allowed to buy tethered appliances like iPhone or X-Box that are "locked down."

Even PCs are being locked down today, and with this and other examples the author has my total attention.

He suggests that the end point matters, and that the confrontation between flexibility and openness, versus security and perfect reliability (and later, perfect enforcement) is one that requires more creative thinking rather than knee jerk mandates one way or the other.

He notes that historically IBM tried to bundle everything, and they were forced by anti-trust to unbundle, just as AT&T was, as Microsoft was, and as Google will be if the USG Government ever gets either honest or informed--either will do. Look for my book review of "Google 2.0: The Calculating Predator" to understand this suprnational unsupervised threat to multiple sectors, never mind privacy and copyright.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It is a major work of business, legal and policy research that will be less accessible to most people, but important to those looking to understand the future direction of today's ecommerce world. Zittrain is both a technologist and a lawyer and he appears to be writing this book more to influence policy and thinking rather than proposing a specific solution.

This is fine, in my opinion, as Zittrain provides two important frameworks that define new ways of thinking about the net and its impact: the notion of generative technology and the idea that the value of that technology is moving from the network to the endpoints. The book describes these ideas and develops them into a range of policy and technical decisions facing business, political and judicial leaders.

In the Future of the Internet, Jonathan Zittrain provides a detailed analysis of the development of the Internet, the nature of networks, and the evolution of technology. This book concentrates on the central elements of what Zittrain calls "generative" solutions. A generative solution is one that provides a basis for innovation, new products and new sources of value through experimentation and individual innovation (ala Cheesbourgh's open innovation). Zittrain sees the Internet and the PC as generative technologies, which the clearly are. However he sees generative technologies go through a pattern where the openness and high levels of trust that made them generative and attracted new solutions soon fall prey to fraud, abuse and outright criminal activities.

Zittrain argues that this is what the Internet is going through now as SPAM, Malware, Phishing and other forms of cyber crime and mischief are eroding the value of the Internet as a generative platform.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Exposition Poor Persuasion September 15, 2008
By Terry
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book should have either been 150 pages shorter and simply an argument or 100 pages longer with fully developed ideas. Zittrain frequently references and discusses the idea of "generativity" and changes the definition at each usage. Sometimes it means "creativity" sometimes it means "openness" and sometimes it means "freedom", while all these ideas are tied to generativity, none are categorical or clear. It seems to be a shorthand for "computer good stuff" in the same way the word "umami" or "freedom" is used with several means and a body of meanings that's poorly defined.
The book also references several seeming contradictions that I felt were poorly addressed. The opening of the book talks about the triumph of the Internet because of its openness over walled garden, then says that it's under thread by tethered services, which the Internet had initially bested.
Hacking isn't referenced for devices like DVRs, iPhones, and other such beasts.
DRM is entirely ignored as well as its failure in the music realm. I think the Sony Rootkit debacle would have served as a nice piece.

Finally, the book's title includes "and how to stop it". I don't recall much in the book that actively tells the read what to do to stop a tethered device dominated network nor what legislation should be avoided or promoted.

The center bits on generativity and how it pops up in everyday life was both informative and interesting. Maybe this book should have been broken into two parts rather than the odd mingling that took place in this text.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars No stopping the InterWeb
If you are into the destructive things people have done using the InterWeb, then this is the book for you. Read more
Published 5 months ago by S I P Adam
In the Introduction to this 2008 book, Jonathan L. Zittrain (born 1969; a professor of Internet law at Harvard Law School) predicts that "the future unfolding right now is very... Read more
Published on June 11, 2012 by Steven H. Propp
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly useful even for those familiar with the subject
This is a subject I'm pretty familiar with, I actually spoke at his cyberlaw class once. I've participated in many open source discussions and debates, and I've heard the... Read more
Published on March 2, 2012 by Joseph Born
3.0 out of 5 stars Could do better
I was disappointed in this book. It has a very good title - we are nearly all interested in the future of the net. Read more
Published on January 20, 2011 by Russell Telfer
1.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing fearmongering
In this book, Professor Jonathan Zittrain makes implausible predictions of a dystopian future, presenting fallacious arguments and unsatisfying evidence for them. Read more
Published on December 28, 2010 by L. B. Glass
2.0 out of 5 stars Eh...
I saw a video of a talk he gave which seemed to be a prelude to this book. I liked his talk and presentation style, so I read the book. My review is in the middle of the road. Read more
Published on August 21, 2010 by AmazonShopper
4.0 out of 5 stars Aristotechnology
Anyone interested in the future of freedom should read Jonathan Zittrain's book, The Future of the Internet: And How to Stop It. Read more
Published on January 17, 2010 by Oliver Demille
2.0 out of 5 stars OK
This book was way too long. Much of the book seems repetitive. That being said, there were some very interesting and valuable concepts explained in the book.
Published on July 20, 2009 by Mike Liptak
2.0 out of 5 stars I hoped the content would be as intriguing as the title
Despite the title "the Future of the Internet", more than half the book is about its past including the history of PCs. In simple words, the book was boring. Read more
Published on May 8, 2009 by F. Zaki
4.0 out of 5 stars Generation Generators
The Internet has indeed evolved and it continues to create myriad social and legal questions far beyond battles over hacking and file sharing. Read more
Published on April 11, 2009 by doomsdayer520
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