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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.

In a nutshell, he frames the challenge as that of modularity within which the end-user can innovate, versus walled gardens that are locked down.

In passing the author vindicates both Morris, and the manner in which justice was applied. Morris intended to count the computers on the Internet, and screwed up the code. The judge intended to punish him but not end his promising career. All good.

The author discusses what Vint Cerf and others have, the degree to which bots have taken over tens of millions of computers, using broadband connections left on at all times to create a subrosa network that does evil.

On page 63, three important principles from the author on generativity:

1. Our information technology ecosystem functions best with generative technology (i.e. NOT with locked down appliances hard-wired to a center)

2. Generativity instigates a pattern both within and beyond the technological layers of the information technology ecosystem (i.e. content collaboration and social collaboration and value-added)

3. Proponents of generative systems ignore the drawbacks attendant to generativity success at their peril.

This is followed by a great discussion of features of a generative system as they would be hoped for by the author:

- Leverage
- Adaptability
- Base of mastery
- Accessibility
- Transferability

He cites benefits of a generative system as including:

- Non-profit social innovation
- Disruptive innovation
- Broad participation
- Generative systems from generative building blocks
- Recursion (of value) to content and then to society

The scary chapter in the book--the author is elegant but one needs little help to imagine the worst--discusses how tethered appliances enable "perfect enforcement" to include GPS devices turned on remotely to serve as audio surveillance on demand, and so on.

Turning to solutions, the author distinguishes between flexibility needed at the content level (he is laudatory about Wikipedia) and the technology layer. He discusses one possible solution, a Green-Red split system in which the Green system is locked down and totally reliable, and the Red system is open to innovation but also treated with caution.

He calls for better easier security tools for group and individual use, but as one who could never ever find a coder willing to document their code, and as one completely fed up with the pig code that comes out of Microsoft and Norton--pig in the sense of way too much crap and way too big a footprint--I fear that only an open source conversion experience will do. I note with interest a chart that shows that Sun Open Systems are the LAST to plug security holes, Not good.

The author suggests a "least harm" protocol.

He calls for a very large conversation among end-users, coders, manufacturers, regulators, and so on, and what I hear him saying is that the "system of systems" is on auto-pilot, the government is out of brakes (or brains, I would add), and if we don't all do a collective "STOP, We Want to Discuss This," we are destined to suffer the same fate as the sheep at Virginia Polytechnic who stood still while a moron killed 20+ of them--stood still while he reloaded. Had the sheep "rushed and crushed," no more than one or at most two would have died. I am harsh here, because information technology can either be our cage or our liberation, and the author is very well qualified to present the case for concern.

I learn for the first time on page 174 of the National Science Foundation's FIND initiative, and that alone is worth the price of the book.

Turning to protections, the author discusses data portability, network neutrality and generativity (I can assure all readers, Google is neither neutral nor generative), Application Program Interface (API) neutrality; privacy, individual liability versus technical mandates, and collective character (digital shunning combined with reputation bankruptcy and a clean sheet fresh start).

He discusses privacy 2.0 and problems such as code, patent, and content thickets. I like very much his reminding us that the Constitution provides for anonymity to encourage unpopular opinions. He naturally discusses data genealogy (what I call data provenance, like an art work), and reputation.

In passing, I love the brutal critique by Gene Spaford of the $100 laptop. He likens its projected impact--exposing millions to the bright side while not fixing their poverty, water, and disease--to subsidizing pet rats for every household just prior to the Black Death plague. My friend Lee Felsenstein is an equally virulent opponent of the $100 laptop, for different reasons. Me personally, I think the cell phone (but not the iPhone) is the only way to educate 5 billion people fast and with day to day relevance to their needs.

I put the book down feeling pensive, and wondering why CISCO CEO John Chambers, who has been asked in writing via Federal Express three times, continues to refuse to create a router-server that is both recyclable (or even better, updatable remotely without having to flip boxes) and that will provide data at rest encryption and Application Oriented Network (AON) features at the point of creation--in other words, every creator can control the privacy, content routing, access, sharing, and so on, and by implementing something like Grub Search on the same box, we can put paid to programmable search engines patented by Google that will only show you what the highest bidder has paid to "allow" you to see, and to the Googleplex, which "confiscates" everything it touches and then claims to "own" it--including your medical records.

This is a great and important book, if you care about the global role of the Internet is creating wealth and consequently peace.

Ten other books that come to mind as equally important:
The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World
Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West
Manufacturing Consent
Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
Managing Privacy: Information Technology and Corporate America
Who Owns Information?
Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway
In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations
The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace

My bottom line: as we all press toward localized resilience in community, I for one would be happy to shun all tethered appliances and rely solely on collective human intelligence in community. I really like the work of Naomi Klein (No Log, Disaster Capitalism) and Paul Hawken (Blessed Unrest, Natural Capital, Ecology of Commerce). We are all long overdue for a massive boycott of all that is not in our interest, and we can start by evaluating the true costs of fuel, long-distance food and clothing, and perverted uses of water that we are running out of.

Peace.
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VINE VOICEon June 30, 2008
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. The book makes this argument in a very logical way with good examples. This takes up the first part of the book and is perhaps the best part.

Zittrain's idea is that as these generative technologies become compromised, the value potential moves from the network that connects devices to the devices themselves. Here is where he introduces the notion of appliance devices that are purpose build, not readily programmable at the functional level and give the consumer more protection and the provider more control. The notion that the value is moving away from the network is very intriguing; particularly interesting give the recent warm reception of appliances such as the iPhone, Wii, Tivo and others.

Overall this book is not for the faint of heart, nor for the casual reader of business and technology books. The text is well written, loaded with examples and details that will make for good cocktail party stories, but it is more of a policy book and a scholarly work than a business text.

CIOs should read the first half of the book with great interest as it lays out a new way of thinking about the network.

Corporate development officers at technology companies should read the whole book as it describes a possible legal, regulatory and economic framework for the future of technology.

Business leaders should read the first part of the book to understand the true nature and exposure they have in the current generative Internet era.
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on September 15, 2008
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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on May 14, 2008
Someone once said, "The plural of anecdote is data." Zittrain's new book is a delightful illustration of this principle, engaging the reader with fascinating observations and stories, then weaving them together to present a powerful narrative. Whether or not you share his vision for the future, you'll gain a new appreciation for how the online world that we take for granted today could easily have been--and still threatens to become--a strikingly different place.
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on August 21, 2010
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. The author is brilliant. He has a broad vocabulary, uses impeccable grammar, and offers decent ideas and concepts regarding the subject matter. That said, the delivery is long-winded, sluggish, repetitive, contains many near-run-on sentences, and is at times downright tedious, flowing like a lawyer's contract. There are times when he goes over the same points more than once, but then briefly mentions other concepts which may be foreign to the reader, only to move on leaving them unexplained. I also don't agree with with most of his proposed "solutions"-I believe they would not work, but this does not affect my review either way.
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on November 16, 2008
I read this book on my Amazon Kindle. Ironically this book describes why my Amazon Kindle (and for that matter your iPhone) may represent a problem for the information technology industry (and for all of us as individuals).

Zittrain describes how open devices and software platforms can faciltate innovation and how closed platforms don't. Further, he discusses how these emerging closed device platforms risk converting the internet into a tool for simplified corporate or governmental control of what you see and hear. This book, along with "The Big Switch" by Nicholas Carr, challenge the conventional cyber-utopian assumption that the internet will continue to be a wide open landscape where you independently (and privately) choose when and where you can go. The battle is for control of the end-point device.

Zittrain has certainly spotted the dark side of Web 2.0. He has specifically illuminated those selected design assumptions within and around the internet that can shift the net from a tool by which you manage your life -- to a tool by which others manage your life. This is a serious book that merges the future of technology with public policy (and without ever actually discussing public policy -- he instead wisely focuses on the implications of certain technology architectural choices).

"The Future of the Internet" is one of the first books to directly question the sustainability of cyber-libertarian assumptions about the internet. If you cherish those long standing assumptions, you may want to spend a little time on this book.
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on February 9, 2014
If you are into the destructive things people have done using the InterWeb, then this is the book for you. There are fascinating tidbits in addition to the many things we all seem to know. Well worth the read.
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HALL OF FAMEon April 11, 2009
The Internet has indeed evolved and it continues to create myriad social and legal questions far beyond battles over hacking and file sharing. In fact, technological control and government regulation are now the biggest issues, but they've largely escaped the public's notice. This book is a very useful primer on up-to-the-minute issues in cyberlaw, and Zittrain insightfully frames the history of the Internet from multiple social and technical perspectives. The Internet was once totally user-defined but is now in the process of being locked down into proprietary tethered devices under the control of for-profit corporations, with the (supposed) need for security against hackers, viruses, and copyright infringement. But in the process, the Internet is in danger of becoming little more than a mass media outlet, to the peril of public collaboration and cooperative programming.

These are truly worrisome issues, and Zittrain frames the problem very well, but as the book drags along his overall argument becomes more and more directionless. The first problem is that Zittrain expends far too much effort trying to add theoretical support to his concept of "generativity," reaching awkwardly into areas of education policy and social construction of technology that are not his forte. And while Zittrain maps out the potentially unhappy "Future of the Internet," he comes up short on "How to Stop It" - or even why. Surely a certain segment of netizens would wish to avert the coming disaster, but it's a disaster that probably only they can see. Zittrain bemoans, but largely evades, the fact that the overwhelming majority of current Internet users are passive consumers of information on sites like this one.

This book's main deficiency is not in framing the problem, but in making the need for solutions relevant to the huge demographic that really has some kind of say in the near future of the Internet. Besides, technology will still allow truly passionate netizens to abandon the locked-down and corporatized World Wide Web. Figuring out how to make everyone else care is still the 64 gazillion dollar question. [~doomsdayer520~]
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on March 2, 2012
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 arguments many times. As a result, I put off reading this book, feeling I wouldn't have much to learn from it. I got a lot more out of it than I expected because its really a thoughtful, balanced discussion that went a level deeper than most I've experienced. For those familiar with the subject, I'd encourage reading the book for a few reasons: first, it gives some useful shorthand terms, like "generative" which is a useful term for describing those systems that are able to evolve, distinct simply from those systems that are "open" for example. Second, it drills a level deeper than most of the typical debates that tend to focus on the immediate impact of certain rules or restrictions. For example, a nominally open system that provides inadequate protections for users may not offer the benefits of such openness, "a free road too dangerous to travel offers no freedom at all." The thoughtful analysis of many such possible outcomes are very useful to those thinking about such systems. Reading those examples made me better able to think a few moves ahead so to speak. Finally, even in those cases where the situation has changed materially, its helpful for context. For example, in my view, the iPhone turned out to be a force that moved the wireless phone business in a much more generative direction, this book reminds us that such a turn was not inherent, nor it is inherent that it remain so. Despite the ability of 3rd parties to contribute to the iPhone, such contributions ultimately remain under the control of Apple and the phone carriers. It was a well done efficient read on a variety of levels, and it was time surprisingly well spent for me.
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on May 15, 2008
Kudos to Jonathan Zittrain for producing a book accessible to both a lay audience as well as his technorati crowd. His blending of history, early digital anecdote, and his strong analysis make this an academic book that transcends the blogosphere and onto both main street and wall street. A remarkable accomplishment.
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