The Future of the Internet (and How to Stop It), by Jonathan Zittrain

Read this a few months ago, but haven’t posted, which is a little weird, considering how much it’s affected the way I think about the Internet. Anyway, the quick summary is that this is an incredibly important book, with an extremely important concept in it: generativity. It’s the idea that systems that are open, have standard interfaces, and are not controlled by single parties (or small groups of them) are generative — they tend to result in high degrees of innovation. Further, that the Internet is a very special case where it’s open in the right ways, on the right levels, with the right interfaces — and it’s been unprecedented in delivering innovation & user-centered designs to normal people. And, more than that, that there are some signals in the world that we’re heading in bad directions — we tend to gravitate towards closed, tethered systems — like the iPhone, Tivo or Kindle (all of which I myself own and use).

I’ve got lots more thought about this & technology life cycles, but the bottom line on JZ’s book is that everyone who’s trying to work on the Web and build something great should read it.


  1. Damn… I've got a few books still in que. I added this to the wishlist (my ordering que). Sounds like my kind of read.

    Now to add a few more hours to the day so I can do so.

  2. I have not read this book but I will have to put it in the list.

    I suspect that people “tend to gravitate towards closed, tethered systems — like the iPhone, Tivo or Kindle” not because they are closed and tethered but because they “just work”.

    Take for example the iMac and OSX. Apple has a reputation of being easy to use and just working but the secret is that they only have to build an os and the associated drivers for a very finite number of hardware pieces.

    TiVo is the same way. The entire system is closed using proprietary hardware and software that were designed to a)minimize hardware expense and b)work together but only on that hardware. TiVo designed it to do what it does and only what it does. It isn't open to tinkering but by the same token the steps to using it are 1) remove from box 2)plug into wall 3) turn on. Done! No configuring of codecs or server addresses or compression algorithms. There's no question about finding the right driver for the video capture card or which TV listing service to use.

    The reality is, for a vast majority of the population, tinkering is something negative about an item. Most people don't relish the thought of purchasing a car body and then having to install the engine before they can drive it. A select few do, hence the whole “kit car” industry but the rest are content with walking into a showroom and driving a new car away. Sure you can change the rims and tint the windows, but really this is analogous to changing wallpaper and themes in your OS. The underlying engine is still the same.

    Just my unsolicited $.02

  3. Haven't read the book but the title is interesting! Now why would anyone want to stop the internet?? It's like the best thing to happen since sliced bread. Mika's magazines