This evening, I was watching The Colbert Report–a show that, along with The Daily Show, I’ve been enjoying much more frequently lately since they began posting full (free and internationally-available) episodes online–and I stumbled across this interview from last night’s show with Jonathan Zittrain, a professor of internet law at Oxford:
Zittrain was on the show to promote his new book, The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It. I have to admit that I haven’t actually read the book, but Oxford is admittedly a pretty small world, so I’m at least fairly familiar with what he and his colleagues work on. The interview is not a bad (albeit very brief) introduction to his work, but if you’re intrigued, you can check out his occasionally updated blog (old or new), go to the book’s website to access a variety of other media appearances and mentions, or even access the book for free online. (Alternatively, you could just buy the book.)
From what I understand, the thrust of the book is that the internet is currently at a defining–but dangerous–moment in its history. Specifically, the recent rise of more constrained applications (such as apps for Facebook or the iPhone) threaten to divert the creative resources that have hitherto driven the rapid growth of the internet. Instead, this talent will increasingly be devoted toward designing final products that the individual creator has little control over, applications that will not help drive future innovation, and applications that can be turned against their users in a variety of ways. Instead, we should be championing the continued development of more “generative” internet efforts (like Wikipedia and peer-to-peer technologies). On the flip side, the open and unconstrained nature of the internet has generated a wide range of genuine security threats, and these will need to be addressed proactively in order to protect users and to allow the more generative side of the internet to continue to flourish.