Joi Ito on the (Common) Value of Sharing

Joi Ito is the CEO of Creative Commons. My entrepreneurial life happened when the internet started. And I think the...

Joi Ito is the CEO of Creative Commons.

My entrepreneurial life happened when the internet started. And I think the biggest difference between my entrepreneurial life and the entrepreneurial life of some other people is the internet is all about-as David Weinberger would say-small pieces smoothly joined, and about people doing new things and connecting with each other. And so I built a bunch of companies on the internet, or using the internet, with the idea of everybody participating in a community and being able to innovate without asking permission. It's a very different kind of entrepreneurialism.

Ever since the internet started, the cost of collaboration, and the cost of putting anything together, has continued to go down. It would have taken millions of dollars to create Google, or something even remotely similar, before the internet. With open source and the internet, the cost of creating a search engine went down dramatically. Today, it would even be cheaper. And so what that means with things becoming cheaper and collaboration becoming easier is that entrepreneurs can try more innovative things.

Getting customers has always been one of the key factors for success or failure. The big portals were all about getting everybody signed up, and then making switching expensive-the old term people used to use a lot was "stickiness." Now the user is much smarter and, they know that they can use bits and pieces from different places, and as the net has become more and more open, you don't gain customers by putting up barriers, and you don't hear the word "sticky" as much anymore. It's really more about how do you become part of this conversation, how do you become one of the tools that users use to create the experience that they're creating, and how do you join this little ecology of small companies.

One of the big failures of the whole web 1.0 thing was when AOL and all these other guys packaged everything up into these walled gardens. Everybody-both the users and the entrepreneurs-have realized that that doesn't work. Google, Microsoft, and others are still trying to lock you in, but a very different way. Facebook is, as well. They're trying to become a platform for other people to come and share and communicate with each other. So the architecture has changed. It's not that everybody is completely altruistic and giving, but I think the layer of content, the layer of connection that used to be closed, is open.

We've reached a point where it's technically feasible to do all kinds of things, like put together academic databases, or communities of people to mix music or video. But it's currently very legally cumbersome to do this, whether it's the universities not having compatible contracts or users not being able to separate the content that wants to be shared from the content that doesn't want to be shared. Most of the cost of transaction, or the cost of collaboration right now, is the fact that you have to have a lawyer involved every time two services, or two people, want to interact with each other at the content layer. And this also is very divisive in terms of the communities. So these legal things only surface once you actually try to do something, and Creative Commons solves that by providing a standardized license and a bunch of technology to help you track that, which means you don't need to involve a lawyer every time you try to mash things together. I think that Creative Commons will enable a whole sort of explosion of innovation at the next layer and up.

Story as told to Eric Steuer. Click the play button below to listen to the interview on which this piece is based.

Eric Steuer is the creative director of Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that works to make it easier for creators to share their work with the rest of the world. It also provides tools to make it easier for people to find creative work that's been made available to them-and the rest of the world-to use, share, reuse etc., freely and legally. This is the third in a series of edited and condensed interviews called "We like to share," in which Steuer talked to people who work across a variety of fields who use sharing as an approach to benefit the work that they do.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

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