Zittrain Warns of the Cloud

Jonathan Zittrain expands on the themes in his must-read book this morning in a must-read New York Times op-ed about the shift toward cloud computing. A taste of the main point:

[T]he most difficult challenge — both to grasp and to solve — of the cloud is its effect on our freedom to innovate. The crucial legacy of the personal computer is that anyone can write code for it and give or sell that code to you — and the vendors of the PC and its operating system have no more to say about it than your phone company does about which answering machine you decide to buy. [snip] This freedom is at risk in the cloud, where the vendor of a platform has much more control over whether and how to let others write new software.

If you think about info/law very much, none of this is quite new. And as I have said before about Zittrain’s work, I think he is too pessimistic about the certainty of lockdown (after all, we were worried about the walled gardens of AOL and Compuserve too, and look what happened).

But the danger is real and must be addressed, presumably in large part by the audience who reads the Times op-ed page. JZ is such an excellent communicator and synthesizer, and he conveys the seriousness and complexity of the problem very nicely to a key audience in a format where it is difficult to do that. Go read the whole op-ed right now.

[UPDATE: Adam Thierer does not care for this op-ed at all, and has some interesting responses.]

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