Jimmy Wales on Jonathan Zittrain: The Future of the Internet

Question: Do you agree with Jonathan Zittrain that the current incarnation of the Web is unsustainable?

Jimmy Wales:  Not completely.  But he makes an argument that I think everybody should take very, very seriously.  And just to summarize it in my own words as best that I can, what he talks about is how fabulous and amazing and wonderful the radical openness of the internet platform is.  But also all of the amazing problems that we have to put up with because of it.  Problems from spam-- is one of the most notorious-- but viruses, people hi-jacking computers.  You know, there’re thought to be right now hundreds of thousands of computers that have been hi-jacked secretly to send out spam and do other nefarious things.  These giant bot-nets of Window’s computers that’ve been hacked.  That’s troubling.  And what he suggests is that people are gonna get fed up with it, and they’re gonna actually start demanding devices that’re more locked down.  And so things like your iPhone.  It’s a pretty locked down platform, and there’s not a whole lot you can do with it.  And that raises a lot of concern for a lot of people.  I’m a little more optimistic, because I think it’s really hard to replace the open nature of the internet and the values that it generates.  And any kind of closed network system is going to be that it can’t fully compete.  But I do think it’s something that we need to be pretty vigilant about.  And in part, I think we need to be not too-- we should not be excessively concerned.  We need to be concerned, but not excessively concerned about initiatives to change certain internet protocols in a way that might help.  I mean, one of the things right now is that we’ve struggled for many, many years with the spam problem.  And it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  It gets-- for me, personally-- it seems to go in waves.  It gets better for a while when I upgrade my filtering software; and then it gets bad again.  And we can contrast this to something like Facebook.  I use Facebook for a lot of messages nowadays, because I just never get spam there.  But I hope we don’t see all email traffic moving onto a single proprietary platform like Facebook.  And so part of the answer there is to say, “Look, maybe what we need is an email 2.0 protocol that allows for certain kinds of controls, that allows for ways for the community to exclude people.”  Of course, I’m not the first person who’s said this, and I absolutely have no clever ideas about how to do it, unfortunately.  But if somebody had such and initiative, I think it’d be wise to look at it and support it, and say, “Look, actually what we need is a neutral platform, lots of different people can participate in.  It’s just as open as email.  And it’s not bound to one vendor.  And yet, it actually works for a change, instead of being a complete disaster, like email is.” 

Question: What is the biggest Web security threat on the horizon?

Jimmy Wales: I think just more of the same.  I don’t think-- a lot of people worry about some kind of sort of apocalyptic virus that sort of brings most of the internet down for a month or something.  I don’t think that’s too likely.  Mostly because the kinds of people who have resources to put into doing something like that, don’t have any interest in bringing down the whole internet.  Spammers, for example, spend a lot of time and effort.  These sort of criminal bot-nets that spend time trying to steal people’s credit card information and things like that.  Well, they have no interest in shutting down the internet, you know?  They need it to buy stolen goods with the stolen credit card numbers.  So those’re the kinds of things that I don’t worry about too much.  I guess the main thing is just more of the same.  More viruses and sort of nonsense and spam and junk on your computer.  But I’m more of an optimist than JZ is, so.

Recorded on: 04/30/2008

Jonathan Zittrain says the Internet in its current incarnation is unsustainable. Wales doesn’t totally agree.

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