Jonathon Zittrain’s book The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It has been getting a fair amount of attention since its recent release by Yale University Press. Partly this is a matter of its premise. As the description on the Yale site summarizes:
This extraordinary book explains the engine that has catapulted the Internet from backwater to ubiquity—and reveals that it is sputtering precisely because of its runaway success. With the unwitting help of its users, the generative Internet is on a path to a lockdown, ending its cycle of innovation—and facilitating unsettling new kinds of control.
Aside from being provocative, however, the book is also free. You can read and comment on the entire thing at Yale Books Unbound.
The release of Zittrain’s book got me thinking about the very large number of books that are out there for free at this point. (Just stop by Project Gutenberg if you want a good place to start.) Among these, there are three in particular I would recommend to anyone seeking to understand the dynamics of the current Web culture in which we live.
First, Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. While Wikinomics has captured the popularity and speaking circuit prize for its explanation of how the Internet has changed business, Benkler’s book offers a much deeper and more detailed view into the ways the Web is reshaping our entire society. While it is not always an easy read, nor is it a dry text book. There is plenty here to keep the pages turning, and as Lawrence Lessig (see below) has put it “You are not serious about these issues…unless you have read this book.”
The full text of Benkler’s book is available in various formats, along with many other resources, in a wiki that was launched to complement it.
Next, a relic of the dotcom world, and yet one that has proven amazingly prescient and enduring: The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual. I mentioned this one at an event I spoke at recently and was mildly surprised by how few of the executives in the room had heard of it. One of the central theses of the Manifesto is that “Markets are conversations.” If you have a significant role in running any type of organization and don’t yet understand what is meant by that statement, drop everything and get over to the Cluetrain site right now.
As with Benkler’s book, the entire text is available online, and at the site you can find links to the authors’ blogs and other related sites.
Finally, there is Lawrence Lessig’s The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World. Lessig has been called “the most important thinker on intellectual property in the Internet era” by James Surowiecki of The Wisdom of Crowds fame, and it is hard to argue. I haven’t yet read Zittrain’s book, mentioned at the beginning of this post, but its thesis that the freedom and innovation that has characterized the rise of the Internet is in danger of extinction is clearly a legacy of Lessig’s thinking.
If you care about innovation or have anything to do with the production, distribution, or consumption of intellectual property (like, er, reading this blog) Lessig’s book is a must read. And on a closely related note, if you are not yet familiar with Lessig’s Creative Commons project, get over there and check it out. Copyright is not what it used to be.
Lessig’s book is downloadable for free in its entirety, and on his Web site you will find links for downloading other works as well as for accessing his wiki and other resources.
Naturally, all of the above books are available at Amazon if you prefer not to read them on the Web or download PDFs:
- The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
- The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual
- The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World
However you go about it, though, I recommend spending some time with all three in the near future.
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