Generative Internet

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generativity - the "capacity for unrelated and unaccredited audiences to build and distribute code and content through the Internet to its tens of millions of attached personal computers"



"Generativity: the capacity of a system to produce unanticipated changes through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences. Technological generativity describes the quality of the Internet that allows people unrelated to vendors to produce content in the form of applications through mashups and user-contributed content in the form of wikis and blogs. The first generation of the Internet was a non-generative system whose content was controlled by a small number of parties. With Web 2.0 technologies and practices, the generative potential of Web has reemerged, allowing users to participate and collaborate in the creation of its content." (



Concept by Jonathan Zittrain at

"The idea is that an interconnected network of multipurpose devices (computers) that can be programmed over and over (by downloading software) to execute tasks they were not originally programmed for is a typical generative grid, very conducive to innovation and creativity, to allow whoever to create and share content, etc..." (


Explanation by Doc Searls:

"in The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It (Yale University Press, 2008) Jonathan Zittrain introduces readers to one of the Internet's virtues: support for generativity by its inhabitants. Jonathan defines generativity as "a system's capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences."[1] Opposing this, he says, is a counterrevolution that "would push mainstream users … to an applianced network that incorporates some of the most powerful features of today's Internet while greatly limiting its innovative capacity — and, for better or worse, heightening its regulability." (


Doc Searls:

In an earlier research paper, The Generative Internet, he explains,

- Generativity denotes a technology’s overall capacity to produce unprompted change driven by large, varied, and uncoordinated audiences. The grid of PCs connected by the Internet has developed in such a way that it is consummately generative. From the beginning, the PC has been designed to run almost any program created by the manufacturer, the user, or a remote third party and to make the creation of such programs a relatively easy task. When these highly adaptable machines are connected to a network with little centralized control, the result is a grid that is nearly completely open to the creation and rapid distribution of the innovations of technology-savvy users to a mass audience that can enjoy those innovations without having to know how they work.

Linux and the rest of the FOSS population fit this description, yet exceed it to the degree that they are not products of "audiences", but rather of engineers, working in coordinated ways to create and improve the code itself.

FOSS code is pure building material. The free, abundant and practical nature of this building material gives it some qualities of commodities; yet its generative nature is exceptional to traditional economic constructs. It inconveniences economic belief systems that anchor their perspective in the work of business or government, because it grows abundantly outside either context.

In The Future of the Internet, Jonathan Zittrain shows how the Net and PC operating systems are generative by locating them at the waists of hourglasses:

See graphic at

Both make possible an endless variety of invention and innovation both above and below them. They are like a universal joint making the stuff above independent of the stuff below.

Note that both are not at the bottoms of these illustrations. Their infra roles are in the middle. Their native flexibility is a form of structure that is both sturdy and liberating.

Yet being in the middle presents a conceptual problem Because Linux and the Net run on media and hardware, they seem to be dependent variables of those. They are higher up in "the stack", and therefore less infra than the stuff below them." (