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At Supernova, A Belief That New Networks Foster Invention and Innovation

in Broadband's Impact by

Embrace The Change, Exhorts Hollywood producer Peter Guber
Embrace change, exhorts Hollywood producer Peter Guber

SAN FRANCISCO, December 1, 2009 - Digital Age Paul Reveres have been warning the world lately about the impending internet lock-down that they fear will result from the growth in popularity of permission-based development environments such as Apple's iPhone.

Unlike the World Wide Web where everybody is free to execute their ideas without having to obtain prior permission from an infrastructure provider, Apple requires developers to submit their iPhone applications for approval before they can be offered to the public.

Critics, such as Harvard Law School Professor Jonathan Zittrain, worry that such regimes could suffocate the freewheeling nature of the Web and kill the innovation that emerges from such an environment.

While innovation on the software layer may be on the endangered phenomenon list, Tuesday's presentations at the Supernova technology conference made it clear that today's broadband and social networks are enabling other kinds of innovations and collaborations.

Wired Magazine Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson was a case-in-point. He has started a new venture called DIY Drones, which grew out of a hobby. DIY Drones is a community Anderson created using a Ning social network. Anderson said he stumbled across his business and technical partner, a 19-year-old high school drop out living in Tijuana, on Ning. The Internet has provided Anderson with access to talent and information while factories in China allow small companies such as his to outsource the manufacturing process.

A Hollywood bigwig noted Tuesday that the massive sea change currently sweeping the media and entertainment industries is causing high anxiety among executives, but that the best approach is to dive in and to embrace the industry's transformation.

"You have to surrender your resistance to uncertainty," and accept that "you don't have to have the answer," said Peter Guber, a UCLA professor and producer of some of Hollywood's biggest hit films.

Guber pointed to two different films coming out over the next month, and wondered how each would fare. He said that Fox recently spent $350 million on James Cameron's science-fiction film "Avatar." Meanwhile, the producers of "Paranormal Activity," spent $11,000 and marketed it virally on the Web. Guber said that this kind of environment is producing a lot of anxiety among studio executives, who still haven't figured out how to hang onto their profits in the rapidly-changing media landscape.

"I produced Flashdance, and I live in a nice home," he said. "If it were selling on iTunes, I'd be living in a trailer park."

Meanwhile, Harvard's Zittrain noted that not all innovations in the new networked environment are positive. He pointed to a January incident in which gear maker Belkin was paying Amazon's Mechanical Turk users to write good reviews of its routers.

Authoritarian governments could also outsource their surveillance to Mechanical Turk users by getting the users to scan and match the faces in a crowd of demonstrators to IDs in police databases, he said.

Sarah Lai Stirland was Contributing Editor for until April 2011. She has covered business, finance and legal affairs, telecommunications and tech policy for 15 years from New York, Washington and San Francisco. She has written for Red Herring, National Journal's Technology Daily, and She's a native of London and Hong Kong, and is currently based in San Francisco.

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