3 Commons, layers and learning from history

3.1 Commons and layers

In this section we introduce the two main concepts in The Future of Ideas: commons and layers. We also cover some relevant history of the internet and discover how the right to tinker is important for innovation. The three-layers model of the internet will be used as the framework for viewing the history.

George Santayana said, ‘Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.’ Lessig's corollary to this is that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed not to repeat its successes. In other words, since we do not understand how the internet bred innovation (for example email and the World Wide Web) on such a huge scale, we will not be able to do it again or even build on what has been done.

We learn from history that we do not learn from history.

(Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831))

Chapters 2 and 3

Read Chapters 2 and 3 of The Future of Ideas, linked below.

Click 'View document' to open Chapters 2 and 3 of The Future of Ideas.

There is some network theory in Chapter 3. This is relatively straightforward to follow if you are already familiar with the basic operation of the internet. It may seem difficult if you are not. It is important that you understand the basics of the technology. A wonderful animated movie, Warriors of the Net, produced by Gunilla Elam, Tomas Stephanson and Niklas Hanberger originally at Ericsson Medialab, tells you most of what you need to know at this stage about the inner workings of the internet. This 12-minute animation, linked below, is worth watching even if you are familiar with how the internet works.

You can visit the Warriors of the Net website at www.warriorsofthe.net.


The book plays out the story outlined in Chapter 1 in the context of cases like Napster, following through with three recurrent ideas:

  1. ‘commons’, which are essentially ‘free’ resources available to a community;

  2. the ‘layers’ model of the internet;

  3. the four constraints on behaviour, which will be described in Section 6.1.

The first two of these ideas are introduced in Chapter 2.

Figure 2: mindmap of Chapter 2