Harvard’s Berkman Center and the Internet: They Just Get It.

The Internet is not as complex as you might think. The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University knows this. The unassuming yellow building just off the Harvard Law School campus houses a host of big minds and even bigger innovation. The members of the Berkman Center are able to make the most complex of issues into a simple conversation that anyone can digest and share. I thought that the Geek Guidebook couldn’t get off of the ground if I didn’t feature Berkman as one of the leading thinktanks in the world. Here’s why:

Brilliant Minds & The Freedom To Explore

The directors of Berkman are some of the finest academic minds in the country and world. Asked to speak at major events like TED, the directors have the latitude to pursue innovation with less resistance. Let’s take a look at the directors. You may know some of them but you will probably know or have heard from most of them within the next few years.

Yochai Benkler is the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard, and faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Before joining the faculty at Harvard Law School, he was Joseph M. Field ’55 Professor of Law at Yale. He writes about the Internet and the emergence of networked economy and society, as well as the organization of infrastructure, such as wireless communications.

In the 1990s he played a role in characterizing the centrality of information commons to innovation, information production, and freedom in both its autonomy and democracy senses. In the 2000s, he worked more on the sources and economic and political significance of radically decentralized individual action and collaboration in the production of information, knowledge and culture.

His work traverses a wide range of disciplines and sectors, and is taught in sundry professional schools and academic departments. In real world applications, his work has been widely discussed in both the business sector and civil society.

William Fisher received his undergraduate degree (in American Studies) from Amherst College and his graduate degrees (J.D. and Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization) from Harvard University. Between 1982 and 1984, he served as a law clerk to Judge Harry T. Edwards of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then to Justice Thurgood Marshall of the United States Supreme Court.

Since 1984, he has taught at Harvard Law School, where he is currently the WilmerHale Professor of Intellectual Property Law and the Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. His academic honors include a Danforth Postbaccalaureate Fellowship (1978-1982) and a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California (1992-1993).

Dr. Urs Gasser is the Berkman Center for Internet & Society’s Executive Director.  Before joining the Berkman Center in this capacity, he was Associate Professor of Law at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland), where he led the Research Center for Information Lawas Faculty Director. Before joining the St. Gallen faculty, Urs Gasser spent three years as a research and teaching fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, where he was appointed Faculty Fellow in 2005.

At the Berkman Center, he was the lead fellow on the Digital Media Project, a multi-disciplinary research project aimed at exploring the transition from offline/analog to online/digital media. He also initiated and chaired the Harvard-Yale-Cyberscholar Working Group, and was a visiting researcher at Harvard Law School in the 2003/04 academic year.

Charles Nesson has this to say about his experience: As an undergraduate I took a course on the Univac One, 1958. The final assignment was to program the machine to sort a list or words alphabetically. This was before silicon chips and computer language. The Univac was built with stacks of vacuum tubes that occupied a large room and looked just like the stacks in a library, except the shelves were filled with vacuum tubes instead of books. We controlled the machine from a separate control room that looked like the deck of the Starship Enterprise. We wrote our instructions to the machine in strings of one’s and zero’s. For our exam, we had twenty minutes at the controls to debug our program and run it on a test list. Our grade depended, first, on whether our program worked, and then, second, on our program’s elegance, measured by the time our program took to sort the list.

John Palfrey is Henry N. Ess Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources at Harvard Law School. He is the co-author of “Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives” (Basic Books, 2008) and “Access Denied: The Practice and Politics of Internet Filtering” (MIT Press, 2008). His research and teaching is focused on Internet law, intellectual property, and international law. He practiced intellectual property and corporate law at the law firm of Ropes & Gray. He is a faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Outside of Harvard Law School, he is a Venture Executive at Highland Capital Partners and serves on the board of several technology companies and non-profits. John served as a special assistant at the US EPA during the Clinton Administration. He is a graduate of Harvard College, the University of Cambridge, and Harvard Law School.

Jonathan Zittrain is a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, a co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and served as its first executive director from 1997-2000. Zittrain’s research includes digital property, privacy, and speech, and the role played by private “middlepeople” in Internet architecture. He has a strong interest in creative, useful, and unobtrusive ways to deploy technology in the classroom. Harvard Law School, J.D.; Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, M.P.A.; Yale University, B.S. Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence.

We’re big @zittrain fans, check out some of the great stuff he’s done already.

Professor John Deighton specializes in consumer behavior and marketing, with a focus on digital marketing practices. Current areas of inquiry include the shifting balance between anonymity and identity in markets and the fate of brands in the hands of social media. He is Editor of the Journal of Consumer Research. Prior to joining the Harvard Business School in 1994, he served on the faculties of the Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago, and the Amos Tuck School, Dartmouth College. His PhD is in marketing from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Formerly Associate Dean for Academic Administration, Professor Mark Edwards is now Senior Advisor to the Dean at Harvard Divinity School. He has written four books and numerous articles on Martin Luther and the German Reformation. The most recent book, entitled Printing, Propaganda, and Martin Luther (University of California Press, 1994; reprint, Fortress Press, 2005), deals with the West’s first “mass media campaign” and Luther’s pivotal role as both subject and object in the struggle for the hearts and minds of sixteenth-century Christians. Edwards has taught introductory courses in computer science at Wellesley College and Purdue University, and has developed three commercial software programs, including For Comment, a pioneer “groupware” product that was designated one of the best products of 1987 by PC Magazine.

Jack Goldsmith specializes in international law, foreign affairs law, conflicts of law, and national security law. He is the author of dozens of articles on these and other subjects. His most recent publications are The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration (Norton, 2007), Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World (Oxford University Press, 2006) (co-authored with Tim Wu) and (with Eric Posner) The Limits of International Law (Oxford University Press, 2005). Before coming to Harvard, he served as Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel from October 2003 through July 2004, and Special Counsel to the General Counsel to the Department of Defense from September 2002 through June 2003. Professor Goldsmith taught at the University of Chicago Law School from 1997 to 2002, and at the University of Virginia Law School from 1994 to 1997. His areas of interest at the Berkman Center lie in Internet governance and regulation, and Internet filtering.

Professor Alexander Keyssar received his PhD in the History of American Civilization at Harvard and has also taught at Brandeis University, Duke University, and MIT. His 1986 book, Out of Work: the First Century of Unemployment in Massachusetts, was awarded several scholarly prizes, including the Frederick Jackson Turner Award of the Organization of American Historians; it was also named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times. In 2000, he published The Right to Vote: the Contested History of Democracy in the United States, which received the Beveridge Prize from the American Historical Association and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the LA Times Book Award, and the Francis Parkman Prize. He is a co-author of Inventing America: A History of the United States and has written widely on public policy issues in the popular press.

Lawrence Lessig is the director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, and a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. Prior to returning to Harvard, he was a professor at Stanford Law School, where he founded the school’s Center for Internet and Society, and at the University of Chicago. He clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court.

For much of his career, Professor Lessig focused his work on law and technology, especially as it affects copyright. His current work addresses “institutional corruption” relationships which are legal, even currently ethical, but which weaken public trust in an institution.

He has won numerous awards, including the Free Software Foundation’s Freedom Award, and was named one of Scientific American’s Top 50 Visionaries. He is the author of Remix (2008), Code v2 (2007), Free Culture (2004),The Future of Ideas (2001) and Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (1999). He is on the board of Creative Commons, MAPLight, Brave New Film Foundation, Change Congress, The American Academy, Berlin, Freedom House and iCommons.org, and the advisory board of the Sunlight Foundation. He has served on the board of the Free Software Foundation, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Public Library of Science, Free Press, and Public Knowledge. He was a columnist for Wired, Red Herring, and the Industry Standard.

Charles Ogletree is a Faculty Fellow Emeritus at the Berkman Center. Charles Ogletree, the Harvard Law School Jesse Climenko Professor of Law and Vice Dean for the Clinical Programs, is a prominent legal theorist who has made an international reputation by taking a hard look at complex issues of law and by working to secure the rights guaranteed by the Constitution for everyone equally under the law. Professor Ogletree has examined these issues not only in the classroom, on the Internet and in the pages of prestigious law journals, but also in the everyday world of the public defender in the courtroom and in public television forums where these issues can be dramatically revealed. Armed with an arsenal of facts, Charles Ogletree presents and discusses the challenges that face our justice system and its attempt to deliver equal treatment to all our citizens. He furthers dialogue by insisting that the justice system protect rights guaranteed to those citizens by law.

Professor Stuart Shieber’s primary research field is computational linguistics, the study of human languages from the perspective of computer science. Shieber received an AB in applied mathematics summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1981 and a PhD in computer science from Stanford University in 1989. He was given a Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1991, and was named a Presidential Faculty Fellow in 1993, one of only thirty in the country in all areas of science and engineering. At Harvard, he has been awarded two honorary chairs: the John L. Loeb Associate Professorship in Natural Sciences in 1993 and the Harvard College Professorship in 2001. He was named a fellow of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence in 2004. He was the founding director of the Center for Research on Computation and Society. His work at the Berkman Center is informed by his interest in and efforts towards open access to scholarly literature.

Why Berkman Matters

From Open Access, Harvard-wide matters, and the Future of the Internet, Berkman has helped play an integral role in shaping the future of the Internet. One of the biggest splashes the Center made into the more mainstream media was during the election in Iran:

Blocking of blogs by the government is less pervasive than we had assumed. Most of the blogosphere network is visible inside Iran, although the most frequently blocked blogs are clearly those in the secular/reformist pole. Given the repressive media environment in Iran today, blogs may represent the most open public communications platform for political discourse. The peer-to-peer architecture of the blogosphere is more resistant to capture or control by the state than the older, hub and spoke architecture of the mass media model.

Berkman took the discussion a step further and gained nationwide attention doing so. They did this by creating a computational look at the Iranian blogosphere. This case study is part of a series produced by the Internet and Democracy project. The initial studies include three of the most frequently cited examples of the Internet’s influence on democracy.

They took a similar approach as the Berkman center tackled a modern battle over freedom of speech in China. The Firewall of China continues to make headlines to this day as Google does battle with the Chinese over who should have access to the Internet and what the government should be able to do. This diagram was built by Berkman and is a pretty startling look at just how elaborate the Firewall of China is:

Berkman has also maintained a robust lineup of speakers and guests. Their website is chock full of news and academic approaches to the Internet:

What’s Next?

The Berkman Center has a staggering amount of projects on their plate. From Herdict to Broadband Review to the Law Lab, you can rest assured that Berkman and Harvard will be working on some of the biggest problems and coming up with some of the biggest solutions in the near future. Check out Berkman today!