Joi Ito Named to Take Over MIT Media Lab

4/25/11Follow @wroush

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology news office has confirmed a New York Times scoop today revealing that ubiquitous technology entrepreneur Joichi “Joi” Ito has been named the next director of the MIT Media Lab—an institution famed for giving its industry sponsors, and the outside world, a perpetual window into the future of computing and communications.

Though the Times deemed him an “unusual choice” due to his lack of academic credentials, observers say that Ito, 44, will likely infuse the Media Lab with a new spirit of youthful enthusiasm and global awareness—and, potentially, new funds. “He’ll bring youth, globalness, social networkness, the world stage, fund raising resolve and a charmed personality of enablement,” says Media Lab founding director Nicholas Negroponte. “We could not have picked a better candidate.”

Ito is known as an early and avid proponent of the Internet and digital commerce. The company he founded in 1994, Eccosys, evolved into Digital Garage, one of the highest-flying Japanese Internet companies of the 1990s. He helped to start the first Japanese Internet service provider, PSINet, as well as Infoseek Japan, the country’s first commercial search engine. He founded a Tokyo-based venture firm called Neoteny (which is now a holding company) and has lectured and published widely.

Ito’s list of angel investments reads like a who’s who of pioneering social media companies, including Six Apart, Technorati, SocialText, Flickr, Twitter, Last.fm, Kongregate, Rupture, and Kickstarter. Most recently, he served as CEO of Creative Commons, a non-profit promoting licensing schemes that foster greater sharing and reuse of digital media content. He is still a board member at Creative Commons, and also serves on the boards of the Mozilla Foundation, the human rights group Witness, and the blogger network Global Voices.

Ito was born in Kyoto, Japan, and spent his childhood in Canada, Michigan, and Tokyo. He attended Tufts University in Massachusetts and the University of Chicago but left both without a degree. He will be the Media Lab’s fourth director since Negroponte founded the organization in 1985. He succeeds Frank Moss, who took over in 2006 after a career in computing and pharmaceuticals. Moss announced his departure last summer.

Though the Media Lab recently expanded into a new $90 million building that roughly doubled its footprint on the MIT campus, its existence still depends on a network of … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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