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As the latest evidence that high-impact Internet technologies often spring from unlikely places, yesterday Jonathan Zittrain, a cofounder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, cited the case of a Berkeley grad student who used the microblogging service Twitter to spring himself from an Egyptian jail. “It does not get much more inane than Twitter–and now that’s being Twittered,” Zittrain said today at a conference at the law school on the future of the Internet. “Let’s be able to report everything you are doing at every moment! Do you remember blogs? Blogs were so deep and substantive.” But on April 10, the brevity-centric service did big things for James Buck, a graduate student of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. While photographing–and Twittering–a demonstration in Egypt, Buck was caught up in a police sweep. He was able to Twit out a single word: “Arrested.” His friends in the United States got the word–literally the word. Calls to lawyers and the State Department were made, and Buck was soon a free man. To Zittrain, this shows anew how an open and unfettered Internet and computing environment allows powerful new technologies to spring from unexpected corners–producing high-impact phenomena ranging from music file sharing to Wikipedia. He argues that an era of innovation may be threatened by security clampdowns and the proliferation of computing gadgets like TiVo and iPods that are difficult or impossible to program and leverage in new ways.

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