I want to do two things here. One is to get going on a long-form FAQ for ProjectVRM. The other is to address some of the questions about VRM that have come up, both on the ProjectVRM list, and on the recent Respect Network launch tour.
Q: How can VRM succeed when the Average Joe shows no interest in it?
A: First, there is no Average Joe. Difference is a fundamental human quality. All of us have different faces, voices, thoughts, flaws, aspirations, phobias and the rest of it. Even identical twins, both grown from the same split egg, can have radically different souls and lives.
Second, inventions mother necessities. The world is full of things that nobody wanted until they saw them, and what they could do. And, once they started using them, those things became ordinary. Here’s Louis CK on how this happened with aviation. What began as the Miracle of Flight is now a subject of constant complaint about bad service to crowds speeding across the stratosphere.
If all future progress was based on what an average Joe would do with present technology, there would be no progress. In fact, we had exactly this with stone tools, which on the whole failed to advance — or advanced only in small ways, every few dozen hundreds or thousands of years. (For more on the present evolutionary picture, see Race Against the Machine and The Second Machine Age, both by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.)
Step back from history, look across the decades, and ironies abound. In Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” — a song about a kind of average Joe, with the chorus “… something is happening here and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?” — the final line is “you should be made to wear earphones.” Dylan wrote that at a time when earphones were worn only by audiophiles and people whose work required them. Today in a subway car, you’ll see a lots of riders wearing earbuds or headphones that look like wood clamps. All of them are plugged into devices in purses or pockets that crunch more data and run more applications than anybody working on a Univac could imagine with the tech of their day. And at trivial costs.
The tide of tech history, over the last four decades, has been one of personal empowerment, and of corporate and government opposition to it, followed by widespread realization that personal empowerment is good for everybody.
We saw that with personal computing in the 1980s, worldwide personal internetworking in the 1990s, mobile devices that provided both in the 2000s, and now with personal clouds (aka stores, vaults, PIMS) in the 2010s. (I also spoke about this two weeks ago at Amplifyfest in Sydney.) For partial lists of early work going on in the mid-2010s, see the ProjectVRM developments list, PDEC’s startup directory and the Respect Network Founding Partners list.
Q: A lot of VRM seems to be about people managing their own data. Who wants to go to the trouble and why?
A: Everybody with a laptop or a smartphone is already managing data. They may not think of it that way, but they are. All emails, calendars, contact lists, photo albums, movies and files created with office applications (spreadsheets, text documents, drawings, financial reports, whatever) are data people manage for themselves, or with help from companies that provide the means. “Personal cloud” is a term for the place where we manage and put to use the data that’s most useful to us in various market spaces. For example:
- fitness and health data
- automobile performance, maintenance and service data
- intentcasting data (what we intend to buy, but in our own space rather than in some company’s sales and marketing space)
- usage and service data (for household appliances, utility providers — anything we own, use, care about and occasionally need support for)
Today that data is isolated in silos. Even fitness data, produced by wrist bands and phone apps, is fractioned off into many silos over which we have littler or no control. Personal clouds are where we will integrate that data and decide how best to use it. Some of those will be self-hosted, others will be provided by services. Those, ideally, will be substitutable.
Q: What about legal hurdles? Vendors and service providers seem to still be holding all of the legal cards, and the “agreements” we make are always one-sided. How can that change?
A. On this one we are still at Square Zero. But it will have to change. Inevitably. (See chapters 4 and 20 of The Intention Economy.) And work is being done on it already. Watch this space for more on that.