Category: personal informatics (page 2 of 2)

Google’s Wallet and VRM

Yesterday Google opened the curtain on Google Wallet. I think it’s the most important thing Google has launched since the search engine. Here’s why:

Reason #1: We’ve always needed an electronic wallet, especially one in our mobile phone. And, although others have tried to give us one, it hasn’t worked out for them, because…

Reason #2: We’ve needed one from somebody who doesn’t also have a hand in our pocket. Google WalletGoogle is the only company in the world that can pull this off, because it’s the only company in the world that lives to commodify exactly the businesses that desperately need commodification, and to await interesting consequences. I can’t think of a single company that’s better at causing tsunamis of commodification so they can join hundreds of other companies, surfing them to new shores. List the things Google does but doesn’t make money with, and you’ll have a roster of businesses that needed commodification. What Google looks for is what JP Rangaswami and I call because effects: you make money because of those things, not with them. (Note, not talking about “monetization” here. A subtle distinction.) A Google lawyer once told me this strategy was “looking for second and third order effects.” Same thing. Either way, they’re out to give us — and retailers we do business with — a hand. (But they will need to keep it out of our pockets, which includes data we consider personal. We’re the ones to say what that is, and others — including Google, Sprint, Citi and the retailers — need to respect that.)

Reason #3: This reduces friction in a huge way. It’s not an exaggeration when Google says this on their Vision page for the project:

In the past few thousand years, the way we pay has changed just three times—from coins, to paper money, to plastic cards.

Now we’re on the brink of the next big shift.

What weighs your wallet down? What slows you down at checkout? Sometimes it’s pulling out cash, but most times it’s dealing with cards. In the last few years every store, it seems, has been piling on with loyalty cards and keyring tags. This last week Panera Bread started, and watching the results have been a clinic in business fashion gone wrong. The poor folks behind the counter are now forced to ask customers if they have a Panera bread card, and the customers have to either say no (and feel strange), or to produce one from their wallet or key ring. Yesterday I asked the person behind the counter how she liked it. “We don’t need it, and customers don’t want it,” she said. “We’re only doing it because every other store does it. That’s all.” That’s a pain in the pocket nobody needs.

Says Google,

Google Wallet has been designed for an open commerce ecosystem. It will eventually hold many if not all of the cards you keep in your leather wallet today. And because Google Wallet is a mobile app, it will be able to do more than a regular wallet ever could, like storing thousands of payment cards and Google Offers but without the bulk. Eventually your loyalty cards, gift cards, receipts, boarding passes, tickets, even your keys will be seamlessly synced to your Google Wallet. And every offer and loyalty point will be redeemed automatically with a single tap via NFC.

This assumes that the ecosystem will continue to support the kind of loyalty programs we have today. It won’t, because we won’t and that brings me to…

Reason #4: Now customers can truly relate with vendors. That is, if Google Wallet and participating retailers and other players welcome it. See, CRM — Customer Relationship Management — has thus far been almost entirely a sell-side thing. It’s how companies related with you, not how you related with them. They set the rules, they provided the cards, they put up the websites where you filled out long complicated forms, they send you the junk mail, and they do the guesswork about what you might want, usually because you’ve bought something like it before. But what if your phone has your shopping list? What if you want to advertise what you’re looking for, as a personal RFP for something you need right now, and may never need again? Think of this as advertising in reverse, or what Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) calls “Broadcast Shopping”. This is one example of how …

Reason #5: Now demand can signal supply in great detail. Until now, about the only signals we could send were with cash, cards, and whatever might percolate up the corporate CRM chain from “social” CRM. There’s a lot here (see Brian Solis’ Converation Prism, for example, or follow Paul Greenberg). But those all depended on second (vendor) or third parties (all the petals in Brian’s prism, which actually looks more like a flower). They weren’t your signals. I see no reason why the open commerce ecosystem shouldn’t include that. Why should customers always be the dependent variables and not the independent ones? Speaking of independence…

Reason #6: Now you have your own pricing gun. You can tell a store, or a whole market, what you’re willing to pay for something — or what you might offer along with payment, such as information about your other relationships, or the fact that you just moved here and are likely to be shopping at this store more. (Or that you’re a high-status frequent flyer with another airline, and considering the same for this one.) Why not?

Reason #7: You can take your shopping cart with you. Back when e-commerce began, in 1995, my wife’s sister was the VP Finance for Netscape, so that company was something like family for us, making my wife (not a technical type) an early adopter. One of her first questions back then was one that exposes a flaw that’s been in e-commerce from the start: “Why can’t I take my shopping cart from one store to another?” At least conceivably, now you can. Let’s say you want to shop at Store B while you’re at Store A. This already happens when you scan a QR or a barcode with your smartphone to see if it’s cheaper at Amazon or something. But what if you want to be more sophisticated than that? The implications for retailers can be scary, but also advantageous. After all, retailers have physical locations, which Amazon doesn’t. Retailers can earn loyalty in ways that are as unique as each store, and each person working at a store.

Reason #8: Now you can bring your own data with you. Inevitably, you will have a personal data store, vault, lockerdata wallet (yes, it’s already called that), trust framework — or other combination of means for managing and selectively sharing that data in secure, trustworthy and auditable ways. And your data doesn’t just have to be about shopping. Personal tracking and informatics are getting big now (read Quantified Self for more). That’s stuff we bring to the market’s table as well. The wallet in one’s phone seems a good way.

Reason #9: Now you can actually relate. When a customer has the ability to shop as well as buy, right in his or her wallet — and to put shopping in the contect of the rest of his or her life, which includes far more than shopping alone — retailers can discover advantages other than discounts, coupons and other gimmicks. Maybe you’ll buy from Store B because you like the people there better, because they’re more helpful in general, because they took your advice about something, or because they help your kid’s school. Many more factors can come into play.

Reason #10: Now you’re in a free and open marketplace. Not just the space contained by any store’s exclusive loyalty system. Nor in a “free” market that’s “your choice of captor” (which is one of the purposes of loyalty programs).  Along those same lines…

Reason #11: You don’t have to play calf to every store and website’s cow. The reason you can’t take your shopping cart with you from store to store on the Web is that e-commerce normalized from the start on the calf-cow, slave-master architecture of client-server computing. This is what turned the Web from a peer-to-peer, end-to-end egalitarian greenfield into fenced-off ranchland where vendors built walled gardens for “consumers” who fed on the milk of each site’s exclusive offerings, and also got cookies that helped calf and cow remember each other, but which sometimes also tracked the calves as they wandered off into other gardens. It was a submissive/dominant system from the get-go, and has been flawed for exactly that reason ever since. Google Wallet, at least conceptually, gives you ways in which you can relate to anybody or anything, on your terms and not just theirs. And not just in the old commercial-Web-based calf-cow system. You can divine the bovine right in your pocket, and avoid or correct vendors trying to feed you tainted milk or tracking cookies.

I could go on, but I have a book to write and not much time left. But I consider Google Wallet a move of profound importance, even if it doesn’t work out, so I’m putting this list out there for us to correct, debate or whatever else we need to do . At the very least Google Wallet gives us one thing a BigCo is doing that can mesh well with what the VRM development community has been working on for the last few years. I hope the synergies will get everybody excited.

[Later, in August…] Some additional news:

Stay tuned.

IIW dev job: ListenLog

Craig Burton has a nice tutorial on developing VRM applications, using ListenLog as both an example and a challenge for next week at IIW.

ListenLog is the brainchild of Keith Hopper and the collaborative result of efforts by folks from NPR, PRX and other public radio institutions, as well as the Berkman Center and volunteers from the VRM community. It’s a form of self-tracking (see The Quantified Self for more on what that’s about), and also part of a larger effort that includes EmanciPay.

You’ll already find it on the Public Radio Player for iPhone, which is free and a great app. If you’re using an iPhone, download it, then go (as the tutorial says) to the settings and turn on logging. What you’ll have is your own growing pile of personal data, that you control. (No, it’s not yet in your all-purpose personal data store, locker or vault, but that’s another step and we can talk about that too. It is, for sure, in your Personal Data Ecosystem.)

Here’s where the tutorial pauses, for now:

to be done

One of our jobs next week is fulfilling those needs. This is light-duty hacking of the sort we can do around a table in one afternoon. (For those of us who can hack. Alas, the only code I know is Morse.)

Here’s where moving forward on this will lead:

  1. Better knowledge for listeners about what they actually value.
  2. Necessary groundwork for EmanciPay, which is a new listener-driven business model for public radio — and for everything else thats available for free but worth more than that.
  3. More money for public radio (because the old models won’t go away).
  4. More money for every business that produces free goods that are worth more than that. (For example music, newspapers, magazines, blogs and so on.)
  5. Experience and modeling for other similar projects.

Should be fun work.

Bonus thought: This might also work as something that ties in with the Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge. (Keith will be there, I think.) Hey, let’s connect the two. Should be fun. Just tweeted this as well.

To your owned self be true

After getting this provocative tweet, I checked the source (@NZN), and found Ready to make change? A sample:

…my son BELIEVES he OWNS the Internet. His Internet. His Facebook.

And in case you think that is not how reality works, I suggest that you also consider that my son also BELIEVES that he OWNS his government.

We all know that we are a part of a fucked up socio-economic system that has been designed over 1000’s of years by countless contributions into what is, in my arrogant Human perspective, true Genius. We are surviving, we are struggling, we are prospering, we are becoming….

We are becoming something new. The Internet will increasingly come to be seen by the Individuals within our species as an inherent element of their lives, indeed, of their freedom. As a result, a new royalty is emerging on our planet. There is good reason for the mad dash to wealth and power we are experiencing in our bubble-forming industries; strategic positioning in the face of rampant change. It is both a rational and immature way of dealing with the substance of change we are all confronting.

He (I’m assuming it’s he, but I dunno) concludes,

Facebook, Inc. today has constructed the relationship it has with its data sources as secured assets under its incorporated control. Modern law will substantiate that position.

Thus, we have two positions to contend with:

1. Facebook: that data you are building tools to service as a social utility, has been co-opted due to the present ignorance of the general public which willingly constructs itself as “data slaves” within most public relational database constructs. This dynamic is easily changed, and Rights will be afforded the General population today representing your customer base that changes the nature of the relationship that you now possess as a private asset. This is important for any investor in Facebook to recognize, as it points to the finite temporal nature of the ROI formula Facebook is today using to evaluate its market valuation, which I believe stands at $65 billion?

2. Modern law was formed upon a foundation that is no longer represented within its construct; Individual Sovereignty was an implied Right and natural feature of Human existence as demonstrated by the signatures which founded our Declaration of Independence and Constitutional Democracy. Individual Sovereignty is the only force standing behind ‘John Hancock’ meaning anything, as written on these legal documents. And either that Individual Sovereignty is part of the inherent structure of my IDENTITY as a citizen, or CITIZENSHIP has co-opted my Individual Sovereignty without acknowledging the recursive nature of that original signature moment. Either way, something needs to change. And in every case, its the structure of our governmental bureaucracy. I own America as a citizen. I own myself, pre-citizenship. If anyone wants to say different, lets get that started asap.

I’m ready to create change. Are you?

So there ya go. I’ve got a book to finish, but maybe one of the rest of ya’ll can engage. (I will eventually, just not right now.)

State of the VRooM

A lot has been happening in VRooMville lately. (Testimony: over there on the right at the moment we have three different #VRM tweets, in three different languages.) Rather than summarize things, I’ll let writers and developers in the VRM community give us a rundown. In no special order, here goes…

Reverse the Paradigm, by . Excerpt:

What if we asked: How can we deliver a product/service that people want? We could stop the insane guessing game all of us are engaged in. We wouldn’t have to battle for the attention of people; they asked for our attention. That’s the basic idea of Vendor Relationship Management. I’ve written many times about VRM before.

What baffles me is that many people believe this is an utopian dream. “It’ll never happen.” They tend to forget, it’s already happening. Not in the marketing world yet but it happened to the publishing industry. The desire of people to get customized media whenever they want it lead to the sale of Newsweek for $1. And the sale of Huffington Post for $315 million. It changed the recording industry forever. Or, rather, wrecked it. People revolted against getting their information top-down. They wanted customization, filters and control. It was a quick transformation because Web 2.0 made publishing so easy for everyone.

What makes you think the same won’t happen to marketing and advertising?

The Customer is Center, by . Excerpt:

THE BIG IDEA: “Cookies and tracking software? Who needs em? People are creating taste-signals daily with what they choose to buy. Why not let the customer go directly to the brand/vendor and get rid of this guesswork?”

C3 Commentary : Welcome to VRMville! by Dan Miller. Excerpt:

Adding VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) to the picture adds a more “user-centric” set of possibilities. Each person who generates all this metadata is also given adequate means to control release of the data or to attach terms and conditions governing how and to whom the information can be released. That’s where companies like Sing.ly and its closely related Locker Project come into play.

In Bridging the Marketing/Customer Care Divide – Thoughts from #C32011, Lou Dubois of The Social Customer wrote that “Dan Miller (@dnm54) and Greg Sterling (@gsterling) from Opus Research (@opusresearch) put on a unique, intimate and thought-provoking conference last week in San Francisco built around the challenges and opportunities facing different companies as they try to close the gap and get folks from marketing, customer service and PR to work towards the larger organizational strategy.” He added that one take-away was, “The next big step for Social CRM is VRM — and 2011 will mark it officially moving from theory to practice for most intelligent organizations.”

The Personal Cloud, by . Excerpt:

When the VRM’rs on the panel first explained the concept of the personal data store, Mark Plakias, VP Strategy and Design at Orange Labs in San Francisco, immediately referred to it as the personal cloud. Although I’d heard the term a few times before, Mark’s usage suddenly rang true for me. He was referring to everything that the VRM community has traditionally defined a PDS as encompassing, plus personal storage, backup, connectivity, and other options that will clearly be part of the overall value proposition as the concept goes to market.

A little Google searching this weekend showed that a number of vendors including Iomega and Tonido are already using the term for cloud storage of personal data assets. And last May Forrester analyst Frank Gillette predicated that the personal cloud will replace the traditional personal computing OS.

That all seems to fit.

Then, The Personal Cloud, Take 2:

…neither the idea nor the term “personal cloud” is really new — all of this was 18 months ago. And the VRM community has been talking about personal data stores since 2004.

But, as with almost everything in tech, it’s all about timing. The hadn’t formed yet. And, in my personal opinion, the technologies that can actually implement the personal control that all these authors agree will be necessary for personal clouds wasn’t there yet (hint: Internet identity is only the start). For example, Jeremie Miller hadn’t created the Locker Project or protocol yet, nor his new company based on it, which just won best-in-show at the O’Reilly Strata Conference Startup Showcase.

So maybe it’s finally time to seed personal clouds for real.

Then,  Personal Cloud Take 3: Thomas Vander Wall’s Personal Infocloud:

When I first heard the term “personal cloud” from Mark Plakias at C3, I knew it sounded vaguely familiar, but it wasn’t until I started this series of blog posts that Kaliya Hamlin (Identitywoman) reminded me that Thomas Vander Wal named his blog Personal InfoCloud some years ago. Instantly I recalled the dinner that Kaliya and Thomas and I had in Washington D.C. a few years ago wheree he explained his vision for a personal information cloud, and how it was a superset of what the VRM community has been calling a personal data store.

In retrospect, I am quite sure this was one reason a subconscious bell rang for me when the term “personal cloud” came up again. And, reading recent posts from Thomas’ blog, including one about lessons to be learned from Yahoo’s threat to close Delicious, I point to it as even more evidence that the term works well for expressing what we all mean by this collection of personal data and relationships that will become the hub of your digital life.

Speaking of hubs, that reminds me of yet another pioneer thinker in this space: Jon Udell and his concept of hosted lifebits.

Riftstalker‘s VRM vs. RPG Excerpt:

When Doc Searls couldn’t explain what VRM is, he turned to RPGs. Wait, what’s VRM? VRM stands for Vendor Relationship Management.

So, as I was explaining VRM to some people this morning, and how we were equipping individuals with tools for both independence and engagement, an analogy came up: role playing games. Dungeons & Dragons. World of Warcraft. Final Fantasy.

I was blown away. Not because it’s a great analogy, but because I … just didn’t know. I’ve never played any of these games. But the people I was talking to had (or still did) play these games. And they were getting something about VRM that I wasn’t saying.

Well, Doc, RPGs get immediate response. Often emotional and sometimes even dramatic. Everyone has their favorite archetype, everyone has their favorite game. So who knows, maybe it’s like talking about your vendors… the Warrior vendor, the Mage vendor, and of course, the Rogue vendor.

Startups in the personal data ecosystem, by The list (all of which are also in the VRM space):

Data Storage,  Collection and Sharing

is a Community Interest Company based in the UK that has begun a community prototype that connects individuals’ personal data store accounts to local government agencies.

has raised 7 million in venture funding and although it does not yet have any services their website articulates clearly how personal data under the control of the user is valuable.

Jeremy Miller’s startup to build 3rd and 4th party apps based on data from data stores build using the Locker Project code base an open source project for collating, securing and sharing personal data .

is a startup that supports you pulling in your information from different service providers including Mobile phone record, Energy and utility records, Health and fitness, Shopping and payment, Transportation.  Statz gives you instructions on how to go into your mobile carrier or electric company and export your statements – often this involves a dozen steps and is very labor intensive – not something easy or that everyone will do.

Greplin Does Personal Cloud SearchWhen people set up their accounts they give the service access to a range of accounts – LinkedIn, Gmail, Basecamp, Flickr, etc. Then you use their engine to search across them.

Backupify is an all-in-one archiving, search and restore service for the most popular online services including Google Apps, Facebook, Twitter, Picasa and more.

helps manage user-driven searches across multiple search providers and websites, creating a powerful new way to explicitly express search intent anywhere on the Internet.  Joe Andrieu

provides Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) infrastructure. Businesses use CRM to manage customer relationships, while VRM lets individuals manage their relationships with businesses. TrustFabric writes Open Source software and gives customers a platform to represent their side of the VRM+CRM relationship. TrustFabric is based in Cape Town, South Africa.

helps you to stop unwanted marketing and to get in control of the way your data is used.

Consortium for Local Ownership and Use of Data, Inc.  A non-profit technology standard consortia started in early 2009 that believes that a new era of ME 1.0 is at hand, an era that looks beyond Web 2.0, while simultaneously looking to the founding principles of the Internet as the solution to many of today’s most vexing issues of privacy, security and data.

DataInherit online safes from Switzerland offer individuals around the world highly secure online storage for passwords and digital documents. You can access your online safe using any Internet browser or an iPhone from anywhere and at any time. In addition the unique data inheritance functionality will protect your data in emergency situations. Simple and convenient.

New Application Building and Design Tools

Kynetx is developing a new language that looks at data from personal data stores and public datasets and can do real time matching based on rule sets created by the individual to surface relevant content.

EmanciPay is a relationship management and voluntary payment framework in which buyers and sellers can present to each other the requirements and options by which they are willing to engage, or are already engaging. Including choices concerning payment, preference, policies.

Open Source Projects

Speaking of Jeremie Miller, and Sing.ly, Marshall Kirkpatrick put the scoop in Creator of Instant Messaging Protocol to Launch App Platform for Your Life on ReadWriteWeb:

Called The Locker Project, the open source service will capture what’s called exhaust data from users’ activities around the web and offline via sensors, put it firmly in their own possesion and then allow them to run local apps that are built to leverage their data. Miller’s three person company, Singly, will provide the corporate support that the open source project needs in order to remain viable. I’m very excited about this project; Miller’s backgrounds, humble brilliance and vision for app-enabling my personal data history is very exciting to me.

Here’s how The Locker Project will work. Users will be able to download the data capture and storage code and run it on their own server, or sign up for hosted service – like WordPress.org and  WordPress.com. Then the service will pull in and archive all kinds of data that the user has permission to access and store into the user’s personal Locker: Tweets, photos, videos, click-stream, check-ins, data from real-world sensors like heart monitors, health records and financial records like transaction histories.

Where data extraction is made easy already by APIs or feeds, Lockers will pull it that way. Where the data is appealing and the Locker community is motivated to do so, data connectors will be built.

Searching those data archives has been a technical challenge for many other startups, but the Locker team says it is trivial for them – because they only have to build search to scale across your personal data and the data you’ve been given permission to access by members of your network.

Seach and sharing across a user’s network will be powered by Miller’s eagerly-anticipated open source P2P project called Telehash, described as “a new wire protocol for exchanging JSON in a real-time and fully decentralized manner, enabling applications to connect directly and participate as servers on the edge of the network.”

… and here’s in O’Reilly Radar:

Singly, by giving people the ability to do things with their own data, has the potential to change our world. And, as Kirkpatrick notes, this won’t be the first time Jeremie has done that.

I was drawn over to the Singly table when an awesome app they were demonstrating caught my eye. Fizz, an application from Bloom, was running on a locker with data aggregated from three different places.

Fizz is an intriguing early manifestation of capabilities never seen before on the web. It provides the ability for us to control, aggregate, share and play with our own data streams, and bring together the bits and pieces of our digital selves scattered about the web.

, by . Excerpt:

Personal data assets are fast becoming a new asset class, traded among these companies and marketing departments of enterprises around the world. That’s a shift in how personal data is conceived and exploited. The Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) community could bring another shift as start-ups begin invading this space, switching the emphasis to managing personal data assets on behalf of users.

Facebook as a personal data store, by Joe Andrieu. Excerpt:

To this veteran VRM evangelist, Facebook has done more in 2010 to usher in the era of the personal data store than anyone, ever. In one fell swoop, Facebook launched a World Wide Web built around the individual instead of websites, introducing the personal data store to 500 million people and over one million websites.

Unexpectedly, Facebook has moved VRM from a conversation about envisioning a future to one about deployed services with real users, being adopted by real companies, today. We still have a lot of work to do to figure out how to make this all work right—legally, financially, technically—but it’s illuminating and inspiring to see the successes and failures of real, widely-deployed services. Seeing what Amazon or Rotten Tomatos or Pandora do with information from a real personal data store moves the conversation forward in ways no theoretical argument can.

There remain significant privacy issues and far too much proprietary lock-in, but for the first time, we can point to a mainstream service and say “Like that!  That’s what we’ve been talking about. But different!”

The Case Against Data Lock-In, by Brian W Fitzpatrick and JJ Lueck of Google’s Data Liberation Front in ACMQueue. Excerpt:

What Data Liberation Looks Like

At Google, our attitude has always been that users should be able to control the data they store in any of our products, and that means that they should be able to get their data out of any product. Period. There should be no additional monetary cost to do so, and perhaps most importantly, the amount of effort required to get the data out should be constant, regardless of the amount of data. Individually downloading a dozen photos is no big inconvenience, but what if a user had to download 5,000 photos, one at a time, to get them out of an application? That could take weeks of their time.

Even if users have a copy of their data, it can still be locked in if it’s in a proprietary format. Some word processor documents from 15 years ago cannot be opened with modern software because they’re stored in a proprietary format. It’s important, therefore, not only to have access to data, but also to have it in a format that has a publicly available specification. Furthermore, the specification must have reasonable license terms: for example, it should be royalty-free to implement. If an open format already exists for the exported data (for example, JPEG or TIFF for photos), then that should be an option for bulk download. If there’s no industry standard for the data in a product (e.g., blogs do not have a standard data format), then at the very least the format should be publicly documented—bonus points if your product provides an open source reference implementation of a parser for your format.

The point is that users should be in control of their data, which means they need an easy way of accessing it. Providing an API or the ability to download 5,000 photos one at a time doesn’t exactly make it easy for your average user to move data in or out of a product. From the user-interface point of view, users should see data liberation merely as a set of buttons for import and export of all data in a product.

Google is addressing this problem through its Data Liberation Front, an engineering team whose goal is to make it easier to move data in and out of Google products. The data liberation effort focuses specifically on data that could hinder users from switching to another service or competing product—that is, data that users create in or import into Google products. This is all data stored intentionally via a direct action—such as photos, e-mail, documents, or ad campaigns—that users would most likely need a copy of if they wanted to take their business elsewhere. Data indirectly created as a side effect (e.g., log data) falls outside of this mission, as it isn’t particularly relevant to lock-in.

Another “non-goal” of data liberation is to develop new standards: we allow users to export in existing formats where we can, as in Google Docs where users can download word processing files in OpenOffice or Microsoft Office formats. For products where there’s no obvious open format that can contain all of the information necessary, we provide something easily machine readable such as XML (e.g., for Blogger feeds, including posts and comments, we use Atom), publicly document the format, and, where possible, provide a reference implementation of a parser for the format (see the Google Blog Converters AppEngine project for an example1). We try to give the data to the user in a format that makes it easy to import into another product. Since Google Docs deals with word processing documents and spreadsheets that predate the rise of the open Web, we provide a few different formats for export; in most products, however, we assiduously avoid the rat hole of exporting into every known format under the sun.

GeekTown.ca‘s What if Flickr Fails? Excerpt:

Wouldn’t it be nicer to have a ‘bucket’ of storage where all your files are kept, and then make those files available to third party services that can add snappy interfaces, clever sharing mechanisms, tagging, and other Web 2.0 tools to the mix without touching the files directly?

That’s the concept now being floated by a growing collection of people that want to take back control of their data. Searls is working on ProjectVRM (vendor relationship management), which preaches self-hosting, among other things. Aleks Cronin-Lukas is working on the Mine! project, which advocates separating data owned by the user from third party applications. In models such as these, the data is stored in a single place on the Internet. The user can then expose that data to third party sites (like Flickr, etc), who can add functionality to it. But if the content site gets shut down, the original data is untouched. Another advantage to this concept is that the user can decide exactly what data gets shared, and how.

The folks have a post by Sebastian Reisch titled Otras maneras de definir VRM: la Nube Personal o Relaciones Manejadas por Consumidores, which Google Chrome translates to Other ways to define VRM: Personal Cloud or Managed by Consumer Relations. The translation, slightly edited:

…ultimately what we want to achieve with VRM is that each individual has an identity in the network by using myinfo.cl, and therefore has a personal space in the cloud… to keep your personal information that will help you to manage relationships with their suppliers. Ultimately to have a digital identity, which will receive the messages and offers that meet the needs we have at the right time.

Ultimately, VRM is the application we’re building.. to lead consumers to take a more active role, and thus manage their relationships…

Also in ReadWriteWeb, Kynetx gets coverage in Nevermind Google, New Extensions Block Spam Across Browsers & Search Engines:

Yesterday, Google released a Chrome browser extension that lets users block certain websites from showing up in their Google search results. That way, if you never want to see an eHow article again, you don’t have to. Kynetx, a company that offers developers a single platform for building extensions for multiple browsers, saw the announcement and immediately offered $500 to the first person that could create an extension “with the same functionality for all 3 browsers and all 3 major search engines.”

Less than a day later, the company has announced a winner and released the extensions.

Those wishing to be involved in development efforts should also check out the and at .

Last but hardly least, both and are in the second round of the . Go to those links and vote ’em up.

And if I’ve missed anything (and I’m sure I have), let me know and I’ll add it on.

VRM as Agency

Most of us understand agency to mean a kind of company: one that represents other companies, or individuals. Insurance, real estate and advertising agencies come to mind.

In fact agency has a deeper and more important meaning. Namely, the capacity of individuals to act independently, to make choices, and to impose their will in the world. By this meaning, agency is a big deal in sociology, psychology, philosophy, law and many other fields. But it’s missing is business. That’s because we’re accustomed to understanding business as a structural thing:  an instrument of control.

Wikipedia frames this problem well in the opening paragraph of its Structure vs. Agency Debate article:

The debate concerning the primacy of either structure or agency on human behaviour is a central ontological issue in sociology, political science, and the other social sciences. In this context, “agency” refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.[1]Structure“, by contrast, refers to the recurrent patterned arrangements which seem to influence or limit the choices and opportunities that individuals possess.[2] The structure versus agency debate may therefore be understood simply as the issue of socialisation against autonomy.

Limiting individual choices through “patterned arrangements” has been an ideal of big business for a very long time. Choice is an ideal too, provided your product or service provides a choice for customers to not choose competing products or services. Agency-type choice, in which individuals are free to assert their will and their means, doesn’t get much respect.

In fact, most big businesses aren’t interested in customers that have lots of agency — unless those customers aren’t captured yet. Instead big business has long idealized controlling customers. That’s why they talk about “capturing,” “acquiring,” “managing,” “locking in” and “owning” them. And spend billions on systems that help them do that.

These controlling ideals are still with us in the era of “social networking” and “social media.” (Or what one friend calls SEFTTI, for “social every fucking thing there is.”) Sure, Facebook is as social as a kegger (or more so), but it is also a “patterned arrangement that seems to influence or limit the choices and opportunities that individuals possess.”

Personal autonomy on Facebook only goes as far as Facebook lets it go. Same with every other “social” system run by an entity other than yourself. They put a lid on your agency. You are not free.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with social systems, or structures, or even with businesses that want to control your choices. I am saying that agency has been AWOL from the market’s table. And bringing it there is what we’re doing with VRM.

I realized that VRM is about agency when I was talking with Iain Henderson the other day. Iain and his company MyDex have been working on creating and deploying personal data stores, or PDSes. These are the means by which individuals manage and  share personal data selectively. In that conversation Iain casually mentioned that the U.K. government was clearly invested in “user agency.” That is, in citizen responsibility for data about themselves and generated by themselves. In this fundamental way, he said, the U.K. government is far ahead of our own here in the U.S. — and the U.K. is therefore a more ideal environment for testing out VRM tools, such as the personal data store. (In fact MyDex’s prototype trials are going on right now, in three U.K. towns.)

What we’ll have, as VRM tools roll out and come into use, is many ways to test concepts such as methodological individualism and action theory. Mostly, however, I think it’s a way to see how much larger, and better, we can make the economy once individual customers are free to express their intentions.

Bonus link — which I put here hoping that somebody can fix it. Since it’s about me and some stuff I’ve said, I’m not the one to do that.

Awake at the wheels

A year ago, at VRooM Boston 2009, , founder and CTO of Zeo — the hot new sleep fitness company — visited questions  about who owns and controlled personal data. Was the sleep data you produce as a customer entirely Zeo’s? Was it yours? Both? Neither? What right should anybody have to use it, and under what conditions?

These kinds of questions aren’t easily answered at a time when mining and selling personal data has turned into a white-hot industry, whether people like it or not. Data about individuals is also easy to rationalize as a corporate asset: something that makes the company itself more valuable.

Since then answers have begun to sort themselves out.

First came Brian, the Cornell student who writes, “I hacked Zeo. And I got paid for it.” Specifically,

I opened Zeo up, soldered to the lines that drive the display, and got my sleep phase output to my PC in real-time! This generated substantial interest from Zeo – and Ben Rubin (Zeo CTO) and I began our discussion on hacking, open source, and Zeo. I was thrilled when I learned that part of my summer would be interning for Zeo creating official ways to get at Zeo data!

Then this month Ben wrote,

Remember everyone’s favorite Zeo-hacker-turned-intern, Brian?

This summer, Brian produced two amazing projects for Zeo: the first – the Zeo Data Decoder – allows you to get at your sleep data without uploading it. The second (the main course, if you will) is the Zeo Raw Data Library.

Use Your Brain

The Zeo Raw Data Library uses the serial port on the back of Zeo (you were wondering about that unused port, weren’t you) to pump out two very cool things:

  • Your sleep phase in real time (Wake, REM, Light, Deep every 30 seconds)
  • Your brainwaves!

We hope developers will use the Raw Data Library for cool applications.  Need some ideas?

  • Build a lucid dreaming application that triggers a light or sound when a user enters REM sleep.
  • Wake yourself during REM in the middle of the night and keep a sweet sleep journal.
  • Use brainwaves for cool Brain Computer Interface projects while you are awake.  For inspiration check out interAxon.
  • Visualize your brainwaves while awake for bio-feedback applications like concentration or relaxation.

How do I get my hands on it?!?

Calm down and step away from the brainwave detector…

You can get the documentation, the library to read the RDL, and an example sleep stage and brainwave visualizer over on sourceforge.  Yup; we decided to open source all of that stuff, so feel free to hack/modify to your needs (and share if you like!).  The special firmware (2.6.3R) needed to run the RDL is over here after you fill out a simple form.

We encourage people who are using the RDL to jump on the forums and discuss it.  People are already using the RDL to optimize polyphasic sleep naps and help them lucid dream with Zeo.  Please use the forums for support and also feel free to email us at DeveloperRelations@myZeo.com.  We’ll also do our best to help troubleshoot, but remember that this is an alpha release so there may be bugs.

The Future is Open Wide

We released the Zeo Raw Data Library because

  • It’s your data–we want you to be free to use it any way you like
  • We are really excited to see what people develop that ends up helping others get a better night’s rest

Please let us know what you think in the comments on on the forums.  Hack away!

I just had to post that whole passage because it’s so completely cool.

Next is combinatorial API fun. From Ben’s latest, All Together Now: Zeo Integrates with Digifit,

Where Sleep Quality meets Fitness and Weight

Zeo is proud to announce the first partner using ZQ outside of our own web application:  The Digifit Dashboard for Healthy LivingSM iPhone app.  Digifit is the only Healthcare and Fitness app for the iPhone that integrates heart rate monitoring for tracking cardio fitness. We’re pretty sure Columbus from Zombieland would be happy with this — his #1 Rule for a Zombified America is Cardio!

Now with the new Digifit Dashboard for Healthy Living SM ,users can also track their weight and sleep (using the Withings WiFi Body Scale and Zeo) and see them conveniently within the Digifit dashboard.  We think Digifit founder says it best:

Withings and Zeo are leading edge pioneers in the industry and we are thrilled to partner with them. With the latest upgrade, our Digifit app completes the health triad puzzle by ‘automagically’ tracking the three most important influences on one’s health: exercise, weight and sleep. We do indeed have it All Together Now.

This is close to home for me, because I’m just starting to get into serious fitness work, which started with my Withings scale. Gotta get a Zeo thing now. (Like the one above.) And Digifit.

Ben again:

This is Just the Beginning

Digifit is the first partner to leverage our soon-to-be-released Web API, which allows data from Zeo to flow out to any internet connected service that wants to leverage the power of sleep quality.  We’ll continue to partner with organizations working in athletics, nutrition, general health, and more to help their users leverage the power of sleep fully so stay tuned!

For more on API jazz, follow . I especially like his Prezi here. Gets you thinking about bi-directional or “full duplex” APIs. This tutorial shows how to do context automation with KRL webhooks and the API.

Do we have to “trade off” privacy?

Look up privacy trade-offs and you’ll get more than 150,000,000 results. The assumption in many of those is that privacy is something one can (and often should) trade away. Also that privacy trading is mostly done with marketers and advertisers, the most energetic of which take advantage of social media such as and .

I don’t think this has to be so.

One example of a trade-off story is this one on public radio’s Marketplace program, which I heard this evening. It begins with the case of Shea Sylvia, a FourSquare user who got creeped out by an unwelcome call from a follower who knew her location. Marketplace’s Sally Herships says,

There are millions of Sylvias out there, giving away their private information for social reasons. More and more, they’re also trading it in for financial benefits, like coupons and discounts. Social shopping websites like Blippy and Swipely let shoppers post about what they buy. But first they turn over the logins to their e-mail accounts or their credit card numbers, so their purchases can be tracked online.

Later, there’s this (the voice is Herships again):

Alessandro Acquisti researches the economics of privacy at Carnegie Mellon, and he says the value we put on privacy can easily shift. In other words, if giving away your credit card information or even your location in return for a discount or a deal seems normal, it must be OK.

ALESSANDRO ACQUISTI: Five years ago, if someone told you that there’d be lots of people going online to show, to share with strangers their credit card purchases, you probably would have been surprised, you probably would thought, “No, I can’t believe this. I wouldn’t have believed this.”

But Acquisti says, when new technologies are presented as the norm, people accept them that way. Like social shopping websites.

HERSHIPS: So the more we use sites like Blippy, the more we’ll use sites like Blippy?

ACQUISTI: Or Blippy 2.0.

Which Acquisti says will probably be even more invasive, because as time passes, we’re going to care less and less about privacy.

Back in Kansas City Shea Sylvia is feeling both better and worse. She thinks the phone call she got that night at the restaurant was probably a prank. But it was a wake up call.

What we’re dealing with here is an evanescent norm. A fashion. A craze. I’ve indulged in it myself with FourSquare, and at one point was the “mayor” of ten different places, including the #77 bus on Mass Ave in Cambridge. (In fact, I created that location.) Gradually I came to believe that it wasn’t worth the hassle of “checking in” all over the place, and was worth nothing to know Sally was at the airport, or Bill was teaching a class, or Mary was bored waiting in some check-out line, much as I might like all those people. The only time FourSquare came in handy was when a friend intercepted me on my way out of a stop in downtown Boston, and even then it felt strange.

The idea, I am sure, is that FourSquare comes to serve as a huge central clearing house for contacts between companies selling stuff and potential buyers (that’s you and me) wandering about the world. But is knowing that a near-infinite number of sellers can zero in on you at any time a Good Thing? And is the assumption that we’re out there buying stuff all the time not so wrong as to be insane?

Remember that we’re the product being sold to advertisers. The fact that our friends may be helping us out might be cool, but is that the ideal way to route our demand to supply? Or is it just one that’s fun at the moment but in the long term will produce a few hits but a lot of misses—some of which might be very personal, as was the case with Shea Silvia? (Of course I might be wrong about both assumptions. What I’m right about is that FourSquare’s business model will be based on what they get from sellers, not from you or me.)

The issue here isn’t how much our privacy is worth to the advertising mills of the world, or to intermediaries like FourSquare. It’s how we maintain and control our privacy, which is essentially priceless—even if millions of us give it away for trinkets or less. Privacy is deeply tied with who we are as human beings in the world. To be fully human is to be in control of one’s self, including the spaces we occupy.

An excellent summary of our current privacy challenge is this report by Joy L. Pitts (developed as part of health sciences policy development process at the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences). It sets context with these two quotes:

“The makers of the Constitution conferred the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by all civilized men—the right to be let alone.”

—Justice Louis Brandeis (1928)

“You already have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

—Scott McNealy, Chairman and CEO of Sun Microsystems (1999)

And, in the midst of a long, thoughtful and well-developed case, it says this (I’ve dropped the footnotes, which are many):

Privacy has deep historical roots. References to a private domain, the private or domestic sphere of family, as distinct from the public sphere, have existed since the days of ancient Greece.  Indeed, the English words “private” and “privacy” are derived from the Latin privatus, meaning “restricted to the use of a particular person; peculiar to oneself, one who holds no public office.” Systematic evaluations of the concept of privacy, however, are often said to have begun with the 1890 Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis article, “The Right of Privacy,” in which the authors examined the law’s effectiveness in protecting privacy against the invasiveness of new technology and business practices (photography, other mechanical devices and newspaper enterprises). The authors, perhaps presciently, expressed concern that modern innovations had “invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and . . . threatened to make good the prediction that ‘what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.’” They equated the right of privacy with “the right to be let alone” from these outside intrusions.

Since then, the scholarly literature prescribing ideal definitions of privacy has been “extensive and inconclusive.” While many different models of privacy have been developed, they generally incorporate concepts of:

  • Solitude (being alone)
  • Seclusion (having limited contact with others)
  • Anonymity (being in a group or in public, but not having one’s name or identity known to others; not being the subject of others’ attention)
  • Secrecy or reserve (information being withheld or inaccessible to others)

In essence, privacy has to do with having or being in one’s own space.

Some describe privacy as a state or sphere where others do not have access to a person, their information, or their identity. Others focus on the ability of an individual to control who may have access to or intrude on that sphere. Alan Westin, for example, considered by some to be the “father” of contemporary privacy thought, defines privacy as “the claim of individuals, groups or institutions to determine for themselves when, how and to what extent information about them is communicated to others.” Privacy can also be seen as encompassing an individual’s right to control the quality of information they share with others.

In the context of personal information, concepts of privacy are closely intertwined with those of confidentiality and security. Privacy addresses “the question of what personal information should be collected or stored at all for a given function.” In contrast, confidentiality addresses the issue of how personal data that has been collected for one approved purpose may be held and used by the organization that collected it, what other secondary or further uses may be made of it, and when the permission of the individual is required for such uses.Unauthorized or inadvertent disclosures of data are breaches of confidentiality. Informational security is the administrative and technological infrastructure that limits unauthorized access to information. When someone hacks into a computer system, there is a breach of security (and also potentially, a breach of confidentiality). In common parlance, the term privacy is often used to encompass all three of these concepts.

Take any one of these meanings, or understandings, and be assured that it is ignored or violated in practice by large parts of today’s online advertising business—for one simple reason (I got from long ago): Individuals have no independent status on the Web. Instead we have dependent status. Our relationships (and we have many) are all defined by the entities with which we choose to relate via the Web. All those dependencies are silo’d in the systems of sellers, schools, churches, government agencies, social media, associations, whatever. You name it. You have to deal with all of them separately, on their terms, and in their spaces. Those spaces are not your spaces. (Even if they’re in a place called . Isn’t it weird to have somebody else using the first person possessive pronoun for you? It will be interesting to see how retro that will seem after it goes out of fashion.)

What I’m saying here is that, on the Web, we do all our privacy-trading in contexts that are not out in the open marketplace, much less in our own private spaces (by any of the above definitions). They’re all in closed private spaces owned by the other party—where none of the rules, none of the terms of engagement, are yours. In other words, these places can’t be private, in the sense that you control them. You don’t. And in nearly all cases (at least here in the U.S.), your “agreements” with these silos are contracts of adhesion that you can’t break or change, but the other party can—and often does.

These contexts have been so normative, for so long, that we can hardly imagine anything else, even though we have that “else” out here in the physical world. We live and sleep and travel and get along in the physical world with a well-developed understanding of what’s mine, what’s yours, what’s ours, and what’s none of those. That’s because we have an equally well-developed understanding of bounded spaces. These differ by culture. In her wonderful book , Polly Platt writes about how French —comfortable distances from others—are smaller than those of Americans. The French feel more comfortable getting close, and bump into each other more in streets, while Americans tend to want more personal space, and spread out far more when they sit. Whether she’s right about that or not, we actually have personal spaces on Earth. We don’t on the Web, and in Web’d spaces provided by others. (The Net includes more than the Web, but let’s not get into that here. The Web is big enough.)

So one reason that privacy trading is so normative is that dependency requires it. We have to trade it, if that’s what the sites we use want, regardless of how they use whatever we trade away.

The only way we can get past this problem (and it is a very real one) is to create personal spaces on the Web. Ones that we own and control. Ones where we set the terms of engagement. Ones where we decide what’s private and what’s not.

In the VRM development community we have a number of different projects and companies working on exactly this challenge.  is pure open source and has a self-explanatory name. Others (, and others) are open in many ways as well, and are working together to create (or put to use) common code, standards, protocols, terminologies and other conventions on which all of us can build privacy-supporting solutions. You’ll find links to some of the people involved in those efforts (among others) in Personal Data Stores, Exchanges, and Applications, a new post by  (of Switchbook). There’s also the One example is the and at . (For more context on that, check out Iain Henderson’s unpacking of the .) There’s also our own work at ProjectVRM and , which has lately centered on developing -like legal tools for both individuals and companies.  What matters most here is that a bunch of good developers are working on creating spaces online that are as natural, human, personal—and under personal control—as the ones we enjoy offline.

Once we have those, the need for privacy trade-offs won’t end. But they will begin to make the same kind of down-to-Earth sense they do in the physical world. And that will be a huge leap forward.

The First VRM+CRM Workshop

The first VRM+CRM workshop will take place on 26-27 August, at Harvard Law School. It’s free. You can register here.

The purpose is to get VRM and CRM developers and other interested parties (such as CRM customers) together to start building out the common ground between them. That common ground is potentially very huge. CRM is already a $15 billion business. What happens when customers start managing relationships too? Let’s start answering that.

A number of VRM tools are now ready for vetting with CRM folks, and CRM interest in connecting to VRM is growing as well. Destination CRM will take place next week in New York. VRM+CRM 2010 will be a perfect place for VRM-CRM discussions started at Destination CRM to continue.

While the workshop sessions will be chosen by the participants (following opening briefings by VRM and CRM folks), here are a few of the topics and questions that are sure to come up —

  • Terms of service. How can we get past the legal hurdles and shackles that inconvenience both buyers and sellers when they get acquainted?
  • Privacy policies. How can we reduce the suspicions and frictions that these involve?
  • Personal data. What tools, methods and services are being developed for individuals to keep track of data they generate or is being kept by sellers and other parties? What means do we have for sharing or exchanging that data in secure and trustable ways?
  • Signaling. What new methods will both individuals and organizations have for notifying each other of interests, intentions, policies, preferences, or changes in any of those? How can we make these common across the industry, rather than different for every organization?
  • Self-tracking and personal informatics. What vendor-independent means are being developed for individuals to keep track of their own personal data, and manage it?
  • Search. What new paradigms for searching are being developed, especially in the context of all the topics above?
  • Non-coercive loyalty. What ways are being developed for individuals to express and manage their own forms of loyalty to sellers and other organizations? How can this improve existing loyalty programs?
  • Personal RFPs or Advertising in Reverse. How can individual customers notify whole market categories of their intent to purchase a product, safely and securely, without inviting a torrent of promotional jive in response?
  • Leveraging base-level protocols, standards and tools. There are hundreds of thousands of free and open source tools, protocols and other goods already in the world, ready to serve as free building materials and guidelines. What can we use of these, and what new ones do we need? What new ones are in development on the VRM side?
  • Reducing MLOTT — Money Left On The Table. In our current system, a huge sum of demand goes un-met because of the the means for communicating interest and availability are on the supply side. How (including the means listed above and others) can we equip demand to notify supply of money ready to be spent? In the old days this was seen as “lead generation” by suppliers. But now it’s time to get past that.
  • Tie-ins with SCRM. Social CRM is the hottest topic in CRM. How can VRM connect with and through social networking? Important question: Should “social” be restricted to just what can be done through Facebook, Twitter and other commercial services?
  • Patient-driven health care. How can individuals be the collection points for their own health data, and the point of origination for what gets done with it?
  • API symphonics. The commercial world is increasingly building around a collection of interconnected APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces. Many CRM systems are built around their own APIs. VRM will surely connect into many APIs. How should we be thinking about and guiding evolution here?
  • The oppposite of cookies. Sites and companies of all kinds have been keeping track of customers through cookies since the mid-’90s. How can customers do the same with their suppliers?

I’m sure I’ve left some stuff off this list. If you want to add to it, contact me or make a comment below. Better yet, show up and participate.

Look forward to seeing you there.

More details on the event wiki page.

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