Month: October 2021

Homeless on the Web

Do you have a home on the Web?

I mean a page or a site that is yours. Not one that belongs to some .com, .org or .edu. One that’s truly yours, with a name you gave to it, nobody else has, and you fully inhabit.

Some of us do. I’m one of those, but with nothing to brag about. Go to mine and you’ll find a placeholder I’ve been updating every couple years since the mid-’90s.  Behind that façade is a garage full of files I keep stored online so I can find them from anywhere, or so I can point other people to them every once in awhile.  I also have it set up as a place that’s off-bounds for search engines.

Like the rest of us, most of what I’ve done on the Web are on the sites of others. The goods in those sites are mine in the sense that I’ve created them. But where they are is not mine. Not in the least.

Nearly all the pages called “home” are those of what in the trade we call enterprises.

The rest of us are homeless here. On the Web.

This isn’t a bad thing. Hell, the benefits of the Web are enormous in the extreme. I’m not knocking those.

I am, however, saying we are homeless. Here.

But there is nothing about the Internet that says you can’t have a home there—which is also here, underneath the Web.

This is important: now is the time to clearly and finally make a sharp distinction between the Web and the Internet. Because they are not the same. The Internet is what the Web sits on. And, big and broad as it is, the Web is not the only thing that can sit on the Internet.

There are few limits to what the Internet can support, much as there are few limits to what can be built on land or float on an ocean.

But there are limits to what we can build on the Web. One of those is a home for ourselves. A real home. One that does not require renting a domain name. One that lets us zero-base what we can do upon the infinite grace granted us by simply connecting to a worldwide network of networks that exists only to move packets of data from any end to any other end.

So let’s start thinking about that.

Some of us (present company included) are on the case already. We need more.

While we ponder that, here’s a thought: Maybe one reason VRM has been slow to happen is that we’ve been trying to do it on the Web.


The photo above is on Love Ranch Road, in the center of Wyoming. The story of the ranch, and the home now abandoned there, is central to John McPhee’s Rising from the Plains. I was there to shoot the solar eclipse of August 2017, which was at its totality there. The darkness on the horizon is the shadow of the moon, approaching from the west.

Beyond the Web

The Cluetrain Manifesto said this…

not

…in 1999.

And now, in 2021, it’s still not true—at least not on the Web.

If it was true, California’s CCPA wouldn’t call us mere “consumers” and Europe’s GDPR  wouldn’t call us mere “data subjects,” whose privacy is entirely at the grace of corporate “data processors” and “data controllers.” (While the GDPR does say a “natural person” can be either of those, the prevailing assumption says no. Worse, it assumes that what privacies we enjoy on the Web should be valved by choices we make when confronted with “consent” notices that pop up when we first visit a website, and which are recorded somewhere we don’t know and can’t audit or dispute.)

Simply put, we are not free, and our reach does not exceed their grasp. Again, on the Web.

But (this is key), the Web is not the Internet. It’s a haystack of stuff on the Net. It’s a big one, and hugely good in many ways. And maybe we can be really free there eventually. But why not work outside of it? That’s the question.

And that’s what some of us are answering. You might call what we’re doing a blue ocean strategy:

For example, Joyce and I are now in Bloomington, Indiana, embedded as visiting scholars at Indiana University’s Ostrom Workshop, where we are rolling out a new project called the Byway, for Customer Commons, ProjectVRM’s nonprofit spin-off. We will also be working with local communities of interest here in Bloomington. Stay tuned for more on that.

To find out more about what we’re up to—or just to discuss whatever seems relevant—please come to our first Beyond the Web salon, by Zoom, on Monday at 3pm Eastern time. The full link: https://events.iu.edu/ostromworkshop/event/264653-ostrom-salon-series-beyond-the-web

ProjectVRM at 15

This project started in September 2006, when I became a fellow at what is now the Berkman Klein Center. Our ambitions were not small.:

  1. To encourage development of tools by which individuals can take control of their relationships with organizations — especially in commercial marketplaces.
  2. To encourage and conduct research on VRM-related theories, usage of VRM tools, and effects as adoption of VRM tools takes place.

The photo above is of our first workshop, at Harvard Law School, in 2008. Here is another photo with a collection of topics discussed in breakout sessions:

Zoom in on any of the topics there (more are visible on the next photo in the album), and you will find many of them still on the table, thirteen years later. Had some prophet told us then that this would still be the case, we might have been discouraged. But progress has been made on all those fronts, and the main learning in the meantime is that every highly ambitious grassroots movement takes time to bear fruit.

One example is what we discussed in the “my red dot” breakout at the May 2007 Internet Identity Workshop (the 3rd of what next week will be our 33rd ) is now finally being done with the Byway, which is about to get prototyped by our nonprofit spin-off, Customer Commons, with help from the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University Bloomington, where Joyce and I are currently embedded as visiting scholars.

Our mailing list numbers 567 members, and is active, though it won’t hog your email flow. Check out the action at that link. And, if you like, join in.

You can also join in at our next gathering, VRM Day 2021b, which happens this coming Monday, 11 October.  We’ll visit our learnings thus far, and present progress and plans on many fronts, including

And we thank the BKC for its patience and faith in our project and its work.

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