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Enabling vs Providing

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Talking to Doc earlier this week, I tried to explain my unease with various interpretations of VRM that come thick and fast as the concepts gain traction by identifying the fundamental problem.*

It is the assumption that “the individual needs to be provided for” that I see everywhere other than on the social (or live) web where the demand side can, and often does, supply itself, where users can and often do become creators, where the audiences have become distributors, and intermediaries of all kinds are melting away from decentralised networks and direct connections. Alas, even on the web, it’s not all P2P roses – my online existence is scattered across many platforms, Google, WordPress, Flickr, Dopplr, Twitter, and many more.

Most VRM approaches or implementations I have seen involve a third party as a provider. I believe we first need to focus on changing the relationships between individuals and companies or institutions. First comes redressing the balance – manually, as it were – by helping individuals relate to companies in ways that change companies’ behaviour.

Most of all, I want to avoid using technology to address a non-technology problem, using automation or aggregation for the aspects of relationships which should be processed by a human mind. I want to avoid jumping straight into ‘industrial’ processing of data treasures found on the customer side. We need a more balanced relationships with vendors and institutions, with different tools and possibly rules of interaction. Then we can look at ways to rationalise the technology and processes that help us create and maintain those relationships.

The most common solutions for providing individuals with online services are based around centralised databases or platforms. They are suspect on security and privacy grounds even though they may be created by a trustworthy party. So, any framework or structure provided by a third party that is meant to provide a place for individuals to create, gather, manage and share data as well as allowing a degree of aggregation, connectivity, will have to have in-built checks and balances as it may ultimately expose individuals to potential data-mining (whether the more private among us like it or not!). The challenge is to separate the data storage provider and a services/application provider. If I let someone store or back up my data – reluctantly admitting it may still be necessary for now – I would want them to store my data only, and not push or even provide any other apps based on that data. I should then be able to choose and apply whatever application I want, to my data, at my convenience.

Jason Scott of ASCII has a juicy way of putting this:

This is about your data. This is about your work. This is about you using your time so that you make things and work on things and you trust a location to do “the rest” and guess what, here is what we have learned:

  • If you lose your shit, the technogeeks will not help you. They will giggle at you and make fun of your not understanding the fundamental principles and engineering of client-server models. This is kind of like firemen sitting around giggling at you because you weren’t aware of the inherent lightning-strike danger of improperly bonded CSST.
  • Since the dawn of time, companies have hired people whose entire job is to tell you everything is all right and you can completely trust them and the company is as stable as a rock, and to do so until they, themselves are fired because the company is out of business.
  • You are going to have to sit down and ask yourself some very tough questions because the time where you could get away without asking very tough questions with regard to your online presence and data are gone.

And his advice further into the wonderful rant is even juicier:

  • Insult, berate and make fun of any company that offers you something like a “sharing” site that makes you push stuff in that you can’t make copies out of or which you can’t export stuff out of. They will burble about technology issues. They are fucking lying. They might go off further about business models. They are fucking stupid. Make fun of these people, and their shitty little Cloud Cities running on low-grade cooking fat and dreams. They will die and they will take your stuff into the hole. Don’t let them.

…but is no less sound for it!

Please, let’s have more of enabling and less of mere providing.

* as described in the paper A VRM journey.

cross-posted from VRM Hub

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3 Responses to “Enabling vs Providing”


  1. Radovan Semancik
    on Apr 6th, 2009
    @ 13:25 pm

    I don’t think it’s *that* simple.

    I don’t think you can make your data safer on you PC or in some kind of P2P fabric. I agree that many companies asking you to trust them are lying. But the companies producing desktop operating systems, applications and P2P fabric are asking you to trust them as well. Although that’s somehow implicit and hidden, they can pull your data into a hole as well. And all of the data. Both these stored on your PC, in your P2P store or in some kind of social site. Your PC has access to all of that. Your PC is really the key to your kingdom. Do you *trust* your PC?

    I would not rule out one class of data storage in favor of other. It is the entity that *provides* the storage that really matters, not the specific storage method.

    If you really want security and privacy there’s a bad news for you: you cannot have that. Not with current technology and society. Not in any foreseeable future. Now the real question is: how can I get the least harmful security and privacy violations? And what is the price?


  2. Adriana
    on Apr 6th, 2009
    @ 15:46 pm

    nooo, nooo. this is not about keeping data on your PC! not much good for the kind of whirlwind of a life I lead on the web. :P

    and it’s not about trust either, it’s about wanting tools that enable me rather than provide me with this or that usually on the provider’s terms.

    it’s about doing things on my own terms and having technology that enables that better than what we have now.

    And there is also distributed ’storage’, my data encrypted and distributed doesn’t require much trust in where it sits, really. There are many issues with entities that provide ’storage’ legal ones one of them. I don’t want any backdoor to my data is the bottom line.


  3. Jim Bursch
    on Apr 8th, 2009
    @ 15:00 pm

    1. Bravo!

    2. But we have a very long way to go.

    Writing as a developer of a platform that enables two-way communication between company and (potential) customer, I need the customers to be able to control/manage/maintain their personal data. But the solution doesn’t currently exist on the customer-side, so I have to provide one, thus creating yet another silo.

    I’m not sure how helpful it is to “Insult, berate and make fun of any company” that is trying to solve their particular problem in the absence of a solution. I think ignoring them would be sufficient.

    I think the solution starts with a data standard, upon which all kinds of tools, systems, apps etc. can be innovated and built. Without the data standard in place, we are all just wanking (”circle jerk” comes to mind).

    I suspect that we all have to wait for the Data Portability folks to come up with a data standard before any real solutions can be created.

    Meanwhile, as a developer I have problems now that can’t wait for a solution that doesn’t currently exist. Please don’t mock me for trying to solve a problem.

    BTW — I have been making some significant changes at MyMindshare. Please check it out.

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