Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Tuttle club hosts VRM roundtable

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I am a fan and supporter of the Tuttle Club and what Lloyd has done for the social media scene in London can be seen from the popularity of the gatherings every Friday morning from 10am till about 1pm. I have two pieces of news to share regarding the Tuttle Club/Social Media Cafe.

First, the Friday morning meetings are moving from Coach & Horses to the ICA club (as part of what Lloyd calls Phase II). The weekly sign up wiki is here.

Secondly, on 10th October the Social media cafe meeting will be morph into a VRM roundtable at around 12.30pm. The idea is to bring VRM to the attention of the social web network in London and as a forerunner to the VRM Hub conference in November.

For more information feel free to email me at adriana dot lukas at gmail dot com.

Look forward to seeing you there!

cross-posted from VRM Hub

VRM Hub meeting in September

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This month’s VRM Hub meeting will be on 25th Sept, Thursday, 6-9pm, at Smollensky’s in the Strand, where we have booked a couple of long tables behind the bar.

Sign up here.

VRM Hub London

VRM Hub conference in London 2008

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I am organising a half-day conference in London on 3rd November this year, reaching out to those interested in redressing the balance of power between customers and vendors, people and businesses.

The event is called Unlocking the see-saw (link to the full programme with registration).

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Truly social software?

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I have been thinking about how social software and social networking platforms actually limits my ability to be social…

But isn’t social networking all about being social? Not quite. At the moment, I don’t drive who gets to see what beyond simple decisions about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. Social interactions and relationships are far more granular than social networks allow them to be. Usually, this is seen as a privacy issues and results in a complicated access management e.g. Facebook privacy settings.

Why do we have our relationships pre-determined by others such as Facebook, Flickr, Plaxo etc.? Presumably to give us more ‘control’ over our social network and contacts in it. But how is lumping people into categories imposed by an application helping me to be social? By determining the types of relationships I am able to have – business contact or colleague, family or friend, I am not able to reflect relationships I already have. The best social software is not online, it is loaded on to my cortex. And no software can fully map the relationships, let alone replace our natural ability to create and maintain them.

Privacy is merely the other side of the coin of complexity in human relationships. My ‘privacy settings’ are inherent in my behaviour. My privacy policy should not be embedded in any software. In that sense, software cannot be social (or antisocial), though it can help me be more or less social. Software privacy settings limit my ability to be truly social i.e. capable of maintaining complex relationships and interactions with others – arguably the purpose of such tools.

For context of the argument see the Mine! project blog.

cross-posted from VRM Hub

Whose data is it anyway?

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Follow up on previous thoughts on data and ownership… as cross-posted from VRM Hub.

Talking about ownership of data online in terms of control is fairly pointless. Once your data is out, it’s out. So instead of delving into the meaning of ownership and what it means in a decentralised, distributed and open network where sharing and transparency are default, let’s look at how the data is generated by the individual and shared through interactions with others.

Data as generated online is akin to a positive externality for the vendors and platforms that capture our data. Positive externality* is something that is not part of the value traded in market exchanges. It is something one of the parties in the trade benefits from, without having to pay for it. For illustration, pollution is considered a negative externality as it is

a) a by-product of manufacturing processes and,
b) is not included in the cost or price of the products.

So, when I am buying something from Amazon or Virgin Atlantic site, the explicit value exchange is the goods they provide and the money I pay for those goods. My data is external to that value exchange – the vendor is not paying for it and I am not being paid for it. In the current set-up (no pun intended), the vendors benefit by using the data in ways that help their business, from mining to selling it on. I, on the other hand, have scant legal protection against that and even with all the laws in place such as Data Protection Act and other restrictions on those who capture my data, a large portion of data collected from me is for marketing purposes.. and usually way above the threshold of legally required data to complete transactions.

The advent of the ‘free’ web has mightily confused the distinction between data as part of a value exchange and data as a positive externality – simply because most platforms with web services have turned what is essentially an external benefit from other exchanges to foundations of their business models. The ‘free services’ I receive are ‘paid for’ by my attention and/or my data – both eagerly gathered by various platforms. Advertising is a way to monetise my attention aka eyeball and the race to monetising my data (short of crude selling on) is still on.

In this context I own my data (in a way I own my attention) and neither should be considered a payment for the (free) web services unless it is specified in the terms of the exchange or service. It is merely a shift from one business model – online retail such as Amazon – to another where data becomes the value exchanged tacitly and without clear understanding. This is another reason why privacy remains an issue with such web services and platforms. As long as I have to depend on a third party to protect my privacy, it will be exposed by accident (incompetence), force (authorities) or abuse (marketing & advertising).

The tensions between the data created and managed by us and the tools we use belonging to someone else, are becoming obvious on the social web. Mike Arrington’s outrage a few months back when Facebook was turning its back on FriendConnect is justified.

The fact is, this isn’t Facebook’s data. It’s my data. And if I give Google permission to do stuff with it, I’m damned well within my rights to do so. By blocking Google, Facebook has blocked ME. And that, frankly, kind of frustrates me.

Let me put this another way. How dare Facebook tell ME that I cannot give Google access to this data!

Arrington also condemns Scoble’s early attempts at ‘data portability’:

Scoble has been on the wrong side of this issue before, when he tried to scrape his friend’s contact information out of Facebook and export it to Plaxo. In that case, it wasn’t his data and he didn’t have the right to make it portable. It’s MY data, once again, and only I should be allowed to make that decision. He thinks his new position shows that he gets the importance of privacy, but once again he isn’t thinking in terms of who really owns the data and should be allowed to make decisions around it.

Here we go, ownership of data again. So when I add someone to my network, together with his photo and other profile details, I do not ‘own’ that data. It seems pretty pointless to debate that as whenever I sign-up to a social network platform, I am agreeing to the terms and conditions of their relationship with me and to what happens to my data, privacy etc. All my agreements are with the platforms and the way I enter those agreements is definitely lacking in balance of power. We do live in the early days of individual empowerement… but even so, there is a distinct lack of tools that will allow me to be a node in a network independent of someone else’s silo or a platform. I have the same question as Danny O’Brien:

When you want to make a private picture or note available only to your friends, why do you hand it over to a multi-national corporation first?

Moreover, within social networking platforms, there is no corresponding agreement with other users. The terms of service are between me and Facebook, me and MySpace, me and Twitter, me and Flickr, me and Plaxo, me and LinkedIn, me and the socnet du jour… but they do not extend to my relationships with other individuals on the same platform. Relationships are pre-defined, much the same way terms & conditions are, from the point of the platoform, not from the point of the individual. So ironically, social networking platforms designed to help me connect with others, to create and maintain relationships with them, are not allowing me to define those very relationships…

In other words, there is no way to interact with others within the silos based on what I call P2P terms and conditions. These could be privacy agreements, if we so wish, ranging from simply not-bothered-about-what-happens-to-my-contact -details-in-your-social-graph all the way to granulated preferences for different people in my contact list. So just like in the real world – there are people I’d trust with my address book and there are some I wouldn’t trust with my address. Instead of building complicated systems and using technology to make such nuances in relationships explicit, I need tools to help me manage the complexity of human relationships. I need tools to reflect what is already in my head implicitly and defines me as a social animal. Do not tie me up in legal pretzels over various policies, creating permissions and access management nightmares in the process. In the words of Kevin Marks as paraphrased from his Social Cloud talk at Lift08:

Software cannot match out ability to sort out our friends and contact, establish how much we trust them and how we arrive at that trust. No software can fully map the relationships, let alone replace our natural ability to create and maintain them The implication is that therefore software should support the kind of cloud abstraction we have around the internet, also around our social relationships. You can feed it (the social networking app) relationships that are in the ’software in your head’, feed the stuff related to people in your network to software online. Users will assume that your software (this is aimed at developers) will be able to see the information that they have already fed into the software and be able to use it.

Indeed! By I digress. To recap, my data is a kind of externality to purchasing transactions, just like attention is an externality to my reading, watching or listening to something else. Marketing lives off my data, advertising lives off my attention. My data (and by extension me) is not respected because companies can trade it as a commodity without paying for it. The way to address this is not to make them pay for the data (and create many snake oil intermediaries in the process) but to make it possible for companies to enter into relationships with the true owners of the data.

So what is to be done? How to internalise the externality? How do I regain control over something that originates from me and is used in my transactions with others? This is the stuff of VRM.

Broadly speaking, it is about finding tools & technology to give the individual sovereignty over his data, so he can exercise choice over who gets to see it and under what circumstances. This will change the balance of powers and eventually demonstrate to companies that respecting people’s data (and by extension them), they can make more money.

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* Definition of externality: Economic theory considers any voluntary exchange to be mutually beneficial to both parties, for example a buyer and seller. Any exchange, however, can result in additional positive or negative effects on third parties. Those who suffer from external costs do so involuntarily, while those who enjoy external benefits do so at no cost. Data is an externality without the third party, where the afffected party is also participating in the transaction. So not an exact theoretical match, but perhaps still helpful in understanding how we got to the point where ‘free services’ feel entitled to their users data.

Notes from VRM Hub evening

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Over at the VRM Hub blog – yes, it’s time to for the VRM Hub to get its own room – one of VRM’s kind supporters posted her notes on the discussion. Although the evenings are social, we invariably end up discussing the finer points of VRM and conversations do get interesting:

It wasn’t a full-blown punch up, but there were definitely two schools of thought on how to foster VRM ‘adoption’. In the red corner – people who think large companies like Tescos and John Lewis are needed to drive early adoption; in the blue corner – people who think vendors need to feel ‘pain’ before they will respond to VRM (I don’t think we’re talking about actual physical pain) – is the pain of an economic slow-down enough to prompt this? And aren’t ‘customers’ also individuals who aren’t just defined in terms of the companies they interact with?!

Do join us to continue the discussion…

VRM Hub London

VRM Hub meeting in August

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This month’s VRM Hub meeting will be on 28th Thursday, 6-9pm, in Chelsea. Sign up here.

VRM Hub London

VRM Hub meeting in July

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I will be attending the VRM workshop in Boston next week, 14-15th July, and VRM Hub meeting will happen as usual on the last Thurday of the month (which happens to be the last day as well). Sign up here.

VRM Hub London

Venue for the VRM Hub meeting next week

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We have a venue for the next week’s VRM Hub meeting. It’s the Sun Microsystems (customer briefing center) Regis House 45 King William Street, London EC4R 9AN.

The sign up is here, look forward to seeing you there.

VRM Hub London

June VRM Hub meeting

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The next VRM Hub meeting will be on 24th June, Tuesday, from 6-9pm. The venue to be announced, depending on the numbers. Please note that the date has been moved from the default last Thursday of the month, which is 26th June to Tuesday 24th, as Doc Searls will be in London and so likely to join us.

Sign up is here.

From misapprehensions to alternatives

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There has been some confusion about the ‘Feeds Based VRM’, the Mine! and its provenance, possibly due to this post and this one. I’d like to put the record straight about where ‘Feeds Based VRM’ comes from and what the Mine! is and what it isn’t.

An earlier paper on ‘Feeds Based VRM’ has dealt with the data logistics using feeds mechanism. Althought it did not explore the Mine! in detail – that was done in a paper posted here last Sunday – it has always been predicated on the existence of something like the Mine!. The feeds approach has appealing simplicity and it has caught the attention of some who assumed it fits in with some of the existing approaches to VRM. To clarify, the ‘Feeds Based VRM’ is an alternative to identity based VRM, not an evolutionary step. This has led to some misapprehensions and the slides and diagrams drawing on the ‘Feeds Based VRM’ and the Mine! amount to running around with the bathwater, often without the baby. Before explaining in more detail, some definitions:

Having opened the user-centric can of worms by pitching the term against user-driven, a couple of other terms have sprung up, such as individual-driven and human centric. The first one misses the point that user and usage is a component of the design and the second is merely a variation on user-centric. Just replace ‘user‘ with ‘human‘ in user-centric sayz – we are going to build a system, put the user in the centre instead of the system to see what I mean. Same thing. A good test of user-driven is whether the user can add value to an application or the (by definition emergent) system itself.

John Dodds hits the nail on the head:

Sorry folks “individual” and “social identity” are pretty much useless because there are too many subjective definitions and associations pertaining to them out there. The strength of user-driven lies in the verb – there can be no doubt here, the user is in charge and actively driving and thus delineates it from user-centric and all the others. That is what you need a term to do.

User-driven has been coined to drive home my discomfort about the term user-centric. It is the user that adds value to the system, which then serves that user and other users. Think Twitter or BitTorrent – applications only as valuable as the user activity on them. The functionality provided depends entirely on whether people use it and more importantly how they use it. For example, Twitter’s reply functionality @USERNAME has come directly from users, they started doing it as part of conversations and Twitter turned it into a reply function.

A design principle for the Mine! applies here:

We are creating better tools for users, not trying to improve what they want to do; i.e. giving them better ways of doing what they are already doing. If we try to improve what they want to do, we are not doing our job – nifty technology is good but usage is even better.

When it comes to driving usage, scaling a network or relying on user-driven design, an important distinction between the primary and secondary objectives has to be made. There often is just one objective – either the benefit to the designer/developer of the application that flows from others using it; or some pre-defined result that benefits everybody but that will emerge only if many people use it towards that end.

Two types of objectives need to be present to foster a community or scale a network.

  • The primary, which taps into the user’s needs, objectives and convenience. Here the benefit to the user has to be immediate, the functionality delivering now.
  • The secondary, which motivates the application designer or the network builder who foresees future outcomes that may be desirable and emerge through users’ behaviour.

User-centric design often focuses on the secondary objective, with no or little attention given to the primary one. The result is often a range of applications or a system with no relevance or convenience to the user. This in turn breeds misconceptions about users and their motivations, habits, preferences, needs and levels of tolerance. I lost count of the number of times I heard some usability wonk or a UI design agency assert their conclusions about ‘users’, their wants and needs, without any first hand experience of how people behave and interact online, in the wild. If not for the open web and the ability of users to bypass the ‘professionals’ by building tools and applications for themselves, scratching their own itch, the system/human/user-centric designs would not be unravelling as they are today.

The Mine! is currently about the primary objectives, with occasional indulgent glimpses of the secondary ones. It needs to be ruthlessly modular:

We are not creating a tool/application/platform that can do everything for them, we are creating the best modular tools for specific functions and let the user put them together. In terms of a car, we build the engine but the user decides the shape, colour, number of doors, seats and, of course, how and where to drive it.

I can, and do, take educated guesses where all this might lead and what the emergent benefits will be (and will do so in the follow up paper on the Mine!’s applications), but that is a far cry from allowing functionality that is not essential to the user now to be hardwired into the Mine!. I want to see what the user does with it, what is useful and what has to change, what the user breaks and what empowers him more. That is why with regard to technical aspects, the Mine! will be an open source project with goals to

  1. invent as little as possible
  2. reuse only popular technologies, techniques and user-interface metaphors in order to enable VRM, and…
  3. provide maximal inclusiveness and extensibility to its implementation, to permit the greatest potential for growth.

My preference for minimalism and modularity aside, this is a practical consideration. The Mine! doesn’t need to spend years in standards committee (we are using Atom and HTTP) or in formats kerfuffles (we are addressing data logistics as we find it with the currently used formats).

Embedding various metadata into feeds is not the way we are going. Suggestions to add any metadata to feeds describing rights, access to objects etc have been and will be resisted for reasons of unnecessary complexity and tech bureaucracy. Such proposals are about attaching another object with metadata such as licenses or access rights to each object in the feed. So my wine feed – a photo of wine bottle, a review of bottle of wine, then another photo of wine bottle – would end up with more metadata objects dropped into it, each of them stipulating how a particular picture may be used e.g. the first one with creative commons license, the other all rights reserved etc. In the end, every object in the feed would require some more metadata objects, amounting to many months in standards committee deciding what format(s) this will be in.

In my view, this is not the web way of doing as it involves invention of and obsession over creating new XML objects. There are simpler ways of achieving this, if and when such metadata is required by users. The non-committee way is simply here’s is a URL of my feed of objects, one that is personalised for you. The first time you access it, you’ll be required to click a button saying “everything I retrieve through the feed will be creative commons license”. Simple, really.

I, for one, want to use the Mine! as soon as possible, for my own purposes. And if there are others who will find it similarly useful, they will be the ‘adoption’ curve. Standards and formats will come back to haunt us but no need to court them before usage.

Now back to the ‘drawing’ board – last week I came across a drawing based on incomplete understanding of the Mine! and ‘Feeds based VRM’. It prompted me to further differentiation between that view and what I am actually working on.

The Mine! is not merely a personal data store – it is a structural element on the web that meets four requirements:

  1. take charge of my data (content, relationships, transactions, knowledge),

  2. arrange (analyse, manipulate, combine, mash-up) it according to my needs and preferences and
  3. share it on my own terms
  4. whilst connected and networked on the web.

This does not happen by the Mine! being a database or a data store, however personal. Store implies passive and static, with some distribution via feeds, whereas one of the major elements of the Mine! is equipping individuals with analytical and other tools to help them understand themselves better and give them an online spring board to relationships with others (in VRM context this includes vendors).

The personal data store implies that there is no other reason to be using it other than to slave yourself to someone’s CRM system. Herein lies the fundamental problem with the graphic and the approach it illustrates – it treats people’s Mines! like a back-end to vendors’ CRM systems. It does not capture using the Mine! to manage relationships – see the reference to ‘User Accounts Records‘ which in no sense reflects the customer being in control of their own data.

It is a good example of a user-centric or human-centred approach, but certainly not user-driven. The purpose of the Mine! is not only to put the individual in the centre and align the vendors around him. That is a far more gargantuan effort than what the Mine! is designed to do as the vendors have very little motivation to do that in ways that are useful to the individual. The idea behind the Mine! is to give the individual ability to become the authoritative source of information about him by handling the living breathing data as they go about their life. Taking just the feeds and not groking the autonomous space for my data is like looking at a vast landscape through a key hole, not bothering to open the door.

So once more, with feeling – the feeds and the Mine! feed technology are a subset of the Mine!, which has been conceived as an alternative way to provide data logistics for the individual on the web, one with a higher degree of autonomy and control over one’s preferences that is possible now. It originates from the social web, not from the identity space or any other area. It is a platform for the individual, with the aim to shift the balance of power between individual and platoform (or customers and vendors or other types of locked see-saw). It aspires to be an infrastructure for other solutions but it is not and should not be defined in terms of any of those solutions – identity, VRM, authentication, data portability and hopefully many more. A collection or selection of those solutions can be used as use-cases and that is what the Mine! community is working on.

For the moment, the Mine! prototype is being build according to the concepts described in the paper, (functionality designed by me, with coding by Alec). It is aimed at other hackers who appreciate the non-trivial distinctions that I have laid out and might want to join the open source project to improve it. Those who want to know more feel free to contact me directly via email on this blog. I also organise regular monthly VRM Hub meetings in London where we often discuss the Mine!.

I haz a Mine! Let me show you it…

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After many years of internet existence, scattering ‘digital detritus’ as I go, I am ready for tools that help me reclaim my online personae, help me piece together my fractured identity. And then allow me to drive it forward with all of the benefits that it can bring me and to those I interact and transact with.

In the last few months, I have been thinking about what would such tools do and look like. I knew that they have to be driven by me – adding value to me and allowing me to add value, flexible and modular.

The first hint was in the white paper was about the sharing mechanism, a feeds-based VRM. Using feeds to share and distribute data has always been predicated on the existence of something like the Mine! – a structural element that allows individuals to bring together data they would like to:

a) have in their ‘domain’
b) manipulate and learn from and
c) share with others as you see fit.

A haven for data, a playground and a spring board for further online existence. The foundation for individual being the platform and for creating an ‘asset’ to be used in further interactions, relationships and transactions.. Thinking through some of the details and implications has taken longer as the Mine! incorporates the feeds based sharing as described here.

The aim is to equip individuals with tools to take charge of their data (content, relationships, transactions, knowledge), arrange (analyse, manipulate, combine, mash-up) them according to their needs and preferences and share them on their own terms whilst connected and networked on the web.

The Mine! as VRM infrastructure.

Also in pdf (although I recommend the linked version that will be edited and revised and edit as I go along).

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