Social Democracy – an Online Social Bill of Rights

August 2, 2010

Back in 2,000, I had the first meeting with a company to discuss the online data locker. I met with a strategic marketing guy from Mercedes Benz. We met at the San Francisco International Airport, because he was between flights. I said eventually, when you buy a car, it’s going to come with a web site. He said yes, that would certainly be true. And, I said, if you own three cars, you don’t want to have to log into three different web sites to manage them, because to the consumer these are three parts of the same facet of their lives – transportation. He thought for a minute and saw that this was true.

I’m sorry I haven’t been very regular in posting this summer. I will try to post once a week, and you can find my tweets @PullNews. I’m spending much of my time on the vision and the team for my new startup to build the personal data locker. Once I find a good CEO, things will start rolling. I’ve had good talks with several people who can help with business development, and I’m talking with one potential CEO. I’d be interested to talk with or meet other potential CEOs in New York or San Francisco. I really want someone who thinks “start small, get big” and can help me bring a Facebook alternative to consumers who want to own their information, and they want their information to do much more for them than it does today.

I’ve been thinking about social democracy. Facebook is really social communism – Facebook makes the rules, and everyone has to play by them. Even if there are thousands of applications, you still have to read this week’s Terms of Service to see what you can and cannot do with your data. Facebook’s privacy policy is now 5,830 words long and getting longer and more confusing all the time. The same is true with iPhone and iPad apps – it’s nice that Apple plays the gatekeeper to keep us all safe, but I’m not sure I trust Apple to know what’s good for me and what isn’t. (If I’ve paid full price and signed up for a two-year contract, why shouldn’t I be able to use my phone on any other network I also pay for?) Sites like Plaxo and LinkedIn are helpful, but once again, they own your data, and you couldn’t close your account if you wanted to. And we all know that Microsoft is just a listless hulk of scrap iron surrounding $44 billion in cash floating in deep space.

If you’re thinking of leaving Facebook, there’s a site called QuitFacebookDay.com where you can get support. And, if you’re having problems deleting your account at any of these “Roach Motel” web sites, a company called Abine wants to help you.

There are new companies that want to eat Facebook’s lunch, but most of them still use the Roach Motel model of trapping users. Two recent launches are Me.me, by Yahoo, and LifeStream, by AOL. (Too bad, I really liked the LifeStream name.) These are well designed services that want to replace your Facebook and Twitter interfaces with a seamless place to spend your time, but they won’t be any better than Facebook in the long run, because they aren’t open.

What we need is true social democracy – a place where people can finally put all their personal information and know that they will always be able to control it. A place where people can make contributions and everyone will benefit. A place that gets safer and safer as more people help build it. A place that gives you full control over the kinds of relationships you have with people and the access you give them to your information. A place where you can point your automatic “data exhaust” – places you go, purchases, web surfing, people you come into contact with, places you eat, places you stay, things you like, etc. – and it will be yours to manage or delete according to your desires. A place that, one day, will drive all your devices and make you truly device independent.

As I’m working on the business plan for the new company, I’m also working on a Social Democracy Bill of Rights for users. This is a draft. Feel free to suggest additions or changes:

Anyone who has a data locker …

  • Can choose to host it anywhere, on any machine that will accept it. This means you choose your hosting company. Just like WordPress – you will have a choice of places to host your data locker, including your own server under your control.
  • Can easily move the entire account to a new hosting facility anytime. You may start your personal data locker at MercedesBenz.com, Out.com, Visa.com, or Harvard.edu. At any time and for any reason, you will be able to move your entire account to another hosting platform with no questions asked.
  • Has the ability to create rich networks of friends and acquaintances that closely reflects the relationships in real life. No one has 500 friends. The more you can specify the exact relationships you have with people and put them into meaningful groups, the more those online relationships will work for you online.
  • Can delete it at will. Since your data is all in one place, you should be able to CRUD your data – Create, Read, Update, and Delete it. I would suggest making a back-up first, but it’s up to you.
  • May choose the security layers that surround his/her data. Using open standards, you should be able to surround your data with whatever levels of security you like. If you want to make certain information as secure as possible, you may have to pay extra for it, but you should have a huge range of choices when it comes to security.
  • Controls which information is public and which is private. You should be able to list everything you own on your personal data locker, put it on the open web, and receive offers for anything you own without having to list it on eBay or Craigslist or any other web site. But you don’t have to. You’ll control what’s public, what the bots can see, and what they can’t.
  • Has as many logins as he/she wants to have. You can create as many login names and passwords as you like, but the beauty of the system is that you’ll be able to have one login with the data locker, and use it to log into any services or sites you want to use online. That means you can get rid of your passwords on all those web sites and let them refer to your data locker, which then authenticates you as the person you say you are. This may sound complicated, but it’s much more secure than what we have today, and the technology for “federated login” is ready to deploy.
  • Can have as many data lockers as he/she likes. Ideally, you have just one, but if you want to have multiple lockers, that’s okay. If you have a separate “persona,” you may want to create a second one. For example, if you want to make secret travel plans for a getaway with someone special, you may want to use a different persona than you normally use. It’s up to you.
  • Can add new facets any time. You’ll start with a number of standard facets, like personal, family, work, resume, hobbies, travel, finance, real estate, accounts, activities, etc. You may, for example, have a facet devoted to managing your car’s data, and you may have your data hosted at MercedesBenz.com, where the nice marketing people at Mercedes Benz want you to have a fully branded experience. But, if you buy a Range Rover or a Porsche then you’ll also be able to have a fully branded experience to manage your new car, and in fact your “manage my cars” facet will be able to combine the information from all your vendors into one seamless view, so you can see how you’re managing your cars, fuel, maintenance, etc. The same would go for airlines, hotels, restaurants, etc. No single vendor will be able to prevent other vendors from adding information to your data locker, even if your locker is hosted on their servers.
  • Has a platform for doing vendor relationship management. You’ll manage all your marketing data here, and you’ll be able to work with vendors on your terms. As I talk about in my book, most people would rather manage a house full of products in a single web site than having to go to dozens of web sites to log in and use information. The data locker is the infinitely-expandable platform for working with vendors on your terms, keeping control of what information they get and how they use it.
  • Can freely exchange information with anyone or any service. You’ll be responsible for obeying the law and using your data locker responsibly. We won’t be playing “Big Brother” in the background.
  • Can freely use any app that will work with his/her data. There will be an app store, where you can buy or add apps to your data locker (thank god there are no more downloads!). In fact, there could be many app stores. We won’t have any central control over the apps available. I expect, however, there will be various filtering mechanisms for finding apps that meet certain expectations or criteria.
  • Is part of a community that helps share data. If you want to hook your schedule to your online travel advisor, you shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. The data locker will have a community of people building data pipes (APIs) that help make their data lockers much more useful, and those data pipes will go into the public domain via a nonprofit entity set up for this purpose. We’ll build the open standards we all need without increasing the spaghetti of proprietary data standards.

That’s all I have for now, but I’m sure there will be more as the company takes shape. I’ll let you know how things are going. If you can think of a great name or domain name for the personal data locker, or if you know a great CEO for me, please get in touch.

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