Startup: The Personal Data Locker Company to Take On Facebook

July 19, 2010

I’ve been thinking about my goal of raising a venture fund to build the online data locker ecosystem. After discussing the concept with friends and advisors, it’s clear that I need to help build the core company first. Not only would it take me a year to raise a fund, but things are happening quickly around what some people call the personal data store, and it’s time to build a company that goes after Facebook with an open, portable, data-centric approach. I can’t talk about everything here, but I want to give an outline of where I’m going and ask if you know people who might be interested in participating.

The idea is to build the online data locker in a way that lets you migrate your information from Facebook and run your life from there. Facebook has a Roach Motel business model – their goal is that you put lots of personal information into Facebook and you’ll be stuck for life, because you can’t get it out. I’m going to put a team together to do something different. Let me put some of the puzzle pieces in place and then give an overview of what I want to build.

The guys at Diaspora are trying to build something like a Facebook alternative, so you can do your messaging from one place that’s open and you can control your own destiny. They are cool guys. They are building open-source software. But they are going to focus on messaging and social tools, not data. I applaud what they are doing, but they won’t give consumers enough features to get them to switch easily.

The people at Higgins are doing great work on i-cards and the personal data store. This is exciting. They have new energy and are building a lot of the plumbing my new company will need to make information more interoperable. The more progress they make, the better.

OpenID and other protocols based on the Identity Commons principles will help us stop the insanity of creating login names and passwords every time we want to do something on a web site.

XAuth and things like it will let us store our cookies and browser information online, so we don’t have to care which browser or device we use to see the web.

The FOAF (Friend of a Friend) graph is getting bigger, and that’s great news. It’s not the perfect answer to building social networks, but it’s gaining ground and will be part of the solution.

Information Cards are gaining acceptance and will be the basis for much of how we use our personal data.

The work of the Open Rights Group and Data Portability people will play a big role in the core philosophy.

I have several long-term goals driving this effort:

As I talk about in my book, the web is the ultimate platform. When we have personal data lockers, they will drive all the screens in our lives. One of those screens is your phone. I hope that about four years from now, you’ll be able to buy a phone that simply logs into your personal data locker and runs from there. The phone itself will have only a shadow copy of what you have on your data locker, with the main information safe and secure in the cloud. When you start your phone, it takes up where it left off, but ALL its information comes from the cloud, and all the apps essentially run on the cloud. You can think of it like that – you never download an app. You subscribe to it, and it either actually runs on the cloud, or a temporary version runs on your machine. You NEVER run out of room or resources.

The second vision is that the personal data locker drives the screen in your living room. Once again, you log into your data locker and a personal VJ presents all your video content, from news, TV shows, and feature films to home movies and instructional videos. No need for network television, and no need for any personal data recorder (hard disk) that requires you to manage content. It simply finds what you’re looking for or shows you something interesting, and everything streams from there.

The third vision is that what we do with computers and tablets today is still push and still requires us to store data on our machines. We’ve barely begun learning how to use the cloud properly. As I’ve advocated in my I have a dream blog post, I think we’ll see a seismic shift in the way we do all kinds of design. I think we’ll see a similar shift in the way we work, read, consume media, and play with our devices. Once again, I think they will simply be screens of any size, they will have input devices like keyboards and mice, or touch screens and headsets, or eye-trackers and brainwave monitors – whatever way we interact with them in the future. But you’ll start your day on your personal data locker and do everything from there. Once again, resources will be limitless, and the apps will be thousands of times cheaper and more powerful than the apps we use today.

The fourth vision is that this is where you’ll want to put ALL your information that’s currently scattered all over the web and in databases worldwide. Your health data, financial data, educational and career data, family information, photos, videos, music, haves, wants, and much more. You can read all about this in chapters 7 and 8 of my book, Pull.

The user experience is the driver here. This data locker will rise from the pack of personal data products currently being proposed and funded, because it will be simple and easy for consumers to adopt. I won’t say much more here, other than my job is to build the next-generation interface that makes the iPhone and iPad look difficult to use (they are).

I’m hoping to put together a world-class team and secure funding in the next six months. As I said in my previous post, I think I can raise the money necessary. With any luck, we’ll have offices in New York and San Francisco. Please help me look for the people I’ll need to get it started:

  • A CEO who’s a strong manager, a serial entrepreneur, someone who has built software ideas into companies.
  • A CTO who can build the cloud-based infrastructure, identity and security layers, and all the parts necessary at scale.
  • A Product manager who understands the user and his/her needs. Someone from Facebook, Google, or Yahoo would be interesting.
  • A UI designer who has been doing AJAX-driven consumer interfaces for large scale deployments.
  • A business-development ninja who can score partnerships with lots of big companies and services.

Please forward resumes to me at [email protected]

Thank You.

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