COMsumers

Unbound Spiral: IOWNME --- DOUOWNU???

February 10, 2003 08:41 PM

I was mad after reading the NY Sunday Times spam article. It was so thin and shortsighted. So I’ve spent the day writing. Trying to pull threads together. I’ve achieved a first draft. It’s going to need more work and further links adding.

I’m the boss of my in-box! IOWNME --- please don’t forget it.

A few years ago, my two year-old was throwing a tantrum. “You’re not the boss of me!” “You’re not the boss of me!” he screamed with absolute determination on his face. The first dawning of an independent personality, he was exploring the limits, the boundaries. This was a little different to the playful fun he had when he discovered his shadow. His shadow follows him everywhere today, much longer than those many years ago.

Like our children, many of us remain in the physical world, still to discover or even feel the need to declare our independence in the digital world. It was brought home to me again, how untrained most of us are and how confusing the parallels are. The understanding we learn in the physical world as our persona emerges learning by trial and error fails to emerge or automatically transition to the online world. Instead this foreign digital world runs agents, applications, and protocols. When we struggle it’s the technology, or systems management we are told it’s for the best. It’s not friendly or caring, you wouldn’t let your friends treat you like an infant and yet too many online organizations do everyday. How often can one scream online “Your not the boss of me!”? Yet from Microsoft to Double-click, they are all trying to be the boss of you! What’s more they want to keep it that way.

This is an introduction to IOWNME! Why it is timely and why it is different. Like the two year old - IOWNME learns from lessons and exchanges with others. IOWNME is your right to assert your digital persona, to control access to you, to tell your story, not theirs in a distinctly individual way.

I’ve been fired up for a while about Digital Post, Ryze profiles, FOAF, Spam and wireless. Let me share some elements from articles and posts in the last week.

The shortsighted article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, “Why Spam Can’t Be Stopped” adds little to the picture (I'm not the only one who thinks that way Jon Udell). The author James Gleick does provide some quotable quotes.

“We citizens and consumers have more points of contact with the world than ever before; more points of exposure. Our front doors and mailboxes are one kind of interface; our telephones and fax machines another; our televisions and radios still another. Because networked computers open a pathway wider and faster and more fluid than all these combined, the spam epidemic will prove a need for new kinds of locks and new kinds of rules.”

Further in he notes some of these systems had some sort of economic bargain for our attention. Examples broadcast TV, radio. (Of course this bargain isn’t universal – consider public radio out of the US.) However:

“By contrast , advertising by e-mail is the ultimate free ride. THE COST IS BORN BY THE RECIPIENTS. This is a historical accident; no planners designed the economics of cyberspace to work this way. But the capitalists who laid the world’s fiber optic cable across continents and oceans get no return on their investment from the spammers; the Internet service providers whose computers send and receive these billions of messages get no compensation. Nor of course, do we, the targets of spam…”

The article covers all the other traditional ground, the problem with whitelists, opt-in vs. opt-out lists, and briefest comments on legal rulings and situations. The largest flaw of all here is that the author thinks new rules and more policing is the way to outlaw spam. His final paragraph:

“We need to be able to say no. N0, I’m not looking for a good time. No I don’t want to “e-mail” millions of PayPal members.” No, I don’t want an anatomy-enlargement kit. No, I don’t want my share of the Nigerian $25 million. I just want my in-box. It belongs to me, and I want it back.”

IOWNME! I own my in-box, I own my digital information, I own my sense of me! I’m the boss of my in-box. In the age of instant access (Jeremy Rifkin wrote “The Age of Access yet never envisaged you and me putting economics on our information access, and a price on our attention!) See the COMsumer Manifesto.

Why the solution is not just Digital Post!
Last week Bob Frankston published “Spam Fixation” picked up here last Thursday and since then has provided a follow-up posting "Email Is Still Just a Toy". Some quotes:

“We need to restore the balance. We need to control access to our attention and we must be able to determine our own priorities”. (BF)

Add to this, 24/7/365, in a mobile world with improved encryption. However there is an underlying and important clarification that e-mail is not paper post, that protection is much less than that provided by the traditional paper letter and envelope. The traditional mail system has our trust; increasingly the online one does not. We cannot trust it to share our addresses, we cannot assume it will keep our private correspondence secret, we cannot assume that the addresses we receive are really who they say they are. For genuine business and renewing social contact, it’s increasingly hard to contact electronically those you may have lost contact with. Even more so when the relationship may have been only over e-mail and sporadic over so many years.

“It's only because email is modeled after a crippled version of paper mail that we have such a sharp distinction.” (BF)

“We tend to treat email as if it had the same protection as postal mail except when we have a legal or explicit obligation to be careful. Then we have a problem.” (BF)

We are at a turning point where “all of us” decide how we are going to move our communications – connectivity systems forward. The Spam buster’s metaphor isn’t working. Government intervention is closer to control and surveillance than protecting individual rights. The DMA, is torn between improved efficiencies and knowing consumers need rights. I learned from Bob Frankston that the “Digital Post” metaphor is a retronym (For examples, the retronyms "snail mail" and "paper mail" were coined by those for who "mail" was likely to mean electronic mail.) We understand attention, and yet fail to see that it is “all of us” that needs to take the action. That Digital Post conjures such a strong consumer understanding is a reason for the parallel to be used. What’s key in the Digital Post paradigm is that the sender pays, not the receiver. Nicely summed up by the Economics of Attention. What we want is nothing less than a complete reinvention of post and telecommunications. For today there is no difference. As I understand it they are all still packets!

The thesaurus notes that hackers are great at retronyms. Clearly we are modifying old words to lead us into a new paradigm. We’ve sent messages from the dawn of time. Our language for a new paradigm is thus difficult. Clearly e-mail is not fully evolved. Yet the language we (consumers) use is mail, telephone, fax, e-mail, wireless, mobile, etc. Used less often are profiles, cookies, data lists. Yet we all have address books, generally list in directories and share our contact details. As paradigms I think they may have to do.

We buy stamps; we buy tokens in some places to ride the bus, or even a snack. Most of us fail to understand tokens in virtual technical terms, unless perhaps a link to cookies or headers is made. The consumer opportunity is one that enables all of us to take control, guard our time, protect unwanted invasions, gain additional security, and knowingly improve the chance of sharing with those we want to share with. Similarly we must encourage the joy of getting an update from a long lost friend, getting in touch must be easier not harder as the word become more mobile.

"We are still in the teething stage of email and view it as just a faster version of postal mail. One example I keep pointing out is that email addresses are treated like street addresses or phone numbers rather than what they really are--tokens that can be used to get our attention and manage conversations."(BF)

True. That’s how the everyday man in the street sees it. E-mail is not separate from our directories and address books. It is part of our correspondence. E-mail is like letters…and yet our communications and how we converse now takes a myriad of forms. We can no longer consider just e-mail without thinking IM – instant messaging or SMS texting. Then IM includes chat, profiles, voice – net meeting, cam exchanges, and many other things. In fact when I say IOWNME, I mean I own the time, place, frequency, and availability of my connectivity. I hope I engender trust, and yet just owning me is no guarantee.

In many countries the postal service, the telephone service (directories & calls) are and were all run by the government. Till now we’ve tended to think about the Internet as e-mail and downloading information. The Post, telephone and TV defined the rise industrial age. For so long they have been part of our “experience” that we take them for granted. More recently, DVD’s have show how fast a new technology can transform industries. Each one has redefined the human experience.

To propose solutions upgrade for e-mail without working though the human experience is nuts. I’d prefer conversations that shy away from solutions in terms of e-mail, tokens, or identity. Let’s think more broadly about human experiences, human profiles, and human exchanges, with real values that are inclusive rather than exclusive. Yes it is decentralized, yes I manage it and it must be simple. We cannot not forego serendipity and synchronicity; we need delight, the odd surprise and feedback. Most of all we need to be connected. Like the day and night, time casts different shadows, so does our lifecycle and stage of life. Frankly no child wants a nickname brought back, or a strikeout that cost the game. What we need is a celebrations, the positive reinforcement on which to grow.

When growing up, I read a number of stories where the world ended in a nuclear holocaust. It was the radiation that killed us. The half-life was thousands of years. Almost no-one was spared. We appear to accept new info tech solutions that work to track us, map us, stat us. Witness the rollouts of CRM customer relationship management and more recent approaches to digital identity like PingID. What worries me is the digital shadows these systems are arming to create have large and unfriendly trails. The more compliant we become the more excluded we will be. (Did I read the Power Network Law correctly?) If your half-life becomes digitally active there is nothing that will save you. Are there parallels? You bet! If you have had your identity stolen then you know the time and cost it takes to get it back.

There is leakage in every human profile. It’s what we choose to forget. Just like the words barked at a child close to danger we choose to forget. Some of our current systems forget. Others don’t. Some keep records of IM exchanges. Others don’t. The law generally doesn’t uphold verbal contracts. Similarly, because I shopped at Safeway doesn’t mean I’m committed to it forever.

For example Google searches on words, not on topics. (See Sam Hunter and topic maps.) Part of the human experience is forgiving, forgetting, and other positive part is reaching out, touching, meeting new friends. Some call this networking. Business Networking, social networks, etc. Till recently it was pretty much all done in person, or very slowly and laboriously by mail, phone and slow exchanges. The further away one was the more expensive it was to network. Few of us can afford to travel the world all the time. The telecommunications and IT industry have a different view of networking. Not surprisingly it is based round traffic, grids and power. Statistics are king in a realm where people connect and exchange their lives. It may capture words, sounds, and looks, so far it fails to really understand touch and taste. The context memory is simply not there. It remains with you and me. And we share it with others. Invites to join a group, further meetings and exchanges etc.

Similarly these technology networks want lock in. Hey there is a winner take all mentality. Look at Word, Outlook, Windows. IOWNME too is about lock-in. Lock-in with other consumers. Lock-in with a POWER to the PEOPLE concept. Done right it’s a movement. It only works if everyone owns his or her own profiles. Collaboration beginning with one to one exchanges and expanding more broadly begins with the capability to exchange ever more complex and invisible profiles between consumers.

THE PROFILE EXCHANGE
My earlier posts of on Ryze (xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx ) have spoken about the human profiles that are emerging and the social capital that is being created. Ryze has lowered the barrier to creating a personal home page and is much simpler and less demanding than the current blogging phenomena. Ryze does a good job of bringing you back to the site when you are reasonably active. Neglect it and your visitor count will fall. My Ryze contacts and my Outlook Address book are not synchronized, It provides more protection for my e-mail while depriving me of possible commercial messages appropriate to my profile. It’s objective was networking.

It may provides a starting point for what a future directory might be. It achieves a degree of transparency not apparent in Yahoo profiles for instance and yet it still doesn’t go far enough. Ryze remains a centralized solution closer to Napster than Kazaa. It may remain very successful despite still having a poor conversion rate for converting invites to active members (At least among older members I know.)

Some functionality on Ryze compares to eBay’s early developments promoting auctions. On Ryze you post your own profiles. No one other than you vets it. There is some structure, and an open opportunity via the HTML to more openly advertise and promote yourself. Not much has been done with this HTML section so far. Like eBay, we can envisage additional functionality and business being created to provide counters statistics, verifiers, spam, donations, guilds or professional associations, as simple items. Similarly it would work well for students.

More dramatic are the corporate implications. For example if I worked for IBM and am posting on Ryze, IBM may want to start verifying who currently is an employee. The “who owns me” permeable boundary already crossed by my independence. Similarly IBM may want to link IBM colleagues behind a hidden curtain rather than enable broad public linking and that might be understandable. Who would want to lose a whole research department? So consider an HTML space button that links back to IBM. It glows blue as long as I’m employed. Similarly, educational institutions or professional societies could do the same. This is both a business opportunity for Ryze and an example of consumers actively creating additional value for their organizations. Before long current contractors could be verified in this manner. The benefit. The IC instantly part of the organizations “human community” with all the welcomes etc. Ryze must become much bigger before really interesting applications become popular.

A further illustration broadening the need. As we mix and match our roles in public and private space, the activities of our lives today mean we flip in and out of them more frequently. So the need for connected directories goes much further. You become a coach of your child’s sports-team. There may only be 8 kids. It’s a busy world and it is hard to connect with the other parents or even identify who they are. Ryze type directory applications can make that simple. They can also “permission” child or family details. Similarly our school provides “class-lists”. It aids the functioning of the classroom, volunteerism etc. This may make many of us more transparent, it’s also a safer route to sharing. In RYZE when I call up my address book, it’s updated already with the information others are prepared to share with me. That saves me time and effort. Tied with my events calendar my e-groups etc. we could go even further.

Last week Marc Canter’s had a post that included a segment on how RYZE might help conference attendees. It’s a perfect example of some form of plug-in that would exist just for the Supernova members. Certainly would have been nice. A Supernova connection doesn’t need to be on the front page of my RYZE profile. In fact to the contrary it is really only useful to those that were there. And that is where we begin to understand there is a fine balance. The battle to credential one’s self is not necessarily a benefit to the smooth running and stimulation of a vibrant diverse community exchange system. In fact it may be exactly the opposite. Too many details and a barrier to entry is created.

Similarly, cutting access to individual stories (what they post in the html) reduces the richness, and the potential for relationship outreach. Not everyone finds it easy to tell his or her story. When we tell it we wonder and experiment all the while feeling a degree of insecurity. Some will always be more gregarious than others. Many will say actions speak louder than word. Somewhere in this exchange, a level of dignity is required. Perhaps that is the challenge. So far Ryze is the most dignified of all consumer profile exchanges. It’s not dating and certainly not sleazy. The majority is there attracted by the possibility of networking. It’s a fun place with many interesting people if you have the curiosity, time and willingness to seek them out.

I’m sure Adrian Scott never thought about Ryze scaling to everyone on earth when he started it. I’m skeptical it could even if we wanted it too. Ryze has introduced an online way for looking for new friends and colleagues. It’s put some protection on my e-mail and created a new social context while doing it. More importantly I feel I own my Ryze page. I believe others are proud to be on Ryze too. That’s quite a feat.

There is also a limit to such exchange systems. There are people that may have populated my address book, which I barely know. My trust varies with events. Not everyone can have the keys to my car, and yet many a friend may be able to ride with me. I’ll happily give away some information. This brings us back, closer to our inbox and integrating our address book so it works with increased functionality.

A couple of recent Whitelist start-ups have used Outlook address books to secure further sign-ups. They have been roundly dammed. For many of us our address books are a mess we amend them when we find a problem, or rebuild when lost. Similarly, many of us have multiple addresses for our friends. Usually we know the preferred destination even when the PC might not. Why bring in this now? It seems we are not using our friends effectively.

When the dating / matching online solutions first emerged eCRUSH provided an easy, safe way to answer the question "Would that person go out with me?"

“eCRUSH® is an "icebreaker", not a personals site. The "eCRUSH®" service (patents pending) only works between people who already know each other; there is no way to match up with a stranger. Users log onto eCRUSH® and, in complete confidentiality, enter the names (and preferably the email addresses) of their romantic interests. An anonymous email goes out to these people informing them that someone has an "eCRUSH®" on them and encouraging them to enter their own eCRUSHes to see if the feeling is mutual. If two people eCRUSH® each other, we break the ice between them.

This viral process means that everyone who sends a "eCrush" message recruits other people to register. This is a prime example of how a modified RYZE type application could use my friends more successfully to go beyond the traditional 150. Were they to use my address book, when 5 or 10 members also have them in their address books then it’s simple…. Hi Stuart… You already have 5 friends on Ryze. Come in and find them! Of course at the moment, there is a privacy issue, there is an ownership issue and I’m not sure I’m ready to give Ryze my whole address book. Still a stronger confirmation of “we are feeling safe in here” to another friend I cannot imagine.

SO YOU WANT YOUR INBOX BACK?
I started this piece with an inbox statement and spam. The whitelist and blacklist approaches we know. They either eliminate too many or simply fail to get them all. So what are we to do?

Consider Possible IOWNME Principles:

IOWME would be a decentralized peer-to-peer based application that controls all digital communication to the individual. I assume with VOIP, all voice communication can be encrypted just like exchanges of IM and e-mail. FreeNet provides a sense of this without the desire to create a more powerful connected world for the people. Cloudmark and for that matter Kazaa provides P2P style infrastructure examples.

Using TDMA or a similar whitelist applications would enable a verification process that requires legitimate addresses, friends / colleagues access would be free. Ultimately, this profile belongs to this person. Commercial access for my attention will require a different set of economics. While a simple ping back will cure most spammers it’s more attractive to create a real-time connectivity system that can go mobile. (Imagine ads delivered to geourls.)

IOWNME would enable a blind directory exchange. Without telling me IOWNME would let me know how many friends in common we are likely to have. The address books are not exchanged. We may enable peer-to-peer blind matching from time to time… My guess is circles of friends in common would enable significantly more contacts to be made. It would also encourage individuals to add to their address book. A date register of last contact could be useful. This may provide useful for friends of friends searching.

Establishing profile connectivity, the information grows as the community grows. The interests and company lists on Ryze demonstrate the emergent and changing nature of profiles. So if you bought a washing machine yesterday, you are probably out of the market today. Similarly whether eCrush, Match, lavalife etc. many sophisticated profiles are currently being shared. So far they are fragmented. Most of us can’t afford the time to run more than one profile. Running Ryze, Outlook, web pages and a blog is simply too much. If we are really to make business more interesting then methods for aggregating this consumer information must be simplified. Let’s be practical.

Example from a scenario:

….. just look at the number of consumers who think this is a good idea right now. The market’s not going to stay this way for very long. We’ve almost reached a critical mass. We just need to persuade a few more people and then we’ll reach the tipping point.

Frankly I’m just too busy to spend attention on issues I don’t care about. My clients have so many different kinds of information to barter. Genomic assets, cybercredits, some of them even still own old copyrights. I’m simudealing with 3 other clients while I’m talking to you. Baby, I’m busy! And any attention resources I’ve got left, I want to spend with you, not on consumer mobilization.

Dupont’s research on smart fabrics is already out there being shared. All the chemicals companies are poised to go into production, they’re just waiting for the market to turn. If CyberGap can be convinced to stock SmartKahkis, that’ll be enough!

Look I…

Aw no…now look! You see. We waited too long. The market segments dissolving

Let’s make it easier for each of us to visit with each other on the web. At the same time we must make it less productive for anyone to make assumptions about what they read on the web. There was a desire by the founders of the web to keep it open and free. The trick will now be making the economics of our attention more transparent. Our access more true to what we really want. For the common good, we must insure that the system is strengthened when everyone is online. The next iteration of the net needs to use the commercial interests in our lives in a way that enables more people to connect. While I think charges may emerge, perhaps the other method is to let incentives for sharing more of your information evolve. In principle create a market to facilitate information exchange amongst consumer more efficiently than it can be done by business. It looks like dealing with spam is the first step in changing information asymmetries and giving more power to the people!

IOWNME. The rights to my digital profile; my digital right to self-expression, in a human and sometimes fallible way. It will never gel with all the details the companies or financial institutions have, but may just meld with the nuances of my life. Frankly that’s a lot more important to me and those that want to meet me or do business with me, than a million transactional calculations. The “data” collected on me would never have predicted that I would write a paper like this five years ago. It can’t predict what I might do tomorrow either. Still after today looking at my blog, you have a right to think I may do some things differently.



Comments (2)

Sweetheart, you have a great idea there, but unfortunately I had to skim through paragraph upon paragraph of what I already know to get to this idea...
Cut it down, big time. Most people aren't as patient as I am, and many have even less time.

Posted by: Chloe at February 11, 2003 8:05 AM

Remember the "Elevator pitch" I learned from you?
There is a market for 222 word sound bites -- The Triple Two rule for the elevator pitch.
I need a road map -- diagram of the paths we consider using-- which would help me. I really think you have hit the nail well by the child transaction analogies and the last 2 pages are spot on as is the use of the NCM in your blog today.
(I did read this in its entirety and it took me 35 min.) Chloe is right!

Posted by: Brian Henshall at February 11, 2003 8:11 PM