Sea of Joy

….waiting in our boats to set sail/ Sea of Joy

Steve Winwood, Sea of Joy. Blind Faith, Blind Faith, August 1969

Steve Winwood. One of my all-time favourite musicians. Someone whom I heard for the first time in the early Seventies, someone whom I’ve been an ardent fan of ever since. Even went to a pub in Gloucestershire decades ago because I was told he drank there, just to see him in the flesh. He wasn’t touring then. He has, since, resumed touring, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see him maybe half a dozen times since. I was able to see him “live” twice this year, and I shall be doing so again next May. In fact, I took the photograph above while watching him play with Eric Clapton at Wembley Arena earlier this year. But that’s not what this post is about. [Even if I did enjoy being able to link to the concert using; what a lovely service!].

Sea of Joy. One of my all-time favourite songs, taken from one of my all-time favourite albums, Blind Faith by Blind Faith. A song dating back to times when working out the meanings of song lyrics was a hard thing to do…..”Once the door swings open into space, and I’m already waiting in disguise”……There was a time when I used to try, until I heard what might have been an apocryphal tale about the Doors and Mr Mojo Risin’. Erudite people had written erudite essays about what Jim Morrison may have meant in his repeated use of the phrase “Mr Mojo Risin” in a number of Doors songs. Extremely erudite essays about the meaning and role of mojo at the time, in terms of hoodoo and voodoo symbolism and representations of power and sex-appeal. And it is possible that Jim Morrison may have been influenced by all that when he chose to use the phrase as a motet. But. But then I heard the story of a little old lady who wrote in to some magazine some years after Morrison’s death, wondering what all the fuss was about. She said that the Morrisons used to live next door to them when little Jim was growing up. And Jim used to come and play in their yard. And her husband made up the phrase Mr Mojo Risin’ to describe the young James Douglas Morrison, who would have been 67 last week if he hadn’t died so tragically in 1971. Her husband liked crosswords and suchlike. And Mr Mojo Risin’ is a perfect anagram of … Jim Morrison. As I said, the tale is apocryphal. I don’t have a shred of evidence to back the story. And yet I believe it.

But that’s not what this post is about either.

This post is about a sea of joy. Maybe even an ocean of joy. Oceans of joy.

The internet.

I know, I know, comparisons can often be odious. And while pictures paint thousands of words, they come with frames. And anchors. Which can constrain imagination.


I’ve always imagined the internet to be a whole heap of rivers, feeding many seas, feeding one large ocean. Living, breathing, moving. A giant organism which is more than just a space. Containing water, that wondrous substance that helps keep us alive. A place where people swim and frolic, laugh and play. An environment of magic, of depth, of beauty we’re still discovering. A place full of life in all its brilliance. A repository of rich resource we can mine and use, sensibly and sustainably. And yet a place where danger lurks, where death too can be found. With pirates. And with pollution.

Despite all that, a sea of joy.

Which is partly why I’ve found recent discussions about Wikileaks intriguing to say the least. For some time now I’ve been talking about having to “design for loss of control”, referred to here and here, here and at the TED Salon here.

Humour me for a moment or two.

Imagine it’s raining outside. [For some strange reason I find this very easy to do. Perhaps it’s because of where I choose to live.] Imagine you go for a walk around your house, with a beaker in your hand, collecting rainwater, getting absolutely drenched in the process. [For an even stranger reason I’ve done this, as part of a school Physics question set by Resnick and Halliday, in 1974….I remember the question as “Drops are falling steadily in a perpendicular rain. You need to get from A to B in this rain. In order to encounter the least number of raindrops in your journey, would you (a) travel at your fastest speed (b) travel at your slowest speed or (c) travel at some intermediate speed you determine? Explain your answer.“]

Anyway, where was I? More importantly, where were you? Oh yes, I had you out collecting rainwater. Imagine you have a beaker full of rainwater. Imagine you take that beaker of rainwater and pour it into a nearby brook, which feeds a river, which empties out into a sea and forms part of the oceans.

For the sake of argument, let’s leave aside the philosophical question of whether you “own” the rainwater you collected. Imagine just trying to find that rainwater in the ocean, something you’re going to have to do if, for some reason, you’re keen on staking a claim to your rainwater.


The sea is designed to be plentiful, abundant. Quite different from lakes and ponds, which are contained and isolated, controllable. And often stagnant. [No, I’m not going to enter into angels-dancing-on-pins arguments about the Caspian Sea or for that matter the Dead Sea here].

Making things that are abundant by design somehow appear scarce is not an easy task. As I’ve said before, and said many times before, every artificial scarcity will be met by an equal and opposite artificial abundance; over time, the artificial abundance will win. Region coding of DVDs and music DRM are simple examples of the principle.

So it is with the internet. When you make something digital, you have something that is cheap to copy. When you connect that digital something to the internet, you have something that is cheap to distribute far and wide. That is why Kevin Kelly called the internet a “copy machine” in his seminal essay, Better Than Free, from which the illustration below is taken. If you haven’t read it yet, stop here and follow the link. It’s a must-read.

So now the internet exists, does it mean no one can keep a secret any more? No. It’s just like in the good old days before the internet: if you want to keep something secret, try not telling anyone.

The internet is designed to share.

There are many things that people don’t want to share, for a variety of good reasons: personally identifiable information; commercially sensitive information; and information demonstrably pertaining to national or international security. Sometimes it’s because the information is held asymmetrically and misused; in polite society we would call this “blackmail”, and in the civilised world this is illegal. Sometimes it’s because the information is considered “private”, and a right to privacy is seen to exist, a right not to be embarrassed because something you said in private somehow makes its way into the public domain. Which is why the recent spate of leaks has caused such consternation. Contrast this with Eliot Spitzer and the Wall Street firms he went after, the whistleblower/leak aspect of all that happened, and the difference in reaction then. Contrast this with Talking-To-Journalists 101, which says Nothing Is Ever Off The Record. In England, thirty years ago, when I was given rudimentary media training, I was told “always imagine that anything you say, everything you say, could be on the first page of the Mail tomorrow”.

Bruce Schneier, an erstwhile colleague and someone whose writings and sayings I pay attention to, wrote a wonderful little piece on the subject, making five simple points:

  • Encryption is not the issue
  • Secrets are only as secure as the least trusted person who knows them
  • Access control is hard
  • This has little to do with Wikileaks
  • Governments will have to learn what the music and film industries have been forced to learn already, that it’s easy to copy and publish digital files

You should read the whole essay, which I’ve linked to here. Bruce is brilliant, terse and trenchant as ever.

Clay Shirky, another writer I have a lot of time for, writes a very balanced piece here, about the importance of the legal process in all this. Any medium of communication, any method of publishing and propagating, needs to have its principles and guidelines, and over time, its laws and its regulations. Of particular importance is the following paragraph from his post:

The key, though, is that democracies have a process for creating such restrictions, and as a citizen it sickens me to see the U.S. trying to take shortcuts. The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us, “You went after WikiLeaks’ domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don’t like the site. If that’s the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.”

Due democratic process is always important; it is doubly important when we’re dealing with an emergent, valuable phenomenon. Such as the internet and all things digital.  Which is why I was so concerned with the apparently trivial all-downloaders-are-thieves approach that Mandelson et al sought to steamroller through via the Digital Economy Act. Which is why I remain concerned now. [Incidentally, I’m delighted that BT was part of the lobby that fought for, and won, a judicial review into the DE Act].

Not that I have anything against secrets per se.

Secrets are important, and there is a place for secrets. There are ways of keeping secrets secret.

Sharing is also important. And there is a place for sharing. It’s called the internet.

And it is really important that there continue to be ways of keeping shared things shared.

Which is why I appreciate the tireless work of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society in all this; John Palfrey, and, more recently, Urs Gasser, do a great job there. Which is why I look up to people like Charlie Nesson and Jonathan Zittrain and Larry Lessig as they strive to make sure that the law cannot be confused with genus Equus subgenus Asinus, and that due democratic process is followed when new laws are constructed. Which is why I appreciate the time that people like Doc Searls and Cory Doctorow spend on this. Which is why I appreciate the work of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; of the Open Rights Group; of Creative Commons; of the Web Science Trust, particularly for their work on open data. People in all these places have somehow found the time and the motivation to devote to this cause. I am privileged to count many of them amongst my friends, too many to list here. You know who you are. Thank you.

You see, it’s not really about Wikileaks. Artificial scarcities will continue to be met by artificial abundances. There will be many more Wikileaks. In many places. At the same time. And some of them will be very damaging. Which is not a good thing. But. There is a right way to stop it. It’s called the democratic process.

The internet is about sharing. It’s about making it easier to copy things and to move them around, to publish at scale. It’s about making it easier for Linus’s Law: Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. It’s about the power of democratised access. Access to publishing. Access to editing, to changing. Access to reading. Access to community skills and talent.

The internet makes it possible for us to do things we could never do before, like the World Wide Web itself. Like Wikipedia. Like Craigslist. Like being able to listen to “A symposium on Wikileaks and Internet Freedom” live yesterday at the Personal Democracy Forum, as thousands of us were able to do yesterday.

The internet is capable of transforming lives at the edge, making radical impacts on education, on healthcare, even on government. Of course the internet is dependent on all of us having ubiquitous affordable connectivity, something I continue to be optimistic about. It will happen. Perhaps not in the way we thought it would. But it will happen. And there won’t be a digital divide. Because that too would be an artificial scarcity….

Steve Winwood, when he penned Sea of Joy, also had these words to say in the song:

Having trouble coming through,
Through this concrete, blocks my view
And it’s all because of you.

All because of you. The “you” in that phrase is us. We have a responsibility to future generations that the internet is governed the right way, that the right laws are formulated and promulgated, that the right process is followed.

Because there are generations to come….

Waiting in their boats to set sail, Sea of Joy.

Thinking about social objects

You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.

Andrew Largeman, a character in Garden State, a film that was written and directed by Zach Braff some years ago.

A group of people that miss the same imaginary place. That phrase really stuck in my head when I saw the movie, and it’s stayed there ever since. Go see the film if you haven’t already, you won’t regret it. [And you don’t have to take my word for it either. An IMDB rating of 7.9, spread out over 90,000+ votes, nearly a thousand reviews, that’s some going.]

It wasn’t long after that when Jyri Engestrom started riffing with the idea of social objects, and when Hugh MacLeod picked it up and spoke to me at length about the concept, part of me was still completely stuck in the Andrew Largeman mindset. The same imaginary place.

And that’s part of the reason I share some of the things I do via twitter: The music I listen to. The food I’m cooking or eating. The films I’m watching; the books I’m reading; the places I go to. Sometimes what I share is in the immediate past, sometimes it’s in the present, sometimes all I’m doing is declaring my intent. Because, paraphrasing John Lennon, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

When we share our experiences of sights and sounds and smells, we recreate the familiar imaginary places we share with others. We use these digital objects as the seed, as one dimension of the experience to flesh out the rest of that experience. So we take the sound or image or location or even in some cases the smell, and we extrapolate it into a rich memory of that particular experience. Which is often a worthwhile thing to do, for all the people who shared that “imaginary place” with you.

This has become more valuable as a result of phenomena like Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter, that have made it easier for you to share the digital objects with the people you shared the original experience with. Which is why any tool that helps you capture what you’re watching or reading or listening to or visiting or eating is worth experimenting with.

This is something I’ve been doing for some time now, playing with every tool that comes on to the market, trying to see what it gives me that others didn’t. [When I started doing this, I had to come to terms quite quickly with the fact that some people don’t like being on the receiving end of all this “sharing”. More than once, I thought long and hard about segmenting my stream so that people could tune in or tune out of the particular segment. But I’ve stayed “whole” nevertheless. More on this later].

I’ve written about social objects a few times, even touched on the topic of something analogous to a graphic equaliser for an individual lifestream, yet I felt it was worth while in discussing them further in the context of “a group of people that miss the same imaginary place”. This time around, I want to concentrate on the ecosystem, on the tools and conventions we will need. Because that’s how sharing of experiences can become simpler, more extensive, more valuable.

I think we do five things with digital objects:

  • Introduce the object into shared space
  • Experience (and re-experience) the object
  • Share what you’re experiencing with others
  • Place in context that experience
  • Connect and re-connect with the family that has the same shared imaginary place

So to my way of thinking, once I start going down this road, every music site, every photo site, every video site, every audio site, they’re all about helping us introduce digital objects into shared space.

Many of these introducer sites also double up as experiencer sites: so you can watch the videos, hear the music and so on.

Every community site then becomes a way of sharing the experience of those objects: every review, every rating, every post, every link, every lifestream, all these are just ways of sharing our experiences, sometimes with commentary, sometimes without.

As more people get connected, and as the tools for sharing get better, and as the costs of sharing drop, we’re going to have the classic problems that we’ve already learnt about from the web in general. There are too many firehoses. It becomes hard to know what is out there, harder to find the right things. Errors, inaccuracies, even lies abound. (Digital objects are easy to modify).

So metadata becomes important. Preferably automated, so that authenticity is verifiable. Preferably low-cost and high-speed. Preferably indelibly associated with the digital object. Preferably easy to augment with tags and folksonomies and hashtags. Times, places, people. Names and descriptions. Devices involved, settings for those devices. History of views, listens, access, usage, editing. The edits themselves.

Authenticity becomes even more important. Watermarking the object while at the same time allowing copies of the object to be modified.

Search tools have to get better. I’ve been reading and re-reading Esther Dyson’s The Future of Internet Search for some time now, linking what she’s saying to what I’m thinking about here. Esther has been a friend and mentor for a long time; when she has something to say, I shut up and listen.

Visualisation tools also have to get better, which is why I spend time reading stuff like Information is Beautiful, why I visit feltron or manyeyes.

Sometimes many of these things happen in one place, elegantly and beautifully. That’s why I like Chris Wild’s Retroscope, why I like How To Be A Retronaut. It helps us place into context some of the things we share, some of the things we used to share.

Sometimes the tools for doing some of this move us into new dimensions, as in the case of layar and augmented reality, or for that matter AR spectacles. Noninvasive ways of overlaying information on to physical objects, ways that allow us to share the imaginary place more effectively.

As a young man, I was an incurable optimist. While time has tempered that optimism, my outlook on life continues to be positive, so positive that people sometimes claim I’m almost Utopian. Yet I still remember two quotations that were like kryptonite to the Superman of my optimism.

The first was Thoreau’s: Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. And the second was Burke’s: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing“.

There are many things we have to get better at, and many people working hard to make sure that, collectively, we get better at them. Feeding the world, eradicating poverty and the illnesses associated with poverty. Making sure every child has access to basic education. Improving healthcare, moving from cure to prevention, moving from symptom to root cause. Being better neighbours. Being better stewards of our environment.

I have never found it easy to accept that so many people are fundamentally lonely; I have never found it easy to accept that so many people are fundamentally depressed. And I have always wanted to do whatever I can to prevent these things from happening.

The tools we have today can help us eradicate loneliness and depression in ways that pharmacology can only dream of. Those tools can and will get better.

Of course there are things that come in the way, things we have to deal with first. Concepts like intellectual property rights have to be overhauled from the abominations they represent today, rebuilt from the ground up. Concepts like privacy and confidentiality have to be reformed to help us bring back community values that were eroded over the last 150 years or so. Human rights have to be reframed in a global context, the very concept of a nation re-interpreted, a whole new United Nations formed.

But while all that happens, we can help. By continuing to create ways that people remember the familiar shared imaginary places, by reminding ourselves what family means.

Family is not about blood alone, it is about covenant relationships. When something goes wrong in a covenant relationship, you don’t look for someone to blame, or even sue. You look for ways to fix it. Together.

Families don’t just share a past, they share a present. And a future. Social objects are, similarly, not just about the past, they’re about the present, they’re about the future.

We’re on the start of a whole new journey, and so we spend time learning about sharing by declaring past and present experiences. Soon we will get better at sharing intentions.

Soon we will get better at sharing imaginary places that are in the future, not in the past or present.

Soon. to paraphrase the prophet Joel,  our old men shall dream dreams, our young men shall see visions.

Thinking about privacy and asymmetry

If you’ve ever been to Calcutta, you will know something about crowds.

[My thanks to Accidents Will Happen for the wonderful Calcutta scene above.]

As many of you know, I was born there. A teeming city with many millions of people. I spent much of my childhood and youth in a small flat with an open-door guest policy; it was rare that we had less than 10 people staying in what was essentially a 2-bed 1500 square foot perch. I was educated at St Xavier’s Collegiate School (and College) from 1966 to 1979; I think we had around 1200 students in the school, and over twice that number at the college.

So I was used to crowds, and to living in vertical stacks. My concepts of privacy were therefore somewhat different from those that would have been obtained by people brought up in many parts of the West.

One of those concepts relates to the role of symmetric and asymmetric information in the context of privacy. If everyone knows something about you, and you know that everyone knows that something, then you would have no real privacy concerns. Gossip, along with its more malevolent avatar, blackmail, both rely on asymmetric information, where only a few people know something and others don’t. It is only then that information has power; it is only then that the power can be used; sadly, much of the time, such use tends to be at best immoral and often downright illegal.

It’s therefore important to know who has access to information about you, and who could have access. It’s important to understand what is in the public domain; it is even more important to understand what isn’t in the public domain, but remains accessible to people with peculiar powers and abilities, ranging from individuals to governments.

Which is why I’ve tended to follow debates about privacy with considerable interest, even if my experiences were fundamentally different.

In this context, I’ve really enjoyed reading the work of danah boyd over the years. I was particularly taken with something she wrote a few weeks ago in First Monday. Along with co-author Eszter Hargittai, danah’s written an excellent paper called Facebook Privacy Settings: Who Cares?

If you have any interest in privacy, particularly when it comes to privacy attitudes amongst the millenials, I would urge you to read the paper. Rich in data, it will help you understand more about generational differences related to privacy, and, in all probability, will dispel some of the myths you’ve been fed over the years.

I think the point that danah and Eszter make about the role of default settings and their effect on newbies is particularly important, and should not be underestimated. I quote:

The relationship between adjusting privacy settings and frequency of use as well as skill suggests that technological familiarity matters when it comes to how people approach the privacy settings of their Facebook accounts. This is particularly significant when we consider the role of default settings. If those who are the least familiar with a service are the least likely to adjust how their account is set up regarding privacy matters then they are the most likely to be exposed if the default settings are open or if the defaults change in ways that expose more of their content. This suggests that the vulnerability of the least skilled population is magnified by how companies choose to set or adjust default privacy settings.

This issue is not just about facebook, it is something that every firm will have to learn about and respond to. More to follow, in a week or two. In the meantime, let me know what you think.

Freewheeling about excavating information and stuff like that

Do you remember enterprise application integration? Those were the days.  First you paid to bury your information in someone’s proprietary silo, then you paid to excavate it from there, then you paid again to bury it again in someone else’s silo. Everybody was happy. Except for the guys paying the bills.

I went to see the guys in Osmosoft yesterday, it’s always a pleasure visiting them. At BT Design, our approach to innovation has a significant community focus: Web21C, now integrated into Ribbit, was formed on that basis; both Osmosoft as well as Ribbit  are excellent examples of what can be done with open multisided platforms.

While I was there, I spent some time with Jeremy Ruston who founded the firm and leads the team. Incidentally, it was good to see Blaine Cook there, I hadn’t seen him since he joined BT. Welcome to the team, Blaine.

When it comes to opensource, Jeremy’s one of the finest brains I know, we’re really privileged to have him. We got to talking, and somehow or the other, one of the topics that came up was the ways and means we have to figure out if someone’s any good, in the context of hiring. After all, there is no strategy in the world that can beat the one that begins “First hire good people”.

When you’re hiring people with experience, the best information used to come from people you knew who’d already worked with her or him. Nothing beats a good recommendation from a trusted domain. You can do all the interviews you want, run all the tests you can find, do all the background searching you feel like; over time, the trusted domain recommendation trumps the rest.

Now obviously this does not work when the person has not worked before, where there is no possibility of a trusted domain recommendation. Which is why people still use tests and interviews and background checks.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Jeremy brought up an issue that he’d spoken to me about quite some time ago, something I’m quite keen on: the use of subversion commit logs as a way of figuring out how good someone is.

And that got me thinking. Here we are, in a world where people are being told: Don’t be silly and record what you do in Facebook; don’t tell people everything you do via Twitter; don’t this; don’t that; after all, the bogeyman will come and get you, all these “facts” about your life will come back to haunt you.

As a counterpoint to this, we have the opensource community approach. Do tell everyone precisely what you are doing, record it in logs that everyone can see. Make sure that the logs are available in perpetuity. After all, how else will people find out how good you are?

Transparency can and should be a good thing. Abundant transparency can and should be a better thing, rather than scarce transparency. Right now we have a lot of scarce transparency; people can find out things about you, but only some people. Which would be fine, if you could choose who the people were. Do you have any idea who can access your credit rating? Your academic records? Do you have any idea who decided that?

Scarce information of this sort leads to secrets and lies and keeps whole industries occupied. Maybe we need to understand more about how the opensource community works. Which, incidentally, is one of the reasons why BT chose to champion Osmosoft.

An aside: David Cushman, whom I’d known electronically for a while, tweeted the likelihood of his being near the new Osmosoft offices around the time of my visit, so it made sense to connect up with him as well. It was good to meet him, and it reminded me of something I tweeted a few days ago. How things change. In the old days relationships began face to face and over time moved into remote and virtual and electronic. Nowadays that process has been reversed. Quite often, you’ve known someone electronically for a while, then you get to meet them. Intriguing.

Finally, my thanks to gapingvoid for the illustration, which I vaguely remembered as “Excavation 47”. It was a strange title so it stuck. Which reminds me, I have to start saving up to buy one of his lithographs, they’re must-haves.

Information Ownership in an Information Economy: A sideways look

I’m a gregarious person: I tend to know a lot of people, and I tend to have the contact cellphone numbers for many of them. Every now and then, as a result, I get a request from Friend A, asking me for the contact numbers for Friend B. What do I do?

The first thing I try and figure out, the first gate I put the request through, is a “trusted domain” one. Do I personally know that A and B are themselves friends? If this is the case, then, most of the time, I will pass the information on. The exception is when I know that B has a different preference, explicitly shared with me, saying “Do not, under any circumstances, give my number out to others. Period.

If I am not aware of A and B themselves being friends, I do not give the information out. I offer to get in touch with B and to pass A’s contact details to her.

Wasn’t life easier when we had telephone directories and listed/unlisted numbers? Perhaps. Because now we still have the directories, but they’re personal. We still have the unlisted numbers, but they’re personally protected.

I am responsible for the contact information I hold. I am accountable for that information. Accountable to friends who have trusted me with that information. And if I pass that information on without their implicit or, in some cases, explicit, permission, I am breaking their trust in me.

This, to me, is issue number one to do with any debate on information “ownership”.


And it’s a biggie.

When I hold information that has been given to me by someone, and where that information is “privately” held by that someone, then I am given it within a trust relationship. It is not mine to do with as I please.

That’s the simple part, when I am dealing with information as a steward, when “ownership” is clear. So let’s try a case where there is no such clear ownership. Let’s take, as an example, the record of my purchases at Amazon. Now I would argue that it is my information, and that Amazon should let me move that information around as I please. In fact, this sort of thing is one of the premises of VRM, a project you should all get to know, a project you should all get involved in.

So where was I? Oh yes, Amazon. Wanting to move “my” information around. Wanting to share information to do with Amazon purchases with others. Others like Barnes and Noble and Abebooks and Borders. As you can imagine, Amazon aren’t likely to be greatly enamoured of this idea. But it will happen. In the same way as cellphone numbers became portable across networks, in the same way as avatars are becoming portable across virtual worlds, in the same way as Sony joined the crowd and said “No DRM” today. Information portability is no longer an “if”, it’s a “when”.

But hang on a second, I hear you say. Surely that’s unfair on poor Amazon. After all, they’ve spent real money building all this infrastructure and developing all this software to track you and your purchases. How is it fair on them? Surely it’s reasonable for them to insist that the information, information they invested time and money to create, that information cannot go to their competitors?


It’s not their information. Whatever the ToS says. It’s only a matter of time before that wall comes crumbling down.

So what’s going to happen next? I guess that “vendors” that act as information stewards will go one of three ways:

  • Privacy Premium: This is where the ToS agrees that it’s your information, but indicates that you have to pay a small fee for private use. They don’t claim any right to sell on the information, but ask for costs to be met when they have to package it for your (external) use. They still have complete internal rights for using the information they hold to “sell” to you, to “cross-sell” you, to “target” you, and do all sorts of weird and nasty things to you. But that’s normal.
  • Advertising Allowance: Here they won’t charge you for “your” information, provided you don’t mind receiving it in a corrupted form: the primary form is where you get the information for free, but it’s embedded with advertising; the secondary form is where you get the information clean, but they’ve got your permission to sell your details to others.
  • Service With A Smile: It’s yours to do with it what you want, completely liquid. But there’s a transaction fee any time you want to do something with the information.

All that’s fine, I hear you say, but that’s information shared between vendor and vendee. Caveat emptor. What about the cases where it’s even more complex to work out ownership? Like Friend Wheels? Where someone spends time and money creating relationship diagrams and graphical representations of all the people you know and they know and they know and and and? Who owns that?

There’s a lot for us to work out, for sure. We’re still in early days as far as information ownership is concerned, but the direction is clear.

Information is going to be like money. And we’re going to move it around like money. [We already are.] Institutions that hold information are going to be like banks. With a variety of services, and with rights and duties associated with our information, varying according to the service we sign up for.

  • Safety deposit boxes for information. They hold it, they can’t touch it, we pay a fee.
  • Current or checking accounts for information: They have limited rights to doing stuff with the information, and in exchange they pay us peanuts for it; but they don’t charge us for moving the information around.
  • Information deposit accounts: Here they pay us a lot of “interest” for the information they hold on our behalf, but we don’t have the freedom to move it around willy-nilly without penalty; there are also transaction fees.
  • Managed investments: Here they are able to give us even higher rates of “interest”; they not only pay us for the information they hold on our behalf, but beyond that, they also create new things as a result of “investing” that information, and share some element of the proceeds with us.

And guess what? In order to do all this, we’re going to have to solve two other things. Identity. Trust. Both of these are problems we have already sought to solve before. In the banking world.

Banking is about information. Markets are digital.