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A Big Issue: Taking Control of Your Own Identity and Data – Singly Founder Responds

By - October 18, 2011

If there was a theme to Day One at Web 2 Summit, it was this: We have to start taking control of our own identity and data. And this is not just because we might be worried about how the government or large platforms might use our data (though both issues certainly came up in talks with Chris Poole, Senator Ron Wyden, Genevieve Bell, and Sean Parker, among others). But also because of the value and benefits that will accrue to us and to society in a culture that values individual control of data. Problem is, it’s not simple or natural to do so….yet.

This reminded me of a post I did a couple of weeks ago, called I Wish “Tapestry” Existed. It elicited a very thoughtful response from Jason Cavnar, co-founder of the important Lockers Project and Singly, the startup which hopes to drive this trend forward. So for a bit of light reading, go back to that link and peruse my musings, then read this, which Jason was kind enough to write up based on the points I made (in bold) and agree to let me post:

JB: Services don’t communicate with each other; and # of services (apps) we use is skyrocketing
Cavnar: they don’t talk to each other, but what all apps do talk to, is you. You should be the protocol around which those things are built and data flows.

Also important: data doesn’t do us justice. This is about LIFE. Our lives. Or as our colleague Lindsay (@lschutte) says — “your story”. Not data. Data is just a manifestation of the actual life we are leading. Our data (story) should be ours to own, remember, re-use, discover with and share.

JB: Cool idea…but Tapestry would be hard to do b/c of policy, not tech
Cavnar: the technology actually isn’t trivial – most startups are spending 3-6+ months just doing data aggregation and cleaning — creating common reference points between data sets; (we have talked to 3 dozen + startups about this including sophisticated folks like the people down at SRI). More important than data reclamation and organization would be: how it gets stored; where it gets stored; who do you trust to hold onto it; ensuring the format “operable” (can developers do things with that data?) no matter where it lives; etc. The Locker Project (a placeholder name) is a community that will make sure the data structure gets figured out — the standards for “me” data. Singly is going to be the storage and access brand that you trust to store and empower you with your digital life.

JB: Tapestry = snapshot of what Dr. J is up to; Dr. J doesn’t use social services b/c value doesn’t exceed time invested
Cavnar: the point about Dr. J using those services more if Tapesty existed is very true and interesting — I wish more people recognized that; Also cool: if Dr. J were assured permanence of the data he is creating, he would likely create more liberally.

JB: I have only 5 social platforms
Cavnar: a ton of the data we create as individuals doesn’t take place on those 5 platforms first. The growth of apps is outpacing the growth of those platforms. Ex: most of my photos on Facebook are now originating from Instagram. My listening on Rdio/Spotify. My location data takes place at the service provider level (ATT, Verizon) first. Health Data…Car data…purchase data, etc.

What I really hear you asking are these questions:

Where do we combine and take with us all of our data?
Where is our data home? (a phrase coined by @mdzimm)
What will be our data address?
Shouldn’t that address be mine?
How is that related to our identity?
Shouldn’t the life I lead wind up with all of it’s memories stored in my home?
Shouldn’t someone provide me with home security?
Who is watching the kids when they are home alone and someone (app) wants to borrow milk (data)?
Does the proverbial USPS decide who I am? Or do they just ensure I can be found and send/receive?

JB: An option = pour all of this into Facebook
Cavnar: the problem is not just that it isn’t under your control, but that a 3rd party with interests other than solely and objectively empowering us then dictates how that data is structured and re-used, if at all. Should we, as a society, around such an important issue (our lives), trust a single company to decide / perform those functions? We haven’t, as a society, decided to all live within the same planned communities, home models and use the same interior decorators.

Tapestry can only be built if Facebook decides to enable them to develop it’s own feel/look/value. And you’d only be able to instrument Tapestry to you to the degree that Facebook decided. IE: not developers and not the end user. No home remodeling allowed. Facebook wants to empower developers and is grappling with how to create a win-win for developers and FB. As an industry, we’re at a point where we need to start thinking about win-win-wins (companies with data, developers and you/me/us). Your Tapestry example is one of thousands.

JB: If Tapestry gains traction, I’m worried Facebook would ban it
Cavnar: A few thoughts:

1) Facebook has actually expressed (including this year at f8) their conviction that people own their data. (Mark Zuckerberg’s blog post). John Doerr at KPCB (a Facebook investor) reiterates this belief (37:20) Facebook allows people to download their data from them because of this belief, and their TOS is a license of your data. And there will be more solutions they can offer people coming into play that will let them live out this belief even more elegantly.

2) Ecosystems win: Given that Dr. J, and a lot of other people don’t use Facebook zealously, would Tapestry suffer without Facebook as an experience? And if Tapestry took off, or Dr. J uses Facebook more because of Tapestry, won’t it behoove Facebook to be a part of that experience rather than absent from it?

3) Empowerment wins: once each of us have a digital home, and Tapestry is built on top of that data, along with a whole world of useful, personalized apps, this worry fades. What Jeremie experienced with Jabber is not dissimilar. Utility and empowering people to do more, connect more, etc will win the day and I don’t see Facebook ignoring the AOL history lesson, especially after they go public. Their leadership is sharp.

4) Inalienable rights win: I refuse to believe we are at a point in history where it is a forgone conclusion that people aren’t fundamentally entitled to the data they create. At the foundation of our country’s heritage is the Lockean notion of “Lives, Liberties and Property which Men have in their Persons as well as Goods”. In a worse case scenario, this issue goes to Washington. The folks there are deeply aware of people’s rights in this space. Look no further than Aneesh Chopra and Danny Weitzner and you find people who truly “get it”. Not just on a policy level but an innovation/economic opportunity/systemic problem-solution level.

5) We’re in this together: the leaders of our industry are decent people. We innovate because we care about people’s stories. And making the world better through technology. We are all part of a narrative far greater than those spelled out in Terms of Service. Not only has Facebook said people own their data, but of course Google is starting to make that easier (Takeout) and Dick Costolo tonight reaffirmed Twitter’s core belief that people should have a copy of their Tweets and it’s simply a matter of time to get the history off disk.

6) Innovation wins: Nobody in the business of innovation and human advancement/potential would argue that innovation takes place at the edge of the network. Closest to people. From mainframes to PCs. From landlines to smartphones. The closer to people that you put information, processes (apps), and power (tech), the more creative and economically productive we get. It’s that simple. We need our data. Closest to us. Apps, running on that data. Building Tapestry shouldn’t be hard. Tapestry existing makes the world a better place. Again, Terms of Service cannot argue with that narrative.

What’s Next:
Let’s suspend belief for a minute that we all got a digital home. What we then need is:

- a standard way to organize our data (this is why Singly is open source – so structure isn’t a point of control)

- a place to store all of our data (a home) that we trust and who is aligned to protect us, not use our data for other means. This doesnt have to be a single company, by any means.

- a medium you trust through which you can transmit the data

- a platform that can “address” your data home and mine all the same no matter where we choose to host it, so that Tapestry can have both of us as users and neither of us have to be locked into a single storage choice. Don’t trust Apple anymore? Cool, go to Singly. Don’t trust Singly? Go host your Data on your home server. Etc.

- a rich developer ecosystem adding value time and time again both to the underlying core software, as well as at the application layer.

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Help Me Interview the Founders of Quora (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

By - October 11, 2011

cheever.jpegNext up on the list of interesting folks I’m speaking with at Web 2 are Charlie Cheever and Adam D’Angelo, the founders of Quora. Cheever and D’Angelo enjoy (or suffer from) Facebook alumni pixie dust – they left the social giant to create Quora in 2009. It grew quickly after its public launch in 2010, inspiring some to claim it was the best structured Q&A site ever. They’ve also snagged funding led by Benchmark. As far as I know, this is the duo’s first major on stage interview together.

I’ve used Quora, a bit, and probably will be using it a lot as I start researching my book in earnest. But I’m curious as to how the service scales beyond its current place as a repository of quality – yet incomplete – knowledge. I’m also curious about its business model.

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Help Me Interview Ross Levinsohn, EVP, Yahoo (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

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rossl.jpegPerhaps no man is braver than Ross Levinsohn, at least at Web 2. First of all, he’s the top North American executive at a long-besieged and currently leaderless company, and second because he has not backed out of our conversation on Day One (this coming Monday). I spoke to Ross yesterday, and wanted to wait on asking your input on what I should ask him till we had spoken.

On stage next week, Ross and I will have to discuss Yahoo’s top leadership, or lack thereof, save Ross and his interim-CEO boss Tim Morse, who was Yahoo’s CFO up until the abrupt firing of Carol Bartz late this summer.

Since that time, the daily rumor mill has swirled around the company (it was only weekly before that). Today’s news, for example, was that Yahoo stock is up, because potential buyers are “circling” the Internet giant. One of those buyers is Alibaba, the Chinese giant, another is Newscorp, where Ross worked in another life. A third is private equity, which would mean Yahoo ceases to be a public company, at least for a period of time. A long shot fourth is Microsoft, but we’ll get a chance to ask Steve Ballmer about the on Day Two….

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I Just Made a City…

By - October 10, 2011

FM on the map.png

…on the Web 2 Summit “Data Frame” map. It’s kind of fun to think about your company (or any company) as a compendium of various data assets. We’ve added a “build your own city” feature to the map, and while there are a couple bugs to fix (I’d like to be able to add my own icon, for example), it’s pretty fun to do.

I built a city for Federated Media, naturally. Given our acquisitions of Lijit, Foodbuzz, TextDigger, and BigTent, as well as our organic growth, we’ve actually accumulated quite a bit of Interest, Search, Content, and Wildcard data. It’s fun to see the city take shape in real time. Give a spin for a company you like!

Help Me Interview Vic Gundotra, SVP, Google (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

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gundotra.jpegNext up on Day 3 of Web 2 is Vic Gundotra, the man responsible for what Google CEO Larry Page calls the most exciting and important project at this company: Google+. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve heard as varied a set of responses to any Google project as I have for Google+. Traffic is up in a huge way, state many reports, then, no, it’s down as much as 60%. Google + is the best thing since the slicing of bread, Google+ is a waste of time.

I honestly don’t think the folks at Google care about week to week traffic fluctuations, or initial reviews by the blogerati. The company is in it for the long haul this time. And Google+ marks a shift in how the Google brand is expressed, what it actually means in the minds of its customers. (Here’s my post on that idea).

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I Wish "Tapestry" Existed

By - October 07, 2011

tapestry03lg.jpeg

(image) Early this year I wrote File Under: Metaservices, The Rise Of, in which I described a problem that has burdened the web forever, but to my mind is getting worse and worse. The crux:

“…heavy users of the web depend on scores – sometimes hundreds – of services, all of which work wonderfully for their particular purpose (eBay for auctions, Google for search, OpenTable for restaurant reservations, etc). But these services simply don’t communicate with each other, nor collaborate in a fashion that creates a robust or evolving ecosystem.”

I noted that the rise of AppWorld only exacerbates the problem (apps rarely talk to each other or share data).

This must change. Not due to my philosophical problems with a closed web (though I do have that problem) but because yesterday, while driving back from an afternoon in the Valley, I had an idea for a new service, which for now I’ll call Tapestry, for lack of a better name. And then I got depressed: I figured making such a service would be really, really hard to do. And it shouldn’t be. And I hate getting depressed so quickly after having a fun idea.

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Help Me Interview Dennis Crowley, CEO, Foursquare (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

By - October 05, 2011

crowley.jpegFoursquare co-founder and CEO Dennis Crowley will give his first 1-1 interview on the Web 2 stage on the conference’s second day, following a morning of High Order Bits and a conversation on privacy policy with leaders from government in both the US and Canada. After Crowley will be a conversation with noted investor Ben Horowitz, then a discussion with leaders from both Visa and American Express.

But let’s focus on Crowley for this post. He and his co-founders have a tiger by the tail in Foursquare, the location-based leader that so far has resisted either demolition or acquisition by larger players like Google and Facebook. The still-young company (two+ years old) recently celebrated its billionth check-in, not to mention a $600 million private valuation. That kind of pressure is continuous and very real, I’ll be asking Crowley about living up to his investor’s expectations.

I’ll also be asking about business model, of course. Foursquare has done a ton of deals with many different kinds of brands, including publishers, but so far does not have a model that scales – though it’s clearly building out a platform for merchants. This puts it in the Groupon business, so to speak, at least in terms of competing for retailers’ time and treasure. So I will clearly be asking about that. Too bad Groupon had to cut out of the agenda (IPO issues), or I could have asked their CEO about Foursquare.

While I could go on, this is where I aks for your input. What do you want to hear from Crowley, about his company?   

As an extra incentive, I’ll be picking the best three questions from these series of posts (including Paul Otellini, Mary Meeker, Michael Roth, Steve Ballmer, James Gleick, Vic Gundotra, and Reid Hoffman, among others.) The authors of those questions will get complimentary passes to Web 2 – a more than $4000 value. So get to commenting, and thank you!

Previously: Mark Pincus, John Donahoe, Marc Benioff, Dick Costolo, Michael Dell. Next up: Mary Meeker.

Help Me Interview Michael Dell, CEO, Dell (And Win Free Tix to Web 2)

By - October 04, 2011

Dell.jpegNot unlike Steve Jobs back in the 1990s, Michael Dell returned to the helm of his company at a crucial moment, when his namesake was seemingly rudderless. Back in 2007, Dell was losing marketshare to HP, Apple had not yet proven the monster it has since become in mobile, and tablets were something used on factory floors.

Since then, Dell has redoubled its efforts in tablets and mobile, reworked its product line to compete with Apple’s resurgent MacBooks, but seen his stock price only slightly recover since the 2008 recession. Why? Dell faces competition from China, for one (Lenovo has claimed it will overtake Dell in market share this year), and from tablets, for the other (Amazon’s new Fire might hurt Dell’s ultralightweight offerings, and its Streak Android tablet).

That said, Dell has to be happy about the on again, off again approach taken to the PC business by its primary competitor, HP.

In short, we’ll have much to discuss – Amazon, Apple, Android and Google, HP – and the future of device computing in general. Not to mention what it’s like to come back and run a company you had once thought you had handed over to a trusted lieutenant.

So I’d love your input. What do you want to hear from Dell, about his company?   

As an extra incentive, I’ll be picking the best three questions from these series of posts (including Paul Otellini, Dennis Crowley, Mary Meeker, Michael Roth, Steve Ballmer, James Gleick, Vic Gundotra, and Reid Hoffman, among others.) The authors of those questions will get complimentary passes to Web 2 – a more than $4000 value. So get to commenting, and thank you!

Previously: Mark Pincus, John Donahoe, Marc Benioff, Dick Costolo. Next up: Dennis Crowley.

FM Welcomes Lijit to the Family

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lijit.jpeg

Today Federated Media Publishing announced it has acquired Lijit Networks, a world-class business partner to online publishers based in Boulder, Colorado. This combination is the result of literally months of work, including a ton of strategic thinking that dates back to Federated’s acquisitions of Foodbuzz, Big Tent, and TextDigger last year.

With reach into nearly 200 million uniques, Lijit is a major player in what we at Federated call “the Independent Web.” While Lijit serves all stripes of publishers, it shines with smaller sites whose size often means they get ignored or minimized by other network players. Lijit not only provides top-tier advertising services (it’s growing like crazy, see Lijit CEO Todd Vernon’s post here), but it was born as a service to publishers – with great analytics and search (I use it here on Searchblog). In the past year, Lijit has built out an impressive set of offerings in the technology-driven display market – a space rife with acronyms like SSP (supply side platforms), DSP (demand side platforms), and RTB (real time bidding). This ecosystem is increasingly complex, and Lijit is committed to helping independent publishers thrive within it.

But Lijit is more than great technology and services. It’s a passionate group of people who share our vision of bringing service and value to the constellation of “small pieces loosely joined” that, taken together, comprise the true voice of the web. When I traveled to Boulder and met the team, including CEO Todd Vernon, COO Walter Knapp, and lead investor Seth Levine of the Foundry Group, I knew we had more than a business deal at hand. I don’t know how else to put it – these are really good people, and I can’t wait to work together to write the next chapter of our work together. Congratulations to all.

Read more about the Lijit deal on the FM site, the Lijit blog, and over at All Things Digital. Congrats to all!

Google = Google+

By - September 29, 2011

Earlier this week I participated in Google’s partner conference, entitled Zeitgeist after the company’s annual summary of trending topics. Deep readers of this site know I have a particular affection for the original Zeitgeist, first published in 2001. When I stumbled across that link, I realized I had to write The Search.

The conference reminds me of TED, full of presentations and interviews meant to inspire and challenge the audience’s thinking. I participated in a few of the onstage discussions, and was honored to do so.

I’d been noodling a post about the meaning of Google’s brand*, in particular with respect to Google+, for some time, and I’d planned to write it before heading to the conference, if for no other reason than it might provide fodder for conversations with various Google executives and partners. But I ran out of time (I wrote about Facebook instead), and perhaps that’s for the good. While at the conference, I got a chance to talk with a number of sources and round out my thinking.

I also got the chance to ask Larry Page a question (video is embedded above, the question is at 19.30). In essence, my query was this: For most of Google’s history, when people thought about Google, they’d think about search. That was the brand: Google = search. For the next phase of Google’s life, what does Google equal?

I asked this question with an answer in mind (as I said, I’d been thinking about this for some time), but I didn’t get the answer I had hoped for. What Page did say was this:

“I’d like the brand to represent the things I just spoke about (for that, see the video) … it’s important that people trust the brand…that we’re trustworthy…and I think also it should stand for a beauty and technological purity…innovation, and things that are important to people, driving technology forward.”

The text above doesn’t really do Page’s answer justice, because somehow when he said “beauty” – a word I was surprised to hear – he delivered it with a sincerity that I and others at the conference found…almost Apple-like.

Then again, Page didn’t directly answer the question, at least from a marketing standpoint. In 2009, Google’s brand = search. That kind of clarity and consistency is what every marketer seeks to define in their brand.

At the moment, Google’s brand is a bit confusing. Google equals Chrome. And YouTube. And Android. And Google Docs. And Gmail. And Maps, Places, Voice, Calendar….and self driving cars, and investments in energy research, and antitrust hearings, and Adwords, and of course search. Not to mention Google+.

Oh, and Motorola.

One can forgive the average consumer if he or she is a bit confused about what Google really means.

In conversations with various Google executives over the past few weeks, including leaders in product, marketing, and search, it’s clear that the company is well aware of this problem, and is focused on finding a solution. And while most have seen Google+ as the company’s answer to Facebook’s social graph, I now see it as something far bigger.

In short, Google+ = Google.

Google VP of Product Bradley Horowitz, who I know well enough to know he doesn’t say things without thinking about them a bit, recently told Wired as much, but the context was missing. To wit:

Wired: How was working on Google+ different from working on the company’s previous offerings?

Horowitz: Until now, every single Google property acted like a separate company. Due to the way we grew, through various acquisitions and the fierce independence of each division within Google, each product sort of veered off in its own direction. That was dizzying. But Google+ is Google itself. We’re extending it across all that we do—search, ads, Chrome, Android, Maps, YouTube—so that each of those services contributes to our understanding of who you are.

Horowitz is making an important point, but the interview moved on. It should have lingered. In those conversations with Googlers over the past month, I’ve heard one consistent theme: Larry Page is obsessed with Google+, and not just for its value as a competitor to Facebook. Rather, as I wrote earlier this month, Google+ is the digital mortar between all of Google’s offerings, creating a new sense of what the brand *means*.

So what is that meaning? I’d like to venture a guess: one seamless platform for extending and leveraging your life through technology. In short, Google = the operating system of your life.

At the moment, there are really only three serious players who have the technological, capital, and brand resources to stake such an audacious claim. Of course, they are Apple, Microsoft, and Google (Amazon seems on the precipice of becoming the fourth). Of the three, Apple has the best handle on its brand. And Microsoft made its brand in the operating system world, so it has at least pitched its tent in the right part of our collective mindspace.

But Google? Well, Google’s got some brand work to do. Google’s products don’t all work together in a seamless way, and at first glance, don’t seem to all speak to the same brand experience. Google+ is the company’s attempt to address that problem, such that every experience with Google “makes sense” from a brand perspective. Which is to say, from the customer’s point of view. As a very senior Google marketing executive recently told me: “There’s a reason it’s called Google….plus!”

If this is correct, then the stakes of ensuring that Google+ succeeds are raised, significantly. Google has twice tried to out-social Facebook (Buzz, Orkut), and neither quite worked. But this time, Google’s not just trying to beat Facebook. It’s being far more ambitious – it’s trying to redefine what happens inside your brain when you consider the concept of “Google.” Part of that is social, sure. But far more of it has to do with being the brand to which you entrust nearly every technology-leveraged part of your life. HugeG+Ad.png

If that indeed is what the company is trying to do, I’m more certain that Google+ will succeed. Why? Because it means the company is committed in a new way to a singular purpose. It means it will cut new kinds of deals so as to compete (like bringing Cityville to Google+, or undermining Facebook’s Skype partnership through Hangouts, or, soon, bringing media and marketing into Google+). It means tying Google+ to its core promotion engine of search (which it most certainly has). And it means, as Horowitz told Wired, “extending (Google+) across all that we do.” I recently asked Google’s head of local, Marissa Mayer, what percentage of her products were integrated with Google+. Five or so percent, she told me. But she quickly added: That’s going to change, and fast.

At Zeitgeist, when Page answered my question about the brand, he answered mostly with meaning – innovation, trust, beauty. But Larry spoke for twenty or so minutes prior to my asking him that question, and he mentioned Google+ over and over, pressing how important the project was, and how excited he was about it. So come to think of it, maybe his first response to me – I’d like the brand to represent the things I just spoke about - was all the answer we really needed.

* And not for the first time. I’ve written about it quite a bit….the precursor to this post is this one: On Google’s Brand. More here .