Back to the Future

A year ago I wanted to build a “widget-based” social networking site. I even started a company to do it; we had seven people. We failed, but that’s not what this article is about.

This article is about what I think is the eventual merging of branding, badging, widgets, and tagging to create small-ish social purchasing circles that are based on the melding of these items.

Let me be clearer – over time, things I care about will have a well defined set of tags, badges, widgets and brands associated with them. There will be a subset of the population that cares about enough of the same things I do, and shares enough of the common widgets, tags, badges and brands that I do, that I will find them to be a natural and trustworthy source of product and service recommendations. Since I already know they like many of the things I like, I am more apt to take their recommendations.

Nothing earth-shattering there – we’ve been more prone to listen to people like us for as long as we could think. What makes this different is that this won’t be limited to just one web site, or one subset of merchandise (like cars, for instance).

As the use of tags, badges, widgets, gizmos, etc proliferates there will be a period (almost there now I think) where the data are disparate – this universe doesn’t mean anything to me because it isn’t collated, shared, filtered – basically it’s data out of control. It doesn’t mean much to me, because it is not presented to me in a way I find useful.

Soon though, those data will all meld… and then it will get useful — and very interesting. That’s when this graphical universe ceases to be just data and becomes information.

Imagine if I were in the market for a new car, and through the mechanisms above my interests in ecology, economy, speed, fun, sport, style and size were already determined. As well as my favorite colors, where I live, what I do for a living, etc – it’s all basically known. Would that make searching for a new car easier? Would it cut out the obvious stuff I wasn’t interested in (even if I didn’t realize I was interested in it?) What value would that have to someone that was trying to sell just the perfect car that I don’t even realize meets my criteria? Targeted advertising? Sure – from the manufacturer, to the dealer to an insurance agent – a LOT of what I would expect about the experience could be predetermined just based on my friends and the “commons” we share.

Pre-existing data would be useful to me not just so I could receive targeted ads, but so I can save time. Mostly so I could save time.

Now imagine that the only people that knew this about me were GOOGLE, MICROSOFT, AOL, APPLE or YAHOO. That wouldn’t be right.

Can it happen? Is it happening? Yes – on both counts – because you do not control your data. You cannot view it modify it delete it or even contest it. You are literally screwed. It’s not all your fault – the Internet feels “safe” because we access it primarily from places that feel safe – like our homes.

I am of the belief that your data is yours, and mine is mine. I should control it. Not some corporation.

Can we control access to our data, and still have a functional Internet? We can. It won’t be the same Internet – and that’s a good thing. But it can be a functional Internet.

Each of us individually could accomplish this today – there are enough technologies out their to make you “seem” invisible on the web (excluding targeted investigation/interest). But random Internet activities CAN be safe.

Can we create a new dichotomy where the “norm” is a safe Internet, and people are just “protected out of the box”. I think we can, and I have some ideas on how. That’s an article for another time though – there are some conversations I need to finish with others before I go any deeper into that.

But think of it – anything you ever said on the Internet, in a moment of anger, or fear, or glee becomes a permanent part of who you are – that isn’t fair. Your emotions, and emotional reactions are yours, and you should be able to manage them. Sites like Google cache my thoughts for what could be eternity – and I am given no value for it.

These companies are profiting off of us – they are building “party planes” and 50 million dollar houses based on our thoughts, actions, and desires – and it just isn’t fair. Comparatively they are doing very little of the work and are gaining almost all of the rewards.

I think the next major shift on the Internet will be based on two premises – fairness, and equity. If my data brings you value, it should bring me value. That’s not too bizarre of a concept, is it?


  1. Paul Claessen says:

    Rob, my response turned out a bit longer (but not nearly as long as I want it to be!) than what I feel comfortable with placing in your “comment area”, so I created my own wordpress site for this purpose. So, in order to not further ‘soil’ your blog, I placed my comment here:

  2. Paul –

    After studying Social Networking and Privacy Policies for almost two years, I can’t really do this topic justice in a comment thread – I promise to do a full article on it when I get back from my trip to Shreveport this weekend (gambling, 38 yard line tickets to a Saints/Cowboys pre-season game). Of course, If I win big, you’ll never hear from me again!

    Seriously though my concerns are as simple as “it’s my data, and I should have AT LEAST as much access to it as Google (or AOL, or MSN, etc) have. I should at the VERY least be able to see what they know about me (or think they know). And just like with credit reports – THERE SHOULD BE A MECHANISM FOR ME TO CHALLENGE WHAT THEY THINK THEY KNOW.

    Sorry for shouting. Had a bug in my ass – but this is important because data they present about me is *assumed* to be accurate – and if it isn’t, I have no recourse.

    That’s the simple argument. The complex one is, well… it’s more complex! Personally I believe users own their data, regardless who is hosting it. It is mine. I should be able to replicate it, migrate it, delete it, or just plain fornicate with it – it’s *MY* data, not theirs. They created a web service, but the content is my creation.

    I promise – after I win big in Louisiana, I’ll do a lengthy post on privacy policy and data – and how it applies to you. You’ll be my guinea pig. I probably know you enough to display to you exactly why I have formed these opinions.

    So, do you want me sharing everything I can find on the Internet in the post I am planning on doing, or would you rather filter that information a bit? I’ll do it either way. But be prepared to learn more about you and your household Internet habits then you probably want the world to know. Oh – better get you wife’s buy in on this before you agree. And the house, and car loans – that kind of stuff. Yeah, it’s out there as well.

    I’ll dig it all up, and publish it – you can (at least on MY SITE) correct whatever is published that ends up being inaccurate – the companies I am ranting about never give you that opportunity.

    And that is my point.


  3. Paul Claessen says:

    I tend to agree that I’m not getting it.
    If people and companies are getting filthy rich from my using the Internet, then so be it, more power to them, good for them.
    For example that search engine: I can’t imagine not using it daily. Doesn’t cost me anything. So WHAT they make billions off my using it? I love it and I use it .. for free!
    Now compare THAT to, for instance, cable TV .. THAT irritates me to no end: I have to pay a hefty amount for the service, I get a gazillion channels, so that can I flip channels all night long…. from commercial to commercial to commercial. Sure, every now and then they broadcast the movie Roadhouse, interesting series like Bonanza and I love Lucy, and oh, of course those idiotic reality shows that have as much to do with reality as the position of the stars with my personality. But I digress: Does this all mean you’re also oposed to something like the ‘open source’ movement .. where you write wonderful stuff (Linux!) and people can take it for free and then sell it and make a killing (Redhat)? Sounds a bit like the same thing …. but I LOVE it! And likewise, Google is more than welcome to make a killing off of my surfing, and don’t care that they don’t care about me!
    Basically, I don’t see the problem! I don’t necessarily believe in this Quid Pro Quo business.

  4. Paul, you aren’t “getting it”. These people DO NOT CARE about you or me, so they don’t have the same emotional and intellectual filters that we have with friends and families. We can forgive, and even forget – they have no interest in doing either.

    And a verbal comment, even poorly made, may be heard by 10 people – and I can get back to each of them individually and either apologize or clarify. You cannot do that on the Internet.

    And as for “I get to use their search engine” – bullshit – they make a fortune off me using their engine – they are NOT doing me any favors (or you, whether you accept that or not).

    There are users, and there being used on the Internet today. Which one do you want to be?

  5. Paul Claessen says:

    “anything you ever said on the Internet, in a moment of anger, or fear, or glee becomes a permanent part of who you are – that isn’t fair.”

    In principle that’s not different from ‘real life’. How often don’t you wish you hadn’t said or done a certain things? Even in ‘real life’ you can’t take it back, and it defines you. Is that fair? Who said life was fair?

    “Sites like Google cache my thoughts” ” – and I am given no value for it.”

    Yes you are! You get to use their marvelous search engine!
    And if they really do good business with your information and you want a piece of the pie, buy their stock!


  1. […] The following is a response to a post by Rob Lagesse which can be found here. […]