The Mine! Project

open source project for online data and relationships logistics

Twitter analytics for individual users

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Lifehacker founder, Gina Trapani, has been working on an interesting new Twitter app:

Tentatively called Twitalytic, it’s a self-hosted web-based application that grabs your tweets, archives them, and uses them to give your some interesting data about the people you follow and those who follow you.

This is the kind of analytical functionality that I think is missing on the web, available to individual users, for their benefit. Informed user is a better user and the more I can play with my data, the more I find out about my behaviour, the more understanding and hopefully autonomy I can have.

Open, distributed and yours…

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What with FriendFeed selling out to Facebook, the less those of us who have been harping on about user autonomy, self-hosted or user-owned apps and technology look like online equivalent of survivalists.

The prospect of a distributed, interoperable, self-hosted network of publishing, reading and discussion tools is nothing new – but the idea is gaining a lot more support as more people react to recent news like FriendFeed’s sale to Facebook, Tr.im’s up and down and Twitter’s denial of service attacks. The tide may not be turning, but there’s sure to be some new waves of innovation that come out of this period of frustration.

Marshall Kirkpatrick of Read Write Web does a good job of explaining why blogging and a WordPress type platform won’t be enough to replace services like Twitter. Yes, it publishing & distribution vs communication and relationships.

If we all had a little piece of our microblogging network on our own servers and they spoke to each other, that couldn’t happen.

We’d also own our own data, our archives, our interface design and more. It would be like publishing little messages… like grown ups.

Indeed. Identi.ca has been designed to do precisely that – though you don’t get your stuff automatically, unless you federate and use your own server to install Laconica but it’s already a giant leap for microblogging.

There are two more interesting items mentioned in the post – The Push Button Web and the DiSo project. We have looked at both and in short, the first depends too much on an intermediary, namely PubSubHubBub (obviously a lot depends on who can be such a hub and then the reality of who would be) and the other depends too much on a new XML based data standard.

Anyway, what’s worth noting is this conclusion:

Are all of these circumstances and conversations going to push the social web over the edge, toward a more distributed and less centralized model? Probably not in a big way, immediately, but we’re pretty sure that some interesting innovation is going to come out of this. Dissatisfied engineers, working on a problem that a lot of people are interested in, can produce some fun and important work.

Dissatisfied engineers and hopefully growing number of users, might provide momentum for an alternative, distributed approach to online communication and data logistics. This is where Mine! comes in. And although Mine! hasn’t been conceived for communication, it will also serve as a platform that belongs to the user.

Alec often describes Mine! as “asocial” software, not because it cannot be networked and connected to others but because it offers the user the option to withdraw from the network and join on his/her own terms.

Anonymised data a relationship doesn’t make

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My weekend feed reading yielded Rob Knight’s post on Data Egalitarianism. It looks at impact of customer data might have on certain type or size of vendor. Here is my comment on the post:

This is a rather narrow interpretation of what Mine! will enable for vendors… (or an independent realisation of what customer data sharing means for vendors). In your scenario, the relationship seems completely missing, based on this:

Consider any local, independent shop – a greengrocer, for example. Let us imagine that this greengrocer has access to the VRM data of a reasonable cross-section of the local community; this needn’t be more than a few hundred people. In return for providing (suitably anonymised) data about their shopping habits, these customers receive a small discount when shopping at the store in future.

But relationships cannot exist via anonymised data – the whole point of my approach to VRM is to focus on a ‘relationship’ with the vendor, one that is more equal than the current one. The data I voluntarily provide to vendors is a proxy for my relationships with them. The value is not in the data ‘dump’ but in the data flow, which can be cut off at any point the vendor abuses the relationship.

The challenge we are working on under the Mine! project is finding most effective ways vendors can capture and benefit from customers’ (directly shared) data WITHOUT distorting or abusing the relationship that the data signifies. As a customer, there is no way I will share my data with a vendor if I know that the vendor treats it merely as an input for their database or datamining and not as a basis for a mutually benefitial relationship. And I hasten to add that a more targetted marketing is NOT a benefit to me as a customer. Same applies to ‘discounts’ none of which are on my own terms.

That is why Mine! is designed in a manner that allows me to discontinue data flow to any vendor whenever I feel it unnecessary or irrelevant, thereby redressing the balance of power. Vendors will have to respect my data and by extension the person behind it. At least that’s the idea.

I am certain that vendors will try to use and abuse the data once people are able to share it, so the greater challenge is to create an environment in which individuals realise that they call the shots.

cross-posted from VRM Hub

It’s the context, stupid

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A bit of context for Mine!:

It comes down to whether you prefer context to be provided by:

1. automated algorithms a la Google and the thousands aggreation sites,
2. trusted sources including vendors, manufacturers, even third parties and intermediaries, or
3. your network of friends aka social network

The answer is obvious.

It depends! We use all three at different points in our information gathering, sharing and exchange and transactions. The challenge for VRM is to understand advantages and disadvantages of all three and encourage development of tools that give me, the individual user or customers, the best of all three.

My bet is on no.3. I want to help individuals to capture both data and context on their own terms. This will give rise to another layer of knowledge that serves both the individual and his network. For example, I want to collect data about my shopping, with my own comments and with sources of information useful to me. I want to have pictures of products I have bought, links to reviews by others and my own, comments by friends in my network, record of interactions with the vendors and third parties etc etc. I want it in a place I can further analyse it and share it based on my privacy requirements.

With time, all this can become a source of better understanding of my own behaviour and preferences, and, with practice, a better negotiating position in future transactions. In other words, I will be the most authoritative source of my own history, with data, information and knowledge about me.

What Mine! is not

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The key to getting people understand Mine! is its relevance to them. Though sometimes it helps to say what Mine! is not.

  • Mine! is NOT a Blog or Blogging Tool
  • Mine! is NOT a Personal Data Store
  • Mine! is NOT a Social Networking Tool
  • Mine! is NOT a Photo Gallery etc

Blog is a publishing platform, one-to-many and although Mine! uses blog-based technologies, it is information management platform, for user’s own benefit and with controlled sharing.

Mine! stores more than mere “personal data”, it stores anything. It can contain and manage static and dynamic data, related to the person by the virtue of being in Mine!. On top of that, Mine! enables tagging, analysing, poking, prodding, collating and mashing up data not just “storage”. And it enables sharing via feeds that can be individual generated and targeted.

Mine! is not a social network a la Facebook, MySpace etc etc. It is meant for individual deployment and use. In some sense it is “antisocial’ software – no walls to write on, zombies to poke, vampires to throw. It is designed to bring control to information sharing.

That said, Mine! can provide valuable functionality for e.g. OpenSocial, federated micro-blogging, friends-lists, contacts, FoaF etc. All in addition to what Mine is designed for and enabled because the user has new capability.

Mine! is not a photo gallery, nor is Mine just a wine-lover’s tool or traveller’s companion,
but these examples will be used often when explaining what Mine! can do for users.

Finally, what does the Mine! give you:

  • a home for storing your data
  • a platform for poking your data
  • a means to share your data
  • in, for, and to establish relationships with others, so you are the definitive source of information about you and have absolute control & revocation of access

From my previous writings about Mine!

Store implies passive and static, with some distribution via feeds, whereas one of the major elements of the Mine! is equipping individuals with analytical and other tools to help them understand themselves better and give them an online spring board to relationships with others (in VRM context this includes vendors).

The personal data store implies that there is no other reason to be using it other than to slave yourself to someone’s CRM system [...] it treats people’s Mines! like a back-end to vendors’ CRM systems. It does not capture using the Mine! to manage relationships [...] the customer being in control of their own data.

… The purpose of the Mine! is not only to put the individual in the centre and align the vendors around him. That is a far more gargantuan effort than what the Mine! is designed to do as the vendors have very little motivation to do that in ways that are useful to the individual. The idea behind the Mine! is to give the individual ability to become the authoritative source of information about him by handling the living breathing data as they go about their life. Taking just the feeds and not groking the autonomous space for my data is like looking at a vast landscape through a key hole, not bothering to open the door.

So once more, with feeling – the feeds and the Mine! feed technology are a subset of the Mine!, which has been conceived as an alternative way to provide data logistics for the individual on the web, one with a higher degree of autonomy and control over one’s preferences that is possible now. It originates from the social web, not from the identity space or any other area. It is a platform for the individual, with the aim to shift the balance of power between individual and platoform (or customers and vendors or other types of locked see-saw). It aspires to be an infrastructure for other solutions but it is not and should not be defined in terms of any of those solutions – identity, VRM, authentication, data portability and hopefully many more.

Timeless mind

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By ‘augmenting human intellect’ we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble. And by ‘complex situations’ we include the professional problems of diplomats, executives, social scientists, life scientists, physical scientists, attorneys, designers – whether the problem exists for twenty minutes or twenty years. We do not speak of isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations. We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human ‘feel for a situation’ usefully co-exist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids.

Opening paragraph of Doug Engelbart’s paper: Augmenting Human Intellect: A conceptual framework

Streams

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This resonates:

So when you think of digital presence – the online shadow of your physical/spiritual presence – how would you best want to represent that? The emergence of streams in our digital lives is, in many ways, aligning our thinking in a way that we are only subtly appreciating. I see this every time I overhear someone trying to explain Twitter to another. There’s futility in writing straplines and elevator pitches for something that is quite fundamental to the way we experience life.

Greg of Social Twisters then talks of finding the best web services that helps up build and run our own real-time personas online.


* Who – Facebook? LinkedIn?
* What – Twitter? Pownce?
* When – Upcoming? Socializr?
* Where – BrightKite? Dodgeball?
* How – Qik? Seesmic? Blogs?

All those are useful, I use most of them. I want the functionality they provide. But I also want to retain my data and use it in ways that they can’t. In other words, I want somewhere where I keep my data and functionality comes to me, rather then me giving up my data in exchange for functionality. Then I will become the source of the streams that reflect my identity, aspect of life and relationships.

A metaphor for the Mine!

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Revisiting this interview with Ze Frank on The Sound of Young America programme, this bit caught my attention (about 23 minutes into the video). Ze’s quote from the interview:

What’s holding the web back in some sort of way is a metaphor that people use for it, which is as a play space. You go to Flickr to look at your Flickr photos, but the real strength right now is real distribution of media. If you distribute media intensely and fully, then place can’t really be the dominant metaphor anymore. This idea of creating play spaces that are mediated by personalities in some sort of way, that you can move fluidly and play a game inside Google street view and then move out to another space and things like that was an opportunity to play with breaking [the metaphor] down a little bit.

Metaphors are very important and I have used a fair share over the years trying to get people understand the nature of the web, blogging, online communications, social networking, identity, VRM… Now I’d like to find one for the Mine!.

The closest I got so far is describing the Mine! as a car. Your own car on the web, not rented or confined to a parking lot or occasionally let out on a race track. This comes from describing social networks such as Facebook or MySpace as similar to a parking lot at driving school.

Networking on Facebook, MySpace and other silos is like taking driving lessons. There is no recognisable direction. It seems kind of pointless unless you know that it is just learning and practising. Facebooks and MySpace seems a lot like that to me. But once people work out how to drive, how to operate the machine and how to get from point A to point B, they will be able to decide what the B is and get around on their own. And that’s when the real fun starts.

So the Mine! is an attempt to give people their own car, getting them to decide where they go with it, how fast and who they take along as passangers. They will have to look after it a bit and perhaps learn to maintain it but that will be easier with time too. It is an alternative for networked and social existence on the web for those ready and willing to break out of silos.

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