The Mine! Project

open source project for online data and relationships logistics

Twitter analytics for individual users

TAGS: None

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.

The Mine! Project – Google Tech Talk Part 1

TAGS: None

Back in April, when Alec and I visited the Bay area, we did a lunch time talk about the Mine! project at Google. Here is the first part:

Anonymised data a relationship doesn’t make

TAGS: None

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

TAGS: None

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

Tags: , ,

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.

Feeds, feeds everywhere

Tags: ,

There is lots going on around feeds, flagging up a few here.

Steve Rubell:

…while feed adoption may have crested the idea of online opt-in communications is just getting going. The Facebook newsfeed, Twitter and Friendfeed are perfect examples of opt-in vehichles that bring content you care about to you. In each case, you’re total in control. You can unsubscribe from individuals or groups and tailor the stream so that what you want finds you.

RSS is only one form of opt-in communications. The potential is bigger when you look more broadly to social networking. This larger promise still holds and as the technologies become more invisible the newsfeed could even one day subsume RSS.

I get what Steve is getting at, this feed business is more than RSS. But I don’t think social networks are truly social when it comes to sharing. Newsfeed is but one way of sharing. It is like relationships via hosepipe. I’d like to be able to do more than just just turn on and off the flow. I want to have hot and cold taps and several different water supply requirements.

Marshall Kirkpatrick:

Newsfeeds are everywhere, they are an arguably efficient and pleasing (for some) way to relate to an unending supply of information. Some people find them overwhelming, others say they are a waste of mental energy and surely some will insist they are bad for the human brain’s ability to remember anything from one day to the next.

So it seems newsfeeds (Facebook, Friendfeed and many others) is here to stay but I want individual need-to know briefings too. It’s not an issue of privacy, but my ability to use data-sharing as a social gesture. At the moment, it’s a bear hug or crushing of the hand or a large kumbaya all around, with little ability to elegantly and discreetly tap dance around social nuance and relationship pitfalls. And I am not even talking about the dance of Seven Veils!

Have I mixed enough metaphors to get the point across? I sure hope so.

And John Udell for the other side of the feed divide:

…you need feed aggregators. These proliferate in blogspace but, I argue, are conspicously absent from calendar space. Services like Eventful and Upcoming produce calendar feeds. But because they do not consume them, they don’t encourage individuals and groups to publish feeds, and to think and act in a syndication-oriented way. I’ve prototyped a calendar aggregator at http://elmcity.info/events/, but the category isn’t yet well-established.

If my analysis is correct, one or more well-known services that both consume and produce calendar feeds would unlock the latent potential of iCalendar and help us jumpstart a calendar syndication ecosystem.

Better yet, add this functionality to Mine! or improve existing feed readers. With Mine! we are starting with what’s around now, google reader being a good standard. I am hoping that with more granular and nuanced feeds, it will make sense for feed readers (and other applications) to follow suit and help users find their way around information coming their way.

Mine! insurance story

Tags: , , , ,

Not the most thrilling heading, I grant you, but being able to manage your insurance is not to be sniffed at. This is also the first in a series of scenarios, or Mine! stories, about how the Mine! could be used for specific uses. Some scenarios won’t be realised until vendors come on board and this is obviously one of them. That said, the Mine! is first and foremost for the user and works independently of vendors, platforms and third-parties.

So I am looking for some home insurance. I already have in the Mine! information about the belongings in my house to be covered or I input them – I can add descriptions, upload photos, links etc. I include my postcode and any essential information insurers need to quote. Then I create a feed from the Mine! containing that data. This feed would be specific to each insurer even if the information contained within is identical. That way I will be able to cut that feed off without disrupting feeds to others. Then I drop the feed URL into a field on insurer’s website and get a quote.[1]

Big assumption alert: Insurers will have added a field to their sites, and the way they extract the information is similar to you filling in a form, the difference being that you are choosing what data you share. I know better than trying to get vendors to change their system at this stage but with sufficient usage and incentive, this should be possible. The Mine! starts from the user, not the vendor.

The insurance companies respond. I choose the quote best for me and provides the insurer with my identity details needed to complete the transaction and whatever other personal data is required to establish a relationship. I can do this by updating the original ‘quote’ feed – this would be done by adding more objects or tags to the feed – or by generating an entirely new one. That will depend on the user preference and own data management.

The feed the insurer is given will provide updates about any changes to the shared data – contents, address, other relevant information. These can be used for timely policy amendments to avoid being uninsured or underinsured as well as for renewal quotes.

The insurance company benefits as they now have a direct connection with me, the customer, with a flow of potentially useful data that would be hard to obtain otherwise. The higher quality of data is inferred from the motivation behind it – I maintain data in the Mine! for my own purposes and needs – which seems a reason more powerful than anything else. And finally, the direct relationship cuts out the brokers, which is something that most insurers would like to see at least in the areas where insurance coverage has been commoditised.

The customer wins because he gets a deal more closely tailored to his needs and circumstances, cheaper insurance (brokers are often used to put together lists of items and the average fee paid to brokers for such service is £50+), reduces the hassle of re-insuring and avoids underinsurance when something does go wrong.

Over time, there would be other areas of improvement and impact. Better rating due to higher quality or relevance of data, better customer relationship, less paperwork. I realise I am veering into the utopia here, especially when it comes to insurance but one can but hope…

Similar scenarios could apply to any insurance products and services where details from the customer are essential to the quote and/or brokers and intermediaries are pushing out insurers from a direct relationship.

[1] Here is Alec’s ‘translation’ or elaboration of the process for the more technical amongst us, based on the current Mine! functionality.

So I am looking for some home insurance. I already have in the Mine! information about the belongings in my house to be covered or I input them – I can add descriptions, upload photos, links etc. [ALL THIS DATA GETS LINKED INTO AN "ENVELOPE" OBJECT THAT SAVES YOU HAVING TO GO AN RE-TAG IT SPECIFICALLY FOR THE PURPOSE OF INSURANCE] I include my postcode and any essential information insurers need to quote. Then I create a feed from the Mine! containing that data [IE: CONTAINING THE "ENVELOPE" OBJECT WHICH DRAGS ALL THE OTHER DATA IN ITS WAKE]. This feed would be specific to each insurer even if the information contained within is identical. [PERSONALLY I WOULD DESCRIBE THIS AS "DROP THE ENVELOPE INTO THE FEED FOR EACH INSURER"] That way I will be able to cut that feed off without disrupting feeds to others. Then I ["THE USER"] drop the feed URL into a field on insurer’s website and get a quote.

Streams

Tags: , ,

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.

Truly social software?

Tags: , , , ,

When describing how the Mine! could help me manage my data better than the existing applications I use, one of the examples I describe is uploading photos to Flickr and trying to structure them.

Flickr is a flow of photos and I am not really in charge of how they are organised. For example, I have 100+ wine photos as part of my wine interest. If I upload all of them, that’s what people subscribing to my Flickr will see as they all appear in my Flickr stream. I have a choice of a couple of combinations of friends & family settings but that does not solve my problem: I may want some people to see the wine photos and I may not want others to be bored by a bunch of wine bottle shots. Some people may not be on Flickr, so the privacy settings don’t help.

On another occasion, I needed to share photos with my mother who is not on Flickr. It was a practical need – we went shopping together for items for her apartment and the photo set was meant to help her remember and decide what to buy and exchange notes and comments on the photos. I couldn’t make it work. I tried setting a new account for only those photos but there were too many for a free account and I didn’t feel like paying $24 for this simple use. I tried signing her up to Flickr, as a family contact, and uploading the photos with the family setting. This was awkward as I don’t necessarily want other contacts with the same privacy setting to see those photos or me being forced to change their status permanently…

I needed my own space, not just for communication or publishing but for my own notes for future reference. Then I also wanted to share it with those who might be interested in my wine photos or window-shopping.

I want two basic functionalities from the online tools, which help me organise my life and connect me with people. First, I want to capture and sort out my data, upload photos, take notes, cross-reference information, etc. For that I need applications that are more analytical than the current social media/web tools. Once I organise my stuff, I want to go on sharing it in ways that are more social than the current web 2.0 tools allow me to be.

But isn’t social networking all about being social? Not quite. At the moment, I don’t drive who gets to see what beyond simple decisions about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. Social interactions and relationships are far more granular than social networks allow them to be. Usually, this is seen as a privacy issues and results in a complicated access management e.g. Facebook privacy settings.

Why do we have our relationships pre-determined by others such as Facebook, Flickr, Plaxo etc.? Presumably to give us more ‘control’ over our social network and contacts in it. But how is lumping people into categories imposed by an application helping me to be social? By determining the types of relationships I am able to have – business contact or colleague, family or friend, I am not able to reflect relationships I already have. The best social software is not online, it is loaded on to my cortex. And no software can fully map the relationships, let alone replace our natural ability to create and maintain them.

Privacy is merely the other side of the coin of complexity in human relationships. My ‘privacy settings’ are inherent in my behaviour. My privacy policy should not be embedded in any software. In that sense, software cannot be social (or antisocial), though it can help me be more or less social. Software privacy settings limit my ability to be truly social i.e. capable of maintaining complex relationships and interactions with others – arguably the purpose of such tools.

The Mine! needs to satisfy both requirements of my online life – allow its users to organise data differently and support people’s relationships as defined by themselves.

Let’s deal with the data in this posting – I will do the privacy & relationships in a future one.

For some type of data a flow is just fine – e.g. Flickr, FriendFeed, PlaxoPulse, Facebook etc. Structure sometimes emerges – sets, rooms, groups. For other purposes I may need alternate data structures and new functionality to build them. A pool of tagged objects is a good start, it is flexible and not determining how the data is organised. The user who generates the data also owns the actual raw data, as opposed to its formatted representation – e.g. Facebook, Amazon reviews. There will therefore, be many more options how to manipulate them. (For more see Models of Data Imprisonment.)

Various ways of thinking about data structures…

  • created prior to data input as a skeleton for data with known or standard structures to be stored in later – perhaps medical or financial data or other complex data
  • created with input of new data – when you upload photos, you create sets; when you bookmark a link, you add tags and notes etc
  • created on retrieval – the hierarchy or structure emerges at click of button depending on what you are looking and on the flow or the dynamic of the data, e.g. I click on a tag in del.icio.us and get all articles tagged with it
  • shoe-horned into single vision – google reader and del.icio.us, pick your means of rendering – by tag, by who person, date, no tag at all
  • created from a pool of objects, with tags and meta-data, with functionality that helps you create whatever hierarchy you want

The Mine! needs to have a user-driven structure. Once the user has the option of putting the data under his ‘domain’ i.e. in the Mine!, he can create new data or import existing data. The user can then manipulate it; mash it up, trend it, analyse it, collage it. Extra functionality can come from application or plugins which will allow the data in the Mine! to be structured as the user sees fit.

A Mine! plugin would be a package of functionality that enables users to manage a particular topic or format of data. They can create groups or categories of their own, reflecting areas of interest – travel, restaurants, shopping, cars, wine, fashion, cosmetics, sport, etc. This would be not dissimilar to a scrapbook – not a hierarchy or a taxonomy but a patchwork of stuff that the owner of the scrapbook is interested in.

Hierarchy is often synonymous with order. A feature of hierarchy of information (taxonomy) is that it exists outside the user’s mind. The web has driven home the point that taxonomy is by far not the only order possible.

It is all very well to insist on user-driven structure, but where is the convenience if users have to determine not only the data flows but their underlying structure? To flip the way we tend to think – from the user’s point of view, the structure doesn’t have to precede the data. Emergent order is more user-friendly in the long run – think folksonomies and tags vs. directories and folders. In order words, complexity should come from usage, not design.

Why indeed!

Tags: , ,

When you want to make a private picture or note available only to your friends, why do you hand it over to a multi-national corporation first?
Danny O’Brien.

© 2009 The Mine! Project. All Rights Reserved.

This blog is powered by Wordpress and Magatheme by Bryan Helmig.