Skip to content →

Tag: data portability

The Network’s Continental Congress: Searls, Gillmor, Windley, Arrington

Mark the week of May 11, 2008 as a milestone in the nascent politics of the Network, attending the Internet Identity Workshop, I had the feeling of participating in a kind of Continental Congress. In this regard, Doc Searls and Phil Windley are statesmen of the Network doing the good work of bringing the small and large states to the table to talk about politics, technology, interstate commerce, identity and inalienable rights. Acknowledgement is also due to Kaliya for her critical role in facilitating the dialogue through the unconference format.

Windley described the early meetings of the IIW as “brawling” among major vendors and protocol authors. A form of what Thomas Hobbes called bellum omnium contra omnes (the war of all against all). By the sixth meeting of the IIW it’s become clear that OpenID, Cardspace and SAML are emerging as the dominant forces.

The week was capped by a brawling Gillmor Gang with Robert Scoble and Mike Arrington engaged in heated debate over ownership of identity artifacts. The wall at the back of Marc Canter’s revolutionary garden emerged as an offline visual rough draft of our constitutional articles. Canter also put forward the metaphor of tentacles as the current mode of portability, and this connects directly to my observation of the general transition to rhizomatic power architectures.

Chris Saad injected the data portability meme into the flow and suggested personal Access Control Lists, in the form of a “Sharing OK/Not OK” check box on data you give to individuals or companies. It would be interesting to watch Robert Scoble manually configure a complex ACL on his 20,000+ friends (Scoble rushes in where Angels fear to tread).

The one thread I would contribute to the conversation is the idea of data liquidity. Think of data as a financial asset, as cash it is at its most simple and portable; the other end of the spectrum might be venture capital where it is complex and liquidity events are highly limited. We trade liquidity for potentially higher value when we park our data at Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter or Yahoo.

  You can hear for yourself here:

In the general argument about identity and user data, Steve Gillmor has played the role of Alexander Hamilton. He argues that because we own our data, we don’t need to petition for rights not surrendered, or for exceptions to powers which were not granted. Hamilton objected to the Bill of Rights on the following grounds:

Bills of rights are in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgments of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince. Such was “Magna Charta“, obtained by the Barons, swords in hand, from King John.

Hamilton continued:

I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?

These are dynamic times akin to the days in 1787 when the Federalist Papers were authored. Hamilton, Madison and Jay (under the pseudonym “Publius“) often published between three and four essays per week. Doc Searls just announced at the Berkman@10 event: The Publius Project is a “compilation of ‘essays and conversations about constitutional moments on the Net’ at the singular moment that happens to be now.” There was a moment in all this when I thought we were laying down cow paths onto paved roads, but Doc has connected the dots at just the right moment.

During the process of thinking and writing about the week that was, a song kept playing in the background of my thoughts. The song is called “Playmate” and was written in 1894 by Philip Wingate. I first heard it in the film Reds, and more recently in The Savages. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something about it that expresses the emotional and human center of these constitutional conversations.

I don’t want to play in your yard,
I don’t like you anymore,
You’ll be sorry when you see me,
Sliding down our cellar door,
You can’t holler down our rainbarrel,
You can’t climb our apple tree,
I don’t want to play in your yard,
If you won’t be good to me.


One Comment

Against Portability: Who Owns The Pen With Which You Write?


Fountain Pen

I wrote the notes for this post with a fountain pen in a notebook. Ink on paper. The use of wet ink implies a certain amount of danger and permanence. We have a mental model of writing that includes one hand, one pen and one piece of paper.

Much of my day was spent in consideration of the idea of data portability and collecting up all the bits of stuff we have scattered about on various servers attached to the network. We’ve created identities on many systems and used local tools to write text, or store a photo or a video.

Who owns the pen with which you write? Who owns the paper? The issue of data portability has to do with writing your data with a borrowed pen on someone else’s piece of paper. Portability requires the building of protocols to move structured data around based on authenticated identity. If your stuff is in a public RSS feed, then it’s just a matter of aggregating feeds. A number of players have done this already. But if you really want to move your stuff from one place to another, that’s a problem.

What if I had my own pen and paper. When I wrote something I kept the drafts and the finished copy in my files and sent a copy to the public social network, wiki, or blog comment? My files could be local on a hard drive, or in the cloud–but I would control them at the point of origin. There would be no need to collect them up from various spots around the network. If I wanted to move from one service to another, I could request my data be erased and have the raw data available to move to another service.

What this thought experiment reveals is the value that a particular service adds to the raw data. And of course, some data can get very complex and interconnected. But there are many types of data for which this would work very well.

You may say, that no such service exists. Neither does data portability. I wonder which would be easier to build? Which would be easier to implement? I wonder if you could make any money selling pens and paper?

One Comment