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Archive for Big Picture

Introducing Stardust

Star dust is what humans are made of. The atoms in our bodies were formed long ago in the crucibles of stars. Or so says Neil DeGrasse Tyson... and he's usually right.

Today in the digital universe, our atoms are forming in the crucibles of giant stars i.e. data-gobbling behemoths who dominate the internet.

But these giant stars will one day explode.

Stardust is what happens next. It's a necessary step in the evolution of the digital universe, and the first in the creation of free digital selves.

Supernova

We have accounts in all the major websites: Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Google, and a few others. We email, tweet, search, like, post, schedule, bid, track, buy, review, checkin, search, and follow.

These services make complex tasks simpler, provide new opportunities, and have become so useful that it’s difficult to imagine life without them. Going a few days without a phone or laptop feels like operating with one eye or a broken hand. With technology-enhanced sight and reach, we discover faster, connect easier, create more, and share wider. Technology helps us evolve faster.

But there are problems. We have a dozen logins and passwords. We change our preferences on one site but another remains ignorant. We agree to myriad Terms of Service without reading them. We completely give away our creations for the opportunity to create.

We can’t ask our services to agree to our Terms and Conditions. We can’t see who is accessing our information and preferences, how often, and via what permission route (e.g. has a friend given company x access to your photos?) We can’t switch to a competing service without starting all over, like moving to a new house but leaving all your belongings behind.

The modern internet, for all its benefits, falls short to honor our highest ideals of a free society, among them our unalienable rights to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Our digital information should be our property. Our internet should enable a free and open exchange of our digital information between various service providers and vendors. Our internet should protect our right to freedom of contract.

Today our internet incentivizes stars to compete over ownership of our digital creations and, deep inside hidden crucibles, convert them into profit.

But one day… these stars will go supernova.

What Then?

Imagine an internet where no matter what service you use, you have control over what you create with that service. Say you’ve been using Instagram to take photos, then they change their Terms of Service to read:

You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.

But you don’t want photos of your 6-year-old daughter showing up in advertisements. What do you do? Today you say adios to Instagram, along with all the human connections and interactions you built there. Game over.

What if Instagram were built so that we really owned the data we create there? Every photo you took, every connection you made, and all comments and likes were yours, associated with your Terms of Service, and shared out based on your preferences. So when Instagram decides to change their Terms of Service to sell you out, you and flocks of disappointed users turn off access to Instagram and turn on access to the next competitor. Practically overnight people choose some other service for taking and sharing photos.

No more lock-in. No more false choice. No more crossing our fingers and hoping the services we rely on don’t one day violate us.

This is the internet of the future.

Stardust

Stardust is the cornerstone technology of this vision. It is your digital home—the one spot where you put all your digital creations. Your Stardust is the single most comprehensive source of information about you. It is your digital identity.

Stardust is open-source software that you can put anywhere: your home pc, your phone, a hosting provider, a community cooperative, or on servers managed by some enticing startup. You control it. You choose where it lives. You determine exactly what happens to it, forever.

Stardust is a framework on which other services and applications are built. Services can do things like pull your data out of social networks. Applications could use that data (and perhaps other types of data, e.g. your credit card transactions) to craft a more intimate shopping experience. Since all this is running on your personal Stardust, you don’t have to sacrifice your privacy for the experience. You don’t have to sacrifice your creations for the opportunity to create. Create on your terms. Create on your Stardust.

Stardust is your gatekeeper and watcher. It helps you define who should have access to your data, for how long, and what they can do with the data once they get it. It also shows you how your data has been accessed. So you can review what’s happening, adjust your policies, and get a handle on your privacy.

2013

The beginning of this next era is very nigh. Help be a part of the transformation:

Keep dreaming, building, and sharing!

-Augustin

Social Slave Laborers

We are all factory workers.  We create products that are packaged, distributed, and sold for billions of dollars every year. And we make nothing. Not a dime.

What do we create in this factory?  Well, it's a unique factory. The products are the digital manifestations of our hearts and minds. They are our tweets, posts, shares, preferences, purchases, collections, discoveries, essays, opinions, and art. They are the digital reflections of ourselves.  Our identities.

The vast majority of people in the world are frustrated (I hate to say 99%) because, for some damn reason, we can't figure out how to make money from the products of our hearts and minds. But the money is being made. In the billions every year.

Why aren't the factory workers getting paid? More to the point: why aren't we striking, unionizing, lobbying for labor reforms? Why aren't we demanding remuneration?

Because we've bought into the belief that we aren't creating products, we are using free services. Before Google, Facebook, and others we couldn't share ourselves with the world. The tools didn't exist.  Now that they do, we are discovering that the ability to share who we are effortlessly with other people is very rewarding. We want our friends, family, and followers to know anything about us that may be interesting to them. Social tools feed a fundamental human desire: to connect with other humans.  We don't share ourselves to make money, we share because of the psychological rewards of connecting with one another.

Where is this leading us? Frictionless sharing. Facebook has (rightly, I think) predicted that as we evolve as a global consciousness, we will become less and less private. We will begin to acknowledge that we don't live in a vacuum, that our activities aren't unique, that no matter who we are, someone somewhere will identify with us. We will focus much less on what to share and much more on how to collaborate, explore, debate, create, and appreciate together. The tools will evolve to help us filter and distill the information so we can find deeper connections with each other. And we will pour every possible digital reflection of ourselves into the systems that give us these tools.

This will only increase the value of our digital identities. Sellers who want to more effectively find and influence buyers will pay more. And we, the consumer, will buy more.  But the companies that sell our digital identities will never share the profits with us. They don't have to. We won't demand financial incentive to give up our data, because we've got psychological incentive.

Besides, there is no alternative. There exists no factory that pays us for the digital products of our hearts and minds.  Not yet, anyway.

What if we built a system that splits the profits amongst all who contribute? If you provide information about yourself that is used by a seller to target you or another buyer, you make money. If you build a tool that entices a buyer to click an advertisement, you make money.

This division of profits wouldn't depend on a philanthropic entity who has promised to be generous, or a government forcing them to. It would be a necessary consequence of a system where:

  1. Every user stores and controls their digital identities
  2. Anyone can build social tools and interfaces to our digital identities

A system like this would allow individuals to profit from the products of their hearts and minds, as well as spawn new companies that provide the tools we rely on to connect with each other. This would do more to level the 99% disparity than any act of Congress.

Let's stop being slaves in the digital identity factory.

There is another way.

Rethinking Social

Every freedom loving individual on the planet ought to be concerned about how the web is evolving. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, put it like this:

The web evolved into a powerful, ubiquitous tool because it was built on egalitarian principles… The web as we know it, however, is being threatened in different ways. Some of its most successful inhabitants have begun to chip away at its principles… The more you enter, the more you become locked in. Your social networking site becomes a central platform – a closed silo of content, and one that does not give you full control over your information in it.

If we lock ourselves into the model of centralized data control, we risk succumbing to a tyranny of unprecedented scale. A tyranny of information.

A recent upstart, Diaspora, struck a chord worldwide with its promise to deliver a "privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all, open source social network." It quickly raised an unprecedented $200,000 in Kickstarter crowdfunding, attracted droves of geeks to lend their able minds, and peaked the interest of mainstream media. The message was clear: we don't want a social monopoly.

I applaud Diaspora for planting the seeds of social systems reform. The world is now more aware of the arbitrary tradeoff of social data for social tools. People have begun opening their minds to the possibility of alternatives. That is no small feat.

Unfortunately, data privacy and control are tiresome concepts for the average social networking user. Many don't understand the risks and many who do simply don't care. It's not like they're paying to use the service, why should they complain? Better protections of privacy and more control of data are not compelling enough reasons to persuade 800 million people to adopt something else.

So what is? Tim Berners-Lee offered a hint:

The web evolved into a powerful, ubiquitous tool because it was built on egalitarian principles…

The web is a decentralized system. A common set of open protocols and standards enables anyone to participate by publishing content and interlinking it with other content. It therefore evolves through the contributions of millions of people worldwide.

If our social systems were a set of similarly open protocols and standards, a new era of global innovation around how we store and consume social data would be born.

What if a developer could dream up a new social interface, build it, publish it, and immediately allow anyone to use it? Imagine watching a dynamic visualization of your friends' social activity as it relates to the latest internet meme.

What if users didn't have to forfeit their data to the company that built the latest social interface? Imagine clicking a link and immediately seeing your social data appear in some new way without popup boxes asking you to let company x access your data.

What if users could put their data on a variety of data storage providers who competed on services and prices? Imagine DropBox + Social Data.

New companies would be founded, new jobs would be created, and users would bask in the ever expanding array of services and tools that strive to help us make the most of OUR social data.

If that doesn't compel users to rethink social, nothing will.

Keep in touch

Contact us

Interested in the above ideas? Reach out! Think this is ridiculous? Let us know about that too! We'd love to hear from you.

Name: Augustin Bralley
Address: San Francisco, CA