Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Eight years and counting

Well it was 8 years since I last posted here and 12 years since I started this blog and I have to ask... what has changed, what has been achieved in all that time?  I've been out of touch with this space for a while and i'm going to go on a little personal voyage of discovery to see what I can learn and see if any of the fundamental problems have been solved.

My first step is going to be attempting to articulate in abstract terms what I consider to be 'the fundamental problems'.

My primary point of interest since this all started has been to give people access to and appropriate control over data about themselves and their transactions. It is well known that the likes of Google, Facebook, Experian, Equifax and many others make their money trading in data generated by or about us. These companies provide important and valuable services but they do not adequately respect individual privacy nor do they fairly include the individuals that are their currency in the value chain.

I have spoken with business stakeholders in large organizations that use these services, despite knowing that they are 'unclean', because the value they add is very real. The increase of ROI on targeted marketing based on these services is phenomenal. As we, as a community, worked on alternate models they were eager: Gives us a viable alternative, they would say, and we will use it. As far as I can tell there is still no viable alternative... I will try to unpack why.

I will try to discover if we have a technology problem, a communications problem, a legal problem, an education problem or a business problem; presumably we have a little of each.

The lack of a viable alternative is closely related to scale. The aforementioned companies have huge user populations which is what makes them so appealing and so valuable. Users do not adopt a technology based on the elegance of the standards or even, unfortunately, based on the strength of the privacy. Users primarily adopt technology because it makes it easier for them to do something they want to do (including playing games and consuming porn). With that said I do believe that there is a growing number of people dissatisfied with the status quo. People who would be willing to engage in an alternative system even if it costs them a little. How do we provide them a viable alternative?

So a fundamental question I have is: Do we have the building blocks to build a viable alternative and we just haven't found the right constellation of services and apps to provide or, are there still gaps in the technology stack to build a viable alternative? I hope to find out.

In my upcoming posts I will start to dig into what I believe are the important qualities of systems that might address this need. I will undoubtedly build on old classics like Kim Cameron's Laws of Identity but will also add some flavor of my own in terms of business and legal frameworks that I believe need to be in place. I will also address the qualities that I believe are necessary for a distributed data network to actually work, at scale, as a data network (Spoiler: Link based systems like "Linked Data" work great for unstructured content, documents, but fail rapidly to satisfy operational requirements for structured data).

I'm excited to dig in and learn blockchain and blockchain alternatives... Please let me know about stuff that you think is worth reviewing and including as stops on my voyage of discovery!

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