The Personal Data Locker Vision Video

February 5, 2011

Aside from people in the audiences for my keynote speeches, only 250 people have seen this video. I am making it public in hopes that people will find it, learn from it, and join me in making the vision a reality. The first reaction to this video is that it’s a dream and a vision but not very connected to reality. That’s why I wrote a 200-page book to back it up. If you want to see how we’re going to get there, read my book and read this blog from cover to cover. There are dozens of start-ups already in this space. I am looking to start one or join one and give people power over their information. If you are a venture capitalist or know one – please tell other VCs to come see this. It isn’t a dream. We are building it. It will someday be bigger and and thousands of times more useful than Facebook. It will power the information that powers our lives. It’s surprising how little gets done in a year, but it’s also surprising how much changes in ten years. In ten years, the personal data locker will be an essential tool for most people, and dumb phones will be many times more popular than smart phones.

I have invested quite a lot of my own money in making this video. Many thanks to the guys at HOPR who produced it for me. I hope it starts discussions and helps me attract talent and investment capital. I hope conference organizers will see it and ask me to come speak to their audiences. I hope everyone working in this area will use it to convince their investors that this is going to be big.

Once, Google was just two guys and an algorithm. Once, Myspace ruled. Once, Microsoft made things people wanted. Once, big software was the solution to big problems. Now things are different. This is what I think is the next big thing. Put on your headphones, click the HD in the lower right corner, watch the video, then help spread the word.

Thank you. (Please follow me on Twitter.)

Open Letter to Apple Board Members on Steve Jobs’ Leadership

January 19, 2011

This is to Apple’s board members. If you know any of these people, please send them this link:

  • Steven Jobs
  • William Campbell
  • Arthur Levinson
  • Andrea Jung
  • Ronald Sugar
  • Al Gore

Dear Apple Board,

First, I want to wish Steve the best of health and that he soon returns to running the company he started with his friend Woz back in 1976. Steve has so much passion for Apple products, employees, and customers that he has lead the company long after he could have gone off and done other things. He clearly loves what he does and would like to continue for many years. I sincerely hope he does.

The board, of course, has a duty to consider the scenario in which he either wants to retire or is forced to. As Steve is the chairman, I’m sure he would be the first to say that succession, eventually, is important and that the company should continue to thrive long after he leaves day-to-day operations. The question is – how to best achieve that?

Apple needs leadership. Although there are many highly qualified managers in the company, no one inside has the forward-looking vision, gut feel, nerves of steel, and showmanship style that Steve has. What has worked well is the partnership between visionary Steve and legendary manager Tim Cook – the yin/yang that makes Apple one of the most valuable companies in the world. I think it’s important that Apple have a visionary leader, someone who can take the company forward into the uncertain future with confidence. I hope Tim Cook won’t threaten to leave if he doesn’t become the next CEO – I think that would be the beginning of a long slide downhill for Apple. Tim is a necessary but not sufficient part of the leadership team. To move forward, Apple needs to continue delivering the magic.

No matter whom you consider, you must understand one important thing: Apple’s current business model, as profitable as it is today, will not last. Apple’s customers are in the tens of millions, but Apple’s customers are also fairly affluent and can afford the best hardware. In the next ten years, that group of people will get smaller, not larger. The future of media, entertainment, productivity, and business tools is in the cloud, with more value at a much lower price point. We are truly at the very beginning of learning what cloud computing can do for all of us. Even Google, whose culture is rooted in the cloud, has a long way to go to take advantage of it. The future of information – and everything Apple does is in the information space – is in connected ecosystems that work together and raise the level of productivity hundreds of times from where we are today. As brilliant as people at Apple are, they are still stuck in the “push” model of distributing apps, content, and data. And that model won’t survive to the middle of this century.

Apple needs to build the personal data locker in the cloud and give people the freedom they have always asked for. I won’t go into the details here, because I’ve described it elsewhere, but the personal data locker is the one thing that can and will crush Apple ten years from now if the company doesn’t see it coming. Some people think there isn’t that much more Apple can do to innovate and expand, but they are wrong. By embracing the “pull” model and building ecosystems, Apple will have a chance to serve humanity and expand its markets to billions of customers around the world. By separating data from apps, Apple can give people power like they can only dream of today. Apple can give teams the collaborative software they need to solve big problems. Apple can turn software from a “lobster trap” model into an open ecosystem of services that make everyone both a producer and a consumer, with much less waste.

Apple has a chance to lead the way into the cloud-based model of the future. But the company must start soon. Ten years from now, the fancy hardware and the beautiful stores won’t be nearly as profitable as they are today. If you’re worried a tiny bit about Android, you haven’t seen anything yet. No matter how cool Apple products are, no matter how many new patents they file, the hardware that drives our lives is going to become ubiquitous and cheap. Smart phones will eventually be replaced by dumb phones that are millions of times more powerful than what Apple offers today. Apple should be ahead of this curve, not behind it.

Board members, I have written a road map to this future. I ask that you read it. I’ll be happy to send a copy to every board member. If one person on the board will contact me and offer to help, I’ll send the books immediately. Or I’ll see that they get the book as an e-book to read on their iPads.

Readers – please tell your friends: if they know an Apple board member, send them the link to this page. I think each Apple board member should read my book before thinking about who might have the vision, the drive, and the passion to lead Apple forward.

Steve – get well soon.

An Open Letter to Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt

December 20, 2010

[NOTE: This is my last post of 2010. I'll be back in early January. If you're new here, be sure to read the first three posts. Happy new year to all.]

Dear Sergey, Larry, and Eric,

I’m concerned, as I’m sure you are, about the impact Facebook is having on the web in general and on Google in particular. Facebook is sucking in not just people, but companies at an alarming rate. More and more companies are making their primary presence at Facebook.com, so they can tailor the visitors’ experience to their profiles and know more about them as prospects. Soon, you’ll be able to buy anything right inside of Facebook. It’s like we are at day 29 of a 30 day algae doubling rate – one more day and the pond will be covered.

Facebook’s plan is clear. Facebook will soon go from nice-to-have to need-to-have. This plan – to be more relevant and useful – is helping them hire a lot of sharp people who believe in that mission. All the Android apps and all the free wifi at 30,000 feet won’t stop the black hole from sucking in more of your best talent. It’s like this: Facebook is trying to get everyone to land and live on planet Facebook, and you’re trying to get people to enjoy the entire universe by making space travel easier. That puts us on the same side. That, presumably, is why you have an “Open Web Advocate” on your staff. You want the web to win. You don’t want everyone to disappear into an alternate reality approved by Facebook’s marketing department.

You can’t continue to raise salaries across the board and throw money at key employees to prevent them from leaving. What you need to do, if I may say so, is give Google employees a mission to believe in. Google needs to become more relevant, and quickly. In the screenshot below, I’m watching nursery rhymes with my 2-year-old son on Youtube, and Google is monetizing this experience by showing me ads for technical jobs, HP & Windows 7, and Optimum phone service.

Let’s not laugh at Facebook until we can correct this, okay?

Fortunately, Google has already laid the foundation necessary to compete with the Facebook juggernaut. The first phase of Google innovation was in search. From web search to video search to enterprise search, Google has become the leader. The second phase was applications. For the last ten years, Google has been providing cloud-based versions of familiar desktop apps, from word processing to spreadsheets to telephone apps. I can’t blame you for using new technology to recreate the old tools – that’s what always happens first. But Chrome OS is really an important new development, the beginning of the third phase. In the third phase, we stop recreating our old ways of working and start building connected productivity ecosystems. This is the subject of my book and this blog, so I won’t go on about it here. But to sum up – everything Google has done to date has emphasized the push model, rather than pull. In this third phase, Google has a chance to give people the tools to pull information, products, and services to them. I have a vision video that presents these concepts visually and will be happy to show it to you.

Seen from the pull perspective, Android and Chrome OS should merge. As more and more people think of their devices as just different ways to see and use their world of online information, the distinction will dissolve.

Google can beat Facebook by jumpstarting the Open Web. Google can lead this development in two critical areas: 1) personal data management and 2) separating data from apps. These are the two defining aspects of 21st century productivity. If Google doesn’t do it, someone else will. Remember, Google was a little struggling company once, but Sergey and Larry managed to find something people really wanted. It worked well back then, but now people want more. The power shift of the 21st century is not to use the cloud to re-create our desktop tools but to build data-driven ecosystems that take us far beyond what we could have done without the power of the cloud.

The good news is that Google is perhaps the biggest and most important cloud-based company. Google’s experimental, mash-up, fail-fast culture will help you pivot from phase 2 to phase 3, which is where Google regains momentum. Google now has a chance to become really useful by giving people data lockers and data ecosystems that bring us all into the 21st century. Google can team up with all the other closed social networks against Facebook, or Google can embrace and promote the open web. I know certain people inside Google are already familiar with the term “personal data locker” and have read my book. In fact, I tried to get Eric a copy of my personal data locker white paper five years ago, but even our mutual friends said he wouldn’t make time to read it. That’s okay. I’ve been busy fleshing it out – writing books, blogging,  tweeting, giving speeches, making connections, and helping influence the Open Web movement. The personal data locker is the cloud-based computer of the 21st century. Microsoft has a significant effort underway in this area. Other big companies are building their own versions, and several start-ups have either launched or will launch soon. I have a list of them, in case you’re interested. And I think you’ll want to see that video.

When we start getting the data out of the apps, we’ll be building ecosystems. Today’s apps trap data inside them, and that doesn’t scale well. It’s time to realize that data is more important than apps, and that by putting data in the center (in people’s data lockers), we build an ecosystem of services that come and perform tasks or manipulate data. I’ll be talking more about this next year, but this separation is the foundation for building the 21st century web.

One thing: the future that wins won’t be business as usual. The only thing that can beat Facebook is if all the people building web sites have an incentive to stay on the web and use its power, not collapse into Facebook. It won’t be about gathering behavior and keyword data on people and using it to help advertisers target them better. It won’t be about keeping the customer out of the loop. Shifting from push to pull is hard. If you want to beat Facebook, you’ll have to empower people to collect and use their own data for themselves, even if that means not sharing it with Google’s advertisers. But it’s okay, you’ll still be able to make lots of money from them by helping them do just that.

And so will everyone else. If Google embraces the open web and personal data, thousands of startups will get funded and the data-driven ecosystems will really emerge. This is one way to catalyze the movement. I would welcome the opportunity to get it going, and Google can be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. At the same time, it would give Google employees a mission they can believe in.

Guys, I honestly think I have what you need. It’s in my book, and it’s in all these blog posts. The open web is the solution, data is the secret weapon, and the data locker is the Facebook killer. Let’s talk soon.

Happy new year. I hope 2011 is the year of personal data and the open web, not Facebook assimilation and capitulation.

The Open Web Movement: A Call to Action

December 9, 2010


I’m starting to get upset. I want to yell “FREEDOM!” at the top of my lungs, hoping someone in the mainstream press will hear.

Do you remember the movie Braveheart? It’s the story of William Wallace, who gave his life as a symbol for freedom against opressive rulers. It was a moving story, because Wallace served as a catalyst for doing the right thing against the few in power who would try to “own” the public. Today, we are in a similar situation.

I recently learned that vitaminwater.com resolves to Facebook.com/vitaminwater. This is categorically bad for the Web, a virtual canary in the coal mine. Forget the fact that Vitamin Water is a useless product that destroys the environment with throw-away bottles. It’s a sign of serious slippage that they have just thrown in the towel and gone to Facebook, because on Facebook they can better identify their visitors, and it’s easier for people to sign up and participate. Don’t take this lightly. If things go much more in this direction, all the innovation and productivity increases will be brought to us by Facebook’s marketing department. Or not.

Those of us in the Open Web movement have no one to blame but ourselves. It’s not the fault of the consumer, and you certainly can’t blame Facebook, nor can you expect journalists to ask hard questions – it’s simply our fault for not giving people a better choice. There are a few voices shouting from a few rooftops, but we’re too fragmented to get critical mass. Like any successful movement, this one needs a rough framework, a reason to work together, a catalyst, and a lot of luck. At the moment, we’re making progress on all of these, but not enough. We’re losing ground every day.

The shift I’m talking about qualifies for exactly what John Hagel and John Seely Brown talk about in their book, “The Power of Pull,” and what I talk about in my book, “Pull.” Put them together and you have a roadmap to ideas and business models that will scale forward into the 21st century. I’d love to apply Hagel and Seely Brown’s principles to what I’m doing, but it’s not going to be easy. The industry I’m trying to switch from push to pull isn’t a vertical one – it’s the platform we use every day to do everything we need and want to do. My goal is no less than to replace all our computers and tablets with radically cheaper screens that use the Web natively. This is not only much better for rich people who today have half a dozen Apple products, it’s the platform for the 5 billion people on the planet who can’t afford Apple products. No one wants the next version of a huge operating system running on a hard disk. People want to use their information, interact with others, conduct business, create markets, learn, communicate, find their way around, and watch live sporting events on cheap devices that are everywhere in their lives, and I want to help them do it. I want to help catalyze the platform for the 21st century. It’s a huge, disruptive shift, and the established players aren’t going to go lightly. I’m certain it will come. It’s just a matter of when. My goal is to start the company that leads an entire wave of consumers and startups onto the open web.

This Movement Needs a Framework

We have a legal framework evolving at places like Creative Commons, Data Portability, the Open Rights Group, and the Open Web Foundation. That’s great. We have standards evolving at W3C, OASIS, ISO, and OpenGroup. But we still don’t have an architecture for the personal data locker, and we need one. What I mean is that all startups working on some aspect of personal data should be working on a part of the overall end solution – similar to different countries working to build the International Space Station, bit by bit. The W3C Incubator Group just published their report on standards for the Open Social Web – it’s great they are putting more effort into this area. But we need a commercial framework as well. The best thing we have so far is PersonalDataEcosystem.org, a dedicated group of people from the identity and VRM worlds. They are on the right track, but they need help. For starters, we need a framework for how all the pieces are going to fit together. This may be unprecedented, but I think it’s necessary. It’s as though The Emperor and Darth Vader are building their own space station, and the people of the world are behind in building theirs. Put simply: we aren’t working together enough. We don’t have the traction we need to build what Hagel and Seely Brown call a “shaping strategy,” much less a “shaping platform.” The framework for the personal data locker must show how we will:

  • manage our identities
  • manage our belongings
  • manage vendors
  • establish a universal timeline
  • manage location and life log data
  • manage personal data (finance, health care, career, etc)
  • manage  security and permissions
  • connect to friends and colleagues
  • form groups
  • send messages
  • link data
  • protect privacy
  • build interoperability into everything
  • add services on an ad-hoc basis

If we were to choose a name for this effort, today we’d have to call it the Setback Foundation. But 2011 is going to be different. In 2011, there will be an uprising. I will lead the charge if I have to, but I’m sure many more will join, because this movement doesn’t need a leader. It needs an explainer. At the moment, The Personal Data Ecosystem is the best vehicle we have. Let’s give them our attention, our time, our energy. And, most important, let’s get the word out that they exist. Please tweet and blog to anyone you can reach. Tell them it’s important. Tell them if they want to live free, they need to help us build that future.

The Open Web Movement: A Personal Data Summit

December 6, 2010

I talk regularly with many of the entrepreneurs starting companies in the personal data space. We all believe in what we’re doing, but it’s tough finding an entry point. It’s tough getting traction in a world where Facebook and Twitter suck up so much of people’s time, where the press pays attention to anything social or mobile, and where more people are working on streaming live sports in HD to your phone than on ways to improve our use of information to help solve the energy, financial, real estate, and government crises we’re in now. For some reason, people aren’t frustrated when they are asked for the ten thousandth time to enter their personal details into another web site, start yet another profile on a social web site, or re-establish all our connections inside yet another new membership-based site (Quora comes to mind).

As I already mentioned, quite a few people are working on the framework for a personal data ecosystem, so we can have a common blueprint to build to. This is important, because in the 21st century you don’t go it alone, and you don’t trap people’s data inside your application. We need a way to store our data in our data lockers and then let the services assemble and work for us on demand. Already, thousands of people are working on building aspects of this, even as we’re still dreaming up the specs. If all the investors are waiting for a core company to emerge and then follow later, it might be too little too late.

When I talk with venture capitalists, they say they are already investing in the semantic web. Then they tell me about their projects, and I don’t spend time correcting them, I simply urge them to read my book. Most venture capitalists are investing in metadata aggregation and sense-making, not in the semantic web. As Dan Connolly of the W3C says, “The operative term in ’semantic web’ is ‘web.’” Almost all VC-backed projects don’t pass my semantic-web acid test. In fact, I haven’t heard of a single one. If VCs want to get into the semantic web, they should be talking with Martin Hepp at GoodRelations or any of the companies working with the Science Commons project, or with companies working on leveraging XBRL. If investors want to understand the world of personal data and the early investment opportunities, they should come to my investor/entrepreneur day at IIW this spring.

My goal is to help connect venture capitalists and angel investors with investment opportunities in the coming wave of personal data management. Perhaps by getting everyone in the same room at the same time, I can help everyone working toward these common goals and slingshot the movement before Faceborg takes over the planet.

The event will be a loosely structured day for investors and entrepreneurs. This will be an extra day at the end of the next IIW workshop, which will be held in Mountain View, California, probably on May 4th or 5th. There will be sessions on things like:

  • the standards framework and the roadmap to the personal data ecosystem
  • principles and progress of the open web
  • What the W3C has in store for personal data
  • the economics of linked data
  • marketing issues for consumer adoption
  • the phone as a window to the personal data locker
  • progress in various verticals
  • near-term investment opportunities
  • entrepreneur-driven pitches and sessions

I’ll have more details early in the year. But for now, if you are reading these words, I want you to help get the attention of people in the press and key investors/catalysts. If you know any of the people below, or if you can suggest more people for me to reach out to, please connect us. If you are on this list or can help, I’m asking you to step forward and help me make this a kick-off event for the personal open web. This isn’t a complete list, but I’d like most of the following people to attend …

  • Mark Andreesen
  • Ron Conway
  • John Doerr
  • Tim Draper
  • Esther Dyson
  • Roger Ehrenright
  • Brad Feld
  • Andy Fillat
  • Chris Fralic
  • Paul Graham
  • Bill Gurley
  • Rob Hayes
  • Danny Hillis
  • Ben Horowitz
  • Joi Ito
  • Bill Joy
  • Rohit Khare
  • Josh Kopelman
  • Mark Kvamme
  • Om Malik
  • Mike Maples
  • David Marquardt
  • Dave McClure
  • Mary Meeker
  • Chris Messina
  • Alan Meckler
  • Mike Moritz
  • Tim O’Reilly
  • Adeo Ressi
  • Roy Sardina
  • Mark Suster
  • Ann Winblad
  • Stephen Wolfram
  • Yossi Vardi

In addition, if you’re an entrepreneur looking for money or partners to help build the personal data ecosystem, please contact me as well. I want it to be an important event for everyone who attends. My email is [email protected]

Rules for Sharp Presentations #1: They Don’t Remember Anything You Say

December 2, 2010

I was in Hong Kong last week to give the keynote speech for the Web 3.0 conference. It was a well-run, high-energy two days filled with exciting talks. I gave the keynote, which seems to have gone over pretty well. I’ve worked very hard on my talk. I’ve probably got well over 1,000 hours in preparing this one talk. I’ve made hundreds of slides and cut out most of them to get the final version, and it could still be better. Over 15 years of public speaking and more than 120 speeches, I’ve learned some things about presenting to audiences. I’ll use my blog posts this week and next to give a few of them, hoping to help you give better presentations.

Giving the keynote speech to Web 3.0 at Cyberport, Hong Kong, last week.

I’m not going to cover everything, but I want to make three important points about public speaking: 1) people don’t remember anything you say, 2) people get bored quickly if you don’t give them enough to do, 3) don’t illustrate the analogy, illustrate with examples. I’ll cover each of these in a blog post. Here’s the first of three.

Principle #1: People don’t remember a single word you say
The general rule in speaking is that people can’t remember more than three principles, so lay out your three most important points and drive them home. I respectfully disagree. I don’t think people can remember even one principle if you say what it is and explain it, or if you show slides of text and read them. You could show a single slide with your three points, talk about them, and no one would have a clue what you said the next day. This is the same with television, by the way – audiences remember what they see, not what they hear. Here is what people actually remember.

  • They remember what they see. If you have a compelling slide that really means something, audience members will probably remember it. A great example is a competitive map. You can talk about the competition or your market in general, but if you can plot the landscape on two meaningful axes, people will get a visual sense of how things lay out. Or you could have brilliant animation, as Hans Rosling features in his talks. In general, 2×2 matrices that really mean something can be quite effective, because they are simple enough to understand. Trying to do too much in a single slide or trying to force the facts into a matrix or analogy when they should be displayed another way assures that people will forget it.
  • They remember what they visualize. If you can tell a story well, you don’t need any slides. Garrison Keillor told all his stories sitting on a stool in front of an audience and broadcasting on the radio, and his stories were visual and memorable (I can still see the woman in the red dress walking into the Lutheran church, and it never even happened). In this captivating TED talk, Rory Sutherland takes us to several places and situations that I remember vividly, even though he used almost no slides and spent most of his time telling stories. The stories were wonderful, and the general message stays with me still.
  • They remember what you do. One of the most memorable things you can do is something unexpected. Ten years ago in my keynote I used to borrow an audience member’s watch, take it on stage, and smash it to pieces with a sledge hammer. At the end of the talk, of course, I gave it back in perfect condition. Not only did it hold people’s attention until the end of the talk (no one wanted to leave in the middle before finding out how this situation would resolve (and it held one particular audience member’s attention more than others)), it was also the single thing people remembered more than 6 months later. If you sing or dance or use a prop to drive your point home, they will remember it if it’s appropriate and well performed. In my current talk, I illustrate the principle of pull by asking for a volunteer and “sending” that person a copy of my book by putting it into an envelope and having the audience pass it from hand to hand. This is something they will remember, and it artfully illustrates the concept of pull, because I instruct the person to move during the pass, and the audience has to react and follow the volunteer to collectively “deliver” the book. Another excellent prop is a wet human brain if you can hold it in your hands and talk about having a stroke.
  • They remember who you are. They really won’t remember a word you said, but they will have a sense of who you are and how you project yourself. If you’re different or interesting in some way, they will remember that. As an example, Wade Davis, a storyteller and modern-day shaman, speaks passionately and eloquently about indigenous people around the globe. He uses such big words and fancy academic language that no one can really understand what he’s talking about. But we remember him. We remember how we felt in his presence. We were intoxicated, even though we understood practically nothing of it. And we remember wanting more. (Don’t try that at home.)
  • One good analogy can really drive your point home. If you remember Geoff Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm,” you may well remember his graphic and the concept of the chasm – the gap between early adopters and early majority. This is an excellent analogy that served Moore well for many years (until he invented the tornado and the bowling alley and lost his audience). Too many analogies or inappropriate analogies and your audience won’t remember any of them. If you’re not good with analogies, stay away from them – too many people think they are above average drivers and above average analogy makers, and they just end up getting in more wrecks than they would if they kept things simple.
  • They remember how they felt. If you tell stories, if you paint pictures with words, if you tell some jokes in the middle and jerk a few tears in closing, they will remember that you were in control and you communicated. They remember that they wanted to know more after you were done, and that they would love to have lunch with you and pick your brain. If people feel this way, you’ve done the job. Don’t screw it up by going too long, trying to do too much, or taking too many mini speeches disguised as questions.

Next: People Get Bored Quickly

Rules for Sharp Presentations #2: People get bored quickly

November 29, 2010

Your audience gives you their attention by watching and listening to you, and sometimes by feeling or smelling. The sense of sight dominates. Put up a slide like this:

Sudden death for any presenter

and you’re dead before you can open your mouth. People can read much faster than you can talk, and once they see what’s coming they will assume you’re just filling in some details. People in the audience will start checking emails and sending tweets. You absolutely cannot put up slides of text and read them. A friend of mine says that if someone were to find your slide deck and look through it on his own, he should have no idea what you’re talking about. The images should support what you’re talking about. So here’s the big tip: lead with your voice and let the images trail just behind. If you keep their attention by looking at them and getting them to look at you, getting them to focus on you, then your slides should simply illustrate what you are talking about, rather than talking about what they see on the screen. This is where most people fail – they lose the audience’s attention by letting what their eyes see get ahead of the points being made. I’ve often said that if the average person presenting would simply take the very last slide and rotate it around to the front and then give the same talk at the same pace, with each image coming one click later than it was supposed to, he or she would have command of the audience rather than lose it. That’s because the slides would support the talk, not the other way around. Here are some other tips to prevent driving your audience to their laptops:

Ask questions. I like to start with a central question and get them to show hands. This is an audience sound check that tells you how engaged they are. A good question will stay in their minds during the talk and then you can use it to close, bringing your topic back around to keep it in their minds.

Perform. If you’re on stage in front of people, don’t stand in one place repeating the same actions. Act it out. Move. Come toward them, back away. Cover the room. Keep their attention using your body language and eye contact.

Make your voice your primary means of communication. If your voice is monotonic, get a coach and learn to use your voice as an important part of your presentation tool kit. Just being happy will make you sound happy, and your audience will be much more interested in what you have to say.

Demonstrate something. Use a physical demonstration at least once in a 45-minute talk. Get a volunteer to work with you, or bring out some piece of apparatus and show something physical. Hand something out. Do something to engage them physically, or at least make them nervous that you’re going to come to them next.

Be spontaneous. Go off your script, react to their reactions, scare them, do the unexpected. I used to perform with a sledge hammer; if someone’s mobile phone rang during my talk, I would come at them with the hammer raised saying “I’ll get it,” and that would make everyone laugh. Go for laughs if you know you can get them.

Always Be Delivering. This is a mistake many presenters make, especially at TED. You would think 18 minutes would force people to pack as much quality into their talks as possible, but in most cases 9 minutes would have been better. If you’re on stage, you must be delivering. I can’t count how many “social media” experts I’ve seen go onstage and throw up the same Facebook and Twitter figures and give the same overhashed advice. If your content is boring, there’s no way you’ll be able to keep people from doing something else while pretending to listen to you.

Fewer images is usually better. Most people fill their presentations with useless images (I’ll talk about that more next time), just so they can keep turning the page and reading their notes below each screen. Most people are also not graphic designers, so their slides come across as amateur and need explaining. Good designers keep it simple and go for impact. See this talk by Richard Titus and this one by the incomparable Tom Wujec – note how crisp and well done their slides are. These people really put the energy into enhancing their talk visually and focus on the progression of their ideas and maintaining communication with the audience. A good rule is: no more than one slide for every 2 minutes of talking. On the other hand, in my recent talk, I showed over 120 slides in 55 minutes, and my screen changed about every 20 seconds. But this is very difficult to pull off. I have a reason for doing it, and I’ve put over 1,000 hours into my talk, so this is an advanced approach to keynote speaking.

Don’t explain your slides. Let your slides follow behind your voice, illustrating what you have just said. If you are going to present a list of 5 bullet-point items, have each one appear just after you say it.

Present meaningful data meaningfully. If you haven’t read all of Edward Tufte’s books, please do that now, before reading on. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Are you back? Here’s a good example of a slide that will engage your audience:

You can talk about the information in this slide and keep your audience’s attention, because you have an important point to make and you’re showing the data to back it up. On the other hand, the slide below is a terrible example from the same presentation, and this kind of thing is all too common today:

Your visuals must not draw attention away. In 1932, Beatrice Warde wrote a seminal essay on typography called The Crystal Goblet. I highly recommend you read it. The idea is that type should support the message, rather than call attention to itself. Edward Tufte has written a book on this effect for presentations (here’s a summary). Today, many people have discovered Keynote’s and PowerPoint’s ability to wipe, fade, zip, turn, and twist from page to page, and it seems that cool-transition mania is spreading faster than the Fed can print money. Don’t even think of using Prezi or some other cool, whiz-bang presentation tool. Don’t use 3D unless you absolutely need it to make your point!

People get bored quickly. Engage them. Ask them questions. Get them to work on your (or, even better: their) problem with you. Take them on a journey. Don’t tell them everything. Leave them wanting …

Next: What to Illustrate

Rules for Sharp Presentations #3: What to Illustrate and What Not to

November 22, 2010

In this third and final installment of my presentation series, I’m going to talk about what to show on the screen and what not to. At several conferences this year, I saw people illustrating their analogies. For example, at one conference this year, I remember a very good speaker talking about meetings and what a waste of time they can be. He used this slide to illustrate:

We all know meetings are often a waste of time. Asking us to look at pictures like this when you have an important point to make is a waste of our time. (Note to presenters: don’t commit the same mistakes you’re telling your audience to avoid.) With the emergence of cheap stock photography (and easy photo stealing via Google image search), speakers are more often illustrating their analogies. As I said, I’ve spent over 1,000 hours on my talk, and I put a lot of time earlier this year into making killer analogy slides, borrowing heavily from NASA photo archives and spending money at iStockPhoto.com. Here’s an example, which I made back in August to illustrate the phrase “On the semantic web, we are always making apples-to-apples comparisons”:

Pretty cool, huh? I even had the apples falling in, one by one, like on a slot machine. My bad. This is simply a distraction from my main message. After I realized that illustrating the analogies was the enemy, I found more of them in my talk than I thought – I was using them as filler. I had a lot of work to do. Here’s the slide that replaced that one:

And here’s what I said once that slide was up: “On the semantic web, we are always making apples-to-apples comparisons. When our search tools can automatically find the best deal for us, we’ll see whose advertising tricks are most effective and which aren’t so good for customers.” Note that I did not walk the audience through this example. Instead, I used red type to draw the conclusion and challenged the audience to follow visually while listening to me at the same time. Knowing that they have a lot to do, I delivered this sentence slowly, watching them to make sure I still have an open communication channel as they looked at the screen. If I had walked them through this example, they would know that in the future they can be half listening and still stay with me. By saying something else and making them work out the situation on their own, they knew that they had to pay 100% attention or they’d be lost. And they did. In this way, by presenting a lot of challenging material and never reading my slides, I held their attention for 55 minutes, making them want more after I was done.

I didn’t take out all of my analogy slides. For example, I left this one in:

While this was up, I said: “The goal of 20th century marketing was to own the customer. The harder it was for the customer to switch to a competitor or turn off your service, the better.” I use this analogy often, talking about “lobster trap” marketing or “roach motel” thinking, but in this case I did not say those words – I let the image do that while I said something else. The fact that I haven’t illustrated all my analogies makes this one more memorable.

Here’s another one I had to toss into the trash:

That one hurt, because I was quite attached to it and had spent days putting it together, not to mention it featured my photogenic son. I was going to use it for my ending, where I tell the audience we are headed on a journey into new territory and no one knew what was ahead. Then I remembered that visual trumps voice, and that people would remember the slide but not the message, so I deleted it and instead just brought their attention back on me, standing on stage, where I delivered the final message without any illustration. That was much more powerful, because they could feel my passion and my call to action, they were thinking about their own situations while watching me. This kept me in control at the end, when it was important to bring everyone back to reality and the mission ahead, rather than ending on yet another slide.

I ended that talk powerfully, knowing people won’t remember anything I said. But they will remember how they felt, that I closed my argument and that they saw the overall logic come together. That’s all I can hope for – they can get the content again at their leisure by reading my book.

So, if you’re not supposed to illustrate the analogies, what should you show on the screen? Show examples, the way I did with the apples-to-apples point. Show the application of your ideas. Here’s my prescription for a successful talk:

  1. Use a few title and organizational slides to present the framework of your narrative.
  2. Show examples of your key concepts.
  3. Show the minimum necessary charts, graphs, numbers, and data. Summarize it and only show the most important numbers. It’s fine to show heat maps and bell curves, but make sure your graphics emphasize the takeaway message, not the raw data.
  4. Show a key slide that starts a story, and then engage the audience with your masterful storytelling abilities.
  5. Start with you; end with you. Don’t let the slides take over the show.
  6. Be ruthless in editing your talk down. Present just what you need to get the audience on board and no more.

Here’s Dan Phillips doing just that, with about 3 minutes and 10 slides too many, but he does a good job guiding you through his world of ideas. He pulls you in with his stories. You listen to him, because he paints pictures with words while letting the images behind him reinforce the story. Here’s Dan Gilbert doing an even better job. After this, wouldn’t you love to have lunch with Dan Gilbert? I would.

Pachube – Turning on the World of Sensors and the Internet of Things

November 10, 2010

Since learning about Pachube last week, I’ve been spending some time on the site. Pachube (pronounced “Patch Bay”) is a place where you can send your data, program it, and share it. Thousands of people are already using Pachube to build a connected web of smart devices and environments. Here’s their animated introduction, which should have narration and show examples, but instead it’s a low-budget text tour. Still, it’s worth watching as these are early days. Continue Reading

The Economist issue on Smart Systems

November 8, 2010

The November 6th issue of the Economist contains a special report on smart systems. Rather than reading my blog today, I encourage you to get the magazine and devour it. As you read, you may click on the links below to check out some of the interesting sites mentioned. These links are all worth a visit, trust me:

  • OpenStreetMap – crowdsourced maps
  • Pachube – Enables real-time sensor experiments and deployments
  • FoodLogiq – Food supply chain transparency
  • Palantiri Systems – helps communities of people harness the power of sensors
  • Masdar City – a planned community in Abu Dhabi
  • PlanIT Valley – a model future city in Portugal (already built in software, as described in Chapter 8 of Pull)
  • Songdo City - a new sustainable community outside of Seoul, South Korea
  • City Forward - IBM’s smarter cities initiative
  • Google PowerMeter project – learn about the energy you use and make better-informed choices

Toward a U.N. of Data

November 3, 2010

Is it time for a U.N. of data?

I’m working on a piece for the Economist on why we need a UN of data standards. I think we’re lurching our way toward an unambiguous web of data pretty much one database at a time, and it’s time we picked up the momentum. I’ve been talking for a while about a UN of data, but how would it really work? What are the possibilities?

Maybe we already have it, and it just needs boosting. Maybe it’s ISO, the International Standards Organization, they seem to be interested in standards as services, and that’s an interesting idea. Maybe it’s OASIS, a consortium with over 600 members focusing on XML standards and interoperability. Maybe part of the puzzle is OAGI, the Open Applications Group, which promotes standards for enterprise software. Maybe it’s the OpenGroup, an international consortium with over 300 members focused on achieving real results in the business world. Could there be some people at ConsortiumInfo.org who can help? How about the W3C, the dot-org behind the standards of the Web itself and the driver of HTML 5, which it seems is about to become the new standard building brick of the web. What about the U.N. itself? Okay, let’s not get carried away here.

A friend of mine is thinking about building something he calls “Standardpedia.” He needs it for his business, and he wishes more like-minded people would come together and build it. Is that the right direction? What would it look like?

Obviously, a U.N. of data would be the caretaker of many standards, or perhaps it would coordinate the many standards bodies. It would also help coordinate all the tools and methodologies, as Open Data Commons tries to do. Another thing, though, is to provide a registry for data sources, similar to Tim Berners Lee’s LinkedData.org. And it could let owners name and claim their data, providing various authenticated sources of data. In some cases, you may have several sources for similar data, but you don’t want to have two sources for the same data. Think of baseball game scores, Olympic event results, airline schedules, or Census results – these should only come from one place, and that means we’ll need “authoritative sources” for many kinds of data. And of course we need government standards and repositories, like Data.gov and CommunityData.info. We’ll need legal frameworks for protecting, owning, transfering, and working with data among different parties. And we’ll need ways of resolving disputes. That’s a lot to ask from one organization, but without it we may not have a firm foundation for building the information platform we want for the 21st century.

What do you think? This isn’t a thought piece like most of my blog posts. I want to ask you to help me envision a UN of data. Click on the headline and then post a comment, or send me email. I would like to know your thoughts, so I can help build this conversation among business people. My book makes the case for participating in standards and cooperating with your competitors. But in reality it’s difficult to make these things work. We need something. What do you think we need?

Pull and the 21st Century Company

November 1, 2010

I’ve been super busy lately, working on startups and getting ready to go to Hong Kong to give a keynote speech at the Cyberport Web 3.0 conference. I also updated my post on the future of television – please see it if you haven’t. One day last week, I put together a 4-minute preview of my keynote speech. I hope you’ll find it worth watching. If you know conference organizers, please ask them to come take a look.

Metadata – the New Language of Marketing

October 28, 2010

Monday I talked about the social networking bubble. Marketers are getting sucked into the social-networking vortex and can’t find their way out. The problem is that most companies are trying small tactical improvements, hoping to improve sales a bit and trying tactical savings programs, hoping to improve margins a bit. Yet there’s a whole new curve of efficiency waiting in the world of pull. It’s time to start talking about saving trillions, not millions. Companies should think in terms of big, strategic, double-digit improvements, new markets, and new ways to cooperate. Here is a road map:

Business information is just getting started. Read my book and you’ll realize that in most areas of business we are guessing and making assumptions, rather than knowing what’s really going on. Social marketing is more of the same. But we’re about to enter a new era of business intelligence, where transactions drive data through entire industries and increase transparency a thousand times. Pay attention to the information shift – it’s going to affect every job at every company.

Metadata is the new lingua-franca of business. Listen. Two large banks recently merged, and the IT integration effort is estimated at $200 million. How would it be if instead it took a small team a few weeks? Would the executives look at acquisitions differently? Would the savings be passed on to customers? Would the industry become 20% more efficient as a result? Probably all of the above. Structured data is a thousand times more important than social marketing, both for back-office and front-office functions. We are entering an era of change from unstructured to structured data. Structured data deletes all the PDF documents, spreadsheets, and proprietary formats and replaces them with industry standards allowing interoperability, disambiguity, and findability. These are big-ticket items. Don’t execute your marketing plan without them.

Accurate metadata is the new currency of marketing. As Scott Brinker argues so eloquently, you must have a chief marketing technology officer, and that person is soon going to be responsible for the strategy that saves your company. Stop guessing. Start knowing. The era of transparency is about to begin – the old marketing tricks will die quickly.

Markets are conversations. They can take place between friends, between colleagues, between customer and vendor, and even between two programs if they can speak the same language. More and more, disambiguating those conversations will give both parties more power. Making things more comparable, interoperable, and findable will change the nature of our  conversations.

Personal data will shift the power balance in the conversations. Personal data, and the control of personal data, will transform today’s customer from a passive consumer to an active market participant with more power than even the largest multinational brands. At the moment, the marketers have all the data. But that is about to change. Once you are in control of your own behavior, purchase, viewing, and other data, you’ll be able to trade it for offers, discounts, and even cash rebates on various products and services. When you stop searching and start putting out queries, you’ll stop going to web sites and start seeing relevant offers coming in. It’s sort of like putting out an RFP, but for pretty much anything you’re looking to buy. Identity is the new computing, shopping, socializing, and data-management platform. Whoever has the data has the power. At the moment, it’s the big marketing-data companies, but that will change steadily over this decade.

Example: media. Photographs are data. As we consumers got control of our own data, the entire industry was forced to change around our new-found abilities. We needed a lot fewer professionals and were able to help each other start taking professional-level photographs. Much the same is happening with podcasting and voice communications. The same is starting to happen in film. When we start to add semantics and the personal data locker, these media will change again even more. As I’ve noted, television is about to change radically into something we would barely recognize today.

Example: authentication and authorization. Every time we go to a new doctor’s office, we fill out yet another paper form that someone transcribes, usually without making too many mistakes, and the electronic paper chase continues inside hundreds of computers. In the not too distant future, you’ll check into your doctor’s office using your phone, and all the information that you want your doctor to see will be available to her on her device. She’ll write you a prescription using her device, and it will go onto yours and automatically to your favorite pharmacy. As these everyday processes streamline, from getting on a bus to buying a new pair of shoes, the marketer’s message and the role of brands will change completely.

Interruption advertising will have to change. Again, as we get control of our information, we won’t tolerate being interrupted by ads for incontinence diapers or sleep aids if we’re not in the market for them. Imagine watching your favorite show and actually seeing ads by companies with products and services you are looking for. The economics work, even at the scale of the Super Bowl, because the value of these ads starts to take them out of the interruption category into the opt-in category, where you look forward to and learn from the ads because they are exactly the kind of thing you’re researching at the moment. If you’re planning a trip, every ad you see will pertain to aspects of your trip you haven’t decided on yet. Eventually, interruption advertising will go the way of the Dodo bird as people realize the power they have to launch queries into the marketplace and engage in the conversations they want to have.

Brands will never recover. The half life of your brand is about to shrink drastically. As I talk about in my book, brands will start to stand more for short-term utility rather than long-term emotional attachment. Your brand will have to become helpful. If it isn’t helpful, it will have less and less effect on customers. In contrast, more helpful brands will rise.

Account portability will be the price of entry into conversations with the new consumer.
If you make it hard for people to cancel or delete their accounts today, that’s a warning sign of push cancer. More and more companies will embrace the principles of data portability, and widespread data portability will eventually lead to widespread account portability. Soon, customers will demand it as the price of entry into a conversation with them. The Roach Motel approach to marketing will be dead by 2020, even if Steve Jobs doesn’t think so.

The Open Web will overtake today’s silo-based social web, giving people the ability to manage relationships and data from anywhere, any time, using any device, without relying on a single company or web site.

Your industry needs your help, and you can’t afford to ignore it any longer. Look at what Science Commons is doing for research. Look at how XBRL is changing markets by making transparency easy and interoperable. Look at what OAGI, the Open Applications Group, is doing for big software systems. Learn how Respect Code is changing the clothing industry. Change is afoot. I’ve been waiving my arms about this for two years, and it’s time the marketing people started getting interested. Your industry is about to start cooperating, and your position in it will change as a result. There are many examples in my book.

SEO will still be valuable, and it will keep evolving. As Jay Myers has learned at Best Buy, search engines are starting to recognize and value metadata in semantic formats like RDF, and new frameworks for describing offers like GoodRelations are starting to pay for themselves. SEO won’t just be about keywords. It will be about concepts, queries, offers, and responses. Learn this new language before you get left behind.

What I’m describing are the arms, legs, trunk, and ears of the pull elephant. No one can embrace the principles of pull all at once, but little by little this decade will decide who dies, who survives, and who thrives. Ignore it at your peril. If you want to see the big picture, buy my book and carve out some time from your busy social networking schedule to read it.

The Social Networking Bubble

October 25, 2010

Social media is overhyped, overcooked, and overvalued

We are now in a social networking bubble. Social networking is useful, but it’s overvalued. We’ve overstated and overemphasized the utility of social networking and are now in a marketer’s “greater fool” territory.

The social aspects of life and work are only a piece of the puzzle, and I don’t think they are the biggest piece by any means. If you want to talk about culture or personal happiness, the social aspects dominate. But there are many things that don’t benefit from community that much. For example: dating. When I spent two years working on building a dating site, it became clear that dating isn’t social. In fact, if you look at the anthropology of dating, you find that people of completely unrelated tribes tend to fall in love and have children more often than people within a tribe (it benefits you to get your parents’ genes from two completely separate gene pools). You DON’T want a dating site where women rate their experiences with men and tell other women about the various men on the site, because a man who’s good for one woman isn’t right for another. On the other hand, many couples meet through friends in various ways, so using the power of your network can help, but it shouldn’t be the only way to look for a mate. This is also true of job hunting – you should use both the power of your network and the power of search to uncover all possibilities. At the other end of the spectrum, if I’m looking for a babysitter, I would much rather find one who has some connection to my network of friends, because a babysitter who is recommended has a lot of advantages over one who just answers my ad on Craigslist (though I’ve also found good ones there as well).

Here are a few things for consumers to consider:

Continue Reading

The Future of Television

October 18, 2010

Over the next five years, television will undergo a gut-wrenching overhaul. The result will be so different from what we know today, we won’t call it TV. We’ll have to admit that a new medium has been born, and I predict it will have a new name. During this transition, several old-guard companies will go out of business, and a few newcomers will become big enough to go public. Make no mistake – television will complete its transition from push to pull by 2015. Here is what you can expect. Continue Reading

When Islands Become Continents

October 14, 2010

Web sites start out as islands. As they grow, they become big islands. If they get big enough, they can become continents. Facebook is clearly a continent. It has infrastructure. It tries to do all things for all people. Facebook wants you to live there, year round. The site tries to provide all you need to manage your social connections. Apple is also a continent. As Apple has entered the consumer market for music players, phones, and tablets, the company has tried to provide everything we need. If they don’t make it, you don’t need it. Now with projections of 100 million iPads sold in the next two years, Apple’s goal is to make the hardware (and provide the programming platform for application developers) for everything we do. Twitter is now a continent, though much of its surface hasn’t cooled yet and its shape changes constantly. Google is a huge continent – the company wants you to do everything with your Google login. Microsoft is a continent adrift, breaking up quickly. A continent is anything that has more than 50 million users and controls the basic standards that create the environment.

Continue Reading

The Master Timeline and the Calendar of the Future

October 10, 2010

Everything is already digital. Everything is already online. The problem is that what’s online is digital versions of paper documents, television, radio, sound recordings, and other analog media. Just look at how many PDFs are still online, and how many catalogs still resemble their paper counterparts. As the web scales up to meet the needs of billions of users, some of us can see the cracks and inefficiencies really creeping in. The rise of popular services like Facebook and Twitter haven’t really helped us manage our information. A few thousand people in the world are pounding our shoes on the table, saying we are going to need a lot more structure and more standards to make things work properly. As I show in my book, we need to get back to basics and make things interoperable so we can really put our information to work for us.

I’ve mentioned this video before, but I really want you to see it now:

Continue Reading

Mine, Yours, and Ours

October 7, 2010

Every status update you enter into Facebook belongs to Facebook. Every restaurant review you give to Yelp.com belongs to Yelp. Every product review you write on Amazon.com belongs to Amazon. Every tweet belongs to Twitter. These companies gather and store your information because it has commercial value.

How many people reading this would rather control their own information? I’d like to know, because I wonder if there’s a market for a free service that lets you own your information. In this service, called a personal data locker (or personal data store), you would enter your own reviews, status updates, location data, etc., and you would be in control of it. If you wanted your status update to go straight through your Facebook account, it would do that for you, but you would still have your own version of it. You could send the same review to ten different review sites, rather than having to cut and paste it from one to the next (logging in each time). Moreover, you could expose your reviews online or to your groups of friends directly on the web, without having to go through a web site like Facebook.

Continue Reading

The Personal Data Store

October 3, 2010

As summer began, I left off blogging talking about the Personal Data Locker and the user’s bill of rights. Now I want to continue that discussion by copying and pasting Phil Windley’s excellent blog post from September here (with permission) and annotate it with my comments. I’m putting his text here because I want to be sure all my readers read it. His words are in blue. Mine are in black.

The term Personal Data Locker is a problem. When you say “store” or “locker” people assume that this is a place to put things (not surprisingly). While there will certainly be data stored in the PDS, that really misses it’s primary purpose: acting as a broker for all the data you’ve got stored all over the place and managing the metadata about that data. That is, it is a single place, but a place of indirection not storage. The PDS is the place where services that need access to your data will come for permission, metadata, and location. Similarly for services that need to give you data. Consequently, some have taken to calling it a PDX, where “x” stands for the “variable x.” That is, we don’t know what to call the last thing, so we’ll say “x” and leave it at that.

I chose the word “locker” carefully, to help consumers understand that their information will be under their control. But Phil is absolutely right that it’s not a “locker” at all – this again shows that the more old-world analogies we bring to the new world of cloud computing, the more we prevent true innovation. I’m sticking with the word “locker” for now, but it’s definitely no better than “x.”

Here’s a list of a few things that I think distinguish a PDX from just places where your personal data is stored:

Continue Reading

The Pull Twitter Appreciation Contest!

September 1, 2010

NOTE: CONTEST EXTENDED – OCT 1st is the last day of this contest!

Here’s the problem with my book: it’s aimed at a business audience. Business people who read it love it, but it’s not an easy read. There are a lot of new terms and concepts to learn. That makes it far too much work for journalists, whose job is to crank out a book review once in a while and cover Facebook, Apple, Google, and a small number of well known companies the rest of the time, grinding out the same news as everyone else. They just don’t have time to look at a book about the future from someone who’s only written three previous bestsellers. So the business community doesn’t know that my book exists. Business school professors should read it, but they don’t know about it. CEOs should read it, but they don’t know about it. All venture capitalists should read it, but they don’t know about it. I need to get the word out somehow. So I’ve decided to have a contest.

Continue Reading

The Calendar of the Future

August 29, 2010

I’m still looking hard for my future business partner, but it’s August – difficult to get the message out. I’ll be blogging twice a week after Labor Day, and I’ll be giving away a book a day in September. Meanwhile, please see this video about the Calendar of the Future by Tungle. It’s going to be part of everyone’s dashboard.

By the way, if you know business people or professors in business schools, please ask them to take a look at my book. And if you’ve read it and would review it at your favorite online bookstore, I would really appreciate any honest reviews.

Looking for a CEO to help me take on Facebook

August 15, 2010

I’ve been dreaming about this moment for a long time. I wanted to build the personal data locker ten years ago, but the infrastructure wasn’t there. It still isn’t, but it’s starting to emerge, and the time is right to start a new company that will take us all into the 21st century. It’s nice that Google is in the advertising business, Apple is in the hardware business, and Microsoft is standing out in left field wondering where the party is. The opportunity is now. I have to put a team together.

It starts with a business partner. This project is too big for me to do by myself. I need to get funding, build a team, design the experience, translate that into code, ship a beta, and get ten million people onto the platform before anyone else does. For that, I need to focus, and to focus while doing everything else right, I need a business partner. Here’s what I’m looking for, someone who:

  • Preferably lives in the Bay Area or in New York.
  • Has a strong track record as an entrepreneur – at least 3 successful exits.
  • Has taken investors’ money and provided good returns for them.
  • Has built a consumer-facing company or one with very high customer service.
  • Is all about execution – much better at executing than at vision.
  • Is a great manager and has a long list of people who would gladly work for her/him again.
  • Wants to build a culture of openness and support for employees.
  • Understands and enjoys sales.
  • Understands and loves building partnerships – has a big Rolodex of partner companies to call on.
  • Is ready for a big adventure.
  • Understands the value of open standards.
  • Appreciates that some or much of a company’s code can be open source.
  • Does not need a salary initially and is motivated by stock.
  • Reads my book and gets excited.
  • Reads my previous blogs and gets more excited.
  • Appreciates my role and sees a good fit between us.
  • Has the desire to build something big by starting small.

As I’ve said, I think I can get the funding for this project. It will need a lot of money, and I believe I know where it will come from.

I’m hoping people will read this and spread the word. Please tweet about it and reach out to your networks to help me find the right person, so we can build the next big company together.

Social Democracy – an Online Social Bill of Rights

August 2, 2010

Back in 2,000, I had the first meeting with a company to discuss the online data locker. I met with a strategic marketing guy from Mercedes Benz. We met at the San Francisco International Airport, because he was between flights. I said eventually, when you buy a car, it’s going to come with a web site. He said yes, that would certainly be true. And, I said, if you own three cars, you don’t want to have to log into three different web sites to manage them, because to the consumer these are three parts of the same facet of their lives – transportation. He thought for a minute and saw that this was true.

I’m sorry I haven’t been very regular in posting this summer. I will try to post once a week, and you can find my tweets @PullNews. I’m spending much of my time on the vision and the team for my new startup to build the personal data locker. Once I find a good CEO, things will start rolling. I’ve had good talks with several people who can help with business development, and I’m talking with one potential CEO. I’d be interested to talk with or meet other potential CEOs in New York or San Francisco. I really want someone who thinks “start small, get big” and can help me bring a Facebook alternative to consumers who want to own their information, and they want their information to do much more for them than it does today.

I’ve been thinking about social democracy. Facebook is really social communism – Facebook makes the rules, and everyone has to play by them. Even if there are thousands of applications, you still have to read this week’s Terms of Service to see what you can and cannot do with your data. Facebook’s privacy policy is now 5,830 words long and getting longer and more confusing all the time. The same is true with iPhone and iPad apps – it’s nice that Apple plays the gatekeeper to keep us all safe, but I’m not sure I trust Apple to know what’s good for me and what isn’t. (If I’ve paid full price and signed up for a two-year contract, why shouldn’t I be able to use my phone on any other network I also pay for?) Sites like Plaxo and LinkedIn are helpful, but once again, they own your data, and you couldn’t close your account if you wanted to. And we all know that Microsoft is just a listless hulk of scrap iron surrounding $44 billion in cash floating in deep space.

If you’re thinking of leaving Facebook, there’s a site called QuitFacebookDay.com where you can get support. And, if you’re having problems deleting your account at any of these “Roach Motel” web sites, a company called Abine wants to help you.

There are new companies that want to eat Facebook’s lunch, but most of them still use the Roach Motel model of trapping users. Two recent launches are Me.me, by Yahoo, and LifeStream, by AOL. (Too bad, I really liked the LifeStream name.) These are well designed services that want to replace your Facebook and Twitter interfaces with a seamless place to spend your time, but they won’t be any better than Facebook in the long run, because they aren’t open.

What we need is true social democracy – a place where people can finally put all their personal information and know that they will always be able to control it. A place where people can make contributions and everyone will benefit. A place that gets safer and safer as more people help build it. A place that gives you full control over the kinds of relationships you have with people and the access you give them to your information. A place where you can point your automatic “data exhaust” – places you go, purchases, web surfing, people you come into contact with, places you eat, places you stay, things you like, etc. – and it will be yours to manage or delete according to your desires. A place that, one day, will drive all your devices and make you truly device independent.

As I’m working on the business plan for the new company, I’m also working on a Social Democracy Bill of Rights for users. This is a draft. Feel free to suggest additions or changes:

Anyone who has a data locker …

  • Can choose to host it anywhere, on any machine that will accept it. This means you choose your hosting company. Just like WordPress – you will have a choice of places to host your data locker, including your own server under your control.
  • Can easily move the entire account to a new hosting facility anytime. You may start your personal data locker at MercedesBenz.com, Out.com, Visa.com, or Harvard.edu. At any time and for any reason, you will be able to move your entire account to another hosting platform with no questions asked.
  • Has the ability to create rich networks of friends and acquaintances that closely reflects the relationships in real life. No one has 500 friends. The more you can specify the exact relationships you have with people and put them into meaningful groups, the more those online relationships will work for you online.
  • Can delete it at will. Since your data is all in one place, you should be able to CRUD your data – Create, Read, Update, and Delete it. I would suggest making a back-up first, but it’s up to you.
  • May choose the security layers that surround his/her data. Using open standards, you should be able to surround your data with whatever levels of security you like. If you want to make certain information as secure as possible, you may have to pay extra for it, but you should have a huge range of choices when it comes to security.
  • Controls which information is public and which is private. You should be able to list everything you own on your personal data locker, put it on the open web, and receive offers for anything you own without having to list it on eBay or Craigslist or any other web site. But you don’t have to. You’ll control what’s public, what the bots can see, and what they can’t.
  • Has as many logins as he/she wants to have. You can create as many login names and passwords as you like, but the beauty of the system is that you’ll be able to have one login with the data locker, and use it to log into any services or sites you want to use online. That means you can get rid of your passwords on all those web sites and let them refer to your data locker, which then authenticates you as the person you say you are. This may sound complicated, but it’s much more secure than what we have today, and the technology for “federated login” is ready to deploy.
  • Can have as many data lockers as he/she likes. Ideally, you have just one, but if you want to have multiple lockers, that’s okay. If you have a separate “persona,” you may want to create a second one. For example, if you want to make secret travel plans for a getaway with someone special, you may want to use a different persona than you normally use. It’s up to you.
  • Can add new facets any time. You’ll start with a number of standard facets, like personal, family, work, resume, hobbies, travel, finance, real estate, accounts, activities, etc. You may, for example, have a facet devoted to managing your car’s data, and you may have your data hosted at MercedesBenz.com, where the nice marketing people at Mercedes Benz want you to have a fully branded experience. But, if you buy a Range Rover or a Porsche then you’ll also be able to have a fully branded experience to manage your new car, and in fact your “manage my cars” facet will be able to combine the information from all your vendors into one seamless view, so you can see how you’re managing your cars, fuel, maintenance, etc. The same would go for airlines, hotels, restaurants, etc. No single vendor will be able to prevent other vendors from adding information to your data locker, even if your locker is hosted on their servers.
  • Has a platform for doing vendor relationship management. You’ll manage all your marketing data here, and you’ll be able to work with vendors on your terms. As I talk about in my book, most people would rather manage a house full of products in a single web site than having to go to dozens of web sites to log in and use information. The data locker is the infinitely-expandable platform for working with vendors on your terms, keeping control of what information they get and how they use it.
  • Can freely exchange information with anyone or any service. You’ll be responsible for obeying the law and using your data locker responsibly. We won’t be playing “Big Brother” in the background.
  • Can freely use any app that will work with his/her data. There will be an app store, where you can buy or add apps to your data locker (thank god there are no more downloads!). In fact, there could be many app stores. We won’t have any central control over the apps available. I expect, however, there will be various filtering mechanisms for finding apps that meet certain expectations or criteria.
  • Is part of a community that helps share data. If you want to hook your schedule to your online travel advisor, you shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. The data locker will have a community of people building data pipes (APIs) that help make their data lockers much more useful, and those data pipes will go into the public domain via a nonprofit entity set up for this purpose. We’ll build the open standards we all need without increasing the spaghetti of proprietary data standards.

That’s all I have for now, but I’m sure there will be more as the company takes shape. I’ll let you know how things are going. If you can think of a great name or domain name for the personal data locker, or if you know a great CEO for me, please get in touch.

Startup: The Personal Data Locker Company to Take On Facebook

July 19, 2010

I’ve been thinking about my goal of raising a venture fund to build the online data locker ecosystem. After discussing the concept with friends and advisors, it’s clear that I need to help build the core company first. Not only would it take me a year to raise a fund, but things are happening quickly around what some people call the personal data store, and it’s time to build a company that goes after Facebook with an open, portable, data-centric approach. I can’t talk about everything here, but I want to give an outline of where I’m going and ask if you know people who might be interested in participating.

The idea is to build the online data locker in a way that lets you migrate your information from Facebook and run your life from there. Facebook has a Roach Motel business model – their goal is that you put lots of personal information into Facebook and you’ll be stuck for life, because you can’t get it out. I’m going to put a team together to do something different. Let me put some of the puzzle pieces in place and then give an overview of what I want to build.

The guys at Diaspora are trying to build something like a Facebook alternative, so you can do your messaging from one place that’s open and you can control your own destiny. They are cool guys. They are building open-source software. But they are going to focus on messaging and social tools, not data. I applaud what they are doing, but they won’t give consumers enough features to get them to switch easily.

The people at Higgins are doing great work on i-cards and the personal data store. This is exciting. They have new energy and are building a lot of the plumbing my new company will need to make information more interoperable. The more progress they make, the better.

OpenID and other protocols based on the Identity Commons principles will help us stop the insanity of creating login names and passwords every time we want to do something on a web site.

XAuth and things like it will let us store our cookies and browser information online, so we don’t have to care which browser or device we use to see the web.

The FOAF (Friend of a Friend) graph is getting bigger, and that’s great news. It’s not the perfect answer to building social networks, but it’s gaining ground and will be part of the solution.

Information Cards are gaining acceptance and will be the basis for much of how we use our personal data.

The work of the Open Rights Group and Data Portability people will play a big role in the core philosophy.

I have several long-term goals driving this effort:

As I talk about in my book, the web is the ultimate platform. When we have personal data lockers, they will drive all the screens in our lives. One of those screens is your phone. I hope that about four years from now, you’ll be able to buy a phone that simply logs into your personal data locker and runs from there. The phone itself will have only a shadow copy of what you have on your data locker, with the main information safe and secure in the cloud. When you start your phone, it takes up where it left off, but ALL its information comes from the cloud, and all the apps essentially run on the cloud. You can think of it like that – you never download an app. You subscribe to it, and it either actually runs on the cloud, or a temporary version runs on your machine. You NEVER run out of room or resources.

The second vision is that the personal data locker drives the screen in your living room. Once again, you log into your data locker and a personal VJ presents all your video content, from news, TV shows, and feature films to home movies and instructional videos. No need for network television, and no need for any personal data recorder (hard disk) that requires you to manage content. It simply finds what you’re looking for or shows you something interesting, and everything streams from there.

The third vision is that what we do with computers and tablets today is still push and still requires us to store data on our machines. We’ve barely begun learning how to use the cloud properly. As I’ve advocated in my I have a dream blog post, I think we’ll see a seismic shift in the way we do all kinds of design. I think we’ll see a similar shift in the way we work, read, consume media, and play with our devices. Once again, I think they will simply be screens of any size, they will have input devices like keyboards and mice, or touch screens and headsets, or eye-trackers and brainwave monitors – whatever way we interact with them in the future. But you’ll start your day on your personal data locker and do everything from there. Once again, resources will be limitless, and the apps will be thousands of times cheaper and more powerful than the apps we use today.

The fourth vision is that this is where you’ll want to put ALL your information that’s currently scattered all over the web and in databases worldwide. Your health data, financial data, educational and career data, family information, photos, videos, music, haves, wants, and much more. You can read all about this in chapters 7 and 8 of my book, Pull.

The user experience is the driver here. This data locker will rise from the pack of personal data products currently being proposed and funded, because it will be simple and easy for consumers to adopt. I won’t say much more here, other than my job is to build the next-generation interface that makes the iPhone and iPad look difficult to use (they are).

I’m hoping to put together a world-class team and secure funding in the next six months. As I said in my previous post, I think I can raise the money necessary. With any luck, we’ll have offices in New York and San Francisco. Please help me look for the people I’ll need to get it started:

  • A CEO who’s a strong manager, a serial entrepreneur, someone who has built software ideas into companies.
  • A CTO who can build the cloud-based infrastructure, identity and security layers, and all the parts necessary at scale.
  • A Product manager who understands the user and his/her needs. Someone from Facebook, Google, or Yahoo would be interesting.
  • A UI designer who has been doing AJAX-driven consumer interfaces for large scale deployments.
  • A business-development ninja who can score partnerships with lots of big companies and services.

Please forward resumes to me at [email protected]

Thank You.

Social Interactions are More Complicated than Facebook Thinks

July 8, 2010

I’m surprisingly busy this summer. Since the Semantic Technology Conference 2 weeks ago in San Francisco, my phone has been ringing off the hook. I’ve realized I need to work on starting the personal data locker company before trying to raise a fund to support it. If the personal data locker gets off the ground well, it should take me a few weeks to raise a fund around it. I’ll talk more about that next week, but today I have a few random things to share.

After a bit of research, it turns out that I may be the fifth person to start blogging, back in 1995.

I want you to see a deck of slides by a guy named Paul Adams at Google. He’s starting to explain how complicated our real-life social interactions are, and why Facebook doesn’t really address them (this is what the identity gang have been saying for years). There are rumors that Google will launch something in this area. If you’re interested in social networking, this is an important deck of slides. You can either see the short version or the long version:

SAI Business Insider has the short version. I recommend signing up for their newsletter.

The long version is here: