Social Implications of Data Sharing

A few weeks ago, Evan Henshaw-Plath was explaining to me his epiphany about 43people, where an aggregation of different services tied together by Social Networks was starting to look very compelling. He then said that the next natural step for the folks at The Robot Co-op was calendaring. If anyone knows about calendaring, it’s Evan, who started a calendaring company with Kellan Elliott-McCrea in a past life. (Evan, you need Purple Numbers in your blog. Everyone needs them, dammit!) Trying to find relevant event information works much better when tied to Social Networks. Folks are starting to recognize this en masse, and the industry is reacting accordingly.    (JV3)

In an ideal world, Social Networks wouldn’t be tied to a particular site. Instead, that information would be distributed, and users would control the distribution. I’d love to tie my Google searches with my social network profile at LinkedIn, for example. That’s not going to happen unless Google acquires LinkedIn, or unless there are specs and a culture for distributed data sharing.    (JV4)

The culture is the tricky part. For as long as I’ve known him, Ross Mayfield has had an email signature that says what recipients are allowed to do with that email. (The choices are “bloggable,” “ask first,” and “private.” I think “ask first” is his default.) That, my friends, is a link contract.    (JV5)

Andy Dale has been working on the technical details of distributed data sharing with his XDI work. XDI is hairy stuff, but it’s graspable. Recently, Andy blogged about the form that link contracts and data sharing agreements might take. Victor Grey has said many times that we need a Creative Commons for data sharing agreements — simple, understandable, reusable, and legally enforceable contracts for our data.    (JV6)

That’s just a start. What will the user interface for specifying these agreements look like? Will users pay any more attention to these then they already do to Terms of Agreement on web sites?    (JV7)


Andy Dale and the good folks at ooTao have been quietly driving the development of data sharing technologies based on XDI. This is one of the candidate Identity Commons technologies for permission-based sharing and synchronization of identity-related information.    (JSF)

What does this mean? Most of us have personal information stored all over the Internet, with no control over who can access it and what they are allowed to do with it. The privacy implications are obvious, but issues of control go beyond privacy. I may want 15 different organizations to have access to my email address, but I don’t want to have to contact each of those organizations separately every time my email address changes.    (JSG)

The knee-jerk reaction to the latter problem has been to create centralized repositories of identity data, and to persuade people to store all their data there. That approach has no long-term future.    (JSH)

We need a distributed system that gives individuals granular control over their digital identities. That’s the long-term vision of Identity Commons, and the technologies that will make this all possible are slowly coming into fruition.    (JSI)

Andy recently announced plans for DataTao, an “interoperable data hub for user controlled data.” As a service, I think DataTao will be tremendously compelling. A natural first application will be a distributed Plaxo-killer. You’ll be able to keep your contact information wherever it already is — even across multiple sites — and to grant permission to people to synchronize with that data. In other words, Andy or anyone else will be able to get my latest contact information without having to subscribe to some centralized repository, assuming I’ve given them permission. More importantly, I can take that permission away.    (JSJ)

On a technical level, what’s interesting about ooTao’s announcement is that the service is not wed to i-names. It will work with a variety of identity protocols, from OpenID to LID. On the other hand, the system will use XDI. I’ve expressed concerns, both privately and publically, over whether XDI is the best architecture for the kind of data sharing we need. The proof will be in the pudding; it will be great to see a real service built on top of XDI in action.    (JSK)

“Introduction to XDI” PowerPoint

Andy Dale and his team at ooTao have written the first implementation of the XDI data sharing protocol, which Identity Commons will use for profile sharing. As important a step that this is, Andy’s best contribution to date, in my opinion, has been his excellent “Introduction to XDI” PowerPoint slides, which he recently updated.    (IMU)

Last month, I spent an intensive day with Andy, Steve Churchill, and Owen Davis reviewing the XDI architecture. It was very enlightening, and it gave me greater faith in the decision to use XDI for data sharing and link contracts. Of course, I still had my gripes. I recorded some notes and observations at XDI Data Sharing.    (IMV)