Introducing the New and Improved Personal

This post was originally published under the same title on the Personal blog, A Personal Stand.

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Today, I am excited to introduce the new and improved Personal. We have been getting it ready for you, the Personal community,  and now it’s finally here. The new Personal is

  • Faster. New streamlined navigation, sorting and filtering gets you where you want to go in an instant.
  • Easier. View your Gems and Gems from your connections together in one easy-to-read screen and see who has private, secure access to them.
  • Personalized. Easily group your Gems using tags and other views like last updated, most viewed, alphabetical and connections.

Here are a few ways to use some of our favorite new features, like tags:

  • Home and Work. Use tags to separate your Gems for home and your Gems for work. For example, you can tag computer, wi-fi and alarm passwords, and other information from around the office with a work tag. Tag the passwords for home computer and other electronics, alarm and wi-fi for around the house with a home tag. Share Gems with family members and co-workers so everyone has easy access to the information when they need it.
  • Kids. You can create a tag for each of your children so that you and your family members can easily access the right information when you need it for school forms, applications and doctors’ appointments.

Take the new Personal for a spin, let us know what you think and read our FAQs for additional information.

We would love to hear about your favorite tags and features, as well as what you would like to see in the future.

‘Personal for Education’: Helping Schools and Families From Preschool through College

This post was originally published under the same title on the Personal blog, A Personal Stand.

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Today, Personal launched ‘Personal for Education,’ a set of tools for families and schools to easily organize, securly share and reuse their important personal and educational information. From scholarship and financial aid information to student directories and events, Personal is making your data more accessible, accurate and available on the go.

We were especially excited to launch ‘Personal for Education’ at the White House ‘Education Datapalooza,’ where we were one of several companies invited to present ways that individuals can put their own federal education data to use.

Fast Form Filling for Scholarships and Financial Aid

Soon, you’ll be able to import your federal education data, including information you’ve previously submitted while applying for financial aid, directly to Personal. In an instant, Personal will transform a jumble of data into categories of organized and helpful information. You can then use and reuse your information whenever you want, whether for completing next year’s aid form in seconds or calculating student loan payments. Check out this video to see how it works.

I’m especially excited about our scholarship and financial aid application tool because of the impact it will have on students like Alfredo Loris. Alfredo is an operations intern at Personal. He and his family, like so many, have struggled their way through FAFSA and other aid forms each year. Now in college, but having to apply for aid each year, this product will make a real difference for him and millions of other students. Learn more about Alredo and Personal’s fast form filling for education by watching his video on our Personal for Education page. While you’re there, check out a second moving video about Sharon Gatobu and her sister, both of whom have struggled with financial aid applications.

Secure Sharing for Schools and Families

I’m also proud to say that preschools are already using Personal to securely share and keep parents, teachers and administrators updated with constantly changing information, from key contacts and resources at the school to student directories and event schedules. If the school updates anything, say a change in address or phone number, it’s automatically updated for everyone who has secure access to the information through Personal web and mobile. No more showing up on the wrong day or time for soccer, a play, or your parent-teacher conference.

Want more information? Click on Personal for Education, check out our press release, or email partners@personal.com.

Personal and the World Economic Forum’s New Report

This post was originally published under the same title on the Personal blog, A Personal Stand.WEF-logo

When I learned of the World Economic Forum’s first report on personal data in early 2011, I was surprised to see an organization comprised of Fortune 1000 companies highlight the many cutting-edge problems we were addressing at Personal. Their report went so far as to call personal data a “new economic asset class,” and made a bold assertion that individuals needed to be empowered with their data to create balance, fairness and stability in the new digital economy.

We were delighted to then be asked to participate in the Forum’s Rethinking Personal Data Working Group, which today released a new report, produced in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group, entitled: “Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust.” You can see the Forum’s press release here, and our own here.

The report broadly defines personal data, including data that is directly or indirectly known about you and your family, friends, work, values and beliefs, location/GPS, car, home, finances, spending, browsing history, app usage, health, education – you name it. It further examines the growing instability that comes from a lack of trust and transparency in how personal data is captured and used by companies and governments, while highlighting benefits for all stakeholders, including people, if a better framework emerges that balances the competing needs and interests of all parties.

While startups are famous for “making sausage” – the idea that the reality is messy behind the scenes even when the outcome is good – I think it is fair to say we made some (very good) sausage over the last year. There were a wide range of passionate and thoughtful views on most every subject that touches personal data – ownership rights, consent, the primacy of the individual, the right to be forgotten, transparency, privacy, data security, national security, sovereignty, public safety, regulation, public health, political freedom, and, last but far from least, innovation and economic growth.

Many of the report’s recommendations focus on much needed improvements to the current model, where companies and governments are central. Others point to ways to explore new models that could give individuals a better seat at the table and that can create, through enhanced trust, even better outcomes for companies and governments willing to abide by new rules.

We were delighted to both participate in this important endeavor and to see Personal, along with companies like Dropbox, Reputation.com, Mydex and Qiy, be highlighted as an innovator working to empower people with their data. We are confident that the benefits will be magical for all involved as people are able to effectively manage and use this “new economic asset” across their lives.

The Era of Small Data Begins

This post was originally published under the same title on the Personal blog, A Personal Stand.

This is the first post in a series on the rise of “small data” and the new platforms, tools and rules to empower people with their data. It was written for “The Rise of Big Data” panel at the Stanford Graduate School of Business E-Conference on March 6, 2012.

Big data is big business

More data is created every year or so than has been created in all of human history. In this always-on, always-connected world, where even things are being plugged into the Web, the amount of data is growing exponentially.

The collection, storage, analysis, use and monetization of all that data is called “big data.” Corporations and governments are hyper-focused on becoming big data experts to avoid being permanently left behind. The first movers to master the art and science of big data are already changing the way we live, while disrupting industries and amassing fortunes at speeds never before seen.

Given the stakes, massive investments are being made every year to build the technology and expertise required to succeed in big data, optimized, of course, around the needs of companies and governments, not individuals. Industry experts have likened this big data boom to the early days of “big oil,” and refer to data as the “new oil.” Just as oil was essential to building the modern industrial economy, data has become the lifeblood of the new digital economy.

Companies must learn to compete in big data regardless of their industry, or else face obsolescence. This is a tough challenge and touches all aspects of the operations, strategy and culture of companies. At the same time, opportunities abound as entirely new industries are emerging around data as they did around oil — sourcing, extracting, refining, mining, analyzing, distributing, and selling large sets of data.

Big data creates big problems

With its insatiable appetite for digital bits and bytes on each of us, big data is driving a virtual arms race to capture and exploit information about our every move. Big data will log the life of a child born in 2012 in such a way that the person’s activities will be able to be reconstructed not just by the day, but by the hour or minute. In the hands of bad actors, the potential for wrongdoing with these permanent and growing archives of our lives is real and rightfully concerning.

Yet, until recently, people had virtually no idea of big data’s existence as its tools and marketplaces remained largely hidden. The next generation of tracking and data mining technologies are being created based on the assumption that individuals do not care enough to change their online and mobile behavior, which confuses lack of interest with the current lack of alternatives.

But with privacy and security concerns now front-page news, and the financial triumphs of companies built entirely from personal data such as Facebook, Google and LinkedIn, people are waking up and starting to ask tough questions. While companies and government regulators negotiate over how to curb the most egregious risks and abuses, a new and more powerful model is emerging that is designed around the needs and interests of people, providing them a far better, more sustainable alternative to the status quo.

Enter small data

Small data puts the power and tools of big data into the hands of people. It is based on the assumption that people have a significant long-term competitive advantage over companies and governments at aggregating and curating the best and most complete set of structured, machine-readable data about themselves and their lives – the “golden copy”. With proper tools, protections and incentives, small data allows each person to become the ultimate gatekeeper and beneficiary of their own data.

Built on privacy by design and security by design principles, small data can help people become smarter, healthier, and make better, faster decisions. It can help people discover new experiences more easily, reclaim time in their busy lives, and enjoy deeper, more positive relationships with others.

Small data can also greatly improve the capacity and performance of governments and non-governmental institutions, from eliminating time-consuming forms and other inefficient data practices, to improving public health and education by leveraging the power of more accurate and complete data provided with an individual’s permission. Such institutions can also help share important data with individuals, allowing them to have a copy for their own use.

Applied to commerce, small data holds the promise of connecting people with the best and most relevant products and services in a safe and anonymous environment. It can transform advertising into a more respectful, less disruptive industry that rewards people for their time and engagement with their messages and for their purchases. Small data offers customers the opportunity to better balance and assert their interests with companies (some have called this model Vendor Relationship Management (VRM)). Companies who play by these new rules and earn the trust of individuals will be rewarded with access to rich and robust data otherwise unavailable, giving them instant competitive advantages over companies who choose to go it alone.

The first small data platform – a data vault, private network and apps

Personal has spent over two years designing, building and launching the first scalable small data platform. At its core is a secure data vault to aggregate and store structured and unstructured data from just about any source. A private, personal network sits on top to set permissions for data to enter or exit the vault. People are able to connect with other people through the network, and soon with companies, apps, and private or public institutions, and decide which, if any, of their data they are willing to grant them permission to access.

We have put equal weight on privacy and security, and on helping people leverage their own data in exciting, new ways. These concepts are inextricably linked in small data, which requires a high degree of trust to function properly. Similarly, we have rewritten the legal rules of data ownership to protect and empower users, who we call owners. And, because we know relationships can sometimes end, we have built what we believe is the most complete data portability and deletion capabilities in a data platform. Trust doesn’t work unless you are truly free to leave.

In addition to launching our own apps in the coming months, we are inviting developers to apply for early access to build apps on our platform to show off the power and benefits of small data. Individuals have never imagined the magic of running apps on reusable, structured data about the most important things in their lives, while developers have never assumed having access to such high quality data on which to innovate. The possibilities are limitless.

We are excited to help usher in this new era where permission, transparency and privacy become the norm, and where companies and governments have to align around new rules and provide clear and compelling benefits in order to earn access.

At Personal, we see the future through the lens of small data — and we think it will change everything.

A Digital Bill of Rights By the People, For the People

This post was originally published under the same title on the Personal blog, A Personal Stand.

The Obama Administration unveiled today its long-awaited framework for online privacy, Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World. The result is a bold and thoughtful step in the right direction, and it will make an impact, regardless of whether Congress acts. It’s another sign that power on the Internet is shifting toward individuals and away from companies.

There’s still much more to do:

1.  In talking about reform and creating a new model, we must put individuals firmly at the center of the framework. This means giving them the tools to drive demand for their valuable data resources to transform the current model into a “user-centric” one. With individuals truly in control – and looking out on the world from their perspective – every other principle and right about privacy falls into place.

2.  While the framework will require companies to re-evaluate their data practices and conform to new standards, what about our government’s obligations in handling our data? The Obama Administration has been impressively forward-looking in this arena – particularly with veterans, education and health record data – but it seems that individuals care as much about what the government knows about them as they do about companies.  We need rules for government, too.

3.  Actual citizens need a seat at the table alongside the privacy advocates, law enforcement representatives, companies and academics that will help establish codes of conduct.  If the framework is being constructed for the benefit of individuals, don’t we deserve a say in the matter, too? Perhaps the final say?

To make the last point a reality, we’re taking matters into our own hands.  In a few weeks at SXSW in Austin, Texas, I will join my friend, Anne Bezancon, founder and CEO of Placecast to create – with other SXSW attendees – a Bill of Rights “by the people, for the people” that we would expect both companies and the government to respect. If you will be attending the conference, please join us for our interactive Sunday afternoon session, We the People: Creating a Consumer’s Bill of Rights. Please also check out the session by our CTO, Tarik Kurspahic, on building a “privacy by design” company.

What is your personal data really worth?

This post was originally published under the same title on the Personal blog, A Personal Stand.

New York Times reporter Joshua Brustein provides a great introduction to the model that Personal and companies like us are developing in “Start-ups Aim to Help Users Put a Price on Their Data.” However, a central question remains unresolved: what is the true economic value of personal data?

No one knows the answer – yet – because no fair market exists for individual data.  The question raises the possibility that, if it’s not very much, people are unlikely to care enough to change their behavior. We believe there are a host of non-economic reasons that people will want to proactively manage their data (time savings, greater privacy, less friction, making better, faster decisions, etc.), but the question of determining economic value is critical.

New York Times photo of Personal team

The current model is built for companies, not people

Some look for clues to the average annual revenue per user for Google and Facebook. These “free” services, whose advertising revenue is based largely on personal data, earn $24 and $4 respectively per person every year. But is $28 enough to motivate people to change their behavior and do a lot of work? Maybe not.  But it is the wrong question. Properly used, we believe companies like Personal will be able to prove your data, when tied to a single purchase, can create 10-20x the value that Google or Facebook can over a year.

The current paradigm is entirely dysfunctional and inefficient from the perspective of the individual. For example, the Direct Marketing Association says over 97% of online advertising fails to reach the right person at the right time. The pennies from the 3% success rate may add up for companies exploiting data across millions of people, but it requires a number of unsustainable practices, such as the increasingly invasive and sometimes unethical tracking of people. It also requires that they co-opt your attention and time and resell that along with your data to others trying to reach you.

The emerging user-centric marketplace

What might a user-centric marketplace look like and how much economic value can a person realize in a year?

First, you need a marketplace that respects the sanctity of one’s data, time (time is money, after all), privacy and identity (anonymity is the default). The technologies, business rules, and legal and privacy protections must be created nearly from scratch to protect the individual. (Our CTO, Tarik Kurspahic, will present at SXSW on building a privacy-by-design platform).

Second, the marketplace would focus on commercially relevant data such as your brand, travel or clothing preferences, along with data about your intent to buy something (also known as purchase intent).  These two types of data alone can fundamentally change data economics when combined with a controlled marketplace to reach you when and how you want to be reached.

This last point is key. We do not support the idea of people “selling” personal data. Rather, we believe such data can be used in a safe environment to connect people with companies with highly relevant products, services and even content and information. Doc Searls and others have referred to this idea as Vendor Relationship Management (VRM). Companies that play by these new rules will have the most direct and positive channel ever created to reach people, including their existing customers.

People can realize thousands of dollars per year

Finally, we believe companies that earn your business (and those who don’t) will be willing to compensate individuals for having the chance to interact with qualified buyers of their particular good or service.  This far more efficient marketplace can easily add up to thousands of dollars annually as people realize the full benefit of their data, time and purchases. That should move the needle for just about anyone.

We appreciate the serious attention being focused on this emerging space by the New York Times, as well as The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, AdAge, AdWeek, Forrester Research, MIT Tech Review, The Washington Post, TechCrunch, Mashable, the Harvard Business Review and others. It is an idea that will ignite untold innovation and benefits for each of us.

Data With Benefits: Our Open Beta Launch

This post was originally published under the same title on the Personal blog, A Personal Stand.

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I don’t want to overplay the significance of today’s date, or the fact that our web and mobile web service went live in open beta at 11:11 am GMT and was announced on Twitter for the first time at 11:11 am EST. What matters is that after two years of hard core work on a totally new kind of platform, we’re out there.

Our Android and iPhone apps will be launched later this month. We will be promoting our launch in the coming weeks once the mobile apps are out given the importance of the full mobile experience to our personal data vault and private network products.

We also have a new web site and an updated look to our brand, thanks to our new marketing team.  In case you missed it, you can read about the team, which includes former execs from Nike and AOL, and a new advisory board member from Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios, in our announcement.

We really appreciate all of the people who signed up and used Personal during our closed beta. Your engagement and feedback was awesome! Among the improvements you’ll see are:

Countdown clock–  More ways to easily import data, including community gems created by Personal owners and partners. We are especially excited about what community gems can do to allow people to share knowledge and structured data with each other. You can read more in the gemware section on our site.

– Personal network snapshots for every contact and gem so people can quickly see who has what data in their life, and what they’ve received from others. This is like your personal data graph, so you can quickly and easily see all of your data relationships in life.

–  Our “Form Killer” app to instantly fill out forms online and off. This is the first true app built on top of our platform, and we think it can be huge. Imagine not having to fill out any more forms. Our developer program will be launched soon and more apps are on the way.

–  Identity management gems to help people control how others know them in Personal and elsewhere. We are excited about being a leader in this growing area.

We really liked this article in AdAge Digital yesterday called “Personal Data is the New Oil.” It’s not surprising that those in the advertising world are among the first to get how disruptive – and ultimately beneficial – Personal and companies that believe in a people-centric data model can be to creating win-win outcomes for commerce and advertising.

We can’t wait to hear what you think about the new product! Tell us at feedback@personal.com.

Shane & the entire Personal team

Washington, DC & Sarajevo