Seeing the Forrester for the Trees

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

As recently as a year ago, many of my colleagues and friends told me they just didn’t understand what Personal was trying to do. What did it mean to own and control your data? Why was data even important to a person? Why would companies, particularly marketers, ever embrace transparency and empowering individuals with their data when exploiting that data is at the core of their business model?Forrester logo

What a difference a year makes.

Amid the many positive developments and increasing coverage of this issue, such as The Wall Street Journal’s courageous “What They Know” series, comes the excellent new Forrester Research report Personal Identity Management by Fatemeh Khatibloo, which was released this past Friday.

The report is not only a must read for those who want to understand the complex dynamics at play in this space, but it provides an accessible framework that will help companies prepare for the transformational empowerment of individuals that is already underway. Download the report.

You can also read Khatibloo’s blog on the report at Forbes.com.

A World Without Borders – Customer Data in Bankruptcy

Here is the link to my post in the Personal company blog on how customer data should be treated in bankruptcy: http://blog.personal.com/2011/09/a-world-without-borders-–-customer-data-in-bankruptcy

We don’t have this issue at Personal as individuals own their data from the start when using our data vault service (thus there would be no “customer data assets” for us to sell were the company to go out of business), but I expect it to become a bigger and bigger issue in the coming years.

Personal Closed Beta

Personal is sending out the next round of invitations for our closed beta. Making it easy, fun, safe and beneficial to own and manage your data is an ambitious goal, and we will only get there with your help.

If you have signed up and receive an invitation (we are working our way through the 10,000+ on our list), we hope you will register and take a good look at what we are doing and share your candid and constructive feedback.

To see how the product works before registering, check out our video on the front page of www.personal.com.

Our closed beta starts with the most foundational level of functionality – aggregating and organizing the data about your life in a data vault, easily retrieving that data from any computer or device, and granting permission to people you trust. Think of it as your own private data network designed to help you maximize the efficiencies and benefits of your data.

As you explore the product, we would love to hear specifically about:

Your Experience –Were you able to add gems, data and contacts and grant access? Were you able to do what you wanted to do in the system?  What can we improve?

Gems – Which gems did you find the most useful and why? Which gems were less useful and how could they be made better? What new gems would you like to see?

Utility – How useful is Personal? On a scale of 1-5, how likely are you to use it in your daily life and recommend to others? (1 – not at all; 5 – loved it and want to help launch the revolution)

Of course, entirely new ideas are more than welcome.

Please send your feedback to feedback@personal.com or feel free to post comments here.

Personal Receives pii2011 Innovator Spotlight Audience Choice Award

When you spend almost two years working on something, and you show it for the first time to a room full of 250 experts, you start to reconnect with long-forgotten anxieties from, say, your first day at a new school. And when the internet connection for the live demo fails, albeit momentarily, you are right back on your first date trying to remember even the most basic details about your life.

Thankfully, Personal’s debut at pii2011, the Privacy Identity Innovation conference, was well received by a patient and supportive audience, who selected us and PassTouch (a super cool visual touchscreen login app) for the Innovator Spotlight Audience Choice Award. Given all of the thoughtful people and companies in the room working on this historical shift towards a user-centric data ecosystem, we are thrilled to get this recognition.

I have a lot of competing reflections from the conference. At times I have complete confidence that the company-centric data ownership model will change quickly now that  public awareness is growing so fast and real alternatives are emerging. But I also appreciate how hard it will be to align all of the good intent from so many different players, some of whom are still thinking too incrementally, while the current model continues to accelerate wildly (I couldn’t help but notice LinkedIn’s meteoric IPO updates while listening to the speakers).

Finally, please check out Personal’s new web site and videos at www.personal.com to let me know what you think. We spent a lot of time and effort trying to make our product and vision accessible to people who are not experts. They are the ones who have to buy in to this model for it to ever have a chance of succeeding.

Data Gems and the Value of Data

Data gemsIt’s been a while since I’ve had time to write – at least thoughtfully. We have been heads down since the beginning of the year finishing our user-centric data platform, data vault and permission-based data sharing service, and are excited to start moving into our next closed beta release shortly.

One of the biggest challenges with a product and model as different as ours – where individuals aggregate, own and use their personal data for their benefit – is demonstrating the real world value of such data and making it easy to manage in large amounts across one’s life. We developed the concept of a “data gem” to help make abstract, “lifeless” data more tangible and real, and to highlight its literal and figurative value (and where else would you store your gems but a vault!).

A data gem is discrete set of reusable, modular data that addresses some kind of activity, thing, issue or need. The three examples in the image are a Wi-Fi gem, which contains information about my router and how to access my Wi-Fi network, an Air Travel Preferences gem, which contains information about how I like to fly, and a Car Insurance gem, which effectively replaces the print or PDF car insurance policies locked away in my filing cabinet or my hard drive with actionable, structured data. Some gems are for organizing information in your life, while others are designed for sharing, and yet others for commercial activities.

The bright orange circle is Personal’s particular take on how a data gem might look, but the concept goes beyond our implementation. As we developed them, you can enter or import data once and have it populate the same fields across multiple gems. They are also designed to be modular so they can be easily combined when shared with others. For example, a babysitter could easily be granted access to related gems on the kids, the home, the television, and emergency contacts. The granularity of gems also allows a high degree of control over how much information is shared with others without creating burdensome user controls.

We have created about 100 gems so far, and are starting to engage others to define new gems and standards for making them as interoperable as possible. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts. S.

Personal Series A Financing

Personal (www.personal.com) just posted an announcement on our Series A financing round, which was led by Grotech Ventures and Steve Cases’s Revolution LLC, and joined by Allen & Company, Eric Semler of TCS Capital Management, and other angel investors we have known from our days at The Map Network. You can read the announcement at: http://www.personal.com/news

Raising money is never easy, especially for a big, disruptive idea. Making sure those investors truly believe in your idea — and have the passion and commitment to help you see it through — adds even more of a challenge. I think we found exactly the right financial partners, partners who welcome, rather than fear, the challenge of turning the current model upside down and doing right by consumers. I hope people will look back in a few years and have a hard time believing the idea of companies owning and controlling our data was ever seriously considered a viable model.

We had some truly amazing meetings during our fund raising process, including many who flat out opposed our vision or else thought the horses were already out of the barn on privacy and consumers controlling their data (some even had a hand in opening the barn doors). We also heard from a number of investors and senior executives who found the task of changing the current system daunting, but who readily acknowledged that our vision was generally how the world should work. We look forward to helping them be part of the solution.

S.