As you could probably tell from my domain, Shane is my middle name. My first name is Robert, which is a fine name — it is my father’s name and the name of some other cool folks I know. It just doesn’t happen to be the name I’ve used during my life. So unlike most every company, government agency, school, organization or telemarketer I’ve interacted with over the past few decades, I’d appreciate it if you would use Shane instead of “Robert S.”…especially if you ever see me stepping in front of a bus!
The complexity of getting such a simple thing as my name right has more than a little to do with my fascination with identity and putting more control of data into the hands of people.
Despite how the word itself sounds to many people, data is not cold, inanimate or fleeting. Quite the opposite. In its entirety, our data is becoming a digital extension of us, representing us far and wide. It determines how we engage and experience the world, and how the world engages and experiences us. And with artificial intelligence and machine learning, the benefits and insights of analyzing our own data are infinite.
I love big, disruptive ideas that can make the world a better place — and have spent much of my life building “double bottom line” companies that can pursue such win-win outcomes. “Democratizing data” through accessible tools and interfaces to help people — and enlightened companies — create, manage and analyze complex data sets has been a focus of mine now for over a decade. I can’t imagine the future without it.
I am excited to announce that Personal, the company I co-founded in 2009, merged with digi.me in August 2017 to keep working on this opportunity. We are spinning off Personal’s TeamData product as an enterprise information security and productivity company, and will integrate some of the best features from it with digi.me.
My previous company, The Map Network, was a pioneer in empowering places and events to create and control their digital maps and location data and to share them broadly or narrowly depending on the sensitivity and importance of the data. Our passion for getting mapping out of the hands of cartographers and Geographic Information Systems “experts” and into the hands of those who were actually responsible for places resulted in a radically new approach to map making. In a few short years, we became the official map and location content platform for events such as the NFL Super Bowl and the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, venues such as the Smithsonian, and 100+ tourism bureaus including Orlando, Chicago and San Francisco. Our most meaningful accomplishment was producing the most used online map of the 9/11 relief and rescue efforts (under the brand URHere), which set new standards for presenting dynamic event-based information geospatially.
The Map Network was acquired by NAVTEQ in 2006, the world leader in digital mapping, who was itself acquired by Nokia soon after — a behemoth (at the time) with over 1 billion mobile phones in use around the world (the business is now called HERE). We had the chance to scale our platform and pursue our vision on a global stage, with over 100m users and 800 companies using our technology and data every day.
In so doing, we also came face to face with the central role the mobile device and apps would come to play in both creating and consuming data — even as we as individuals remain left out of the equation.
We left to start Personal, the first user-centric data platform and business. Based in Washington, DC, we are passionate about changing the technical, business model and even the social paradigms for data and the Digital You and Me. We are proud of the role we are playing as the first “small data” platform to help make such a model possible (see the wikipedia page on Personal). It was a big, hard problem to build a secure, private, cloud-based data vault and network — and to get individuals and companies to understand why that was important. But the innovative applications being built on Personal’s and digi.me’s combined platform, and the visionary partners who are transforming how they connect and interact with their customers, are bringing our vision closer to reality each and every day.
I also pursue these interests as co-director of the Institute for Education’s Media and Technology Roundtable, where we regularly bring together thought leaders from the private and public sector, and on the Board of Directors of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. I also served for a while as Vice Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Data and its Rethinking Personal Data Project, and am a participant in The Aspen Institute’s Communications and Society Program.
Before my life in start-ups, I came to Washington to work on international conflict and humanitarian issues, spending most of my early career at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace where I managed a variety of study groups and served on the initial team to incubate and launch the International Crisis Group (with personal heroes Morton Abramowitiz and the late Fred Cuny). I am still involved in foreign policy issues, primarily as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (also a great online resource for foreign affairs). I am also excited to have helped create over 100 full time software developer jobs in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina over the past half decade, a country I fell in love with the first time I visited in 1996 when I helped monitor their first post-war elections.
I am a graduate of the University of Michigan’s political science and history programs, and “postponed” completion of my MBA at the University of Chicago after writing the business plan for The Map Network in my first year.
I live in Chevy Chase, Maryland, am lucky to be married to the greatest woman I have ever met and have three wonderful children. If nothing else, I hope this blog helps them understand me a little better.