From Theirware to MyWare

First came spyware:  programs that hid on your computer recording the things you did without your knowledge to try and spam you with advertising.  We've largely eliminated the spyware problem.

Now, we have "theirware."  Theirware is the sotware that drives the blackbox algorythyms of recommendation engines.  Amazon is probably the best example.  They keep records of what you bought, what you rate, and undoubtedly what you are clicking on and suggest products for you.  Not only do they not allow you to see that data, but you certainly can't take that data to another service.  You can't take the record of all of the Italian cookbooks you bought and use it to hint AdSense that they should be showing you ads about travelling to Tuscany.  That's theirware.  It mostly benefits Amazon alone and leaves you far short of reaching the potential benefit you could gain if you had access to the metadata you created.

Now people are starting to talk about spying on yourself...  Downloading little applications that follow everything you do and create a vault of data that you control.  The philosophy behind it is the right one--that users should be in control of their own data--but there aren't really good applications of having all that data yet.  It might be interesting to see where I click and how I search, but so what?  If I can't use that data somewhere, its a little bit wasted.  Plus, its going to be hard to convince a critical mass of users to start capturing that data, especially if it means downloading something, unless they can do something useful with it.

Here's one potential solution.  We're well underway on the client side app, but there needs to be a web site complement to enable a data for personalization "trade".  Its like a lock and key system.  The key side has all your captured browsing, any demographic data that you want to share, and is tweakable.  You can add and subtract keywords and change your interests depending on the time of day, your IP location, etc. 

The lock side should be offered on any site that could benefit from this kind of data...  Amazon, news portals, even ads.  When you first go into Amazon, there should be a little button to click that says "Unlock MyAmazon".  Clicking it exposes as much or as little of your personal data as you see fit and renders a page that is uniquely taliored to your interests.  So, maybe you're willing to give your news browsing habits to other news sites, but not to eCommerce sites.  Unlike the blackboxes, however, when you take the key out, Amazon loses the data and the page goes back the way it was.

This is good for Amazon because now they get the benefit of data gathered on you from lots of other places, and helps them target you better.  So if you're at Travelocity looking at trips to Italy, they can try to feature books on Tuscany on the front page.  This is like what Tacoda does for advertising, but now we're talking about rerendering the whole site based on your own data.

The consumer benefits because not only do they get a more relevent browsing experience, but they keep your own data.  I'd like to think that this will put an end to having to hand over your email address anytime you want to personalize anything.  Single signon and you can decide which advertisers you want email from and which ones you don't.  For an advertisier, they're  trading off the ability to mass mail you with something irrelevant for the data to give you want you want wheb you're actually on the site.  So, eBay, you can't have my email address, but show me bikes everytime I'm on the site.

Hopefully, each day we're getting closer and closer to balancing tipping the scales of the new media deal.