Owning our own data: is there a technical solution?

One of the people who is really thinking through how internet infrastructure can reflect a set of values whereby the producer of the content is in control of his own work and data is Yihong Ding.

Here is his proposal for a mechanism whereby this could be possible.

Yihong Ding:

There are two basic paths of resolving this issue of resource portability. One path is to make the resources be presented in more portable formats; and the other path is to produce a mechanism that aligns user-owned resources to particular community standards. While most of the current data portability efforts focus on the first path, I am going to discuss my thoughts on the second path.

The key of resource portability is the switch of ownership over resources instead of the deployment of resources. For instance, when a user make a comment on a blog, who should own this comment, the commenter or the blog owner? By default, the current mechanism is that the one who owns the physical storage space of the comment owns the comment. Most of the time, the comment belongs to the blog owner. Many other times, however, the comment may actually be owned by a third party who provides the space for the blog owner. In very few extreme cases, the commenter actually owns the comment. This reality theoretically contradicts to the comment logic that the one who makes the comment (i.e. the commenter) should be the unquestionable owner. Will the improvement of portability of comments solve this problem? Not precisely since the problem is not really about whether the comment is portable but it is about who should own this piece of user-generated resources.

The fundamental assumption underneath the current environment indeed has no problem. That is, the one who owns the physical storage of a resource should be granted the ownership of the resource. Following this assumption, we need to let any Web user have a piece of Web spaces that can store their “owned” resources. In our previous example, whenever a Web user leaves a comment in a remote site, the commenter should actually store this comment in his own space instead of the remote site. By contrast, the remote blog site should be added an RSS-type feed that brings the comments to the proper location. This mechanism allows the ownership of the comment clearly belonging to the commenter, and the commenter has the full control of updating or even deleting the comments based on their own interest. At the same time, the commenters might be granted an option to leave their comment out of their own spaces (i.e. storing them on remote site as it is done currently). By choosing this option, the commenters agrees giving up their ownership over their generated resources (the comments in our example).

A center component in this described environment is the home-spaces (comparing to homepages) of the Web users. By storing the resources in their home-spaces, Web users exclaim the ownership over these resources. When users connect to a registered site (i.e. be willing to participating to the social activities in the specific community), it is a process of casting the respective stored resources in home-spaces to the community convention. This process, as I name it, is Automatic Character Switch (ACtS).”

9 Comments Owning our own data: is there a technical solution?

  1. AvatarSepp Hasslberger

    Interesting concept.

    Just yesterday I found myself copying comments I made on a certain site to at least have a copy for future reference.

    I agree that commenters should have control over (be able to edit and even delete) their comments left at different sites.

    The concept of a user space seems a good way to go.

  2. AvatarMushin J. Schilling

    The concept is interesting. It doesn’t take into account that comments are always part of a conversation, though.
    Let’s say that I (M.) have a blog (Bl) to which A. comments (CA), to which then I comment again.
    Now let’s say that A. is a smart-ass and doesn’t like my response very much; if he could edit it later (without that edit showing clearly) he could make my comment look really awful etc.
    And this is just one scenario that shows that we cannot look at conversations on the net as ‘property’ in the old sense.

    I think we might start to think about more intelligent browsers which keep track of all my entries all over the net, informs me of possible comments to it, changes and deletions, and maybe also writes all of that to my own site as a failsafe; maybe with an agreed upon seal of sorts that would show me as originator of that messages/entry and the copyright provisions I have made for that ‘piece’.

  3. AvatarSepp Hasslberger

    I think that Ning resolved the issue pretty well. If you haven’t heard of them, there is a p2pfoundation group to check them out:

    [email protected]

    They allow you 15 minutes, within which time you can edit your comment multiple times. Simply clicking on the published comment itself will bring back the editing window and allow you to correct any mistakes. You can also cancel the comment after that time, if you so decide.

    There is also a neat feature, a link at the bottom of displayed comments, that allows you to visualize the back-and-forth of comments between two people on one page, as a string, even if they are placed in different pages.

    Seems like things are evolving…

  4. AvatarMushin J. Schilling

    Dear Sepp,

    I can’t see how Ning resolved any of the issues we have been discussing here.

    Being able to edit what I said for 15 minutes after posting can also be done on zaadz, for instance.
    Seeing the back and forth between two people is a very first step in the direction… but nothing in the direction of people actually ‘owning’ their comments.

  5. AvatarSepp Hasslberger

    Dear Mushin,

    you’re right, I should not have said “resolved”. They took a first step in that direction by allowing threading, making comments editable and making it possible to cancel comments even after the editing period.

    Have you seen this effort at providing a user-centered space as a layer above the current web:


  6. AvatarChinarut

    Wow – this post that was just tweeted is really dated but admittedly, still a relevant conversation.

    What has been built since Shiftspace? This technology was discontinued 3 years ago (2011)

    it does sound like you are talking about what David Siegel, author of Pull, champions:


    Excuse the pitchy nature of the link – I wanted to share something recent (2014), has references to both his video and book, and of you’re bought into the vision, chip in 🙂

  7. AvatarPatrick Anderson

    Data requires atoms for storage, transport and expression.

    Those who control atoms, control the data hosted upon those atoms.

    Therefore, we must own atoms that host our data or forever be at the mercy of those who own those atoms.

    We already pay all the costs required to own atoms, but do not have control because we do not know how to own that property properly.

    Soon we will realize we can buy and own the datacenters needed to host our data for the sole purpose of receiving the results.

    But we cannot do so in solitary confinement, we must do so in groups or crowds, and under a specific set of constraints similar in purpose to the GNU GPL, but for the physical realm.

    We must forge a legally-binding social contract that will be the PropertyLeft of Property Rights ~ as the GNU GPL is a CopyLeft of CopyRights…

    Here are 4 rules I have discovered for this GNU General Public Law:

    Profit is the Payer’s Investment.
    Product is the Investor’s return.
    Promise is a Worker’s Investment.
    Secession is every owner’s right.

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