Author Archives: Bill Densmore

Report: News orgs must help users with identity, privacy; consider non-profit collaboration to share tech, users, content

BRANSON, Mo., Aug. 4, 2011 — A non-profit collaboration to share technology, users and content could help news organizations find new revenues and become better at serving the public, according to a report by a Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute researcher at the University of Missouri.

The report, “From Paper to Persona: Managing Privacy and Information Overload; Sustaining Journalism in the Attention Age,” was published on Thursday and presented to the annual meeting of the Newspaper Association Managers Inc., meeting in Missouri.  It’s the result of more than two years of study by a Reynolds fellow and consultant, Bill Densmore, a career journalist, publisher and entrepreneur.

“As news and the economics of newspapers come unglued, what will sustain journalism?” Densmore asks. “The answer involves a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is how to do a better job of helping the public find knowledge they need, amid a glut so huge that the scarce human commodity is now attention, not information. The Internet provides the opportunity to do so.”

The report advocates forming an industry collaborative,  tentatively called the “Information Trust Association” by Densmore. It would define and foster a common technology playing field that respects consumer privacy, and makes rules for the exchange of both content and users’ identity information.

“Such a system might allow news originators of any size – possibly including bloggers – to exchange payments among each other and with public users for news information and sponsored material,” says Densmore.

Two thirds of the 55-page paper chronicles what Densmore says is the end of mass markets as a viable strategy for selling the advertising that has largely supported American journalism.  Instead, he says, the Internet is increasingly able to deliver commercial messages targeted to specific users’ interests and profiles – or personas.

As a result, the paper says, publishers and broadcasters have to learn how to use technology to become expert at personalizing information services. And that, says Densmore, requires them to help consumers with their privacy and personal information. They might help users to earn rewards, or pay for specialized information.

The last third of the paper argues that the Information Trust Association is the best way to help with this change. The idea is potentially controversial because the U.S. news industry has not typically cooperated on technology standards,  instead being buffeted and shrunk by services originated elsewhere such as Craig’s List, eBay, Facebook or Google.

“The point of the Information Trust Association would be to foster collaboration that increases convenience and choice for consumers,  allowing multiple service providers to compete on a common playing field,” says Densmore.  The paper offers nine examples of industries where this has occurred, including railroads, cable TV, the electric grid, electrical equipment, banking and stock exchange, and the Internet itself.

The genesis of the paper was Densmore’s 2008-2009 “Information Valet Project” fellowship at Reynolds.

“Our challenge is no longer how to access information, but how to manage our time and attention amid the glut. News organizations have the opportunity to move from being paid to deliver one-format products (broadcasts, print stories, to providing trusted multimedia, personalized services with unique insight, knowledge, curation, and aggregation. They can help users manage their privacy and identity — their persona,” says Densmore.

The white paper is now available to view and download online. Rich with more than 230 live links to additional resources and reading, “From Paper to Persona” can be found HERE.   A subsequent report, “From Persona to Payment” (2015) is found HERE.

To comment, join a discussion or learn more about next steps for the Information Trust Association idea, read Densmore’s blog post at:

Response to Gillmor: With Facebook and Google+ now dueling for your ‘persona’ — is it time for the Information Trust Exchange?

Arizona State journalism professor and Knight chair holder Dan Gillmor is calling for an effort to “federate” identity management on the web:

“What I’d like to see, and would support with my money, is a collection of open-source, community-driven, federated services that achieved the same goals without putting our data and content into the hands of a few large and increasingly powerful companies. I suspect I’m not alone in wanting this. Are there enough of us to matter? And if so, are developers listening?”

He wrote that as the last paragraph to a blog post at The Guardian (U.K.) entitled: “Google+ forces us to question who owns our digital identity: Are enthusiastic users of social networking sites giving up too much control?”

In the post, Gillmor warns that putting too much of your “persona” — data about your friends, your “likes,” your interests and demographics — in a large social-networking service may be handing over too much control over your privacy without much in return. He’s correct, and it’s a key ongoing topic of the Information Valet Project. It’s also a key challenge addressed by our call for the formation of a global Information Trust Association, which would help establish protocols and opt-in business rules for trust, privacy, identity and information commerce on the web. I replied:


Responding to your last paragraph: In a more detailed post I’m sure you would have mentioned Doc Searls’ ProjectVRM work at the Berkman Center at Harvard University. Broadly, what we need is an infrastructure that supports multiple places where you can lodge your “persona” (demographic and personal data), and which vouch for you as you use resources on the web. Today Facebook Connect is the default commercial identity provider for the web. Clearly G+ is making a play to be No. 2, and the fact that Facebook blocked it is at one level a welcome sign of competition.

What we need is for there to be dozens, hundreds, thousands of identity service providers — so that users can choose the one they are most comfortable with. These could be banks, telcoms, ISPs, publishers, affinity groups or even new enterprises (such as or formed for this purpose. The key issue is that they be willing — and able — to cross-authenticate their users so that they are silos, but silos which are unwalled from the user perspect.

We’re in the early stages of a four-party approach to trust, privacy, identity and information commerce — users, the user agent who helps with identity, the outfits that rely on the trust provided by the user agent (retail and content websites, eventually health-care providers perhaps) and a fourth party — the service which authenticates all of this activity.

The fourth party — the authenticator — best not be a for-profit or government entity. I’ve sketched out an idea for a global Information Trust Association which starts to get at a possible solution.  And the white paper details the idea.

Yesterday, in Washington, D.C., a group of about 15 people met to work on a response to the Obama administration’s call for a private-sector let approach to Internet federated identity. They were responding to the National Strategy for Trusted identities in Cyberspace.  The government effort may be a catalyst for the work you are asking about.

— bill densmore

DC progressive think-tank strategist warns PEG-access TV operators of “uber” radio spectrum policy battles

Posted by Bill Densmore

PITTSBURGH, Penn. — Cable public-access station operators were given a strong dose of media policy on Thursday at their annual convention as a Washington, D.C. think-tank leader urged them to join an “urber” political battle playing out among telecommunications companies, regulators and public advocates.

Corporations are working to control the public airwaves and radio spectrum so no one else can have access to it, said Sascha Meinrath, who heads the open-technology initiative of the New America Foundation, a DC think tank. The telecoms would like to have all radio spectrum usage rights auctioned to the highest bidder, Meinrath said, a view that he said is being embraced by the Obama administration.

The problem with that approach, Meinrath told members of the Alliance for Community Media at their annual convention in Pittsburgh, is that it doesn’t mean the limited radio spectrum — used by wireless, radio, TV, public safety, Internet broadband, military and other purposes — is allocated in the public interest. “Auctioning to the highest bidder doesn’t take into effect network effect, or the externalities or the opportunity cost,” said Meinrath. “And it leaves out non-profit community and participatory media.”

He said when spectrum is auctioned, the government “gets a quick influx of money and then a long period of pain,” Meinrath told some 250 directors of “PEG access” operations, adding: “We need to acknowledge the systematic problem of spectrum availability.”

 By one measure, the United States, he said, is 15th among developed nations in broadband penetration, down from No. 1 about 10 years ago. By another measure the U.S. is in 28th place. He said the United States is 40th out of 40 nations in progress toward building a knowledge-based information economy. “We are struggling to deliver 10 megabits (Internet access speed),” he said. “Hong Kong is about to offer 1 gigabits for about $26 a month.”

Meinrath said U.S. “ineptness and stagnation” in media policy today offers opportunity for tomorrow. He cited four initiatives that bear watching:

 First, the e-rate service should be restructured so that lines requisitioned can then be split and shared by the purchaser. The telecom industry wants every purchase to be unsharable.

Second, he said the $10 billion to $15 billion telephone universal service fund can’t now be legally used to build out broadband (rather than legacy phone) infrastructure. He says that should be changed.

Third, the FCC should adopt regulations opening up the low-frequency TV band (superior because low frequencies pass through buildings and over terrain better than the current wireless spectrum), for public use.

Finally, PEG access operators and others should help mobilize grass-routes support for telecom initiatives favored by Meinrath and others, to counteract hundreds of telecom lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

Corporations are “encapsulating” new media, Meinrath said, by developing propreitary approaches. “This is reverberating on the hardware, software, infrastructure side of things.” There is no check and balance on that, he said.  “The Internet is a commons that we all benefit from,” said Meinrath, and it should be viewed like other “commons” developed by public-sphere institutions such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and rivers, or universal telephone service in rural America, or our system of government-financed highways. “And we have nothing of the sort when it comes to broadband media.”

ACM’s meeting in Pittsburgh includes a track on how PEG access stations — largely supported by fees levied by government on cable companies — can begins to foster and build citizen journalism operations. Other general themes including how to fundraise, social media, moving beyond television to Internet programming, and details on the national broadband planning process underway in Washington.


Trust, identity, commerce: Inseparable building blocks of a free market for digital information

Trust, identity and commerce –they’re inseparable building blocks of a free market for digital information. The Journalism (or Information) Trust Association proposal brings together three vital threads. Unless they are woven together, the Internet will fail to embody the best — or at least most useful — relationships of the physical world. READ MORE.