In the white paper “From Paper to Persona,” we use the term: “information valet” or “infovalet.” “Valet” may not yet bet the perfect metaphor, it’s the best we’ve come up with to describe the change necessary for news organizations to morph and grow in the new news ecology of information abundance.
We don’t mean the car parker. We mean the king’s valet or concierge, the helping person who knows your interests and requirements and just quietly takes care of them. The term “information agent” was popular a
decade ago, but to me that sounds too much like a spy, and with the increased concern about privacy it seems the wrong metaphor now. And concierge, which might be better, is too long.
Now, we refer to an entity that helps people manage their use of digital information. The help might include:
- Controlling access to an individual’s personal demographic or preference information
- Curating and personalizing the storage, receipt or exchange of information
- Paying for access to information by subscription, per click or per item.
- Receiving value for viewing or accepting commercial offers, such as advertising or reward points.
Real-world analogies to the role of the “infovalet” might be to an agent, broker or retailer, with the important attribute that the InfoValet’s economic interests are principally aligned with the individual consumer or buyer of services, rather than with the seller.
However, an infovalet might have different roles for difference transactions. For example, a news organization operating as an infovalet to readers, viewers or users might be solely their curator or agent for finding trustworthy information and services on web or mobile platforms. However, the news organization might promote its own content to its own users.
The ideas of agency, and economic interest are not clear cut. A retailer, for example, might market Product A more heavily than competing Product B because it received a special wholesale buy of Product A allowing it to realize more profits vs. selling Product B. In an open market for digital information, with lots of competing InfoValets, users might be expected to favor those whose practices are most transparent and aligned with the user’s interests.
I first began using the term infovalet in 2007 and included it in a spring, 2008 fellowship proposal to the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, writing, in part:
These valets will compete across geographic and topical spheres with search, advice, community, research, linking, hosting, data storage and other services. They will compete to be best at meeting the consumer’s diverse information needs within communities defined by individual users. Information resources will not typically be owned by the valet. Rather, the valet will be compensated for finding, shaping and referring them to the consumer, much as a retailer aggregates and merchandises for wholesalers.
Starting the RJI fellowship, we defined the intention of the Information Valet Project. Participants in “Blueprinting the Information Valet Economy,” in December 2008, added some depth to the idea and, with the help of consultant Steve Mott, came up with a consensus summary of the envisioned service:
A computerized, community-based ecosystem that enables consumers to opt-in to convenient, secure and private information exchange with trusted providers of online content, products and services where the relationship value of the consumer is captured and married to optimized positioning of seller offerings.
- Enrollment/registration process that screens (and protects) users
- Creation of secure credential with user-set privacy levels
- Downloadable(?) single sign-on capability for participating sites
- User-created and updatable profiles of preferences, interests and demographics
- Certification of trusted providers and participants
- Ability to match dynamically-specified buyer interests with customized seller offerings
- Transparent payment capability with user-specified ways to pay
- User-defined rewards that can be collected among user-specified provider participants
- Visa-like payment engine/network/capability to slice-and-dice payments, establish and enforce rules, handle problems, service customers, provide reports, administer licenses/IP, etc.
In August, 2009, when I spoke in Prague on a State Department program, I asked through an interpreter what people thought about “valet.” The feeling was that it was as good as anything else, even translated into Czech.
It does require perhaps a little explaining but that’s because it’s a new construct about the role of news organizations.
Historically, editors thought of themselves as either delivering what readers needed to read or what they wanted to read, where want was defined in a crassly mass market “if it bleeds it leads” kind of way.
This is something new. It’s about taking the time, and developing the technology, to listen carefully and learn from individual reader/viewer/user interests and preferences and then equally carefully matching those with useful, trustworthy information. Converging with some of these ideas are the work of experts in the field of network identity, security and authentication.
KEY EFFORTS SUPPORT INTERNET IDENTITY
- The Berkman Center on the Internet and Society has for several years supported “Project VRM,” an initiative of Doc Searls, a former advertising-agency executive and Linux software trade-publication editor who has been arguing that Internet commerce must switch from being controlled by vendors and called CRM, for “Customer Relationship Management,” to VRM, or “Vendor Relationship Management” controlled by consumers. Key questions: Can consumers do that themselves, managing their privacy and persona and extracting value for them.? Or do they need a new kind of agent to help them? In February, 2011, Searls had submitted a proposal to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for support to commercialize his “EmanciPay” microaccounting system. It would allow consumers to make offers to purchase on the web on their own terms and prices – and vendors would then decided if and how to respond. The agents who would help consumers to make offers and manage their personal are termed by Searls “The Fourth Party.”
- Searls, Kaliya Hamlin, Mary Ruddy and Drummond Reed are behind the Identity Commons, and the related Internet Identity Workshop – ongoing meetings in Silicon Valley among researchers and technologists working on trust and identity frameworks for the web. The Identity Commons has received some backing from major companies, including Microsoft Corp.
These groups, as well as entrepreneurs like Paul Trevithick, a Wellesley Hills, Mass., chairman of the Information Card Foundation, have been advising the Obama administration as the U.S. Commerce Department determines what role the government might play in fostering user identity on the web. The agency is balancing both privacy policies with an apparent desire to preside over the adoption of digital identities issues by the private sector but compatible with the governnment’s needs.