Tag Archives: valet

What we mean by “valet” — a little explanation

NEW: “From Paper to Persona white paper”

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.


  • 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.

Mark Anderson’s “concierge” — is this a role for America’s news organizations?

Mark Anderson of Strategic News Service (http://www.tapsns.com) gives this scenario in a Dec. 29, 2008 interview with the BBC’s Peter Day. It was part of
an interview on technology predictions for 2009. Why can’t the nation’s news organizations learn how to play this “concierge” role?

This quote start at 17 mins., 45 seconds into the interview on this MP3 (DOWNLOAD MP3).

“The function here is pretty interesting. It is not such much that the technology has changed, although voice recognition is an important part of this. It’s that people will be integrating services for you personally. Instead of you just buying one at a time. Today on your Apple iPhone one app tells you where is the Italian restaurant nearest to me. Another tells me, ‘Where am I?’ Another app can tell you how to rent a car. And so on.

“But what I think’s going to happen now, is there is going to be an assistant — let’s call him an assistant — who knows who you are, a lot about you. Knows profiles of your use. So let’s say Peter you fly to New York and you might fly in three ways. You might come in a business visit, a personal visit or a family visit . . . so you tell your assistant, ‘I’m going to New York on he following day and I’m going to be there for four days and this is a business visit. And that’s all you have to say. And the concierge service here will notice that, they know what . . . that means Hertz not National rental, that means this hotel not that hotel, I know his requent flyer numbers, I’ll make the airline reservations, I’ll also use that for the hotel, I know that Peter is an opera fan, I’ll get tickets for the opera and so on . . . this is a machine . . . integrated personalized services.”

SOURCE: Mark Anderson of Strategic News Service, interviewed on BBC’s Global Business
with Peter Day of Peter Day’s World of Business.

In 2005, Fortune editor, Battelle, forsaw paying readers to view ads

Editors and reporters who make a living from journalism are in despair that advertising is disaggregating from the traditional platforms that supported their calling.  But isn’t there opportunity, too? The newspaper and broadcaster makes money by putting ads in a platform (print or channel) where viewers/readers congregate. Why not make money by bringing the consumers to the advertisements, whereever they reside? To do that, you have to compensate the reader/viewer for looking at the ad. If you own the user relationship, and you create the flow of compensation to the viewer, you can take a cut. 

Paul Maidment, the executive editor of Forbes magazine, understood this well when he commented in an interview Feb. 25, 2005 during “On the Media” with Brook Gladstone: “What will happen next is that audience will say: ‘If you’re going to sell us to advertisers, then you’ve got to pay us. And that’s the real long-term challenge that I think newspapers are going to be facing.’ ” 

At Federated Media, John Battelle, writing in 2005, also understood the power of allowing ads to find their own users.

Think opportunity, not challenge. Why not lead the readers to the ads, whereever they are, and take a cut of the compensation the readers receive? Or, more directly, why not lead the reader/viewer into a relationship with a sponsor or product vendor, and take a cut for doing so. Are there ethical issues with that, so long as the role is transparent and disclosed?