Jeremie Miller is a revered figure among developers, best known for building XMPP, the open source protocol that powers most of the Instant Messaging apps in the world. Now Miller has raised funds and is building a team that will develop software aimed directly at the future of the web.
Called The Locker Project, the open source service will capture what's called exhaust data from users' activities around the web and offline via sensors, put it firmly in their own possesion and then allow them to run local apps that are built to leverage their data. Miller's three person company, Singly, will provide the corporate support that the open source project needs in order to remain viable. I'm very excited about this project; Miller's backgrounds, humble brilliance and vision for app-enabling my personal data history is very exciting to me.
Here's how The Locker Project will work. Users will be able to download the data capture and storage code and run it on their own server, or sign up for hosted service - like WordPress.org and WordPress.com. Then the service will pull in and archive all kinds of data that the user has permission to access and store into the user's personal Locker: Tweets, photos, videos, click-stream, check-ins, data from real-world sensors like heart monitors, health records and financial records like transaction histories.
Where data extraction is made easy already by APIs or feeds, Lockers will pull it that way. Where the data is appealing and the Locker community is motivated to do so, data connectors will be built.
Searching those data archives has been a technical challenge for many other startups, but the Locker team says it is trivial for them - because they only have to build search to scale across your personal data and the data you've been given permission to access by members of your network.
Seach and sharing across a user's network will be powered by Miller's eagerly-anticipated open source P2P project called Telehash, described as "a new wire protocol for exchanging JSON in a real-time and fully decentralized manner, enabling applications to connect directly and participate as servers on the edge of the network."
The team was not yet willing to disclose the identities of its investors on the record.
Apps on Your Platform
Building a developer ecosystem is going to be the team's biggest priority. What will apps look like in the Locker ecosystem? They'll be pieces of software run locally on top of your personal locker and across any of your network connections that give them permission.
The app model is a compelling one and provides a logical source of revenue for Locker and Singly. Presumably they will monetize sales of apps.
The team is collecting video testimonials from industry luminaries about what kinds of apps they'd like to see built on top of their data. Singly won first prize in the startup competition at the O'Reilly Strata conference and Tim O'Reilly himself later gave the project a shout-out in a panel on data ownership.
The team behind the project say they fantasize about apps like:
- food recommendations in neighborhoods they've visited from restaurants their friends have checked in at
- a newsfeed filtering out what their click-stream history shows they've already read
- pre-diagnosis of possible medical conditions based on personal medical and other history.
Your personal data will likely be of interest on its own, as a type of diary, but it's probably going to be much more interesting and useful when cross-referenced with other sets of data. Those other sets of data will provide context, surfacing correlations and patterns that would otherwise be invisible. Recommendations, personalization, alerts, benchmarks, social and self assessment: the types of value adds that can be built on top of a good data set are just beginning to be explored. And there are few data sets as interesting, to you, than you.
Part of a Big Picture
Kaliya Hamlin, long-time online identity expert and now Executive Director of the Personal Data Ecosystem Collaborative Consortium, is enthusiastic. Hamlin says Miller's project is "a great development from the perspective of this emerging market/ecosystem happening. Others are looking at getting into the personal data store market as well, personal.com is coming to market for example, services businesses too - this is really happening."
In a blog post on the sector in general earlier this week, Hamlin put it this way:
"A nascent but growing industry of personal data storage services is emerging. These strive to allow individuals to collect their own personal data to manage it and then give permissioned access to their digital footprint to the business and services they choose--businesses they trust to provide better customization, more relevant search results, and real value for the user from their data."
She also expects the personal data market to become subject to extensive regulation soon.
Miller says that some ad industry people he's spoken with hope that an independent system for data stores under the control of consumers themselves will help create an atmosphere concerning liability more amenable to innovation on top of that data than exists today. Advertisers are interested of course, but far more app developers will likely seek to build on top of that data once it's accessible and properly permissioned.
The people behind The Locker Project will have no shortage of issues to tackle trying to take a distributed, open-source, app-centric approach to leadership in an emerging era of data. It wouldn't be the first time that Jeremie Miller has managed to change the world though.