Sunday, December 7, 2008

Inventing the Information Valet

I spent a few days in Columbia, Missouri this past week, in the company of 50 or so people gathered by Bill Densmore at the spanking-new Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. Bill is there on a Reynolds Fellowship, with the mission of inventing something he calls the Information Valet (which I call InfoValet for short). Our collective purpose at this gathering was to help him "blueprint" InfoValet.

Bill has been chewing my ear about this and other projects for years, but I must say that before getting to Columbia, I could not have explained the InfoValet concept to anyone (despite my perhaps intelligent-sounding post about it some time ago). As it turned out, neither could most of the other attendees at the conference. We came from a variety of backgrounds. Only five conferees currently work for newspaper-publishing companies, and a few others did so in the past. The rest were drawn from technology, law, new media, consulting, academics and electronic commerce. Which is to say, it was the right mix to brainstorm solutions to the ambitious challenge Bill was posing.

InfoValet is perhaps best described and understoood by looking at it from the point of view of each of its stakeholder components. Once operational, it will be a networked set of content providers, content consumers/web users, and commercial content providers/advertisers, linked by means of tools and technology managed by the fourth component, the Information Valet system itself. Like the proverbial elephant being manually examined by a group of blind men, here's how it might variously appear, fully realized, to these stakeholders:

Content consumers/web users:
  • Would register their personal data via InfoValet and would, in a secure system, retain complete control over who could access that information.
  • By doing this, they would also gain the convenience and security of not having to enter a raft of data over and over each time they register at another site to access information or make purchases. Their personal information would reside in only one place on the web.
  • In return for allowing selective access to their personal data, they would gain two important benefits: (1) access to information more tailored to their demographics, needs and interests, and (2) a system of rewards in the form of cash or points based on their web usage and exposure to advertising content. These rewards would be greater if they are willing to share, selectively, a larger amount of personal information with advertisers for targeting purposes.
Content providers including newspaper web sites:
  • Would act as portals through which content consumers initially sign up for InfoValet. As such they could gain a share of future transactions, including ad-viewing rewards, associated with individuals they have signed up--even when those users are elsewhere on the web.
  • Would be able to sell and host advertising targeted more precisely at site visitors by means of InfoValet registrations
Commercial content providers/advertisers:
  • Would benefit from more efficient, better targeted ways of advertising to InfoValet registered consumers, published through "trusted nodes"--local brands through which consumers have signed up for infoValet
  • Could send new, more welcome forms of commercial content to InfoValet consumers
If that has you sufficiently confused, here's the conference's consensus "executive summary mission statement" description of InfoValet:
A permission-based ecosystem assuring privacy that allows you, in a trustworthy way, to share personal information so that content providers and partners can create a structure to provide you with content, applications and incentives tailored to you and your needs.
While a system like this will not necessarily save newspaper publishers (because, for one thing, it will take some time to gain traction), it has the potential to help save journalism by enabling online news publishing at a different scale. While the New York Times could be an InfoValet network member, so can a blogger or micro-local news site, and each can benefit proportionately to their traffic and content value to advertisers and consumers.

If this description makes sense and whets your appetite, here's a set of links where you can learn more:
  • Bill Densmore's Information Valet Project blog
  • The December 3-5, 2008 InfoValet conference wiki. This includes a great deal of detail on the discussion, alternatives considered, the consensus project outline, and next steps toward an actionable business plan
  • The Information Card Foundation site--this system, presented at the conference by its executive director, Charles Andres, is seen as forming the secure customer registration and data protection system for InfoValet.
  • Blog post on the conference, and further thoughts, by Chuck Peters, CEO of Gazette Communications, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
  • Liveblog of the conference set up by Chuck.
Stay tuned, when Bill has more to talk about, I'll be talking about it.


Anonymous said...

Martin -

Thanks for your distillation of our hours together. I am still thinking of this effort, and the other necessary components, including how we create information in the first instance so that this service can be of maximum benefit for those who participate.


Elaine said...

"Info valet" sounds a lot like "trusted local infomediary," something John Hagel and Marc Singer describe in their book Net Worth. Any mention of that at the conference?

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