Indra’s Net

I’m fascinated with identity, connection, and the importance of right relationship.  In thinking about interconnectedness, images of diamonds, whose faces are all facing other diamonds’ faces (so that the whole looks like intricately fractured glass, or densely clustered bubbles, or cells) often come to mind for me.  When I speak of these images, because of my emphasis on the reflection/exchange going on at/through each surface, Indra’s Net often comes to mind for others.  It’s a nice image to share.thiele_leslie_indra_midas


Indra is the king of the Vedic deities.  Over his palace, it was said, hangs a net that stretches in all directions to infinity.  At each node of the net, where the gossamer strands intersect, hangs a beautiful jewel.   And each facet of every jewel provides a reflection of all the other jewels.  The ancient sages insisted that the jewels hanging from Indra’s net are not enduring substances.  They do not have an essential nature.  Rather, each jewel is the manifestation of relationships of interdependence.  Each jewel exists only as the cavalcade of reflections to which it contributes.


All the strands of Indra’s net are connected.  Sever one, and the whole is weakened.  This is the upshot of interdependence.  But the jewels on Indra’s net also mirror each other.  They are, in the end, nothing but the aggregation of such reflections.  Relationship, not an individual essence, is their core reality.”

– Leslie Paul Thiele, who teaches political theory and serves as Director of Sustainability Studies at the University of Florida, speaking in this ROROTOKO interview.

Trusting the Media

Hypothesis 1:

A social network, a B2B network, CRM software, the press, etc. 

is only useful to the degree

that we, the users, 

trust the neutrality of the medium itself.

For example:

  • storing sensitive legal/medical/business information centrally (encrypted or not), or e-mailing it (unencrypted), tempts hacking.
  • what we do/don’t post says how we want to be seen by our connections, any future employers, and by the world at large.
  • “Our big, global volunteer community (the people who make Wikipedia) have always felt that advertising would have a major effect on our ability to stay neutral, and ultimately ads would weaken the readers’ overall confidence in the articles they are reading.” – Wikipedia FAQ


Hypothesis 2:

Any medium

is only trustworthy to the degree

that we, the users,

enjoy control, ownership, and autonomy.


For example, Protunitya B2B application built on the Agency platform, featuring

  • zero centralized storage + zero Xeroxes (unlike email) = zero reward for hacks
  • reputation-tied fact validation, the right to be forgotten, and complete control of who sees what
  • users as owners of our data, and of the medium itself



Privacy AND Transparency, BOTH

Like I said in my previous post, many of the conversations around Privacy and Transparency juxtapose the two in a dichotomy, and there’s good reason for that.


However, digital information is a lot like other information: it’s not EITHER public OR private.  It has an infinite variety of in-between states: digital information is compartmentalized based on who has been entrusted with it.  Incentivizing trustworthy behavior, and making the publication of sensitive information something that requires conscious effort, is not just a legal (top-down) struggle.  It’s a responsibility we ALL have toward each other at one level or another.  Any business making desirable, responsible behavior the easy and natural behavior online, is as much in the social ‘medium’ business as they are in the social ethics business.


If you’d be willing, I have 3 questions I have to ask before I’ve built up properly toward a punchline that may just leave you inspired.  That’s my goal.  (How’s my driving?  Please comment.)   To imagine the digital world worked more like the real world…

  • What if your identity to anyone you relate to online, and their identity to you, could be as unique as the relationship itself?
  • What if your digital information were not lumped into self-describing ‘profile information,’ and, instead, it were atomized into redundant, equally true, different-looking bits of information (e.g. DOB / birthday / horoscope / whether or not you’re over 21)  –each appropriate to share with different contacts, who you’ve granted permission to use the information for reasons unique to the relationship?
  • What if transparent access to any individual bit of your information were something you could decide to only grant someone insofar it’s relevant to the relationship?


If this were the case, information could be shared directly on the basis that it is relevant and valuable to the relationship.  (For credibility, of course, the data snippets should each be verified; no lying.)

I hope you follow my line of reasoning in these questions, and add it up with my previous post… and come one step further with me, to taste my excitement about a world in which what I tell you about myself stays between you & me, and what I tell you about my neighbor requires her approval, first.


What if we all had the ability to not share information permanently… but to merely validate information for a period of time; merely grant temporary access to a digital ‘proof’ of a tiny sliver of your identity at a time…
and what if doing this, and retracting that permitted access again when it’s obsolete to the relationship,
were as easy as, say, dragging and dropping an appointment on a calendar?


Welcome to Agency.

Dichotomy-alert: Privacy and Transparency

Princeton’s Omar Wasow broaches a subject deserving of more than 2 minutes of attention:


@owasow was interviewed for The Vibrant Data Project by Juliette Powell

Many of the conversations around Privacy and Transparency juxtapose the two in a dichotomy, and there’s good reason for that.  However, like Wasow, I’m imagining a world in which Privacy and Transparency are not mutually exclusiveTransparency is a powerful tool for holding each and all of us (not only governments) accountable, AND  Privacy is a valuable tool for holding each and all of us (citizens who are also civic servants, and those who are not… again – for holding each and all of us) accountable to our conscience, so we can ask for help, discuss touchy subjects, and serve one another of our own volition, without fear of repercussion.


There are ways to have appropriate measures of both privacy and transparency.  Possibility lies in the sophistication of the medium.  The Agency platform resolves this and other dichotomies.

IBM’s top 5 innovation predictions “The city will help you live in it”

See previous post, or original article for the other 5 IBM predictions.

IBM predicts that cities will digest information freely provided by citizens to place resources where they are needed. Mobile devices and social engagement will help citizens strike up a conversation with their city leaders. Such a concept is already in motion in Brazil, where IBM researchers are working with a crowdsourcing tool that people can use to report accessibility problems, via their mobile phones, to help those with disabilities better navigate urban streets.


The advantage of the ultraconnected city is that feedback is instantaneous and the city government can be much more responsive.


The reporting above was done by Dean Takahashi, found via IBM reveals its top five innovation predictions for the next five years | VentureBeat | Big Data | by Dean Takahashi.


My contributions:

  1. Reminds me of the book Citizenville, by public servant Gavin Newsom with writer Lisa Dickey, “A passionate and well-reasoned argument for a new style of government that would treat the citizenry not just as spectators but as collaborators.”  — Booklist (starred review)
  2. Not all citizens are equally digitally empowered.  I don’t agree with everything said by this ‘journalist,’ but she makes a strong case to NOT use the term “citizen” when we really mean “those in possession of an iPhone.”   I say: when contrasting between those in public office and those they serve, or when contrasting between the official journalistic profession and those they serve, the word citizen may be more appropriate than any other single word, but yes, indeed, it is important to remember that we are contrasting to simplify, and that any assumptions we make now, will only make those of us with monthly data plans “the new bourgeois,” who must, ourselves, remember not pretend to know what all citizens want.  “I want a voice, but I don’t want an iPhone” is, for example, a perfect equal-access topic, and an opinion I happen to hold, personally.  🙂
  3. Citizens collaborate generously and honestly when we know our contributions won’t garner us unwanted attention – when we feel emotionally safe, and sovereign from punishment for exercising our right to free speech, deliberation, and learning through collaborative exploration… AND… our voices only matter as much as they should if we can prove to our representatives that we are real, that we are their constituency, and that we are unique (not digital mirages or some special interest group distraction).  This balance of relative anonymity and transparency is easily accomplished with Agency.
    Here, the head of Biosimilarity, LLC talks about his excitement about building Agents for exactly this capability.

IBM’s top 5 innovation predictions “A digital guardian will protect you online.” | VentureBeat | Big Data | by Dean Takahashi

The reporting below is done by Dean Takahashi.  My only contribution:


In a way that still honors individuals’ right to privacy, and to novel experiences,
Agents are those guardians.


Dean Takahashi
reports on IBM:

We try to get a sense of where the world is going because that focuses where we put our efforts,” Meyerson said. “The harder part is nailing down what you want to focus on. Unless you stick your neck out and say this is where the world is going, it’s hard to you can turn around and say you will get there first. These are seminal shifts. We want to be there, enabling them.”


In a nutshell, IBM says:

  • The classroom will learn you.
  • Buying local will beat online.
  • Doctors will use your DNA to keep you well.
  • A digital guardian will protect you online.
  • The city will help you live in it.


We have multiple passwords, identifications, and devices than ever before. But security across them is highly fragmented. In 2012, 12 million people were victims of identity fraud in the U.S. In five years, IBM envisions a digital guardian that will become trained to focus on the people and items it’s entrusted with. This smart guardian will sort through contextual, situational, and historical data to verify a person’s identity on different devices. The guardian can learn about a user and make an inference about behavior that is out of the norm and may be the result of someone stealing that person’s identity. With 360 degrees of data about someone, it will be much harder to steal an identity.


“In this case, you don’t look for the signature of an attack,” Meyerson said. “It looks at your behavior with a device and spots something anomalous. It screams when there is something out of the norm.”


via IBM reveals its top five innovation predictions for the next five years | VentureBeat | Big Data | by Dean Takahashi.

I want a great distance collaboration tool.

Since I telecommute, I resonate deeply with what Dave Gray shares here:

Think about what it is like to work in close proximity to other team members on a great team. You are aware of who else is in the office. You have a sense of what they are doing and working on. There’s a bit of small talk and chatter. If someone wants to have quiet you can tell because they go into a room to work or find a quiet spot away from the crowd. You can tell when people come and go. If someone is in a good mood, or a bad mood, you know it.

You are aware of all this in an ambient way. You don’t have to think about it. It’s like peripheral vision. It’s effortless.”

Dave Gray via I want a great distance collaboration tool. — Doers Hacks — Medium.
Management consultant. Author, The Connected Company and Gamestorming


Gray’s whole article excites me, because I know a team exactly like the one he refers to at the end.


I think that great collaboration tools will be designed by people who are already working on distributed teams. The team who designs the next great collaboration tool will be a distributed team. Because they will feel the pain every day. They will know what it needs to do. They will use it every day, while they are working on it. They will be impatient.”

I’m impatient. I want this thing.”


Like Gray, I want more, with less distraction.  I don’t know anyone who is satisfied with a CC-culture (where we all get each others’ communications forwarded) with some video-calls sprinkled in here and there.  I am not.  Text and video about the work don’t give me a sense of solidarity while doing the work.  For that, I’ve relied on faith & evidence, but something that has been missing is about to become available.


I think Agency is the platform for the tool Gray & I want.  I want access to all the data he mentions (each of my colleagues’ moods, whereabouts, need for quiet, focus, etc.), but I’d want it to be granted to me, personally, not as a default setting (that would only cause fibbing).  I only want to know about my colleagues to the degree that they trust me, so that I know they share voluntarily, truthfully, in real time.  It should be efficient, but not so efficient it’s a public update.  Let it be like a wink and a nod between individuals, but less mistakable.  Gray’s wish for effortless would be an ultimate, but Facebook-status-updating-/Tweeting-effort would be a tolerable amount of effort for such invaluable rapport.  And I’d want to be able to respond to my colleagues as I would if we were in a room: 1-on-1, or loudly, to the whole room, if I got the clear sense the timing was right.  I’d encourage us to stretch, to stand by the water cooler together, to ask if everything’s alright with a colleague who needs to look up… all in the name of efficiency and focus.  Because when you love your work, colleagues are the best buddies to reflect with, and when you love your colleagues, work is the best place to show up for one another.


Agency has the setup to handle all the data, unique relationships, etc.  I wonder whether Gray imagines us wearing augmented/virtual reality headsets?

Connected in a ‘Push’ World

So many social network, CRM, and VRM offerings are antithetical to what I stand for.

This is not what I mean by desirable redundancy.
This is not what I mean by desirable redundancy.


I’ve been
to tell
about the
+- 80


  • HORRIBLE so-called ‘privacy’ policies (and business plans),
  • few (if any) reputation-building/needs-matching features (which I think are central), and/or
  • we are obligated to fill in ‘profiles’ with TMI, too-little-information, or not the right kind of information to cause us to connect ON LAND more than online.


It doesn’t help that they are just for neighbors, either.  In a ‘push’ world, where info is ‘pushed at’ me, I almost have to separate the realms of my life I wish to bring balance between, so I don’t go overboard in one realm at the expense of another (and, ultimately, my sanity).  Messages from neighbors don’t belong among e-mails from colleagues, or posts and ads on Facebook.  Perhaps the wish for some kind of separate social network is founded in the wish that it is as fun to share with neighbors as it is with other friends, and as easy.  But when I mix them, my autonomy, my focus, is at risk.  And some neighbors will be systematically excluded or at risk because of my (in)action.


Either including neighbors on my social and professional networks, or having special networks just for neighborliness sounds great, but it’s an impractical workaround either way, and a divisive way of looking at things.  What if something better was possible?


I am tired of the ‘push’ world.  I want to ‘pull’ information, ‘check in’ out of thoughtfulness, and choose when to be stimulated by status updates.  If I can hold the reigns in my online life, I can pull, stop everything, and focus on what matters to me in the ways that best fit that moment – and support my goals.  I want to honor that niggle to check in on a friend, without being distracted by ads and blurbs by others… unless I loosen the reigns and let my friends’ status updates ‘lead me’ on purpose, let my network trot.  And both modes are possible, believe me.


I look forward to these modes on Agency.  Currently, pull is available, and if you pull from enough contacts and sensors all at once, you get a juicy, steeped-in-your-network experience.  I look forward to the different setups I get to design myself, as a non-programmer user: setups to deliver me different data sets for different moods.  Yippee!


I’m impatient to help my dream (and the dreams of even the most digitally vulnerable of my neighbors) come true.

What I Stand For

I do my utmost to foster resiliency and response-ability.  I’ll give you some context as an example.


When some neighbors wondered why I didn’t network them all through Facebook, or told me they thought an online social network just for neighbors might help me, I knew they didn’t understand what I stand for.  I used to tell them one of two things.  To the Facebook suggestion, I said: “Because I know who will have to change their name (again!) and move house when you post a picture of them where their stalker can see.”  …to the DIY network, I say:  “I started one just for neighbors, but it was a virtual ghost town: the information you really want isn’t in profiles.  It’s in YOU, it’s IN ME, in how humans think to connect each other.  Profiles and key words are not how we connect.  It’s reputation, creativity, daring to ask for what we wish for.”  But I was shooting their wishes down.  I was not telling them what I wish for, too.  Very deeply:


I wish for an online reflection of life that allows for a quality of engagement that I feel only 1-on-1 conversation offers, yet allows for great things to be shared with permission from all who (perhaps accidentally) co-created it.  I wish for an online reflection of the experience of ‘discovery’ I find in making personal connections.  I wish for an online reflection of our desire to buy less, panic less, worry less, and DO more, BE more, MEAN more — together.  That’s why I interview neighbors intimately, and secretly design a social networking tool to reflect the love I feel, the insight I gain, the inspiration I get in the presence of others – and not only the ‘facts’ and ‘keywords’ I dare boast about myself.  I am nothing without the context of real life, impacted or observed.


I do my utmost to foster resiliency and response-ability.  Fostering resiliency means applauding redundancy, building trust through direct connection, removing bottlenecks, and learning together.  Fostering Response-ability means making it easier for all of us to reliably sense & respond to one another – in moderation – on humanizing scales.



Enter Agency.

On Agency & Technology: a blog

So many social network, CRM, and VRM offerings are antithetical to what I stand for.  I do my utmost to foster resiliency and response-ability.  Fostering resiliency means applauding redundancy, building trust through direct connection, removing bottlenecks, and learning together.  Fostering Response-ability means making it easier for all of us to reliably sense & respond to one another – in moderation – on humanizing scales.


Big News!


After years of searching, I’ve found a networking tool that I entrust my reputation with: Agency No more one-size-profile-fits-all.  No more pseudo-privacy policies.  No more integrity vs. popularity contest.  With Agency, quality trumps quantity.  I’m so excited, I am blogging about it so I can get your feedback, field questions, and improve my own understanding!


DISCLAIMER: Though I am now part of the team, the opinions expressed on my blog DO NOT represent Agent Technologies, Inc. (ATI), Biosimilarity, LLC, Protegra, or any other party involved in building the tool I explore with you here.