The Civilized Web

Social-Engineering The Civilized Web
By Brian Roundtree

Now that the Internet is officially 25 years of age, it has reached a juncture where it is ready to enter civilized society.

To do this, we who have chosen the profession of advancing the Internet—from the Internet of Documents (its original iteration) to the Internet of Commerce (search and display advertising) to the Internet of People (social networks) to the burgeoning Internet of Things—might look to the “plaza” and how it affords personal freedom within the safeguards of a centuries-old social network, as the construct of the Internet’s next evolutionary step.

Picture yourself walking through a plaza in Italy, Mexico, India, or even the Pike Place Market in Seattle. No one knows your name. Vendors have their offerings on display and are extolling their benefits. Passers-by check you out and you check them out. Only when you show interest and a desire to interact do you need to start thinking about divulging personal information.

The Internet at its current stage is not based on this concept of freedom, as invasive cookie tracking and behavioral analysis have subjugated it in the name of personalization.

As an answer to the wild-westness of the Internet, I decided that Consumer Freedom would be the core principle of the autograph® technology. But freedom is such an expansive concept that it needed to be contained to be useful.

So in the context of civilized personal freedom, a feature set naturally evolved…

  • -Allow people to be anonymous for as long as they want to be
  • -Understand people’s interests quickly and accurately, without long surveys or invasive tracking
  • -Let people communicate their interests to those who can deliver on them
  • -Let people review, edit, delete and enhance their own data
  • -Ensure businesses profit from increased consumer protection
  • -Enable enterprises and independent app developers to easily integrate these features

As the Internet of Things inexorably advances from concept to proliferation, a feature set underpinned by the concept of civilized personal freedom becomes ever more applicable.

In the evolving ecosystem of the Internet of Things, our mobile devices will interact directly with other devices in order to serve their humans, anticipating possible solutions in order for us humans to make informed decisions. This dynamic will reduce our cognitive load and mental friction. Without these types of meta-engagements and anticipatory technologies between intelligent devices, there would be too much noise, as Internet noise levels online already are unbearable for most of us.

Just think how much noisier it will be when iBeacons and other appliances start sending their signals to our mobile devices in the real world. To imagine this scenario, we just need to think about the downsides of the plaza construct…

What if all the vendors in the plaza, regardless of proximity or your interest in their offerings, were yelling at you at the same time?

What if the people checking you out were pick-pocketers staking you out?

The plaza as social meeting place is constructed to provide safeguards to unseemly behavior. It is open and transparent, where distance and eye contact act as filters for noise levels and personal engagement.

One could argue that the plaza is a noisy place teeming with pick-pocketers. But it is hard to argue against the fact that its civilized safeguards—which have evolved over centuries of cultural evolution—make it far and away safer than the Wild West.

Because we built autograph on the basis of the personal freedom inherent in the plaza construct, it is built to keep a person’s identity anonymous until that person chooses to be known. It is built to let people’s mobile devices tell other devices what the anonymous owner is interested in. It is built to let Internet-things tell people’s devices what they have to offer, and then prioritize these offers based on that person’s interests.

The Internet’s original promise of extracting the barriers from our pursuit of happiness also must accommodate the necessary barriers we have come to know as the safeguards of civilized behavior. These are not veils or cloaks, but rather the responsible anonymity that is the hallmark of personal freedom in a civilized society.

Brian Roundtree is CTO and Founder of nFluence Media, with offices in Seattle and London.