“InfoValet” Conference Streaming Live This Week

If you’re interested in the future of journalism and news, you might be interested in a “strategy session” that is being live-streamed Thursday and Friday from the University of Missouri Reynolds Journalism Institute.

I say “might” because after a half hour poking around the website (after receiving a 1 am email promoting the remote access that said the event was starting today), I still didn’t have a clear idea of the project. Moreover, given that most of the event seems to be facilitated small group sessions, I’m not sure how well live-streaming is going to work.

Here’s the promo blurb from the email — then I’ll comment:

The Information Valet Project is organizing an information-industry collaborative to build, own and operate a shared-user network layered upon the basic Internet. This week’s summit is designed to start defining the ownership, marketing, business roles, technolgy and funding for the IVP. Topics under discussion include privacy, advertising, demographics and commerce.

The IVP network will: (1) Allow end users to own, protect — and optionally benfit by sharing — their demographic and usage data with the help of their competitively chosen “information valet” (2) Update the role, effectiveness and compensation for online advertising and marketing services (3) Allow online users to easily share, sell and buy content through multiple websites with one ID, password, account and bill…

The summit is drawing a mix of 50 journalists, publishers, technologists, academics, researchers and engaged citizens.

OK. Here we go.

The principal investigator is Bill Densmore, known for his work on the Media Giraffe Project. In this video, he talks about developing a universal login (OpenID anyone?):

Layered upon the basic Internet, [the InfoValet] will be a network for information commerce among publishers, producers and artists. The network will allow online users to share, sell and buy content through multiple Web sites with one ID, password, account and bill.

OpenID “eliminates the need for multiple usernames across different websites, simplifying your online experience.” I know that there’s no common “bill” or “payment” involved with OpenID, but this infrastructure (and Densmore says he’s talking about Interent infrastructure) already exists. Why build another wheel, just to build another wheel?

OpenID is still in the adoption phase and is becoming more and more popular, as large organizations like AOL, Microsoft, Sun, Novell, etc. begin to accept and provide OpenIDs. Today it is estimated that there are over 160-million OpenID enabled URIs with nearly ten-thousand sites supporting OpenID logins.

More the 160 million OpenID “accounts” and almost 10,000 sites. Are there 10,000 newspapers in the United States?

OpenID is a lightweight method of identifying individuals that uses the same technology framework that is used to identify websites. As such, OpenID is not owned by anyone, nor should it be. Today, anyone can choose to be an OpenID user or an OpenID Provider for free without having to register or be approved by any organization.

Is that the rub? The fact that OpenID is an open source technology?

Shared-User Network
This seems to be the phrase used most often to describe Densmore’s project. That’s what OpenID is. No one owns it. No one makes money off of it. Infrastructure should not be proprietary! That’s the beauty of the Internet — and also why it is as disruptive as it is.

But it sounds like Densmore is envisioning a new space “owned” by news organizations where everyone’s content is accessible (“competing”) and the news consumer makes micropayments to read/watch/hear each news item. This sounds a lot like Clickshare, a firm that he started “which provides user registration, authentication, and transaction handling for Internet web content sites.”

Clickshare allows a consumer to have one account at a most-trusted website and buy from other websites without having to pass around a credit-card number, register or give out personal information. One ID, one account, one bill.

I understand the need for a new business model for news organizations. I also understand that bits want to be free (and have characteristics of a public good). But I don’t see news consumers voluntarily entering into a “paid space” to get their news.

Moreover, Clickshare, a proprietary “shared ID” model, has dozens of clients. OpenID has thousands and is less than two years old. Since Densmore has been promoting this idea since 1997 (with an initial release in 2000), I rest my case.

Finally, what would this new pay-to-view layer do to RSS? What would it do to existing news portals like GoogleNews and Yahoo!News? And what would it do to the blogosphere, which also drives traffic (eyeballs) to news sites? We already know that ‘pay to view’ websites (think Wall Street Journal) have fewer blogosphere links than those without a firewall. Ditto GoogleNews links.

Forgive my skepticism, but the only way I can see a project like “info Valet” working is if every news organization decided to join and implement a pay-to-view model. And that ain’t gonna happen. (See agricultural cooperatives and the free-rider problem.)

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