Exploring the GLIAnet ecosystem

 

Over the last four weeks, I have been discussing what I see as the root cause for many challenges on the open Web today -- namely, a pervasive and growing trust and accountability deficit in online tech platforms.  I also have posited a particular way of bridging that deficit: building a new Web ecosystem that I call GLIAnet.  Today, I want to explore some of the ramifications of such an endeavor in a bit more depth.

First, there are many potential beneficiaries in a GLIAnet ecosystem.

  • So-called digital “left-behinds”, such as Internet access providers, broadcasters, news organizations, content providers, retailers, financial institutions, insurers, non-profits, and countless others, can gain substantial new relevance -- and revenues -- as Digital TrustMediaries.  These entities can help mold, join, and even lead, this human-driven revolution -- so long as they first gain the appropriate trust to represent a community of customers/clients. Among other salient benefits, these companies can avoid the more pernicious effects of “Ads+Data World,” including the constant “me-too” product launches, and concomitant pressure to squeeze more ad dollars out of less lucrative clicks.  Other business models -- subscription-based, interaction-based, even barter-based -- also would be opened up for exploration.

  • Internet-based entities can interact and provide services directly to Users, via TrustMediary-enabled interfaces.

  • Advertisers can gain consensual access to enormous new streams of relevant information, based on the User’s robust data profile and future intentionality.  Meaningful ads also could be presented to Users with more precision, and received with more interest. This approach would constitute a far better deal for all sides than the comparatively empty calories of today’s assemblages of past and inferred personal data points.

  • Policymakers can tailor any needed oversight or regulation to relatively discrete functional interfaces between entities -- enabled by open sourced interoperability measures and software protocols -- rather than contend with the market behaviors of large incumbents and industry sectors.

  • Platforms, perhaps ironically, could enjoy several advantages by deciding to adopt the GLIAnet model and play by its rules.  First, they could serve as retail-side Digital TrustMediaries, gaining access to more robust and relevant User data, and consequently new advertising dollars.  Second, they could ”white-label” various GLIAnet elements on a wholesale basis to other entities.  Third (and most transactionally), the Platforms might be able to limit many of their current pressing societal and political headaches -- including consumer protection, competition policy, data protection mandates, and compliance risks.

  • Online scammers and trolls and crooks and nefarious bots: Umm, sorry guys.

  • The Rest of Us.  More cool capabilities.  More relevant advertising.  More competitive choice. More tangible support.  More personal autonomy. More well-founded trust.

Second, we now have in scope an achievable vision of a GLIAnet-enhanced open Web -- say, of the year 2024.

The User (now, more like a Customer, and a Peer).  The Internet (now, open without apologies). The Web (now, more robust and User-driven).  The Platforms (now, given the option to vie competitively for our online business the “old-fashioned” way).

And now -- our two-way Lifestreams of information and knowledge, with inherent relevancy and value to ourselves and others.  Along with digital TrustMediaries, providing the social glue of trustworthy support, end to end. And intelligent Avatars, serving our human needs as virtual agents.  And individualized Cloudlets, distributed and available at our command, within self-sovereign Identity Layers. Surrounded by a myriad of new applications and content and devices and networks, and various chosen communities of interest, all safely secured within a virtual trust and accountability zone.

With the advent of GLIAnet, newly-empowered human beings can enjoy the benefits of innovative technologies, the dynamics of truly free and open markets, the advantages of tailored government oversight, and the healthy social dynamics of trust.  Real progress.


Third, the before-and-after comparison would look something like this:

Function —> Web 2019 —> GLIAnet 2024

  • Personal Data —> Platform Data —> My individual Lifestream

  • Platforms —> Control points —> My fiduciary TrustMediaries

  • Computation —> Platform AIs —> My personal Avatars

  • Cloud Platform —> Servers —> My distributed Cloudlets

  • Network —> Web 2.0 —> My own Identity Layer(s)

  • Devices —> Platform Sensors —> My trust and accountability zones

  • Applications —> Web servers —> My decentralized Web apps

  • Access —> Platform entry points —> My democratized connectivity

That, in brief, is the GLIAnet Project vision.

Now, let’s return back to the bus stop with Susie.

But this time, there is a difference.

Now, Susie is linked to a trusted “countermediary” -- an entity managed together, say, by her parents, the local school system, and the local television station. She also is represented by a personal avatar application, residing on her mobile device, and connected to her family’s secured cloudlet.  Her very own GLIAnet.

So, when Susie stands at the bus stop, she is not truly alone.  In a good way. Even if others may be trying virtually to decipher who or where she is.  Employing “Glianet speak” here, one can posit that Susie’s TrustMediary and Avatar, employing connected tools such as Cloudlets and Identity Layers, together would form a “trust and accountability zone” to protect her Lifestream from creepy surveillance and profiling technologies.  Block unwarranted GPS signals, and ward off unwanted facial recognition techniques. Prevent data dossiers from being molded and even weaponized, halfway around the world.

But not just playing defense.  Also enhancing her life. Alerting her that the bus will be late today.  Teaching her French. And reminding her not to forget her lunch money.

Countless others storylines from 2020 could have similar happier endings as well.

Finally, are there potential downsides?  Of course. And they are worth exploring.

  • A risk of solipsism, of entrenching personal echo chambers and tribalism.

Most experts would agree that a fundamental lack of human trust drives confusion and fear and anger.  A testable thesis is that cultivating trust in turn can enhance individual autonomy, and social solidarity, and eventually an openness to new perspectives and experiences.

  • A return to unwanted “walled gardens,” mediating away the open Internet.

Seemingly the worst offending intermediaries of the online past were the “walled gardens,” limiting or even choking off access to the World Wide Web.  By contrast, the GLIAnet is intended as an overlay and a portal to a hopefully more vibrant Web.  Users could mediate their own Web experiences by selecting their TrustMediaries and Avatars.  And, arguably the Platforms already have deployed (Ads+Data World-based) walled gardens of their own making.

  • A danger of abuse and co-optation by incumbents or pernicious players.

This proposal is intended as a voluntary market/tech measure, with relatively limited government oversight.  If, however, entities attempt to abuse the model -- for example, Platforms refuse to interoperate on non-discriminatory terms with third party TrustMediaries, or the Trustmediaries themselves repeatedly breach fiduciary and privity obligations to their customers -- policymakers should have the tools and willingness quickly and effectively to step in.

  • Too idealistic.  Too difficult. Never going to happen.

The technologies and markets are there, or coming soon, to build and launch GLIAnet.  The political and social imperatives are on the rise as well.  We just need the collective will, and the collaborative effort, to take on the status quo.




Next time: OK, sounds pretty cool.  But how exactly do we get there from here?

Richard Whitt