owning your data

I was recently interviewed for an article in Forbes magazine and asked what I thought about ‘The Cloud’. There was a typographical error in my response, so here it is corrected.

I cannot see why any organization would put all of its data online. The Cloud is just a different term for someone else’s computer, which you do not control. It may make sense to have some data in The Cloud to improve flexibility and accessibility, but as we see everyday, these systems break or get hacked. Own your critical data.

For the past ten years I have advocated owning your data. This means having access to what you post online and the ability to move it if you need to. For example, this website is built on WordPress software and is hosted with a third-party. The database and files can be transferred, even though it’s a bit complicated. WordPress is open source (OS).

Open source software is released under a variety of licenses such as the GPL. Free software that is not OS is owned by someone else and only its use is made available for free, under certain conditions. With open source, the rub is that the community has to stay involved to make the software better. If you’re looking at OS software, check out the size and involvement of the developer and supporter communities first. OS quite often is messy and takes a bit of effort to use. On the other hand, with free commercial software (e.g. GMail, Facebook), you usually have to give something away in order to use it. Most often it’s your privacy, as you do not own your data, or you may have to put up with advertising on your application, or both. In the end, someone has to pay.

Using open source gives you freedom from vendors and ensures that you are not handcuffed to your technology provider. You should also own your domain name. I use Webnames or register domains through WordPress.com if hosting with them. Paying for a service provider (or hosting on your own server) ensures that you have better control over your data.

For commercial services that I use, I develop a system to save important data. For example, I have used Twitter since late 2007. Twitter lets you download all your tweets (for now). Instead, I harvest the best tweets I have found and curate these every two weeks as Friday’s Finds posted on this blog for safekeeping. You should consider what will be important to you in the event an online platform closes. Much of what I asked in 2010 stands today: Where’s your data?

Owning your data, especially for bloggers, is critical. The more posts you write, the more important your blog becomes. Now with almost 3,000 posts and many more comments, my blog is much more valuable than it was 10 years ago. It is my outboard brain. It is also how many people find me: through web searches. Search engines like sites that have been online for a long time.

I have said that my blog provides for four C’s: Creation, Contextualization, Connection, Co-creation. I first create content in the form of a post. Others then contextualize it by linking to it, commenting, social bookmarking, or sharing on social media platforms. People connect these artifacts to their own. Over time, others may build upon an idea or post and co-create value in the network. This is why I use a Creative Commons license to share. As more people share digital knowledge artifacts and give them meaning and context, these objects gain in their aggregate value.  The creator gets intangible value, mostly through more connections and more opportunities to learn. Tangible value can accrue, but most often it is indirect. However, if you do not share, you won’t connect with new ideas or new people.

2 Responses to “owning your data”

    • Harold Jarche

      Short response: it’s contextual, e.g. if it’s confidential don’t share it

      Longer response:

      An important aspect of sharing is knowing when, with whom, and how to share. It may be posting to the web, like this blog, or it may be more directed and to a certain community. Sharing using a blog, with permalinks, categories and tags, makes it easier to share when a need arises in your networks or communities. Sharing with intent is curation, while PKM can be viewed as pre-curation. It takes discernment to know when and how to share.

      A shotgun approach to knowledge sharing will not work. Showing discernment in knowledge sharing helps to build trust. Becoming a trusted node in your communities and networks (with a good signal to noise ratio) ensures that your voice will be heard.

      One example of discernment is in ‘closing triangles’. This is when one person introduces two unknown associates to each other, thus closing the triangle. Discerning when to do this is also important. It would not make sense to make professional introductions as one person is going on a long vacation or when the other is extremely busy with an unrelated project. Sensing the right time and place to make connections is important in network weaving. It’s the same with sharing knowledge.

      Integrating PKM practices with organizational knowledge management can help knowledge to flow better and not remain knowledge stock in some database. This takes time, practice, and a good sense of what others are doing. Discernment, like PKM, requires mindfulness.


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