If we are to have agency online, freedom of contract and substitutability are two vitally important principles that we should strive to build into online services.
Doc Searls just published an extremely important, short piece on the Project VRM site about the VRM perspective. If you're a VRM junkie, or have read Doc's book, The Intention Economy, that title might get your attention. But, I think the ideas in that post are important for anyone who uses the Internet.
After describing the world of administrative identities that we live with online, he proposes that people should possess "full agency: the power to act, with effect." People living in modern democracies have such agency offline. We exist and act independent of any administrative authority. Online, not so much.
Doc goes on to say that to operate with full agency, we need more than tools.
To operate with full agency we need a full box of VRM tools -- plus two other things. One is substitutability of the services we engage. The other is freedom of contract.
Substitutability means we have a choice, say, of intentcasting services, of quantified self gizmos and service providers, of health care data and service providers, and of trust networks and personal cloud service providers -- just as we have a choice today among email service providers, including the choice to host our own email.
Freedom of contract means we don’t always have to subordinate our power and will to dominant parties in calf-cow ceremonies (e.g. clicking “accept” to one-sided terms we don’t read because there’s no point to it). We can design automated processes by which both parties come to mutually respectful agreements, just as we have with handshake agreements in the physical world.
Both of these virtues need to be design principles for VRM developers. If they are, we can save the Net by empowering ourselves.From The VRM perspective ProjectVRM
Referenced Mon Mar 11 2013 10:50:05 GMT-0600 (MDT)
If you're wondering what all this VRM stuff is about, think about the online services you use everyday: email, social networks, calendars, file sharing and syncing, picture sharing, and so on. How many of these confirm to the two principles that Doc enumerates? The only one that might is email if you control your own domain. For everything else, we're living with what the service providers deign to give us within the decidedly one-way relationship we have with them. If they shut down, can you substitute another service easily? Not likely.
This matters more than you think. As more and more of our lives are lived online, more and more of our rights are connected to whether we have the capacity to function as sovereign individuals online or whether we function merely at the whim of whatever services we use.