In the job of venture capital, one of the greatest moments I have found is hearing an entrepreneur present a truly transformative idea. We hear exciting ideas all day long, expressed with passion and unwavering belief. But a few times a year, perhaps, I have been lucky enough to hear an idea that is unquestionably an enormously important vision of the way the world should evolve. Over the course of last summer, two entrepreneurs separately presented to us their big vision of personal data and it, well, rocked my world. We invited one of them, Jason Cavnar, to take a seat in our Palo Alto office (in what we call “The Quarry”) to start fleshing it out. He introduced us to Jeremie Miller, the revered founder of open source XMPP/Jabber, who saw the world the same way. The two combined visions and forces, and Singly was born.

After about nine months of team-building, coding and developer community work, Singly is starting to emerge and present their vision for the future of personal data. I am happy I can share it publicly and get your feedback.

It is clear that all online experiences are becoming social. To me, this means sites and apps become more participatory. That is, we interact with them in personal ways and leave some data about ourselves there: we comment, rate, share, add friends, search, personalize, filter, select, check-in, post, etc. Right now, our personal data is spread across, probably, 20 – 30 sites and apps like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yelp, Foursquare, Netflix, Flickr, etc. Soon, as everything becomes social, our data will be spread across literally thousands of sites. That data is very powerful and useful. However, it is vey hard to pull back together. Over the past year or so, I have seen literally hundreds of entrepreneurs developing apps which utilize subsets of this data to provide value to users. The problem for them is they spend 4-6 months writing code to aggregate, normalize and clean up the data they need from a few services before writing the code that is valuable and differentiated. They would benefit from a centralized place where our data lives.

The other side of this coin is that we are spreading lots of data about ourselves all over the place. Some of us might care to know what we have spread out there, where it lives, and what developers are doing with that data. Enter Singly.

Singly began life as the open source Locker Project. TLP, available here for developers, is a container for personal data. It contains the core locker as well as a slew of open source connectors and collectors. Those connecters attach to (soon) hundreds of services to copy our personal data, in real-time, back into the locker. Collectors clean and normalize that data. Singly puts a nice API on top of all this data along with a permissioning and authentication interface. Singly also will offer hosted lockers in the way offers a hosted version of the open source WordPress platform. You can see a world where developers can start writing an app knowing, provided the consumer lets them, they have access to normalized and complete personal data for their users.

This vision offers a future where people *do* control their own data, where innovation can be fully unlocked for thousands of developers, allowing great new apps to appear for consumers, and creates an interface point for brands to interact with people and their information under a trust framework humans can understand.

The team has been making some exciting announcements this last week. Here are a few things to check out if you are so inclined:

[unordered_list style=”bullet”]

  • A vision document from Jeremie Miller
  • A blog post from the team announcing the effort
  • Matt Zimmerman’s announcement that he is leaving Ubuntu to join the team
  • The Locker Project: website, GitHub, Twitter, blog, IRC (#lockerproject on FreeNode)[/unordered_list]

Incidentally, others have discussed a slightly different version of this future. Some believe aggregating personal data will lead to a world where marketers will offer to pay you for your data. I don’t see this happening. I cannot see consumers getting into the business of selling their data to marketers so they can see personalized advertising. Instead, I believe marketers will be encouraged to offer value to us in exchange for access to our data. The best example of this today might be the Nike Plus app. Nike gets access to highly personal health and wellness data in exchange for providing great utility around my exercise schedule. In any case, we know advertising is becoming more personal and is more effective when based on our social data. The Singly permissioning interface will encourage marketers to think a bit more like developers.