Newsletter – for the journey


This newsletter was sent 7th February 2016. If you’d like to keep up to speed on the hi:project, click here to subscribe.

Dame Professor Wendy Hall told me the hi:project, and the issues we grapple with, represent more of a journey than a destination. She is so right. Of course.

Reassuringly, our growing busload of travellers remains convinced we’re on the right track. If we can navigate the social, legal and commercial landscape, if we can identify and slipstream in with other vehicles on a similar route, if we persevere, then we will help:

  • solve personal data & privacy
  • secure a citizen-centric Internet of Things
  • transform accessibility & digital inclusion.

In this first update of 2016 – and at the risk of driving this journeying metaphor off the road – I’d like to share the conversation on the bus, the fellow travellers we’ve met on the way, the roadworks, and our current plans to put more fuel in the tank.

On the bus

You know what it’s like to be in a group on a bus – the fun of being together, the anticipation for the journey, and excitement for its purpose. And yet just outside is a world that doesn’t get your vibe.

We needed then to let others know what we’re about and where we’re heading, so we’ve just published a 90 second introductory video for non-techies. We’d love to learn what you make of it, with the best compliment of course being your sharing it with others. …

The video references the platform duopoly of Google Android and Apple iOS. As Benedict Evans points out, “it’s the operating system itself that’s the internet services platform, far more than the browser, and the platform is not neutral.”

We have nothing against Google and Apple per se, we’re just concerned about their centralizing and mediating dominance of the web. I’d speculate that they’re concerned about it too.

Fellow travellers

I won’t name many of the groups and organisations we’ve sought out, sidled up to, or simply bumped into, lest that be misconstrued as official endorsement. Their missions span web freedom, privacy, accessibility, digital inclusion, and redecentralization.

I will however mention the Web of Data (aka the Semantic Web) community here because we sense compelling synergies. I’m already slightly nervous at attempting to explain why with the brevity demanded by an email newsletter, but here goes.

The Web Foundation’s vision is for a Web that empowers everyone, everywhere, to take part in building a fairer world. That Web need not solely be the web of documents we know so well today however. If the free flow of and unimpeded access to data, information and knowledge is the goal, hyperdata will do just as well as hypertext. Indeed, it may have superior qualities in some important respects.

All the more so, we contend, when the dedication to the Web of Data is matched by a focus on the presentation and interaction layer.

The Web of Data may be constructed beautifully for machines, but those machines ultimately serve us of course. Each of us must understand what such machines tell us. Each of us must understand how such machines get where they’ve got. Each of us must understand how to control such machines working on our behalf and/or with our data.

In short, it wouldn’t be even half the win to secure decentralized data flow only to have the eventual human-computer interaction centralized and mediated, and perhaps obfuscated.

The hi:project is then a perfect companion for the Web of Data.


We’ve been merged in with a convoy called Blockchain.

More to the point, roadsigns appear to be giving those vehicles with Blockchain plates access to a priority lane. We’ve asked a few people what’s going on, and it appears that this distributed ledger technology has become seen, erroneously, as a synonym for all facets of decentralization.

Now the hi:project has team members who get their hashes, nonces, and even distributed autonomous organisations, and so we appreciate the blockchain is an engine part. But it’s far from the entire vehicle.

Not sure I’m asking for anything on this front. Just sharing.

More fuel in the tank

We’ve identified three possible fuel stations on the satnav …

Foundations. Without wishing to appear too presumptive this side of raising foundation funding, it appears we consistently tick very many of the boxes when it comes to the funding criteria, and the only thing holding us back is the scale of our ambition. It seems we’re at the “wow” end of the scale versus some of the less macro things that get funded.

Any and all ideas on how to turn this scale into an advantage in this respect are most welcome. Perhaps you have experience working in or with such foundations?

European funding. We’re part of a newly formed consortium led by Southampton University pursuing Hozizon 2020 funding. We’ll know in October if we’re successful.

Retail banks. Her Majesty’s Treasury, ably supported by the Open Data Institute, is progressing an open banking API. With the involvement of the Open Bank Project, located in Germany. According to the trade newspaper American Banker, “U.K. Push for Open Bank APIs Makes U.S. Look So Last Century.”

Faced with the threat of mediation, we believe retail banks may be / should be interested in developing the first instance of HI – a retail banking HI. The banking ecosystem then secures all the advantages of open banking, the banking customer secures all the advantages of HI over UI, and the banks get to focus on their core competence of banking. Perfect.

We’re looking to start this conversation with bank CxOs right now, and any and all introductions you might be able to effect are most welcome.

And …? Someone who obviously has far more experience of wealthy individuals than me tells me the hi:project could be just the perfect project for a billionaire (or good part thereof). Perhaps one that made his/her money in tech?

Anyway, thought I’d mention it just in case you know someone who knows someone …

Honorable mention

I’ll close with the news that the hi:project was namechecked as a noteworthy innovator at the 9th International Computers, Privacy & Data Protection conference in Brussels in January. Our progress depends in part on such ongoing recognition, so do please drop us into conversation whenever you think it appropriate.

It’s wonderful to have you with us for the journey.

Best wishes, Philip @Sheldrake.

Image credit: Norbert Schnitzler, BY-SA.