The Personal Cloud, Take 3: Thomas Vander Wal’s Personal InfoCloud

When I first heard the term “personal cloud” from Mark Plakias at C3, I knew it sounded vaguely familiar, but it wasn’t until I started this series of blog posts that Kaliya Hamlin (Identitywoman) reminded me that Thomas Vander Wal named his blog Personal InfoCloud some years ago. Instantly I recalled the dinner that Kaliya and Thomas and I had in Washington D.C. a few years ago wheree he explained his vision for a personal information cloud, and how it was a superset of what the VRM community has been calling a personal data store.

In retrospect, I am quite sure this was one reason a subconscious bell rang for me when the term “personal cloud” came up again. And, reading recent posts from Thomas’ blog, including one about lessons to be learned from Yahoo’s threat to close Delicious, I point to it as even more evidence that the term works well for expressing what we all mean by this collection of personal data and relationships that will become the hub of your digital life.

Speaking of hubs, that reminds me of yet another pioneer thinker in this space: Jon Udell and his concept of hosted lifebits. As Jon puts it in a 2007 blog post:

Today my digital assets are spread out all over the place. Some are on various websites that I control, and a lot more that I don’t. Others are on various local hard disks that I control, and a lot more that I don’t. It’s become really clear to me that I’d be willing to pay for the service of consolidating all this stuff, syndicating it to wherever it’s needed, and guaranteeing its availability throughout — and indeed beyond — my lifetime.

Jon also recognized that in 2007 the idea was still before its time:

Although this notion of a hosted lifebits service seems inevitable in the long run, it’s not at all clear how we’ll get there. The need is not yet apparent to most people, though it will increasingly become apparent. The technical aspects are somewhat challenging, but the social and business aspects are even more challenging.

I strongly agree with Jon that it’s the social and business aspects that are the most challenging. I think the breakthrough success of social networking and messaging services like Facebook and Twitter have made the social half of the challenge tractable. Which leaves the business challenge: one that I (and many others) are hard at work on right now.