A Different Kind of Web Startup
“Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center. Big, undreamed-of things — the people on the edge see them first.” — Kurt Vonnegut
“Don’t be the pinball. Be the machine.” — Doc Searls
Over the past two-plus years, I have been formulating various concepts for what I call the GLIAnet project (www.glia.net). The overarching premise is that the Web we have today is badly broken, and in need of a new kind of paradigm that puts first the actual human being.
The proposed GLIAnet ecosystem combines three basic elements: (1) human governance based on common law duties of fiduciaries, (2) technologies utilizing client-side capabilities, and (3) service offerings centered on protecting, enhancing and promoting the interests of actual human beings. Or, in brief, personal digital fiduciaries, edgetech capabilities, and “PEP” business models.
I’ve been grateful to have the opportunity with various audiences to discuss these concepts of a GLIAnet overlay ecosystem. In 2020 alone, I have crafted detailed white papers, posted online articles and guest blog posts, participated in podcasts, and webinars, and conference panels, engaged in interviews, and delivered a few keynote addresses.
Overall I’m proud of the work, and grateful to be able to pitch and defend and refine these ideas with so many smart folks. But at the end of the day, concepts without validation are just words on the screen. In order to have true meaning, they need a real-world place to live, and to grow, and then succeed — or not — based on their merits.
This week, at MozFest 2021 (a most fitting venue), I’ve unveiled a brand new startup, which seeks to bring to life the proposed GLIAnet ecosystem. Deeper Edge (www.deeperedge.net) is a company whose mission is to serve as a personal digital fiduciary, providing trustworthy, supportive, and agential technology tools to Web users. The value proposition is straightforward: Deeper Edge will be the individual’s trustworthy digital guardian and champion.
Deeper Edge is a different kind of Web startup, however. Its goal is market validation of well-founded, but as-yet untested, conceptual frameworks. For that reason, the company will deploy in two discrete stages. In Stage One, Deeper Edge will operate as a “PoC” (proof of concept) company, soliciting financial and in-kind human resources to help demonstrate the overall viability, sustainability, and scalability of specified aspects of the GLIAnet ecosystem. In Stage Two, Deeper Edge will shift to operate as a “PtM” (pivot to market) company, applying its learnings to serve actual customers with market-leading Web offerings.
This article provides some quick answers to some likely questions — the why, what, how, which, where, who, and why not — of the Deeper Edge launch.
Q. Why Does Deeper Edge Exist? A. Massive Opportunities
Many of the Web’s failings stem from the large ecosystem of multisided platforms, advertisers, and data brokers operating under the “SEAMs” paradigm (surveil, extract, analyze, and manipulate). These companies treat each of us as mere “users,” vulnerable to exploitation and lacking in true autonomy and agency.
Deeper Edge exists because a novel opportunity beckons to radically change the Web’s ethos to a more trustworthy, supportive, and agential one. Only a truly disruptive paradigm, releasing ordinary people from exploitative data broker silos, can create real and lasting change. Deeper Edge aims to engender just that kind of disruption, in two different but interrelated stages: first by learning, then by doing.
If markets are conversations, Deeper Edge is founding a new marketspace where individuals have the tools to converse, on their own terms, with Web companies. A meaningful dialogue, rather than a one-sided monologue. With more symmetrical commercial conversations, countless mutually-beneficial market opportunities can be born, for Deeper Edge and many others. Over time, so goes the premise, such market conversations will engender big-time systemic change.
Q. What Will Deeper Edge Actually Do? A. Conduct Novel Prove-and-Pivot Stagings
Stage One: Proof of Concept
In Stage One, Deeper Edge will initiate a series of explorations intended to turn concepts into reality, white papers into actual offerings, proposed business models into revenues. To undertake these explorations, Deeper Edge will operate first as a Proof of Concept company, with concepts drawn from the GLIAnet project. Two core concepts in particular are the human governance of personal digital fiduciaries, and commercial offerings premised on client-side, “edgetech” capabilities.
This PoC approach means that the Company initially will have no ready-made products or services in the retail or wholesale market. Instead, the Company will learn by doing — testing out various market, technology, and business model approaches, keeping what works, discarding what doesn’t, and pivoting where useful. The goal is fashioning a viable, sustainable, and scalable suite of market-ready offerings for B2C, B2B, and B2D players.
Specifically, through calibrated “proof of concept” and “proof of commerce” phases, Deeper Edge will define and roll out suites of agential services and products. In tandem, this process will include recognizing the underlying “edgetech” technologies, articulating operational and public policy dependencies, and devising potential business model(s). Indeed, if as one example Silicon Valley today embraces the “SPAC” as a novel financial instrument, then Deeper Edge represents the “SPEC” — a special purpose experimentation company.
Deeper Edge seeks to enlist like-minded innovators and stakeholders to work together to fashion a new edgetech-fueled ecosystem of vendors, suppliers, partners, and even competitors. Resources will be solicited from a variety of potential sources, including angel investment, philanthropy, research universities, and government grants, to help co-design different R&D query “planks.” Resolutions to these explorations can create viable pathways to the market.
Stage Two: Pivot to Market
In Stage Two, Deeper Edge will shift from learning to doing. As a Pivot to Market (PtM) company, Deeper Edge will establish a multi-sided platform, where Web “users” become the new centerpoint of trustworthy fiduciary obligations, agency-bolstering commercial offerings, and edge-based technologies.
Q. How Will Deeper Edge Provide Mutual Marketplace Value? A. Engage in a Target-Rich Environment
The proposed value proposition is wholly unique among would-be competitors, and across the B2C, B2B, and B2D sectors.
For B2C consumers in particular, no other market entity currently offers the unique combination of tangible benefits: loyal support of a true fiduciary, vigilant defense of a Web guardian, mediating function of a “digital lifestreams” manager, and empowering cool edgetech. The fiduciary element in particular appears to be entirely unprecedented in the online space.
Nor is Deeper Edge aiming to “disrupt” the dominant players of the existing Web. Instead, in true “blue ocean” strategy, the value propositions create entirely new marketspaces, that allow individuals to refashion their fraught interactions with Web entities. The overall outcome is constructing a unique and personalized “digital life support system” for each patron, from which those meaningful commercial conversations can take place. Sitting alongside the Web incumbents — at least for now.
Open questions remain. In particular, can and will some subset of consumers appreciate the Web’s systemic infirmities, enough to alter some of their online activities? And will a suitable number of for-profit companies voluntarily assume the mantle of trustworthy agents operating under common law-type fiduciary obligations? The provisional answer to both questions is yes. Under the scientific method, such responses are deemed falsifiable — meaning that evidence can be assembled and analyzed to ascertain whether they comport with reality. Stage One seeks empirical validation, for these and other pertinent demand and supply questions, through R&D “query planks.”
For the B2B market, Deeper Edge potentially offers numerous value propositions. For example, the Company can provide a trust layer (or Trust-as-a-Service) to enterprises with customer-facing compliance obligations; examples could include health care, financial services, retailers, and telecom providers. The Company also can develop new, mutually-beneficial connections between Web patrons and marketing companies, to create far more contextual — and lucrative — advertising markets.
Other B2B offerings to explore include: consensual data exchanges, data trusts and co-ops interfaces, digital fiduciaries certification program, private label versions of its B2C services, and IPR licensing.
For the B2D market, Deeper Edge offers a novel opportunity to create open source software applications, blockchain ledgers and wallets, and other functionalities in service of the “decentralized Web.”
Q. Which B2C Offerings Does Deeper Edge Intend to Pursue First? A. Much To Choose From
For purposes of Stage One, Deeper Edge is developing a comprehensive “as if” suite of B2C products and services intended to serve the needs of Web users. Significant elements of these products and services are derived from the PEP (protect, enhance, and promote) model.
- The PROTECT phase combines a fiduciary duty of care (do no harm), with a bundle of service and product offerings, and technologies, designed to build defensible virtual walls around the client. Examples include Web Guardian, a comprehensive suite of privacy, security, and identity protections.
- The ENHANCE phase focuses on redefining Web user data as manageable digital lifestreams, subject to full client access and control. Examples include LEVIT (local events and venues interactive tracker) and DaaS (data archaeology as a service).
- The PROMOTE phase focuses on agential tech tools such as WebCasters, home data pods, and modular connected devices. The Personal AI can be a hallmark offering for the new human-centric paradigm. This phase, as with the ENHANCE phase, operates under a strong fiduciary duty of loyalty to clients.
Q. Where Are All Your Competitors? A. Not Obvious
The status quo of the SEAMs ecosystem has yielded several powerful platform companies, and scores of advertisers, data brokers, and others. The SEAMs paradigm has become the predominant commercial ethos of the Web. Any alternatives tend to focus on new technology solutions, or new ways to organize the existing market structures. The unsurprising “inside the box” result is a fragmented commercial space, with no duties-bound entities, little tangible support, and no effective protection of the individual’s digital self.
Deeper Edge does not look to supplant those many entities operating under the SEAMs paradigm, or ask Web users to do the same. Both tasks would only draw the company into fruitless market battles with dominant players.
Instead, in keeping with blue ocean strategies, the real advantage comes from playing a completely different game. Deeper Edge seeks to create new markets, focused not on replacing what exists now, but introducing novel ways for Web users to interact with the current Web. Where individuals have newfound power to leverage more respectful commercial dialogue and connections.
Deeper Edge also is designed at the outset as a lean company, adaptable and ready to build or pivot based on opportunities and circumstances. The Company is a greenfield operation, with no preexisting business models or legacy infrastructure to defend. Much of its activities will focus on whether and how perceived but untried value propositions translate into real market-opening opportunities.
Q. Who Is Leading This Company? A. Former Google Corporate Director
Richard Whitt is the founder and chief executive officer of Deeper Edge. He is a thirty-plus year veteran of the online technology and communications space, with substantial roots in MCI Communications (1994–2006) and Google/Alphabet (2007–2018). Most recently he was corporate director for strategic initiatives at Google.
Initially Deeper Edge will be self funded. Consultants and volunteers and amazing fellow travelers (looking at you, Todd Kelsey and Nalini Mohan) make up its current virtual staffing. Over time, and with sufficient additional resources, the team is expected to expand.
Q. Why Not? A. Here and Now
Deeper Edge is uniquely positioned to capitalize on market, technology, social, and public policy trends. It is poised at the right time, with the right vision, and the right leadership.
The time is past due to ask hard questions, and seek validated answers, to the Web’s current plight. Moving from concepts to action. We’re looking forward to the challenge.