If you've talked to me in the last year and a half you probably know I've been working on a project. Since I stumbled across Solid in the summer of 2019 I've been fascinated by its potential to radically decentralize power on the World Wide Web. My belief that a coming generation of applications built around interoperable Personal Online Datastores carries the potential to radically redistribute value from the Internet's feudal lords to the people who currently tend their digital lands has only grown stronger the more I've learned and built in this space, and I'm very excited about the coming months and years.
"Data is the new oil" they say, and as with oil, a small number of very powerful corporations with extractive business models currently capture the vast majority of its value. I started building "The Itme Corporation" because my experience working for cooperatives has convinced me that cooperative ownership of data stored in interoperable Personal Online Datastores might finally give us the chance to build a "digital body" - a "sovereign" chunk of bits around which we can start building the coherent digital identities on which the decentralized, decommodified social graph of the future will be built.
Along the way though I realized that in 2021, a digital body is not a product anyone in the current market is especially clamboring for. In order for this project to reach its full potential, my team would need to find a product that is uniquely easy to build on this new platform, and sell it to a market that feels the pain caused by the centralized social graph and feudal economic relationships of the current Web. As luck would have it, my business partner held the key to unlocking this puzzle.
Before our lives were upended and constrained by global pandemic, Tani had been working on a business named "Understory." She envisioned Understory as a "gym for your mental and emotional health" - a third space, where people could be in community with others building resiliance, mindfulness, and skills that help them stay mentally and emotionally fit. Of course, her business plan called for the development of a physical space that became impossible to open thanks to Covid-19 safety protocols. Joining me and taking charge of business operations gave us time to deeply research the space and begin making preparations to launch a Personal Online Datastore hosting business that might serve as an early consumer provider of PODs.
The deeper we got into building this business the more we realized that on one hand, our longer term goals matched this earlier business remarkably well, and on the other, the vision for this earlier business would only be fully realizable with the help of decentralized personal data stores like Solid's PODs. When we looked at the marketing website she'd paid to have created Understory we only had to make a few minor tweaks to draw the connection between the work we were already doing around enhancing digital wellness and her original messaging about emotional and mental wellness.
Thus, Understory and Itme were reborn as Understory, a digital garden with Web Monetization built in, that stores your data in a Personal Online Datastore that you control. I'll be writing a lot more about it in the coming months and years, stay tuned!