The Personal Cloud

The hallmark of a rapidly growing new space is new terminology. Craig Burton goes so far as to posit that the growth of the space will be constrained until it has a lexicon that successfully incorporates its key concepts.

All of which applies in spades to the personal data ecosystem. As this space grows, it must clearly describe how it differs from other related spaces, including social networking, user-centric/federated identity, mobile computing, and cloud computing.

It must also explain how it delivers the infrastructure necessary for new business models and services, such as Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) or quantified self applications (also called lifelogs or personal metrics).

At the Conversational Commerce Conference (C3) last week, there were two sessions on CRM and VRM. Both required giving the audience a brief summary of the basic idea of VRM as “the inverse of CRM” where the customer has their own relationship management system that is the peer of the vendor’s.

David Siegel popularized the concept of this system in his book Pull, calling it the personal data locker. If you haven’t seen his Personal Data Locker Vision video, he just released it for public access – I recommend it.

For its part, the VRM community has long referred to this system as the personal data store or PDS. However I blogged last fall about the key problem with the term “personal data store” for many audiences: it suggests all your personal data is in fact stored there, like money in a bank, when in fact a PDS may only be a dashboard to personal data stored anywhere on the net.

For that reason I began using the terms personal data server and personal data service. But the marketer in me still harbors the suspicion that none of these are what will ultimately survive in the market.

Why? They don’t follow the marketer’s equivalent of the developer’s rule about the simplest thing that could possible work. Examples:

  • Desktop publishing added just one word to the existing concept of “publishing” to describe this new category. (And within months it was further simplified to DTP).
  • Web server and web page added just one word to the well-known concepts of “server” and “page” to describe this new form of Internet hypertext (note that the term “hypertext” itself never made it into the general market lexicon — too complex).
  • Browser is an even more severe example. Although the Wikipedia-sanctioned term is web browser, in everyday usage in the market it’s been smooshed down to just one word — “browser” — the same way facsimile machine was smooshed down to just one word — “fax“.
  • Cloud computing is the most recent example of adding just one word to describe the key distinguishing characteristic of a new space: the fact that the data was no longer on a local device under local control.

Who would have thought that the idea of network-based computing would come to be defined by the adjective “cloud”? But in fact the choice of the term “cloud” illustrates the dictum that it doesn’t actually matter what the distinguishing modifier for a new category is. It only matters that it:

  • Is unique in the context in which it is being applied.
  • Captures the essence of what distinguishes the new category.
  • Is simple and evocative enough to catch on.

Okay, now let’s return to the question of the concept at the core of the personal data ecosystem. By these measures, neither “personal data store”, “personal data server”, nor “personal data service” are good candidates for the go-to-market lexicon because:

  • They are too long.
  • They don’t adequately isolate the key distinguishing characteristic of what makes the personal data ecosystem new. In other words, it’s not personal data that’s new. It’s the way in which personal data and relationship are managed, controlled, and shared.

Now, fast forward to the final session at C3 entitled “The Age of the Individual: From CRM to VRM”. When the VRM’rs on the panel first explained the concept of the personal data store, Mark Plakias, VP Strategy and Design at Orange Labs in San Francisco, immediately referred to it as the personal cloud. Although I’d heard the term a few times before, Mark’s usage suddenly rang true for me. He was referring to everything that the VRM community has traditionally defined a PDS as encompassing, plus personal storage, backup, connectivity, and other options that will clearly be part of the overall value proposition as the concept goes to market.

A little Google searching this weekend showed that a number of vendors including Iomega and Tonido are already using the term for cloud storage of personal data assets. And last May Forrester analyst Frank Gillette predicated that the personal cloud will replace the traditional personal computing OS.

That all seems to fit. But what I particularly like about personal cloud is:

  • It meets the simplest thing that could possible work test by taking what is now a well-known concept (“the cloud” as popularized by Microsoft’s “To the cloud” TV campaign and many other vendors) and distinguishing it with just one word that explains why this is different: personal.
  • It suggests the concepts of server, service, and storage all in one word.
  • It is neutral as to whether you operate this cloud yourself or use a fourth-party provider.
  • It naturally captures the idea that your personal data may either be stored in your personal cloud or linked to your personal cloud — either is fine.
  • It still has enough of a location-based metaphor that an individual can envision “moving their personal cloud from one provider to another”.
  • It suggests the value of personal data assets beyond just managing or sharing them — for example that you will have personal cloud apps to which you grant permission to use your personal cloud data just like you have mobile apps to which you give permission to access your location data.

So — in the interests of advancing the lexicon for all of us who want to see the personal data ecosystem space grow — I’m reaching out for feedback about personal cloud as one of our anchor terms.


About Drummond Reed

Internet entrepreneur in identity, personal data, and governance frameworks
This entry was posted in General, Personal Cloud, Personal Data Ecosystem, Personal Data Server, Personal Data Service, Personal Data Store, Social Web. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to The Personal Cloud

  1. Dave McNamee says:


    Personal cloud is superior to personal data service. It captures a concept that we have been trying to pin down here at Kynetx: what is the term for all of the data, services, and applications that comprise an individual’s “-ness” online. Sam called it his “circle of Sam-ness,” but personal cloud is much better. To me it suggests that there is more than data up there, and that I can move it from one place to another if I so choose.

    • Dave, I agree that “personal cloud” has just enough “there-ness” to suggest that it’s someplace that you can put stuff that is yours, but you can also move it elsewhere, and it can extend to include stuff that’s not strictly stored there. For example, I may want to keep my medical records with the hospital that produced them, but still consider them to be part of my personal cloud.

  2. TooTallSid says:

    I don’t think we’re quite there yet. My personal cloud makes me think of the stuff I use, not the stuff I provide.


    How about instead of personalizing something else, we cloudize me?

    I’m going to think about this. If you can name something, you can use it.

    • Sid, I agree that “cloud” makes you think about your own stuff. But “your own stuff” includes data you publish for others to consume (example: blog entries like this). So that stuff is clearly stuff you provide to others, which means the stuff in your cloud is linked to the stuff in other’s clouds.

      Another example is my personal contact info. I publish mine in my own cloud, but it ends out being linked to every one of my contact’s personal clouds, from which they can then link it to all of their own devices (smart phone, laptop, etc.) So personal clouds are as much about publish/subscribe as they are about personal storage.

  3. venkat says:


    We can share our experiences with you if you are interested. We popularized the term “Personal Cloud” to certain extent :).

    Our vision for Tonido ( is to offer everything the web offers without relying on 3rd party or public online services. We call that as Personal Cloud.

    • Thanks – I cited your company in my post because it does come up high in a Google search for “personal cloud”. And it sounds like you are using the term in a way that’s compatible with what VRM and the personal data ecosystem need.

      Have you looked at their concept of a “personal data store”? Do you think Tonido’s use of “personal cloud” fits?

  4. Wes Felter says:

    I like the term “personal cloud”, but it’s unfortunate that it’s being squatted by posers: neither Iomega’s nor Tonido’s products are actually cloudy (read clouds must be located in data centers).

    • Wes, I agree that “cloud” typically means in servers on data centers. But do they have to be? Isn’t any server that’s online full time and accessible from the net part of “the cloud”? I definitely think individuals who have the moxy should be able to host their own personal clouds (though the vast majority of us will use fourth-party providers, just as we do for email).

  5. Daniel Gerber says:

    I agree with your analysis that Personal Data Server cannot be the name. However, I have some doubts about Personal Cloud as well:
    – today, the term is used by Microsoft and Tonido for “data stored on your personal computer that is accessible over the Internet”. But who cares.
    – important attributes of personal data stores are privacy and security. The term “cloud” does not really reflect this. For business users this does not matter. Consumers however might ask themselves if such a service is secure enough.
    – I don’t need a personal “cloud”. I want my data organised, accessible and I want to be able to share it in a controlled way. Building on the slogan of MINT: Your digital life, all in one place.

    In a nutshell: Personal Cloud is better than Personal Data Server (and Store) but there might be an even better name.

    • Daniel, I too like the MINT slogan about “Your digital life, all in one place”. That’s always been the promise of a PDS. Let me know if you come upon a better term.

  6. Bob says:

    While the concept of storing your financial information “in the cloud”, using a service like Mint, has advantages, I don’t think it’s quite ready for prime time. And it mostly has to do with security.

    First of all, handing over your financial passwords to a cloud-based service is just a bad idea. Even if they encrypt the passwords, as Mint claims. Isn’t that why things like User Managed Access and OAuth are being developed, so you don’t have to share your credentials in order to grant a third party like Mint with access to your information? And what if the banks actually start implementing *real* two factor authentication? Seems like a password alone wouldn’t be sufficient for Mint to access your accounts anyway, in that case.

    Then there’s the password you get from Mint to access your financial information. I thought it was generally acknowledged that protecting sensitive information and other high value online resources with nothing more than a password was bad security. Even though someone who is able to steal your Mint password can’t actually access your financial accounts, they can still access your financial information on Mint. Mint should at least provide users with the option of using one-time passwords, in addition to static passwords.

    Finally, there’s the question of whether your financial information on the Mint servers is encrypted and safe from being exposed by a data breach. The Mint website says that they encrypt all “backup drives and tapes”, but it’s unclear whether financial data is always stored in encrypted form.

    If we’re going to have “personal clouds” and other cloud services that involve high value transactions and sensitive personal information, strong authentication and encryption of all sensitive data should be the minimal standard. Let’s not perpetuate poor security just because browsers can remember passwords and customers may not ask for anything better.

    • Bob says:

      Sorry, I meant to post this under The Personal Cloud, Take 2

    • Bob, +++1. I honestly didn’t mean to be advocating the password anti-pattern in my posts. I have been wondering why Mint (not Intuit) doesn’t add OAuth support; I have to believe it’s coming soon.

      And I completely agree that it will be what is required before personal clouds can start storing and sharing sensitive information. Ironically, their propagation just might move that ball forward, because we’ll actually need to implement real distributed security standards instead of relying on HTTPS logins from a handful of providers large enough to be trusted by a preponderance of sites.

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