A Short History of Welcomer Framework - Jan 2015

At the time of writing the Welcomer Framework is experimental and has not been proven with real users and real applications.  It has minimal functionality.  A history of its evolution and why we found it necessary to create it may be useful to others considering using it or something similar. We were urged by Doc Searls to make the Framework Open Source as soon as practical and I agreed with that idea. The Framework will evolve and have increased functionality as we and others use and develop it.

The Company Welcomer (alias White Label Personal Clouds) evolved from my experience in founding and developing Edentiti to a viable company.  Edentiti is now the number one provider of electronic verification of identity in Australia/New Zealand and was built (unknowingly) from VRM principles.  It was built on the premise that it is easier for a person to supply verification of identity information than it was for an organisation to see if the person existed.  It is pretty obvious that this is the case now but in 2004 when we first started it wasn't obvious.

To sell the idea in a product we had to create a system where the person verified themselves but was unable to keep a copy for themselves for later reuse.  This happened because our customers (large organisations) paid for the verification and they did not want other organisations benefiting from their payment.  This approach has proven commercially successful but it was not what I wanted.  I wanted the individual to be in control of their own data.

I was unable to convince Edentiti to move in the direction of user control so I left Edentiti and formed a new Company (Welcomer) that would build applications that left the individual with control over their own data. We still retain connections to Edentiti but Edentiti does not intend, at this time, to move to the user retaining control of data.

To build applications you have to have domain expertise so I started trying to find people who had a domain and would like to try the VRM approach.  I found InFactDecisions.  InFactDecision's Lisa Schutz has extensive domain expertise in credit checking and wrote a thesis in 2005 that had within it (unknowingly) VRM principles. We are building, with Lisa, a Proof of Income product called Verifier.

In the meantime we have been building our Framework and trying to find other entrepreneurs with domain expertise and willing to use the Framework. When it came to the crunch they all seem to want to build everything themselves.  Finding application developers has proven difficult and so we decided in November to build an application where we had some domain expertise.  We are a small employer and it costs time to get new people to fill out two mandatory forms in Australia and then to process them. (One estimate is $20 per form mainly in admin staff salaries).  One form is a Tax File Declaration form to give the employer the right to take tax out of a person's wages and send to the Tax Office. The other is a Superannuation Choice form so that the employer knows where to send compulsory superannuation contributions. It turns out that employers also have to get new employees to be aware of other regulations, such as health and safety and to get employees to sign they have read information about such things.

WelcomeAboard is a product that asks individuals to fill out standard forms for small employers and to save a copy for the individual that the employer can access, prove they have got permission, and extract data for use in sending funds elsewhere.

It turns out that Xero from New Zealand has become the dominant small business cloud based accounting package in Australia and by becoming a development partner of Xero we can get API access to small business accounts.

The sell for WelcomeAboard is that it is easy for a business to sign up to ask employees to fill out forms. It is easy for an individual to fill out forms many of which have the same information and where the individual can reuse form information from other forms and other employers. As a side benefit it gives individuals access to their payroll information and that can be used in Proof of Income and later Proof of Employment.

An employer buys WelcomeAboard by logging in to their Xero account. To connect an employee they enter their email address.  The employee clicks on a link in the email and they have a personal cloud with a single connection to the employer.  They fill out the forms and get more links in their personal cloud.

The Welcomer Framework provides the connections to the API of businesses and connections to the personal cloud where the individual stores their information.  In the case of WelcomeAboard we use the Framework to connect to Xero and we use the Framework to connect to the person's original form.

Welcomer defines a personal cloud as the set of personal data that a person can access with a single identification.  It builds personal clouds one connection at a time.  It does this using the CloudOS idea of a pico for each connection.  With WelcomeAboard we have a pico to connect to the employer and a pico to connect to each of the forms. We  use the email address as the identifier and we use Oauth for the connections. If a person can prove they have access to their email they are the person they say they are - for this application.

When a person goes to another employer who uses WelcomeAboard then the person can explicitly connect to their other picos created for the first employer.  If other applications used the Framework (or any other personal cloud system) then the person would be able to connect to those personal cloud components and so build up a personal cloud.

We expect people to have many personal clouds and to only connect ones where there is a use and need. The sum of a person's picos and their connections now becomes the electronic identity of the person.  With this approach a person's online identities evolves as they use them.

The system is distributed, user controlled and users create their own electronic identities. Each organisation asks an individual to prove who they are each time according to the rules set by the organisation.

To move personal information from one organisation to another the individual must establish reliable connections to the satisfaction of each organisation independently. Having established independent connections they move the data from one data store to another and may or may not keep a copy for themselves.