Why We Are Building Contxt

This is a cross-post with from the Contxt website.

For many risk and compliance teams, tracking personal data has become an exercise in frustration. It seems like an endless game of whack-a-mole, where more and more data sources, internal systems, databases, and rogue systems emerge. Like many complex systems, the longer you stare at it, the more out of focus it becomes.

And just as you start to get a solid picture of your personal data landscape, you find your work is out of date. Systems that you mapped and indexed six months ago have been deployed for new use cases, with new data being collected and distributed.

It’s understandable why this happens. Today’s business priorities shift as quickly as consumers can manufacture new memes. Every business must respond at the speed of the customer, but this innovation in business model and value delivery makes privacy and compliance teams feel like roadblocks and obstacles that must be tolerated or sidelined.

The tension between the business and compliance has never been higher because the stakes have never been higher.

In order to move companies forward, we need a new model of privacy and trust. One that allows developers to include privacy compliance easily, to retrofit existing systems to be privacy-preserving quickly, and allows for privacy to be built in to new customer applications simply. That means no time consuming modifications, no rebuilding existing systems, and no rearchitecting.

We need better context. Context for why personal data is needed, how it is being used, and what the consumer expects of us. That’s why we are building Contxt. We are excited to invite you to join us on the journey.

Inadequate privacy protection leads to an erosion of trust

Ever since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was passed in 2016, the specter of humongous fines was on the horizon. Ominously, the law allows for fines up to 4% of global revenue. Considering that many companies entire profit margin is 5% of revenue, these fines have always had the potential to be crushing.

And now the Data Protection Authorities are delivering. Recently the DPR in Luxembourg issued a $888M fine against Amazon. Coverage has focused on the whopper of a number, which instantly put this fine in the top 5 largest fines ever issued against a company in Europe.

But still, most people still think if they aren’t in big tech, then GDPR probably won’t affect them too much. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Data Protection Authorities have already issued over $300M in fines before Amazon’s eye-wateringly large one. That includes $25M against British Airways; $40M against H&M; $25M against Marriott;  $14M against Vodafone; $11M against the Austrian Post; and $3M against Deliveroo.

Yes, Deliveroo, the food delivery service, who didn’t provide enough information to their delivery drivers on how their work shifts were scheduled.

Every consumer-facing sector has been affected. Consumer goods, media, consumer tech, grocery retail, travel and hospitality…anywhere consumers spend money, they are finding that companies are doing all sorts of things that consumers don’t like.

How are consumers responding to all of these new insights about shady data practices and insufficient disclosures?

Unsurprisingly, trust in companies is eroding. Edelman, who have been studying trust for more than 20 years, found that trust is eroding across the world’s two largest economies (the US and China), and as these fines continue, trust will continue to erode.

This is a moment to lead a revolution in privacy, to restore trust. As consumers look to brands to play an even larger role in their lives – from pandemic relief to taking a stand on social issues – a company’s commitment to privacy will set it apart and drive durable growth.

Digital privacy is the next value frontier

Apple’s recent announcement that they will allow users to stop apps from tracking their behavior across iOS devices will be the biggest showdown in digital business models since the creation of the internet.

The opportunity of digital advertising was always the reach and specificity of the ad targeting capability. Instead of buying a rough audience segment, with lots of people who didn’t care at all about your offering, the internet could offer you 1 impression to 1 person who had a better chance of caring about your offer. As a result, advertisers have naturally gravitated toward the players with the most eyeballs and the best targeting – Facebook and Google take over 50% of all digital ad revenue.

So, with Apple’s decision to allow for users to define their own tracking parameters, they have committed to cutting revenue for ALL advertising businesses, and pushing more consumers into subscription paths across all digital channels. This will have lasting effects for years to come.

Moving forward, companies that sell eyeballs will not push to see their audience everywhere, like Facebook has done with their Like button, the Onavo acquisition, the WhatsApp acquisition, and many other moves. They won’t be able to see all the other sites and apps that you are visiting, so they won’t even try.

This opens the possibility for many companies to build a deeper and more unique value proposition with their customers, including an opportunity for privacy and control to be at the heart of the customer experience.

Once you have the trust and confidence of your customer, you can find myriad new ways to deepen the relationship. Look at Apple itself, who has a famously loyal customer base because of the trust it has built for usable products. They have been able to successfully extend the iPhone ecosystem with Apple Watch; and build a fast-growing services business with their iCloud, Music, and TV offerings…now conveniently available as a bundled service, Apple One.

Technologists often describe Apple’s push into services as a concerning return to the “walled garden” approach, where AOL and Facebook “curated” what you saw on the internet, and therefore the user was under their control. This is not Apple’s approach at all. You can go anywhere online and do whatever you want with their products, but often that means wading through hundreds of low quality YouTube yoga videos. Apple Fitness offers the convenience of high quality curation.

Apple has built the trust of that convenience because they have been staunch advocates of privacy for their customers from the beginning of the company, and they have worked hard to maintain that privacy. Famously, their spat with the FBI, where they would not access the iPhone of a terrorist, cemented Apple  as a privacy-first company. In the 4 years since that case, their market cap has tripled.

Is Apple’s valuation growth all because of their focus on privacy? No, of course not. But it is a meaningful differentiator that underpins all of their work, and it’s one that customers have come to appreciate – and pay for.

The Opportunity of Real Estate Tech

The 2020s will see more transformation in real estate tech than the entire Internet age to date. Finally, 30 years of technology advancements will remake all aspects of the real estate sector.

This is no small feat, given that MSCI pegs just the global commercial real estate market at $8T and the U.S. market at $3T. The entire real estate category is worth $32T. Real estate might just be the biggest sector technology has disrupted yet – making the $5T technology industry itself seem quite small.

The forces shaping change across the technology landscape all have an impact on the real estate sector, and the cumulative effect will be transformational on the landscape. These mega-trends in technology are coming to their fullest expression right now.


There are 5.3B people over the age of 15 in the world; and there are 5B cell phones. In the U.S., mobile internet penetration for adults is over 90%. At this point, mobile is the primary way most people access the Internet.

For the real estate sector, this creates new connectivity for virtually everyone who works in the industry. Most of the work in the sector is done in the field, and making business processes and information available in the field has a huge productivity boost for every employee.

Contractors, developers, agents, brokers, property managers, inspectors, landscapers, and maintenance staff will all have powerful tools at their fingertips to make them more effective and efficient.


In the mid-2000s, a number of real estate tech companies started aggregating publicly available data and creating simple online portals for real estate information. Zillow IPOed, and Realtor.com started getting all of the disparate MLSes integrated into a common interface. These obvious data assets lay the foundation for more aggressive – and accretive – uses of data for the next decade.

The most obvious new data plays in the space are iBuyers, who will buy homes from sellers directly at very-small-to-virtually-no discount to the market rate. Offerpad and Opendoor have raised $2B between them; Redfin and Zillow have pivoted to this model; and new entrants like the brokerage Keller-Williams are launching competing offerings.

Having enough data to make a confident bet on the value of an individual property is the key technology ingredient for iBuyers to be successful. To collect that data, iBuyers have warchests of capital that will allow them to fine-tune their thesis without running out of funding before they get the model right.


The rise of commercial-scale cloud computing started just before the Great Recession, and its adoption in the intervening decade has given rise to a host of new tools. To survive the transition, real estate developers and property managers have to adapt to compete. The cloud enables much of the real-time information needed to manage projects more effectively; and also reduces the burden of technical maintenance for small, nimble teams who assemble around specific projects (like a construction project!).

In addition, enterprise cloud services service as the backbone of operations for modern real estate professionals. Platforms like Viewpoint and CMiC provide a core ERP, from which to add on additional cloud services like Yardi, Propertyware, and Appfolio can engage with tenants and staff.


Virtual, augmented and mixed reality holds huge promise for any industry that manages physical assets and sites. Tools like Autodesk and ARki dramatically lower the cost of architecture and design services. Visualizations from Reside and PlaceTime compress and shorten the funnel to find and manage tenants by allowing them to tour virtual homes. And tools like SmartReality reduce ongoing maintenance costs by allowing teams to visualize internal systems of finished buildings.


Connecting buildings means greater efficiency, less use of natural resources, and lower maintenance costs. As smart meters get added to new and existing structures, everyone will have a real-time view of energy use and optimization. Tenants will have the ability to monitor and control their spaces wherever they are. And new, differentiated experiences, like enhanced safety and shared spaces, will create new business models.

The biggest reason that the coming decade will transform the real estate tech sector is that the industry is ready for the change. After a decade of improving property values globally; and the adoption of many of these technologies in other aspects of people’s lives; leaders in real estate see the connected future as an opportunity to win their outsized share of tomorrow.

The Myth of Cultural Relevance

Will Self is worried about the state of the novel!

So worried, in fact, that he has been talking about it for ten years. The novel is in decline! Literary fiction is being subsumed by “BDDM” (“bi-directional digital media”), and in the process, our brains are changing. Nicholas Carr documented it all, and what we lose is an entire way of thinking and understanding the world.

Thus begins Self’s latest essay in Harper’s Magazine, and I prepare myself for another techno-phobic allegory complete with references to Fahrenheit 451.

But, with a deft turn, Self tosses this worry stone into the ocean, eliminating twenty years of cognoscenti concern for the rise of digital, in deference to its inevitability. And, in this purging of worry, he finds the ability to reflect on some of the benefits that come from the demise of the status of authors.

Here’s the money quote: “If the literary novel was the crucible of a certain sort of self-conception, one of autonomy and individuality, then it was equally the reinforcer of alienation and solopsism.” Basically, we will lose some things as the long-form novel declines, but not *all* of the things we lose are necessarily bad.

And, all at once, my esteem for Self increases by a factor of ten. Because the truth is that there are pros and cons to every form of cultural content; and it is rare that someone with a vested interest in the declining topic is so open about its limitations.

We have a tendency to defend our place in the world, as if the world owed us something for all of the work we have done to create the expertise, the skill, and the work ethic to do the thing that we are good at. But, of course, the world does not owe us any of these things.

In fact, just the opposite. We owe the world to be able to make ourselves relevant and useful, if we want to have a place in it. Or, we can retreat into a Walden-like existence, which may leave us a legacy, but which will not allow us to be part of the conversation.

And, in any case, the whole notion of a unified cultural experience is, at this point, an unreality that is only defined by its relationship to the past. When there were only three TV channels, and TVs had 85% household penetration, we had a shared cultural experience. 100 million people watched the series finale of M*A*S*H*.  By contrast, 30 million people watched Prince Harry marry Meghan Markle.

At this point, the filter bubble has encased each of us. If the history of the writer is to put themselves in the mind of the reader, digital technologies do a way better job – they get into the mind of the consumer so well, they figure out how to best show us we would be interested in picking up the content in the first place; like when Netflix personalizes the artwork promoting shows to us.

This makes us feel simultaneously autonomous and part of a larger community at the same time. Congratulations to Self for recognizing it.

Trump v. Clinton: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Future of Work

In 1943, Abraham Maslow published his, “Theory of Human Motivation.” Fundamentally, Maslow believed that human beings worked to achieve and sustain their needs according to a fairly predictable hierarchy.

Seen through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the election results make so much sense. Democrats were not enthusiastic about a Clinton candidacy because she spoke to building a sense of community – of being Stronger Together. This appeals to our need for “Love and Belonging,” and many people voted for Clinton because she represented this need. The need for Love and Belonging manifests itself in ideas like:

  • The need for safe spaces, where minorities and historically oppressed groups can express their perspectives without fear of persecution

  • The need for women to have a voice in the political establishment, and to believe that any qualified person would be judged on their qualifications for the presidency, and not by their gender

  • The need to see yourself as part of the great American experiment, where people of different creeds and colors assemble under a shared vision of freedom and opportunity

In order for each individual to reach their fullest potential, it is clear that we need to feel a sense of love and belonging. We can’t be successful at developing a sense of strong self-esteem without it.

But, Trump spoke to a more fundamental need – the need for Safety. Maslow describes the need for safety as expanding beyond just physical safety, to also encompass economic security, and to feel safe from danger or threats. Trump voters feel the need for Safety with ideas like:

  • The need to protect us from the threat of violence from illegal immigrants who have infiltrated the country

  • The need to create jobs that provide economic stability, so that each of us can keep ourselves safe from harm

  • The need to have affordable healthcare, with reasonable and predictable insurance premiums that provide for physical safety

The biggest lesson for any political candidate is that they must speak to the lowest common denominator need on Maslow’s hierarchy that a majority of the electorate will relate to.

A political campaign that helps people believe that they can become self-actualized, and achieve their highest and best dreams, can only win if the majority of the electorate believes that they are safe; that they belong; and that they have self-worth.

On the other hand, if the majority of the electorate does not feel confident in having food, clothing and shelter, then a campaign focused on self-actualization is doomed.

So, within this context, we can see how our current electorate maps against the need for Safety and the need for Love and Belonging:

The Safety coalition included:

  • Whites with a high school education, who are unsure about their economic future

  • Evangelicals, who see their entire way of life as under attack with secular values proliferating

The Love and Belonging coalition included:

  • College educated whites, who have experienced the benefits of globalization and technology advancements

  • Minority voters, who expect to have a seat at the table of power and decision-making for the future of the American experiment

  • 18-25 year olds, who believe that they will inherit the poor decisions of previous generations and deserve to have a say in decisions made now

Just by looking at these coalitions, you can see how fundamental the issues were to each of these coalitions; for the Safety coalition, electing Trump was existential. The stakes could not be higher – he represents their only hope to maintain their lives in a relatively stable way. By contrast, the urgency for the Love and Belonging coalition was just not as fundamental. Which resulted in a poor turnout for Democrats – across the country, almost 6 million fewer votes were cast for Clinton than were cast for Obama in 2012.

Perhaps the biggest challenge with this election result is that Trump is not going to be able to wholesale move jobs back to the U.S. Advanced industrialized economies will lose over 7 million jobs to technology in just the next four years. By contrast, the U.S. has lost 5 million jobs to offshoring….in the 15 years from 2001-2016.

As software eats the world, we a 21st century economic model to deal with the accelerating automation of work.

How to Leverage Social Login (Part 1)

This post is cross-posted from the Janrain Blog.

Social login is a simple concept, with profound implications. When a user logins into any website using an existing online identity, there is immediate value for both the the user and the website.
For users, the ease of logging in without filling out a long profile form and the convenience of not needing to remember passwords is a clear benefit. For websites, among the many benefits is the information that users share offers an opportunity to make the site experience more relevant.
From a technical standpoint, the process of integrating Janrain Engage to enable social login into your site is very straightforward. Most of the effort in the integration will be around determining the best possible user experience for your community.
Defining Reasons to Register
First, and most important, you must clearly define why a user would register on your site in the first place. This critical step is often the most overlooked. Your users are rational economic actors, and as such, will evaluate the trade-offs of every exchange. They will weigh what they are giving up (personal information) for what they are receiving in return. Even when there is no money involved, your users still need to find more value in what they receive from registration, than the personal information they are giving up.
There are a number of ways to provide value for a registration. Here are some ideas to start you off:
  • Premium content: Some websites keep high-value content behind a registration wall. There are many ways to build value into content, like creating long-form reports, high-value videos, or early access to regular content. For content-driven sites, this is the easiest way to build value for registered users.
  • Contests and promotions: Short-term contests with valuable prizes are a great way to build registrations. Remember that the prizes don’t necessarily have to be expensive, but they must be valuable for your audience. An in-person meeting with a famous singer doesn’t cost anything, but has a huge value to fans.
  • Community: Access to message boards, comments, or your branded social network are all valuable add-ons to your users’ experience – and are sometimes the primary experience of your website. In those cases, it’s natural to register in order to contribute.
The type of experiences you put behind a registration will dictate the type of users who will register. Your most loyal fans will want access to premium content; more casual users may be interested in a contest (depending on the prize). Consider your goals in relation to the 1/9/90 rule: in general, 1% of users create content; 9% will comment on those creations; and 90% will be passive readers.

Bicycling.com offers compelling reasons for users to register and create a profile, like access to a training log.

Registration Process
Next, consider the actual experience of registering on your site. Where should the registration button be placed? Are there events that launch a registration flow automatically, like when a user clicks “Submit” after writing a comment. The launch experience will determine how likely a user is to abandon their registration. Make sure the benefits of registering are clearly defined right away in that process.
Finally, consider how much work it is for your user to complete their registration. You want the process to be as seamless as possible. This is your opportunity to leverage all of the data from a social login. If possible, do not require your users to create a separate “Display Name.” If there are certain fields that you require, like email address, only offer identity providers that provide that data to you.
If you must collect additional fields, they can be automatically pre-populated using the social data you have collected. Any additional information you require could cause your users to abandon the registration process. So, it’s crucial to only require items that are actually required. Don’t lose the good data they are providing by harassing them for one more item as it will cause drop off.

Go Try It On pre-populates social data into their registration form, allowing users to finish their registration quickly.

So far, we’ve discussed the whys and hows of user registration. Next week, I’ll talk more about how to make advanced registration and profiles more useful for your users, and for your business.

How to Leverage Invite Friends

This post is cross-posted from the Janrain Blog.

Fundamentally, people are attracted to social technologies because they like sharing their lives and experiences with friends. In fact, the ability to share is one reason that Jeremiah Owyang has said that email was the first social network. Before Friendster or Tribes, people emailed cute cat videos to each other.

That desire to connect and share with others is the driving user need for Janrain’s Invite Friends functionality. Invite Friends is different than Social Sharing. Where a social share event is a broadcast message to all social connections, Invite Friends allows the user to send a targeted message to selected friends. It’s the difference between a “come one, come all” poster to the Friday night party, and a party invitation delivered through the mail. More targeted, more personal.

This functionality can be used for a number of purposes, like sharing a deal or offer, telling friends about an achievement, targeting a sensitive message to the best connections in the user’s network, or asking a friend to join the user in a new social experience.

Janrain offers Invite Friends functionality for Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, and Windows Live (Hotmail). The end result in social networks is a network message (e.g. a Facebook Message or Twitter Direct Message) from the user to their friend; for Google, Yahoo and Windows, the end result is an email from the user to their contact’s email.

The Invite Friends functionality is very easy to implement. It’s based on Janrain’s Contacts API. In order to implement this functionality, you must first ensure that you have asked for the correct permissions from the user. In Facebook, the user has to authorize your site to access their contacts. In email providers, the user authorizes access to their email address book.

The contact list that is returned from Janrain is normalized and available in XML or JSON. If the user has connected multiple identities, contacts from multiple networks can be displayed. Now, you can render those contacts in the way that makes the most sense for your users.

There are a two common options for rendering contact lists.

You can queue them up to be auto-populated from a keystroke trigger, like Gmail:

Invite Friends - Auto-Populated Email

Or you can import photos and allow users to check which contacts they want to communicate with:

Invite Friends - Import photos

Make sure to allow the user to select all or none of their contacts easily, in addition to toggling a selection for an individual contact easily. Also note that Janrain won’t return any information from a Facebook user’s friend that the friend has not authorized for the user to access.


Another way to leverage your user’s social graph is through a Refer a Friend experience. This is a highly targeted way to maintain the exclusivity of an experience, by limiting access to social referrals. You can enhance the velvet rope feeling by limiting the number of friends that can be referred.

Inviting friends with a targeted message is important functionality to consider for higher value, or more sensitive experiences that don’t make sense for users to broadcast to their entire network. Not surprisingly, they are also more effective marketing messages than anything you could send directly from the brand. Open rates on messages and emails from known contactsare 43% higher than from email marketers, and transaction rates are 2.5 times higher.

Janrain has detailed documentation on using the Contacts API to start this process, and please contact us if you have any questions on how to build your own Invite Friends experience.

How to Leverage Social Sharing

This is cross-posted form the Janrain Blog.

One of the most common use cases for Janrain Engage is to promote your website content on external social networks through the use of our social sharing functionality. Sharing has come a long way from constrained widgets. Janrain offers unmatched flexibility and tracking for social sharing – from simultaneous network broadcasts to sharing from a mobile device.

Go Try It On implementation of Janrain Engage social sharing in iOs

Fortunately, the process of implementing Janrain’s social sharing on your website is very straightforward. There are three main components that you have to define: the activity that triggers a sharing event, the content within the publish activity, and the links back to your existing analytics package for return visitor tracking. Let’s look at them individually.

The Activity Event

The process of a social share starts with a user activity. Most of the time, the activity will be a click event, on a sharing icon, button, or favicon. But, a triggered share can be prompted from any event. Some possible sharing events include:


  • Reaching the end of an article: when a user has read an entire article, they are more likely to share it than a user who read just the first paragraph. You can implement a sharing trigger once the user scrolls to the bottom of a page. Here, Kodak allows users to share their projects.Kodak implementation of social sharing with Janrain Engage
  • Commenting on a piece of content: when a user comments on a piece of content, the publication of that comment can trigger a recommended share event. In this case, the user is not done with the comment flow until they decide whether they want to share the comment or not. Here, the Bakersfield Californian allows users to share their comments on articles.Bakersfield Californian implementation of social sharing on a comment with Janrain Engage
  • Completing a sequence of events: a user may want to share when they have accomplished something on your site. Whether its getting to the end of a checkout process, viewing a video series, or interacting with advertiser elements on your site, every unique experience is potentially a shareable experience. Here, AMC allows users to choose which suspect is the killer on the TV show “The Killing.”AMC implementation of social sharing on TV show The Killing, using Janrain Engage


The Publish Event

Publishing a social share is the act of submitting that shared content to the social networks where the user has connected. Janrain’s sharing allows the user to post to multiple networks simultaneously, which increases overall sharing, as users link to multiple networks with one publish event. In addition, Janrain allows you to retain some control over brand perception by allowing users to publish immediately, or to put social shares into a moderation queue, and publish them later.

In order to finalize a publish event, you have to determine a few things about what defaults the user should share. You’ll need to determine what the title and description of the event that the user shares should say. Most commonly, those will be driven by the page-level information you are already using, and pulled directly from the HTML on page. Of course, custom messaging is also possible. So, your content strategist should be involved in how social content is messaged for maximum clickthrough and SEO benefits.

We also recommend that you prompt your users with a message to share to their network. Of course, the user will have the ability to customize the message they send out to their network, but this is a case where smart default copy can influence the tone and color of how your content is received by the user’s social graph. Default copy can be static or dynamic based on the page content or template, and could be the page or article title, and can also include an action from the user, like “I love…” or “I just read…” This prompts the user to think about the context they want to provide for their friends and contacts.

The Analytics Setup

Of course, the goal of users sharing your content is to drive more traffic back to your site. You will want to ensure that you are accurately tracking the return traffic from a sharing event.

Janrain’s social sharing works with any analytics package. First, you must establish the proper campaign tracking identifier to append to the shared URL. In general, you will want to track several components, such as Campaign Name, Referrer, and Source, R. Most websites define the Campaign Name as “SocialMedia,” Referrer as “SocialShare,” and Source as the share location (e.g. “Checkout” or “ArticleEnd”).

The campaign tracking append is embedded within the share trigger, as part of the URL that is shared. Simply place it at the end of the URL reference as a hard coded element in the share activity. That way, regardless of what specific page the user is on, the campaign tracking information will be automatically added.

We also recommend that you shorten the URL after campaign tracking identifiers are appended. Janrain provides easy URL shortening through our rpx.me service. Now, you’re all set to allow users to share content in a way that adds more user profiles and more social media analytics onto your site.

Janrain’s customers see an average of 13 return visitors for every link shared. With a well thought-out social sharing strategy, you can dramatically increase your site traffic from social media, and drive a more qualified referral visitor at the same time. Janrain’s strategic servicescan help you articulate the most valuable sharing experience for your users.