The Rhineland model

Historically, the Perspectives Project (2016-present) originated in work we (Cor Baars and Joop Ringelberg) did for the Dutch National Police (2013-2015). Working as main Architect and lead programmer respectively, we created a foundation for the new software to be used by all 60.000 officers (the so-called OPP program, frequently in the news: see e.g. this article). Cor perceived the police officer primarily as a knowledge worker, rather than as a production worker, as was the received wisdom at the time. But a police officer is involved in many cases at any time, switches context all the time and must rely on his own judgement continuously. This kind of work can never be captured in a step by step process model but instead relies on knowledge, insight and judgement.

From this background, eventually, during the years 2016-2018, the core Perspectives concepts of role, context, action, view, perspective and property emerged. These are the abstractions of the original ideas of (police) files, the RACI model, tasks, etc. that we used to describe the world of maintaining the law and criminal investigation.

I just read the booklet “The Rhineland Model” by Jaap Peters and Mathieu Weggeman and was struck by how this vision of organisation chimes with Perspectives core concepts. Just look at this list of Rhineland core values:

  • decentralise responsibility and power;
  • focus on employee needs and wants;
  • promote co-operation;
  • co-ordinate on lower levels: do not rule top-down;
  • put value on worker initiative
  • communicate laterally versus vertically.

The Rhineland model moves away from process models with fixed steps. It sees an organisation as a co-operation and strives towards decentral decision making. In hindsight, even though the police organisation formally has a hierarchical structure, on the operational level it is very much Rhineland oriented.

Perspectives lets you analyse co-operative work in terms of role and context. (Formal) organisations only come secondary or tertiary in the picture: organisational bounds are unimportant as employees of any organisation transcend its organisational borders (it has to interact with the world, right?). So a context in which both employees and customers, or employees of other organisations, play a role is a natural analysis. Roles are defined in terms of the actions they can perform – which we call the role perspective on the context. Process flow is only secondary, in Perspectives: we assume roles are fulfilled by knowledgeable workers.

With Perspectives, one designs (and generates!) software that supports co-operation, that is: real interaction on the work floor. This software empowers workers by enabling (structured) communication over a distance in space and time.

It may be no exaggeration to state that Perspectives is to the Rhineland model what the Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) is to the Anglo-American model. Where the latter focusses on top-down driven, centrally designed process flow with minimal local decision power, the former enables knowledge workers in context.

In other words, Perspectives may be a natural language to describe an organisation adhering to Rhineland values. With the bonus of working software as a result, of course!

IT needs an anti-Copernicus

Copernicus famously put the sun at the center of the universe and so drove man to the periphery. Countless revolutions were to follow, pushing man ever further away in the name of objective science. But the IT industry has taken a step too far with the objectification of information. And society followed: we now take information to be physical and yet have intrinsic meaning. At the same time, we all know that words taken out of their context may take on significance and meaning never intended by their speaker. 

I realised this morning that this is exactly what we try to restore with Perspectives! We have constructed a method of creating computer programs that tie information to its context. Information is a physical object (e.g. a letter) that is the result of technology (c.q. paper, ink, the art of writing) that lets people communicate over a distance in space or time. But physical objects persist and can be moved out of that context of communication, hence re-used and misinterpreted, hence the problem. Big Tech in Silicon Valley bases its empires on that fact and thereby has a vested interest in the status quo of IT. Moving information out of its context is a business model. Alternatives have not been given serious thought: billions hang in the balance.

Enter Perspectives, that lets people keep the physical objects (data as represented on a medium like a hard disk) in their physical context of use, because the system is inherently distributed, meaning that each user brings his own device. It is back to the future in the sense that before 1990 we all kept our own (paper) files in a drawer in our study: all of our insurance policies, employment contracts, etc were in our own house. We restore that. It is as simple as that, the difference being that with Perspectives we do not need a postman to communicate: we can have the full benefits of the information age yet keep our own stuff safe.

So we need an anti-Copernican revolution, in IT. Man, for once, should be in the centre of the scheme: not his data.

Perspectives on economy

Perspectives is a new technology and a new approach to software engineering, including a new method of design. It is all about privacy designed from the ground up. But it is about creating wealth and making money, too. We like to think that, like Blockchain, we will create a new market full of new possibilities. Unlike Blockchain-based companies we introduce no ‘tokens’. But we do know how to handle money in a fully distributed fashion, safely. In a new page we explain how Perspectives, perceived as a protocol, creates that new market. We show how it is neither a fat nor a thin protocol. We will have something to say about piracy as a community phenomenon and how a thriving community can handle a little of that.

Logic and AI

Perspectives’ theoretical background runs surprisingly deep. Today I’ve added a page to our Foundation section on:

  • the logical semantic foundation of contexts and roles;
  • the MVC model that observes logical descriptions of actions in order to create a dynamic user interface;
  • the backward chaining logic of the calculated properties and roles;
  • the forward chaining system that keeps query results up to date, in effect implementing a truth maintenance system;
  • how the notions of distribution and declarative semantics – usually uneasy bedfellows – sit together;
  • how the entire system supports forms of common sense reasoning as studied by GOFAI.

In a later post I hope to announce a page that gives the Category Theoretical foundations of Perspectives. 

On Subscription

Ev Williams, the CEO of Medium, published a post in April on The Rationalisation of Publishing. Here he defends the idea of user-payed written content on the web. “Look at the renaissance in television — it was driven by a better (non-advertising) business model.” He notices how Netflix has redefined television. Now Spotify did the same for music.

“There is — and probably always will be — a surplus of free content. But that’s like saying there’s a surplus of free food in the dumpster behind the alley. Some of it may be perfectly good, but most of us would rather pay for something more reliable and convenient if we’re able. And many people will pay a lot for something superior.”

Ev Williams

Inevitably, from the CEO of Medium, he discusses how consumers like to pay for bundles:

“There’s a reason we don’t subscribe to TV shows or our favorite bands individually: 1) It would be a pain in the butt. 2) It would be a much worse deal. We pay for bundles, which give us access to lots of options. It’s great, and it will be great for published content, as well.”

Ev Williams

We argue the above reasoning will hold for co-operative software, too. WhatsApp is great, and so are others like SnapChat and even lootjestrekken.nl fills a (seasonal) role (note to non-Dutch readers: this is a site that helps with the Santaclaus presents). But subscribing to all of them individually would be a pain in the ass – especially if you think of all the others that do not yet exist but that would be very useful! (Just head over to InPlace to get an idea).

So the future looks bright, for subscription-based co-operative software!

Perspectives on Integration

Any system has its limits. Perspectives, too, has boundaries. Even though we’d like to think of Perspectives as more akin to an operating system (one with aspirations: the Co-operating System for the World Computer!), from the outside it is just a program running on a Windows, Linux or OsX machine. A program that maybe should interface with other programs, exchanging data with them. 

We have a special take on such integration. In the technology page Perspectives on Integration we explain how.

Perspectives on Data

Venture Capital Firm Union Square Ventures has neatly explained how value is accrued at the data layer on the Web. As the data layer, as opposed to the underlying HTTP protocol layer, is very much centralised and privately owned, this explains how some companies have been able to get extremely rich. This is to the detriment of innovation. Their post Crypto Tokens and the Coming Age of Protocol Innovation by Albert Wenger explains this in detail.

I’ve added a new page to the theory section of this website. There I explain how Perspectives is similar to Blockchain in providing an alternative to the centralised data layer of the current web. I also show how it is different from Blockchain and why we don’t need tokens to create incentives for creators. 

Perspectives implements a neat separation of concerns with respect to subscription payment, creation and distribution.

Head over to Perspectives on Money and Data!

Fat Protocols

Fat Protocols is a name coined by Joel Monegro of Union Square Ventures (USV). In a post on their blog he explains:

The previous generation of shared protocols (TCP/IP, HTTP, SMTP, etc.) produced immeasurable amounts of value, but most of it got captured and re-aggregated on top at the applications layer, largely in the form of data (think Google, Facebook and so on).

In contrast, he argues, BlockChain could be described as ‘fat protocol’. Most of the value that is owned is generated ‘at the protocol level’. Bitcoin and Ethereum have a very large market capitalisation, while applications built on top of their respective chains have far less value.

Thin and fat protocols.

Perspectives can be thought of as a protocol. The Perspective Runtime (PR) uses that protocol to exchange information automatically between nodes, according to models that govern the interaction between individuals holding the nodes. In this sense, alternatives for the PR are fully conceivable. As a matter of fact, while writing “On the Principles of Financial Transactions Secured by Witnesses” I thought of a client for a trust providing organisation that doesn’t need to be based on the PR. It just needs to handle a few actions and a single role in a single type of context. Such a client could be written in any language and use any kind of database, as long as it speaks the protocol.

This is good. It means that Perspectives doesn’t lock you in. Let’s call this protocol the Perspectives Exchange Protocol (PEP). Is PEP a fat or a thin protocol? I give you another USV quote:

by replicating and storing user data across an open and decentralized network rather than individual applications controlling access to disparate silos of information, we reduce the barriers to entry for new players and create a more vibrant and competitive ecosystem of products and services on top

This is exactly what Perspectives is all about. However, USV sees a second component that contributes to the value of Blockchain based protocols and that is the utility token (called protocol token in this context). Users investing in these tokens incentivise development of both the protocol and applications on top of it.

Here is where InPlace comes in. Conceive of the monthly fee paid by users as an investment in Perspective Utility Tokens (PUT). These recurring investments are put to use by expending them to creative modellers who contribute to the Perspectives ecosystem of models.

Seen in that light, it would seem that PEP is a fat protocol, complete with its own token. The one difference from many Blockchain based protocols is that the PUT has no speculative value.

Welcome to Perspect IT

After several years of research and development, we are ready to publish our work. “We”: that is, Perspect IT. Cor Baars and Joop Ringelberg. We’ve written a number of pages describing our work: Perspectives, and will gradually build a full presentation of the method, the theory and the technology.

As we extend our site, we will publish posts here.