April 2012

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Out in the marketplace — that place where we do business as buyers and sellers — what and who are we, as individuals? Here’s a graphic that might help frame the what question:

Consumer vs. Customer ngram

It’s a Google Ngram that plots the prevalence of two terms — consumer and customer — in books between 1770 and 2004.

I suspect that the first little bump followed publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, in 1776. The words consumer and consumers in sum appear forty-nine times in his text. The word customer appears four times. (Thanks to the Library of Economics and Liberty for making those searches possible.) Yet the two terms were used in about equal amounts through subsequent books, until the early 1930s, which was when mass marketing (with the help of broadcasting) began to prevail — and with it the sense that the masses, now generally called “consumers” were the populations that mattered. The term “customer” began to fall off for awhile there.

Things turned positive for customer in the mid-1990s, I suspect because the Internet and e-commerce showed up and got huge.

But both words are still with us, and are still usually used interchangeably.

Yet they do mean different things, and we should pull them apart.

Take Google, Facebook and Twitter, for example. Those companys’ consumers and customers are different populations. The consumers are the users. The customers are the advertisers. In fact, our consumption is what’s sold to advertisers. “If it’s free, then you’re the product,” the saying goes. It’s not exactly right, but it’s close enough to make some points, one of which is that your influence on those companies is far less than it would be if you were paying for services rather than merely using (or consuming) them.

On the who side, it helps to start with this fact: out in the brick-and-mortar marketplace, we are by default anonymous most of the time. That is, nameless. As it says in the Free Dictionary,

a·non·y·mous  (-nn-ms)

adj.

1. Having an unknown or unacknowledged name: an anonymous author.
2. Having an unknown or withheld authorship or agency: an anonymous letter; an anonymous phone call.
3. Having no distinctive character or recognition factor: “a very great, almost anonymous center of people who just want peace” (Alan Paton).

[From Late Latin annymus, from Greek annumosnameless : an-without; see a-1 + onumaname (influenced by earlier nnumnos,nameless); see n-men- in Indo-European roots.]

When we go into a store to buy a shirt or a screwdriver, or when we buy a meal at a restaurant, we usually don’t say “Hi, I’m Jill, I’ll be buying here today,” and the person serving us usually doesn’t call us by name, even after we’ve handed them a credit card.

In fact, the default protocol for merchants is to not to give special attention to the name on a credit card, because that card is for use in a payment protocol, not a social one.

Thus we tend to use names only when we need them, for example when the person behind the cash register at Starbucks needs to write a name on the paper coffee cup handed to the barista after you give your order. Or when we get into serious dealings, such as when we’re buying a car, and a personal relationship is required.

Note that when we do name ourselves, we’re the ones doing the naming. We don’t say, “Hi, the DMV calls me Paul,” or “The IRS calls me Cheryl.” We say, “I’m (whatever I choose to call myself).” The vector of identification goes outward from the self. The sovereign that matters, the one with sole volition, is the human self. Not an administrative entity. And not society, either. (Not unless we are a celebrity — meaning a person whose name and face are known to countless strangers, and who is therefore nonymous by default. Whether by intent or circumstance, the fact remains that celebrity is by nature a Faustian trade: anonymity is the price paid for fame. And it’s a high one. Even in polite places like Santa Barbara, where celebrities can wander about with a low risk of being bothered by strangers, people still notice. One is not anonymous.)

There is a distinction here too, and it is between what Moxy Tongue describes as one’s sovereign source and one’s administrative identities. One is ours, and the other isn’t. Put another way, one is human, and the other is calf-cow. In the latter we are the calves, and we are what the cows call us. I’ve written about this before; but the difference this time is that we’ll be gathering to talk about it, along with many other related subjects, at IIW, the Internet Identity Workshop, which runs Tuesday-Thursday of this week. Let’s pick up the discussion then. Moxy himself will be there to help lead the way.

Is there a connection between the customer/consumer distinction and the sovereign source/administrative one? That is, between what we are and who we are? Put them together and there’s a lot more to talk about. I believe there is much more autonomy and power to claim for ourselves — for the good of the whole marketplace — if we come to a broad understanding here.

 

 

Music was a huge part of my life when I was growing up. It’s still big, but not the same. My life today does not have a soundtrack. As a kid my life was accompanied by music from start to finish. At that finish was another start, as a grown-up. From that point forward, music was less of a soundtrack and more of a break from conversations and silence, and a devotion of its own. The transition was not a sharp one, but rather a growing independence from music radio. Accompanying me the whole way, though I hardly knew it, was Carole King.

She was the composer behind dozens of songs I still hum or sing along to. She wrote or co-wrote 118 Billboard top 100 songs, between 1955 and 1999.  Though I always enjoyed her music and appreciated her talent, I hadn’t thought much about why they were appealing before listening this morning to this Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross (who, it turns out, was a neighbor of Carole’s when they were both growing up in Brooklyn). When I heard that some old videos of Carole had leaked out on YouTube, I went there and was blown away by this performance of Chains, a hit she and Jerry Goffin wrote for the Cookies, which was then Little Eva‘s back-up group.

What you see on that video is pure fun. The song is a simple one, almost a throw-away. But the energy is amazing. Watching and listening to that performance, it’s hard not to fall in love with her. The Carole King I got to know through Tapestry, and other mature works, was more seasoned and complete. But what I see here is something I also realized I knew all along: that her work was also play.

I’m also sold on her memoir, A Natural Woman. Looking forward to checking it out.

Amazon is now shipping my new book, The Intention Economy. Yes, the Kindle version too. They even have the first chapter available for free. You can “look inside” as well.

Thanks to Amazon’s search, you can even find stuff that’s not in the index, such as the acknowledgements. Those include a lot of people, including everybody who has ever been active on the ProjectVRM list.

The book isn’t for me. It’s for customers. All customers, that is. Not just the ones buying the book. The first paragraph of the Introduction explains,

This book stands with the customer. This is out of necessity, not sympathy. Over the coming years customers will be emancipated from systems built to control them. They will become free and independent actors in the marketplace, equipped to tell vendors what they want, how they want it, where and when—even how much they’d like to pay—outside of any vendor’s system of customer control. Customers will be able to form and break relationships with vendors, on customers’ own terms, and not just on the take-it-or-leave-it terms that have been pro forma since Industry won the Industrial Revolution.

That’s what the VRM development community has been working toward since I launched ProjectVRM at the Berkman Center in 2006. Now that community is getting kinda large. Here at the European Identity and Cloud Conference (#EIC12) in Munich, I have met or learned about a bunch of VRM developers I hadn’t known  before. Pretty soon I won’t be able to keep up, and that’s a good thing.

The book has four main parts:

  1. Customer Captivity
  2. The Networked Marketplace
  3. The Liberated Customer
  4. The Liberated Vendor

In a way it follows up on work begun with The Cluetrain Manifesto. The subtitle there was The End of Business as Usual. The subhead for The Intention Economy is When Customers Take Charge. Hey, when one thing ends, another must begin. This is it.

We’re not there yet. If The Intention Economy speeds things up, it will do its job.

 

 

 

Newtown Creek

Thanks to Jeff Warren (also here) of GrassRootsMapping and  Public Laboratory, I now know — and am highly turned on by — the possibilities of mapping in the wild. That is, mapping by the 99.xxx+% of us who are not in the mapping business, and are in the best multiple positions to map the world(s) in four running dimensions.

Check Jeff’s latest post at MapKnitter for what extra good can come from the series of shots I took of New York from altitude recently, and blogged about here. Pretty damn cool.

The thought now of what can be done with my many thousands of aerial photos is both exhiliarating and daunting. Fortunately, the work won’t be just mine — or any one person’s. And that’s what’s most cool about it.

On my way back from SXSW a couple weeks ago, I got some terrific shots of many things, including portions of Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky (including mountaintop mining), Virginia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Trenton and Providence.

Most of those aren’t uploaded yet, but I just put up the best of the bunch: this series of New York, with adjacent parts of New Jersey. The day wasn’t quite as clear as the pictures suggest, so I enhanced them a bit. But I love the detailed view they provide of what the David Letterman Show calls “the greatest city in the world.” It will always be home for me. Even though I’m from the Jersey side of “the rivva,” I was born, and grew up, closer to midtown than parts of all the other boroughs.

I enjoyed watching the Kentucky-Kansas NCAA Championship game last night, but not nearly as much as I have earlier finals, such as the Butler-Duke game two years ago. That game was in doubt even during the final second, when Gordon Hayward came inches away from winning it for Butler with a 45-foot shot released microseconds before the buzzer.

Here’s the difference. Duke-Butler was a college basketball game. The stars were college players, most of which might have had NBA fantasies, but only four of which were drafted: Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Lance Thomas and Kyle Singler. Three still play in the NBA. Singler plays in Europe. Of the NBA players, only Hayward is a starter. [Later... see corrections in the comments below.]

The Kansas-Kentucky final was a pro game. By that I mean that the game showcased a lot of future NBA talent. “What I’m hoping is there’s six first-rounders on this team.” Kentucky coach John Calipari told the LA Times. “We were the first program to have five, let’s have six.” On the Kansas side, there’s Thomas Robinson for sure. Others likely to be drafted, when available, are Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson. Another way of looking at it: Kansas-Kentucky was a college-pro game. Kansas was the college team, and Kentucky was the pro team.

But still, all the perennial high-seed college teams — including Kansas — have become showcases for NBA-bound talent. UNC, which many (including President Obama) expected to win it all this year, just saw three of their starters declare for the NBA draft. Last year’s top draft pick was Kyrie Irving, who played less than one year for Duke (he was injured some of the time). Austin Rivers, a freshman star at Duke this year, has also just declared for the NBA draft.

Part of me wants to believe that every great team takes years to assemble, even given the yearly attrition of talented underclassmen and graduating seniors. Yet the Kentucky team that won the championship this year was a very tight, well-coached and utterly unselfish team. They played some of the best team defense I’ve ever seen. I’d bet that John Calipari could put together an all-freshman team and get more than 30 wins in a season. Of course talent is required, but so is coaching, and a program that’s geared for one-and-done players prepping for their NBA careers by putting in a year at Kentucky. Even though most of those players won’t last, even if they do get drafted.

The 2012 Early Entry List at NBAdraft.net tells a story by itself. A handful of the the 107 players listed there will make it in the NBA. And that makes the unspoken sub-story of the tournament even more poignant. The Onion, as usual, surfaces those stories, with Totally Predictable Ending To Wild NCAA Tournament Prepares Student-Athletes For The Rest Of Their Miserable, Ho-Hum Lives and Nation Abuzz With Prospect Of 18-Year-Old Boys Having Their Dreams Crushed.

Which means that the NIT is now the only true college tournament, because — being comprised of teams that couldn’t make the NCAA playoff cut — they feature few future NBA players. Stanford won this year, and none of its players are on NBAdraft.net‘s list.

I’m not wringing my hands over this. Only pointing out a fact that just became clearer.