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dsbabyI was born sixty-eight years ago today, in Jersey City‘s Christ Hospital, at around eleven in the morning. I would have been born earlier, but the hospital staff tied Mom’s legs together so I wouldn’t come out before the doctor showed up. You know Poe’s story, The Premature Burial? Mine was like that, only going the other way: a Postmature Birth. It wasn’t fun.

When they finally took the straps off Mom, I was already there, face-first, with my head bent back so far that, when the doctor yanked me out with a forceps, the back of my C5 vertebra was flattened. The bruise that rose on the back of my neck was nearly the size of my head.

Mom wasn’t happy either, but you didn’t complain in those days. Whatever the shitty new status quo was, it beat the hell out of the Depression and the War. And, to be fair, the postwar Baby Boom was also at high ebb, stripping the gears of all kinds of systems: medicine, government, transport, education, whatever.

So we built a new postwar industrial system, and watched it all happen on TV.

All my life I’ve watched that system closely and looked for ways to have fun with it, to break it, and to fix it. I didn’t realize at first that fixing it was what I was here for, but eventually it dawned on me.

Specifically, it happened at Esther Dyson’s PC Forum, in March 1994. John Gage showed off the World Wide Web, projecting Mosaic (the Ur graphical browser) from a flaky Macintosh Duo. I already knew about the Web, but seeing it at work, all over the world, blew my mind and changed my life.

What I saw in the future were near-infinite computing and communications powers on our laps and in our pockets, projecting our very lives into a second digital world that would coexist with our physical one. In this second world we would all be a functional distance apart of zero, at a cost that leaned toward the same. The digital genie had been loosed from the physical bottle, and both would rule our species henceforth.

The question What am I doing here? — which had haunted me all my life, now had an answer. I had to help the world make the most of its new situation. “Your choice is always to help or to hurt,” Mom used to say. I wanted to help.

That’s why I started writing for Linux Journal in 1996, involving myself in the free software and open source movements. It’s why I co-wrote The Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999. And it’s why I started ProjectVRM in 2006.

The simple idea with VRM (vendor relationship management) is to fix business from the customer side, by providing tools that make each of us both independent of businesses yet better able to engage with them. The mass market industrial model is to give businesses “scale”: the ability deliver the same products and services to countless customers. In the VRM model, the customer gets scale too, across all the businesses she deals with. (Imagine, for example, being able to change your address for every business you deal with, in one move, using a tool of your own. Or to set your own privacy boundaries, or terms of engagement.)

It’s a long-term ambition, and success may take longer than it does for me to complete my tour of the planet. But there are now lots of developers on the case, around the world.

I have absolute faith that fully empowered customers will prove good for business. Or, in other words, that free customers prove more valuable — to themselves and to business — than captive ones.

Making that happen is what I’m doing here. Sure, I do lots of other stuff too. But that’s the main thing.

Bonus link: The Final Demographic.

doc036dLike the universe, the Internet is one thing. It is a World of Ends, comprised of everything it connects.

By nature it is as neutral as gravity. It favors nothing and is not partial to anything. Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, in the way Net access is provisioned, for example; but the basic nature of the Net — as a free, open and neutral shared space — is by now obvious to pretty much everybody who doesn’t have an interest in making it less. calls itself “a Facebook-led initiative bringing together technology leaders, non-profits and local communities to connect the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have Internet access.” But what it offers is not the Internet, but a sphinctered fraction of it: Facebook plus a few chosen others.

This is pure misdirection: a private fraction masked as a public whole. And it’s not fooling anybody. Especially India. See here, here, here, here, here, here — and every other place you’ll find piles of stories about it. (Start with the Critique section of the Wikipedia article on, and a search for

India is rejecting for one simple reason: They know sphincternet ≠ Internet, and that the sphinctered Net is not Neutral, meaning not the real thing.

Naturally, Mark Zuckerberg disagrees, and explains how in this post on the matter, which went up yesterday, and I’ll respond to, piece by piece:

Over the past week in India, there has been a lot written about and net neutrality. I’d like to share my position on these topics here for everyone to see.

First, I’ll share a quick story. Last year I visited Chandauli, a small village in northern India that had just been connected to the internet.

In a classroom in the village, I had the chance to talk to a group of students who were learning to use the internet. It was an incredible experience to think that right there in that room might be a student with a big idea that could change the world — and now they could actually make that happen through the internet.

Those students should know the whole Net. Not just a subset of it.

The internet is one of the most powerful tools for economic and social progress. It gives people access to jobs, knowledge and opportunities. It gives voice to the voiceless in our society, and it connects people with vital resources for health and education.

I believe everyone in the world deserves access to these opportunities.

Fine. Then either give them the whole thing, or call what you give them something else that’s clearly less: Facebook+, perhaps.

In many countries, however, there are big social and economic obstacles to connectivity. The internet isn’t affordable to everyone, and in many places awareness of its value remains low. Women and the poor are most likely to be excluded and further disempowered by lack of connectivity.

The Internet itself has no cost: on purpose. At its base is a protocol that nobody owns, everybody can use, and anybody can improve. (Not that anybody has yet — or ever will.) That’s one of the features of its inherent neutrality.

Yes, there are first-time and maintenance costs for the wires and waves that carry its bits. But, as Steve Kamman explains, “Bandwidth is dirt cheap. And bog-standard… This isn’t like electricity. There’s no power plant on the other end burning fuel to deliver those bits. Bits are nearly weightless and cost accordingly.”

Steve’s case is for where the Net ends up, everywhere: the effect implicit in its cause. Think about how to make that happen. Trust me: it’ll be good for Facebook too.

This is why we created, our effort to connect the whole world. By partnering with mobile operators and governments in different countries, offers free access in local languages to basic internet services in areas like jobs, health, education and messaging. lowers the cost of accessing the internet and raises the awareness of the internet’s value. It helps include everyone in the world’s opportunities.

But it’s not the whole Internet. It’s what you and your partners, in an exclusive and non-neutral way, have decided to provide.

We’ve made some great progress, and already more than 800 million people in 9 countries can now access free basic services through In India, we’ve already rolled out free basic services on the Reliance network to millions of people in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Telangana. And we just launched in Indonesia on the Indosat network today.

We’re proud of this progress. But some people have criticized the concept of zero-rating that allows to deliver free basic internet services, saying that offering some services for free goes against the spirit of net neutrality. I strongly disagree with this.

Zero-rating, or “toll-free data,” means not charging for some stuff on the Net, while charging the same fees for the rest. Simply put, it’s a form of price discrimination. Here’s what Wikipedia says about its reception and impact :

Zero-rating certain services, fast lanes and sponsored data clearly have their benefits for users of the subsidized services, but have also been criticised as anti-competitive and limiting open markets.[4] As many new internet and content services are launched targeting primarily mobile usage, and further adoption of internet connectivity globally (including broadband in rural areas of developed countries) relies heavily on mobile, zero-rating has also been regarded as a threat to the open internet, which is typically available via fixed line networks with unlimited usage tariffs or flat rates.[9] The Wikimedia Foundation and Facebook have been specifically criticized for their zero-rating programs, to further strengthen incumbent mobile network operators and limit consumer rights to an open internet.[10] (That’s as of today.)

Whatever else it is, it’s not neutral.

We fully support net neutrality. We want to keep the internet open. Net neutrality ensures network operators don’t discriminate by limiting access to services you want to use. It’s an essential part of the open internet, and we are fully committed to it.

But net neutrality is not in conflict with working to get more people connected. These two principles — universal connectivity and net neutrality — can and must coexist.

To give more people access to the internet, it is useful to offer some service for free. If someone can’t afford to pay for connectivity, it is always better to have some access than none at all.

Useful, yes. Neutral, no.

Non-neutrality is like Potter Stewart’s definition of porn: “I know it when I see it.” Which India does. doesn’t block or throttle any other services or create fast lanes — and it never will.

It just doesn’t carry them. It says “My way or no highway.”

We’re open for all mobile operators and we’re not stopping anyone from joining.

The Internet is not what just mobile operators carry.

We want as many internet providers to join so as many people as possible can be connected.

That’s fine. But what they provide won’t be the Internet if they don’t carry the whole thing. It will be a sampler box of rocks rather than all of geology.

Arguments about net neutrality shouldn’t be used to prevent the most disadvantaged people in society from gaining access or to deprive people of opportunity. Eliminating programs that bring more people online won’t increase social inclusion or close the digital divide. It will only deprive all of us of the ideas and contributions of the two thirds of the world who are not connected.

There wouldn’t be an argument if you didn’t call this thing “,” and if you didn’t represent a few Internet services as the whole thing. But you do, and that’s why you’re having trouble.

Every person in the world deserves access to the opportunities the internet provides. And we can all benefit from the perspectives, creativity and talent of the people not yet connected.

We have a historic opportunity to connect billions of more people worldwide for the first time. We should work together to make that happen now.

Fine. But make clear that what you’re offering isn’t the Internet, but a bunch of free services also found on the real thing.

Below that post are a zillion comments, some of which Mark answers. Here is the first Q&A:

Ritesh Pandya: We really appreciate your initiative on making the internet accessible to most remote part of the world, but the only question is why access only to selective websites and not all on

Mark Zuckerberg: It’s too expensive to make the whole internet free. Mobile operators spend tens of billions of dollars to support all of internet traffic. If it was all free they’d go out of business. But by offering some basic services, it’s still affordable for them and it’s valuable and free for everyone to use.

But it’s not the Net. It’s just a set of services that also happen to be on the Net.

The Internet is free. That’s its nature. So stop confusing access with the Net itself, and a few services with the whole thing. Nobody’s buying it.

Bonus links: New Clues,

[Later, May 4…] Wired says Zuckerberg has “expanded” to include more stuff. In other words, he’s dilated the sphincter.

In There Is No More Social Media — Just Advertising, Mike Proulx (@McProulx) begins,

CluetrainFifteen years ago, the provocative musings of Levine, Locke, Searls and Weinberger set the stage for a grand era of social media marketing with the publication of “The Cluetrain Manifesto” and their vigorous declaration of “the end of business as usual.”

For a while, it really felt like brands were beginning to embrace online communities as a way to directly connect with people as human beings. But over the years, that idealistic vision of genuine two-way exchange eroded. Brands got lazy by posting irrelevant content and social networks needed to make money.

Let’s call it what it is: Social media marketing is now advertising. It’s largely a media planning and buying exercise — emphasizing viewed impressions. Brands must pay if they really want their message to be seen. It’s the opposite of connecting or listening — it’s once again broadcasting.

Twitter’s Dick Costello recently said that ads will “make up about one in 20 tweets.” It’s also no secret that Facebook’s organic reach is on life support, at best. And when Snapchat launched Discover, it was quick to point out that “This is not social media.”

The idealistic end to business as usual, as “The Cluetrain Manifesto” envisioned, never happened. We didn’t reach the finish line. We didn’t even come close. After a promising start — a glimmer of hope — we’re back to business as usual. Sure, there have been powerful advances in ad tech. Media is more automated, targeted, instant, shareable and optimized than ever before. But is there anything really social about it? Not below its superficial layer.

First, a big thanks to Mike and @AdAge for such a gracious hat tip toward @Cluetrain. It’s amazing and gratifying to see the old meme still going strong, sixteen years after the original manifesto went up on the Web. (And it’s still there, pretty much unchanged — since 24 March 1999.) If it weren’t for marketing and advertising’s embrace of #Cluetrain, it might have been forgotten by now. So a hat tip to those disciplines as well.

An irony is that Cluetrain wasn’t meant for marketing or advertising. It was meant for everybody, including marketing, advertising and the rest of business. (That’s why @DWeinberger and I recently appended dillo3#NewClues to the original.) Another irony is that Cluetrain gets some degree of credit for helping social media come along. Even if that were true, it wasn’t what we intended. What we were looking for was more independence and agency on the personal side — and for business to adapt.

When that didn’t happen fast enough to satisfy me, I started ProjectVRM in 2006, to help the future along. We are now many people and many development projects strong. (VRM stands for Vendor Relationship Management: the customer-side counterpart of Customer Relationship Management — a $20+ billion business on the sellers’ side.)

Business is starting to notice. To see how well, check out the @Capgemini videos I unpack here. Also see how some companies (e.g. @Mozilla) are hiring VRM folks to help customers and companies shake hands in more respectful and effective ways online.

Monday, at VRM Day (openings still available), Customer Commons (ProjectVRM’s nonprofit spinoff) will be vetting a VRM maturity framework that will help businesses and their advisors (e.g. @Gartner, @Forrester, @idc, @KuppingerCole and @Ctrl-Shift) tune in to the APIs (and other forms of signaling) of customers expressing their intentions through tools and services from VRM developers. (BTW, big thanks to KuppingerCole and Ctrl-Shift for their early and continuing support for VRM and allied work toward customer empowerment.)

The main purpose of VRM Day is prep toward discussions and coding that will follow over the next three days at the XXth Internet Identity Workshop, better known as IIW, organized by @Windley, @IdentityWoman and myself. IIW is an unconference: no panels, no keynotes, no show floor. It’s all breakouts, demos and productive conversation and hackery, with topics chosen by participants. There are tickets left for IIW too. Click here. Both VRM Day and IIW are at the amazing and wonderful Computer History Museum in downtown Silicon Valley.

Mike closes his piece by offering five smart things marketers can do to “make the most of this era of #NotReally social media marketing.” All good advice.

Here’s one more that leverages the competencies of agencies like Mike’s own (@HillHolliday): Double down on old-fashioned Madison Avenue-type brand advertising. It’s the kind of advertising that carries the strongest brand signal. It’s also the most creative, and the least corrupted by tracking and other jive that creeps people out. (That stuff doesn’t come from Madison Avenue, by the way. Its direct ancestor is direct marketing, better known as junk mail. I explain the difference here.) For more on why that’s good, dig what Don Marti has been saying.

(BTW & FWIW, I was also with an ad agency business, as a founder and partner in Hodskins Simone & Searls, which did kick-ass work from 1978 to 1998. More about that here.)

Bottom line: business as usual will end. Just not on any schedule.


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After one of myaxiom reluctant visits to Facebook yesterday, I posted this there:

If I were actually the person Facebook advertised to, I would be an impotent, elderly, diabetic, hairy (or hairless) philandering cancer patient, heart attack risk, snoring victim, wannabe business person, gambling and cruise boat addict, and possible IBM Cloud customer in need of business and credit cards I already have.

Sixty-eight likes and dozens of comments followed. Most were from people I know, most of whom were well-known bloggers a decade ago, when blogging was still hot shit. Some were funny (“You’re not?”). Some offered advice (“You should like more interesting stuff”). Some explained how to get along with it (“I’ve always figured the purpose of Internet ads was to remind me what I just bought from Amazon”). One stung: “So much for The Intention Economy.”

So I replied with this:

Great to see ya’ll here. Glad you took the bait. Now for something less fun.

I was told last week by an advertising dude about a company that has increased its revenues by 49% using surveillance-based personalized advertising.The ratio of respondents was 1 in a 1000. The number of times that 1 was exposed to the same personalized ad before clicking on it was 70.

He had read, appreciated and agreed with The Intention Economy, and he told me I would hate to hear that advertising success story. He was correct. I did.

I also hate that nearly all the readers all of us ever had on our own blogs are now here. Howdy.

Relatively speaking, writing on my own blog, which averages zero comments from dozens of readers (there used to be many thousands), seems a waste. Wanna write short? Do it in Facebook or Twitter. Wanna write long? Do it in Medium. Wanna write on your own DIY publication? Knock yourself out.

And, because the bloggers among us have already done that, we’re here.

So let’s face it: the leverage of DIY is going down. Want readers, listeners or viewers? Hey, it’s a free market. Choose your captor.

I’ve been working all my adult life toward making people independent, and proving that personal independence is good for business as well as for hacking and other sources of pleasure and productivity. But I wonder whether or not most people, including all of us here, would rather operate in captivity. Hey, it’s where everybody else is. Why not?

Here’s why. It’s the good ship Axiom: . Think about it.

Earth is the Net. It’s still ours: See you back home.

That’s where we are now.



The blizzard hit coastal New England, not New York City. In fact, it’s still hitting. Wish I was there, because I love snow. Here in New York City we got pffft: about eight inches in Central Park: an average winter snowstorm. No big deal.

I was set up with my GoPro to time-lapse accumulations on the balcony outside our front window. I had two other cameras ready to go, and multiple devices tuned in to streams of news stories, tweets and posts. Instead the story I got was an old and familiar one of misplaced sensationalism. Nothing happening, non-stop. At least here.

The real news was happening in Boston, Providence, Worcester, Montauk, Scituate, the Cape and Islands. But I didn’t have anything useful to add to what thousands of others were showing, posting, tweeting and blogging. Back during Sandy, I had a lot to blog because important stuff wasn’t being said on media major and minor. For example I predicted, correctly, that many radio and TV stations would be knocked off the air by flooding. I also thought, correctly, that New York was under-prepared for the storm.
Not so this time, for any of the places the storm has hit.

With the snow still falling over New England…

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 8.17.02 PM… there’s a good chance that it will break old records (and probably already has in some places). But the cable news system is a still a broken record: endless pronouncements by undersecretaries of the overstate.

As more cords get cut, and more of us inform each other directly, new and better forms of aggregation and intermediation will emerge. To some extent the major media are already adapting, showing videos, tweets and posts from the Long Tail. But I suspect that the next major shift will be to something different than anything we have now.

I suspect the biggest innovations will be around discovery — of each other. Who has the information I want, now? Who or what is being fully useful, rather than just noisy or repetitive? Search from Google and Bing, while good in many ways, seems hidebound and stale to me. Its personalization is mostly about guesswork that’s hard to figure or control, and is jiggered for advertising as well.

For example, right now I’d like to know more about the breached sea wall in Scituate. Here’s a Yahoo (Bing) search. Most of the top results are at, which says to me — before I even look at any of them — “Oh, is the Boston Globe, and I’ve already run out the five views it gives me on this browser before it thows up the paywall.” In fact there is no paywall for some of the local stories, but I’ve seen it so many times that I don’t want to go there. The second thing I notice is that they’re all old: from 2014 and 2013. When I look for the same thing at Google News, the top results are the paywalled Globe ones. So I search for Scituate on Twitter, which is more helpful, but not fine-grained enough. What if I want to read only people who live there and are reporting from there?

Try to think outside of the search and social media boxes for a minute. Think all the way outside the Web.

Just think Internet, which is nothing more than a way for anybody or anything to connect to anybody or anything. Let’s find a way to do discovery there. We have some crude beginnings with stuff like this. But we need something much more natural, distributed and outside the control of any company or government — as is the Internet, by nature.

Once we have that, all kinds of amazing stuff will start to open up.

Danese Cooper ‏(@DivaDanese) asks Czech_Wallet-300x225via tweet,

Wallet App (and 1-button pay) as “compelling demo” apparently works equally well 4 BitCoin as 4 PayPal. opinion?

Sounds cool, but I don’t know which wallet app she’s talking about. There are many. In my opinion, however, they all come up short because they aren’t really wallets. Meaning they’re not yours. They belong to the company that makes the app, and that company has its hand in your pocket.

As I explained here,

Nothing you carry is more personal than your wallet, or more essential for interacting with the marketplace. You can change your pants or your purse, but your wallet is a constant. And, while your wallet contains cards and currencies that are issued by companies and governments, your wallet is yours, not theirs. That’s why none of those entities brand your wallet as theirs, nor do you operate your wallet at their grace.

This distinction matters because wallets are becoming a Real Big Topic — partly because a lot of Real Big Companies like having their hands in our pockets, and partly because we really do need digital versions of the wallets we carry in the analog world…

Here’s the key, and my challenge…: they need to be driven by individuals like you and me, and not by Business as Usual, especially what Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter and the rest would like to do with their hands in our pockets…

Here’s the thing: if your wallet has a brand, it’s not yours. If it’s for putting companies hands, and not just their instruments of convenience (such as cards, the boundaries of which are mostly clear), in your pockets, it’s not yours.

Let’s give the individual a way to drive here. Just like we did with the PC, the Net, email, web servers, blogging, podcasting, syndication and other instruments created with freedom rather than capture in mind.

Think of Dave Winer‘s “Ask not what the Internet can do for you, ask what you can do for the Internet,” and substitute “individual,” “customer” or “user” for Internet. (They are all the same thing, when you think about it. And Dave was the prime mover between the last three developments listed in the prior paragraph.)

Here are a couple other things I’ve written about wallets:

Those two pieces, and the one quoted above, are all three years old or more. So now I’m wondering if wallets — real wallets, of the personal kind — can be apps at all. Given that apps are basically silos, I’m wondering if wallets should be some other breed of software thing.

Maybe it’s time to think about wallets outside the app box.

Quit fracking our lives to extract data that’s none of your business and that your machines misinterpret. — New Clues, #58

That’s the blunt advice David Weinberger and I give to marketers who still make it hard to talk, sixteen years after many of them started failing to get what we meant by Markets are Conversations.

For a look at modern marketing at its wurst (pun intended), here’s one part of something called The Big Datastillery, by IBM and Aberdeen:


Those beakers on the conveyor belt are you and me. We’re at the bottom of machinery that’s gigantic (click on the image and see) and complex in the extreme. In this Linux Journal column I explain what the machine is and does:

Copy at the top describes it as “Best-in-Class Strategies to Accelerate the Return on Digital Data” and “a revolutionary new appliance to condense terabyte scale torrents of customer, transactional, campaign, clickstream and social media data down to meaningful and actionable insights that boost response rates, conversions and customer value”.

Below that is a maze of pipes pouring stuff into a hopper of “Best-in-Class companies” that are “2.8 times more likely than Laggards to incorporate unstructured data into analytical models”. The pipes are called:

  • Customer Sentiment
  • E-mail Metrics
  • CRM
  • Clickstream Data
  • PPC (Pay Per Click)
  • SEO Data
  • Social Media
  • Marketing History
  • Ad Impressions
  • Transactional Data

Coming out of the hopper are boxes and tanks, connected to more piping. These are accompanied by blocks of text explaining what’s going on in that part of the “datastillery”. One says “Ability to generate customer behavioral profile based on real-time analytics”. Another says “Ability to optimize marketing offers/Web experience based on buyer’s social profile”. Another says BIC (Best in Class) outfits “merge customer data from CRM with inline behavioral data to optimize digital experience”.

Customers are represented (I’m not kidding) as empty beakers moving down a conveyor belt at the bottom of this whole thing. Into the beakers pipes called “customer interaction optimization” and “marketing optimization” excrete orange and green flows of ones and zeroes. Gas farted upward by customers metabolizing goop fed by the first two pipes is collected by a third pipe called “campaign metrics” and carried to the top of the datastillery, where in liquid form it gets poured back into the hopper. Text over a departing beaker says “137% higher average marketing response rate for Best-in-Class (6.2%) vs. All Others (2.6%)”. (The 137% is expressed in type many times larger than the actual response rates.) The reciprocal numbers for those rates are 93.8% and 97.4%—meaning that nearly all the beakers are not responsive, even to Best-in-Class marketing.

New Clues again:

60 Ads that sound human but come from your marketing department’s irritable bowels, stain the fabric of the Web.
61 When personalizing something is creepy, it’s a pretty good indication that you don’t understand what it means to be a person.
62 Personal is human. Personalized isn’t.
63 The more machines sound human, the more they slide down into the uncanny valley where everything is a creep show.

I also visited this in The Intention Economy. Here’s an early draft of a subchapter that was whittled down to something much tighter for the final version. I want to share it because the Michael Ventura quote was lost in the whittling and is especially important for a point I’ll make shortly:

In The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You, Eli Pariser writes,

“You have one identity,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerber told journalist David Kirkpatrick for his book The Facebook Effect. “the days of having a different image for your work friends or coworkers and for the other people you may know are probably coing to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Later Zuckerberg discounted the remark as “just a sentence I said;” but to Facebook the only you that matters is the one they know. Not the one you are.

In Shadow Dancing in the USA (1985), Michael Ventura writes what he calls “a poetic description of subselves in a stepfamily.” He begins by asking, “… will we, or will we not, discover all that a man and a woman can be?” Here’s how he unpacks the challenge:

… living in this small apartment, there are, to begin with, three entirely different sets of twos: Michael and Jan, Jan and Brendan, Brendan and Michael. Each set, by itself, is very different from the other, and each is different from Jan-Brendan-Michael together. But go further:

Brendan-Jan-Michael having just gotten up ‘for breakfast is a very different body politic, with different varying tensions, depending on whether it’s a school day or not, from Brendan-Jan-Michael driving home from seeing, say, El Norte, which is different still from driving home from Ghostbusters, and all of them are different from Brendan-Jan-Michael going to examine a possible school for Brendan. The Brendan who gets up at midnight needing to talk to Michael is quite different from the Brendan who, on another night, needs suddenly to talk to Jan, and both are vastly different from the Brendan who often keeps his own counsel. The Michael writing at three in the afternoon or three in the morning, isolated in a room with three desks and two typewriters, is very different from the Michael, exasperated, figuring the bills with Jan, choosing whom not to pay; and he in turn is very different from the half-crazed, shy drunk wondering just who is this “raw-boned Okie girl” moving to Sam Taylor’s fast blues one sweltering night in the Venice of L.A. at the old Taurus Tavern. The Jan making the decision to face her own need to write, so determined and so tentative at once, is very different from the strength-in-tenderness of the Jan who is sensual, or the sure-footed abandon of Jan dancing, or the screeching of the Jan who’s had it up to here.

I can only be reasonably sure of several of these people – the several isolate Michaels, eight or fifteen of them, whom “I” pass from, day to day, night to night, dawn to almost dawn, and who at any moment in this much-too-small apartment might encounter a Jan or a Brendan whom I’ve never seen before, or whom I’ve conjectured about and can sometimes describe but am hard-pressed to know.

So in this apartment where some might see three people living a comparatively quiet life, I see a huge encampment on a firelit hillside, a tribal encampment of selves who must always be unknowable, a mystery to any brief Michael, Jan, or Brendan who happens to be trying to figure it out at any particular moment.

His narrative continues until he arrives at his main purpose behind all this:

…there may be no more important project of our time than displacing the … fiction of monopersonality. This fiction is the notion that each person has a central and unified “I” which determines his or her acts. “I” have been writing this to say that I don’t think people experience life that way. I do think they experience language that way, and hence are doomed to speak about life in structures contrary to their experience.

But what happens now, almost thirty years later, when our experience is one of Facebook chatter and Google searches, when online life and language (“poking,” “friending” and so on) soak up time formerly spent around tables, in bars or in cars, and our environment is  “personalized” through guesswork by companies whose robotic filtering systems constantly customize everything to satisfy a supposedly singular you?

In the closing sentences of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, Nicholas Carr writes,

In the world of 2001, people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine. That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.[iii]

Even if our own intelligence is not yet artificialized, what’s feeding it surely is.

Eli sums up the absurdity of all this in a subchapter titled “A Bad Theory of You.” After explaining Google’s and Facebook’s very different approaches to personalized “experience” filtration, and the assumptions behind both, he concludes, “Both are pretty poor representations of who we are, in part because there is no one set of data that describes who we are.” He says both companies have dumped us into what animators and robotics engineers call the uncanny valley: “the place where something is lifelike but not convincingly alive, and it gives people the creeps.”

I don’t know about you (nor should I, being a mere writer and not a Google or a Facebook), but I find hope in that. How long can shit this crazy last?

How long it lasts matters less than what makes it crazy.

There are three assumptions by frackers that are certifiably nuts, because they are disconnected from reality, which is the marketplace, which is filled with human beings called customers. You know: us. Those assumptions are—

1) We are always in the market to buy something. We are not. (Are you shopping right now? And are you open to being distracted this very instant by an ad that thinks you are? — one placed by a machine guided by big data guesswork based on knowledge gained by following you around? Didn’t think so.)

2) We don’t mind being fracked. In fact we do, because it violates our privacy. That’s why one stain on the Web looks like this:

Source: TRUSTe 2014 US. Consumer Confidence Survey.

3) Machines can know people well — sometimes better than they know themselves. They can’t, especially when the machines are interested only in selling something.

In fact humans are terribly complex. And they are also not, as Michael Ventura says, monopersonalities. Kim Cameron, an authority on digital identity, is only half-joking when he calls himself “the committee of the whole.”

Sanity requires that we line up many different personalities behind a single first person pronoun: I, me, mine. Also behind multiple identifiers. In my own case, I am Doc to most of those who know me, David to various government agencies (and most of the entities that bill me for stuff), Dave to many (but not all) family members, @dsearls to Twitter, and no name at all to the rest of the world, wherein I remain, like most of us, anonymous (literally, nameless), because that too is a civic grace. (And if you doubt that, ask any person who has lost their anonymity through the Faustian bargain called celebrity.)

So, where do we go with from here?

First we need to continue expanding individual agency through VRM and similar efforts. Here’s a list of developers.

Second, marketing needs to stop excusing the harms caused by personalization of advertising by frack-fed Big Data methods. For guidance from history, read Tim Walsh‘s Big Data: the New Big Tobacco.

Third, advertising needs to return to what it does best: straightforward brand messaging that is targeted at populations, and doesn’t get personal. For help with that, start reading Don Marti and don’t stop until his points sink in. Begin here and continue here.


New CluesNew Clues is up.

Go there and read it.

You can respond to it in a number of ways.

One is talk about it. You can do that here, on a Facebook page we set up for it, on Twitter (@Cluetrain is there), on your own blog, or wherever you please.

Another is to raid it for building material. It’s open source, set free in the public domain.* Read about all that and more on the About page.

New Clues follows up on The Cluetrain Manifesto, which appeared on the Web in 1999 and became a book in 2000. In the next post I’ll tell you more about why David Weinberger and I decided to do New Clues, but for now I’d rather shine the spotlight on what we’ve been noodling and re-noodlling toward publication over the last few months.

* The only exception is the pet armadillo image we’ve leveraged from the oeuvre of e. res, who posted it at Flickr under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 license, which requires attribution and we are doing right here. Thanks, e. res!



For several years now I’ve been participating with Pew Internet in research on the Internet and its future — mostly by providing my thinking on various matters. The latest round is the Future of the Internet Survey VI, for which I answered many questions. The latest of those to make print is in The Gurus Speak, by and Here is what I said:

“John Perry Barlow once said, ‘I didn’t start hearing about “content” until the container business felt threatened.’ I’m with him on that. ‘Content” is the wrong focus here. It’s just business jive for stuff that floats subscription and advertising revenue online. Sharing knowledge matters much more. The most serious threat to sharing knowledge—and doing the rest of what the Internet is good for—is a conceptual one: thinking of the Internet as a service we get from phone and cable companies. Or worse, as a way to move ‘content’  around.

And if we think the Net is just another ‘medium,’ we’re missing its real value as a simple and cost-free way to connect everybody and everything. This is what we meant in The Cluetrain Manifesto when we said ‘markets are conversations.’ Conversations are also not media. They are the main way humans connect with each other and share knowledge. The Internet extends that ability to a degree without precedent in human history. There is no telling how profound a change—hopefully for the better—this will brings to our species and the world we live in.

What steps are necessary to block changes that would limit people’s optimal future capabilities in using the Internet? We need to understand the Internet as what it really is: a way to connect anyone and anything to anyone and anything else, with little if any regard for the means between the ends.

What Paul Baran described as a ‘distributed’ network in 1964, and he and other geeks built out, is a heterarchy, not a hierarchy. It was not designed for billing, or for managing scarcities. Instead it was designed to connect anything to anything, and to put all the smarts in the nodes of the network, rather than in intermediaries. Its design obeys protocols, which are manners among machines and software. Those manners are NEA: Nobody owns them, Everybody can use them, and Anybody can improve them. (Linux and other free and open software code bases are also like that, which is why they provide ideal building material for the Net and what runs on it.)

But intermediaries called ISPs—mostly phone and cable companies—bill us for access to the Net, and those monthly bills define the Net for us in the absence of a more compelling definition. For providing that definition, geeks have done an awful job. So have academics and regulators.

Nobody has yet made clear that the Internet is a rising tide that lifts all boats, producing many trillions of dollars in positive economic externalities—and that it can do so because it has no interest in making money for its owner.

The Net didn’t grow over the dead bodies of phone and cable companies, but over their live ones. Those companies are just lucky that the Net used their pipes. But they have also been very smart about protecting their old businesses while turning their new one—Internet access—into something they can bill in the manner of their old businesses. Hence ‘plans’ for monthly chunks of mobile data for which the first cost is approximately zero. (Operating costs are real. Ones and zeros are way different, and in many—perhaps most—cases have no real first costs.)

In the U.S., cable and phone companies are also lobbying hard at the federal, state and local levels to push through laws that prevent citizens from using local governments and other entities (e.g. local nonprofits and utilities) to offer what carriers can’t or won’t: fully capable Internet service. These laws are sold to legislators as ways to keep government from competing with business, but in fact only protect incumbent monopolies.

What the carriers actually want—badly—is to move television to the Net, and to define the Net in TV terms: as a place you go to buy content, as you do today with cable. For this they’ll run two-sided markets: on the supply side doing deals with “content providers” such as Hollywood and big publishers, and on the demand side by intermediating the sale of that content.

This by far is the most serious threat to sharing information on the Net, because it undermines and sidelines the Net’s heterogeneous and distributed system for supporting everybody and everything, and biases the whole thing to favor a few vertically-integrated ‘content’ industries.

The good news is that there are a few exceptions to the rule of cable/telephony duopoly, such as Chattanooga, Kansas City, and Wilson, NC, which are attracting businesses and citizens old and new to the shores of the real Internet: the one with virtually unlimited speeds in all directions, and few if any restrictions on what anybody can do with the bandwidth. There we will see the Internet’s tide lift all boats, and not just those of telephony and television.

The end state we will reach is what Bob Frankston calls ‘ambient connectivity.’ We might have to wait until after 2025, but we will get it.”

Elsewhere in the same report, Bob said,

“Today’s online ‘access’ is hobbled by a funding model based on an owner taking a vig and denying us the ability to communicate unless we pay a carrier. We must get rid of the concept of telecommunications and understand that the Internet is a fundamentally different paradigm. See more on my opinion at”

What’s especially important about Bob’s work is that he refuses to frame the Internet in terms of the container shipping business that remains the prevailing paradigmatic frame we use today, but instead thinks and works outward from individual agency.

Simply put, we need to think outside the pipes if we can begin to see the Net as anything more than next-gen telephony and television.

Bonus links:

I just ran across this item below, which ran almost fourteen years ago in my original blog, and think it’s worth re-running today. The characters have all changed, but the issues have not. In fact they are more present and worth debating than ever. — Doc

An Open Letter to Meg Whitman

Meg Whitman
President and CEO

7 October 2000

Dear Meg,

Since The Cluetrain Manifesto came out (first on the Web, then as a book), I am often asked to name “clueful” companies. Usually I give eBay as a prime example of a market in the true sense of that word: a place where people gather not only to buy and sell, but also to make culture.

Now I read in The Wall Street Journal (“EBay to Launch Promotions to its Users,” October 2, p. B6*) that eBay wants to be a medium as well as a market. Specifically, the company has hired AOL’s sales force to sell advertising on eBay pages. A piece in The Standard (“The Ad Man Cometh for eBay“) says the same thing. Here are the key paragraphs from the Journal piece:

The arrangement with AOL marks eBay’s first major effort to sell its audience to advertisers. Masses of users visit eBay everyday to buy and sell everything from antiques to autographs. EBay, the largest trading community on the Web, is the 15th most-visited Web site and the second most-visited shopping site, according to measurements by Netratings Inc. It attracts upwards of 14 million users a month, traffic that remained largely untapped until now.

“The management team is recognizing that there is a significant opportunity to monetize the site to a greater degree than we have in the past,” says Kevin Pursglove, an eBay spokesman.

This is a move to the dark side, and it’s a mistake. There is a difference between a trading community and an audience. It is a massive difference in kind.

EBay was conceived and has grown entirely as a marketplace, not as a medium. Members visit eBay to buy, to sell, to shop, to compare, to talk, to grow their communities. Not for advertising. Not for “messages,” however “targeted” those messages may be. The the fact that eBay’s consituency is huge (MediaMetrix ranks it as 16th in the U.S., with 12,675,000 unique visitors per month) doesn’t make that contituency an “audience.”

Reconceiving your constituency as an audience requires a change of mentality on your part. You have to start thinking like a medium, with all the delusions that involves. And believe me, the whole media profession is grounded in some very fundamental delusions, all born of a distance from what markets are all about.

I worked in advertising for much of my adult life, and I must tell you a dirty secret problem the whole industry would rather not face: there is no demand for messages.

The advertising business, which includes the commercial media, doesn’t want to face the fact that their “audiences” would never pay for advertising’s goods. Even the term “audience” is a delusional metaphorical conceit. Book a theater to show nothing but advertising and see who shows up, even if it’s free.

The “targets” advertising seeks to “impact” and “penetrate” with “campaigns” that “deliver messages” is tired of being attacked. Their lack of demand for advertising’s ordnance is a brutal reality that the advertising industry cannot bear to confront.

In fact, “absence” doesn’t begin to cover the kind of non-demand we’re talking about here. If demand could be metered, most advertising would peg to the negative.

For evidence, let’s ask the most awful question commercial television could possibly hear: What would happen if MUTE buttons on TV remote controls delivered “we don’t want to hear this” messages directly to the advertisers who pay for commercial television? Advertising as we know it would be dead in a day.

Now let’s go to a tougher question: What would happen if television could facilitate the conversations that constitute real markets? The answer is that television would be a lot more like eBay. Which is why AOL-type advertising on eBay is a retrograde move.

I don’t know Bob Pittman or Steve Case. They seem like nice guys. And they’ve managed to make the Web more like TV than anybody else ever could. Maybe they deserve some kind of congratulations for that. But they’re media guys, and ultimately the Web is less a medium than a place.

Ask yourself this: Would AOL gladly provide its users with a MUTE button? Would it support selective ad-blocking by its customers, who already pay to use the service? No way. AOL may be an online service; but it thinks, walks and talks like a media company — a shipper of messages. The customers it clearly cares most about are its advertisers, not its users.

That “there’s no other way to pay for the content” is meaningless in your case. EBay’s content is the social system we call a marketplace — one that can only be diminished in value by advertising. Or at least advertising as we know it — by which I mean the kind of advertising AOL sells. Creating better ways for buyers and sellers to find each other and do business in eBay’s marketplace is a good thing. In fact, that’s your business. But it isn’t advertising.

No amount of “targetting,” “narrowcasting,” “personalization” or any other technique will make advertising’s messages any more appetiizing to people who just don’t want them, and never have. The online successes of AOL, Yahoo and a very few others are the exception, not the rule. They also have not been proved in the long run. I believe that in time their successes will speak far more eloquently of tolerance than of demand.

Markets — real markets like the ones that thrive at eBay — have been proved for thousands of years, in every culture on Earth. Please remember that. And remember why people fill them. Remember what they truly demand. It isn’t advertising, and it never will be.

EBay’s marketplace isn’t a medium with a 2 in the middle of it. It’s a place where people do busines with each other. Not to each other. Nor is it a performance center. Nobody is there as an “audience” wishing to have somebody “deliver an experience” to them.

People come to eBay for something far more active, involved, participatory and precious than the “aggregated eyeballs” that media machines like AOL and Yahoo lust after. Call it a constituency, a community, a web of trust or just a good place to do business. But please. Don’t call your members an “audience,” Or “traffic.” Or “consumers.” And don’t sit still while others call eBay marketplaces “sticky.” Traffic jams are sticky too, and good for nothing but billboards.

Trust me (or better yet, trust your millions of other members): you’ll make enough money without a retrograde move into the Second Wave world of advertising. The Journal piece sources a Goldman Sachs analyst who says your advertising sales could amount to “as much as 10% of total revenue, expected to top $415 million this year.” Think for a moment of how little this really is, and what you’re really selling — or worse, having AOL’s sales “force” sell — to advertisers. Think about what’s being said, literally, in the very first line of that same piece:

The Internet’s biggest flea market, eBay Inc., has something new for sale: advertisements on

What you’re selling isn’t just advertising. It’s us: our time, our attention, and our trust that you won’t waste either. You have always valued that trust more highly than anything else. That’s because eBay has the soul of a marketplace. Not a medium. That fact — and our trust in it — is worth a helluva lot more than whatever you’ll get from the companies who pay you for the privilege of aiming “messages” at us.


Doc Searls

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