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wheat+apple

A couple weeks ago, I posted Separating advertising’s wheat and chaff, contrasting privacy-respecting brand advertising (the wheat) with privacy-offending tracking-based advertising (the chaff), better known in the industry as “adtech.”

Apple pushes both, through its own advertising business, called iAd. The company is also taking sides against both — especially adtech — by supporting Content Blocking in a new breed of mobile phone apps we can expect to see in iOS 9, Apple’s next mobile operating system, due next month.

In Apple’s Content Blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech, which I posted a few days ago, I visited the likely effects of content blocking. Since then a number of readers have pointed to posts about iAd and the opt-out choices Apple provides for advertising on iPhones and iPads.

Both iAd and the opt-outs reveal that Apple is as much in the adtech business as any other company that tracks people around the Net and blasts personalized advertising at them.

Apple also appears to be taking sides against adtech with its privacy policy, which has lately become more public and positioned clearly against the big tracking-based advertising companies (notably Google and Facebook). In September of last year, for example, Apple put up a new pageapple.com/privacy — that contained this paragraph:

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

What we have here, then, is Apple’s massive B2C business in conflict with one of its B2B businesses. Since there is a lot of history here, let’s review it.

On 8 July 2010, Engadget published iAds uses iTunes history, location information to target advertising. It begins,

We’ve heard about this before, but now that it’s up and running, this is probably worth a revisit. Apple’s iAds system actually uses lots of your information, including your iTunes purchasing history, location data, and any other download or library information it can suss out about you, to determine what ads you see. So say a few marketing firms working with the large companies now buying and selling iAds.

A recent series of ads for soap was able to target “married men who are in their late 30s and have children.” That’s very specific, and when Apple rolls out the full program, it’ll even be able to use things like iBooks purchases and iTunes movie and TV downloads to target you with advertising.

On 15 October 2014, Digiday published Apple revamps mobile ads with retargeting options. It begins,

Apple’s release of its new mobile operating system last month came with an overlooked gift for marketers: the ability to retarget ads based on users’ in-app browsing behaviors.

According to ad agencies, Apple is actively pitching the new capability as a way to effectively solve the mobile cookie problem.

Say, for example, a visitor to a retailer’s iPhone app adds a pair of shoes to his cart but ultimately decide not to buy it. In this scenario, the retailer will now be able to retarget that user with an ad for that exact pair — even in another app on his iPad. When tapped, the ad would direct him back to his abandoned checkout page and automatically add the shoes to his online shopping cart.

That was when iAd was new. Since then it has come to be regarded, at least by the online press, as something of a failure. On 16 Ocbober 2014, Business Insider published Here’s Apple’s Plan To Turn Around iAd, One Of Its Biggest Flops. The gist:

Several sources have confirmed to Business Insider that Apple is currently visiting mobile specialists at the top media agencies in New York City to push the new function. (Cross-device retargeting.)

Cross-device retargeting is of most use to retailers: if a customer spends some time looking at a dress on their iPad app but decides not to buy it, that same retailer can “retarget” them with an ad displaying an image of that dress, options to buy, or directions to the store when they next pick up their iPhone.

On 19 November 2014, AdExchanger published iAd starts selling programmatically, and explains how it works:

iAd has more than 400 targeting options for advertisers. Its audience is also validated, since users must create an iTunes account in order to download apps. With the release of iOS 8, Apple announced that those Apple IDs could be used by iAds advertisers to retarget users across their devices. Those capabilities make it a good fit for advertisers doing audience-based targeting, who often prefer transacting in programmatic channels.

iAd has scale: “Apple iAd’s sell-side SDK is one of the most penetrated SDKs in the industry,” said Michael Oiknine, CEO of Apsalar. “They now have added iTunes radio inventory, so it’s a smart yield maximization strategy for Apple and is akin to Facebook strategy, which maximizes inventory sales via FBX and PMDs.”

On 21 November 2014, Venturebeat published Apple and AdRoll enable iOS ad retargeting — with extra data from iTunes and the App Store. It begins,

In a significant move for the mobile advertising industry, Apple and retargeting leader AdRoll have announced a partnership that will see AdRoll providing its retargeting and programmatic buying capability for iAd. In addition, Apple will enable advertisers to target potential customers via access to its proprietary data sets from iTunes and the app store.

On 21 November 2014, AdWeek published Get Ready for More Mobile Ads on Your iPhones as Apple Launches New iAds. The gist:

Today, Apple is unveiling partnerships with companies like AdRoll, which will flip a switch and start serving iAds through its automated marketing platforms. This turn toward programmatic mobile advertising has been in the works for at least a year. Last year, the company stopped treating iAd like a high-end marketing platform for only the top brands with the most cash.

Apple wanted to build a self-serve mobile advertising system in house, and it bought Quattro Wireless to help. Sources said that effort faltered, and Apple decided to partner with ad tech companies like AdRoll and The Rubicon Project to compete with mobile ad giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter.

AdRoll is a retargeting specialty firm that lets marketers use their own consumer data profiles to deliver ads across such platforms. And Rubicon unexpectedly leaked word earlier this week that it was partnering with Apple.

On 22 January 2015, ExchangeWire asked What will Apple’s Ad Tech Play look like? They say,

Apple’s renewed designs on the advertising business were revealed when it was announced it was to start selling its iAd inventory on a programmatic basis, with several firms including MediaMath, Rubicon Project, among others, over four years after its iAd unit was initially launched, asking advertisers for (the then audacious sum of) $1m per campaign on its iOS devices.

Since launch, Apple’s presence in the advertising business has been largely underwhelming (apart from its own spend). But the revelation it had chosen several supply-side platforms (SSP) to sell programmatic guaranteed opportunities on behalf of the 250,000-plus App Store developers indicated its renewed designs on the sector.

The announcement itself made waves, not least because of the bungled nature of the announcement,which itself raises a number of issues to debated about Apple’s influence in the ad tech sector (more on that later).

The initial announcement read: “Apple’s iAd provides 400-plus targeting options to advertisers, based on hundreds of millions of validated iTunes accounts worldwide. This rich first-party data asset makes it easy for buyers to target the specific mobile audiences of their choice.”

The move represented, for the first time, that Apple is willing to loosen control over its first-party iTunes data with advertisers expected to be willing to pay top dollar for the access.

They add,

Apple has since started to advertise for roles within its iAd business, requesting applications for UK candidates to join its iAd Marketplace Sales Organisation.

Among the skills requested are: “Apple’s customers on the various products iAd has to offer as well as how to leverage iAd’s self service buying platform, iAd Workbench.”

In addition: “Third-party tags familiarity a plus.”

What is clear, from all these pieces and many others like them, is that Apple’s adtech business is little if any different from the rest of them — meaning just as creepy and privacy-abusing — and notable as well for failing to live up to its original ambitions, which were both huge and (via Business Insider) outlined by Saint Steve himself:

At launch, Jobs set out the bold ambition that iAd would capture 50% of the mobile ad market. Apple marketed iAd as a best-in-class solution for advertisers because it owns both the hardware and operating system the ads ride on and gains valuable data when people sign up for Apple ID to register for iTunes accounts. That means it can target ads by age, gender, home address, iTunes purchases and App Store downloads.

However, it’s still somewhat behind that lofty 50% target. iAd made up just 2.5% of the mobile ad revenue booked in the US last year, according to eMarketer, behind Google which takes the lion’s share (37.7%) and Facebook (17.9%). The most recent data from IDC states Apple generated $125 million in mobile ad sales in 2012.

Apple’s total sales in FY 2012 were $125 billion, or 1000x its mobile ad sales that year. Put another way, iAd contributed 0.01% to Apple’s sales.

Meanwhile, does any Apple customer want advertising on their iPhone or iPad?

Apple knows the answer to that question, which is why Apple provides ways for you to “limit ad tracking on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch” and “ads based on your interests.”* (Just go to Settings > Privacy > Advertising to “Limit Ad Tracking,” and to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services. to turn off “Location Based iAds.”) And soon we’ll have Content Blocking as well.

Sacrificing its adtech business would position Apple in full alignment with three things:

  1. Tim Cook’s privacy statement. It would take the loopholes out of that thing.
  2. Market demand. People are fed up with losing their privacy online — almost all of it to the tracking-based advertising business. (Sources: Pew, TRUSTe, Customer Commons, Wharton.)
  3. The moral high ground called simple human decency. Most people don’t want to be tracked in the online world any more than they want to be tracked in the physical one. Nor do they want information about them known by first parties to be sold to third parties, or to anybody, with our without their knowledge, no matter how normative that practice has become.

Dropping adtech would also be good for iAd, which could then concentrate on placing non-tracking-based brand ads, which are more valuable anyway: to brands, to publishers and to the marketplace. Also to Apple itself, because they would be selling wheat, rather than chaff.

Until then, the loopholes persist in Tim Cook’s privacy statement, and Apple retains major conflicts between its massive B2C businesses and its struggling B2B adtech business.

It will be interesting to see what the company does once the Content Blocking chemo hits the App Store bloodstream.

* “Based on your interests” (aka “interest based advertising“) is a delusional conceit by both adtech (examples here , here and here) and online retailing (prime example: Amazon). Neither visiting sites nor buying are measures of interests. All they show are actions that could mean anything — or nothing.

The interest-based advertisers say our interests are “inferred” by what we do (and they like to observe, constantly and everywhere). And yet those inferences are weakened by another assumption that is flat-out wrong, nearly all the time: that we are always in a shopping mode. In fact we are not.

We are, in fact, always in an owning mode, which is why I think that’s the real greenfield for e-commerce. If companies shifted a third of what they spend on adtech over to customer service, they would vastly increase both customer loyalty and brand value.

By the way, Apple knows this, possibly better than any other technology company. That’s one more reason why I think their B2C smarts will correct the adtech crowd-following errors of their B2B ways.

[Later…] @JamesDempsey tweets,

iOS 9 content blocking is in Safari. iAds appear in apps—not web pages: iAds not blocked.

Good to know. Apple’s iAd site doesn’t make that clear (to me, at least). What this tells me is that iAd is in the chaff business while Content Blocking encourages wheat on Safari. Doesn’t change the point of this post, or the earlier ones.

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Intravenous equipmentThe tide of popular sentiment is turning against tracking-based advertising — and Apple knows it. That’s why they’re enabling “content blocking” in iOS 9 (the new mobile operating system that will soon go in your iPhone and iPad).

Says Apple, “Content Blocking* gives your extensions a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content.”

This is aimed straight at tracking-based advertising, known in the trade as adtech.* And Apple isn’t alone:

[*Note: far I know, there was not a term for tracking-based advertising until adtech seemed to emerge as the front-runner. I chose it for this post because others (e.g. the first two examples above) have done the same. Tell me a better word and I’ll swap it in. And if you want to know why we need to distinguish  between advertising based on tracking people and advertising that is not, read my last post, Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff.]

Here’s Apple’s tech-speak on the feature:

Your app extension is responsible for supplying a JSON file to Safari. The JSON consists of an array of rules (triggers and actions) for blocking specific content. Safari converts the JSON to bytecode, which it applies efficiently to all resource loads without leaking information about the user’s browsing back to the app extension.

This means the iOS platform will now support developers who want to build sophisticated apps that give users ways to block stuff they don’t like, such as adtech tracking and various forms of advertising — or all advertising — and to do it privately.

This allows much more control over unwanted content than is provided currently by ad and tracking blockers on Web browsers, and supports this control at the system level, rather than at the browser level. (Though it is executed by the browser.)

How likely is it that these apps will be built? 100%. One of those is Crystal, by Dean Murphy. His pitches:

  1. Remove advert banners, blocks, popovers, autoplay videos, App Store redirects & invisible tracking scripts that follow you around the web.
  2. Pages render more than 3.9x faster on average**.
  3. Reduces data use by 53% on average**.

[**Benchmarks calculated from a selection of random pages from 10 popular sites.]

All three of these address obvious appetites by customers in the marketplace:

  1. To avoid ads, and being tracked.
  2. To speed things up.
  3. To minimize data usage, for which mobile carriers charge money.

In iOS 9 content blocking will transform the mobile Web: I’ve tried it., Owen Williams (@ow) of TheNextWeb gives Crystal a spin, finding it delivers on its promises.

If I read Owen right, he believes Content Blocking will have two results:

  1. Publishers will lose, because they depend on advertising that will be blocked; and
  2. Apple will win, because publishers will be driven to the company’s News app, on which Apple can make money with its own advertising system, called iAd.

While these assumptions might be correct, they are part of a much larger picture, which will surely change as content blockers such as Crystal get adopted. So let’s look at that picture.

  1. The market is very unhappy with abuses to personal privacy. Studies by Pew, TRUSTe, Customer Commons and Wharton all make clear that more than 90% of the connected population doesn’t like privacy abuse on the commercial Web. Following people with tracking cookies and beacons violates their privacy. This is a big reason why ad and tracking blocking, through popular browser extensions and add-ons, is already high and continues to go up. It is therefore safe to say that iOS apps like Crystal will be very popular.
  2. There are two kinds of advertising at issue here, and it is essential to separate them (which I do, at length, in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff). One is tracking-based advertising, or adtech. That’s the kind that wants to get personal, and depends on spying on people. The other is plain old brand advertising, which isn’t based on tracking, and is targeted at populations rather than individuals. Content Blocking is aimed squarely at adtech.
  3. Apple’s iAd is for brand advertising, not adtech. At least that’s what I gather from Apple’s literature. (See here, here, here and here.) This puts them on the side of wheat, and Apple’s competitors — notably Google, Facebook and all of adtech — on the side of chaff.
  4. Apple has put a big stake in the ground on the subject of privacy. This is clearly to differentiate itself from adtech in general, and from Google and Facebooks in particular.
  5. Brand advertising is more valuable to publishers than adtech. Its provenance and value are clear and obvious and it sells for better prices. Also, while some of it may be annoying, none of it shares its business model with spam, which adtech does. And brand advertising uncorrupted by fraud, which is rampant in adtech — so rampant, in fact, that T.Rob Wyatt, a security expert, calls adtech “the new digital cancer.”

This is why content blocking is chemo for the cancer of adtech. It is also why everybody involved in the advertising-funded online ecosystem should start separating the wheat from the chaff, and to make clear that the wheat — plain old non-tracking-based brand advertising — is (to mix metaphors) the baby in the advertising bathwater that users will start throwing out with their content blockers.

However it goes down, the inevitable results, long term, will be these:

  1. Brand advertising will be seen again as the most legitimate form of advertising.
  2. Brand advertising will again be credited for doing the good work of funding publishers (also broadcasters, podcasters and the rest).
  3. Adtech, and spying in general, will be shunned, as it deserves to be.
  4. Adtech will still live on, rehabilitated and cleansed, as a trusted symbiote of users who give clear and unambiguous permission for trackers they bless to dwell in their private spaces and give them optimal personalized advertising experiences.

In other words, what I said at the close of the Advertising Bubble chapter of The Intention Economy will come true:

When the backlash is over, and the advertising bubble deflates, advertising will remain an enormous and useful business. We will still need advertising to do what only it can do. What will emerge, however, is a market for what advertising can’t do. This new market will be defined by what customers actually want, rather than guesses about it.

* As a term, “content blocking” is an unfortunate choice, since until now it meant government censorship. But the deed is done. From this point forward it means you get to block stuff you don’t want happening on your mobile device.


Later (2:36pm) — So I tweeted this post here, not long after it went up, and the response is split between yea and nay (though mostly yea). Since I have no argument with the yeas, I’ll take on the nays…

@cpokane writes,

it is offensive to us who work in adtech by day and nurse the result of cancer by night, at home. disappointing metaphor.

Gareth Holmes (@mgrholmes) adds these:

No offence to but comparing ad tech to cancer is beyond hyperbole. FACT: ad tech has been keeping the internet free since 1993

having never met I only hope he doesn’t have to wait until he’s lying next to a dying loved one to realise he was wrong.

And Vlad Stein (@vstein) weighs in with this:

Couldn’t imagine a stupider, more offensive title. Ad tech is what makes free online content viable, like it or not.

No offence taken. Or meant to be given. Cancer is a common metaphor for many things that are not. So is chemo: a medicine that sickens a patient while killing (or at least trying to kill) his or her cancer. Tell me a better metaphor and I’ll gladly use it. (I have also experienced loved ones dying of cancer, and I’m not sure they would have disapproved of the metaphor.)

As for hyperbole, guilty as charged. I’m making a strong point here, and one almost nobody else (other than Don Marti and Bob Hoffman) is making — or has seen sunk in. The market sentiment against surveillance-based marketing — aka adtech — is strong, growing, and almost entirely ignored by the whole adtech business.

Apple’s move with content blocking has profound B2C and B2B implications.

On the B2C side, Apple is working on behalf of its paying customers. This is huge. There isn’t a customer on Earth who wants to be tracked like an animal without clear and explicit permission, or to have pages slowed by tracking cookies, beacons and ads fed by unknown and unwelcome servers. Especially on mobile. Apple knows that because they talk on the phone and in stores every day with those customers. They’ve also seen abundant research (some cited above) that makes clear how much people hate having their privacy violated, which Adtech does with abundant impunity. Meanwhile adtech doesn’t talk to those customers. It only follows them. Ain’t the same.

On the B2B side, Apple with iAd appears to be siding with non-tracking-based brand advertising, and (passively, not naming names) against adtech. While I consider it icky and controlling of Apple to trap all magazines inside its News app, and to sell additional advertising within that space, Apple will be doing the whole advertising business a favor by not doing tracking (i.e. adtech) in that space. If iAd goes the way its current website  http://advertising.apple.com/) currently implies, what you’ll see are non-tracking-based brand ads selling for higher prices, and both publishers and brands appreciating the lack of reader confusion about the provenance and motives of those ads. (Again, this is by implication in current time. As recently as last Fall, Apple has pitched tracking-based adtech. More about that in one of my comments below.)

Next, saying adtech (or anything) has kept the Net free is like saying coupon flyers have kept geology free. The Net was born free and remains that way. Same goes for the Web. They support an infinite variety of sites, services and activities, and not just commercial ones. (More about that here, here and here.)

In fact, commercial activity was impossible on the Internet before NSFnet (the one non-commercial network within the Internet) stood down on 30 April 1995. After that ecommerce took off. (Amazon and eBay were both born in ’95.) So did advertising, but not as fast. Adtech (or ad tech) didn’t take off until well after the turn of the millennium.

This blog has been free and viable since 1998, by the way, without an ounce of advertising. So has everything Dave Winer‘s done. Without Dave we wouldn’t have blogging, syndicating (e.g. RSS) or podcasting as we know it.

Something worth thinking about: if we had jobbed out inventing and developing the Net and the Web to commercial interests, would they even exist?

@Ertraeglichkeit writes,

@dsearls what did the NSFnet bring, that it started “commercial activity” on the net and say not hotwired in 1994 with ad banners?

The Internet is a collection of networks united by agreements called protocols. Those protocols said data should be passed between any one end and any other end over any path available, on a best effort basis. This means the data you send to me could go over any path on any network between us on the whole thing called the Internet. This also meant that if any one network forbid one kind of activity, it would do for the whole internetwork. Because the NSFnet (National Science Foundation Network) forbid commercial activity on itself, and the NSFnet was a member of the Internet, it forbid commercial activity for the whole thing. So, when the NSFnet went down on 30 April, 1995, it opened the whole Internet to commercial activity. That’s a short version. If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend Wikipedia’s article on the NSFnet.

[August 27] Bonus link from Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian (and a hero of all-wheat advertising): Is Our Long Digital Nightmare Coming To An End? Writes he,

I can think of nothing that has done more harm to the internet than adtech.

It is a plague. It interferes with virtually everything we try to do on the web. It has cheapened and debased advertising. It has helped spawn criminal empires. It is in part responsible for unprecedented fraud and corruption. It has turned marketing executives into clueless baboons. And it is destroying the idea of privacy, one of the backbones of democracy.

And for what? 8 clicks in 10,000 impressions?

But maybe there is hope for those of us who hate adtech.

Sure hope I’m right.

In “Cool Influencers With Big Followings Get Picky About Their Endorsements,” Sydney Ember of the NY Times writes,

The more brands that use influencers for marketing campaigns on social platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, the less impact each influencer has. At the same time, many influencers, who once jumped at the opportunity to endorse brands, are being much more selective for fear of appearing to sell out.

In How the gig economy has turned bad analysts into vendor advocates, Horses for Sources writes,

The technology and services industry today is awash with individuals whose only professional activity is flitting from vendor conference to vendor conference, with the sole purpose of writing completely non-objective puff pieces praising their vendor hosts in exchange for money (or in the hope said vendors will pony up some dough in gratitude).

And in MediaPost‘s Influencers: When Are they a Bad Bet?, Erik Sass wisely writes,

Okay, let’s admit some basic facts: when you look at many influencers, there’s really not much to them.

So “influencer,” it appears, is a euphemism for sell-out. We’re talking about shills here.

What should a brand do with truly valuable customers? I see three choices:

  1. Pay the customer to shill for them. That seems to be the default in today’s marketing world.
  2. Reward the customer in some way, as airlines do with frequent flyer programs.
  3. Recruit the customer to get more involved with the company itself, helping to improve its products and services. In other words, use the customer as an influencer on the company, rather than on some target audience. Generate real value at the source.

I submit that #3 has far more value than #1, and can add enormous value to #2.

Think of three companies for which you are a committed customer. Then think about what value you can give to those companies as a veteran user and good source of intelligence and insight.

As examples, I’ll name three of my own:

I’m way past a million miles with United, and have been a “1K” (100k miles/year) passenger for years. Naturally, United is nice to me, as it tries to be with all frequent fliers. I have no complaints, and can think of much to praise. I’ve also done my best to be good to United as well (though not by shilling them). One small way is by tagging with “United,” “United Airlines” and “UAL” all the 10,000+ scenic photos I’ve taken out the windows of their airplanes.

But I would be glad to do more. For free. Like other frequent (and expert) fliers, I have plenty of ideas it would be good for United (or any airline) to hear, whether or not they implement them. But, aside from United’s feedback surveys, there is no easy or standard way to do that.

According to my personal account pages at MyGarmin.com, I own six Garmin GPS units and a map for one of them. In fact I’ve owned more than I see on both lists. (Some have been lost or stolen.) I’ve also loved every Garmin product I’ve ever used. My current fave is the little eTrex 20 GPS. That unit and earlier Legend and Vista models have yielded lots of useful data for me, including what’s visualized here on the company’s free BaseCamp map app:

basecamp

Same goes for data remembered, somehow, by Garmin’s older RoadTrip app:

roadtrip

Note the differences. I’d love to combine and reconcile them somehow, but have no idea how to do that. I’d also like to see the next-generation eTrex bring back some of the virtues I enjoyed in the Legend and Vista (such as the rubbery back and the non-flimsy way the earlier models held a MicroSD card).

I’ve had a number of conversations, over the years, with Garmin call centers, and their agents have always been highly knowledgeable and helpful. But I’d love to have a better way to relate to Garmin than the means the company alone provides.

I actually have only one Apogee product: the Mic microphone. It’s handy, and vastly improves sound over the built-in mics in my laptop and mobile devices. I carry it with me everywhere. In fact, I like the Mic so much that I would be glad to buy some of the company’s other products. But I haven’t, because the legs of my Mic have all fallen off. (Each were held on by a tiny phillips-head screw that easily unscrews and disappears. Two of the legs are now held on by substitute screws and the third by a twist-tie.) I just opened a support ticket on Apogee’s support page, asking for replacement screws, and attempted unsuccessfully to wake up the Live Chat thing. We’ll see how it goes with the support ticket.

I have two points here.

One I’ve already made: good customers have far more value to add than their patronage alone.

The other is new to business: we need a standard and common way for any customer to contribute useful intelligence to any company they care about. This would unlock immeasurable value through improved products and services.

We can’t get there by working the company side alone. Even if every company in the world improves its customer service to the max, every company’s systems and improvements would still be as different as they are today.

We can only innovate here on the customer side.

It helps that there is nothing new about this. The entire Internet is an example of exactly the kind of innovation we’re talking about here. It gives every customer scale, and provides a common way for everybody to engage everybody else. Same goes for basic tools we use on the Net. For example, browsers and email. Browsers especially provide standard and common ways for individuals to engage Web sites and services.

What we’re talking about here is a breed of VRM: Vendor Relationship Management. But it’s one breed, not the whole thing. And it’s a new breed.

I think it needs a name, so we can classify development there. Got one? Lemme have it.

Meanwhile, here is one hypothetical example of an innovation in this space.

 

 

 

 

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.

I’ve got 58,765 photos on Flickr, so far. These have 8,618,102 views at the moment, running at about 5,000 a day. The top count this last week was 11,766. Not that I’m into stats. I just want to make clear that I’m deeply invested in Flickr, as a photographer. I’m also a “Pro” customer, meaning I pay for the service.

But man, it’s trying me lately.

The main thing isn’t the UI changes, which are confusing, and seem to be happening constantly. (Though I’m sure they’re not. I just seem to be discovering new or changed things constantly.)

No, the main problem is that large quantities of photos I don’t want being automatically uploading are uploading to Flickr: 6,788 so far, all in an album called “auto uploads.” (All are private as well, so you can’t see them.) I don’t know where they’re coming from — other than me — or how they’re getting up there.

I thought maybe it was the new Uploadr app, which I downloaded a while back but never set up. To check, I just logged into it and went through a setup series that included these:

uploader1

uploader2

Interesting that the default is to suck every photo off your computer and put it on Flickr. Also a bummer that Flickr assumes that photographers live entirely inside Apple’s photo silos. But those things are beside the point, because I keep approximately no photos on my laptop. In fact, I’m glad that Apple, with its latest rev of the Photos app (which replaces the late iPhoto), includes this:

photos-export

See, I shoot a lot of photos with my iPhone. (As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you.) The iPhone only exports its shots to Apple’s Photos app. I don’t keep mine there, though. So it’s good that I can now “Export Unmodified Original” — which I do to an external drive, since my MacBook Air only has a 500Gb drive, which isn’t big enough for lots of photos.

(With the old iPhoto app, dragging photos from the app stripped out all the metadata, including EXIF fields. To avoid that, one needed a hack of sorts: exposing the “package contents” —hidden — finding “masters” and copying the originals out of there. So thanks, Apple for fixing that.)

Okay, I just checked with IFTTT to see if I’m running a rogue “recipe,” but there’s nothing close.

Could it be Dropbox? I’ve done nothing with it since early June, and many of the photos I’m seeing are not in my Dropbox, far as I know.

So any ideas you have are welcome.

No rush. I’ll be offline for the next few days. But I do want to solve the problem.

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I travel a lot, and buy newspapers wherever I happen to be. That would be true online as well, if I could do it. But I can’t, because that’s not an option.

For example, my butt is in California right now, but my nose is in Boston, where I’m reading the Globe. I don’t want a subscription to the Globe, but I would like to pay for today’s paper, or for at least the right to read a few stories from it.

Not easy. Or even possible, after the first one or two. Because, soon enough this paywall thingie comes up:

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 7.13.36 AM

It’ a subscription come-on, modeled after the one the New York Times has been using for years, and I wrote about back in 2012, here. (The switch after the above bait: “$.99*… *That’s less than $1 for 4 full weeks! Then pay the regular low rate of $3.99 per week.”)

I had some advice for the Times at that last link, and I’ve got some for all papers today: create an à la carte option. I know there are lots of reasons not to, all of which arise from system-based considerations on the sell side of the relationship with newspaper buyers.

What I’m saying is that the newsstand option has worked fine for more than a century in the physical world, and should be an option in the networked one as well.

At least think about it. Constructively, as in Let’s see… how can we do that? Not “It’s too hard.” Or “People only want free stuff.” Those are all echoes inside the old box. I want us to think and work outside of that box.

People are willing to pay value for value if it’s easy. So let’s make it easy. The ideas I vetted three years ago are still good, but don’t cover the à la carte option. Let’s just focus on that one, and consider what’s possible.

 

210px-Jail_Bars_Icon.svgIn one corner sit me, Don Marti, Phil Windley, Dave Winer, Eben Moglen, John Perry Barlow, Cory DoctorowAral Balkan, Adriana Lukas, Keith Hopper, Walt Whitman, William Ernest Henley, the Indie Web people, the VRM development community, authors of the Declaration of Independence, and the freedom-loving world in general. We hold as self-evident that personal agency and independence matter utterly, that free customers are more valuable than captive ones, that personal data belongs more to persons themselves than to those gathering it, that conscious signaling of intent by individuals is more valuable than the inferential kind that can only be guessed at, that spying on people when they don’t know about it or like it is wrong, and so on.*

In the other corner sits the rest of the world, or what seems like it. Contented with captivity.

The last two posts here — Because Freedom Matters and On taking personalized ads personally — are part of the dialog that mostly flows under this post of mine on Facebook.

Many points of view are expressed, but two sobering comments stand out for me: one by Frank Paynter and one by Karel Baloun. Frank writes,

I just don’t feel the need to see ads on Facebook. I have no personal or professional interest, and AdBlock/AdBlock+ has filtered out most for me. Oddly, since commenting on your post, I have seen 3 ads in the side bar. One was for “a small orange” and scored a direct hit! I recently read something by Chris Kovacs (Stavros the Wonder Chicken) praising the small orange hosting service so I was primed. Now, with this targeted ad coinciding with some expirations at BlueHost, GoDaddy and Dreamhost, I’m taking the plunge and consolidating accounts. Score one for Facebook targeted ads! The ads for a CreativeLive “Commercial Beauty Retouching” class and for Gartner Tableau didn’t cut it for me today, but — eh? who knows? On any given Thursday I might click through. But I really need to clean up that sidebar again. Three ads is too many.

In response to Don’s Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful, Karel writes,

I don’t understand views like the one in this semi-endorsed article. Targeted advertising is aiming at the commercial fulfillment of “intention”. These are the agents that will understand what people want.

I do understand the walled garden problem, and the monopoly risk of only one company having all of this intent information. Yet, they are required to protect privacy, and all their credibility rests on that trust.

And that’s not all.

Earlier today I heard back from an old friend who wanted me to comment on his company’s approach to programmatic marketing. I invited Don in to help, and we produced a long and thoughtful set of replies to my friend’s questions (or assumptions) about programmatic (as it’s called, the adjective serving as a noun). I’ll compress and paraphrase my friend’s reply:

  • Automated matching is here to stay. We need to work with it rather than against it.

  • Facebook cares about privacy. Mark Zuckerberg even mentioned privacy in his keynote at the F8 Developer’s Conference in San Francisco.

  • Facebook has always been cautious about intrusive advertising.

  • While many don’t like surveillance and personal targeting, most programmatic marketing is in fact non-personal — it doesn’t use without personally identifiable information (PII). This is actually good for privacy.

  • In Europe, at least, there are laws regarding personally identifiable information and all the ways it cannot be used.

So maybe we freedom-lovers have to take their points. At least for now.

The flywheels of programmatic are huge. While survey after survey says most people have some discomfort with it, those people aren’t leaving Facebook in droves. On the contrary, they continue to flock there, regardless of Facebook’s threat (or promise) to absorb more of everybody’s life online.

In Fast Company, Mark Wilson (@ctrlzee) unpacks Facebook’s 10-Year Plan to Become The Matrix. (His tweeted pointer says “Facebook’s 10-year plan to trap you in The Matrix.”) I think he’s right. After reading that, and doing his usual deep and future-oriented thinking, Dave recorded this 12-minute podcast on empathy, because we’re all going to need it. And yet I am sure Dave’s ‘cast, my posts, and others like it, will leave most people, especially those in the online advertising business, unpersuaded. Life is too cushy on the inside. Never mind that privacy is absent there.

“If the golden rule applied to online advertising, none of it would be based on surveillance,” somebody said. But the ad biz obeys the gelden rule, not the golden one. They believe robotic agents can “understand what people want” better than people can communicate it themselves. And they’re making great money at it. Hey, can’t argue with excess.

And hell, when even Frank Paynter (one of us freedom-loving types) kinda digs Facebook scoring an advertising bulls-eye on his ass, maybe the uncanny valley is just uncanny, period. Which is what Facebook wants. More surveillance, more shots, more scores. Rock on.

So let’s face it: captivity rules — until we can prove that freedom beats it.

If you want to work toward freedom, IIW is a good place to start (or, for veterans, to keep it up). Week after next. See you there.

If not, join the crowd.

[Later…] Frank has a helpful comment below, and Karel has responded with this long piece, which I’ll read ASAP after I get off the road, probably tomorrow (Monday) night, though it might be later. [Still later…] I’ve read it, and it’s very helpful. I’ll respond at more length when I get enough time later this week.

Meanwhile, thanks to both guys, and to everybody on the Facebook thread, for weighing in and taking this thing deeper. Much appreciated.

*[Later again…] Read what Don Marti writes here in response to my opening paragraph above. Excellent, as usual.

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: http://pixar.wikia.com/Axiom . Think about it.

Earth is the Net. It’s still ours: http://cluetrain.com/newclues. See you back home.

That’s where we are now.

 

 

IIW XX, IIW_XX_logothe 20th Internet Identity Workshop, comes at a critical inflection point in the history of VRM: Vendor Relationship Management, the only business movement working toward giving you both

  1. independence from the silos and walled gardens of the world; and
  2. better means for engaging with every business in the world — your way, rather than theirs.

If you’re looking for a point of leverage on the future of customer liberation, independence and empowerment, IIW is it.

Wall Street-sized companies around the world are beginning to grok what Main Street ones have always known: customers aren’t just “targets” to be “acquired,” “managed,” “controlled” and “locked in.” In other words, Cluetrain was right when it said this, in 1999:

if you only have time for one clue this year, this is the one to get…

Now it is finally becoming clear that free customers are more valuable than captive ones: to themselves, to the companies they deal with, and to the marketplace.

But how, exactly? That’s what we’ll be working on at IIW, which runs from April 7 to 9 at the Computer History Museum, in the heart of Silicon Valley: the best venue ever created for a get-stuff-done unconference.

Focusing our work is a VRM maturity framework that gives every company, analyst and journalist a list of VRM competencies, and every VRM developer a context in which to show which of those competencies they provide, and how far along they are along the maturity path. This will start paving the paths along which individuals, tool and service providers and corporate systems (e.g. CRM) can finally begin to fit their pieces together. It will also help legitimize VRM as a category. If you have a VRM or related company, now is the time to jump in and participate in the conversation. Literally. Here are some of the VRM topics and technology categories that we’ll be talking about, and placing in context in the VRM maturity framework:

Note: Another version of this post appeared first on the ProjectVRM blog. I’m doing a rare cross-posting here because it that important.

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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.

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