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In , opens with this sentence: “On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.” Sixty-four years have passed since White wrote that, and it still makes perfect sense to me, hunched behind a desk in a back room of a Manhattan apartment.

That’s because privacy is mostly a settled issue in the physical world, and a grace of civilized life. Clothing, for example, is a privacy technology. So are walls, doors, windows and shades.

Private spaces in public settings are well understood in every healthy and mature culture. This is why no store on Main Street would plant a tracking beacon in the pants of a visiting customer, to report back on that customer’s activities — just so the store or some third party can “deliver” a better “experience” through advertising. Yet this kind of thing is beyond normative on the Web: it is a huge business.

Worse, the institution we look toward for protection from this kind of unwelcome surveillance — our government — spies on us too, and relies on private companies for help with activities that would be a crime if the  still meant what it says. ( more than two years ago.)

I see two reasons why privacy is now under extreme threat in the digital world — and the physical one too, as surveillance cameras bloom like flowers in public spaces, and as marketers and spooks together look toward the “Internet of Things” for ways to harvest an infinitude of personal data.

Reason #1

The was back-burnered when  (aka ) got baked into e-commerce in the late ’90s. In a single slide  summarizes what happened after that. It looks like this:

The History of E-commerce
1995: Invention of the cookie.
The end.

For a measure of how far we have drifted away from the early promise of networked life, re-read ‘s “Death From Above,” published in January 1995, and his “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” published one year later. The first argued against asymmetrical provisioning of the Net and the second expressed faith in the triumph of nerds over wannabe overlords.

Three years later  was no less utopian. While it is best known for its 95 Theses (which include “” and ““) its most encompassing clue came before of all those. Chris Locke wrote it, and here’s what it says, boldface, color and all:

if you only have time for one clue this year, this is the one to get…
we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.

Note the first and second person voices, and the possessive case. Our reach was everybody’s. Your grasp was companies’.

Fourteen years later, companies have won. Our reach has not exceeded their grasp. In fact, their grasp is stronger than ever.

Another irony: the overlords are nerds too. And  they lord over what Bruce Schneier calls a feudal system:

Some of us have pledged our allegiance to Google: We have Gmail accounts, we use Google Calendar and Google Docs, and we have Android phones. Others have pledged allegiance to Apple: We have Macintosh laptops, iPhones, and iPads; and we let iCloud automatically synchronize and back up everything. Still others of us let Microsoft do it all. Or we buy our music and e-books from Amazon, which keeps records of what we own and allows downloading to a Kindle, computer, or phone. Some of us have pretty much abandoned e-mail altogether … for Facebook.

These vendors are becoming our feudal lords, and we are becoming their vassals. We might refuse to pledge allegiance to all of them – or to a particular one we don’t like. Or we can spread our allegiance around. But either way, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to not pledge allegiance to at least one of them.

Reason #2

We have loosed three things into the digital world that we (by which I mean everybody) do not yet fully comprehend, much less deal with (through policy, tech or whatever). Those are:

  1. Ubiquitous computing power. In the old days only the big guys had it. Now we all do.
  2. Ubiquitous Internet access. This puts us all at zero virtual distance from each other, at costs that also veer toward zero as well.
  3. Unlimited ability to observe, copy and store data, which is the blood and flesh of the entire networked world.

In tech, what can be done will be done, sooner or later, especially if it’s possible to do it in secret — and if it helps make money, fight a war or both. This is why we have bad acting on a massive scale: from click farms gaming the digital advertising business, to the NSA doing what now know it does.

Last month I gave a keynote at an  event in New York. One of my topics was personal privacy, and how it might actually be good for the advertising business to respect it. Another speaker was , a “gentleman hacker” and CEO of WhiteOps, “an internet security company focused on the eradication of ad fraud.” He told of countless computers and browsers infected with bots committing click-fraud on a massive scale, mostly for Russian hackers shunting $billions from the flow of money down the online advertising river. The audience responded with polite applause. Privacy? Fraud? Why care? The money’s rolling in. Make hay while the power asymmetry shines.

Just today an executive with a giant company whose name we all know told me about visiting “click farms” in India, which he calls “just one example of fraud on a massive scale that nobody in the industry wants to talk about.” (Credit where due: the IAB wouldn’t have had us speaking there if its leaders didn’t care about the issues. But a .org by itself does not an industry make.)

Yet I’m not discouraged. In fact, I’m quite optimistic.

These last few months I’ve been visiting dozens of developers and policy folk from Europe to Australia, all grappling productively with privacy issues, working on the side of individuals, and doing their best to develop enlightened policy, products and services.

I can report that respect for privacy — the right to be left alone and to conceal what one wishes about one’s self and one’s data — is far more evolved elsewhere than it is in the U.S. So is recognition that individuals can do far more with their own data than can any big company (or organization) that has snarfed that data up. In some cases this respect takes the form of policy (e.g. the EU Data Protection Directive). In other cases it takes the form of advocacy, or of new businesses. In others it’s a combination of all of those and more.

Some examples:

 is a policy and code development movement led by Ann Cavoukian, the Information & Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. Many developers, enterprises and governments are now following her guidelines. (Which in turn leverage the work of Helen Nissenbaum.)

, the Fondation Internet Nouvelle Génération, is a think tank of leading French developers, scientists, academics and business folk, convened to guide digital transformation across many disciplines, anchored in respect for the individual and his or her full empowerment (including protection of privacy), and for collective action based on that respect.

 is a Fing project in which six large French companies — Orange, La Poste, Cap-Digital, Monoprix, Alcatel-Lucent and Societe Generale — are releasing to 300 customers personal data gathered about those customers, and inviting developers to help those customers do cool things on their own with that data.

The  in the UK is doing a similar thing, with twenty UK companies and thousands of customers.

Both Midata and Etalab in France are also working the government side, sharing with citizens data collected about them by government agencies. For more on the latter read Interview with Henri Verdier: Director of Etalab, Services of the French Prime Minister. Also see Open Data Institute and PublicData.eu.

In Australia,    and  are working on re-building markets from the customer side, starting with personal control and required respect for one’s privacy as a base principle.

In the U.S. and Europe, companies and open source development groups have been working on personal data “stores,” “lockers,” “vaults” and “clouds,” where individuals can harbor and use their own data in their own private ways. There is already an  and a language for “” and “pclouds” for everything you can name in the Internet of Things. I posted something recently at HBR about one implication for this. (Alas, it’s behind an annoying registration wall.)

On the legal front, Customer Commons is working with the  at the Berkman Center on terms and privacy requirements that individuals can assert in dealing with other entities in the world. This work dovetails with , the  and others.

I am also encouraged to see that the most popular browser add-ons and extensions are ones that block tracking, ads or both. AdblockPlus, Firefox’s Privowny and  are all in this game, and they are having real effects. In May 2012,  a 9.26% ad blocking rate in North America and Europe. Above that were Austria (22.5%), Hungary, Germany, Finland, Poland, Gibraltar, Estonia and France. The U.S. was just below that at 8.72%. The top blocking browser was Firefox (17.81%) and the bottom one was Explorer (3.86%). So it was no surprise to see Microsoft jump on the Do Not Track bandwagon with its latest browser version. In sum what we see here is the marketplace talking back to marketing, through developers whose first loyalties are to people.

(The above and many other companies are listed among developers here.)

More context: it’s still early. The Internet most of us know today is just eighteen years old. The PC is thirty-something. Pendulums swing. Tides come and go. Bubbles burst.

I can’t prove it, but I do believe we have passed Peak Surveillance. When Edward Snowden’s shit hit the fan in May, lots of people said the controversy would blow over. It hasn’t, and it won’t. Our frogs are not fully boiled, and we’re jumping out of the pot. New personal powers will be decentralized. And in cases where those powers are centralized, it will be in ways that are better aligned with individual and social power than the feudal systems of today. End-to-end principles are still there, and still apply.

Another reason for my optimism is metaphor, the main subject in the thread below. In , George Lakoff and Mark Johnson open with this assertion: The mind is inherently embodied. We think metaphorically, and our metaphorical frames arise from our bodily experience. Ideas, for example, may not be things in the physical sense, but we still talk of “forming,” “getting,” “catching” and “throwing out” ideas. Metaphorically, privacy is a possession. We speak of it in possessive terms, and as something valuable and important to protect — because this has been our experience with it for as long as we’ve had civilization.

“Possession is nine-tenths of the law” because it is nine-tenths of the three-year-old. She says “It’s mine!” because she has hands with thumbs that give her the power to grab. Possession begins with what we can hold.

There is also in our embodied nature a uniquely human capacity called indwelling. Through indwelling our senses extend outward through our clothes, our tools, our vehicles, to expand the boundaries of our capacities as experienced and capable beings in the world. When drivers speak of “my wheels” and pilots of “my wings,” it’s because their senses dwell in those things as extensions of their bodies.

This relates to privacy through exclusion: my privacy is what only I have.

The clothes we wear are exclusively ours. We may wear them to express ourselves, but their first purpose is to protect and conceal what is only ours. This sense of exclusivity also expands outward, even though our data.

 ”the Internet is a copy machine.” And it is. We send an email in a less literal sense than we copy it. Yet the most essential human experience is ambulation: movement. This is why we conceive life, and talk about it, in terms of travel, rather than in terms of biology. Birth is arrival, we say. Death is departure. Careers are paths. This is why, when we move data around, we expect its ownership to remain a private matter even if we’re not really moving any of it in the postal sense of a sending a letter.

The problem here is not that our bodily senses fail to respect the easily-copied nature of data on networks, but that we haven’t yet created social, technical and policy protocols for the digital world to match the ones we’ve long understood in the physical world. We still need to do that. As embodied beings, the physical world is not just our first home. It is the set of reference frames we will never shake off, because we can’t. And because we’ve had them for ten thousand years or more.

The evolutionary adaptation that needs to happen is within the digital world and how we govern it, not the physical one.

Our experience as healthy and mature human beings in the physical world is one of full agency over personal privacy. In building out our digital world — something we are still just beginning to do — we need to respect that agency. The biggest entities in the digital world don’t yet do that. But that doesn’t mean they can’t. Especially after we start leaving their castles in droves.

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[Trieste, Italy, 12:02am Friday 21 May 2013 — As I say in the comments here, Airbnb has responded to this post, explaining that a bug in the system was involved. While they're rebuilding the bridge with us, the bridge remains burned with other customers as long as their Verified ID system retains its current requirements. So I still think they need help and that good hackers and loyal customers should provide it. — Doc]

My wife and I are veteran Airbnb customers who have been happy with the company from the start. We like the prices, the experiences, the whole thing. As happy customers, we have also been spreading the love far and wide, pitching many new customers on Airbnb as a better way to stay when traveling. We want to continue spreading that love, even though we — and many other loyal customers — are now on the far side of a bridge Airbnb burned when it launched its new identity Verified ID system, which they explain (at that link) this way:

Verified ID provides a connection between the online and offline spaces. Airbnb users can earn a “Verified ID” badge on their profile by providing their online identity (via existing Airbnb reviews, LinkedIn, or Facebook) and matching it to offline ID documentation, such as confirming personal information or scanning a photo ID. The name provided by both channels must match for verification to succeed.

Starting today, Airbnb will require a random 25% of users in the USA to go through the Verified ID process. Soon, we’ll expand this requirement to users around the world. We hope that hosts and guests worldwide will see the benefits of interacting with users who complete Verified ID. Our goal is for all Airbnb members to have Verified ID eventually.

Any Airbnb host can now require their prospective guests to obtain Verified IDs before booking. Trust runs in both directions, so any host who requests this condition must also get verified.

Some of the comments under the post were positive, but many went the other way. Here are a few…

Jon:

I am an Airbnb host. Naturally, safety is always a concern. Despite that, I find this move objectionable, dishonest, misguided, and outright offensive.

  1. As a host, it is up to me to choose who I allow in my home. I like that I can decide how many requirements to place on my guests. Should I choose to place strict requirements, I get more protection and probably fewer bookings. I like having the choice. Airbnb just took the choice away from me and I’m not happy about it.
  2. You are making it substantially harder for guests to book on Airbnb. These standards will reduce the number of bookings we receive as hosts. You reduce our bookings and remove our ability to choose. Hosts should have the ability to choose.
  3. You want people to send you their photo ID / passport? Are you out of your *&#%& mind? Banks lose customer data all the time and they have some of the most stringent standards possible. Despite that, you pretend that you all are immune. You claim that having people send some of their most personal information over the internet will make them safer. You don’t make them safer; you make them MUCH LESS SAFE. When you have your data breached and you get sued, you will deserve every bit of the penalty.
  4. Why did you require a random 25% of users? Why not all users? Because you know you’d get too much negative feedback all at once and you could control the situation better if you phase it in. Either you are lying or you are putting hosts at risk. Shameful either way.
  5. “enhanced trust” I hate your Orwellian crock of sh&# phrasing. You should help the prison system rebrand their “full body cavity search”
  6. As a traveler myself, I was one of the 25% selected for “enhanced trust”. I have over 50 positive reviews from guests and hosts alike. You know where I live! There is no more trust that could possibly be had. Use a little common sense. This is the kind of nonsense I’d expect from the DMV, not from a blossoming enterprise.
  7. When the hell did facebook become an authority on people’s identities? I suspect that you have much more interesting motives for forcing people to connect their profiles to facebook. Quit trying to mine data under the guise of trust.
  • Deborah:

    my Facebook account did not work for Airbnb so they asked me to make a personal video talking about such things as why i like my neighborhood. I’m sorry, but I find this creepy. think of the inevitable steps up: photos of tattoos or birthmarks? proof of baptism? defense of fashion choices? that fragrant blend of californian cumbayah and capitalism. yechh….

  • Also from Deborah:

    I was just trying to book a short stay and the rigmarole and emails this verification process generated was ridiculous, but what caused me to cancel the reservation was this weird audition video request. Nor will I ever have anything further to do with Airbnb; not because of the hassle, but because this new verification process is invasive and puts my identity at risk. I have never encountered any comparable vetting for any purpose and it’s depressing to realize people will unthinkingly accept this kind of exploitation of information. I guess the thinking is if you value your privacy and identity above “trust” you don’t measure up to the Airbnb “community”. And is it a “community”? Really??

  • kim:

    well this is irritating. i have neither a facebook nor linkedin account, nor do i want either. i’ve been a positively-reviewed airbnb member for 2 years. although this article says it will look at positive reviews as online verification, it does not seem to be the case.
    and as for the 24/7 customer service? at this moment there is NO chat available, phone number is reserved for emergencies, and they are not responding to e-mail. so my booking is in limbo. if you’re going to implement this new feature, at least have the customer service to support it!<

  • Mle Davis

    Agree with others that the new verification process is insane and insulting. I have used your service for two years. My “reality” has been verified by my hosts and my guests: people in four countries have left feedback about their experiences with me. We have talked on the phone. You have my social security number from when you sent me tax documents. You have my credit card on file. I”m happy to send you my drivers license, but don’t see why you would need it, when you already have the rest. There is just no way I”m linking up my facebook account so you can datamine my friends, keep an eye on my day to day activity, or examine my relationships. There are enough safety checks on me through the relationship we’ve already developed. Please reconsider this stupidity.

  • E:

    Just had a reservation cancelled tonight because I did not complete the verification process. I inadvertently skipped the second step in the process which is give them access to my facebook account and contacts. I guess it doesn’t matter that I have been a member for almost three years and have rented through airbnb more than 15 times and have ALL positive reviews. I see this as an attempt to gather data for marketing purposes. Why else would they need access to facebook or linked in. Airbnb is going down hill. I have had more and more problems with them over the past 6 months. It was a great idea in the begining, but I think they are imploding!

  • Tony:

    I’m new to airbnb and I’m not crazy about the idea of scanning my driver’s license or passport and sending that to you. How do I know the faceless employees of whatever company which gets this information can be trusted with it?…
    … before you go to these extraordinary steps, why not fix the site so that friends can give me references. As I said, I’m new and (per your instructions) have asked friends through the site (both by email and facebook) to provide me with a reference. No one has done so yet and three have written back to say that they click the link and then don’t see any way to provide me with a reference. Two of these people are now concerned that this was just a way for someone to get their email addresses and add them to a spam list.

  • Lisa:

    I am so relieved to hear all these comments about the verification process. I am feeling DEEPLY resentful of this. I used Airbnb successfully this year, and am horrified to see what they’re asking. It is so invasive I can’t believe it. Like most people here, I’m sure, I’ve done vacation rentals, car rentals, bought tickets, booked everything and anything without this level of scrutiny. I finally capitulated to four levels of the scrutiny. This is ABSURD. If they want to offer this, then fine. But let the users decide how much they’re sharing and let hosts decide what they need.

Well, it was our bad luck to fall into that 25% when we booked an Airbnb place in Rome last weekend. My wife, an experienced and savvy traveler (with more than two million miles on one airline alone), always books our reservations, and expected the usual smooth and pleasant process when she was suddenly faced with this crazy new verification routine. Here’s how Airbnb explained her options after she declined to login with Facebook or Linkedin (neither of which she belongs to):

If you’re unable to verify your online ID using Facebook or LinkedIn, or if your account does not automatically satisfy the online ID requirements, you can create a video profile to serve as an alternative.

Your video will be visible on your profile as a live introduction of yourself to other Airbnb community members. To create your video profile, visit the “Photos and Video” section under Edit Profile. Consider using your first name, your current city, what you like about your neighborhood, and what you are looking for in a travel experience! Please do not include information about your government-issued ID, payment information, email address, last name, or any other personally identifiable information in your profile video.

After you’ve created a video profile, please email  trust at airbnb.com and we’ll help you complete the verification process.

I’ll pause to note here that my wife and and I have been around identity systems development for a very long time. In my case I’ve keynoted nearly ever Digital ID World, and have co-hosted all sixteen Internet Identity Workshops. Neither of us have ever seen an identity verification routine that required making a video to share with others.  We were, like… what?

So, after she declined to make the video and Airbnb cancelled our order, she sent an email to  trust at airbnb.com that included the following:

I’m perfectly happy to verify through a personal cloud provider ie: Personal.com, Virtrue, OwnYourInfo, Mydex, Gli.ph, or a trust network like Respect Network or Qiy. I suggest that you take a look at some of these services that work on the side of the customer, without exposing them to further surveillance and tracking of their personal data.

Airbnb replied,

Thank you for your email. Please accept our apologies if our verification process caused you any distress. As we are constantly working on improving our product and services, I’ll pass your feedback on accordingly. In the future, you can also submit your opinions or ideas on www.airbnb.com/feedback. Even when we are unable to accommodate all requests, we always value feedback from the community.

Airbnb is a platform for connecting individuals interested in having unique and personalized experiences. This is how Airbnb differs from the norm, as not everyone on Airbnb operates their business outside of Airbnb the way a normal bed and breakfast would. Please consider that you will be staying in the home or residence of another individual. At Airbnb we’re constantly striving to improve the level of trust between our users to instill confidence in the transactions between our users. Our verification process was designed to help improve that level of trust and allow users to fully enjoy their experience on Airbnb.

At Airbnb we’re constantly striving to improve the level of trust between our users to instill confidence in the transactions between our users. Our verification process was designed to help improve that level of trust and allow users to fully enjoy their experience on Airbnb.

Recent positive reviews do count towards verifying your Online identity but the reviews you received did not satisfy our system’s verification requirements. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a Facebook or LinkedIn account, the video profile is the only alternative available at this point. We offer several alternatives in hopes that one will work for you, but we understand that these situations do arise. That’s why we offer you the opportunity to verify your account by recording a 30 second video in which you can introduce yourself to the Airbnb community.

Please know that if you don’t want your video profile to be public, you can also record the clip using a digital camera or a smartphone and attach it to your response to this message. We’ll then verify your account without publishing the video.

This makes no sense to me. Are they saying Airbnb operates a social business, meaning one that places a premium on people exposing themselves to others, rather than on minimizing exposure? Are they saying that everybody in the Airbnb community is a potential “friend,” and thats’s why it makes sense to login with Facebook or Linkedin? And why the video? What’s to keep any community member from copying that video — or any personal information exposed through social media — and spreading it out on the open Web? Why would anybody trust Airbnb to keep that kind of thing from happening?

Given that Ghostery finds Airbnb using only six tracking systems (Facebook Connect, Google AdWords Conversion, Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, MixPanel and New Relic) — a relatively small number for a commercial site — I doubt that Airbnb just wants to play the same advertising game that B2B companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and other “social” sites play. Why should they, when they operate one of those very rare things in the “social” age: a real B2C business, for customers who actually pay for goods and services. That’s an enviable and valuable thing. And they’re screwing it up.

The “Verified ID” program fails because it alienates both the supply and the demand sides of the marketplace. It turns away good, loyal, paying customers, and denies hosts those customers’ bookings. Worse, it filters through only those customers who are comfortable exposing themselves through social media and in video performances. Do they really want to do that?

At some point it will dawn on Airbnb that this new system is worse than broken. When that dawn comes I suggest they do three things:

  1. Look into the list of companies and projects my wife mentioned above
  2. Join the Personal Identity Ecosystem Consortium (PDE.cc)
  3. Follow what’s happening with VRM and personal clouds — and get involved with those too

I also invite readers to weigh in with their own positive suggestions. No complaints or put-downs, please. We’re here to help.

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(Cross-posted from the ProjectVRM blog.)

left r-buttonright r-buttonFor as long as we’ve had economies, demand and supply have been attracted to each other like a pair of magnets. Ideally, they should match up evenly and produce good outcomes. But sometimes one side comes to dominate the other, with bad effects along with good ones.

Such has been the case on the Web ever since it went commercial with the invention of the cookie in 1995, resulting in a  in which the demand side — that’s you and me — plays the submissive role of mere “users,” who pretty much have to put up with whatever rules websites set on the supply side.

Consistent with  (“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”) the near absolute power of website cows over user calves has resulted in near-absolute corruption of website ethics in respect to personal privacy.

This has been a subject of productive obsession by  and her team of reporters at The Wall Street Journal, which have been producing the  series (shortcut: http://wsj.com/wtk) since July 30, 2010, when Julia by-lined . The next day I called that piece a turning point. And I still believe that.

Today came another one, again in the Journal, in Julia’s latest, titled Web Firms to Adopt ‘No Track’ Button. She begins,

A coalition of Internet giants including Google Inc. has agreed to support a do-not-track button to be embedded in most Web browsers—a move that the industry had been resisting for more than a year.

The reversal is being announced as part of the White House’s call for Congress to pass a “privacy bill of rights,” that will give people greater control over the personal data collected about them.

The long White House press release headline reads,

We Can’t Wait: Obama Administration Unveils Blueprint for a “Privacy Bill of Rights” to Protect Consumers Online

Internet Advertising Networks Announces Commitment to “Do-Not-Track” Technology to Allow Consumers to Control Online Tracking

Obviously, government and industry have been working together on this one. Which is good, as far as it goes. Toward that point, Julia adds,

The new do-not-track button isn’t going to stop all Web tracking. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people’s Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as “market research” and “product development” and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers.

The do-not-track button also wouldn’t block companies such as Facebook Inc. from tracking their members through “Like” buttons and other functions.

“It’s a good start,” said Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “But we want you to be able to not be tracked at all if you so choose.”

In the New York Times’ White House, Consumers in Mind, Offers Online Privacy Guidelines Edward Wyatt writes,

The framework for a new privacy code moves electronic commerce closer to a one-click, one-touch process by which users can tell Internet companies whether they want their online activity tracked.

Much remains to be done before consumers can click on a button in their Web browser to set their privacy standards. Congress will probably have to write legislation governing the collection and use of personal data, officials said, something that is unlikely to occur this year. And the companies that make browsers — Google, Microsoft, Apple and others — will have to agree to the new standards.

No they won’t. Buttons can be plug-ins to existing browsers. And work has already been done. VRM developers are on the case, and their ranks are growing. We have dozens of developers (at that last link) working on equipping both the demand and the supply side with tools for engaging as independent and respectful parties. In fact we already have a button that can say “Don’t track me,” plus much more — for both sides. Its calle the R-button, and it looks like this: ⊂ ⊃. (And yes, those symbols are real characters. Took a long time to find them, but they do exist.)

Yours — the user’s — is on the left. The website’s is on the right. On a browser it might look like this:

r-button in a browser

Underneath both those buttons can go many things, including preferences, policies, terms, offers, or anything else — on both sides. One of those terms can be “do not track me.” It might point to a fourth party (see explanations here and here) which, on behalf of the user or customer, maintains settings that control sharing of personal data, including the conditions that must be met. A number of development projects and companies are already on this case. Some have personal data stores (PDSes), also called “lockers” or “vaults.” These include:

Three of those are in the U.S., one in Austria, one in France, one in South Africa, and three in the U.K. (All helping drive the Midata project by the U.K. government, by the way.) And those are just companies with PDSes. There are many others working on allied technologies, standards, protocols and much more. They’re all just flying below media radar because media like to look at what big suppliers and governments are doing. Speaking of which… :-)

Here’s Julia again:

Google is expected to enable do-not-track in its Chrome Web browser by the end of this year.

Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president of advertising at Google, said the company is pleased to join “a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘Do Not Track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls.”

White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Daniel Weitzner said the do-not-track option should clear up confusion among consumers who “think they are expressing a preference and it ends up, for a set of technical reasons, that they are not.”

Some critics said the industry’s move could throw a wrench in a separate year-long effort by the World Wide Web consortium to set an international standard for do-not-track. But Mr. Ingis said he hopes the consortium could “build off of” the industry’s approach.

So here’s an invitation to the White House, Google, the 3wC, interested BigCos (including CRM companies), developers of all sizes and journalists who are interested in building out genuine and cooperative relationships between demand and supply::::

Join us at IIW — the Internet Identity Workshop — in Mountain View, May 1-3. This is the unconference where developers and other helpful parties gather to talk things over and move development forward. No speakers, no panels, no BS. Just good conversation and productive work. It’s our fourteenth one, and they’ve all been highly productive.

As for the r-button, take it and run with it. It’s there for the development. It’s meaningful. We’re past square one. We’d love to have all the participation we can get, from the big guys as well as the little ones listed above and here.

To help get your thinking started, visit this presentation of one r-button scenario, by Adam Marcus of MIT. Here’s another view of the same work, which came of of a Google Summer of Code project through ProjectVRM and the Berkman Center:

(Props to Oshani Seneviratne and David Karger, also both of MIT, and Ahmad Bakhiet, of Kings College London, for work on that project.)

If we leave fixing the calf-cow problem entirely up to the BigCos and BigGov, it won’t get fixed. We have to work from the demand side as well. In economies, customers are the 100%.

Here are some other stories, mostly gathered by Zemanta:

All look at the symptoms, and supply-side cures. Time for the demand side to demand answers from itself. Fortunately, we’ve been listening, and the answers are coming.

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CRM and IIW

It just occurred to me that everything being worked on at IIW is meaningful to CRM. I had been thinking that only the VRM stuff was meaningful, but I realize now that all the IIW stuff is, because — from a CRM perspective — it’s all about customer empowerment. And empowered customers are entities that CRM will welcome, sooner or later.

Here’s the list of IIW topics on the IIW home page:

  • Open Standards that have been born and developed at IIW – OpenID, OAuth, Activity Streams, Portable Contacts, Salmon Protocol, SCIM, UMA ….
  • The Federated Social Web
  • Vendor Relationship Management
  • Personal Data Services -  collection, storage and value generation
  • Anonymity Pseudonymity and Reputation Online (think google+ controversy)
  • Legal Innovation including, Information Sharing Agreements, Data Ownership Agreements and the development of “trust” frameworks.
  • NSTIC – the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (it uses the term “user-centric identity” 4 times & “citizen-centric identity” once)
  • Cloud Identity and the intersection of enterprise ID and people (consumer) ID

With this in mind we (a bunch of VRM and IIW people) decided that Wednesday afternoon is when we’ll have the VRM+CRM session, although we can have CRM sessions anytime, because the whole workshop is an unconference and participants choose the topics. But if you’re into the future of CRM, that afternoon session will be a good one to hit.

There is also the whole next day, currently thus described:

Thursday is Yukon Day: One of the longtime themes of IIW is how identity and personal data intersect.  Many important discussions about Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) have also taken place at IIW.  In recognition of how personal data and identity are intertwined, the third day of the IIW, will be designated “IIW + Yukon” and will stress the emerging personal data economy.  The primary theme will be personal data control and leverage, where the individual controls and drives the use of their own data, and data about them held by other parties.

This isn’t social. It’s personal.  This day you can expext open-space style discuss ions of personal data stores (PDS), PDS ecosystems, and VRM.  One purpose of Yukon is to start to focus on business models and value propositions, so we will specifically be reaching out to angels and VC’s who are interested in personal data economy plays and inviting them to attend.

Yukon” is a play on “You Control.”

So, if CRM is your thing, IIW would be a good place to see what’s coming in CRM’s direction.

Look forward to seeing some of ya’ll there.

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OwnerIQ sez,

This video explains what they mean.

Compare those people and the way they define themselves—as products (a BMW, an iPad)—to the way Walt Whitman defined himself, just before Industry won the Industrial Revolution:

I know I am solid and sound.
To me the converging objects of the universe
perpetually flow.
All are written to me,
and I must get what the writing means.
I know I am deathless.
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept
by a carpenter’s compass,

I know that I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself
or be understood.
I see that the elementary laws never apologize.

My foothold is tenoned and mortised in granite.
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.

It is time to explain myself. Let us stand up.

I am an acme of things accomplished,
and I an encloser of things to be.
Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me.
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing,
the vapor from the nostrils of death.
I know I was even there.
I waited unseen and always.
And slept while God carried me
through the lethargic mist.
And took my time.

Long I was hugged close. Long and long.
Infinite have been the preparations for me.
Faithful and friendly the arms that have helped me.

Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing
like cheerful boatmen;
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings.
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.

Before I was born out of my mother
generations guided me.
My embryo has never been torpid.
Nothing could overlay it.
For it the nebula cohered to an orb.
The long slow strata piled to rest it on.
Vast vegetables gave it substance.
Monstrous animals transported it in their mouths
and deposited it with care.

All forces have been steadily employed
to complete and delight me.
Now I stand on this spot with my soul.

I know that I have the best of time and space.
And that I was never measured, and never will be measured.

I’m sure he owned more stuff than “a rainproof coat, good shoes and a staff cut from the wood.” But hey, maybe not. But whatever he had, what he did mattered more. Here’s what he does for each of us:

Each man and woman of you I lead upon a knoll.
My left hand hooks you about the waist,
My right hand points to landscapes and continents,
and a plain public road.

Not I, nor any one else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it for yourself.

It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born
and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.

Shoulder your duds, and I will mine,
and let us hasten forth.

If you tire, give me both burdens and rest the chuff of your hand on my hip.
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me.

Long enough have you dreamed contemptible dreams.
Now I wash the gum from your eyes.
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waited,
holding a plank by the shore.
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, and rise again,
and nod to me and shout,
and laughingly dash your hair.

I am the teacher of athletes.
He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own
proves the width of my own.
He most honors my style
who learns under it to destroy the teacher.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then. I contradict myself.
I am large. I contain multitudes.

I concentrate toward them that are nigh.
I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work
and will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me.

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me.
He complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

I submit that wild and free customers are far more potent participants in the marketplace than “consumers” of “brands.”

You know, like this:

The time has come to choose your species. If you’re just what you own, you’re veal.

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We’re doing something different at next week’s IIW: inviting investors. So here’s a pitch that should resonate with investors — especially in Silicon Valley, where IIW happens (appropriately, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View)…

Here’s a chance to check in on development work on a huge new disruptive market play: empowering customers as independent players in the marketplace, and building new businesses that serve liberated customers who want choices other than those between silos and walled gardens.

We’re talking here about equipping demand to drive supply, rather than just the reverse. (Which is fine and necessary, but it’s been done. A lot.)

We’re talking about creating tools and services proving at last that free customers are more valuable than captive ones.

We’re talking about how much more can happen in a marketplace where customers collect, control and selectively share their own data, for their own purposes — which nobody on the vendor side needs to guess about, because the customer knows, has the intent, and has the money.

We’ve been working on these tools for awhile now. My own work, both through IIW (which I help organize) and ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center, has been to encourage development of tools that liberate and empower customers in the marketplace. Thanks also to the good work of allied efforts, many of these tools now exist, and more are coming along.

These tools fall into many categories. Some are open source efforts that equip developers with essential building material. Some are commercial efforts at the angel or pre-angel stages. Some are already funded. Some are existing businesses looking for partners. Whatever breed they are, all should be interesting to investors looking to place bets on customers, and on companies that align with customer interests and intentions in the marketplace.

IIW — which stands for Internet Identity Workshop — has always been about development. Since 2005 we’ve been getting together twice a year to share ideas and move work forward. As a workshop, it’s organized as an unconference. No speakers, no panels. Participants suggest topics and everybody breaks out to rooms and tables where those topics get discussed, whiteboards get marked up, and in many cases code gets shown and improved.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, May 3 and 4, the workshop will follow the usual routine. But on Thursday, May 5, we’ll visit a new topic which we’re calling “Yukon”: a one-word play on the line, “You control your own data.” As it says here,

Something New: IIW + Yukon: One of the longtime themes of IIW is how identity and personal data intersect. Many important discussions about Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) have also taken place at IIW. In recognition of how personal data and identity are intertwined, the third day of the IIW, May 5, will be designated “IIW + Yukon” and will stress the emerging personal data economy. The primary theme will be personal data control and leverage, where the individual controls and drives the use of their own data, and data about them held by other parties.

This isn’t social. It’s personal. This day you can expext open-space style discussions of personal data stores (PDS), PDS ecosystems, and VRM. One purpose of Yukon is to start to focus on business models and value propositions, so we will specifically be reaching out to angels and VC’s who are intersted in personal data economy plays and inviting them to attend.

Whether or not you’re an investor, or just friends with some (as pretty much all of us are these days), you’re invited. Looking forward to seeing you there.

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If you want to know what data you’re sharing — without (thus far) knowing about it — on Facebook, ISharedWhat.com is the way. You run it as a simulator and what’s what.

It was developed by Joe Andrieu, a stalwart contributor of wisdom and code to the VRM community, and has been covered by and tweeted by the Wall Street Journal’s @WhatTheyKnow.

It’s what we call a fourth party app, meaning it performs as an instrument of your intentions, rather than a seller’s or a site operator’s. Check it out and give Joe feedback.

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In The Data Bubble, I told readers to mark the day: 31 July 2010. That’s when The Wall Street Journal published The Web’s Gold Mine: Your Secrets, subtitled A Journal investigation finds that one of the fastest-growing businesses on the Internet is the business of spying on consumers. First in a series. That same series is now nine stories long, not counting the introduction and a long list of related pieces. Here’s the current list:

  1. The Web’s Gold Mine: What They Know About You
  2. Microsoft Quashed Bid to Boost Web Privacy
  3. On the Web’s Cutting Edge: Anonymity in Name Only
  4. Stalking by Cell Phone
  5. Google Agonizes Over Privacy
  6. Kids Face Intensive Tracking on Web
  7. ‘Scrapers’ Dig Deep for Data on the Web
  8. Facebook in Privacy Breach
  9. A Web Pioneer Profiles Users By Name

Related pieces—

Two things I especially like about all this. First, Julia Angwin and her team are doing a terrific job of old-fashioned investigative journalism here. Kudos for that. Second, the whole series stands on the side of readers. The second person voice (you, your) is directed to individual persons—the same persons who do not sit at the tables of decision-makers in this crazy new hyper-personalized advertising business.

To measure the delta of change in that business, start with John Battelle‘s Conversational Marketing series (post 1, post 2, post 3) from early 2007, and then his post Identity and the Independent Web, from last week. In the former he writes about how the need for companies to converse directly with customers and prospects is both inevitable and transformative. He even kindly links to The Cluetrain Manifesto (behind the phrase “brands are conversations”).

In his latest he observes some changes in the Web itself:

Here’s one major architectural pattern I’ve noticed: the emergence of two distinct territories across the web landscape. One I’ll call the “Dependent Web,” the other is its converse: The “Independent Web.”

The Dependent Web is dominated by companies that deliver services, content and advertising based on who that service believes you to be: What you see on these sites “depends” on their proprietary model of your identity, including what you’ve done in the past, what you’re doing right now, what “cohorts” you might fall into based on third- or first-party data and algorithms, and any number of other robust signals.

The Independent Web, for the most part, does not shift its content or services based on who you are. However, in the past few years, a large group of these sites have begun to use Dependent Web algorithms and services to deliver advertising based on who you are.

A Shift In How The Web Works?

And therein lies the itch I’m looking to scratch: With Facebook’s push to export its version of the social graph across the Independent Web; Google’s efforts to personalize display via AdSense and Doubleclick; AOL, Yahoo and Demand building search-driven content farms, and the rise of data-driven ad exchanges and “Demand Side Platforms” to manage revenue for it all, it’s clear that we’re in the early phases of a major shift in the texture and experience of the web.

He goes on to talk about how “these services match their model of your identity to an extraordinary machinery of marketing dollars“, and how

When we’re “on” Facebook, Google, or Twitter, we’re plugged into an infrastructure (in the case of the latter two, it may be a distributed infrastructure) that locks onto us, serving us content and commerce in an automated but increasingly sophisticated fashion. Sure, we navigate around, in control of our experience, but the fact is, the choices provided to us as we navigate are increasingly driven by algorithms modeled on the service’s understanding of our identity.

And here is where we get to the deepest, most critical problem: Their understanding of our identity is not the same as our understanding of our identity. What they have are a bunch of derived assumptions that may or may not be correct; and even if they are, they are not ours. This is a difference in kind, not degree. It doesn’t matter how personalized anybody makes advertising targeted at us. Who we are is something we possess and control—or would at least like to think we do—no matter how well some of us (such as advertisers) rationalize the “socially derived” natures of our identities in the world.

It is standard for people in the ad business to equate assent with approval, and John’s take on this is a good example of that. Sez he,

We know this, and we’re cool with the deal.

In fact we don’t know, we’re not cool with it, and it isn’t a deal.

If we knew, the Wall Street Journal wouldn’t have a reason to clue us in at such length.

We’re cool with it only to the degree that we are uncomplaining about it—so far.

And it isn’t a “deal” because nothing was ever negotiated.

On that last point, our “deals” with vendors on the Web are agreements in name only. Specifically, they are a breed of assent called contracts of adhesion. Also called standard form or boilerplate contracts, they are what you get when a dominant party sets all the terms, there is no room for negotiation, and the submissive party has a choice only to accept the terms or walk away. The term “adhesion” refers to the nailed-down nature of the submissive party’s position, while the dominant party is free to change the terms any time it wishes. Next time you “agree” to terms you haven’t read, go read them and see where it says the other party reserves the right to change the terms.

There is a good reason why we have had these kinds of agreements since the dawn of e-commerce. It’s because that’s the way the Web was built. Only one party—the one with the servers and the services—was in a position to say what was what. It’s still that way. The best slide I’ve seen in the last several years is one of Phil Windley‘s. It says,

HISTORY OF E-COMMERCE

1995: Invention of the Cookie.

The End.

About all we’ve done since 1995 on the sell side is improve the cookie-based system of “relating” to users. This is a one-way take-it-or-leave-it system that has become lame and pernicious in the extreme. We can and should do better than that.

Phil’s own company, Kynetx, has come up with a whole new schema. Besides clients and servers (which don’t go away), you’ve got end points, events, rules and rules engines to execute the rules. David Siegel’s excellent book, The Power of Pull, describes how the Semantic Web also offers a rich and far more flexible and useful alternative to the Web’s old skool model. His post yesterday is a perfect example of liberated thinking and planning that transcends the old cookie-limited world. The man is on fire. Dig his first paragraph:

Monday I talked about the social networking bubble. Marketers are getting sucked into the social-networking vortex and can’t find their way out. The problem is that most companies are trying small tactical improvements, hoping to improve sales a bit and trying tactical savings programs, hoping to improve margins a bit. Yet there’s a whole new curve of efficiency waiting in the world of pull. It’s time to start talking about savingtrillions, not millions. Companies should think in terms of big, strategic, double-digit improvements, new markets, and new ways to cooperate. Here is a road map

Read on. (I love that he calls social networking a “bubble”. I’m with that.)

This week at IIW in Mountain View, we’re going to be talking about, and working on, improving markets from the buyers’ side. (Through VRM and other means.) On the table will be whole new ways of relating, starting with systems by which users and customers can offer their own terms of engagement, their own policies, their own preferences (even their own prices and payment options)—and by which sellers and site operators can signal their openness to those terms (even if they’re not yet ready to accept them). The idea here is to get buyers out of their shells and sellers out of their silos, so they can meet and deal for real in a truly open marketplace. (This doesn’t have to be complicated. A lot of it can be automated. And, if we do it right, we can skip a lot of the pointless one-sided agreement-clicking friction we now take for granted.)

Right now it’s hard to argue against all the money being spent (and therefore made) in the personalized advertising business—just like it was hard to argue against the bubble in tech stock prices in 1999 and in home prices in 2004. But we need to come to our senses here, and develop new and better systems by which demand and supply can meet and deal with each other as equally powerful parties in the open marketplace. Some of the tech we need for that is coming into being right now. That’s what we should be following. Not just whether Google, Facebook or Twitter will do the best job of putting crosshairs on our backs.

John’s right that the split is between dependence and independence. But the split that matters most is between yesterday’s dependence and tomorrow’s independence—for ourselves. If we want a truly conversational economy, we’re going to need individuals who are independent and self-empowered. Once we have that, the level of economic activity that follows will be a lot higher, and a lot more productive, than we’re getting now just by improving the world’s biggest guesswork business.

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First, three posts by:

His bottom line in the last of those: “… people are saying the web dumbs us down. This is wrong. The web can dumb us down, but only if we choose to let it.” Much substance leads up to that, including many comments to the first two posts.

In the first post, JP says, “For information to have power, it needs to be held asymmetrically. Preferably very very asymmetrically. Someone who knows something that others do not know can do something potentially useful and profitable with that information.” He adds,

So when people create walled-garden paid apps, others will create unpaid apps that get to the same material. It’s only a matter of time. Because every attempt at building dams and filters on the internet is seen as pollution by the volunteers. It’s not about the money, it’s about the principle. No pollutants.

Which brings me to the reason for this post. There’s been a lot of talk about the web and the internet making us dumber.

I think it’s more serious than that. What the web does is reduce the capacity for asymmetry in education. Which in turn undermines the exalted status of the expert.

The web makes experts “dumb”. By reducing the privileged nature of their expertise.

Every artificial scarcity will be met by an equal and opposite artificial abundance. And, over time, the abundance will win. There will always be more people choosing to find ways to undo DRM than people employed in the DRM-implementing sector. Always.

Joe Andrieu responds with Asmmetry by choice.  After giving some examples, Joe adds,

These types of voluntary acceptance of asymmetry in information are the fabric of relationships. We trust people with sensitive information when we believe they will respect our privacy.

I don’t see abundance undoing that. Either the untrustworthy recipient develops a reputation for indescretion and is cut off, or the entire system would have to preclude any privacy at all. In that latter scenario, it would became impossible to share our thoughts and ideas, our dreams and passions, without divulging it to the world. We would stop sharing and shut down those thoughts altogether rather than allow ourselves to become vulnerable to passing strangers and the powers that be. Such a world would of totalitarian omniscience would be unbearable and unsustainable. Human beings need to be able to trust one another.  Friends need to be able to talk to friends without broadcasting to the world. Otherwise, we are just cogs in a vast social order over which we have almost no control.

Asymmetry-by-choice, whether formalized in an NDA, regulated by law, or just understood between close friends, is part of the weft and weave of modern society.

The power of asymmetry-by-choice is the power of relationships. When we can trust someone else with our secrets, we gain. When we can’t, we are limited to just whatever we can do with that information in isolation.

This is a core part of what we are doing with and the . Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) is about helping users get the most out of their relationships with vendors. And those relationships depend on Vendors respecting the directives of their customers, especially around asymmetric information. The Information Sharing Work Group (ISWG) is developing scenarios and legal agreements that enable individuals to share information with service providers on their own terms. The notion of a is predicated on providing privileged information to service providers, dynamically, with full assurance and the backing of the law. The receiving service providers can then provide enhanced, customized services based on the content of that data store… and individuals can rest assured that law abiding service providers will respect the terms they’ve requested.

I think the value of this asymmetry-by-choice is about artificial scarcity, in that it is constructed through voluntary agreement rather than the mechanics/electronics of the situation, but it is also about voluntary relationships, and that is why it is so powerful and essential.

I’ll let both arguments stand for now (and I think if the two of them were talking here right now they’d come to some kind of agreement… maybe they will in comments here or on their own blogs), while I lever both their points toward the issue of privacy, which will continue to heat up as more people become aware of liberties taken with personal information by Web companies, especially those in the advertising business. I hadn’t thought about this in terms of asymmetry before, but maybe it helps.

The Web has always embodied the design asymmetry of . Sites have servers. Visitors have clients (your computing device and its browser). To help keep track of visitors’ relationships, the server gives them . These are small text files that help the server recall logins, passwords, contact history and other helpful information. Cookies have been normative in the extreme since they were first used in the mid-nineties.

Today advertising on the Web is also normative to an extreme that is beginning to feel . In efforts to improve advertising, “beacons” and flash cookies have been added to the HTTP variety, and all are now also used to track users on the Web. The Wall Street Journal has been following this in its series, and you can find out more there. Improvement, in the new advertising business, is now about personalization. “It is a sea change in the way the industry works,” Omar Tawakol, CEO of BlueKai, told the Wall Street Journal. “Advertisers want to buy access to people, not Web pages.”

Talk about asymmetry. You are no longer just a client to a server. You are a target with crosshairs on your wallet.

Trying to make advertising more helpful is a good thing. Within a trusted relationship, it can be a better thing. The problem with all this tracking is that it does not involve trusted relationships. Advertisers and site owners may assume or infer some degree of conscious assent by users. But, as the Journal series makes clear, most of us have no idea how much unwelcome tracking is really going on. (Hell, they didn’t know until they started digging.)

So let’s say we can construct trusted relationships with sellers. By we I mean you and me, as individuals. How about if we have our own terms of engagement with sellers—ones that express our intentions, and not just theirs? What might we say? How about,

  • You will put nothing on my computer or browser other than what we need for our  relationship.
  • Any data you collect in the course of our relationship can be shared with me.
  • You can combine my data with other data and share it outside our relatinship, provided it is not PII (Personally Identifiable Information).
  • If we cease our relationship, you can keep my data but not associate any PII with that data.
  • You will also not follow my behavior or accumulate data about me for the purposes of promotion or advertising unless I opt into that. Nor will your affiliates or partners.

I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not saying any of the points above are either legal or in legal language. But they are the kinds of things we might like to say within a relationship that is symmetrical in nature yet includes the kind of asymmetry-by-choice that Joe talks about: the kind based on real trust and real agreement and not just passive assent.

The idea here isn’t to make buyers more powerful than sellers. It’s to frame up standard mechanisms by which understandings can be established by both parties. Joe mentioned some of the work going on there. I also mention some in Cooperation vs. Coercion, on the . Here’s a long excerpt:

What we need now is for vendors to discover that free customers are more valuable than captive ones. For that we need to equip customers with better ways to enjoy and express their freedom, including ways of engaging that work consistently for many vendors, rather than in as many different ways ways as there are vendors — which is the “system” (that isn’t) we have now.

There are lots of VRM development efforts working on both the customer and vendor sides of this challenge. In this post I want to draw attention to the symbols that represent those two sides, which we call r-buttons, two of which appear above. Yours is the left one. The vendor’s is the right one. They face each other like magnets, and are open on the facing ends.

These are designed to support what calls , which he started talking about back in 2005 or so. I paid some respect to gestures (though I didn’t yet understand what he meant) in The Intention Economy, a piece I wrote for in 2006. (That same title is also the one for book I’m writing for . The subtitle is What happens when customers get real power.) On the sell side, in a browser environment, the vendor puts some RDFa in its HTML that says “We welcome free customers.” That can mean many things, but the most important is this: Free customers bring their own means of engagement. It also means they bring their own terms of engagement.

Being open to free customers doesn’t mean that a vendor has to accept the customer’s terms. It does mean that the vendor doesn’t believe it has to provide all those terms itself, through the currently defaulted contracts of adhesion that most of us click “accept” for, almost daily. We have those because from the dawn of e-commerce sellers have assumed that they alone have full responsibility for relationships with customers. Maybe now that dawn has passed, we can get some daylight on other ways of getting along in a free and open marketplace.

The gesture shown here —

— is the vendor (in this case the public radio station , which I’m just using as an example here) expressing openness to the user, through that RDFa code in its HTML. Without that code, the right-side r-button would be gray. The red color on the left side shows that the user has his or her own code for engagement, ready to go. (I unpack some of this stuff here.)

Putting in that RDFa would be trivial for a CRM system. Or even for a CMS (content management system). Next step: (I have Craig Burton leading me on this… he’s on the phone with me right now…) RESTful APIs for customer data. Check slide 69 here. Also slides 98 and 99. And 122, 124, 133 and 153.

If I’m not mistaken, a little bit of RDFa can populate a pop-down menu on the site’s side that might look like this:

All the lower stuff is typical “here are our social links” jive. The important new one is that item at the top. It’s the new place for “legal” (the symbol is one side of a “scale of justice”) but it doesn’t say “these are our non-negotiable terms of service (or privacy policies, or other contracts of adhesion). Just by appearing there it says “We’re open to what you bring to the table. Click here to see how.” This in turn opens the door to a whole new way for buyers and sellers to relate: one that doesn’t need to start with the buyer (or the user) just “accepting” terms he or she doesn’t bother to read because they give all advantages to the seller and are not negotiable. Instead it is an open door like one in a store. Much can be implicit, casual and free of obligation. No new law is required here. Just new practice. This worked for (which neither offered nor required new copyright law), and it can work for r-commerce (a term I just made up). As with Creative Commons, what happens behind that symbol can be machine, lawyer or human-readable. You don’t have to click on it. If your policy as a buyer is that you don’t want to to be tracked by advertisers, you can specify that, and the site can hear and respond to it. The system is, as Renee Lloyd puts it, the difference between a handcuff and a handshake.

Renee is a lawyer and self-described “shark trainer” who has done much in the community to help us think about agreements in ways that are legal without being complicated. For example, when you walk into a store, you are surrounded by laws of many kinds, yet you have an understanding with that store that you will behave as a proper guest. (And many stores, such as Target, refer by policy to their customers as “guests.”) You don’t have accept “terms of service” that look like this:

You agree we are not liable for annoying interruptions caused by you; or a third party, buildings, hills, network congestion, rye whiskey falling sickness or unexpected acts of God or man, and will save harmless rotary lyrfmstrdl detections of bargas overload prevention, or if Elvis leaves the building, living or dead. Unattended overseas submissions in saved mail hazard functions will be subject to bad weather or sneeze funneling through contractor felch reform blister pack truncation, or for the duration of the remaining unintended contractual subsequent lost or expired obligations, except in the state of Arizona at night. We also save ourselves and close relatives harmless from anything we don’t control; including clear weather and oddball acts of random gods. You also agree we are not liable for missed garments, body parts, electronic communications or musical instruments, even if you have saved them. Nothing we say or mumble here is trustworthy or true, or meant for any purpose other than to sphincter the fears of our legal department, which has no other reason to live. Everything here does not hold if we become lost, damaged or sold to some other company. Whether for reasons of drugs, hormones, gas or mood, we may also terminate or change this agreement with cheerful impunity.

[   ]  Accept.

And for that you get a cookie. Yum.

gives a great talk in which he reduces History of E-Commerce to one slide. It looks like this:

1995: Invention of the Cookie.

The End.

Not content with that, Phil has moved history forward a step by writing KRL, the , which he describes in this post here. The bottom line for our purpose in this post is that you can write your own rules. Terms of engagement are not among them yet, but why not? It’s early. At last Friday, showed how easy it is to program a relationship—or just your side of one—with KRL. What blew my mind was that the show was over and it was past time to leave, on a Friday, and people hung out to see how this was done. (Here’s a gallery of photos from the workshop.)

And those are just some of the efforts going on in the VRM (and soon, we trust, the CRM) community. What we’re trusting (we’re beyond just hoping at this point) is that tools for users wishing to manage relationships with organizations of all kinds (and not just vendors) will continue to find their way into the marketplace. And the result will be voluntary relationships that employ asymmetry by choice—in which the choice is made freely by all the parties involved.

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VRM + CRM 2010

So that’s the logo for the first VRM+CRM workshop, which will happen on 26-27 August, at Harvard Law School. It’s free. You can register here.

ProjectVRM, which I’ve been running as a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center has been growing nicely over the past four years, and is on its way toward becoming an independent entity. (It will exist, as always, to support a community of developers and interested parties outside of the project itself.) It’s funny, I remember Jeremie Miller, who encouraged me to choose VRM (before it had that name) as my Berkman project when I started out in late summer of 2006, telling me “it will take five years.” Meaning that’s generally how long any new world-changing development effort spends in the quiet shadows before it breaks out into the open and starts taking off. (If it does at all.) That’s about how long it took for Jeremie’s own Jabber/XMPP efforts. (He predicted five years at the beginning of that too, and he was just a kid then. Wise dude.)

I’ve liked keeping VRM in the shadows, because I felt that code mattered more than anything. Code talks. Buzz walks. And I say that even though I’m not bad at generating buzz when I need to. Now the code base is growing enough that many of us feel a need to start talking about it. Especially to potential partners in the business world.

We’ve described VRM as the “reciprocal” of CRM at various times. It’s much more than that, actually. Its tools that give individuals independence from others, yet useful means for engaging with others — especially organizations, and among those especially sellers. But the core elements are individuals and independence.

I’ve also seen VRM from the start as fundamentally an open source effort, not a commercial one. I also saw open source tools, with their high use-value, having enormous leverage into sale-value for any company selling products or services based on those open tools. This would include, among other things, many fourth-party services — itself another whole new category.

CRM in the meantime has grown to become a $15-billion business. It has also lately enlarged its intrest to include Social CRM. Our friend Paul Greenberg has written extensively on both, and is the driving force behind Destination CRM next week in New York. (Which I hate to miss, but have a prior commitment elsewhere.) Since VRM will be a topic at Destination CRM, and we can get space here at Harvard before the students come back, we put together the workshop to follow at the other end of the same month.

The workshop is for VRM and CRM developers and other interested parties (such as CRM customers) together to start building out the common ground between them. The nature of relationship is to exist between and apart from both parties. Neither controls the other. Both work together, in a common space between the two. We haven’t had that space before. The default on the CRM side (and one that predates CRM itself) is for vendors to control relationships with customers. What VRM proposes is that neither controls the other, but both manage the space between them, in mutually beneficial ways.

The workshop will mostly be an unconference, though there will be some opening briefings by VRM and CRM folks, to set the stage for sessions to follow. Here are a few of the topics and questions I expect will come up. (These are copied over from a post I just put up over on the ProjectVRM blog.) –

  • Terms of service. How can we get past the legal hurdles and shackles that inconvenience both buyers and sellers when they get acquainted?
  • Privacy policies. How can we reduce the suspicions and frictions that these involve?
  • Personal data. What tools, methods and services are being developed for individuals to keep track of data they generate or is being kept by sellers and other parties? What means do we have for sharing or exchanging that data in secure and trustable ways?
  • Signaling. What new methods will both individuals and organizations have for notifying each other of interests, intentions, policies, preferences, or changes in any of those? How can we make these common across the industry, rather than different for every organization?
  • Self-tracking and personal informatics. What vendor-independent means are being developed for individuals to keep track of their own personal data, and manage it?
  • Interactive shopping. The Live Web we saw coming in 2005 is here. So is the mobile one. Combine those facts with the ability to issue personal RFPs (or just to publish your shopping list to trusted retailers and fourth parties), and what do you get?
  • Search. What new paradigms for searching are being developed, especially in the context of all the topics above?
  • Non-coercive loyalty. What ways are being developed for individuals to express and manage their own forms of loyalty to sellers and other organizations? How can this improve existing loyalty programs?
  • Personal RFPs or Advertising in Reverse. How can individual customers notify whole market categories of their intent to purchase a product, safely and securely, without inviting a torrent of promotional jive in response?
  • Leveraging base-level protocols, standards and tools. There are hundreds of thousands of free and open source tools, protocols and other goods already in the world, ready to serve as free building materials and guidelines. What can we use of these, and what new ones do we need? What new ones are in development on the VRM side?
  • Reducing MLOTT — Money Left On The Table. In our current system, a huge sum of demand goes un-met because of the the means for communicating interest and availability are on the supply side. How (including the means listed above and others) can we equip demand to notify supply of money ready to be spent? In the old days this was seen as “lead generation” by suppliers. But now it’s time to get past that.
  • Tie-ins with SCRM. Social CRM is the hottest topic in CRM. How can VRM connect with and through social networking? Important question: Should “social” be restricted to just what can be done through Facebook, Twitter and other commercial services?
  • Patient-driven health care. How can individuals be the collection points for their own health data, and the point of origination for what gets done with it?
  • API symphonics. The commercial world is increasingly building around a collection of interconnected APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces. Many CRM systems are built around their own APIs. VRM will surely connect into many APIs. How should we be thinking about and guiding evolution here?
  • The oppposite of cookies. Sites and companies of all kinds have been keeping track of customers through cookies since the mid-’90s. How can customers do the same with their suppliers?

Feel free to add your own, correct these, or make other recommendations.

More details on the event wiki page.

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Marketing Needs To Stop Its BS and Wake Up, the headline says.

True.

The bottom line: “At the end of the day, audiences have moved on and their expectations have changed. The next five years will see drastic changes in the way organizations engage with their audiences. It’s not a choice anymore. These are the ‘cluetrain’ years.”

Yes, but what will change most is how ‘audiences’ engage with companies.

r-buttonFor r-buttonone thing, we’re not ‘audiences’ any more. And we’re not here for the show. We’ll have our own ways of engaging, and they won’t just be through “social media” that are privately owned and we don’t control. In fact, those ways might include the symbols you see here. You’re on the left, and the company you’re engaging with is on the right. If that company believes a free customer is more valuable than a captive one, the symbol appears, or turns from gray to red.

For more on all that, go to Cooperation vs. Coercion, which I posted on the ProjectVRM blog this morning. Also see three other posts on this blog from a couple days ago. Pointers to those are here.

If you’re a marketer, and you want some fresh clues about how the tide is turning, take the time to read through those. They’re not gospel, just some blog posts. But they point in a direction, and it’s not toward marketing as usual, even if that marketing is called “social”.

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There are two essential concepts of location for the World Wide Web. One is you: the individual, the reader, the writer, the customer, the singular entity. The other is the World.

I live and work mostly in the U.S. I also speak English. My French, German and Spanish are all too minimal to count unless I happen to be in a country that speaks one of those languages. When I’m in one of those places, as I am now in France, I do my best to learn as much of the language as I can. But I’m still basically an English speaker.

So, by default, when I’m on the Web my language is English. My location might be France, or Denmark or somewhere else, but when I’m searching for something the language I require most of the time is English. That’s my mental location.

So it drives me nuts that Google sends me to http://google.fr, even when I log into iGoogle and get my personalized Google index page. When I re-write the URL so it says http://google.us, Google re-writes it as http://google.fr, no matter what. On iGoogle I can’t find a way to set my preferred language, or my virtual location if it’s not where I am right now. I can’t do that even when I have Google translate, instantly, in my Google Chrome browser, the page text to English. (I’m sure there’s a hack, and I would appreciate it if somebody would tell me. But if there is why should it be so hard?)

Bing comes up all-French too, but at the bottom of the page, in small white type, it says “Go to Bing in English”. Nice.

So now, here in Paris, I’m using Bing when I want to search in English, and Google when I want to search for local stuff. Which is a lot, actually. But I miss searching in English on Google. I could ask them to fix that, but I’d rather fix the fact that only they can fix that. Depending on suppliers to do all the work is a bug, not a feature.

What matters is context. I’m tired of having companies guess at what my context is. I know what my contexts are. I know how they change. I want my own ways of changing contexts, and of informing services of what those contexts are. In some cases I don’t mind their guessing. In a few I even appreciate it. But in too many cases their guesses only get in the way. The Google search case is just one of them.

(disclosure: I’ve done work for Phil) gives a talk in which he provides a brief history of e-commerce. It goes, “1995: Invention of the cookie. The End.” Thanks to the , we have contexts — but only inside each company’s silo. We can’t provide our own contexts except to the degree that each company’s website allows it. And they’re all different. This too is a bug, not a feature. (Just like carrying around a pile of loyalty cards and key tabs is a bug. Hey, I know more about who and what I’m loyal to than any company does — and I’d like my own ways of expressing that.)

At this moment it is commonly believed that the contexts that matter most are “social”. This is defined as who my friends are, and where I happen to be right now. This information is held almost entirely by commercial services: Facebook, Twitter, Google, Foursquare, Groupon, Blippy and so on. Not by you or me. Not by individuals, and not independently of all those services. This too is a bug. Who your friends and other contacts are is indeed a context, but it should be one that you control, not some company. Your data, and how you organize it, should be the independent variable, and the data you share with these services should be the dependent variables.

Some of us in the community (including Phil and his company, ) are working on context provided by individuals. In the long run these contexts can work for any or all commercial and non-commercial institutions we deal with. I expect to see some of this work become manifest over the next year. Stay tuned.

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VRM meets CRM

CRM Magazine has devoted much of its May 2010 issue, including its cover and lead stories, to VRM and the growing power of individual customers, within which VRM is one vector.

Naturally, is also covered, since it pointed in this same direction, long ago.

This is an impressive move on the part of the CRM Magazine folks, and I hope the industry it covers follows its lead.

I put up a longer post about this over at the ProjectVRM blog. Read the rest there. And if any of ya’ll have a hard copy of the magazine, please save it, since I haven’t seen one yet and would like to collect a few in any case.

Meanwhile, a high five to Tara Hunt, who introduced the CRM Magazine folks to VRM, and got the ball rolling with then.

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First, read Dave‘s The Mother of all Business Models. The money grafs:

Want to get a message to Dave while he’s on the BART riding under SF? $5. Want to get a message to him while he’s walking the tradeshow at CES? That costs more.

If you’re important enough you shouldn’t even pay to use the mobile device. They’re going to make so much money from your attention. If you’re really important, thinking Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Mike Arrington, they should pay you — a LOT — to use their device. Wow.

That got me excited. That’s what they have to be thinking at Google. And why not Twitter. Trying to think of a title for this post, I came up with The Mother of All Business Models. This is as far as I can see. A new economy. Nobodies pay, but important people are paid to use your brand cell phone/mobile device. I’m sure that’s the future. Might be horrible but we’re already almost there.

This is great stuff: a whole new frame for the sell side.

Now let’s look at the buy side, and how to keep the sellers from being horrible moms. What do we want there? Or what should we want there, if we knew we had the power, independent of advertisers and their media? I mean native power here: power that each of us has — not by grace of some company or government agency, and not limited to a company’s “platform”, which is almost always the floor of a silo or the lawn of a walled garden (and worth less or nothing outside of it).

We already have some of that power, thanks to protocols, formats and code that (essentially) nobody owns, everybody can use and anybody can improve. One of the most widespread of those, thanks to Dave, is RSS — Really Simple Syndication. Look up RSS on Google. You get 3,210,000,000 results, as of today. Much of that huge number owes to RSS’s nature as essential builing material for the Web that anybody can use, easily.

RSS is easy to make yours, personally, as your tool. Thanks to RSS (atop the Web’s and the Net’s other supportive standards, formats and protocols) anybody can produce, edit, update and syndicate pretty much whatever they like. You don’t have to go to Google or Twitter or Facebook. That independence is key, and has been there from the start, as a founding premise.

Now, what else can we create, to help assert our sides of commercial interactions and relationships — which is the central concern of the VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) community? In the Markets Are Relationships chapter of the 10th Anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto, I wrote this about the purposes of VRM efforts:

  1. Provide tools for individuals to manage relationships with organizations. These tools are personal. That is, they belong to the individual in the sense that they are under the individual’s control. They can also be social, in the sense that they can connect with others and support group formation and action. But they need to be personal first.
  2. Make individuals the collection centers for their own data, so that transaction histories, health records, membership details, service contracts, and other forms of personal data are no longer scattered throughout a forest of silos.
  3. Give individuals the ability to share data selectively, without disclosing more personal information than the individual allows.
  4. Give individuals the ability to control how their data is used by others, and for how long. At the individual’s discretion, this may include agreements requiring others to delete the individual’s data when the relationship ends.
  5. Give individuals the ability to assert their own terms of service, reducing or eliminating the need for organization-written terms of service that nobody reads and everybody has to “accept” anyway.
  6. Give individuals means for expressing demand in the open market, outside any organizational silo, without disclosing any unnecessary personal information.
  7. Make individuals platforms for business by opening the market to many kinds of third party services that serve buyers as well as sellers.
  8. Base relationship-managing tools on open standards, open APIs (application program interfaces), and open code. This will support a rising tide of activity that will lift an infinite variety of business boats, plus other social goods.
  9. The Intention Economy.

All these will also give rise to:

The latter is the title of the following section of the chapter, where I  explain that advertising is a bubble, and “so is the rest of the ‘attention economy’ that includes promotion, public relations, direct marketing, and other ways of pushing messages through media.” I then explain,

The attention economy will crash for three reasons. First, it has always been detached from the larger economy where actual goods and services are sold to actual customers. Second, it has always been inefficient and wasteful, flaws that could be rationalized only by the absence of anything better. Third, a better system will come along in which demand drives supply at least as well as supply drives demand. In other words, when the “intention economy” outperforms the attention economy.

Some context:

The attention economy will not go away. There will still be a need for vendors to promote their offerings. But that promotion will have a new context: the ability of customers to communicate what they need and want—and to maintain or terminate relationships. Thus the R in CRM will cease to be a euphemism. This will happen when we have standard protocols for all three forms of market activity: transaction, conversation, and relationship.

Transaction we already have. Conversation we are only beginning to develop. (Email, text messaging, and other standard and open protocols help here, but they are still just early steps—even in in 2009, ten years after we said “markets are conversations” in The Cluetrain Manifesto.) Relationship is the wild frontier. Closed “social” environments like MySpace and Facebook are good places to experiment with some of what we’ll need, but as of today they’re still silos. Think of them as AOL 2.0.

Now, what do we need to create The Intention Economy? (That link goes to a piece by that name written almost four years ago.) What’s already there, like RSS and its relatives, that we can put to use? What new protocols, formats, tools and code do we need to create?

Improving selling is a good thing. Improving buying is a better thing. And improving how buyers and sellers relate is better than both. Those last two are what VRM is about. (And the last one is what CRM has always been about, though it hasn’t had any reciprocating system on the buy side, which is what VRM will provide.)

If you want to see some of what we’re up to, or to contribute to it, here’s the wiki. And here’s the list.

Meanwhile, I’m working on a book titled The Intention Economy: What Happens When Customers Get Real Power. If you’re interested in pointing me to helpful scholorship, research and stories for the book, feel free to weigh in with those too.

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What are we to make of Sidewiki? Is it, as Phil Windley says, a way to build the purpose-centric Web? Or is it, as Mike Arrington suggests, the latest way to “deface” websites?

The arguments here were foreshadowed in the architecture of the Web itself, the essence of which has been lost to history — or at least to search engines.

Look up Wikipedia+Web on Google and you won’t find Wikipedia’s World Wide Web entry on the first page of search results. Nor in the first ten pages. The top current result is for Web browser. Next is Web 2.0. Except for Wikipedia itself, none of the other results on the first page point to a Wikipedia page or one about the Web itself.

This illustrates how far we’ve grown away from the Web’s roots as a “hypertext project”. In Worldwide: Proposal for a Hypertext Project, dated 12 November 1990, Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Callao wrote,

Hypertext is a way to link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse at will. Potentially, Hypertext provides a single user-interface to many large classes of stored information such as reports, notes, data-bases, computer documentation and on-line systems help…

…There is a potential large benefit from the integration of a variety of systems in a way which allows a user to follow links pointing from one piece of information to another one. This forming of a web of information nodes rather than a hierarchical tree or an ordered list is the basic concept behind Hypertext…

Here we give a short presentation of hypertext.

A program which provides access to the hypertext world we call a browser. When starting a hypertext browser on your workstation, you will first be presented with a hypertext page which is personal to you: your personal notes, if you like. A hypertext page has pieces of text which refer to other texts. Such references are highlighted and can be selected with a mouse (on dumb terminals, they would appear in a numbered list and selection would be done by entering a number)…

The texts are linked together in a way that one can go from one concept to another to find the information one wants. The network of links is called a web . The web need not be hierarchical, and therefore it is not necessary to “climb up a tree” all the way again before you can go down to a different but related subject. The web is also not complete, since it is hard to imagine that all the possible links would be put in by authors. Yet a small number of links is usually sufficient for getting from anywhere to anywhere else in a small number of hops.

The texts are known as nodes. The process of proceeding from node to node is called navigation. Nodes do not need to be on the same machine: links may point across machine boundaries. Having a world wide web implies some solutions must be found for problems such as different access protocols and different node content formats. These issues are addressed by our proposal.

Nodes can in principle also contain non-text information such as diagrams, pictures, sound, animation etc. The term hypermedia is simply the expansion of the hypertext idea to these other media. Where facilities already exist, we aim to allow graphics interchange, but in this project, we concentrate on the universal readership for text, rather than on graphics.

Thus was outlined, right at the start, a conflict of interests and perspectives. On one side, the writer of texts and other creators of media goods. On the other side, readers and viewers, browsing. Linking the two is hypertext.

Note that, for Tim and Robert, both hypertext and the browser are user interfaces. Both authors and readers are users. As a writer I include hypertext links. As a reader with a browser I can follow them — but do much more. And it’s in that “more” category that Sidewiki lives.

As a writer, Sidewiki kinda creeps me out. As Dave Winer tweeted to @Windley, What if I don’t want it on my site? Phil tweeted back, but it’s not “on” your site. It’s “about” your site & “on” the browser. No?

Yes, but the browser is a lot bigger than it used to be. It’s turning into something of an OS. The lines between the territories of writer and reader, between creator and user, are also getting blurry. Tools for users are growing in power and abundance. So are those for creators, but I’m not sure the latter are keeping up with the former — at least not in respect to what can be done with the creators’ work. All due respect for Lessig, Free Culture and remixing, I want the first sources of my words and images to remain as I created them. Remix all you want. Just don’t do it inside my pants.

I’ll grant to Phil and Google that a Google sidebar is outside the scope of my control, and is not in fact inside my pants. But I do feel encroached upon. Maybe when I see Sidewiki in action I won’t; but for now as a writer I feel a need to make clear where my stuff ends and the rest of the world’s begins. When you’re at my site, my domain, my location on the Web, you’re in my house. My guest, as it were. I have a place here where we can talk, and where you can talk amongst yourselves as well. It’s the comments section below. If you want to talk about me, or the stuff that I write, do it somewhere else.

This is where I would like to add “Not in my sidebar.” Except, as Phil points out, it’s not my sidebar. It’s Google’s. That means it’s not yours, either. You’re in Google-ville in that sidebar. The sidewiki is theirs, not yours.

In Claiming My Right to a Purpose-Centric Web: SideWiki, Phil writes,

I’m an advocate of the techniques Google is using and more. I believe that people will get more from the Web when client-side tools that manipulate Web sites to the individual’s purpose are widely and freely available. A purpose-centric Web requires client-side management of Web sites. SideWiki is a mild example of this.

He adds,

The reaction that “I own this site and you’re defacing it” is rooted in the location metaphor of the Web. Purpose-centric activities don’t do away with the idea that Web sites are things that people and organizations own and control. But it’s silly to think of Web sites the same way we do land. I’m not trespassing when I use HTTP to GET the content of a Web page and I’m not defacing that content when I modify it—in my own browser—to more closely fit my purpose.

Plus a kind of credo:

I claim the right to mash-up, remix, annotate, augment, and otherwise modify Web content for my purposes in my browser using any tool I choose and I extend to everyone else that same privilege.

All of which I agree with—provided there are conventions on the creators’ side that give them means for clarifying their original authorship, and maintaining control over that which is undeniably theirs, whether or not it be called a “domain”.

For example, early in the history of Web, in the place where publishing, browsing and searching began to meet, a convention by which authors of sites could exclude their pages from search results was developed. The convention is now generally known as the Robots Exclusion Standard, and began with robots.txt. In simple terms, it was (and remains) a way to opt out of appearance in search results.

Is there something robots.txt-like that we could create that would reduce the sense of encroachment that writers feel as Google’s toolbar presses down from the top, and Sidewiki presses in from the left? (And who-knows-what from Google — or anybody — presses in from the right?)

I don’t know.

I do know that we need more and better tools in the hands of users — tools that give them independence both from authors like me and intermediaries like Google. That independence can take the form of open protocols (such as SMTP and IMAP, which allow users to do email with or without help from anybody), and it can take the form of substitutable tools and services such as browsers and browser enhancements. Nobody’s forcing anybody to use Google, Mozilla, any of their products or services, or any of the stuff anybody adds to either. This is a Good Thing.

But we’re not at the End of Time here, either. There is much left to be built out, especially on the user’s side. This is the territory where VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) lives. It’s about “equipping customers to be independent leaders and not just captive followers in their relationships with vendors and other parties on the supply side of the marketplace”.

I know Phil and friends are building VRM tools at his new company, Kynetx. I’ll be keynoting Kynetx’ first conference as well, which is on 18-19 November. (Register here.) Meanwhile there is much more to talk about in the whole area of individual autonomy and control — and work already underway in many areas, from music to public media to health care — which is why we’ll have VRooM Boston 2009 on 12-13 October at Harvard Law School. (Register here.)

Lots to talk about. Now, more places to do that as well.

Bonus Links:

[Later...] Lots of excellent comments below. I especially like Chris Berendes’. Pull quote: I better take the lead in remixing “in my pants”, lest Google do it for me. Not fair, but then the advent of the talkies was horribly unfair to Rudolf Valentino, among other silent film stars.

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For years I’ve been watching my old pal Britt Blaser work to improve the means by which citizens manage their elected politicians, and otherwise improve governance in our democracy.

Now comes Diane Francis, veteran columnist for the National Post in Canada (but yes, she’s an American), summarizing the good that should come from Britt’s latest: iVote4U, and its trial run toward the elections in New York coming up in just a few days. New York’s Digitized Dems Can Take Over City Council Sept. 15, says the headline. In addition to the Drupal sites of the last two links, there is a Facebook app as well.

The idea, sez Britt, is “to give voters a way to manage their politicians as easily as they manage their iTunes”. If you’re a New Yorker who plans to vote next week, give it a whirl. If enough of you do, you might begin to see what we call Government Relationship Management (or GRM) at work.

iVote4U pioneers as a fourth party service.Follow that link for more on what I mean by that; or check out Joe Andrieu’s series on user driven services. If we want government that is truly of, by and for the people, we need tools that give meaning to those prepositions. Especially the first two. Britt has dedicated his life to providing those tools. Give them a try.

You don’t need to be a Democrat, by the way. These tools should work equally well for voters of all political bendings.

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A couple days ago I responded to a posting on an email list. What I wrote struck a few chords, so I thought I’d repeat it here, with just a few edits, and then add a few additional thoughts as well. Here goes.

Reading _____’s references to ancient electrical power science brings to mind my own technical background, most of which is now also antique. Yet that background still informs of my understanding of the world, and my curiosities about What’s Going On Now, and What We Can Do Next. In fact I suspect that it is because I know so much about old technology that I am bullish about framing What We Can Do Next on both solid modern science and maximal liberation from technically obsolete legal and technical frameworks — even though I struggle as hard as the next geek to escape those.

(Autobiographical digression begins here. If you’re not into geeky stuff, skip.)

As a kid growing up in the 1950s and early ’60s I was obsessed with electricity and radio. I studied electronics and RF transmission and reception, was a ham radio operator, and put an inordinate amount of time into studying how antennas worked and electromagnetic waves propagated. From my home in New Jersey’s blue collar suburbs, I would ride my bike down to visit the transmitters of New York AM stations in the stinky tidewaters flanking the Turnpike, Routes 46 and 17, Paterson Plank Road and the Belleville Pike. (Nobody called them “Meadowlands” until many acres of them were paved in the ’70s to support a sports complex by that name.) I loved hanging with the old guys who manned those transmitters, and who were glad to take me out on the gangways to show how readings were made, how phasing worked (sinusoidal synchronization again), how a night transmitter had to address a dummy load before somebody manually switched from day to night power levels and directional arrays. After I learned to drive, my idea of a fun trip was to visit FM and TV transmitters on the tops of buildings and mountains. (Hell, I still do that.) Thus I came to understand skywaves and groundwaves, soil and salt water conductivity, ground systems, directional arrays and the inverse square law, all in the context of practical applications that required no shortage of engineering vernacular and black art.

I also obsessed on the reception end. In spite of living within sight of nearly every New York AM transmitter (WABC’s tower was close that we could hear its audio in our kitchen toaster), I logged more than 800 AM stations on my 40s-vintage Hammarlund HQ-129x receiver, which is still in storage at my sister’s place. That’s about 8 stations per channel. I came to understand how two-hop skywave reflection off the E layer of the ionosphere favored flat land or open water midway between transmission and reception points . This, I figured, is why I got KSL from Salt Lake City so well, but WOAI from San Antonio hardly at all. (Both were “clear channel” stations in the literal sense — nothing else in North America was on their channels at night, when the ionosphere becomes reflective of signals on the AM band.) Midpoint for the latter lay within the topographical corrugations of the southern Apalachians. Many years later I found this theory supported by listening in Hawaii to AM stations from Western North America, on an ordinary car radio. I’m still not sure why I found those skywave signals fading and distorting (from multiple reflections in the very uneven ionosphere) far less than those over land. I am sure, however, that most of this hardly matters at all to current RF and digital communication science. After I moved to North Carolina, I used Sporadic E reflections to log more than 1200 FM stations, mostly from 800 to 1200 miles away, plus nearly every Channel 3 and 6 (locally, 2,4 and 5 were occupied) in that same range. All those TV signals are now off the air. (Low-band VHF TV — channels 2 to 6 — are not used for digital signals in the U.S.) My knowledge of this old stuff is now mostly of nostalgia value; but seeking it has left me with a continuing curiosity about the physical world and our infrastructural additions to it. This is why much of what looks like photography is actually research. For example, this and this. What you’re looking at there are pictures taken in service to geology and archaeology.

(End of autobiographical digression.)

Speaking of which, I am also busy lately studying the history of copyright, royalties and the music business — mostly so ProjectVRM can avoid banging into any of those. This research amounts to legal and regulatory archaeology. Three preliminary findings stand out, and I would like to share them.

First, regulatory capture is real, and nearly impossible to escape. The best you can do is keep it from spreading. Most regulations protect last week from yesterday, and are driven by the last century’s leading industries. Little if any regulatory lawmaking by established industries — especially if they feel their revenue bases threatened, clears room for future development. Rather, it prevents future development, even for the threatened parties who might need it most. Thus the bulk of conversation and debate, even among the most progressive and original participants, takes place within the bounds of still-captive markets. This is why it is nearly impossible to talk about Net-supportive infrastructure development without employing the conceptual scaffolding of telecom and cablecom. We can rationalize this, for example, by saying that demand for telephone and cable (or satellite TV) services is real and persists, but the deeper and more important fact is that it is very difficult for any of us to exit the framing of those businesses and still make sense.

Second, infrastructure is plastic. The term “infrastructure” suggests physicality of the sturdiest kind, but in fact all of it is doomed to alteration, obsolescence and replacement. Some of it (Roman roads, for example) may last for centuries, but most of it is obsolete in a matter of decades, if not sooner. Consider over-the-air (OTA) TV. It is already a fossil. Numbered channels persist as station brands; but today very few of those stations transmit on their branded analog channels, and most of them are viewed over cable or satellite connections anyway. There are no reasons other than legacy regulatory ones to maintain the fiction that TV station locality is a matter of transmitter siting and signal range. Viewing of OTA TV signals is headed fast toward zero. It doesn’t help that digital signals play hard-to-get, and that the gear required for getting it sucks rocks. Nor does it help that cable and satellite providers that have gone out of their way to exclude OTA receiving circuitry from their latest gear, mostly force subscribing to channels that used to be free. As a result ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS are now a premium pay TV package. (For an example of how screwed this is, see here.) Among the biggest fossils are thousands of TV towers, some more than 2000 feet high, maintained to continue reifying the concept of “coverage,” and to legitimize “must carry” rules for cable. After live audio stream playing on mobile devices becomes cheap and easy, watch AM and FM radio transmission fossilize in exactly the same ways. (By the way, if you want to do something green and good for the environment, lobby for taking down some of these towers, which are expensive to maintain and hazards to anything that flies. Start with this list here. Note the “UHF/VHF transmission” column. Nearly all these towers were built for analog transmission and many are already abandoned. This one, for example.)

Third, “infrastructure” is a relatively new term and vaguely understood outside arcane uses within various industries. It drifted from military to everyday use in the 1970s, and is still not a field in itself. Try looking for an authoritative reference book on the general subject of infrastructure. There isn’t one. Yet digital technology requires that we challenge the physical anchoring of infrastructure as a concept. Are bits infrastructural? How about the means for arranging and moving them? The Internet (the most widespread means for moving bits) is defined fundamentally by its suite of protocols, not by the physical media over which data travels, even though there are capacity and performance dependencies on the latter. Again, we are in captured territory here. Only in conceptual jails can we sensibly debate whether something is an “information service” or a “telecommunication service”. And yet most of us who care about the internet and infrasructure do exactly that.

That last one is big. Maybe too big. I’ve written often about how hard it is to frame our understanding of the Net. Now I’m beginning to think we should admit that the Internet itself, as concept, is too limiting, and not much less antique than telecom or “power grid”.

“The Internet” is not a thing. It’s a finger pointing in the direction of a thing that isn’t. It is the name we give to the sense of place we get when we go “on” a mesh of unseen connections to interact with other entitites. Even the term “cloud“, labeling a utility data service, betrays the vagueness of our regard toward The Net.

I’ve been on the phone a lot lately with Erik Cecil, a veteran telecom attorney who has been thinking out loud about how networks are something other than the physical paths we reduce them to. He regards network mostly in its verb form: as what we do with our freedom — to enhance our intelligence, our wealth, our productivity, and the rest of what we do as contributors to civilization. To network we need technologies that enable what we do in maximal ways.  This, he says, requires that we re-think all our public utilities — energy, water, communications, transportation, military/security and law, to name a few — within the context of networking as something we do rather than something we have. (Think also of Jonathan Zittrain’s elevation of generativity as a supportive quality of open technology and standards. As verbs here, network and generate might not be too far apart.)

The social production side of this is well covered in Yochai Benkler‘s The Wealth of Networks, but the full challenge of what Erik talks about is to re-think all infrastructure outside all old boxes, including the one we call The Internet.

As we do that, it is essential that we look to employ the innovative capacities of businesses old and new. This is a hat tip in the general direction of ISPs, and to the concerns often expressed by Richard Bennett and Brett Glass: that new Internet regulation may already be antique and unnecessary, and that small ISPs (a WISP in Brett’s case) should be the best connections of high-minded thinkers like yours truly (and others named above) to the real world where rubber meets road.

There is a bigger picture here. We can’t have only some of us painting it.

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It’s been a long travel day, and we’ve got an hour to go before getting unstuck here in the Denver airport, which is in Nebraska, I think. Got an early flight out of Boston, then failed to get on by standby with two flights so far. But we’re reserved on the third, and due to arrive in Santa Barbara an hour and a quarter before tomorrow.

Anyway, my normally sunny mood, even in the midst of travel woes (one should appreciate the fact that commercial aviation involves sitting in a chair moving 500 miles an hour, seven miles up), was compromised earlier this evening by an unhappy exchange with Enterprise, the rental car company. I wrote about it in Unf*cking car rental, over in the ProjectVRM blog. It concludes constructively:

So I want to take this opportunity to appeal to anybody in a responsible position anywhere in the car rental business to work together with us at on a customer-based solution to this kind of automated lameness. It can’t be done from the inside alone. That’s been tried and proven inadequate for way too long. Leave a message below or write me at dsearls at cyber dot law dot harvard dot edu.

Let’s build The Intention Economy — based on real, existing, money-in-hand intentions of real customers, rather than the broken attention-seeking and customer-screwing system we have now.

There’s the bait. We’ll see if anybody takes it.

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If Twitter does everything Dave says they should do, they’d make a helpful move toward bingo on Joe Andrieu’s checklist of user-driven services. Here’s the list:

  1. Impulse from the User
  2. Control
  3. Transparency
  4. Data Portability
  5. Service Endpoint Portability
  6. Self Hosting
  7. User Generativity
  8. Improvability
  9. Self-managed Identity
  10. Duty of Care

See how you’d score ‘em.

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Over at the ProjectVRM blog: Dawn of the Living Infrastructure.

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It helps to recognize that the is exactly what its name denotes: an association of presses. Specifically, newspapers. Fifteen hundred of them. Needless to say, newspapers are having a hard time. (Hell, I gave them some, myself, yesterday.) So we might cut them a little slack for getting kinda testy and paranoid.

Reading the AP’s paranoid jive brings to mind Jim Clark on stage at the first (only?) Netscape conference. Asked by an audience member why he said stuff about Microsoft that might have a “polarizing effect”, Jim rose out of his chair and yelled at the questioner, “THEY’RE TRYING TO KILL US. THAT HAS A POLARIZING EFFECT!” I sometimes think that’s the way the AP feels toward bloggers. Hey, when you’re being eaten alive, everything looks like a pirhana.

But last week the AP, probably without intending it, did something cool. You can read about it in “Associated Press to build news registry to protect content“, a press release that manages to half-conceal some constructive open source possibilities within a pile of prose that seems mostly to be about locking down content and tracking down violators of AP usage policies. Ars Technica unpacks some of the possibilities. Good piece.

Over in Linux Journal I just posted AP Launches Open Source Ascribenation Project, in which I look at how the AP’s “tracking and tagging” technology, which is open source, can help lay the foundations for a journalistic world where everybody gets credit for what they contribute to the greater sphere of news and comment — and can get paid for it too, easily — if readers feel like doing that.

The process of giving credit where due we call , and the system by which readers (or listeners, or viewers) choose to pay for it we call .

Regardless of what we call it, that’s where we’re going to end up. The system that began when the AP was formed in 1846 isn’t going to go away, but it will have to adapt. And adopt. It’s good to see it doing the latter. The former will be harder. But it has to be done.

I’d say more here, but I already said it over there.

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In his comment to my last post about the sale of WQXR to WNYC (and in his own blog post here), Sean Reiser makes an important point:

One of the unique things about the QXR was it’s relationship with the Times. The Times owned QXR before the FCC regulations prohibiting newspapers ownership of a radio station were enacted. Because of this relationship, QXR’s newsroom was located in the NY Times building and news gathering resources were shared. In a precursor to newspaper reporters doing podcasts, Times columnists and arts reporters would often appear on the air doing segments.

It’s true. The Times selling WQXR seems a bit like the New Yorker dropping poetry, or GE (née RCA) closing the Rainbow Room. (Which has already happened… how many times?) To cultured veteran New Yorkers, the Times selling WQXR seems more like a partial lobotomy than a heavy heirloom being thrown off a sinking ship.

For much of the history of both, great newspapers owned great radio stations. The Times had WQXR. The Chicago Tribune had (and still has) WGN (yes, “World’s Greatest Newspaper”). The Washington Post had WTOP. (In fact, the Post got back into the radio game with Washington Post Radio, on WTOP’s legacy 50,000-watt signal at 1500 AM. That lasted from 2006-2008.). Trust me, the list is long.

The problem is, both newspapers and radio stations are suffering. Most newspapers are partially (or, in a few cases — such as this one — totally) lobotomized versions of their former selves. Commercial radio’s golden age passed decades ago. WQXR, its beloved classical format, and its staff, have been on life support for years. Most other cities have lost their legacy commercial classical stations (e.g. WFMR in Milwaukee), or lucked out to various degrees when the call letters and formats were saved by moving to lesser signals, sometimes on the market’s outskirts (e.g. WCRB in Boston). In most of the best cases classical formats were saved by moving to noncommercial channels and becomimg public radio stations. In Los Angeles, KUSC took over for KFAC (grabbing the latter’s record library) and KOGO/K-Mozart. In Raleigh, WCPE took over for WUNC and WDBS. In Washington, WETA took over for WGMS. Not all of these moves were pretty, but all of them kept classical music alive on their cities’ FM bands.

In some cases, however, “saved’ is an understatement. KUSC, for example, has a bigger signal footprint and far more to offer, than KFAC and its commercial successors did. In addition to a first-rate signal in Los Angeles, KUSC is carried on full-size stations in Palm Springs, Thousand Oaks, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo — giving it stong coverage of more population than any other station in Los Angeles, including the city’s substantial AM stations. KUSC also runs HD programs on the same channels, has an excellent live stream on the Web, and is highly involved in Southern California’s cultural life.

I bring that up because the substantial advantages of public radio over commercial radio — especially for classical music — are largely ignored amidst all the hand-wringing (thick with completely wrong assumptions) by those who lament the loss  — or threatened loss — of a cultural landmark such as WQXR. So I thought I’d list some of the advantages of public radio in the classical music game.

  1. No commercials. Sure, public radio has its pitches for funding, but those tend to be during fund drives rather than between every music set.
  2. More room for coverage growth. The rules for signals in the noncommercial end of the band (from 88 to 92) are far more flexible than those in the commercial band. And noncommercial signals in the commercial band (such as WQXR’s new one at 105.9) can much more easily be augmented by translators at the fringes of their coverage areas — and beyond. Commercial stations can only use translators within their coverage areas. Noncommercial stations can stick them anywhere in the whole country. If WNYC wants to be aggressive about it, you might end up hearing WQXR in Maine and Montana. (And you can bet it’ll be on the Public Radio Player, meaning you can get it wherever there’s a cell signal.)
  3. Life in a buyer’s market. Noncommercial radio stations are taking advantage of bargain prices for commercial stations. That’s what KUSC did when it bought what’s now KESC on 99.7FM in San Luis Obispo. It’s what KCLU did when it bought 1340AM in Santa Barbara.
  4. Creative and resourceful engineering. While commercial radio continues to cheap out while advertising revenues slump away, noncommercial radio is pioneering all over the place. They’re doing it with HD Radio, with webcasting (including multiple streams for many stations), with boosters and translators, with RDS — to name just a few. This is why I have no doubt that WNYC will expand WQXR’s reach even if they can’t crank up the power on the Empire State Building transmitter.
  5. Direct Listener Involvement. Commercial radio has had a huge disadvantage for the duration: its customers and its consumers are different populations. As businesses, commercial radio stations are primarily accountable to advertisers, not to listeners. Public radio is directly accoutable to its listeners, because those are also its customers. As public stations make greater use of the Web, and of the growing roster of tools available for listener engagement (including tools on the listeners’ side, such as those we are developing at ProjectVRM), this advantage over commercial radio will only grow. This means WQXR’s listeners have more more opportunity to contribute positively to the station’s growth than they ever had when it was a commercial station. (Or if, like WCRB, it lived on as a lesser commercial station.) So, if you’re a loyal WQXR listener, send a few bucks to WNYC. Tell them thanks for saving the station, and tell them what you’d like them to do with the station as well.

I could add more points (and maybe I will later), but that should suffice for now. I need to crash and then get up early for a quick round trip to northern Vermont this morning. Meanwhile, hope that helps.

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From Z to A

I understand Zappos selling out to Amazon (even the Amazon logo, which leads from A to Z, makes sense of it) but the news still depresses me. Zappos is a cause as well as a brand. That cause is relationship. As Wikipedia (currently) puts it,

Zappos uses a loyalty business model and relationship marketing. The primary sources of the company’s rapid growth have been repeat customers and numerous word of mouth recommendations.[4][5] In 2005, the chairman reported that 60% of customers were repeat buyers.[5]

Think about the word “company.” At Dictionary.com, the noun is said to mean these things:

  1. a number of individuals assembled or associated together; group of people.
  2. a guest or guests: We’re having company for dinner.
  3. an assemblage of persons for social purposes.
  4. companionship; fellowship; association: I always enjoy her company.
  5. one’s usual companions: I don’t like the company he keeps.
  6. society collectively.
  7. a number of persons united or incorporated for joint action, esp. for business: a publishing company; a dance company.
  8. (initial capital letter) the members of a firm not specifically named in the firm’s title: George Higgins and Company.

And that’s before we get down to military, governmental and other meanings.

Note that the business meanings start at #7. Note the convivial qualities of all the numbered meanings. Zappos has that convivial nature, more than any other big company retailing clothing online. You get the sense that you can relate to these people, because they seem to have a reason for being that goes beyond being the cheapest and most convenient means for choosing goods, paying for them, and having them shipped to you. That’s Amazon’s business. It’s different.

So I’m sure there is synergy there. But synergy alone does not a great acquisition make.

I wonder, now that (as the press release says) “Amazon will provide Zappos employees with $40 million in cash and restricted stock units” — in addition to whatever stockholding Zappos employees get in the form of Amazon stock (the sum of all shareholders and options is 10 million Amazon shares) — if Zappos’ soul and mission will survive the acquisition.

I also wonder what kind of hit the whole subject of relationship, which is so highly potentiated (read: absent, though it shouldn’t be), will take.

Tony Hsieh’s letter to employees (about 100 of them, it says) is reassuring, as is the Jeff Bezos video.

Hope it works out.

[Later...] Alexander Haislip has a financial angle on the deal.

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nick_givotovsky

I remember talking to Nick Givotovsky the first time at an early Internet Identity Workshop, when he pulled me aside to share some ideas, and immediately stripped my gears. The guy was as smart as they come, and articulate to an extreme equaled by few. I had to stop him every few sentences to get him to dumb it down a bit, or at least to let me catch up. Many conversations followed, in many settings. Every encounter with Nick was engaging and mind-sharpening.

We became friends — or as close as people get when they’re mutually engaged in a number of projects, and enjoy each other’s company, as well as each other’s minds and hearts. I called him “Nicky G.”

Best I can recall, Nick came to nearly every IIW, plus workshops on VRM, networking and much more. He always contributed, always brought a warm smile and good sense of humor. He was serious, but didn’t take himself too seriously. A rare combination. Also notable was Nick’s mode of engagement. He was always original, often challenging, but never hostile or obstructive. And his mind was always open, always curious, always ready to step up and participate.

As I recall, the last I saw Nick was at the IIW this past May. He left a bit early to get back to his farm in Cornwall, Connecticut. I remember him talking about this old tractor he had, and how much he enjoyed operating it. He died this last Friday after falling off (what I assume is) that tractor. More of the story is here and here. (I share those links there for the record, but they are not pleasant reading.)

Nick’s last post on one of the many lists in which he participated told the story of his older brother’s death. “I think he did it astonishingly ‘right’, if such a thing can be said of dying,” Nick wrote.

Alas, Nick died wrong. And way too young. He was just 44. He leaves his wife and two kids. Plus many shocked and saddened friends.

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Yesterday I reported hearing that the New York Times was thinking about putting its editorial behind a paywall again. Today James Warren gives substance to the rumors:

Here’s a story the newspaper industry’s upper echelon apparently kept from its anxious newsrooms: A discreet Thursday meeting in Chicago about their future.

“Models to Monetize Content” is the subject of a gathering at a hotel which is actually located in drab and sterile suburban Rosemont, Illinois; slabs of concrete, exhibition halls and mostly chain restaurants, whose prime reason for being is O’Hare International Airport. It’s perfect for quickie, in-and-out conclaves.

There’s no mention on its website but the Newspaper Association of America, the industry trade group, has assembled top executives of the New York Times, Gannett, E. W. Scripps, Advance Publications, McClatchy, Hearst Newspapers, MediaNews Group, the Associated Press, Philadelphia Media Holdings, Lee Enterprises and Freedom Communication Inc., among more than two dozen in all. A longtime industry chum, consultant Barbara Cohen, “will facilitate the meeting.”

I can see the headline already:  Newspaper Bigs Form Trust To Set Content Prices.

Just kidding.

We do need to be serious here. The Situation is dire. Humpty Dumpty is reaching terminal velocity.

But don’t bother wishing the king’s horses and men luck with the fix. They can’t do it. No newspaper trade group, no collection of top newspaper executives, will come up with a creative solution to problems that have already earned Top Rank status in the innovators dilemma casebook. The best these execs can do is make Humpty’s fall a drop into cyberspace. They have to make Humpty Net-native. They can’t do that just with better-and-better websites, or with “monetization” schemes such as “micropayments” or other scarcity plays with a net-ish gloss.

As disruptive technologies go, it’s hard to beat the Interent. The Net didn’t just push  Humpty off the wall. It blew up that wall and the whole world on which both sat. In that wall’s place is a wide-open space where abundance is not only the prevailing condition, but a severly reproductive one that’s especially suited to interesting “content.” As Kevin Kelly aptly puts it, The internet is a copy machine. One measure of content’s worth is how much it gets copied and quoted. How the hell do you monetize that?

In a New Yorker piece this week, Bill Keller, the Times‘ Executive Editor, said, “There’s a crying demand for what we do and, sadly, a diminishing supply of it. How we get the demand to pay for the supply is the existential question of newspapers in general and the Times in particular.” He’s right in all but one respect: that first person plural we. Unless he’s referring to a population of sufficient generality to include readers. Or, more importantly, hackers. Geeks bearing gifts.

As it happens, we (the geeks) have one. It’s called EmanciPay. It hands the pricing gun over to the customers (readers in this case) and then makes it easy for them to pay as much as they like, however they like, on their terms. Or at least to start with that full set of options. Whatever readers decide to pay, the sum of it won’t be $0, which is what readers are paying now. (Online, at least, in nearly all cases.)

Evidence:::

Peter Kafka reports this from the D7 conference today (over a Wall Street Journal AllThingsDigital blog):

Time for some polls! No surprise: People like to read newspapers online. Also no surprise: But people don’t pay for it. Somewhat of a surprise: People say that they are willing to pay for some kind of news.

My boldface.

I conduct similar audience polls often, though my subject is usually public radio. “How many people here listen to public radio?” Nearly all hands go up. “How many of you pay for it?” About 10% stay up. “How many would pay for it if it were real easy?” More hands go up. “How many would pay if stations would stopped begging for money with fund drives?”  Many more hands go up, enthusiastically.

So the market is there. The question is how to tap it.

At ProjectVRM we propose tapping it from the customers’ side: for newspapers, from the readers side. We also propose doing it one way for all readers and all newspapers, rather than X different ways for X different papers, each designed by each paper for their own readers. In that direction lies a field of silos, all with their own scarcities, their own frictions, their own lock-ins. We need one way to do this for the same reason we need one way to do email.

Remember back when AOL, Prodigy, Lotus Notes, MCIMail and the rest all had their own ways of making you correspond? That’s what we’ll get if we leave content monetization up to the papers alone. They’ll all have their own ways of locking you in, just like retailers all have their own “loyalty” programs, each with their own cards, their own barcodes for you, their own reward systems, their own special ways of inconveniencing you for their own exclusive benefit.

EmanciPay will be simple and straightforward. It will make it easy for you to pay what you want (which may be what the papers what you to pay … or more … or less), and to do it on your terms and not just theirs. This doesn’t mean that the papers can’t have terms of their own. Maybe they have a suggested price, or a minimum they’re willing to accept. Whatever they come up with, however, will be informed by interaction out in the open marketplace, rather than their own private ones, where they make all the rules.

Think of EmanciPay as a way to unburden sellers of the need to keep trying to control markets that are beyond their control anyway. Think of it as a way that “free market”  can mean more than “your choice of captor.” Think of it as a way that “customer relationships” can be worthy of the label because both sides are carrying their ends of the relationship burden — rather than the sellers’ side carrying the whole thing (as CRM systems do today).

EmanciPay is an open source project. When it rolls out, it will be free and open to anybody.

Want to help? Let me know. (firstname at lastname dot com) I’m serious.

The only problem is that development work on EmanciPay is just getting started. (I haven’t wanted to publicize it, because I wanted it to be ready to go — or at least to vet — first.)  But that’s also an opportunity.

What matters for the papers is that there’s at least one answer to their challenge out there. And it’s free for the making.

Cross-posted here.

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One among any

On the ProjectVRM blog: A Declaration of Customer Independence.

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See ya on the Coast

Heading to the first VRM West Coast Workshop. Runs the next two days in Palo Alto. Should be fun. Free too. If you’re up for putting your shoulder to some of the wheels we’ve got rolling, come on down. Instructions for signing up are there at that link.

Getting into the plane. (Man, the connectivity is slow today at Logan. Grr.)

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An IT Conversations interview on Framing the Net. At eComm 2009.

On how free customers are more better than captive ones. At The Ideas Project. I spoke in closer to final draft than usual here. A transcript. Some samples:

  • What we’ve had since companies won the Industrial Revolution is the belief that a captive customer is more valuable than a free one. We never knew what a free customer was. We never encountered one. The Internet makes that possible; the Internet sets customers free. Free customers are far more capable of providing intelligence to companies than captive ones are.
  • …’free range’ customers are going to be coming at companies, telling them things that the old dairy-system cattle chutes never allowed customers to say before. That’s going to be good for companies; it’s going to be good for CRM systems…
  • …it would be really great if we had our own terms of service. When you walk into a store, you have great terms of service. You look like a good customer; you’re wearing a blazer. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing jeans; you might actually buy something. They don’t want your identity. They don’t want you to become a member, or anything else like that, in order to spend your money and be a loyal customer. In fact, you’re more likely to be a loyal customer if they don’t interrogate you and make things difficult for you. The way CRM systems tend to work, especially online; they want to scrape up as much data about you so they can spam you later with guesswork about what you might want. It’s almost always annoying, and give you surveys which are almost always a bad guess at what you want.
  • VRM, which is vendor relationship management, (is) the reciprocal of customer relationship management. It’s where the customer controls their information. We become, as a customer, the integration point for our own data, our transaction histories, our credit histories, our preferences, and then the origination point for the way those are used.
  • Advertising is fundamentally flawed. It’s flawed because it’s guesswork. It’s flawed because it’s monologue. It’s flawed because the systems in place are predicated on a whole bunch of assumptions that elevate guesswork to an art. In the meantime, the customers are out there with actual demand, money on the table, ready to buy, for something.

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I’m listening right now to On Point*, where the topic is Pushing E-Health Records. The only case against electronic health records (EHR, aka electronic medical recordsk, or EMR) is risk of compromised privacy. Exposure goes up. The friction involved in grabbing electronic medical records is lower than that involved in grabbing paper ones, especially with the Internet connecting damn near everything.

Here’s the problem with privacy in the Internet Age (which we are now in, with no hope of ever getting out, unless we live the connectionless life): the Net is a big copy machine. It’s amazing how a fact so simple escapes attention until a first-rate metaphorist such as Kevin Kelly comes along to expound on what ought to be obvious:

The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free.

Our digital communication network has been engineered so that copies flow with as little friction as possible. Indeed, copies flow so freely we could think of the internet as a super-distribution system, where once a copy is introduced it will continue to flow through the network forever, much like electricity in a superconductive wire. We see evidence of this in real life. Once anything that can be copied is brought into contact with internet, it will be copied, and those copies never leave. Even a dog knows you can’t erase something once it’s flowed on the internet.

We’re not going to fix that. The copying nature of the Net is a feature, not a bug. We can fight some of it with crypto between trusting parties. But until we find ways to make that easy, the exposure is there. And, as long as it is, we’re going to have people who say risk of exposure overrides other concerns, such as the fact that dozens of thousands of people in the U.S. alone die every year of bad health care record keeping and communications — in other words, of bad data.

Still, if we want good medical care, we need EHR. That much is plain. The question is, How?

The answer will not be an information silo, or a set of silos. We have too many of those already. That’s the problem we have now — both on paper and in electronic formats (as I discovered last year in one of my own medical adventures).

The patient needs to be the point of integration for his or her own data, and the point of origination about what gets done with it. Even if the patient’s primary care physician serves as a trusted originator of medical decisions, the patient needs to anchor the vector of his or her own care, for the simple reason that the patient is the one constant as he or she moves through various medical specialties and systems.

The patient needs to be the platform. Not Google, or Microsoft, or your HMO, or the VA, or some kieretsu involving Big Pharma, Big Software Companies and Big Equipment Makers.

This requires classic VRM: tools of independence and engagement. That is, tools that enable the patient to be independent of any health care provider, yet better able to engage any provider.

In other words, while the answer needs to be systematic, it does not need to be A Big System (which I fear both BigCos and BigGovs whish to provide).

The answer needs to come from geeks who know how to eliminate big problems with simple solutions. For example,

  • Consider how the Internet Protocol solved the problem of multiple networks that didn’t get along.
  • Consider how email protocols such as SMTP, POP3 and IMAP solved the problem of multiple email systems that didn’t get along.
  • Consider how the XMPP protocol solves the problem of multiple instant messaging systems that don’t get along.

We need new ways of organizing our own health care data, and communicating that data selectively to trusted health care providers through open and standard protocols (that may or may not already exist… I don’t know).

I wanted to get those thoughts down because there’s a bunch of stuff going on around health care right now (including two conferences in Boston), detailed to some degree in Health Care Relationship Management, over at the ProjectVRM blog.

* On WBUR, a Boston station I pick up here in Santa Barbara over my Public Radio Tuner.

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First VRM West Coast Workshop: 15-16 May 2009

We’re a little more than a month away from The first ProjectVRM West Coast Workshop. It will will take place on Friday-Saturday 15-16 May, 2009 in Palo Alto. Graciously providing space is SAP Labs which is a beautiful facility at 1410 Hillview Street in Palo Alto. That’s up in the hills overlooking Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay. (With plenty of parking too.)

It’s free. Sign up here.

The event will go from 9am to roughly 5pm on both days, and come just ahead of the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW2009a), down the hill in Mountain View, at the Computer History Museum. If things go the way they have for the last couple years, VRM conversation and sessions will continue at the IIW.

The tags are vrm2009 and vrm2009a.

As with earlier VRM gatherings, the purpose of the workshop is to bring people together and make progress on any number of VRM topics and projects. The workshop will be run as an “unconference” on the open space model, which means session topics will be chosen by participants. Here is the Wikipedia page on open space. In open space there are no speakers or panels — just participants, gathered to get work done and enjoy doing it. VRM Workshop 2009 wiki is now set up and ready for more detailing.

Our previous workshop was held last summer at Harvard Law School. Here’s the wiki for that. Here are some pictures as well. Those give a good sense of how things will go.

(This is cross-posted from the ProjectVRM Blog.)

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Toward a bigger world of business

Over the last several days I’ve been writing VRM and the Four Party System. Also illustrating it, with much help from graphics courtesy of Hugh McLeod). I’ll let the piece speak for itself. Right now I need to hit the sack.

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One of the geeks here at the Berkman Center walked into a room recently and started poking his index finger down on a newspaper that was laying on the table, as if expecting it to do something electronic. “This isn’t working,” he said.

So true, in so many ways.

Take for example the Boston Globe, New England’s landmark newspaper, and one to which we have subscribed since we got here in 2007. Like nearly all newspapers, the Globe is in Big Trouble. Here’s the opening paragraph from today’s bad news story:

The New York Times Co., which has threatened to shutter The Boston Globe, is seeking deep concessions from the Globe’s largest union that could include pay cuts of up to 20 percent, the elimination of seniority rules and lifetime job guarantees, and millions of dollars in cuts in company contributions to retirement and healthcare plans.

The Times may own the Globe in a legal sense, but in a much broader way the Globe also belongs to the people of Boston and New England. Everybody in New England benefits from the Globe, even if they don’t read or subscribe to it. It was in this sense that Scott Lehigh‘s column yesterday was titled, Readers, have a say in saving your paper. Here’s the long gist:

We’re suffering from a double whammy: A bad recession and a self-defeating business model. Troubled times have sent advertising revenues plummeting. Meanwhile, we’re selling the paper with one hand and giving it away on Boston.com with the other. That’s never made any sense – the more so since website ads aren’t anywhere near the revenue-generator that print ads are.

…I also doubt we’ll be able to maintain the kind of quality newspaper and website readers expect unless we start charging online visitors who don’t subscribe to the paper.

Newspapers, eyeing several earlier failed experiments, including one by the New York Times, are skittish. That approach has worked for the Wall Street Journal, however. And as someone long wary about giving away our product on the Web even as we sell it in print, I think it’s time to try.

So back to my question: What does the Globe mean to you?

Would you pay to read the paper online? Seven-day home delivery currently costs $9.25 a week in the Boston area. Would it be worth $10 or $12 a month to read Globe content on Boston.com? Another idea under discussion in the news industry is micropayments. You’d give a credit card number once, and then be charged a small amount – a nickel, say – for each story you clicked on. Which would you prefer, a subscription or micropayments?

Some think charging for Web content will only deter readers, while keeping links to our website from appearing on other sites. Any payment system must be voluntary, they say. I’m dubious. But tell me, if we nagged you incessantly – ah, make that, politely prompted you at frequent intervals – would you make a voluntary payment of some sort?

Finally, can you think of better ways to have online readers pay for Globe offerings?

Yes, I can. It’s the fifth item in the series of posts below:

  1. Newspapers 2.0 (October 5, 2006)
  2. Still at Newspapers 1.x (August 15, 2007)
  3. Toward a new ecology of journalism (September 12, 2007)
  4. Earth to Newspapers: Abandon Fort Business. (September 19, 2007)
  5. PayChoice: a new business model for newspapers (February 5, 2009)

PayChoice (later re-named EmanciPay) will be an easy way for listeners to pay stations for public radio programming. It is in the early stages of development, aimed toward appearing later this year in the Public Radio Tuner on iPhones. At last report, downloads of the tuner were moving past 1.5 million, so far.

We could do PayChoice for newspapers as well.

Informing PayChoice on the Public Radio Tuner will be a Listen Log, which is one form of Media Logging. We can do a Read Log as well, at least for the electronic versions of newspapers. Among the many things I’d like the log to perform is what I call ascribenation. That is, the ability to ascribe credit to sources — and to pay them as well. Among other things, this addresses the Associated Press’ concerns about ‘misappropriation’ of its role as the first source for many stories for which it goes uncredited.

Jon Garfunkel also has a good idea worth considering. It’s called PaperTrust.

The bottom line here is that a lot of good people are working on solutions. These solutions are not the same old stuff in new wrappers. They’re original ideas, some of which the papers will have no control over.

But they can help. They can tune in to tech development efforts like the ones I descibe here, and welcome their geeks’ participation in them. They can write and post linky text. (The Globe is better than some in this respect, but still link-averse on the whole.) They can finish following the other recommendations they’ll find here (the first of which isn’t too far from what Scott would like to do).

And, it might still be impossible to save the paper.

The question comes down to living without advertising. Can it be done? If so, how? I guarantee that the answer to those questions will come from the outside. From geeks, mostly.

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Hanging in The Cities on (what wants to be) a Spring Day (a little snow still on the ground), talking deep blogging trash with Sharon Franquemont and Mary Jo Kreitzer. They’re both new to the practice (which isn’t quite a discipline, at least in my case). So bear with me as I show off some stuff.

For example, I just looked up personal health records on Google. As it happens, I already had Greasemonkey and the twitter search script installed. Thanks to that neat little hack, a pile of Twitter search results from the live web appears at the top of a Google search. Here’s a screen shot:

Note that among the Twitter results is one from adriana872, who is none other than my good friend Adriana Lukas, who I see also has a tweet that says “targetted advertising is visual spam”. Which resonates with me totally, of course. She links to her own post on the subject, which sources this post by Brian Micklethwait.

Which is all cool and conversation-inducing as well as expertise-spreading and authority-building and stuff like that. (Remember I’m showing how to blog here. Bear with me.)

I’ll also tag the shit out of all the above. Not sure if the tags appear here (I blog in too many places and I forget), but they exist.

I also just tweeted this post, with a #blogging hashtag, and instantly, we get this:

The Live Web indeed.

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The Internet Identity Workshop , aka IIW, started as the Identity Gang way back in ’05, and has since grown (thanks more to Kaliya and Phil than to yours truly) to become a fixture event in the calendars of many developers and other folks supportive of development work toward working user-driven identity systems. (These today include…

(That’s somewhat abbreviated from the list here.)

What’s cool about IIW is that we have a large bunch of individuals and outfits working in converging directions, creating and/or mashing up solutions to problems faced by individuals needing to control and assert their identity information in the digital world. For all the activity going on here, the whole field is still brand new, with lots of work left to be done before it’s ready for Prime Time, which has been going on in any case since the commercial Web was born 1.5 decades ago. More importantly, much effort is made by everybody involved not to foreclose progress or lock out other solutions where development vectors converge or cross. it’s the only thing like it I know.

What also rocks is that progress happens at every single IIW, sometimes a great deal of it. The whole thing is about doing. We have participants, not just attendees.

There is, however, urgency. Making sure we get our usual space at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View depends on getting enough registrants today.

Do that here.

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Some do. My long-time favorite magazine is The Sun. I bought one of the first issues Sy Safransky sold on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, in 1974, and found myself writing regularly for the magazine for several years after that, watching it improve with every issue.

Back near the turn of the 80s, Sy and his staff decided to improve the magazine by getting rid of advertising. They did that by becoming a non-profit; but that was secondary to the main purpose, which was to become an instrument for readers and writers, and not of one for advertisers. In other words, advertising was beside the magazine’s journalistic points. The Sun publishes for readers, and readers pay the magazine for good writing. Not surprisingly, The Sun’s subscribers are highly involved, contributing an abundance of letters, plus my favorite section: Readers Write (on a different topic every month).

My point is that it’s possible to have an excellent journal that lives on subscriptions, which are a value-for-value exachange. In the VRM community we propose another: PayChoice, which I wrote about in my last post. The idea here is for readers (or listeners, or viewers) to pay any amount for anything they like. The price is not under the seller’s control. Nor are other forms of signalling by the customer.

Direct support from readers (or listeners, or viewers) matters more and more for media where advertising contributes less and less. I’ve been thinking about this lately, as I contemplate a world with fewer (or no) newspapers and many fewer magazines.

Both newspapers and magazines have been supported in most cases primarily by advertising and secondarily by subscriptions. When print publications need to cut overhead, it’s the writers who get cut. Sometimes whole sections go away. The Boston Globe killed its Northwest section last week. Far as the Globe is concerned, where we live is now West. And how long will that last?

I pay the same for the Globe every week, but they deliver less and less, because their advertisers are buying less and less space. Yet I don’t read the Globe for the ads. I read it for the writing, the editorial content. Would I pay more, to take up the slack? Or would I look for the Globe to cut overhead other than just editorial? The latter, I would think. Still, either way, I’m a paying customer.

As a paying customer with an interest in seeing the Globe survive, I would like to know what the costs of producing the paper itself are. What are the costs of printing and distributing the paper? And what are the costs just of editorial? Never mind advertising for a minute, and what it buys. Just tell me what it costs to support the editorial staff, and to put the paper up online.

What would I have to pay if there were no advertising?

I’d ask the same of magazines.

Just fact-seeking here.

Where I’m going is toward where The Sun is today. I’d like to help publications survive by subscriptions and other forms of direct payment, rather than by advertising.

I’m not against advertising here. I’m just trying to pull the topics apart so they’re easier to discuss.

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The perils of publicity

I’m pretty good at getting buzz when I want it. The irony of running ProjectVRM, however, is that I don’t want much of that. Not yet, anyway. About a year ago I did promote it a bit, got a lot of great response, and also spent a lot of time debugging bad understandings of what VRM is and what’s going on with it.

Since then I’ve kept a pretty low profile with it, and encouraged others to do the same. That way we get fewer people showing up, but a better chance that they’re the right people.

But still, the buzz is out there. And, since it’s a new and as yet unproven idea, it attracts detractors as well. Here’s one that lays out “four fallacies” of VRM, all based on wrong understandings of what it is, and what its roles will be. So, I just tried to debug those understandings with this post here.

As I said there, I urge folks to hold off on their judgement until we’ve got working code and actual stuff that does what VRM is supposed to do. Trust me, it’ll come.

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Clueship fishing

Over at the ProjectVRM blog, two posts: Who in CRM 2.0 will help VRM 0.1? and What’s completely screwed about this picture?

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In VRM is Personal, I say this…

“Social” is a bubble. Trust me on this. I urge all consultants on “social ______” (fill in the blank) to make hay while the sun shines. Even as the current depression deepens, lots of companies are starting to realize that this “social” thing is hot stuff and they need to get hip to Twitter and the rest of it. (Just ask the Motrin folks.)

And it is hot. But much of that heat is relative to its absence in other areas. “Social” has sucked a lot of oxygen out of the online conversational room.

Meanwhile, here’s the challenge: make the Net personal. Make relationships personal. Equip individuals with tools of independence and engagement. That’s what VRM is about.

… and go on. Read the rest there.

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If you’re interested in music, or in radio — especially if you’re interested in both — listen (or watch) in on Tim Westergren’s talk, going on right now. Tim founded Pandora, and is its Chief Strategist. My notes…

“We want to fix radio. And we want to fix it globally. And do it for musicians as well as listeners.”

What they’re doing is heroic, actually.

Tim just talked about Pandora’s brief experience with a subscription model. They let you listen for awhile and then began to charge — and found out listeners would find workarounds to stay in the free zone. “Systemic dishonesty”, he called it. This makes me think that VRM is systemic honesty.

“There is going to be a flight to quality,” Tim just said. Good line.

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