The answer is #CFT: Clouds For Things

My last post asked, How do you maximize the help that companies and customers give each other? My short answer is in the headline above. Let me explain.

The house where I’m a guest in London has clouds for all its appliances. All the clouds are physical. Here they are:

House cloud

Here is a closer look at some of them:

House cloud closeup

Each envelope contains installation and instruction manuals, warranty information and other useful stuff. For example, today I used an instruction manual to puzzle out what these symbols on the kitchen’s built-in microwave oven mean:

knob

Now let’s say I didn’t have the directions handy. How would I find them? Obviously, on the Web, right? I mean, you’d think.

So I went to the site of Atag, the oven’s maker.  From eyeballing the microwave, I gathered that the one in the kitchen is  this one: the Combi-Microwave MA4211B. On the Atag website I found it buried in Kitchen Appliances —> Collection —> Microwaves, where it might also be the MA4211A or MA4211T. Hard to tell. Directions for its use appeared to be under Quality and Service —> Visit ATAG Service Support. There I found this:

atagservice

When I clicked on “Download the User Manual,” I got this:

atagusermanual

For “type number” I guessed MA4211B, entered it in the search field and got this:

atagresults

I got the same results clicking on both:

atagdownloadchoice

Nothing actually downloaded, and the Acrobat Reader information was useless to me. So I clicked on “No.” That got me this:

atagfail

I then hit “I want to stop.” That looped me back to the search panel, three screenshots up from here.

In other words, a complete fail. And this non-system has clearly been failing for a long time, since the copyright notice is dated 2007: eight years ago. It’s a freaking fossil.

There are three reasons for this fail, and why its endemic to the entire service industry:

  1. The company bears the full burden of customer service.
  2. Every company does it differently.
  3. There is no single standard or normalized way for companies and customers to inform each other online.

What’s missing is a way to give customers scale — for the good of both themselves and the companies they deal with. Customers have scale with cash, credit cards, telephony, email and many other tools and systems. But not yet with a mechanism for connecting to any company and exchanging useful information in a standard way.

We’ve  been moving in that direction in the VRM development community, by working on personal data services, stores, lockers, vaults and clouds. Those are all important and essential efforts, but they have not yet converged around common standards, protocols and customer experiences. Hence, scale awaits. What this house models, with its easily-accessed envelopes for every appliance, is a kind of scale: a simple and standardized way of dealing with many different suppliers — a way that is the customer’s own.

Now let’s imagine a simple  digital container for each appliance’s information: its own cloud. In form and use, it would be as simple and standard as a file folder. It would arrive along with the product, belong to the customer*, and live in the customer’s own personal data service, store, locker, vault, cloud or old-fashioned hard drive.  Or, customers could create them for themselves, just like the owner of the house created those file folders for every appliance. Put on the Net, each appliance  would join the Internet of Things, without requiring any native intelligence on the things themselves.

There, on the Net, companies could send product updates and notifications directly into the clouds of each customer’s things. And customers could file suggestions for product improvements, along with occasional service requests.

This would make every product’s cloud a relationship platform: a conduit though which the long-held dreams of constant product improvement and maximized customer service can come true.

Neither of those dreams can come true as long as every product maker bears the full responsibility for intelligence gathering and customer support — and does those  differently than every other company. The only way they can come true is if the customers and their things have one set of standard ways to stay in touch and help each other. That’s what clouds for things will do. I see no other way.

So let’s get down to it, starting with a meme/hashtag representing Clouds For Things : #CFT.

Next, #VRM developers old and new need to gather around standard code, practices and protocols that can make #CFT take off.  Right now the big boys are sucking at that, building feudal fiefdoms that give us the AOL/Compuserve/Prodigy of things, rather than the Internet of Things.  For the whole story on this mess, read Bruce Sterling‘s e-book/essay The Epic Struggle for the Internet of Things, or the chunks of it at BoingBoing and in this piece I wrote here for Linux Journal.

We have a perfect venue for doing the Good Work required for both IoT and CFT — with IIW, which is coming up early this spring: 7-9 April. It’s an inexpensive unconference in the heart of Silicon Valley, with no speakers or panels. It’s all breakouts, where participants choose the topics and work gets done. Register here.

We also have a lot of thinking and working already underway. The best documented work, I believe, is by Phil Windley (who calls CFTs picos, for persistent compute objects). His operating system for picos is CloudOS. His holdings-forth on personal clouds are here. It’s all a good basis, but it doesn’t need to be the only one.

What matters is that #CFT is a $trillion market opportunity. Let’s grab it.

* I just added this, because I can see from Johannes Ernst’s post here that I didn’t make it clear enough.

 

 

 

 

 

How do you maximize the help that companies and customers give each other?

I’m not talking just about what companies and customers learn from each other through the sales, service and surveys — the Three S’s. Nor am I talking only about improving the “customer experience,” (a topic that has been buzzing upward over the last few years). I’m talking about how companies and customers help each other out. I mean really help. Constantly.

One way, of course, is by talking to each other. There are exemplars of this. Among big companies, Apple leads the way, gathering intelligence though its responsive call center and the Genius bars at its retail stores. Among small companies, my favorite example is Ting, a U.S. mobile phone carrier.  According to Consumer Reports, Ting is tops in customer satisfaction, while Sprint is dead last. Here’s what’s interesting about that: Ting runs on the Sprint network. Meaning the actual performance of the network is the same for both. This gives us a kind of a controlled study: one network, two vastly different levels of customer satisfaction. Here are two reasons for that difference:

  1. Ting’s offerings are simple. They have rates, not plans. You only pay for what you use. That’s it. And usage is low in cost. Sprint, Verizon and AT&T, on the other hand, all comprise a confusopoly. They offer complex, confusing and changing plans, on purpose. In confusopolies, the cognitive overhead for both companies and customers is high. So are marketing, operational and administrative overheads. That’s why they are all more expensive than Ting, and unloved as well — even as, no doubt, they have CRM systems that pay close attention to the customer service performance of their website and call center.
  2. Ting actually talks to customers. They are fanatical about person-to-person service, which means both sides learn from each other. Directly. Ting’s products and services are constantly improved by intelligence coming directly from customers. And customers can sense it. Directly.

Now, what about the times when you and the company are not talking to each other? For example, when you just want something to work, or to work better?. Or when you think of a way a product or a service can be improved somehow, but don’t want to go through the hassle of trying to get in touch with the company?

I answer that in the next post.

A @United #VRM story with a happy ending

Yesterday I left my iPad on a United airplane and got it back. How it happened is a story of sCRM (social Customer Relationship Management) and VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) at work.

The flight was United 934 from Los Angeles to London. When I arrived at around 11am, I did my usual checking around my seat for things easily lost and forgotten: my wallet, passport, earphones, camera, lens cap, phone, iPad, USB and AC power cables and so on. And, as always, I looked under and around the seat and in the seat pocket in front of me.

Where I failed was with the seat pocket. The iPad is a new-ish one (an Air), which is much thinner and lighter than my old one (the original model). It was stuffed with thicker magazines, barf bag, Sky Mall and so on, in the pocket-within-the pocket. I didn’t see or feel it when I looked in there. It wasn’t until I got to London and set up my laptop and other gear that I realized I had forgotten it.

After going through about ten minutes of self-recrimination for my stupidity, I called United and got walked through the process of filing a lost item report, deep inside the company website. Then I called Heathrow’s lost & found number, which (it turns out) is an independent contractor that works only with certain airlines and terminals. United and Terminal 2 are not among them. Then I fired up my FindMyiPhone app, but alas the iPad was offline. (It’s a Verizon/CDMA model, while all my other cellular devices are T-Mobile/GSM, so it won’t work outside North Amercia; so it’s Wi-Fi only.)

Then I went on Twitter and started this exchange:

  1. just left my iPad at Seat 31k of UA 934 at Heathrow. Can you have somebody check on it before the plane turns around? Thanks!

  2. (3/3) turned in. They checked with the supervisors. This link can also help. Hopefully it turns up.^CA

  3. Thanks for your help. I’m at LHR now and I’m told it’s found. Awaiting delivery.

  4. Great news..I had them looking for it. Thanks for flying with us. Happy New Year.^CA

Between #2 and #3, my wife said “Go out there.” This had worked for her a few years back when she forgot her carry-on bag in a shuttle van from Logan Airport in Boston. Se went out there and got help from lots of friendly human beings — especially the police, with whom she sat watching video cameras, live, to spot the van in which she left the bag.

I had the same good luck at Heathrow.

When I got there I went to the check-in kiosk in front of the United counter at Terminal 2, where a pair of kind young professionals immediately went to work helping me after I told them my flight and seat numbers. The woman looked up the flight and the gate, got on her phone and called somebody she knew who was in a position to locate the iPad. (I’m assuming this person was at the gate, but I don’t know for sure.) After a few minutes of conversation, she said, “We’ve got it,” and told me it would take about 45 minutes to ferry it in from the gate. After about that much time, her male co-worker brought over the iPad, had me punch in the code on the front (to make sure it was mine), and I was on my way.

The VRM part of this was all human, and depended on the good will (and available time) of the people involved. The only facilitating system in place was cellular telephony. @United’s lost & found, and sCRM system might have brought back the iPad in the long run, what worked was face-to-face interaction.

Is it possible to scale that? I think so, but we can’t depend on vendors alone to do the scaling. In fact, I think they’ve gone as far as they can. (In @United’s case by monitoring social media closely,  with human beings.)

We need standardized tools on the individual’s side — first person technologies — that scale across multiple vendors. (In this case, for example, across United, Heathrow and public safety systems.)

I have thoughts on specifics here, but before I get into them, I’d like to hear what readers say. (I’m also late for a meeting.)

#NewClues and #VRM

David Weinberger littlepetdillo-newcluesand I posted New Clues on the Cluetrain site this morning. It’s the first new set of clues there in almost sixteen years. (The original went up in Spring of 1999.)

The urgency behind New Clues is the retreat of businesses, networks and people into the kinds of silos and walled gardens that the Internet was built to transcend.

That transcendence will aways be there; but as more and more of what we do on the Net happens inside GAFTA (Goolge, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon) and other boxes, the less we create stuff in the wide open spaces, where it can work for anybody and everybody.

VRM is by nature distributed, not centralized. Like humanity. Like the Net. If VRM happens only inside silos, it will at best be a denatured subset of what it could and should have been. And that applies to much more than VRM.

The buzzing around NewClues and Cluetrain is high ebb right now. Here’s where to watch:

I’m interested to see how well it persists. But whether it does or not may not matter all that much, because Cluetrain has already persisted for sixteen years, and will likely to continue to persist, enlarged by this new set of clues.

Some background.

When Cluetrain came out, the Web was a static place. Its main conceptual frame was real estate: sites at domains and locations that were built, browsed and visited, as if it were a library or a store. Time-to-index for search engines ranged from days to weeks. Now the Web is a live place. Real-time. Everything in it has the locational persistence of molecules in a fog. And in most cases the same life expectancy. (BTW, my son Allen brought up this distinction in a prophesy he uttered back in 2003.)

Some of the stuff we talked about back in the Static Web days is gone.  (Online malls, anyone?) But Cluetrain did more than survive. It proved to have real value to a lot of people. (Just look at the posts at those links above.) If the tweeted molecules now buzzing around New Clues accrete to Cluetrain, they have a good chance of adding to the value that’s already there. And if they do, I’m sure that will be good for #VRM as well.

Making “customer experience” a first person thing

“Customer experience” (abbreviated CX) is a hot topic in business. Which makes sense. Business needs customers, and should care about customers’ experiences with business. Problem is, all this concern, so far, is kinda one-sided.

According to Wikipedia (as of today), “Customer experience is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and/or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier.”

Note that frame of reference: a supplier.

It continues, “This can include awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation and advocacy.”

Three of those are experiences customers know and care about: interaction, purchase and use. The others — awareness, discovery, attraction, cultivation and advocacy — might be things customers experience, but are mostly marketing jive.

Two paragraphs later it says “Analysts and commentators who write about customer experience and customer relationship management have increasingly recognized the importance of managing the customer’s experience.” The italics are mine.

Who wants their experience of anything managed by somebody else?

Stop here and think about how you function independently as a customer, and the tools you use to manage your own customer experiences, across every company you deal with. Chances are you use some combination of these:

  • Wallet and/or purse
  • Cash
  • Credit or debit cards
  • Car
  • Mobile phone or tablet
  • Computer
  • Apps (not just for commercial interactions, but for managing budgets and expenses, paying bills and filling out tax forms)

Your list may be different, but  what matters is that those tools are yours. Yes, your car may be a rental, and your credit cards belong to a bank; but they are your tools, and — here’s the key: you use them to deal with many different companies in identical or similar ways. They each express your agency:  the power to act with full effect in the world, as an independent human being.

Your experience with those tools is also personal, meaning yours alone.  You can tell they are yours because you speak of them, and think about them, using the first person singular possessive voice: my car, my cash, my credit card, my phone. They are first person technologies that enlarge and enhance what you can do with your body.

Here’s another way to look at them: they give you scale.

What we need from CX is scale for us, not just for companies wanting to give us a better experience of them. That scale is what VRM is about, and it can only work if it’s good for both sides.

We can’t get there if we start on the company’s side. We can only get there by starting with the individual customer, and working toward scale for him or her.

This can be scary and alien to companies used to thinking that the customer needs to be “owned,” “managed” or “locked in” somehow. What companies need to think about are the benefits both sides get from first person technologies.

I think there’s a good place to start working on new first person technologies that work better for everybody, and I’ll lay that out in the next post.

How music lovers can fix the broken music business and stop screwing artists

In Taylor Swift, Spotify and the Musical Food Chain Myth, musician Doria Roberts (@DoriaRoberts) details a problem that we’ve been hearing about for the duration:  artists have been getting screwed by the music industry, which now includes streaming services such as Spotify, paying tiny fractions of a penny for every tune everybody hears through them. She writes,

…not only have physical CD sales been down, but also the digital money I used to get from legal downloads all but disappeared. Instead of getting weekly payments ranging between $200-$750 from my distributor, I started getting an average $11.36, once a month from all streaming services combined. Yes, $11.36/month is what I get from all of them. That is not a sustainable business model for a truly independent artist.

And it will get worse as streams gradually become the main source for music. Signs and portents in that direction:

Doria also offers some answers:

HOW CONSUMERS CAN HELP REVERSE THE COURSE

As a consumer and a fan, you are at the top of this food chain, not the bottom. You are not subject to the whims of popular culture; you are the arbiter of it. If you want to see less “fluff” in the music industry, if you want to see your artists remain authentic, creative and prolific beings and, if you want them to come back to your hometowns:

1. Start buying our music again. Digital, hard copy, doesn’t matter, just pay for it. If you can pay $4 for a coffee, you can pay $9.99 for something meaningful that you’ll enjoy forever.

2. Stop using streaming services that only pay us $.0006 per listen if you don’t already own our music either via a legal download or a hard copy. Educate yourself. If you think the profits that oil companies make are obscene, I urge you to do some digging about what some of these streaming companies are really about. [Editor’s note: Spotify claims to have paid Taylor Swift over $2 million dollars in streaming royalties. Her label says that’s not even close to the truth.]

3. And, this is important: Set your DVRs on your favorite show nights and go to our concerts. If I had a dime for every time a person told me they weren’t able to make my show because it was the finals of DWTS or The Voice, I wouldn’t be writing this post. I’d be sitting in a bungalow in Costa Rica sipping something fruity and delicious.

Simple solutions sometimes require difficult choices. Oh, and this goes for independent movies, books, indie/feminist bookstores, small venues and small businesses, too. Just know this: you have the power to change the cultural landscape around you. Use that power wisely.

In reply below, I wrote,

All the course-reversing suggestions are good, but also assume that the only possible choices are the ones we have now. This has never been the case. We can invent new choices — new solutions for this already-old problem.

I believe the best solutions are those that make it very easy for consumers to pay whatever they want for whatever they like (and not just music).

One outline for this is EmanciPay, at ProjectVRM: . My own idea for an expression of EmanciPay is a user-side system set up to automatically pay (or pledge to pay) a penny per listen to any song heard anywhere, including one’s own music collection. That’s a high multiple of whatever coercive rates are being extracted on the supply side of the marketplace today — and in the whole future, which will suck.

Way back in ’98, when the DMCA birthed the ancestor of today streamed music royalty regime, it framed coercive rates with this context: “in the absence of a willing buyer and a willing seller.”

So let’s quit working only the seller-side of the marketplace. Let’s equip the willing buyer.

If anybody wants to work on the code for that, contact me (I’m not hard to find). We’ll get a posse together and go do it. Given the sum of existing code in the world already, it shouldn’t be too hard.

If we really are at the top of the food chain, we need better ways to pay for what we eat. If we don’t come up with those, all we will have are government-regulated ways to screw both the artists and the media. (Ask Spotify and Pandora how much they’re profiting in the current system.)

What we have today with streaming is guided by language like this (from the last link above):

…rates for the statutory licenses for webcasting and for ephemeral recordings must be the rates that most clearly represent the rates that would have been negotiated in the marketplace between a willing buyer and a willing seller. — http://www.copyright.gov/carp/webcasting_rates_final.html

The boldface is mine. Here’s my point: Regulators and their captors in the record industry have believed from the start that listeners to streams cannot be willing buyers.

I want to prove them wrong.

The time wasn’t right when we started writing about this back in the late ’00s.  But now it is. Let’s do something about it.

 

Weekend Linklings

The Net makes VRM possible. No Net, no VRM. So for this post I’ve gathered a bunch of stuff about the Net, starting with posts about neutrality and structural separation, and then moving on to other Net-threatening topics.
David Reed:Does the Internet need “governance?The short answer is no. The best long answer is here.  And we need it, because “Internet governance” is a hot topic. Pay close attention to what he says about “stakeholders.”
Susan Crawford (who worked for him), gives usObama’s Presidential Moment .

On its 10th Anniversary, Firefox gets even more VRooMy

I just upgraded Firefox from 33.0.1 to 33.1 — the 10th Anniversary edition. When it came up, I was greeted by welcome notes and a tour that begins with this:

Firefox screen shot

Nice!

And that’s just one of the new privacy-respecting goodies that come with the latest version. watch this video:

Firefox-choose-independent

Here’s the script (with a different voice for each line), which I just transcribed:

Who owns the Internet?

The answer is no one.

The answer is everyone.

Which is why thousands of volunteers around the globe give  their time and talent

To create an Internet experience that’s owned by everyone.

And  doesn’t own you.

Where your information isn’t being bought and sold.

Where power is in your hands.

Not in a corporate database.

That’s why ten years ago we created Firefox.

Nonprofit. Non-corporate. Non-compromised.

Choosing Firefox isn’t just choosing a browser.

It’s a vote for personal freedom.

It’s how we keep your independence online burning bright.

ProjectVRM has been about two things from the start: engagement and independence. All browsers are tools for engagement. But only one stands for independence.  Hat’s off to the Mozilla and Firefox teams for standing on the side of everybody. And happy 10th anniversary.

Bonus link: a search for more on Firefox v.33.1.

What would a VRM social network be?

The Big Bang of Social Networking 128px-Emoji_u1f4c7.svgis a piece by Jim Dwyer in The New York Times that will likely be a subject of a session today or tomorrow at IIW. So here are a few thoughts of my toward that discussion…

  1. All of us had social networks before Facebook, Diaspora and Ello existed. We still do. They’re in our heads, hearts, contact lists and address books.
  2. Facebook, Diaspora* and Ello are silo’d commercial services. They do serve many social purposes, of course, and a few very well, or they wouldn’t be so popular.
  3. If we want real social networks online, we need to start with our own genuine personal ones.
  4. To be VRM, they need to support independence and engagement. They should also be substitutable in the same way that, say, browsers and email apps and services are substitutable.

It is essential to start outside the box of thinking that says everything needs to be a service. Inside that box we risk thinking only of other calf-cow solutions to calf-cow problems.

Facebook and Ello are both cows. Even though one doesn’t advertise at us, we’re still calves in its fenced farm.

Unless, of course, we can take our social graphs away with us, to use on our own, or with some substitutable service.

VRM social network solutions to the problems of calf-cow designs need to be first person technologies. At that link, I explain,

Only a person can use the pronouns  “I,” “me,” “my” and “mine.” Likewise, only a person can use tools such as screwdrivers, eyeglasses and pencils. Those things are all first person technologies. They were invented for individual persons to use.

I suggest we start with address books and calendars. Those could not be more personal, yet more social. And, far as I know, nobody has yet done them in a way that’s useful for scaffolding the successor to Facebook on top of them. But that shouldn’t stop us.

* [Later...] This was a copy/paste/rush error.  In fact Diaspora is quite VRooMy. The Wikipedia  entry makes that clear.

 

 

@Capgemini on #VRM: well done!

Just learned about these two new videos by @Capgemini:

The introductory copy says,

Both Customer Relationship Management and Vendor Relationship Management want to improve customer relationships but they approach this differently. Find out what are the three main factors that separate them.

Both videos not only explain VRM nicely, but illustrate it on a whiteboard:

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 1.03.24 PM

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 1.04.48 PM

Big thanks to @LarrySCohen, @NielsvdLinden, @rickmans, Nick Gill and all the other @Capgemini people behind this. (Though not mentioned in the above links, I also want to throw thanks to @VINTLabs and @Sogeti, both also of Capgemini, and who I suspect are involved too.)

And it would be great if some could come to VRM Day and IIW next week. We’ll set the stage with these videos.

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