Month: March 2007

How (not) to relate

I’m an alumnus of Guilford College, a pretty-good little college in Greensboro, North Carolina. I went there from 1965-1969 and enjoyed it thoroughly. I also learned a lot, made lifelong friends, and started a family there. I still have a few old family ties, but nothing much more than that. I enjoy getting alumni literature that helps keep me up to date with who’s doing what, who has died, who has had kids and grandkids, and stuff like that.

I wouldn’t mind going a little deeper. I’ve given money before. Not much, but some. But if I go deeper with Guilford I don’t want it to just be about money, even though I understand that money will be involved: that I will be “giving”.
I do wonder from time to time about what Guilford is doing, especially since I now have working relationships with two other schools. Having these relationships makes me wonder if it would make sense to pursue one with my alma mater as well.

So I just got a call from a North Carolina number, my cell told me. The caller represented herself as being from Guilford College, and said she was calling to “update your information and talk about our giving program”.

I’ve been through this before, though I had forgotten about it until now. I knew the call is hardly about updating information, but rather about the “giving program”.

Also — and I am willing to bet this — the person calling was not at the college but at some outsourced outfit that specializes in this kind of telemarketing pitchwork.*

All I remember about the last call like this is that it wasn’t pleasant, and that I felt baited and switched in the course of it. So I blew the caller off this time. Now I wish I had kept the caller on the line so I could find out more about how the system works.

What would I like instead?

Simple: a call from somebody who works at the college, who takes an interest in who I’ve become as a graduate, in what I’m doing now, and in how I might contribute in more than just monetary ways. Sure, pitch for money, but go deeper than that.

But that’s not how the system works, is it?

It’s also why we need a new system — one based on the alumnus and not only on a program that pitches for money and offers little else.

[By the way, I've gone back and edited this several times, each time by hitting the "Edit" link to start the process; and have lost my links nearly every time. I suppose this is a WordPress, um, "feature". Drives me nuts. Anybody know a way around that? Thanks.]

* She called back, and actually was at the college (so I would have lost that bet). And she was very nice. Still, the points above are the same.

ERM

John Peterson finds VRM relevant to higher learning: Searls explains CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is broken.

(The) idea is to flip the conversation around where the consumers manage vendors. I love this idea.

Spin this educationally and we are very close to the story that is developing. Let the students manage their own learning using the web. 10 years out the business of teachers managing content for students is gone. The consumers have many other options because of the technology.

My only problem with this are the concepts of consumption and content. As I said in Giant Zero Journalism,

Framing is a huge issue here. We have readers and viewers, not just “audiences” and “consumers”. We write articles and essays and posts, not just “generate content”. “User-generated content”, or UGC, is an ugly, insulting and misleading label.

“Content” is inert. It isn’t alive. It doesn’t grow, or catch fire, or go viral. Ideas and insights do that. Interesting facts do that. “Audiences” are passive. They sit still, clap and leave. That might be what happened with newspapers and radio and TV in the old MSM-controlled world, but it’s not what happens on The Giant Zero. It’s not what happens with blogging, or with citizen journalism. Here it’s all about contribution, participation. It involves conversation, but it goes beyond that into relationship — with readers, with viewers, with the larger ecosystem by which we all inform each other.

Education, to paraphrase John Taylor Gatto, is not about filling students with curricula, but about removing those things that keep the student’s inherent genius from gathering itself.

Now, what does that say about the relationship between students and educational insitutions?

Customer Deflection Mismanagement

I’ve been on hold with my bank: Washington Mutual, which now calls itself by the felicitous nickname “WAMU”, or “wammoo”. I’m calling them because I’ve arrived at this Identity Management Error page…
WAMU Hell

… (and yes, it actually does look like that, and say that, just like it did last November), after failing (not repeatedly but in just one try) to log in to my business account.

WAMU’s customer deflection system is easily one of the most labyrinthine and aversive I have ever encountered.

At one point the call center maze voice tells me to enter my account number and my “telephone access code”, whatever that is. So I guess it might be the last digits of my social security number. Nope. How about the last four of my company’s federal ID number. No luck. The last five digits? Six? Bzzzt. Then I try just punching zero at every possible choice point. But the system keeps telling me to now enter my account number.
Finally I reach a human being. She says she can’t help, and puts me through to a “business account professional” or something. After giving him my account number, over and over, his system finally accespt it. He tells me that the phone access code is the last four digits of the federal ID number. I ask why that didn’t work when I tried it. He says he doesn’t know. Finally he tells me “the system is down” and to call back later. At least he gave me his own personal number for that.

Oh, that “Your opinion counts” thing? Total bullshit. It goes nowhere, just like it did five months ago.

Anyway, I had to bitch somewhere, and this seems as good a place as any.

How about demand-driven flexy bandwidth?

What would happen if network speed was driven by usage rather than fixed provisioning?

That’s the question on the floor of the Berkman Center Fellows meeting I’m attending right now. (Or the ceiling, which is where I am, via teleconferencing speakers.) We’re so used to thinking of connectivity, and bandwidth, as something entirely controlled by the supply-side.

But what happens when we actually respect the power of the marketplace? What happens when the supply side listens to, and responds to, and provisions against, individual customer demand? Instead of broadband, call it…um, flexband.
The supply side would get a lot more business, wouldn’t ya think?
Rather than the few uses suppliers can imagine (TV, voip, downloads), there would be an infinite variety of uses (games, offsite storage, business services, whatever).

Obviously, this requires VRM equippage.

What would that be?

donotmail.gov and beyond

Mike Taht: What I want most, at the moment, is a means to prohibit all the 4th class mail I get. I think a stirringly popular initiative some politician could make in the coming election would be to promote a “donotmail.gov” – and also promote extensions to donotcall.gov that will also ban solicitations from charities and government officials.

Can we achieve the same result without the feds? Or will the nature of a relationship API on the customer’s side suggest something far better (and mutually beneficial on both sides) than 4th class spam mail?

How about a VRM approach to paying artists through radio stations?

Maybe there is an upside to the Copyright Royalty Board‘s decision to force all commercial and noncommercial webcasters to pay a per-song/per-listener royalty fee. While many of us are wringing their collective hands (see Internet Radio on Death Row) over the high costs (exceeding the revenue projections even of leading webcasters) this new copyright regime will impose on webcasters, I can see a VRM light that might lead us (stations, artists, users, everybody) through this darkening tunnel.

Let’s create a tool that will tell listeners exactly the costs borne by stations for playing the music they listen to — and for paying a sum in excess of that for listening to those tunes? (The stations could also mark up the royalties on their side first. Works either way.) Stations such as Radio Paradise identify every song and artist they play. They also keep track of how many listeners are tuned in for each of those songs. We could create a simple protocol that would allow a tool on the listening side to store unique identifiers for each song played, on each station listened to. Another tool could look at the data store and either make a payout to the station or escrow the data for use in a variety of other ways, including voluntary payout at the user’s discretion.

In any case, isn’t it time for the usage side to come up solutions to the problems that arise from usage?

How about an open market for tech support requests?

After making fun of Adobe’s tiered tech support options this morning, I began thinking about the need for an open market for tech support requests. For example, let’s say I’d be willing to pay $15 to find out how to so something in Adobe GoLive CS2 (to pick one product buried within Adobe’s tech support maze). Let’s say my RFS (request for suppport) is “To find and replace double-return characters with paragraph elements in a text document being converted into html”.

Of course, I could put that RFS on a blog (I’m doing that here) and hope for the best — and probably get a response for free.

I could also get a free response by posting a question at, say, Open Tech Support. The problem there is, I’d have to be a member. I don’t see an obvious way to become a member, so I’m already giving up. The friction is too high.

It would be nice to have a low-friction way of asking a question in the open world — one that is free even of the silos we call “sites”. If time really is money, and people are willing to spend money for service, it makes sense to at least explore the possibilities for an open support marketplace.
I think for that we may need to create a new kind of space on the Net — a public space that isn’t a domain (consider the proprietary implications of that word, domain), and is a market in the original literal sense. Is this a VRM project?

I think it might be. I’m recalling a conversation I had last year with Claus Dahl about the absence of public spaces on the Net. (See Mashing up a Commons.) Claus suggested that we don’t have one yet. The personal pulpits we call blogs do not a commons make. Nor does any site. eBay is a private marketplace, not a public one.

What would we need to create a public marketplace? And don’t we need one in order to do many kinds of VRM?

About

Project VRM is a research and development project of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. Its purpose is to study and support the development of tools that provide customers with both independence from, and engagement with, vendors. Think of VRM as the way customers relate to vendor CRM (customer relationship management) systems.

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