Month: February 2011

To your owned self be true

After getting this provocative tweet, I checked the source (@NZN), and found Ready to make change? A sample:

…my son BELIEVES he OWNS the Internet. His Internet. His Facebook.

And in case you think that is not how reality works, I suggest that you also consider that my son also BELIEVES that he OWNS his government.

We all know that we are a part of a fucked up socio-economic system that has been designed over 1000′s of years by countless contributions into what is, in my arrogant Human perspective, true Genius. We are surviving, we are struggling, we are prospering, we are becoming….

We are becoming something new. The Internet will increasingly come to be seen by the Individuals within our species as an inherent element of their lives, indeed, of their freedom. As a result, a new royalty is emerging on our planet. There is good reason for the mad dash to wealth and power we are experiencing in our bubble-forming industries; strategic positioning in the face of rampant change. It is both a rational and immature way of dealing with the substance of change we are all confronting.

He (I’m assuming it’s he, but I dunno) concludes,

Facebook, Inc. today has constructed the relationship it has with its data sources as secured assets under its incorporated control. Modern law will substantiate that position.

Thus, we have two positions to contend with:

1. Facebook: that data you are building tools to service as a social utility, has been co-opted due to the present ignorance of the general public which willingly constructs itself as “data slaves” within most public relational database constructs. This dynamic is easily changed, and Rights will be afforded the General population today representing your customer base that changes the nature of the relationship that you now possess as a private asset. This is important for any investor in Facebook to recognize, as it points to the finite temporal nature of the ROI formula Facebook is today using to evaluate its market valuation, which I believe stands at $65 billion?

2. Modern law was formed upon a foundation that is no longer represented within its construct; Individual Sovereignty was an implied Right and natural feature of Human existence as demonstrated by the signatures which founded our Declaration of Independence and Constitutional Democracy. Individual Sovereignty is the only force standing behind ‘John Hancock’ meaning anything, as written on these legal documents. And either that Individual Sovereignty is part of the inherent structure of my IDENTITY as a citizen, or CITIZENSHIP has co-opted my Individual Sovereignty without acknowledging the recursive nature of that original signature moment. Either way, something needs to change. And in every case, its the structure of our governmental bureaucracy. I own America as a citizen. I own myself, pre-citizenship. If anyone wants to say different, lets get that started asap.

I’m ready to create change. Are you?

So there ya go. I’ve got a book to finish, but maybe one of the rest of ya’ll can engage. (I will eventually, just not right now.)

State of the VRooM

A lot has been happening in VRooMville lately. (Testimony: over there on the right at the moment we have three different #VRM tweets, in three different languages.) Rather than summarize things, I’ll let writers and developers in the VRM community give us a rundown. In no special order, here goes…

Reverse the Paradigm, by . Excerpt:

What if we asked: How can we deliver a product/service that people want? We could stop the insane guessing game all of us are engaged in. We wouldn’t have to battle for the attention of people; they asked for our attention. That’s the basic idea of Vendor Relationship Management. I’ve written many times about VRM before.

What baffles me is that many people believe this is an utopian dream. “It’ll never happen.” They tend to forget, it’s already happening. Not in the marketing world yet but it happened to the publishing industry. The desire of people to get customized media whenever they want it lead to the sale of Newsweek for $1. And the sale of Huffington Post for $315 million. It changed the recording industry forever. Or, rather, wrecked it. People revolted against getting their information top-down. They wanted customization, filters and control. It was a quick transformation because Web 2.0 made publishing so easy for everyone.

What makes you think the same won’t happen to marketing and advertising?

The Customer is Center, by . Excerpt:

THE BIG IDEA: “Cookies and tracking software? Who needs em? People are creating taste-signals daily with what they choose to buy. Why not let the customer go directly to the brand/vendor and get rid of this guesswork?”

C3 Commentary : Welcome to VRMville! by Dan Miller. Excerpt:

Adding VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) to the picture adds a more “user-centric” set of possibilities. Each person who generates all this metadata is also given adequate means to control release of the data or to attach terms and conditions governing how and to whom the information can be released. That’s where companies like Sing.ly and its closely related Locker Project come into play.

In Bridging the Marketing/Customer Care Divide – Thoughts from #C32011, Lou Dubois of The Social Customer wrote that “Dan Miller (@dnm54) and Greg Sterling (@gsterling) from Opus Research (@opusresearch) put on a unique, intimate and thought-provoking conference last week in San Francisco built around the challenges and opportunities facing different companies as they try to close the gap and get folks from marketing, customer service and PR to work towards the larger organizational strategy.” He added that one take-away was, “The next big step for Social CRM is VRM — and 2011 will mark it officially moving from theory to practice for most intelligent organizations.”

The Personal Cloud, by . Excerpt:

When the VRM’rs on the panel first explained the concept of the personal data store, Mark Plakias, VP Strategy and Design at Orange Labs in San Francisco, immediately referred to it as the personal cloud. Although I’d heard the term a few times before, Mark’s usage suddenly rang true for me. He was referring to everything that the VRM community has traditionally defined a PDS as encompassing, plus personal storage, backup, connectivity, and other options that will clearly be part of the overall value proposition as the concept goes to market.

A little Google searching this weekend showed that a number of vendors including Iomega and Tonido are already using the term for cloud storage of personal data assets. And last May Forrester analyst Frank Gillette predicated that the personal cloud will replace the traditional personal computing OS.

That all seems to fit.

Then, The Personal Cloud, Take 2:

…neither the idea nor the term “personal cloud” is really new — all of this was 18 months ago. And the VRM community has been talking about personal data stores since 2004.

But, as with almost everything in tech, it’s all about timing. The hadn’t formed yet. And, in my personal opinion, the technologies that can actually implement the personal control that all these authors agree will be necessary for personal clouds wasn’t there yet (hint: Internet identity is only the start). For example, Jeremie Miller hadn’t created the Locker Project or protocol yet, nor his new company based on it, which just won best-in-show at the O’Reilly Strata Conference Startup Showcase.

So maybe it’s finally time to seed personal clouds for real.

Then,  Personal Cloud Take 3: Thomas Vander Wall’s Personal Infocloud:

When I first heard the term “personal cloud” from Mark Plakias at C3, I knew it sounded vaguely familiar, but it wasn’t until I started this series of blog posts that Kaliya Hamlin (Identitywoman) reminded me that Thomas Vander Wal named his blog Personal InfoCloud some years ago. Instantly I recalled the dinner that Kaliya and Thomas and I had in Washington D.C. a few years ago wheree he explained his vision for a personal information cloud, and how it was a superset of what the VRM community has been calling a personal data store.

In retrospect, I am quite sure this was one reason a subconscious bell rang for me when the term “personal cloud” came up again. And, reading recent posts from Thomas’ blog, including one about lessons to be learned from Yahoo’s threat to close Delicious, I point to it as even more evidence that the term works well for expressing what we all mean by this collection of personal data and relationships that will become the hub of your digital life.

Speaking of hubs, that reminds me of yet another pioneer thinker in this space: Jon Udell and his concept of hosted lifebits.

Riftstalker‘s VRM vs. RPG Excerpt:

When Doc Searls couldn’t explain what VRM is, he turned to RPGs. Wait, what’s VRM? VRM stands for Vendor Relationship Management.

So, as I was explaining VRM to some people this morning, and how we were equipping individuals with tools for both independence and engagement, an analogy came up: role playing games. Dungeons & Dragons. World of Warcraft. Final Fantasy.

I was blown away. Not because it’s a great analogy, but because I … just didn’t know. I’ve never played any of these games. But the people I was talking to had (or still did) play these games. And they were getting something about VRM that I wasn’t saying.

Well, Doc, RPGs get immediate response. Often emotional and sometimes even dramatic. Everyone has their favorite archetype, everyone has their favorite game. So who knows, maybe it’s like talking about your vendors… the Warrior vendor, the Mage vendor, and of course, the Rogue vendor.

Startups in the personal data ecosystem, by The list (all of which are also in the VRM space):

Data Storage,  Collection and Sharing

is a Community Interest Company based in the UK that has begun a community prototype that connects individuals’ personal data store accounts to local government agencies.

has raised 7 million in venture funding and although it does not yet have any services their website articulates clearly how personal data under the control of the user is valuable.

Jeremy Miller’s startup to build 3rd and 4th party apps based on data from data stores build using the Locker Project code base an open source project for collating, securing and sharing personal data .

is a startup that supports you pulling in your information from different service providers including Mobile phone record, Energy and utility records, Health and fitness, Shopping and payment, Transportation.  Statz gives you instructions on how to go into your mobile carrier or electric company and export your statements – often this involves a dozen steps and is very labor intensive – not something easy or that everyone will do.

Greplin Does Personal Cloud SearchWhen people set up their accounts they give the service access to a range of accounts – LinkedIn, Gmail, Basecamp, Flickr, etc. Then you use their engine to search across them.

Backupify is an all-in-one archiving, search and restore service for the most popular online services including Google Apps, Facebook, Twitter, Picasa and more.

helps manage user-driven searches across multiple search providers and websites, creating a powerful new way to explicitly express search intent anywhere on the Internet.  Joe Andrieu

provides Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) infrastructure. Businesses use CRM to manage customer relationships, while VRM lets individuals manage their relationships with businesses. TrustFabric writes Open Source software and gives customers a platform to represent their side of the VRM+CRM relationship. TrustFabric is based in Cape Town, South Africa.

helps you to stop unwanted marketing and to get in control of the way your data is used.

Consortium for Local Ownership and Use of Data, Inc.  A non-profit technology standard consortia started in early 2009 that believes that a new era of ME 1.0 is at hand, an era that looks beyond Web 2.0, while simultaneously looking to the founding principles of the Internet as the solution to many of today’s most vexing issues of privacy, security and data.

DataInherit online safes from Switzerland offer individuals around the world highly secure online storage for passwords and digital documents. You can access your online safe using any Internet browser or an iPhone from anywhere and at any time. In addition the unique data inheritance functionality will protect your data in emergency situations. Simple and convenient.

New Application Building and Design Tools

Kynetx is developing a new language that looks at data from personal data stores and public datasets and can do real time matching based on rule sets created by the individual to surface relevant content.

EmanciPay is a relationship management and voluntary payment framework in which buyers and sellers can present to each other the requirements and options by which they are willing to engage, or are already engaging. Including choices concerning payment, preference, policies.

Open Source Projects

Speaking of Jeremie Miller, and Sing.ly, Marshall Kirkpatrick put the scoop in Creator of Instant Messaging Protocol to Launch App Platform for Your Life on ReadWriteWeb:

Called The Locker Project, the open source service will capture what’s called exhaust data from users’ activities around the web and offline via sensors, put it firmly in their own possesion and then allow them to run local apps that are built to leverage their data. Miller’s three person company, Singly, will provide the corporate support that the open source project needs in order to remain viable. I’m very excited about this project; Miller’s backgrounds, humble brilliance and vision for app-enabling my personal data history is very exciting to me.

Here’s how The Locker Project will work. Users will be able to download the data capture and storage code and run it on their own server, or sign up for hosted service – like WordPress.org and  WordPress.com. Then the service will pull in and archive all kinds of data that the user has permission to access and store into the user’s personal Locker: Tweets, photos, videos, click-stream, check-ins, data from real-world sensors like heart monitors, health records and financial records like transaction histories.

Where data extraction is made easy already by APIs or feeds, Lockers will pull it that way. Where the data is appealing and the Locker community is motivated to do so, data connectors will be built.

Searching those data archives has been a technical challenge for many other startups, but the Locker team says it is trivial for them – because they only have to build search to scale across your personal data and the data you’ve been given permission to access by members of your network.

Seach and sharing across a user’s network will be powered by Miller’s eagerly-anticipated open source P2P project called Telehash, described as “a new wire protocol for exchanging JSON in a real-time and fully decentralized manner, enabling applications to connect directly and participate as servers on the edge of the network.”

… and here’s in O’Reilly Radar:

Singly, by giving people the ability to do things with their own data, has the potential to change our world. And, as Kirkpatrick notes, this won’t be the first time Jeremie has done that.

I was drawn over to the Singly table when an awesome app they were demonstrating caught my eye. Fizz, an application from Bloom, was running on a locker with data aggregated from three different places.

Fizz is an intriguing early manifestation of capabilities never seen before on the web. It provides the ability for us to control, aggregate, share and play with our own data streams, and bring together the bits and pieces of our digital selves scattered about the web.

, by . Excerpt:

Personal data assets are fast becoming a new asset class, traded among these companies and marketing departments of enterprises around the world. That’s a shift in how personal data is conceived and exploited. The Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) community could bring another shift as start-ups begin invading this space, switching the emphasis to managing personal data assets on behalf of users.

Facebook as a personal data store, by Joe Andrieu. Excerpt:

To this veteran VRM evangelist, Facebook has done more in 2010 to usher in the era of the personal data store than anyone, ever. In one fell swoop, Facebook launched a World Wide Web built around the individual instead of websites, introducing the personal data store to 500 million people and over one million websites.

Unexpectedly, Facebook has moved VRM from a conversation about envisioning a future to one about deployed services with real users, being adopted by real companies, today. We still have a lot of work to do to figure out how to make this all work right—legally, financially, technically—but it’s illuminating and inspiring to see the successes and failures of real, widely-deployed services. Seeing what Amazon or Rotten Tomatos or Pandora do with information from a real personal data store moves the conversation forward in ways no theoretical argument can.

There remain significant privacy issues and far too much proprietary lock-in, but for the first time, we can point to a mainstream service and say “Like that!  That’s what we’ve been talking about. But different!”

The Case Against Data Lock-In, by Brian W Fitzpatrick and JJ Lueck of Google’s Data Liberation Front in ACMQueue. Excerpt:

What Data Liberation Looks Like

At Google, our attitude has always been that users should be able to control the data they store in any of our products, and that means that they should be able to get their data out of any product. Period. There should be no additional monetary cost to do so, and perhaps most importantly, the amount of effort required to get the data out should be constant, regardless of the amount of data. Individually downloading a dozen photos is no big inconvenience, but what if a user had to download 5,000 photos, one at a time, to get them out of an application? That could take weeks of their time.

Even if users have a copy of their data, it can still be locked in if it’s in a proprietary format. Some word processor documents from 15 years ago cannot be opened with modern software because they’re stored in a proprietary format. It’s important, therefore, not only to have access to data, but also to have it in a format that has a publicly available specification. Furthermore, the specification must have reasonable license terms: for example, it should be royalty-free to implement. If an open format already exists for the exported data (for example, JPEG or TIFF for photos), then that should be an option for bulk download. If there’s no industry standard for the data in a product (e.g., blogs do not have a standard data format), then at the very least the format should be publicly documented—bonus points if your product provides an open source reference implementation of a parser for your format.

The point is that users should be in control of their data, which means they need an easy way of accessing it. Providing an API or the ability to download 5,000 photos one at a time doesn’t exactly make it easy for your average user to move data in or out of a product. From the user-interface point of view, users should see data liberation merely as a set of buttons for import and export of all data in a product.

Google is addressing this problem through its Data Liberation Front, an engineering team whose goal is to make it easier to move data in and out of Google products. The data liberation effort focuses specifically on data that could hinder users from switching to another service or competing product—that is, data that users create in or import into Google products. This is all data stored intentionally via a direct action—such as photos, e-mail, documents, or ad campaigns—that users would most likely need a copy of if they wanted to take their business elsewhere. Data indirectly created as a side effect (e.g., log data) falls outside of this mission, as it isn’t particularly relevant to lock-in.

Another “non-goal” of data liberation is to develop new standards: we allow users to export in existing formats where we can, as in Google Docs where users can download word processing files in OpenOffice or Microsoft Office formats. For products where there’s no obvious open format that can contain all of the information necessary, we provide something easily machine readable such as XML (e.g., for Blogger feeds, including posts and comments, we use Atom), publicly document the format, and, where possible, provide a reference implementation of a parser for the format (see the Google Blog Converters AppEngine project for an example1). We try to give the data to the user in a format that makes it easy to import into another product. Since Google Docs deals with word processing documents and spreadsheets that predate the rise of the open Web, we provide a few different formats for export; in most products, however, we assiduously avoid the rat hole of exporting into every known format under the sun.

GeekTown.ca‘s What if Flickr Fails? Excerpt:

Wouldn’t it be nicer to have a ‘bucket’ of storage where all your files are kept, and then make those files available to third party services that can add snappy interfaces, clever sharing mechanisms, tagging, and other Web 2.0 tools to the mix without touching the files directly?

That’s the concept now being floated by a growing collection of people that want to take back control of their data. Searls is working on ProjectVRM (vendor relationship management), which preaches self-hosting, among other things. Aleks Cronin-Lukas is working on the Mine! project, which advocates separating data owned by the user from third party applications. In models such as these, the data is stored in a single place on the Internet. The user can then expose that data to third party sites (like Flickr, etc), who can add functionality to it. But if the content site gets shut down, the original data is untouched. Another advantage to this concept is that the user can decide exactly what data gets shared, and how.

The folks have a post by Sebastian Reisch titled Otras maneras de definir VRM: la Nube Personal o Relaciones Manejadas por Consumidores, which Google Chrome translates to Other ways to define VRM: Personal Cloud or Managed by Consumer Relations. The translation, slightly edited:

…ultimately what we want to achieve with VRM is that each individual has an identity in the network by using myinfo.cl, and therefore has a personal space in the cloud… to keep your personal information that will help you to manage relationships with their suppliers. Ultimately to have a digital identity, which will receive the messages and offers that meet the needs we have at the right time.

Ultimately, VRM is the application we’re building.. to lead consumers to take a more active role, and thus manage their relationships…

Also in ReadWriteWeb, Kynetx gets coverage in Nevermind Google, New Extensions Block Spam Across Browsers & Search Engines:

Yesterday, Google released a Chrome browser extension that lets users block certain websites from showing up in their Google search results. That way, if you never want to see an eHow article again, you don’t have to. Kynetx, a company that offers developers a single platform for building extensions for multiple browsers, saw the announcement and immediately offered $500 to the first person that could create an extension “with the same functionality for all 3 browsers and all 3 major search engines.”

Less than a day later, the company has announced a winner and released the extensions.

Those wishing to be involved in development efforts should also check out the and at .

Last but hardly least, both and are in the second round of the . Go to those links and vote ‘em up.

And if I’ve missed anything (and I’m sure I have), let me know and I’ll add it on.

How customers matter more than data about them

When I ran across Inc.‘s The 5 Habits of Quality Focused Companies, I was intrigued, because I thought maximizing personal contact with customers would be one of the five. Instead the closest Inc. came was this:

2. They collect and analyze data.

Collecting data is more common than ever, particularly with the advent of Web analytics. But companies that focus on quality have long stood out thanks to their passion for data. Moreover, the metrics they track go above and beyond either web or financial information. For example, Inc.’s John Case wrote a profile of Granite Rock, a phenomenally successful quarry (yes, quarry) in 1992. Customer surveys played a major role in the company’s governing philosophy, with information collected at all kinds of intervals, and results shared widely among the quarry’s 400 workers. “The role of managers,” Granite Rock CEO Bruce Woolpert told Case, “is to make sure there’s a flood of information coming into the company.” Would you say that this was true in your business?

Dig Deeper: How to Use Online Tools for Customer Surveys

That piece begins, “If you’re truly willing to listen to — and act on — feedback, here’s the way to do it right”. But they’re not talking about listening to individual human beings. Instead they’re talking about listening to what surveys say:

In the Internet age, customer feedback is only a click away. Online surveys are one of the best ways to solicit it. Done right, online surveys can help you more effectively listen to customers and make informed business decisions.

But before you design and launch a survey, think about this: are you, or is your company, willing to act on the insight a survey generates? In short: Can your company handle the truth?

That’s nice as far as it goes. But it only goes to the aggregate, even in “social” settings:

Another issue that may come into play is how you intend to deliver the survey. If you want to know how satisfied your existing customers are, you may already have their e-mail addresses on file from previous interactions so you may want to send them an e-mail with a link to an online survey. To reach this population, you may also decide to have a survey on your website for existing customers to access.

Another growing option, Terry says, is to use your business’ Facebook fans or Twitter subscribers as a potential survey population by using online survey tools that integrate with social media. “A lot of businesses have realized that it’s cheap and efficient to interact with customers online using social media,” he says. “Increasingly a lot of customers spending time online and specifically in social media channels. There are good survey opportunities with people who have been following your business online. You want to ask questions where your customers are, meaning you can post a survey to Facebook or send it via Twitter.”

What none of this touches is a problem all surveys have, by design: they’re not personal. As I explained in Why surveys suck,

They tend to be as impersonal and non-conversational as a TV signal — even when a human being is conducting the survey in person. They always see me as part of a group rather than as an individual (which is how each of us feels our needs). They always make assumptions (about me, about what I might want, about what I belong to) that range from slightly-off to outright-wrong. And they always lead to conclusions that represent neither me nor the population in which I am being grouped.

I don’t doubt or deny that surveys do a lot of good. But only in the context of a marketplace where vendors alone bear the full responsibility for relating to customers. Once we, as customers, get tools that let us educate vendors personally, many surveys will become unnecessary. One way we can gauge the success of VRM is by watching the number of surveys decline.

Thought: Some of the best survey questions are the ones that never get asked because sales and marketing impulses override knowledge that the customer would certainly say “no”.

Of course surveys can be very helpful, for all the reasons Inc. gives. But even when they’re necessary, surveys are insufficient in a world where customers are increasingly well-equipped and independent. Surveys also risk rationalizing more of what Umair Haque calls “thin value,” while also blinding companies to “thick value.”

As Umair explains in this talk, thin value is “inauthentic, brittle and unsustainable.” Surveys risk thinness of the first sort, because they are at best authentic only to aggregate samples. They can’t be authentic in respect to individuals, except when they provide a way for individuals to add what they might like, and to provide their name and contact information on an opt-in basis. But even in those cases, the value of individual input is usually external to the main purpose of the survey, which is to produce numbers — not conversations.

In her Venure Beat review of Umair’s new book, The New Capitalist Manifesto: Driving a Disruptively Better Business (Harvard Business Press, 2011), Ciara Byrne compresses his thick value case nicely:

He defines “thick value” as value which is authentic, in that it is not created at someone else’s expense but creates value for others, meaningful in that it matters in human terms and sustainable by not being bubble-driven or built on the destruction of resources. Think Etsy rather than Gap or Innocent Drinks rather than Coca-Cola.

I submit that one good way to find thick value is to get personal with customers. Not with more systems for “managing” customers, or investing in “relationships” that resemble the dairy cattle business more than anything human. Instead, let them get truly personal with you.

“Social” whatever alone won’t cut it. To explain, I’ll turn the blog’s floor over to Jonathan Yarmis, writing first about “social ennui” and then VRM:

I think a state of “social ennui” is setting in.  For those of you who are unilingual, ennui is French for “boredom.”  Gartner would call this phenomenon the “trough of disillusionment.”  Everyone’s on the social media bandwagon now.  You’ve got 1,000 Facebook friends, you’re a social media consultant.  Social media will solve disease, global warming, make us all happier, richer and more content.  Better looking, too.  People are way overpromising and underdelivering.  But, as I’ve observed earlier in this blog, that’s the nature of technological change.  We overstate the impact and benefits in the short-term.  God, is that going on here!  But interestingly, we understate the impact and change in the medium-term.  And I again fully expect that to be the case with “social media.”

Social media is in the still very early stages of something that’s going to end up flipping relationships and changing others.  No, we’re not going to throw out everything we know.  The new rarely ever does that.  Yes, we still ride horses.  But the advent of the automobile changed what and how we use horses…

But there’s more.  Social media changes “public relations” in profound fashion.  Not only do you have a direct path to the public, and your customers and competitors also have those same direct paths, your paths to the “influencers” have been augmented in significant ways, and new influencers have emerged who influence both traditional influencers and your buying public.  Yeah, that’s a lot of change.  I won’t get into the whole social media “you’ve got to be part of the conversation” discussion here.  First, that’s a whole other post.  Second, if I hear one more person say “you’ve got to be part of the conversation,” I’m going to slap them.  That’s exactly why we’re suffering from social ennui.  Lastly, the whole discussion is already over-discussed.  You don’t need yet another perspective, however nuanced, from me.

But we still haven’t scratched the surface of the change to come.  Longer term, I am fiercely interested in the emerging discipline known as VRM.  Vendor relationship management.  Its most powerful advocate is Doc Searls, he of the Cluetrain Manifesto(can you believe that was almost 12 years ago?!).  I actually arrived at the concept independently.  I was asked a few years ago to do a presentation on Social CRM.  I talked a little about how “social” provides new insights into the customer relationship equation, providing new insights previously unavailable.  I went on that putting “social” in front of everything reminded me of Internet 1.0 when we put an “e” in front of everything.  eBusiness.  eMarketing.  eThis.  eThat. Until we realize the distinction was no longer differentiating and in fact no longer valid.  (It’s interesting.  Even my spell-checker wants to flag eBusiness as a typo.)  It was business.  It was marketing.  And so ultimately SCRM is just the next iteration of CRM.  But, I hypothesized, the big change came when users flipped the relationship and started managing their vendor relationships the same way the vendors manage their relationships with us.  SCRM leads to VRM.  When after the presentation, someone told me about existing early thinking about VRM, I was both disappointed (I thought I was about to invent my first category) and thrilled (there’s momentum!!).  As an analyst, this is an important moment.  We can do all the theorizing we want but unless someone’s actually building this stuff, it’s not terribly interesting.

While VRM is far from mainstream now (for many, this will be the first time you’ve even heard of the notion), there’s an interesting community growing up around it and some large retailers are dabbling and monitoring.  The concept here is twofold.  One, the big vision for the field, is that tools will be developed that will enable customers to manage their relationships with vendors and that the relationship is ultimately owned by the customer, not the vendor.  CRM will never give a full view of the customer because the customer deals with multiple channels and providers.  VRM is the only way that picture can be developed…and customers will share that view with vendors who offer value in return.  At its most extreme, imagine an easy-to-create-and-manage iRFP (individual request-for-proposal) process.  Yes, it’s hard to imagine and even harder to do but if done, wildly powerful.  The more selfish view for retailers, as I heard another friend express to a major retailer, “what if you knew what a customer was looking for when they walked in your store.  What if you really knew?”  Today, at best you’re making a guess based on past purchase patterns, incentives you’ve provided, etc.  But if you know the totality of what they were looking for, you could sell solutions, not products.  You could upsell.  You could target…

You might argue that consumers are lazy and that they don’t want to manage their relationships.  OK, you’ve got me there.  You’re right.  This is the real stumbling block.  The tools had better be REAL easy to use with REAL economic value in exchange for participation.  This will require serious software work that assembles what consumers are already doing with social media, parsing and assembling it and making reasonable suggestions and solutions out of our piecemeal, bottom’s-up approach to information sharing.

There are already real players in this space.  Look at Kynetx.  I pick them not because they’re totally on point with VRM, although they can and will get there.  I pick them not because they’re necessarily the best solution out there; I haven’t spent enough time looking at vendors to make a Magic Quadrant.  I pick them because my old friend and foil, Craig Burton (VP of Marketing for Novell, when Novell owned PC networking 23 years ago) told me about them a year ago and brought me in to meet them.  The problems they’re trying to solve are real and exciting, and great for us users.

VRM is the next big thing.  Even as social ennui sets in and we wonder what all the hype was about, there’s real change coming around the corner.  This isn’t old wine in new bottles, or at least it won’t be.  If I were a mainstream marketer, I might take the old wine position for now.  I wouldn’t want to try and sell my company on this from the inside right now.  They’d look at your strangely.  (Well, they probably already do that.)  But in my role, as outside provocateur, I’m going to yelling this one louder and louder.  A decade ago, we were yelling that the Internet was going to change everything.  Pets.com and Webvan died.  The naysayers snickered.  And then we went and changed everything.  We’re going to do it again.  Come along for the ride.

Two events are coming where you can saddle up. The first is Kynetx Impact, March 22-23, near Salt Lake City, Utah. The second is IIW, May 3-5 in Mountain View, California. (Disclosures: I consult Kynetx and I co-organize IIW.) Developers working on VRM tools will be there. If you want to help customers help you — directly and personally — these events are the place to be. You don’t need a survey to tell you that, either.

Conversational Commerce Conference

If you’re in the Bay Area and care about VRM, please try to make the Conversational Commerce Conference (aka C3) in San Francisco today and/or tomorrow. It’s put on by Dan Miller and other friends at Opus Research. They describe the conference thusly:

Marketing and customer service are on a collision course. Social media now shine a bright light on customer service interactions, which increasingly have brand implications. Customer care can also offer valuable insights for marketing and product development. How many companies are adapting and turning this to their advantage? Still too few as old modes of thinking remain entrenched in organizations.

One VRM session goes this way:

This session features a debate between advocates of opposing views of data, personal information and marketing. Who will control commercial conversation, the consumer or the marketer? Is there any common ground? And does vendor relationship management (VRM) hold realistic promise for the future of consumer-marketer conversations?

If I coulda been there I woulda. But maybe you can, and I highly encourage it.

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