Month: February 2012

How about using the ‘No Track’ button we already have?

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 calf-cow model 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 Lord Acton’s axiom (“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 Julia Anguin and her team of reporters at The Wall Street Journal, which have been producing the What They Know series (shortcut: http://wsj.com/wtk) since July 30, 2010, when Julia by-lined The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets. 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. All the above falls into a category we call EmanciTerm. Much has been happening as well around personal data stores (PDSes), also called “lockers,” “services” and “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.

Oh, and by the way, Mozilla has been offering “do not track” for a long time. Other tools are also available:

Stop making cows. Quit being calves.

The World Wide Web that invented in 1990 was a collection of linked documents. The Web we have today is a collection not just of documents (some of which we quaintly call pages), but of real estate we call sites. This Web is mostly a commercial one.

Even if most sites aren’t commercial (which they probably are), most search results bring up commercial sites anyway, thanks both to the abundance of commercial sites on the Web, and “search engine optimization” (SEO) by commercial site operators. Online ad spending in the U.S. alone will hit $40 billion this year, and much of that money river runs through Google and Bing.

But that’s a feature, not a bug. The bug is that we’ve framed our understanding of the Web around locations and not around the fabric of connections that define both the Net and the Web at the deepest level. That’s why nearly every new business idea starts with real estate: a site with an address. Or, in the ranching-based lingo of marketing, a brand.

The problem isn’t with the sites themselves, or even with the real estate model we use to describe and undersand them. It’s with their underlying architecture, called client-server. What client-server does is subordinate visitors to websites. It does this by putting nearly all responsibility on the server side, so visitors are just users, rather than participants with equal power and shared responsibility in a full-fledsged relationship. Thus the client-server relationship is roughly that of calf to cow:

calf-cow

From the teats of the cow-server, the calf-client sucks the milk of HTML, plus cookies.

are text files deposited by a website’s server in a visitor’s browser. Their original purpose was to help both the site and the visitor (the cow and the calf) remember where they were last time, and to retain other helpful information, such as logins and passwords.

Cookies are also a way for commercial cows and their business friends to keep track of their calves, regardless of where those calves travel, and what other cows they might suckle. Based on what they learn from tracking, these cows can, for example, produce much more “personalized” milk. So can third parties working with the cows. This motivation is all the rage today, especially around advertising.

But nearly all the investment is still on the sell side: the cow side, because that’s where all the power is concentrated, thanks to client-server. So we keep making better cows and cow-based systems, forgetting that the calves are actual human beings called customers. We also overlook opportunity in helping demand drive supply, rather than just in helping supply drive demand.

But some of us haven’t forgotten. One is Phil Windley, a Ph.D. computer scientist, former CIO of Utah, co-founder of , and the inventor and lead maintainer of a language called , plus the rules engine for executing KRL code. (Both are open source.) The rules are the individual’s own. The rules engine can go anywhere. No cow required.

To describe the box outside of which Phil thinks, he gives a great presentation on the history of e-commerce. It goes like this:

1995: Invention of the Cookie.
The End.

To describe where he’s going (along with Kynetx and the rest of the VRM development community), Phil wrote a new book, The Live Web (a term you might have first read about here), and has been publishing a series of blog posts that deal with what he calls . Think of your Personal Event Network as the Live Web that you, as a human being (rather than as a calf) operate. Live. In real time. Your own way. You can take advantage of services offered by the servers of the world (through APIs, for example). But it’s your network, and it’s built with your own relationships. It doesn’t replace client-server, but it gives servers lots to do besides being cows. In fact, the opportunities are boundless, because they’re in wide-open virgin territory.

A Personal Event Network puts you at the center of your Live Web, with your own apps, and your own rules for what follows from events in your web of relationships. “Personal event networks interact with each other as equals,” Phil says. “They aren’t client server in nature.” Here’s how Phil draws one example:

Personal Event Network

Look at the three items indside the personal cloud:

  • At the center are apps. We’re already familiar with those on our computers and mobile devices. While they might have connections to outside services, they are personal tools of our own. They are neither calves nor cows.
  • On the left is an RFQ, or a Request For Quote, also called a .
  • On the right are rules, written in KRL.

Together those control how we interact with all the devices and services on the outside, on the Live Web. Note that those outside items are not functioning as cows, even though they also live in the commercial Web’s client-server world. They are being engaged outside the cow function, mostly through s.

Here’s how Phil explains how this works for a guy named Tim, who has a relationship with a flower shop, described here:

Tim’s personal event network has a number of apps installed. It’s also is listening on many event channels. These channels are carrying events about everything from Tim’s phone and appliances to merchants he frequents.

REI and the flowershop both have separate channels into Tim’s personal event network. Consequently, Tim can

  • Manage them independently. If REI starts spamming Tim with events he doesn’t like, he can simply delete the channel and they’re gone.
  • Permission them independently. Tim might want to get certain events from REI and other’s from the flowershop. Which events can be carried on which channels is up to Tim.
  • Respond to them independently. Tim might want to get notification events from the flowershop delivered to his phone today because it’s his wife’s birthday whereas normally merchant communications are sent to his mail box.

Tim is in charge of whether and how events are delivered. He manages the channel, delivery, and response while the publishers of these event choose the content.

This cannot be done within the bovine graces of any one company — not Apple, Facebook, Google or Microsoft — no matter how rich their services might be, and no matter how well they treat their users and customers. And not matter how much they might insist that they’re not really treating their users and customers as calves.

But they’re still playing the cow role, and we’re still stuck as calves. That’s why we keep looking for better cows.

For example take The Real Problem With Google’s New Privacy Policy, in . The subtitle explains, “The tech giant owes users better tools to manage their information.” Well, that might be true. But we also need our own tools for managing relationships with Google — and every other site and service on the Web. And we need those tools to work the same way with every company, rather than different ways with every company.

(We have this, for example, with email, thanks to open, standard and widely deployed protocols. Email is fully human, even if we submit to playing the half-calf role inside, say, Gmail. We can still take our whole email pile outside of Gmail and put it on any other server, or host it ourselves. Email’s protocols and standards support that degree of independence, and therefore of humanity as well.)

Another example is The Ecommerce Revolution is All About You, in . Here’s the closing paragraph:

So shoppers, be prepared to give up your data. In the coming year, we’re going to see many more retail sites ramping up data-driven discovery. And e-commerce sites who aren’t thinking about how to mine social and other forms of data are probably going to be left in the dust by the Amazons and Netflix’s of the next wave of personalization.

Credit where due to Amazon and Netflix: their personalization is best-of-breed. Their breed just happens to be bovine.

As it did in 1995, Amazon today provides their own milk and cookies for their own calf-customers. As a loyal Amazon customer, I have no problem being its calf. But I can’t easily take my data (preferences, history, reviews etc.) from Amazon and use it myself, in my own ways, and for my own purposes. It’s their data, not mine.

The problem with this — for both Amazon and me — is that Amazon isn’t the whole World Live Web. I don’t shop only at Amazon, and I would like better ways of interacting with all sellers than any one seller alone can provide, even if they’re the world’s best online seller. (Which Amazon, arguably, is.)

So sure, the Ecommerce Revolution is “about us.” But if it’s our revolution, why aren’t we getting more of our own tools and weapons? Why should we keep depending on sellers’ personalization systems to do all the work of providing relevance for us as shoppers? Should we give up our data to those companies just so they can raise the click-through rates of their messages from one in less than a hundred to one in ninety-eight — especially when many of the misses will now be creepily “personalized” as well?

Shouldn’t we know more about what to do with our data than any seller can guess at? And if we don’t know yet, why not create companies that help us buy at least as well as other companies are help sellers sell?

Well, those kinds of companies are being created, and you’ll find a pile of them listed here, Kynetx among them.

VCs need to start looking seriously at development on the demand side. Kynetx is one among dozens of companies that are flying below the radar of too many VCs just looking at better cows, and better ways to sell — or worse, to “target,” “capture,” “acquire,” “lock in” and “manage” customers as if they were slaves or cattle.

The idea that free markets are your-choice-of-captor is a relic of a dying mass-market-driven mentality from the pre-Internet age. Free markets need free customers. And we’ll get them, because we’ll be them.

We — the customers — are where the money that matters most comes from. Driving that money into the marketplace are our own intentions as sovereign and independent human beings.

In the next few years we’ll build an Intention Economy, driven by customers equipped with their own tools, and their own ways of interacting with sellers, including their own terms of engagement. This was the promise of the Net and the Web in the first place, and we’ve awaited delivery for long enough.

Time’s up. The age of captivity is ending. Start placing your bets on the demand side.

VRM and CCOs

In The Rise Of The Chief Customer OfficerPaul Hagen of Forrester begins,

Over the past five years Forrester Research has observed an increase in the number of companies with a single executive leading customer experience efforts across a business unit or an entire company. These individuals often serve as top executives, with the mandate and power to design, orchestrate and improve customer experiences across every customer interaction. And whether firms call them Chief Customer Officers (CCOs) or give them some other label, these leaders sit at high levels of power at companies as diverse as Allstate, Dunkin’ BrandsOracle and USAA.

Other titles meaning roughly the same thing are Chief Client Officer and Chief Experience Officer. All, Paul writes, “are charged with improving the customer experience.”

From the VRM perspective, that’s all we need to know. We’re the customers, and we’re charged with improving our experience too.

So I dug around a bit, and came up with a few leads and links that I’ll post here as a shout-out to the folks and disciplines involved.

First is the Chief Customer Officer Council, founded and led by Curtis Bingham (whom I see by LinkedIn is, like me, in the Boston area). Next are (via the CCOC),

These are people VRM-equipped customers are going to meet in the new middle. This small post is toward making the acquaintance.

Ting rings the opening bell

Here, according to the ProjectVRM wiki, are the ideal characteristics of VRM tools:

  1. VRM tools are personal. As with hammers, wallets, cars and mobile phones, people use them as individuals,. They are social only in secondary ways.
  2. VRM tools help customers express intent. These include preferences, policies, terms and means of engagement, authorizations, requests and anything else that’s possible in a free market, outside any one vendor’s silo or ranch.
  3. VRM tools help customers engage. This can be with each other, or with any organization, including (and especially) its CRM system.
  4. VRM tools help customers manage. This includes both their own data and systems and their relationships with other entities, and their systems.
  5. VRM tools are substitutable. This means no source of VRM tools can lock users in

Note “mobile phones” in #1. Like a car or a wallet, a mobile phone is personal. Ir also supports our independence, helps us express intent, and is substitutable. Bearing all these things (and more) in mind, Ting.com has come to market with the clear intent of doing the best it can to support customers’ VRM intentions.

Go down Joe Andrieu’s list of user driven services

  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

… and you’ll find that Ting comes about as close as any mobile phone company can come to respecting all those things.

Ting is an MVNO — a Mobile Virtual Network Operator. That means it operates as a phone company, but does not own facilities. Instead it re-sells the raw base offerings (minutes, texts, quantities of data) that it buys from a carrier with facilities. In this case, Sprint. It works everywhere in the U.S. that Sprint does, but it has a much more friendly and sensible set of offerings and pricings than any of the major mobile phone companies. It’s about as gimmick-free as you can get. That is, Ting is the very opposite of what Scott Adams in The Dilbert Future calls a “confusopoly.” Sez Scott,

A confusopoly is a situation in which companies pretend to compete on price, service, and features but in fact they are just trying to confuse customers so no one can do comparison shopping.

Cell [mobile] phone companies are the best example of confusopolies. The average consumer finds it impossible to decipher which carrier has the best deal, so carriers don’t have normal market pressure to lower prices. It’s a virtual cartel without the illegal part.

Ting is a VRM company. Its management and other personnel have been involved in many VRM discussions and events, and a number of VRM folk have been involved in Ting’s beta as well. Our family, for example. So far we’re loving it. The data service especially is surprisingly good. At our kid’s high school in rural New Hampshire, both voice and data service is pretty much perfect.

Here are some of the stories about the Ting launch that have hit so far:

Plus these from Zemanta:

Complaining vs. Buying

Q: “What’s the difference between a tweeter and a customer?”

A: “One complains, the other buys.”

Just had to write that down. The Q and the A came in the midst of a VRM conference call that also touched on CRM, VRM+CRM, sCRM, trust frameworks, identity and other stuff.

Not saying that’s a fair characterization, by the way. Just that it’s an interesting one.

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