Month: October 2012

Toward the Internet of Everythings

So @xl_cr tweets,

Do you really believe the customer is in charge? If so check out @dsearls @vrm or visit ProjectVRM at  #vrm

Since is the shortcut to, that link goes here.

XL.CR is here. All the copy there says,

Ever upward.

Empowering buyers through invention.

“Webify your world with a Twine. via @supermechanical— xl_cr

The shortlink goes to Twine is a gizmo that looks like this:

It’s funded through this Kickstarter effort by Supermechanical, which is comprised of David Carr and John Kestner, and HQ’d here in Cambridge, Mass, where I too am riding out The Storm.

Some copy:

How it works
Twine is a wireless sensor block tightly integrated with a cloud-based service. The durable, rubbery block has WiFi, on-board temperature and vibration sensors, and an expansion connector for other sensors. Power is supplied by micro USB or two AAA batteries (and Twine will email you when you need to change the batteries).

The Spool web app makes it simple to set up and monitor your Twines from a browser anywhere. You set rules to trigger messages — no programming needed. The rules are put together with a palette of available conditions and actions, and read like English: WHEN moisture sensor gets wet THEN text “The basement is flooding!” We’ll get you started with a bunch of rule sets, and you can share rules you create with other Twine owners.

So I’m wanting to make a connection between all this good stuff and what’s going on with Phil Windley, Personal Clouds (for every item in the Internet of Things), The Live Web, Kynetx, KRL, Evented API’s, Sam Curren‘s SquareTag and the future I wrote about in The Wall Street Journal.

The VRM angle is distributed-everything, outside of silos, with individuals (which Craig Burton calls “enterprises of one”) in control.

Bonus links for Twine: The Wall Street Journal, Engadget, Wired, Forbes and Fast Company.


Below: two whiteboards from our VRM planning day, yesterday, in prep for #IIW, which is going on right now in Mountain View. I’ll explain later. Mostly right now I want to put these up to bring topics back to mind for folks who were there.



Time for subscribers to fix the broken subscription business

I love the New York Times. I’ve been buying and reading the Times for most of my life, and consider it the best newspaper in the world. And, now that I’m spending more time in New York, I want to subscribe, to at least the digital edition. But trying to do that is a freaking ordeal.

First, when I go to, I see this*:

NYTimes digital subscription first page

Note that this is only for “the first four weeks.” After that it’s what? It doesn’t say. While I’m sure the Times has analytics galore to rationalize hiding the full costs of subscriptions longer than four weeks (which the Times of course wants), it amounts to bait-and-switch.

But I want to subscribe, so I click on “continue.”

Up comes a pop-over form that wants me to re-enter my password or log out. My password guess fails, but I don’t want to log out, or go through the “don’t know your password” routine. So let’s count the frictions here:

  1. Popover. Hate them.
  2. Requiring logins and passwords. It’s 2012. This “system” was a kluge in 1995. That it’s still with us is one of the great fails of e-commerce. That it started modeling loyalty cards that same year is one of the great fails of retailing.
  3. Retrieving a forgotten password through email and re-logging only compounds the same fail.
  4. Logging out feels like pulling the lever on a trap door. I’m part-way there and don’t want to give up, says the brain, right before it says, Fuggit, I give up.

But I don’t give up, because I really want a damn subscription. So I log out, and find myself at…, where it says,

You are now logged out of Thanks for visiting.

Then adds,

And, over on in a column on the right, all this:

My Account Common Tasks

Contact Us

So where’s what it costs after four weeks? I have no idea. So I click on “Register a new account,” and see it’s a come-on to sign up for newsletters and stuff. I already get some of those. This tells me I need to go recover the password, unless I want to have two accounts rather than one. So I try logging in again.

This time I go through several tries using a variety of old passwords, and find one that works. Now I’m at At the top of the page, where it says Digital / Home Delivery, I click on the first link and find myself at the same page I show at the top.

This time when I click on “continue,” an ORDER SUMMARY page comes up. Here’s a screen shot of the parts that matter:

Note how the full costs — $15 every four weeks — are mumbled. According to Google’s calculator, the cost comes to 53.571428571¢ per day. I think that’s worth it, but I also think the system is worse than broken, and don’t wish to reward it.

But I don’t want just to complain. (Which I’ve done before anyway, to no effect.) I want to build a better system: one that works for both subcribers and publishers. This can only be done by developers and users working together, for all subscribers and all publishers. One thing should be clear, after seventeen years of failure here: the publishers can’t fix it from their side alone. The demand side needs to build the table at which every subscriber and publisher can sit. A zillion different tables for a zillion different publishers is exactly the kind of mess that the Internet and the Web are ideally positioned to solve. So let’s finish the job.

Subscribers know that information is free, but value wants to be paid for. The New York Times has enormous value. For people who value the content of its character and just its curb weight on streets and tablets, four bits a day is cheap. The Times doesn’t need to conceal that cost.

But as long as the Times and other papers remain stuck in the commercial Web’s antique calf-cow system — in which subscribers come as calves to the publishers’ cows for the milk of “content” and cookies they don’t want — everybody will be stuck in the wrong species and the market won’t evolve past the cattle industry stage.

So, at #IIW today, I will propose a #VRM session titled Fixing subscriptions from the customer’s side. Suggestions welcome. But they have to be VRM suggestions — ones that give us both independence and better means of engagement, for all publishers, and not each separately. Think of how today’s email system (SMTP, IMAP, POP3 and other protocols) fixed the problem of different proprietary email systems from MCI, Compuserve, Prodigy and for every company that could afford to mount its own internal systems. We need that kind of thing now for subscriptions. Asking for better behavior on the publishers’ side won’t work. Making better cows won’t work. We need something that makes us all peers, as email, the Web, and the Internet do. Let’s build that.

Bonus Link, two weeks later, from Dave Winer.

* [Later... When I first wrote this, I missed the "Regular Rate" column above, with the lines through the prices. This was clearly an oversight on my part, for which I was offered corrections aplenty in the comments below. Still, looking for what was also in plain sight sent me on the rest of this journey, which is why I am leaving it intact. I would also direct the reader (and the Times, if they're reading this) to what Scott Adams says about confusopolies, of which the newspaper subscription business is one example. Thanks to the confusopolistic nature of that business, there is no reason to believe that the "regular" prices listed are the only long-term ones, or that the 99¢ prices are the only discounted ones. This too makes the rest of the journey I took — and this post as well — worthwhile... I hope.]


The XVth IIW is coming up on October 23-25 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, and VRM will be, as usual, a big topic — or collection of topics — there.

IIW stands for Internet Identity Workshop, but the topical range is much wider than identity alone. Front and center for the last several IIWs has been personal data (a special concern not only of many VRM development efforts, but of the Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium).

IIW is an unconference that Kaliya Hamlin, Phil Windley and I have been putting on twice a year since 2005. It could hardly be less formal or conference-like. There are no panels, no speakers, no keynotes. There are just participants. All the sessions are breakouts, and all the topics are chosen by participants, who come up with them at the start of each day, vetting whatever they like with the rest of the crowd. Some of the sessions are technical, many others are not. All of them are interesting, lively, and move things forward.

As in IIWs past, we have a VRM planning day on Monday, just before IIW. That’s the 22nd. Everybody is welcome. The purpose is to discuss what we’d like to make happen over the following three days. Unlike IIWs past, this planning day is also at the Computer History Museum. It’ll run from 9 to 5.

Here are some topics currently being vetted on the ProjectVRM list:

  1. Demonstrations of progress on various VRM fronts
  2. Relationship management tools, including UI elements such as r-buttons: ⊂ ⊃.
  3. Personal data store/locker/vault/cloud etc. efforts
  4. Personal operating systems (including personal cloud)
  5. Intentcasting, aka personal RFPs
  6. Turning DNT (Do Not Track) into DNT-D (Do Not Track + Dialog)
  7. Cooperation + competition among and between different VRM development efforts
  8. FOSS (free and open source software) and VRM
  9. Creating and working with APIs
  10. Standards and protocols old and new (e.g. XDI, RDF,
  11. Role of governments (e.g. Midata in the UK, and privacy ministries in various countries)
  12. Legal / terms of service and engagement, and expression of preferences and policies
  13. Trust frameworks
  14. Working with industry verticals, such as banks and retail
  15. Matching up with QS (Quantified Self ) and self-hacking movements and interests (especially around personal data)
  16. Matching up VRM and CRM/sCRM
  17. Subject-based VRM, such as with the “subscription economy”
  18. VCs and other investors
  19. Relationships with other .orgs, e.g. PDE.Cc, Customer Commons
  20. Discovering and encouraging more VRM and VRooMy development efforts
  21. Alignment of talking points when evangelizing VRM
  22. Intention Economy
  23. Relationship Economy (and overlaps with the above)
  24. Identity-related matters, including NSTIC

I numbered them not in order of importance, but just to make them easier to discuss at the meeting. (e.g. “Let’s look at number 13″). Look forward to seeing you there.

Here are some photos from IIWs past. The photo up top is of a slab of metal covering a hole in pavement on a street in Manhattan. Saw it and couldn’t resist shooting it with my phone.

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