Month: December 2012

What if qualified leads were free?

In terms of economic signaling, think about which is worth more:

  1. A ready-to-sell-something message from an advertiser
  2. A ready-to-buy-something message from a customer

Of course it depends. A company can use an ad to signal many people at once, and to signal far more than a readiness to sell something. And now, with advanced analytics and Big Data, an ad can be personalized to a high degree: timed and targeted to reach a customer at exactly the right place and time. (Or that’s the idea, anyway.) Customers are also separate individuals. They may only be worth something to a company in aggregate. So we’re talking about lots of variables here.

But let’s look at a single vendor and a single customer for a moment, and say you’re the vendor. What would a ready-to-buy signal from a customer be worth to you? The answer today is called the qualified leads business. Search for that and you’ll get lots of results, most of which pitch you on paying for those leads.

But what if the leads were free, or close to that price? They are with intentcasting. (In Hunter becomes the prey, Scott Adams calls this “broadcast shopping.”) With intentcasting, customers advertise their wants and needs. For vendors, listening to the signals is free.

From the list of VRM development efforts on the ProjectVRM wiki, here’s the current list of intentcasting efforts:

AskForIt † – individual demand aggregation and advocacy
Body Shop Bids † – intentcasting for auto body work bids based on uploaded photos
Have to Have † – “A single destination to store and share everything you want online”
Intently † – Intentcasting “shouts” for services, in the U.K.
Innotribe Funding the Digital Asset Grid prototype, for secure and accountable Intentcasting infrastructure
OffersByMe † – intentcasting for local offers
Prizzm †- social CRM platform rewarding customers for telling businesses what they want, what they like, and what they have problems with
RedBeacon † – intentcasting locally for home services
Thumbtack † – service for finding trustworthy local service providers
Trovi intentcasting; matching searchers and vendors in Portland, OR and Chandler, AZ†
Übokia intentcasting†
Zaarly † intentcasting to community – local so far in SF and NYC

I’m sure it’s far from complete or up-to-date, but you can see some of what’s already going on. I guarantee that a lot more will be happening here in 2013 and beyond.

Toward a matrix of APIs

At  the 2006 O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference, Cal Henderson, then of Flickr, gave a long session called “Launching and scaling new Web services.” As I recall, among the many things he explained well were some principles behind the Flickr API. One of those principles was user access to data. The API should be one that allowed the user to haul all of her data out of the system, even if it was to federate that data into a competing system. That’s because Flickr believed that user data is the user’s first, and not just the company’s. Another principle was keeping the API stable, so as not to disrupt users and other services that depended on the API.

Cal left Flickr a couple years after that, but Flickr’s API remains a model of stability and utility — so much so that Dave Winer this morning suggested it be declared a national treasure.

Many of us depend in large ways to the APIs of companies great and small — and more get added to that collection every day. For a good picture of what’s going on with APIs, check out ProgrammableWeb.com. Between Dave’s respect for durable APIs like Flickr’s, and ProgrammableWeb’s roster of current and future dependencies, we start to see a matrix of APIs that Craig Burton compares to a city filled with buildings and relationships. Each API provider, like each building, exposes the provider’s core competencies in ways that can be engaged.

But what happens when we each have our own APIs — when our own core competencies become exposed in ways that can be engaged? And when we start managing our lives through relationships between our APIs and those in the rest of the world — especially in ways that are live and full-duplex (two ways at the same time, like a phone call)? And where each of us, or a trusted agent, can do the required IF, THEN, OR and other programming logic, between our own personal clouds and the clouds of others? What will we have then?

There is lots of blogging out loud about this, about both the downsides of dependency (as both Phil Windley and I have, toward Flickr in particular). But I think the upside deserves more than equal consideration, especially as companies begin to realize the importance of direct and engaged relationships with customers and users, which is what we’ll have when VRM and CRM (along with allied functions on both sides) fully engage. The result, I believe, will be a matrix of useful dependencies, based on APIs everywhere, thick with accountability and responsibility. The result will be far more opportunity, and boundless positive economic and social externalities based on the Net’s and the Web’s founding virtues. What will end, or at least be obsoleted, are Matrix-like worlds where users and customers are held captive.

Thus our goal for VRM: to prove that free customers are more valuable than captive ones — both to themselves and to everyone and everything else with which they engage.

 

 

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