Category: Events (page 1 of 4)

#TakeBackControl with #VRM

That’s a big part of what tonight’s Respect Network launch here in London is about. I’ll be speaking briefly tonight at the event and giving the opening keynote at the Immersion Day that will follow tomorrow. Here is a draft of what I’ll say tonight:

This launch is personal.

It’s about privacy.

It’s about control.

It’s about taking back what we lost when Industry won the Industrial Revolution.

It’s about fixing a marketplace that has been ruled by giant companies for a hundred and fifty years — even on the Internet, which was designed — literally — to support our independence, our autonomy, our freedom, our liberty, our agency in the world.

Mass marketing required subordinating the individual to the group, to treat human beings as templates, demographics, typicalities.

The promise of the Internet was to give each of us scale, reach and power.

But the commercial Internet was built on the old model. On the industrial model. What we have now is what the security guru Bruce Schneier calls a feudal system. We are serfs in the Kingdom of Google, the Duchy of Facebook, the Principality of Amazon.

Still, it’s early. The Internet as we know it today — with browsers, ISPs, search engines and social media — is just eighteen years old. In the history of business, and of civilization, this is nothing. We’ve barely started.

But the Internet does something new that nothing else in human history ever did, and we’re only beginning to wrap our heads around the possibilities: It puts everybody and everything at zero functional distance from everybody and everything else — and at costs that want to be zero as well.

This is profound and huge. The fact that we have the Net means we can zero-base new solutions that work for each of us, and not just for our feudal overlords.

Archimedes said “Give me a place to stand and I can move the world.”

That’s why we are here today. Respect Network has been working to give each of us a place to stand, to take back control: of our identities, our data, our lives, our relationships… of everything we do on the Net as free and independent human beings.

And what’s extra cool about this is that Respect Network isn’t just one company. It’s dozens of them, all standing behind the same promise, the same principles, the same commitment to build markets upward from you and me, and not just downward like eyes atop pyramids of control.

I’ll have a lot more to say about this tomorrow at Immersion Day, but for now I invite you to savor participating in a historic occasion.

I’m sure I’ll say something different, because I’ll speak extemporaneously and without the crutchware of slides. But I want to get this up  because I can’t print where I am at the moment, and it seems like a fun and useful thing to do in any case.

For more, see A New Data Deal, starting today, at my personal blog.

VRM at IIW

We had a packed house yesterday at VRM Day 2013a — more than fifty people — prepping for IIW , which starts today and runs for two more at the Computer History Museumin Mountain View.

IIW is an unconference. No keynotes, no panels, no sponsors controlling the agenda. At the beginning of each day, particpants (who aren’t just “attendees”) choose the topics they want to talk about, and from there on it’s all breakout sessions in separate rooms. So here are some of the session candidates we put up on the whiteboard(and also on the wiki at the first link above):

  • Intentcasting
  • Governance
  • Personal Clouds in general
  • Interoperability mapping
  • How to get 4th parties interested in verticals, e.g. health care, government, retail) “Medicine cabinet” instead of wallets
  • What average joe/jane use case(s) will drive adoption?
  • Use case deep dive — An active session, attendees simulate the use case communications between the device, pcloud, vendor, etc.
  • standards/patterns
  • Next-gen SSO (e.g.Persona)
  • Legal Hacks & License harmonization
  • Wallets & apps for transactions, photos, etc. Bitcoin as a VRM money clip, safe deposit box… (see session from the last IIW)
  • Tracking and ad blocking, and harmonizing methods and experiences
  • Bringing 4th parties into verticals, e.g…
  • Health Care VRM — “medicine cabinets” rather than “wallets”
  • Real estate
  • Banking (including credit cards, payments, transactions)
  • Retail
  • Sovereign vs./+ Administrative identities
  • Terms and policies (Customer Commons’ work, plus Patient Privacy Rights)
  • Symbols (e.g. around privacy)
  • XDI + KRL, messaging & events
  • Internet of me and my things
  • Drummond, for Respect Network:
  • Discovery “DNSSIC for #pclouds”
  • Respect Connect “Facebook connect without the downsides”
  • Dictionary seminars
  • Personal data pain points, e.g. filling out forms
  • Collect useful techs/APIs

There are lists within that list, but my patience and connectivity aren’t up to it, so I’ll leave that be for now.

IIW XV

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, tent.io)
  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.

Let’s turn Do Not Track into a dialog

Do Not Track (DNT), by resembling Do Not Call in name, sounds like a form of prophylaxis.  It isn’t. Instead it’s a request by an individual with a browser not to be tracked by a website or its third parties. As a request, DNT also presents an interesting opportunity for dialogue between user and site, shopper and retailer, or anybody and anything. I laid out one possibility recently in my Inkwell conversation at The Well. Here’s a link to the page, and here’s the text of the post:

The future I expect is one in which buyers have many more tools than they have now, that the tools will be theirs, and that these will enable buyers to work with many different sellers in the same way.

One primitive tool now coming together is “Do Not Track” (or DNT): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_Not_Track It’s an HTTP header in a user’s browser that signals intention to a website. Browser add-ons or extensions for blocking tracking, and blocking ads, are also tools, but neither constitute a social protocol, because they are user-side only. The website in most cases doesn’t know ad or tracking blocking being used, or why. On the other hand, DNT is a social gesture. It also isn’t hostile. It just expresses a reasonable intention (defaulted to “on” in the physical world) not to be followed around.

But DNT opens the door to much more. Think of it as the opening to dialog:

User: Don’t track me.
Site: Okay, what would you like us to do?
User: Share the data I shed here back to me in a standard form, specified here (names a source).
Site: Okay. Anything else?
User: Here are my other preferences and policies, and means for matching them up with yours to see where we can agree.
Site: Good. Here are ours.
User: Good. Here is where they match up and we can move forward.
Site: Here are the interfaces to our CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, so your VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) system can interact with it.
User: Good. From now on my browser will tell me we have a working relationship when I’m at your site, and I can look at what’s happening on both sides of it.

None of this can be contemplated in relationships defined entirely by the sellers, all of which are silo’d and different from each other, which is what we’ve had on the commercial Web since 1995. But it can be contemplated in the brick & mortar world, which we’ve had since Ur. What we’re proposing with VRM is nothing more than bringing conversation-based relationships that are well understood in the brick-and-mortar world into the commercial Web world, and weaving better marketplaces in the process.

A bit more about how the above might work:
http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/vrm/2012/02/23/how-about-using-the-no-track-button-we-already-have/

And a bit more about what’s wrong with the commercial Web (so far, and it’s not hard to fix) here:
http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/vrm/2012/02/21/stop-making-cows-stop-being-calves /

So, to move forward, consider this post a shout-out to VRM developers, to the Tracking Protection Working Group at the W3C, to browser developers, to colleagues at Berkman (where Chris Soghoian was a fellow, about at the time he helped think up DNT) — and to everybody with the will and the ways to move forward on this thing.

And hey: it’s also our good luck that the next IIW is coming up at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, from October 23rd to 25th. IIW is the perfect place to meet and start hashing out DNT-D (I just made that up: DNT-Dialog) directions. IIW is an unconference: no keynotes, panelists or vendor booths. Participants vet and choose their own topics and break out into meeting rooms and tables. It’s an ideal venue for getting stuff done, which always happens, and why this is the 15th of them.

Meanwhile, let’s get in touch with each other and start making it happen.

Scaling business in parallel

Companies and customers need to be able to deal with each other in two ways: as individuals and as groups.

As of today companies can deal with customers both ways. They can get personal with customers, and they can deal with customers en masse. Without the latter capability, mass marketing would not be possible.

Customers, on the other hand, can only deal with companies as individuals, one at a time. Dealing with companies as groups is still a challenge. Consider the way you engage companies in the marketplace, both online and off. Your dealings with companies, on the whole, are separate and sequential. Nothing wrong with that, but it lacks scale. Hence: opportunity.

We can arrive at that opportunity space by looking at company and personal dealings, each with two kinds of engagement circuits: serial and parallel.

Start with a small company, say a store with customers who line up at the counter. That store  deals with customers in a serial way:

business, serial

The customers come to the counter, one after another, in a series. Energy in the form of goods goes out, and money comes back.

As companies scale up in size, however, they’d rather deal with many customers in parallel rather than in series. A parallel circuit looks like this:

business, parallel

Here customers are dealt with as a group: many at once, and in the same way. This, in an extremely simplified form, is a diagram of mass marketing. While it is still possible for a company to deal with customers individually, the idea is to deal with as many customers as possible at once and in the same ways.

I use electronic symbols in those circuits because resistance (the zig-zag symbol) adds up in series, while it goes down in parallel. This too is a virtue of mass marketing. Thus one-to-many works very well, and has proven so ever since Industry won the Industrial Revolution.

Over on the customers’ side, the marketplace on the whole looks like this:

customer, serial

The customer goes from one company to the next. This is not a problem on the vendors’ side, except to the degree that vendors would rather customers not shop elsewhere. This is why vendors come up with loyalty programs and other schemes to increase “switching costs” and to otherwise extract as much money and commitment as possible out of the customer.

But, from the customer’s side, it would also be cool if they could enjoy scale in parallel across many companies, like this:

In the physical world this is all but unthinkable. But the Internet makes it very thinkable, because the Net reduces nearly to zero the functional distance between any two entities, and presents an open space across which many connections can be made, at once if necessary, with few limits on the number or scope of possibilities. There is also no limit to the new forms of interaction that can happen here.

For example, a customer could scale in parallel by expressing demand to multiple vendors at the same time, or could change her contact information at once with many companies. In fact this is basically what VRM projects are about: scaling in parallel across many other entites. (Not just vendors, but also elected officials, government agencies, churches, clubs, and so on.)

It is easy to see how companies can feel threatened by this. For a century and a half we in business have made a virtue of “targeting,” “acquiring,” “capturing,” “managing,” “locking in” and “owning” customers. But think about the free market for a minute. Shouldn’t free customers be more valuable than captive ones? Wouldn’t it be better if customers and prospects could send many more, and better, signals to the marketplace, and to vendors as well, if they were capable of having their own native ways of dealing, consistently, across multiple vendors?

We have that now with email and other forms of messaging. But why stop there?

Naturally, it’s easy to ask, Could social media such as Facebook, Google+ and Twitter provide some of what we need here? Maybe, but the problem is that they are not ours, and they don’t work for us — in the sense that they are accountable to us. They work for advertisers. Email, IM and browsing aren’t owned by anybody. They are also substitutable. For example, you can move your mail from Gmail to your own server or elsewhere if you like. Google doesn’t own email’s protocols. No browser company owns HTTP, HTML or any of the Web’s protocols.

The other problem with social solutions is that they’re not personal. And that’s the scale we’re talking about here: adding parallel capabilities to individuals. Sure, aggregation is possible, and a good thing. (And a number of VRM projects are of the aggregating-demand sort.) But the fallow ground is under our own feet. That’s where the biggest market opportunity is located. Also where, still, it is most ignored. Except, of course, here.

[Continued in VRM/CX + CRM/CX.]

Sovereign-source vs. administrative identity

You know who you are. So does the IRS, the DMV, and every Website you’ve ever made up a login and a password for — so it could “know” you.

But none of those entities really knows you. What they know is what the techies call a namespace. What they have isn’t your identity, but an identifier. What they call your identity is an administrative construction. It’s something that had to be made up so that bureaucracies and technical systems could do what they do.

Who you are isn’t just how you appear in the namespaces of administrative entities. Who you are isn’t even the name your parents gave you. It’s your single, unitary and sovereign self, which remains fixed at the source, no matter what you’re called.

While the names that matter most to you are the ones you were given at birth, and the ones you choose to be called by, neither is fixed. You can change your names without changing who you are.

Walt Whitman, the great author of Song of Myself, did not call himself Walter.

Yes, some names come about socially, but the choice to use them for ourselves is personal. Take my own example. The name my parents gave me was David. Many friends and relatives still call me David or Dave. Many more, however, call me Doc. That name is what remains of Doctor Dave, which is what I was called on the radio and in a humor column in North Carolina in the late ’70s. (That image above was how I appeared in the column. I was around 30 then. I actually look like that now.)

The nickname Doc came along after I started a company with two other guys, one of whom was named David. He and the other guy (the late great Ray Simone, who also drew the Doctor Dave image) called me Doctor Dave around the office, and with clients and suppliers. After awhile three syllables seemed too many, and they all just called me Doc.

But the nickname then was still context-dependent. People who knew me through business called me Doc. Everybody else called me David or Dave.

Then our company opened an office in Silicon Valley and I went out there prospecting, in the Fall of ’85. I knew almost nobody there, other than a few business contacts who called me Doc. But I wasn’t sure about keeping Doc as a nickname, since in a way I was starting over in a new palce. So, when I went to the Comdex conference in October of that year in Las Vegas, I had two badges made. One said David Searls and the other said Doc Searls. I was there four days and alternated between the two badges. Afterwards everybody remembered Doc and nobody remembered David. So I decided not to dump the nickname, and it stuck.

My point is that I still had control over what I chose to be called. I had sovereign source authority over that.

The problem I’m trying to surface here is that we need full respect for sovereign source identities, and identifiers, before we can solve the problem of highly fractured and incompatible administrative identifiers — a problem that has only become worse with the growth of the Web, where by design we are always the submissive and dependent party: calves to administrative cows.

MoxyTongue puts it this way:

You are a social ID-slave by default today.

I want a Human ID; a personal data construct with sovereign source authority.

Society uses a social construct to give me an Administrative ID.

The difference is origin.

I do not participate in Society primarily as an AdminID.

I am a Human ID by sovereign source authority, backed by American Rights that I know how to wield administratively and matriculate accordingly.

Structure yields results. Therefore, if we get the origin of ID correct, we can get the data administration framework oriented right.

A Human ID -led Society with embedded structural Rights and empowerments is the socio-economic game changer.

That is my NSTIC proposal. That’s my open proposal: a new data administration framework for identity.

Deployed across Society by opt-in opportunity structure.

Deployable across a global ecosystem by data design.

I see an ID as a door. The existence of the door is a social construct… a decision…

But once that decision is made, it is Human executed in every regard.

ID-slavery is what we have by administrative structure today. Our managerial intent in servicing it is flawed by design.

A Human ID comes with #vrm baked in. Such is the bi-directional transactional authority, multi-role nature of it.

And most important… we all approach the door on equal Terms… one door…infinite possibilities.

Self-driven socio-economic structure.

Call it whatever you want…it starts with your identity being structured right.

VRM for me grew out of two things:

  1. The unfinished work of Cluetrain. The ‘one clue to get’ there said “our reach exceeds your grasp.” But it didn’t, and it still doesn’t. Much of the grasp is administrative, and it has to do with defining, for us, who we are. That’s a bug, not a feature.
  2. The unfinished work of the digital identity development community, which I believe will remain unfinished as long as we try to solve one symptom with another one. The symptom we’re trying to solve is regarding administrative IDs as independent variables, rather than as dependent ones. Until we recognize that the only true independent variable is the soul of the independent self, we’ll continue to seek administrative solutions to the problem of administrative identity slavery.

Have you ever noticed that when somebody says “That’s a good question?” it’s usually because they don’t yet have an answer? That applies here. To the question of how we make sovereign-source identity the independent variable, I don’t have an answer. But I do want to work on it.

I’ll be doing that tomorrow at a meeting on identity in Silicon Valley. On May 1-3 in Mountain View we’ll be holding the Internet Identity Workshop again. It’s our fourteenth, and it’s a terrific unconference. If you care about this stuff, you should come. Your sovereign self would like that.

VRM at SXSW 2012

I just learned via Mark Scrimshire (@ekivemark) that a VRM panel — Are Free Customers Better Than Captive Ones? — has been accepted for the next SXSW. That means people voted for it, even though I had forgotten about it and didn’t promote it all. (Did anyone else? Dunno yet.) The location is listed as Startup Village – Downtown Austin Hilton, which I gather is this one.

In any case, it’s way cool, and I look forward to seeing lots of you there.

Meanwhile Mark has invited me (and therefore us) to participate in HealthCamp Boston in Fall 2012. Looking forward to that, too.

Signs of progress

The bottom line (literally) of this report on the Consumer Energy Summt in the UK is this piece of excellent news:

…energy companies have agreed to give consumers access to their data in electronic format as part of the government Midata programme.

Connect.me, a VRM company, gives us a way to construct “trust frameworks” among ourselves. They have worked to make this as game-free as possible. Check it out.

Twitter search for VRM.

Singly and Locker Project getting mojo as Jeremie presents at Web 2.o, on Day One. (Too bad  Web 2.0 co-happens on the calendar with IIW.)

Smári McCarthyThe End of Artificial Scarcity. Required reading.

Phil Windley on personal event networks.

In a session at IIW: EventedAPIs vs./+ ActivityStreams. Bonus link.

ProgrammableWeb’s directory of APIs.

Hypothes.is will be discussed this afternoon at IIW. “Peer review for the Internet.”

John Battelle wishes Tapestry existed. Connecting the dots. Recalling the database of intentions. Mentioning Singly and Locker Project.

e-Patient Dave: Is “Gimme my damn data” coming to radiology at last??

Vetted as VRM companies:

Bonus links:

IIW dev job: ListenLog

Craig Burton has a nice tutorial on developing VRM applications, using ListenLog as both an example and a challenge for next week at IIW.

ListenLog is the brainchild of Keith Hopper and the collaborative result of efforts by folks from NPR, PRX and other public radio institutions, as well as the Berkman Center and volunteers from the VRM community. It’s a form of self-tracking (see The Quantified Self for more on what that’s about), and also part of a larger effort that includes EmanciPay.

You’ll already find it on the Public Radio Player for iPhone, which is free and a great app. If you’re using an iPhone, download it, then go (as the tutorial says) to the settings and turn on logging. What you’ll have is your own growing pile of personal data, that you control. (No, it’s not yet in your all-purpose personal data store, locker or vault, but that’s another step and we can talk about that too. It is, for sure, in your Personal Data Ecosystem.)

Here’s where the tutorial pauses, for now:

to be done

One of our jobs next week is fulfilling those needs. This is light-duty hacking of the sort we can do around a table in one afternoon. (For those of us who can hack. Alas, the only code I know is Morse.)

Here’s where moving forward on this will lead:

  1. Better knowledge for listeners about what they actually value.
  2. Necessary groundwork for EmanciPay, which is a new listener-driven business model for public radio — and for everything else thats available for free but worth more than that.
  3. More money for public radio (because the old models won’t go away).
  4. More money for every business that produces free goods that are worth more than that. (For example music, newspapers, magazines, blogs and so on.)
  5. Experience and modeling for other similar projects.

Should be fun work.

Bonus thought: This might also work as something that ties in with the Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge. (Keith will be there, I think.) Hey, let’s connect the two. Should be fun. Just tweeted this as well.

Personal leverage for personal data

VRM is starting to snowball. You can see it in the Twitter scroll there on the right, and in Twitter searches for #VRM. Gaining velocity lately is personal data. To look down that vector, I’ll connect several links.

The first is Show Us the Data. (It’s Ours, After All), by Richard H. Thaler in the . The gist:

The collection and dissemination of this information raises a host of privacy issues, of course, and the bipartisan team of Senators John Kerry and John McCain has proposed what it is calling the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights to deal with many of them. Protecting our privacy is important, but the senators’ approach doesn’t tackle a broader issue: It doesn’t include the right to access data about ourselves. Not only should our data be secure; it should also be available for us to use for our own purposes. After all, it is our data.

Here is a guiding principle: If a business collects data on consumers electronically, it should provide them with a version of that data that is easy to download and export to another Web site. Think of it this way: you have lent the company your data, and you’d like a copy for your own use.

This month in Britain, the government announced an initiative along these lines called “mydata.” (I was an adviser on this project.) Although British law already requires companies to provide consumers with usage information, this program is aimed at providing the data in a computer-friendly way. The government is working with several leading banks, credit card issuers, mobile calling providers and retailers to get things started.

Here’s the long-form .pdf on mydata. What’s most important about it, especially for U.S. domestic purposes, is that its case is not just for protective legislation to keep customers safe from abuse by big bad companies, but for empowering customers in the marketplace. (When you dig into his work you see that this is Thaler’s case as well.) In this respect, mydata is a very VRM-ish move. But then, the U.K. government has been pro-VRM for awhile now. (Somewhere around here I have a link to a speech by a U.K. official that names VRM specifically. If it shows up, I’ll put it here.)

The good people at Ctrl-SHIFT, a U.K. company that’s highly active in the VRM movement, explains the mydata initiative:

The announcement is a first on two fronts:

1) Its ‘mydata’ programme encourages companies to release data they hold about individuals back to them, so that they can use this data for their own purposes. This is the first major Government initiative, globally, towards a changed personal data consensus: personal data is a personal asset, and individuals should have the right and ability to manage and use this asset to pursue their own goals.

2) The Government programme is also the first official recognition that there is a market for decision-making services (or ‘choice tools’ in Government parlance) that operates independently of existing markets for products and services – the market for what we call Personal Information Management Services (PIMS).

Want to know more?

Do you want to join your peers in debating this initiative and related issues? If so, then join our new Explorers Club on May 12 (in central London). It’s got a packed agenda including slots on both the Government’s new mydata initiative and on PIMS.

They also have a briefing paper on the topic.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S. we’ve been  focused more on prophylaxis than empowerment, at least at the federal level. This is a problem with our obsession with privacy as an issue in itself. Focus on privacy alone, and conversation inevitably veers toward policy. What new laws and regulations do we need to protect ourselves? we ask. That may be a good question, but it ignores answers that are already coming from the marketplace — answers that see today’s privacy problems as secondary effects of market dysfunction, and which pursue opportunities that marginalize and obsolete today’s privacy-threatening business practices.

Rex Hammock deals with this in his post, VRM: I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours, which begins with a response to the same NYTimes piece:

…the examples of initiatives the writer points to may lead the reader to believe that government-led initiatives are the best route to take. That may be the best route one day, if companies don’t, themselves, join in the types of initiatives Project VRM is trying to foster.

However, it is important to recognize there are lots of startups, non-profits, academic and open source / grassroots (note: where I’ll place my bets) and even big-company initiatives in this arena, as well. It is also important to note that this issue is not something that sprang forth last week: For as long as I can remember, there have been those who embrace the internet, but who believe relationships (and identity) should belong to the users and buyers, not just hosts and sellers.

I will be writing more on this topic in the future. I just wanted to post this to alert people that the next big thing is not going to be about what others are doing to collect your data and lock you into their data-protectorates. The next big thing is going to be about you having better ways to access and use the relationships and data that belong to you, in ways that recognizes that markets are conversations — not plantations.

That last link is mine, pointing to an earlier post that unpacks the agricultural metaphor behind Rex’s point.

In vrm, fourth party and the empowered consumer, Gam Das gives a terrific example of VRM’s potential for radically improving the way markets work:

What appears to be missing is a service where vendors (manufacturers and retailers) are able to locate individuals looking for products that they might supply. Service Magic and Elance allow seekers to find providers in the Service space, yet nothing really exists yet in the consumer-product space.

vrm and the fourth party

The Fourth Party is a concept that has emerged from the VRM movement – it proposes a fourth party that acts on behalf of the Customer in the same way that a Third Party acts on behalf of the Vendor. If the Vendors are the hotel chains, airlines and car rental companies, then the third parties are ExpediaOrbitz andTravelocity and a fourth party might be the “agent” that negotiates with the travel aggregators to find the best deal.

The advantages to the customer of a four party system are huge and easily understandable. Booking my recent trip to Las Vegas involved a large number of parameters (flight times, airline options, hotel locations and star ratings, car rental companies and car sizes and above all the price parameters) – booking the trip took 3 hours and ended up with a deal for flight and hotel from Expedia and car from Hotwire. If there had been a service to whom I could have sent all the parameters and have them take care of it, then I would have paid for that and they would have probably got me a better deal if they do it all the time.

But wait… I remember a service like that from when I was a child, I think we called it a ‘Travel Agent’. But didn’t they become extinct a few years ago? Perhaps it’s time for them to re-emerge, but not only booking travel, but also handling all sorts of complex requirements, particularly bundles of goods and services. If enough people were able to publish their requests for things and there was a fee involved in finding a solution, a human outsource agent model is likely to emerge – something like the Dedicated Assistant service.

The fourth party also gets around the problem faced by Aggregators (such asKelkoo and Nextag) – to ensure that the consumer is presented with all the offers available. With a fourth party, their value will be to ensure this.

the future state

Once this starts to scale and requests are in millions and billions, then eventually the dedicated assistants will need to be augmented with more automated service that respond faster and are perhaps able to bid at auctions or take advantage of limited time / quantity deals, then my belief is that we will see Agent Technology doing our bidding online. I’ll be watching this space closely for many reasons.

Fourth parties are just one of the many VRM topics being tee’d up for IIW in Mountain View next week. It’s also one of the reasons why for the first time we’re inviting investors along with developers, journalists and other usual suspects. (The Ctrl-SHIFT people and Gam will be there, by the way, as will I.)

By the way, I wish I had involved myself in the ‘s this week (hard to do everything while writing a book), because (one of those potential IIW topics, above) would have been a great candidate for the new business model contest. (It got through two rounds of the Knight News Challenge, for whatever that’s worth.) In any case, I highly recommend reading for the event. Here’s an idea to keep in mind: Once customers start driving the music industry bus, that industry will be much bigger than it ever was when the labels drove the thing.

And to loop back to the topic of this post, note the collection of entities in the Personal Data Ecosystem, which will also be well-represented at IIW next week.

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