Category: News (page 1 of 4)

Good news for VRM and financial transactions

FinTPTomorrow, 24 January, is code launch day for FinTP, described by its parent, Allevo, as “the first open source application for financial transactions.” The code is being released under the GPL v3 license on Github.

FinTP’s development is intended, among other things, to support VRM product and service development. This began in 2011, when Allevo folks discovered that VRM developers were collaborating with SWIFT‘s Innotribe on what would become the Digital Asset Grid (described as “a new infrastructure providing a platform for secure, authorised peer to peer data sharing between known, trusted people, businesses and devices”).

Since FinTP is open source, VRM developers — especially those dealing with financial transactions (and there are many) — should check it out and consider getting involved as well. (On my own wish list: EmanciPay.)  The FinTP community is FINkers United, and looks like this:

FinTP community

Read more at the Allevo blog.

By the way, SWIFT has an annual Startup Challenge it would be wise for VRM developers to check out — especially those dealing with banking and financial transactions.

 

 

Driving VRM with car data and APIs

Go read OnStar gives Volt owners what they want: their data, in the cloud, by Sean Gallagher, in Ars Technica. It’s a VRM story. The vendor is Chevrolet, the vended product is the Volt, and the relationship management is a DIY hack by one customer. The story begins,

You probably don’t think of your car as a developer platform, but Mike Rosack did. A few days after buying his Chevy Volt, Rosack started slowly mining his driving data. But he eventually revved up his efforts and created a community platform for drivers to track their own efficiency. Today more than 1,800 Volt owners compare stats with each other, jockeying for position on Rosack’s Volt Stats leader board.

volt dash with r-buttonThe Volt uses OnStar, a GM subsidiary known through its advertising for providing a way for drivers to call for roadside assistance; but which is actually a sophisticated cell-based data system through which cars communicate constantly with the mother ship’s cloud. While OnStar generously shares data back to customers through an app called RemoteLink, much more can be done with it, since it’s data and comes out through an API. Now here is where the story gets VRooMy:

Rosack initially wanted to do more with his own driving data than just view it on his phone. So he built what eventually became Volt Stats to capture this data, then started sharing it with other Volt owners. There was just one small problem: Volt Stats relied on Rosack’s reverse engineering of an interface for OnStar’s RemoteLink mobile application (iOS and Android). When OnStar moved to shut down the Web services interface Rosack had plugged into in mid-October, Volt Stats arrived at a screeching halt.

Rather than leaving Volt Stats stalled on the roadside, GM and OnStar accelerated efforts to give developers a new public Web API to create services on top of OnStar data. The companies even worked with Rosack to get him onboard and get Volt Stats re-launched. Now, Volt Stats is back online and other would-be car data hackers will soon be able to connect their Web applications to GM owners’ vehicle data (provided, of course, that they have privacy policies that meet with the approval of GM and OnStar lawyers).

OnStar had already developed an API for GM partners such as the car-sharing service RelayRides, who need to get access to some of the remote control and telematics elements of the service. But this new interface takes advantage of technologies such as OAuth and JAX-RS and it’s a step toward turning OnStar into a broader platform for the “Internet of things.” It’s also a way to give car enthusiasts a new kind of access to something they’ve always thought of as their own—their cars’ data.

Now come the VRM questions:

  • Where and how might customers store that data? Are current PDS (personal data stores) compatible and ready for it?
  • How might customers use that data — especially outside and between multiple vendors’ apps, APIs and relationship silos?
  • Might we see an  ⊂ (r-button) on the dashboards of car? How might that work? And if it does, how do we make it standard?
  • What usage and new market-driving scenarios might we start to imagine here?
  • How might customers assert their own privacy policies and terms as demand begins to drive supply?
  • What other interfaces do cars have that might be brought into the picture?
  • How can what happens here model what we do with the rest of the “Internet of things?”
  • What are the meshy wireless things we can do among ourselves and our cars, outside any vendor’s box? (Would love Robin Chase‘s thinking here.)

These are questions especially for VRM developers. Look for answers (and more questions) here and on various blogs.

VRM happenings in the U.K.

The tweets have been rolling in…

Identity Assurance: Mydex’s unique contribution. An interview with @dejalexander @MydexCIC http://www.ctrl-shift.co.uk/news/2012/11/15/identity-assurance-mydexs-unique-contribution/ …

@321CtrlShift interview with my colleague @dejalexander on @MydexCIC and #IDAssurance http://is.gd/7yyiZk  #VRM

Very thoughtful @SimonTucker blog post about today’s DWP announcement http://is.gd/zRslHa  #IDAssurance #VRM

williamheath@williamheath

For those who wondered how #VRM would first break in the popular press: http://bit.ly/107SqT9  #DailyMirror #Midata #CtrlShift

So let’s unpack those.

First, the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) announcement. What Mydex and others will provide is online identity assurance. (Note: not “providing” an identity.) To explain, Out-Law.com gives us Online identity scheme providers selected to design new DWP framework for verifying claims by benefits seekers.

This is one step in a march of reform led by the U.K. government, and moving in a generally VRooMy direction through the Midata program. Here are some links, starting in late 2011, and listed roughly chronologically:

The piece in the Mirror focuses on health and retail discounts. VRM is much broader than that, but it’s a good start.

[Later...] More below, from William Heath.

Your actual wallet vs./+ Google’s and Apple’s

Now comes news that Apple has been granted a patent for the iWallet. Here’s one image among many at that last link:

iwallet

Note the use of the term “rules.” Keep that word in mind. It is a Good Word.

Now look at this diagram from Phil Windley‘s Event Channels post:

event channels

Another term for personal event network is personal cloud. Phil visits this in An Operating System for Your Personal Cloud, where he says, “In contrast a personal event network is like an OS for your personal cloud. You can install apps to customize it for your purpose, it canstore and manage your personal data, and it provides generalized services through APIsthat any app can take advantage of.” One of Phil’s inventions is the Kinetic Rules Language, or KRL, and the rules engine for executing those rules, in real time. Both are open source. Using KRL you (or a programmer working for you, perhaps at a fourth party working on your behalf, can write the logic for connecting many different kinds of events on the Live Web, as Phil describes here).

What matters here is that you write your own rules. It’s your life, your relationships and your data. Yes, there are many relationships, but you’re in charge of your own stuff, and your own ends of those relationships. And you operate as  free, independent and sovereign human being. Not as a “user” inside a walled garden, where the closest thing you can get to a free market is “your choice of captor.”

Underneath your personal cloud is your personal data store (MyDex, et. al.), service (Higgins), locker (Locker Project / Singly), or vault (Personal.com). Doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as it’s yours, and you can move the data from one of these things into another, if you like, compliant with the principles Joe Andrieu lays out in his posts on data portability, transparency, self-hosting and service endpoint portability.

Into that personal cloud you should also be able to pull in, say, fitness data from Digifit and social data from any number of services, as Singly demonstrates in its App Gallery. One of those is Excessive Mapper, which pulls together checkins with Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter. I only check in with Foursquare, which gives me this (for the U.S. at least):

Excessive Mapper

The thing is, your personal cloud should be yours, not somebody else’s. It should contain your data assets. The valuable nature of personal data is what got the World Economic Forum to consider personal data an asset class of its own. To help manage this asset class (which has enormous use value, and not just sale value), a number of us (listed by Tony Fish in his post on the matter) spec’d out the Digital Asset Grid, or DAG…

DAG

… which was developed with Peter Vander Auwera and other good folks at SWIFT (and continues to evolve).

There are more pieces than that, but I want to bring this back around to where your wallet lives, in your purse or your back pocket.

Wallets are personal. They are yours. They are not Apple’s or Google’s or Microsoft’s, or any other company’s, although they contain rectangles representing relationships with various companies and organizations:

Still, the container you carry them in — your wallet — is yours. It isn’t somebody else’s.

But it’s clear, from Apple’s iWallet patent, that they want to own a thing called a wallet that lives in your phone. Does Google Wallet intend to be the same kind of thing? One might say yes, but it’s not yet clear. When Google Wallet appeared on the development horizon last May, I wrote Google Wallet and VRM. In August, when flames rose around “real names” and Google +, I wrote Circling Around Your Wallet, expanding on some of the same points.

What I still hope is that Google will want its wallet to be as open as Android, and to differentiate their wallet from Apple’s through simple openness.  But, as Dave Winer said a few days ago

Big tech companies don’t trust users, small tech companies have no choice. This is why smaller companies, like Dropbox, tend to be forces against lock-in, and big tech companies try to lock users in.

Yet that wasn’t the idea behind Android, which is why I have a degree of hope for Google Wallet. I don’t know enough yet about Apple’s iWallet; but I think it’s a safe bet that Apple’s context will be calf-cow, the architecture I wrote about here and here. (In that architecture, you’re the calf, and Apple’s the cow.) Could also be that you will have multiple wallets and a way to unify them. In fact, that’s probably the way to bet.

So, in the meantime, we should continue working on writing our own rules for our own digital assets, building constructive infrastructure that will prove out in ways that require the digital wallet-makers to adapt rather than to control.

I also invite VRM and VRooMy developers to feed me other pieces that fit in the digital assets picture, and I’ll add them to this post.

GoDaddy VRooMed?

GoDaddy CEO Warren Adelman says “We listened to our customers. GoDaddy no longer supports SOPA.” (Here’s the GoDaddy blog post.)

Lauren Weinstein says that’s not the same as opposing SOPA: “they’re the same ethically vacuous firm as always, with their public facade changing like a chameleon, blowing in the wind of Internet public opinion.”

I still see it as a good sign when a company in a direct personal service business changes its mind because its customers made clear that change was required.

What I’d like to know now is what GoDaddy customers said to the company personally. (Not just that customers pulled their accounts in protest.) When I know that Warren Adelman and the company turned around because of direct personal pressure, in real conversation with paying customers who wished to remain so — and not just because of negative PR or customers bailing — then I’ll be glad to call it a full VRM move by customers.

Some links:

Circling Around Your Wallet

To get our heads all the way around Google+, it helps to remember Microsoft’s Hailstorm initiative from ten years ago. Think of Google+ as Hailstorm done right, or at least better. (That is, for Google.)

googlepluswallet

What Microsoft wanted with Hailstorm was less “social” than personal. (“Social” in 2001 was years away from getting buzzy.)  What Google wants with Google+ is very personal, or Google wouldn’t be so picky about the “real names” thing.

One difference from Hailstorm is that Google isn’t playing all its cards yet. Microsoft laid all theirs on the table with Hailstorm, and its identity service, Passport. What they wanted was to be the iDP, or IDentity Provider, for everybody. Is that what Google has in mind too? In 2005 John Battelle said Google was “angling to become the de facto marketplace for global commerce.” That might be a stretch, but it’s the vector that counts here, and Google+ points in that direction.

Let’s connect the dots.

  • Google’s “real names” policy (they actually say common names) for Google+ is freaking people out, sparking “nym wars“, on the other side of which are my.nameis.me, Kathy Gill, Kevin MarksSkud (who unpacks the whole thing extensively) and many others. (Here’s the latest from Kaliya.)
  • Google+ has just started. The big type on the current index page says “A quick look at the first pieces of the project.” Brad Horowitz, who runs Google+, in an interview with Tim O’Reilly (Google’s main defender at this point) says the project is “unfinished”, in “limited field trial” and not “launch ready”, meaning some people aren’t being served, and getting going for others is still “hard”. Specifically, Google+ cannot serve “tranches” of users who, for example, a) work inside enterprises that “bet their businesses on Google”, b) are minors, c) are brands, and d) wish to use pseudonyms or otherwise uncommon names. (That last group includes many early adopters of Google+ who are now being rejected.)
  • The common names policy wasn’t there for Gmail or any (or many) of Google’s many other services. Why this one? An answer came from Eric Schmidt, who told Andy Carvin that Google+ was being built “primarily as an identity service.”
  • Google has many services, none of which are truly “finished,” and some of which are just getting started. On the finished end of that spectrum is Google Checkout. At just-started end is Google+. Not out yet but announced is Google Wallet. What matters is that they can all both iterate and connect.
  • Google makes most of its money from advertising. That’s different than being an “advertising company.” Google was launched as a search company, and found a way to make money through advertising. They surely wish to diversify their income streams. One way is to support actual commercial activities, at the point of engagement between buyer and seller: to support the Intention Economy that starts with buyer volition, and not just the Attention Economy of which advertising is a part. In other words, to work where the demand chain meets the supply chain.
  • The first source of revenue in markets is customers: ones that have real names on their drivers licenses and credit cards. Pseudonyms, handles and nicknames — such as IdentityWoman, @Skud, FactoryJoe and Doc — might appear on business cards, but not on the bank- or government-issued plastic cards in those folks’ wallets.
  • To Google, Twitter and Facebook, pseudonyms, handles and nicknames are for users. Real names, or common names, are for customers. And real names tend to be what we have on our credit cards and government-issued identification cards and documents, such as drivers licenses and passports. When a seller wishes to authenticate us, that’s what they ask for.
  • Note carefully: Most users don’t pay. All customers pay: that’s what makes them customers.
  • Facebook is already the de facto iDP for perhaps hundreds of millions of people. (Pete Touchner unpacks that nicely in a slide deck, especially starting here.) The ubiquitous Facebook Connect button testifies to that. (As does Marc Zuckerberg calling the name you use in Facebook “your online identity.” But…
  • Facebook Connect lacks infrastructural legs that Google can put under the market’s table — legs like Google Checkout, Android and Google Wallet, as well as Google’s own physical network, back-end processing power and engineering knowhow, spread across many more business and technical disciplines than Facebook can pull together.

Back in May, I posted Google’s Wallet and VRM here. In it I posed eleven reasons why Google Wallet is potentially a development of profound importance. Here’s one:

Reason #9: Now you can actually relate. When a customer has the ability to shop as well as to buy, right in his or her wallet — and to put shopping in the context of the rest of his or her life, which includes far more than shopping alone — retailers can discover advantages other than discounts, coupons and other gimmicks. Maybe you’ll buy from Store B because you like the people there better, because they’re more helpful in general, because they took your advice about something, or because they help your kid’s school. Many more factors can come into play.

Such as when your circles intersect.

The earliest thrust for Google Wallet has been NFC (Near Field Communication), for doing mobile payments. From a Google post back in May:

Because Google Wallet is a mobile app, it will do more than a regular wallet ever could. You’ll be able to store your credit cards, offers, loyalty cards and gift cards, but without the bulk. When you tap to pay, your phone will also automatically redeem offers and earn loyalty points for you. Someday, even things like boarding passes, tickets, ID and keys could be stored in Google Wallet.

At first, Google Wallet will support both Citi MasterCard and a Google Prepaid Card, which you’ll be able to fund with almost any payment card. From the outset, you’ll be able to tap your phone to pay wherever MasterCard PayPass is accepted. Google Wallet will also sync your Google Offers, which you’ll be able to redeem via NFC at participating SingleTap™ merchants, or by showing the barcode as you check out. Many merchants are working to integrate their offers and loyalty programs with Google Wallet.

With Google Wallet, we’re building an open commerce ecosystem, and we’re planning to develop APIs that will enable integration with numerous partners. In the beginning, Google Wallet will be compatible with Nexus S 4G by Google, available on Sprint. Over time, we plan on expanding support to more phones.

Two months after that, in July, Google acquired punchd, “a better solution for loyalty cards”. (More here.) And now it seems that one of the first retailers with the NFC devices required at checkout is going to be Radio Shack. (Google’s list of signed-up “single tap™” partners is quite long.)

Pause now to think about supply and demand.

Most of Google’s commercial work so far has been on the market’s supply side, especially with advertising. (Nearly all their customers are sellers, not buyers.) Google Wallet, however, works on the demand side, because it goes on your phone, which lives in your pocket or your purse.

Your electronic wallet is the point of contact between your demand chain and the sellers’ supply chain. With electronic wallets, we get many new ways for these two to dance. And, therefore, many more commercial opportunities.

Wallets are also instruments of independence. (As are, say, cars.) As the Intention Economy grows (and electronic wallets will help with that), so must the things we as individual customers can do with them — and behind them, back up our demand chain, in our personal data stores. This is where we need to be the point of integration for our own data, which should include data collected by and about us.

Don’t think about how and why we should sell our data, especially to marketing’s guesswork mills (of which Google is the largest). Think about what services we might buy, to help us apply intelligence to the use of our data.

Think about new and different ways in which we might save and spend our money — ways that have nothing to do with today’s defaulted vendor-run gimmicks (loyalty cards, “sales,” coupons, “rewards”…) meant to trap us, herd us and shake us down for more money. Think about having more control over how, why, and where we spend (or actually save — as in a bank) our money. That’s what we start to see when we think about electronic Wallets beyond the near horizons of point-of-sale connections and better come-ons from sellers. That’s what Google will start to see when they start talking with us, and not just with big companies looking for more and better ways to sell.

If our electronic wallets are to become instruments of independence, we need a choice of interchangeable ones that work the same with every seller — much as we have a choice of cars that work the same way with every driveway, highway, gas station and parking lot. This means Google’s can’t be the only wallet. (I’m sure they know and welcome that.)

Presumably, Google Wallet will be open source. In fact, that would be a good way to fight Isisa new competitor to Google Wallet, funded by AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile — and whatever Apple comes up with if it wishes to fight Google Wallet and/or Isis. Says Mashable (at that last link), “Isis was born last year, and aside from allowing mobile payments, it’ll also give you the ability to redeem coupons via their mobile payment service. It’s planned to debut in several unnamed major cities next year and will monetize by charging marketers a fee for sending offers to consumers’ phones.”

Earth to Big Boys: We’ll pay for value, including services that make our wallets serve us, and not just the marketing mills of the world.

When we have full independence, we will also have the ability to engage as equals in agreements and contracts. The legal dance online will need to resemble the legal dance offline, which is in the background. In the same way that we don’t need to “accept” a written “agreement” to enter and shop at most stores in the physical world, we shouldn’t need to do the same online. We should be able to bring agreeable terms with us, match them with those of sellers, electronically, without the intervention of lawyers or forms to sign, and do business. In other words, freedom of contract needs to obsolete contracts of adhesion, and the calf-cow system of asymmetrical non-relationships we’ve had online since the dawn of the cookie.

Listening to Brad Horowitz talk with Tim O’Reilly, I sense that Google is also tired of the old cookie-based paradigm of e-commerce. Helping make the customer independent, starting with his or her own wallet, is a great way to start breaking that paradigm.

The problem, as Google is discovering though the “nym wars”, is identity. People take that one personally.

To get a better angle on the issue, let’s look more closely at Microsoft’s Hailstorm. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time. Here’s a much longer piece by Clay Shirky, also from back then.

Microsoft saw Hailstorm as (among other things) a way to compete with AOL, which was the Facebook of its time. Hailstorm’s main feature was Passport: a then-new single-sign-on authentication service. The idea was to have Passport login buttons appear everywhere, like Facebook buttons do now (though far less securely than Passport, which didn’t spill your social guts by default). Such buttons provided Single Sign-On, or SSO.

Joe Wilcox’ unpacked Hailstorm and Passport in March 2001 for CNET. An excerpt:

HailStorm is a group of services, using Microsoft’s Passport authentication technology, meant to provide secure access to e-mail, address lists and other personal data from virtually anywhere via PCs, cell phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants). The catch? Users of the services will be required to pay a fee to use them. Analysts said that if the HailStorm model is widely adopted–and if people will pay a premium for security–the days of ad-subsidized Internet services, such as free e-mail and messaging, may be over.

“HailStorm is absolutely the test of can you make money on the Web,” saidGartner analyst Chris LeTocq. “But to get there, you have to offer people something they are willing to pay for. That will be the test for Microsoft.”

Microsoft executives are confident that the time is right for HailStorm. “There’s been a lot of stuff (on the Internet) in the last couple of years that was free and interesting, but people weren’t actually willing to pay for it,” said Charles Fitzgerald, director of business development in Microsoft’s platform strategy group. “We want to pursue a model that lets us deliver a lot more value in an economic fashion so that we all can get paid every two weeks like we’re used to.”

One big difference: Google isn’t looking to make money with fees here. In fact they say clearly that they are not. But Google is looking to make money their old-fashioned way, which is with “second and third order effects” that will manifest in due time.

Here’s what’s the same: Passport was an identity service. Which Eric Schmidt says Google+ is now.

Microsoft failed because they thought their platform (Window plus .Net) was bigger than the Net and the Web. (In the now-gone Hailstorm white paper, they talked about “moving the Web” in a new direction.) Google knows better.

Still, the game is the same. That game is turning users into customers.

In competitive terms, Facebook and Google will both have users. But Google will have the customers — even if they’re not customers of Google’s services directly. Google will be helping customers use their wallets, while Facebook will be stuck at SSO.

But Google vs. Facebook, or anybody vs. anybody, is the wrong way to look at the market opportunities opening up in the Intention Economy. Because the Intention Economy isn’t a supply-side game. It’s a demand-side game. The slate is fresh, but not blank. Two groups are already there:

  1. VRM developers, working to equip customers with tools of both independence and engagement. (Automobiles, rather than seats on railroad cars.)
  2. Fourth parties, working on behalf of customers, helping them build out their personal demand chains. These can include any service company an individual employs — that is, pays, to help work with the third and second parties of the world (numbered from the customer perspective). We’re talking here about banks, insurance companies and anything called an agency, plus all the new companies coming into the personal services and personal data store businesses. These might include parties the individual doesn’t pay, but that clearly are in business mainly to help individuals (first parties) rather than second and third parties. That qualifies Google, should they wish to join.

There is a lot happening with VRM here that we’re not ready to talk about yet. (No, none of it involves Google Wallet, at least not yet.) But demand chain (Craig Burton‘s term) hints strongly at where we’re going.

Investors take note.

VRooMing along

A quick progress report on a number of VRM fronts.

First, lots of action around TrustFabric.org, a VRM company in South Africa. To get some background on context, start with KYC: Know Your Customer. This good-sense imperative takes on official qualities when banking is involved, or holes are left for criminals to slip through. In South Africa it takes form in the Financial Intelligence Centre Act, aka FICA (not to be confused with the U.S.’s Federal Insurance Contributions Act, which shows up on personal income taxes every year). Turns out FICA is a pain in the butt for honest folks. But with problems come opportunities. Joe Botha explains TrustFabric’s this way:

“Most of us who interact with banks, mobile phone companies and ISPs have come to fear the terms FICA and RICA. We know the pain involved in scanning and faxing copies of identity documents and proof of residence invoices. The endless duplication, which in the case of FICA often has to be repeated every three months can feel pointless and like a huge waste of our time,” says Joe Botha, CEO of TrustFabric.

TrustFabric has built a free service, which lets users securely store and selectively share their FICA documents.

Users create a TrustFabric Connect account and upload FICA documents to their Document Store. They create a unique link for each business that requires their documents. Connections to their Document Store are password protected. Users have the option to define an expiry date and receive notifications when their documents are accessed.

The Document Store service is an extension of the TrustFabric Connect service. TrustFabric Connect gives users a way to define how businesses are allowed to contact them via email, phone, text message and snail mail.

“TrustFabric is a Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) service. Businesses use CRM to manage relationships with their customers, while VRM provides customers with tools to manage relationships with businesses.” says Botha. “The new service is a natural extension of this ethos as it puts power back in the hands of the customer. It relieves both the business and the customer from the frustration, duplication and bureaucratic nightmare that is common to FICA processes.”

Here’s more on TrustFabric Connect. Here’s a story on Joe and TrustFabric. And here’s another explaining TrustFabric Connect as “a do-not-contact list that lets individuals opt-out of direct marketing, makes it easy for businesses to comply with legislation protecting customer rights and update existing customers.”

Next, relevantly, two stories on MyData in the U.K.: Consumers to have access to personal marketing data held by businesses—A new scheme, mydata, plans to “empower” consumers by giving them access to personal information held by businesses in the Guardian. Mydex is involved. I am also told that the U.K. government gets how big this is, and is taking the lead.

Gam Dias brings us vrm, fourth party and the empowered consumer, a long and thoughtful blog post. The key excerpt:

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.

David Dorf in Oracle’s Insight-Driven Retail Blog writes a nice post about VRM titled CRM vs. VRM. He calls VRM,

…a reverse CRM of sorts.  Instead of vendors managing their relationships with customers, customers manage their relationships with vendors.

Your shopping experience is not really controlled by you; rather, its controlled by the retailer and advertisers.  And unfortunately, they typically don’t give you a say in the matter.  Yes, they might tailor the content for “female age 25-35 interested in shoes” but that’s not really the essence of you, is it?  A better approach is to the let consumers volunteer information about themselves.  And why wouldn’t they if it means a better, more relevant shopping experience?  I’d gladly list out my likes and dislikes in exchange for getting rid of all those annoying cookies on my harddrive.

He adds,

The closest thing to VRM I can find is Buyosphere, a start-up that allows consumers to track their shopping history across many vendors, then share it appropriately.  Also, Amazon does a pretty good job allowing its customers to edit their profile, which includes everything you’ve ever purchased from Amazon.  You can mark items as gifts, or explicitly exclude them from their recommendation engine.  This is a win-win for both the consumer and retailer.

So here is my plea to retailers: Instead of trying to infer my interests from snapshots of my day, please just ask me.  We’ll both have a better experience in the long-run.

I should add that it’s been VRM+CRM from the start, though “vs” works in this case. (And we’re working on setting up the next VRM+CRM workshop. Hope David and some Oracle folks can make it.)

Alan Patrick writes VRM, Loopt and the Reverse-Groupon Effect. “…the thing that keeps me interested in VRM is that part of me thinks that if (i) the power of today’s web was harnessed (ii) with modular product design ansd (iii) the sheer numbers online now, it may become a reality.”

On Twitter @ScottEustace suggests that Seth Godin‘s Show me the (meta) data is a VRM post. Could be. Says Seth,

Who owns the trail of digital breadcrumbs you’re leaving behind?

Is understanding who you know and how you know them and where you visit and what you’re interested in and what you buy worth anything?

Perhaps you should own it. Richard Thaler’s provocative idea shouldn’t be that provocative, and it represents a significant business opportunity. He argues that you (not some company) ought to own your caller history, your credit card history, etc. If it was available to you as a machine-readable file, you could easily submit it to another company and see if there was a better deal available. You could make your preferences and your history (you, basically) portable, and others could bid for a chance to do better for you.

This is an idea that feels inevitable to me, and I think that entrepreneurs shouldn’t wait for the government to require it. There are already services that scrape financial pages (like Mint), but it could go further. We need software on our phones that can remember where we go and what we do, software for our browsers that can create profiles that save us time and money, and most of all, software for our email that gets ever smarter about who we are and who we’re connecting to.

Data about data is more important than ever, and being on the side of the person creating that data is a smart place to be.

Can’t get much more VRooMy than that.

In his Loyalty Blog, Mark Sage suggests that the Pizza Express app is a glimpse into the future of VRM. A long excerpt:

This is a really interesting feature that both Pizza Express and Square have in common – the provision of customer data back to the customer – and it is becoming increasingly common as customers begin to expect their data to be collected, but increasingly consider it “their” data. When I shop at Tesco I know they are tracking my purchases, however when I go online and see new products added to my favourites list it begins to actually feel like my data.

This trend of providing information back to customers and giving them access to and ownership of it is also gathering pace.

Within websites and applications for example you are increasingly given the option to login via social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. While you still login, connecting via a social network provides a subtle change. You are actually granting permission to that application to connect to you rather than the other way round. At any time, I can review my relationships with different applications and simply close them down by removing the authorisation. I can also look at the permissions I’ve granted to those applications and change what information they can see.

There has been a transfer of power within identity management. It’s now my identity and I can choose who has access to it, how much access they have and when I want to end it.

Imagine this trend being extended to all your interactions.

Within a supermarket loyalty programme for example you could link your purchase history to an app from a CPG manufacture like Unilever. You’d be doing this in the full knowledge that Unilever could then access your purchases and provide you with relevant offers (or reward points). You’d be choosing how to use your information for your benefit.

This is a really amazing thought and something that has been termed VRM or Vendor Relationship Management…

Google is also ahead of this curve, with its Data Liberation Front. Says the Data Liberation team,

The Data Liberation Front is an engineering team at Google whose singular goal is to make it easier for users to move their data in and out of Google products. We do this because we believe that you should be able to export any data that you create in (or import into) a product. We help and consult other engineering teams within Google on how to “liberate” their products. This is our mission statement:

Users should be able to control the data they store in any of Google’s products. Our team’s goal is to make it easier to move data in and out.

People usually don’t look to see if they can get their data out of a product until they decide one day that they want to leave. For this reason, we always encourage people to ask these three questions before starting to use a product that will store their data:

  1. Can I get my data out at all?
  2. How much is it going to cost to get my data out?
  3. How much of my time is it going to take to get my data out?

The ideal answers to these questions are:

  1. Yes.
  2. Nothing more than I’m already paying.
  3. As little as possible.

There shouldn’t be an additional charge to export your data. Beyond that, if it takes you many hours to get your data out, it’s almost as bad as not being able to get your data out at all.

We don’t think that our products are perfect yet, but we’re continuing to work at making it easier to get your data in and out of them. Visit our Google Moderator page to vote on and add suggestions on what you’d like to see liberated and why.

And that’s pretty darned VRooMy too.

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.

VRM comes to (and from) Chile

VRM.cl is a new VRM effort in Chile. The site is in Spanish, but I’m having no trouble reading it translated by Google Chrome (a major advantage of that browser). It’s new, and they’re on Twitter as well, through @VRM_cl. I also added them to the blogroll on the right. We welcome them aboard the VRM development community, and look forward to following their progress.

CRM (Mag) digs VRM

Got an email a couple days ago from Andre Durand saying it was great to see VRM making the cover of the May 2010 edition of CRM Magazine. Well, “cover” doesn’t cover it. Seems like about half the magazine is devoted to VRM, or to what Cluetrain (which in many ways begat VRM) still says, ten years later, about the independence, autonomy and centrality of individual human beings to the workings of a healthy marketplace.

The link above and behind the image goes to a .pdf of the magazine. I’ve hardly had a chance to look at it yet (and it’s hard to my old eyes using a laptop screen with 1920 x 1200 resolution, which makes small print microscopic), but I just discovered that all the articles are here in .html form. Here’s the table of contents, with links:

This is a Big Deal. The original motives of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) were good ones, but far too much of CRM’s use by companies today is unfriendly rather than friendly to customers. The language is a give-away. Customers are “consumers” that companies “track,” “target,” “acquire,” “lock in” and “manage” as if they were animals or slaves. Not that CRM pros are bad people or slave-drivers. (Quite the contrary: all the CRM people I know are fine folks.) Just that with CRM, relationships tend to be under the control of the vendor rather than the customer. With VRM, customers are in charge of their sides of relationships with multiple vendors in the connected retail environment. Once this becomes real, the whole system — and the marketplace with it — changes. And it won’t change unless VRM and CRM work together. As the techies put it, we need AND logic, rather than OR.

The good folks at CRM Magazine see that. And for that we owe huge thanks to Tara Hunt, who made the original connections with CRM Magazine folks, and started conversations that fanned out to include many other folks doing good work in the VRM community. So, a big thank-you to her. Also to CRM Magazine for having the curiosity, vision and guts to look seriously at VRM and its development efforts — and to everybody in the VRM community for playing a part.

Lots of good work going on. Let’s keep it up.

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