Category: open source (page 2 of 3)

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.

VRM at IIW

VRM was a hot topic at IIW last week, with at least one VRM or VRM-related breakout per session — and that was on top of the VRM workshop held at Ericsson on Monday, April 30, the day before IIW started. (Thanks to Nitin Shah and the Ericsson folks for making the time and space available, in a great facility.) Here’s a quick rundown from the #IIW14 wiki:

Tuesday, May 1, Session 1

Tuesday, May 1,Session 2

Tuesday, May 1, Session 3

Tuesday, May 1,Session 4

Tuesday, May 1,Session 5

Wednesday, May 2, Session 1

Wednesday, May 2,Session 2

Wednesday, May 2,Session 3

Wednesday, May 2,Session 4

Wednesday, May 2,Session 5

Thurssday, May 3,Sessions 1-5

On Friday, May 4, I also visited with Jeremie Miller, Jason Cavnar and the Locker Project / Singly team in San Francisco. Very impressed with what they’re up to as well.

Bonus IIW linkage:

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.

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

left r-buttonright r-buttonFor as long as we’ve had economies, demand and supply have been attracted to each other like a pair of magnets. Ideally, they should match up evenly and produce good outcomes. But sometimes one side comes to dominate the other, with bad effects along with good ones. Such has been the case on the Web ever since it went commercial with the invention of the cookie in 1995, resulting in a calf-cow model in which the demand side — that’s you and me — plays the submissive role of mere “users,” who pretty much have to put up with whatever rules websites set on the supply side.

Consistent with Lord Acton’s axiom (“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”) the near absolute power of website cows over user calves has resulted in near-absolute corruption of website ethics in respect to personal privacy.

This has been a subject of productive obsession by Julia Anguin and her team of reporters at The Wall Street Journal, which have been producing the What They Know series (shortcut: http://wsj.com/wtk) since July 30, 2010, when Julia by-lined The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets. The next day I called that piece a turning point. And I still believe that.

Today came another one, again in the Journal, in Julia’s latest, titled Web Firms to Adopt ‘No Track’ Button. She begins,

A coalition of Internet giants including Google Inc. has agreed to support a do-not-track button to be embedded in most Web browsers—a move that the industry had been resisting for more than a year.

The reversal is being announced as part of the White House’s call for Congress to pass a “privacy bill of rights,” that will give people greater control over the personal data collected about them.

The long White House press release headline reads,

We Can’t Wait: Obama Administration Unveils Blueprint for a “Privacy Bill of Rights” to Protect Consumers Online

Internet Advertising Networks Announces Commitment to “Do-Not-Track” Technology to Allow Consumers to Control Online Tracking

Obviously, government and industry have been working together on this one. Which is good, as far as it goes. Toward that point, Julia adds,

The new do-not-track button isn’t going to stop all Web tracking. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people’s Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as “market research” and “product development” and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers.

The do-not-track button also wouldn’t block companies such as Facebook Inc. from tracking their members through “Like” buttons and other functions.

“It’s a good start,” said Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “But we want you to be able to not be tracked at all if you so choose.”

In the New York Times’ White House, Consumers in Mind, Offers Online Privacy Guidelines Edward Wyatt writes,

The framework for a new privacy code moves electronic commerce closer to a one-click, one-touch process by which users can tell Internet companies whether they want their online activity tracked.

Much remains to be done before consumers can click on a button in their Web browser to set their privacy standards. Congress will probably have to write legislation governing the collection and use of personal data, officials said, something that is unlikely to occur this year. And the companies that make browsers — Google, Microsoft, Apple and others — will have to agree to the new standards.

No they won’t. Buttons can be plug-ins to existing browsers. And work has already been done. VRM developers are on the case, and their ranks are growing. We have dozens of developers (at that last link) working on equipping both the demand and the supply side with tools for engaging as independent and respectful parties. In fact we already have a button that can say “Don’t track me,” plus much more — for both sides. Its calle the R-button, and it looks like this: ⊂ ⊃. (And yes, those symbols are real characters. Took a long time to find them, but they do exist.)

Yours — the user’s — is on the left. The website’s is on the right. On a browser it might look like this:

r-button in a browser

Underneath both those buttons can go many things, including preferences, policies, terms, offers, or anything else — on both sides. One of those terms can be “do not track me.” It might point to a fourth party (see explanations here and here) which, on behalf of the user or customer, maintains settings that control sharing of personal data, including the conditions that must be met. A number of development projects and companies are already on this case. All the above falls into a category we call EmanciTerm. Much has been happening as well around personal data stores (PDSes), also called “lockers,” “services” and “vaults.” These include:

Three of those are in the U.S., one in Austria, one in France, one in South Africa, and three in the U.K. (All helping drive the Midata project by the U.K. government, by the way.) And those are just companies with PDSes. There are many others working on allied technologies, standards, protocols and much more. They’re all just flying below media radar because media like to look at what big suppliers and governments are doing. Speaking of which… :-)

Here’s Julia again:

Google is expected to enable do-not-track in its Chrome Web browser by the end of this year.

Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president of advertising at Google, said the company is pleased to join “a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘Do Not Track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls.”

White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Daniel Weitzner said the do-not-track option should clear up confusion among consumers who “think they are expressing a preference and it ends up, for a set of technical reasons, that they are not.”

Some critics said the industry’s move could throw a wrench in a separate year-long effort by the World Wide Web consortium to set an international standard for do-not-track. But Mr. Ingis said he hopes the consortium could “build off of” the industry’s approach.

So here’s an invitation to the White House, Google, the 3wC, interested BigCos (including CRM companies), developers of all sizes and journalists who are interested in building out genuine and cooperative relationships between demand and supply::::

Join us at IIW — the Internet Identity Workshop — in Mountain View, May 1-3. This is the unconference where developers and other helpful parties gather to talk things over and move development forward. No speakers, no panels, no BS. Just good conversation and productive work. It’s our fourteenth one, and they’ve all been highly productive.

As for the r-button, take it and run with it. It’s there for the development. It’s meaningful. We’re past square one. We’d love to have all the participation we can get, from the big guys as well as the little ones listed above and here.

To help get your thinking started, visit this presentation of one r-button scenario, by Adam Marcus of MIT. Here’s another view of the same work, which came of of a Google Summer of Code project through ProjectVRM and the Berkman Center:

(Props to Oshani Seneviratne and David Karger, also both of MIT, and Ahmad Bakhiet, of Kings College London, for work on that project.)

If we leave fixing the calf-cow problem entirely up to the BigCos and BigGov, it won’t get fixed. We have to work from the demand side as well. In economies, customers are the 100%.

Here are some other stories, mostly gathered by Zemanta:

All look at the symptoms, and supply-side cures. Time for the demand side to demand answers from itself. Fortunately, we’ve been listening, and the answers are coming.

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

Stop making cows. Quit being calves.

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

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

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

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

calf-cow

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

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

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

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

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

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

1995: Invention of the Cookie.
The End.

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

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

Personal Event Network

Look at the three items indside the personal cloud:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOPA and Customer Commons

Imagine that Customer Commons had been created a year ago. To guide that imagining, here is the copy that matters from the placeholder page:

Customer Commons is about us.

  1. We are a com­mu­nity of customers.
  2. We are funded only by customers.
  3. We serve the inter­ests and aspi­ra­tions of customers.

We are the 100%

Customer Commons is a companion organization to ProjectVRM, and in the long run will be its successor. Think of ProjectVRM as the launch pad and rocket for getting VRM development and research into orbit — and of Customer Commons as the rest of the universe.

So the future is wide open.

SOPA, however, is about enclosing some of the Universe’s commons, which is essentially NEA:

  1. Nobody owns it
  2. Everybody can use it
  3. Anybody can improve it

What would we — the 100% who are customers — be doing about SOPA?

Customer Commons is just in the planning stages now. We want it up and running by the time The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge comes out in May. What should it be and how would it work?

All thoughts welcome.

P.S. ProjectVRM is a Berkman Center project, and therefore does not take an advocacy position on matters of public debate, such as SOPA — which is why this blog is not offline or blacked out today.

FWIW, my own (naturally optimistic) point of view is well expressed by Harold Feld in SOPABlackout And the “Internet Spring”.

Customers are personal, cont’d

There are so many excellent comments and questions following my last post, Consumers are social, Customers are personal, that I decided it would make more sense to address them in a new post than in comments under that one. So here goes.

Joshua Marsh, the CEO of Conversocial, writes,

I’m interested in your comment that social media is only semi-personal – could you expand on that point?

I think what you could be getting at is the current lack of tie up between social identity and customer records, which is a challenge (but one that can be overcome), and one we are working on. Or do you mean something else?

There can be additional benefits to customers for taking their customer service issues into social media over other channels. Once companies wake up to the fact that there are public complaints and issues on their Facebook pages, in tweets when people search for their company names etc, they will often start delivering better customer service over social than they do through other channels. The fully public nature of the issues and resolutions forces them to deliver the best service they can. I believe this will drive a virtuous circle – as companies deliver better service through social, more and more customers will begin to use it as a service channel.

First, I want to make clear that when we talk about “social media” today we mostly mean Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other commercial services. Not telephony, email, texting, instant messaging and other social activities that have been around for a long time but tend not to get included in the “social media” category.

Three things make social media less than fully personal:

  1. As CRM Software said in another commment, “your conversations are personal yet public.”
  2. We don’t own social media. Yes, we use them, but they are not ours. They belong to Twitter, Facebook, Google or whomever. For what it’s worth (and it’s a lot), we can own domains on the Web and elsewhere. We can own email systems. We can own IM systems. We can be our own publishers, syndicate our own postings. Standards and protocols such as TCP/IP, HTTP, IMAP, POP3, SMTP, RSS and XMPP make that possible. Those standards and protocols give us independence, which is a founding virtue of the Net, of the Web, of blogging, of instant messaging. Those standards and protocols are used by social media, but we remain dependent rather than independent within social media environments. So it is critically important to remember and preserve the distinction between independence and dependence on the Net.
  3. Social media are designed to be personal, but in a social context. Facebook is for sharing with friends. Twitter is for following others and being followed. Linkedin is for sharing personal profiles. Google+ is for “real life sharing,” they say. Sure, we can get personal benefits out of social media, but as a collateral benefit more than as a core purpose.

The thing is, when all you’ve got are social hammers, even personal problems look like social nails. And this is what we are doing when we use social media to fix the problems of CRM and customer service, on either the vendor’s side or the customer’s. Yes, lots of progress has been made on the sCRM front, Conversocial is a leader in that movement, is clearly doing a good job, and should continue doing that. Yet, as individual customers we still lack a box of tools that are ours alone, and that help us relate personally with the companies whose goods and services we buy and use.

This is why a community of developers has been working on building out the tools called VRM, for Vendor Relationship Management, to work as customer-side counterparts of vendors CRM — Customer Relationship Management — systems.

About identity: yes, it’s critical. The quesitons around it are huge. For example, are we — as sovereign, independent and self-actualized human beings — who we say we are? Or are we reducible to our @-handles and “social identities” on the likes of Facebook? When Mark Zuckerberg introduced Facebook Connect in 2008, he said it would make it easy “for you to take your online identity with you all over the Web.” Note the presumption: that your handle with Facebook is “your online identity.” Sorry, but it isn’t. It’s handy as a shortcut, but it’s not who you are.

But in fact I was talking about something other than identity in that last post. I was talking about working on what’s personal in more than just social ways.

Louis Columbus writes,

1. The depth and breadth of personal information being shared on social media is creating advertised-based business models that will surpass Google AdWords’ revenue within five years or less. That’s coming thanks to the torrent of data that streams into social networks daily.

2. Improving customer service systems is indeed not enough because it still doesn’t strike to the center of what really needs to happen. Companies need to translate process efficiencies into more relevant, timely and focused customer experiences. The dividend of process efficiency needs to be spent on greater empathy for the customer. Profits will follow if a company can get its head around the concept of delivering an exceptional experience.

3. VRM shows potential to make each interaction more relevant, focused and over time, trusted.

Bottom line: the companies who will emerge stronger for all this turbulent change will stay focused on customer experience, empathy and intimacy as their compass and not waiver from that course.

Louis’ predictions about the future of advertising may be true. But remember: even highly personalized advertising is still guesswork. And no amount of personal data can empower any company, no matter how smart, to guess what I want or need next. Nor do I want that. First, most of the time I’m not buying anything. Second, when I am ready to buy something, I need instruments that help me express my intentions more than I need ones that are guessing what I might want and pushing something at me through a medium that’s paid to do the pushing.

This is why I believe what will emerge over the next five years is not a more personal attention economy (led by social media) but an intention economybased on what customers actually want. This is why I wrote The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge, for Harvard Business Review Press, which is due to hit the shelves on May 1.

I agree with Louis’ second point about what companies need to do; and will add that the customer experience should be one for which the customer is at least partly responsible. Also that the experience of relationship should extend across many vendors in the same way, rather than working in isolation with each vendor. For example, I would like as a customer to experience changing my address with many vendors at once. No vendor working alone with one CRM system can deliver this experience. VRM is required for that, along with CRM systems that welcome simple and standard address-changing methods that work the same way across many different vendors.

I also agree with Louis’ bottom line: that vendors will have to be “focused on customer experience, empathy and intimacy.” And I believe this will require that customers welcome VRM tools when customers carry their own weight on their own sides of relationships.

Don Peppers writes,

One additional thought about the future of social media: Today, social media is funded by advertisers (the real “customers”), and provides a mechanism for giving them access to consumers. But this will almost certainly change as more and more social media services and platforms become open source. An open-source, community-developed platform for social interaction will unify consumers and customers, no?

When Twitter first appeared on the scene, for example, it took many months before the first commercial money began funding it. The consumers it served all worried that without some kind of external funding, the service might disappear. Sooner or later, we’ll find that IT and communications costs have become so low that very little, if any, commercial sponsorship will be required to sustain a genuinely consumer-oriented social media platform.

I believe we won’t get fully-developed one-to-one relationships (that link goes to the seminal work on the topic, buy Don Peppers and Martha Rogers) without significant contributions of code and standards from free and open source developers. You’ll find many in the roster of VRM developers and developments, but we need many more.

I also think we need to free ourselves from the knee-jerk belief that commercial sponsorship is the first-option business model for popular services on the Net. The successes of the Net, the Web, email, RSS and much else have long since disproven that belief.

In the long run far more economic activity will be supported by free and open standards, protocols and other building materials, than by commercial services paid for by advertising.

As for the promise of both social media “big data” for better customer relations, I like what Alan Mitchell said in his comment:

…there is a vast difference between the sharing of unstructured information on a one-to-many basis (social media), and the sharing of structured information on a one-to-one basis (VRM). As you point out, only the latter allows for real personalisation.

Alan has been a leading figure in VRM development, by the way.

Hanan Cohen writes,

Many people say that “Social media users are not customers of them, they are the product being sold.”

I think that we are the suppliers and try to prove it here;

http://info.org.il/english/The-Users-are-the-Suppliers.html

Can you please get in touch with an economics scholar you trust and ask her to sort out the difference in definitions?

It is quite true that we are upstream suppliers of valuable content to social media, and not just consumers of services, and Hanan makes many good points at that link.

As for distinctions between consumers and customers, I like what Doug Rauch — the former President of Trader Joe’s — told to me when I was working on my book: that consumers are “a statistical category.” “We believe in honesty and directness between human beings,” Doug said. “We do this by engaging with the whole person, rather than just with the part that ‘consumes.'”

Hope that helps.

Prototyping a new business model for everything

For IIW next week, and I have been working on a prototype demonstrating , using on the  app from .  The description at the EmanciPay link is minimal so far, but the model has a great deal of promise, because what it puts forward is a new business model for all kinds of stuff: easy voluntary payments from anybody for anything, to escrow accounts where the money can be picked up by the intended recipient with no strings attached. The first target is public radio (as it has been, ever since the earliest ProjectVRM meetings at the ), but it could easily apply to and other media as well.

We still need financial institutions to weigh in and take up a new business model for themselves, and it would be cool if some of them showed up at IIW next week for that, but in any case we’re taking one small step in the direction of a major sea change in the way markets for media work.

I’ve been making test contributions to different public radio stations, using the EmanciPay prototype. Craig has hacked a way for this to show up in my Twitter stream. You can see those here.

Google’s Wallet and VRM

Yesterday Google opened the curtain on Google Wallet. I think it’s the most important thing Google has launched since the search engine. Here’s why:

Reason #1: We’ve always needed an electronic wallet, especially one in our mobile phone. And, although others have tried to give us one, it hasn’t worked out for them, because…

Reason #2: We’ve needed one from somebody who doesn’t also have a hand in our pocket. Google WalletGoogle is the only company in the world that can pull this off, because it’s the only company in the world that lives to commodify exactly the businesses that desperately need commodification, and to await interesting consequences. I can’t think of a single company that’s better at causing tsunamis of commodification so they can join hundreds of other companies, surfing them to new shores. List the things Google does but doesn’t make money with, and you’ll have a roster of businesses that needed commodification. What Google looks for is what JP Rangaswami and I call because effects: you make money because of those things, not with them. (Note, not talking about “monetization” here. A subtle distinction.) A Google lawyer once told me this strategy was “looking for second and third order effects.” Same thing. Either way, they’re out to give us — and retailers we do business with — a hand. (But they will need to keep it out of our pockets, which includes data we consider personal. We’re the ones to say what that is, and others — including Google, Sprint, Citi and the retailers — need to respect that.)

Reason #3: This reduces friction in a huge way. It’s not an exaggeration when Google says this on their Vision page for the project:

In the past few thousand years, the way we pay has changed just three times—from coins, to paper money, to plastic cards.

Now we’re on the brink of the next big shift.

What weighs your wallet down? What slows you down at checkout? Sometimes it’s pulling out cash, but most times it’s dealing with cards. In the last few years every store, it seems, has been piling on with loyalty cards and keyring tags. This last week Panera Bread started, and watching the results have been a clinic in business fashion gone wrong. The poor folks behind the counter are now forced to ask customers if they have a Panera bread card, and the customers have to either say no (and feel strange), or to produce one from their wallet or key ring. Yesterday I asked the person behind the counter how she liked it. “We don’t need it, and customers don’t want it,” she said. “We’re only doing it because every other store does it. That’s all.” That’s a pain in the pocket nobody needs.

Says Google,

Google Wallet has been designed for an open commerce ecosystem. It will eventually hold many if not all of the cards you keep in your leather wallet today. And because Google Wallet is a mobile app, it will be able to do more than a regular wallet ever could, like storing thousands of payment cards and Google Offers but without the bulk. Eventually your loyalty cards, gift cards, receipts, boarding passes, tickets, even your keys will be seamlessly synced to your Google Wallet. And every offer and loyalty point will be redeemed automatically with a single tap via NFC.

This assumes that the ecosystem will continue to support the kind of loyalty programs we have today. It won’t, because we won’t and that brings me to…

Reason #4: Now customers can truly relate with vendors. That is, if Google Wallet and participating retailers and other players welcome it. See, CRM — Customer Relationship Management — has thus far been almost entirely a sell-side thing. It’s how companies related with you, not how you related with them. They set the rules, they provided the cards, they put up the websites where you filled out long complicated forms, they send you the junk mail, and they do the guesswork about what you might want, usually because you’ve bought something like it before. But what if your phone has your shopping list? What if you want to advertise what you’re looking for, as a personal RFP for something you need right now, and may never need again? Think of this as advertising in reverse, or what Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) calls “Broadcast Shopping”. This is one example of how …

Reason #5: Now demand can signal supply in great detail. Until now, about the only signals we could send were with cash, cards, and whatever might percolate up the corporate CRM chain from “social” CRM. There’s a lot here (see Brian Solis’ Converation Prism, for example, or follow Paul Greenberg). But those all depended on second (vendor) or third parties (all the petals in Brian’s prism, which actually looks more like a flower). They weren’t your signals. I see no reason why the open commerce ecosystem shouldn’t include that. Why should customers always be the dependent variables and not the independent ones? Speaking of independence…

Reason #6: Now you have your own pricing gun. You can tell a store, or a whole market, what you’re willing to pay for something — or what you might offer along with payment, such as information about your other relationships, or the fact that you just moved here and are likely to be shopping at this store more. (Or that you’re a high-status frequent flyer with another airline, and considering the same for this one.) Why not?

Reason #7: You can take your shopping cart with you. Back when e-commerce began, in 1995, my wife’s sister was the VP Finance for Netscape, so that company was something like family for us, making my wife (not a technical type) an early adopter. One of her first questions back then was one that exposes a flaw that’s been in e-commerce from the start: “Why can’t I take my shopping cart from one store to another?” At least conceivably, now you can. Let’s say you want to shop at Store B while you’re at Store A. This already happens when you scan a QR or a barcode with your smartphone to see if it’s cheaper at Amazon or something. But what if you want to be more sophisticated than that? The implications for retailers can be scary, but also advantageous. After all, retailers have physical locations, which Amazon doesn’t. Retailers can earn loyalty in ways that are as unique as each store, and each person working at a store.

Reason #8: Now you can bring your own data with you. Inevitably, you will have a personal data store, vault, lockerdata wallet (yes, it’s already called that), trust framework — or other combination of means for managing and selectively sharing that data in secure, trustworthy and auditable ways. And your data doesn’t just have to be about shopping. Personal tracking and informatics are getting big now (read Quantified Self for more). That’s stuff we bring to the market’s table as well. The wallet in one’s phone seems a good way.

Reason #9: Now you can actually relate. When a customer has the ability to shop as well as buy, right in his or her wallet — and to put shopping in the contect 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.

Reason #10: Now you’re in a free and open marketplace. Not just the space contained by any store’s exclusive loyalty system. Nor in a “free” market that’s “your choice of captor” (which is one of the purposes of loyalty programs).  Along those same lines…

Reason #11: You don’t have to play calf to every store and website’s cow. The reason you can’t take your shopping cart with you from store to store on the Web is that e-commerce normalized from the start on the calf-cow, slave-master architecture of client-server computing. This is what turned the Web from a peer-to-peer, end-to-end egalitarian greenfield into fenced-off ranchland where vendors built walled gardens for “consumers” who fed on the milk of each site’s exclusive offerings, and also got cookies that helped calf and cow remember each other, but which sometimes also tracked the calves as they wandered off into other gardens. It was a submissive/dominant system from the get-go, and has been flawed for exactly that reason ever since. Google Wallet, at least conceptually, gives you ways in which you can relate to anybody or anything, on your terms and not just theirs. And not just in the old commercial-Web-based calf-cow system. You can divine the bovine right in your pocket, and avoid or correct vendors trying to feed you tainted milk or tracking cookies.

I could go on, but I have a book to write and not much time left. But I consider Google Wallet a move of profound importance, even if it doesn’t work out, so I’m putting this list out there for us to correct, debate or whatever else we need to do . At the very least Google Wallet gives us one thing a BigCo is doing that can mesh well with what the VRM development community has been working on for the last few years. I hope the synergies will get everybody excited.

[Later, in August…] Some additional news:

Stay tuned.

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.

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