Category: Scenarios (page 1 of 6)

#TakeBackControl with #VRM

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

This launch is personal.

It’s about privacy.

It’s about control.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can C2B customers lead in a dance with vendors like B2B customers do?

That question came to mind when I read Inside Facebook’s Fantastic Plan To Dominate Cisco’s $23 Billion Market, by Julie Bort, in Business Insider. The gist:

To recap: OCP launched two years ago to create “open source” data center hardware. That means hardware vendors like HP, Dell and Cisco don’t control the product designs. Instead, customers like Facebook and Goldman Sachs do.

OCP is the Open Compute Project.* What matters about the project, for our purposes, is that it models a way for a customer to relate to a vendor: taking the lead in the dance, rather than just following.

A question for VRooMers is, Can we as individual customers do the same thing? I’m thinking we can. One way is through personal clouds, including scenarios such as the one Phil Windley describes here. I am sure there are many others. So I’ll leave detailing those up to the rest of you. :-)

*BI, like too many other ad-funded Web publishers, doesn’t link to OCP, but instead to its own page full of stories about OCP. This is unhelpful, selfish and at variance with nature of the Web itself.  More about that here. (BTW, I’m guessing that the choice not to link is BI’s policy and not Julie’s, and would welcome correction on that.)

 

The VRM perspective

The VRM perspective is independence.Liberty Bell

This isn’t new. In fact, it’s as old as the Net. It is also nearly forgotten. Billions have never experienced it.

When the Net first came into common use, in 1995, independence was what anybody felt who started up a browser and surfed from place to place, or who built a site on a domain of one’s own, with its own name and email addresses.

To do anything substantive on the Net today, we use personalized services that require us to live inside corporate walled gardens. We have these with Google apps and Drive, Apple’s iCloud, and “social” systems such as Facebook and Twitter. Adobe and Microsoft are also now pushing hard for us to rent software as a service (SaaS), so we no longer own and run software for ourselves on our own machines.

Bruce Schneier compares today’s walled gardens to castles in a feudal system. We are vassals within these systems. Our job with VRM is not to fight these systems, but to equip individuals with their own tools of independence and engagement: to make them the points of integration for their own data, and of origination for what gets done with it.

To cease being vassals requires that we possess full agency: the power to act, with effect. We cannot do that without tools that are ours alone. Just as our bodies and souls are ours alone, yet also work in human society, we need tools that are ours alone, yet also work in the world of connections that comprises the Net.

To operate with full agency we need a full box of VRM tools — plus two other things. One is substitutability of the services we engage. The other is freedom of contract.

Substitutability means we have a choice, say, of intentcasting services, of quantified self gizmos and service providers, of health care data and service providers, and of trust networks and personal cloud service providers — just as we have a choice today among email service providers, including the choice to host our own email.

Freedom of contract means we don’t always have to subordinate our power and will to dominant parties in calf-cow ceremonies (e.g. clicking “accept” to one-sided terms we don’t read because there’s no point to it). We can design automated processes by which both parties come to mutually respectful agreements, just as we have with handshake agreements in the physical world.

Both of these virtues need to be design principles for VRM developers. If they are, we can save the Net by empowering ourselves.

 

Toward a matrix of APIs

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Toward the Internet of Everythings

So @xl_cr tweets,

Do you really believe the customer is in charge? If so check out @dsearls @vrm or visit ProjectVRM at http://projectvrm.org  #vrm

Since ProjectVRM.org is the shortcut to http://blogs.harvard.law.edu/vrm, that link goes here.

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

Ever upward.

Empowering buyers through invention.

“Webify your world with a Twine. http://t.co/cQxQLx7Z via @supermechanical— xl_cr

The shortlink goes to http://supermechanical.com/twine/. Twine is a gizmo that looks like this:

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

Some copy:

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

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

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

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

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

Can we each be our own Amazon?

The most far-out chapter in  is one set in a future when free customers are known to be more valuable than captive ones. It’s called “The Promised Market,” and describes the imagined activities of a family traveling to a wedding in San Diego. Among the graces their lives enjoy are these (in the order the chapter presents them):

  1. Customer freedom and intentions are not restrained by one-sided “agreements” provided only by sellers and service providers.
  2. — service organizations working as agents for the customer — are a major breed among user driven services.
  3. The competencies of nearly all companies are exposed through interactive that customers and others can engage in real time. These will be fundamental to what calls .
  4. s (now also called intentcasts), will be common and widespread means for demand finding and driving supply in the marketplace.
  5. Augmented reality views of the marketplace will be normative, as will mobile payments through virtual wallets on mobile devices.
  6. Loyalty will be defined by customers as well as sellers, in ways that do far more for both than today’s one-sided and coercive loyalty programs.
  7. Relationships between customers and vendors will be genuine, two-way, and defined cooperatively by both sides, which will each possess the technical means to carry appropriate relationship burdens. In other words, VRM and CRM will work together, at many touch-points.
  8. Customers will be able to proffer prices on their own, independently of intermediaries (though those, as fourth parties, can be involved). Something like EmanciPay will facilitate the process.
  9. Supply chains will become “empathic” as well as mechanical. That is, supply chains will be sensitive to the demand chain: signals of demand, in the context of genuine relationships, from customers and fourth parties.
  10. The advertising bubble of today has burst, because the economic benefits of knowing actual customer intention — and relating to customers as independent and powerful economic actors, worthy of genuine relationships rather than coercive — bob will have became obvious and operative. Advertising will continue to do what it does best, but not more.
  11. Search has evolved to become far more user-driven and interactive, involving agents other than search engines.
  12. ‘s will be taken for granted. There will still be businesses that provide connections, but nobody will be trapped into any one provider’s “plan” that excludes connection through other providers. This will open vast new opportunities for economic activity in the marketplace.

In , Sheila Bounford provides the first in-depth volley on that chapter, focusing on #4: personal RFPs. I’ll try to condense her case:

I’ve written recently of a certain frustration with the seemingly endless futurology discussions going on in the publishing world, and it’s probably for this reason that I had to fight my way through the hypothesis in this chapter. However on subsequent reflection I’ve found that thinking about the way in which Amazon currently behaves as a customer through its Advantage programme sheds light on Searls’ suggestions and projections…

What Searls describes as the future for individual consumers is in fact very close to the empowered relationship that Amazon currently enjoys with its many suppliers via Amazon Advantage…  Amazon is the customer – and a highly empowered one at that.

Any supplier trading with Amazon via Advantage (and that includes most UK publishing houses and a significant portion of American publishers) has to meet all of the criteria specified by Amazon in order to be accepted into Advantage and must communicate online through formats and channels entirely prescribed and controlled by Amazon…

Alone, an individual customer is never going to be able to exert the same kind of leverage over vendors in the market place as a giant like Amazon. However individual customers online are greater than the sum of their parts: making up a crucial market for retailers and service providers. Online, customers have a much louder voice, and a much greater ability to collect, organise and mobilise than offline. Searls posits that as online customers become more attuned to their lack of privacy and control – in particular of data that they consider personal – in current normative contracts of adhesion, they will require and elect to participate in VRM programmes that empower them as individual customers and not leave them as faceless, impotent consumers.

So? So Amazon provides us with a neat example of what it might look like if we, as individuals, could control our suppliers and set our terms of engagement. That’s going to be a very different online world to the one we trade in now.  Although I confess to frustration with the hot air generated by publishing futurology, it seems to me that the potential for the emergence VRM and online customer empowerment is one aspect of the future we’d all do well to work towards and plan for.

From the start of ProjectVRM, Iain Henderson (now of The Customer’s Voice) has been pointing to B2B as the future model for B2C. Not only are B2B relationships rich, complex and rewarding in ways that B2C are not today (with their simplifications through customer captivity and disempowerment), he says, but they also provide helpful modeling for B2C as customers obtain more freedom and empowerment, outside the systems built to capture and milk them.

Amazon Advantage indeed does provide an helpful example of where we should be headed as VRM-enabled customers. Since writing the book (which, except for a few late tweaks, was finished last December) I have become more aware than ever of Amazon’s near-monopoly power in the book marketplace, and possibly in other categories as well. I have heard many retailers complain about “scan and scram” customers who treat brick-and-mortar stores as showrooms for Amazon. But perhaps the modeling isn’t bad in the sense that we ought to have monopoly power over our selves. Today the norm in B2C is to disregard that need by customers. In the future I expect that need to be respected, simply because it produces more for everybody in the marketplace.

It is highly astute of Sheila to look toward Amazon as a model for individual customers. I love it when others think of stuff I haven’t, and add to shared understanding — especially of a subject as protean as this one. So I look forward to the follow-up posts this week on her blog.

VRM/CX + CRM/CX

I’ve been in conversations lately about VRM+CRM. Will they help each other out or crash into each other? It’s an open question. But I think we can find an answer in a current CRM vector: toward what the CRM folks have been calling CX, for Customer eXperience. I first read about it in this column by Mitch Lieberman in October 2010. That was when he met with RightNow, which was later acquired by Oracle. You can see and read the results in this list, which is roughly in chronological order:

Experience is a personal thing. When two parties are engaging with each other, it’s something both create. That’s the challenge here.

How can we make the most of both serial and parallel activities and virtues in customer-vendor relationships? I invite our friends from the CRM/CX world to weigh in here.

And come to this:

It’s on 7-8 August in Minneapolis. I’ll be there. So will a bunch of VRM companies and projects, plus other parties interested in that subtitle there: new directions for personal data.

[This was the second half of Scaling business in parallel, but I decided to break it in two and move the second part here.]

Scaling business in parallel

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

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

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

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

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

business, serial

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

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

business, parallel

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

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

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

customer, serial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

Working for you

As more native VRM tools come into the hands of individuals, what happens to the whole supply chain? Or, put another way, what happens to supply in general when there are more and better ways of expressing demand?

I was talking a couple days ago about that with Michael Stolarczyk, one of the world’s leading authorities on supply chains and logistics, when he brought TaskRabbit up. He pointed to this piece in Wired, and it got me thinking about fourth parties.

Right after that conversation I had lunch with Jose B. Alvarez of Harvard Business School, and a former CEO of Stop & Shop/Giant-Landover. One of the points he made was this: “The original purpose of a merchant was to serve as an agent for the customer.”

In other words, second parties (vendors) were also what we’ve been calling fourth parties. That is, agents for the customer.

I think this is where Cluetrain was going in the first place with “Markets are conversations.” In Customer Loyalty Programs That Work, in Working Knowledge (also from Harvard Business School, and published that same day), Maggie Starvish probes Jose’s work on loyalty programs, and concludes with these paragraphs:

“We’re at a place where technologies allow for retailers to have two-way, back-and-forth interactions with customers,” says Alvarez. “With smartphones, you have location-based information, so you can communicate with customers where they actually are.”

Successful loyalty schemes require advanced technology—and age-old techniques. “It’s about going back to the basic roots and origins of retailing,” says Alvarez. “Talk to the customer, listen, find out what they want, and get it for them.”

VRM tools are ones that are the customer’s first, serving individuals as independent actors in the marketplace. In that sense neither TaskRabbit nor current loyalty schemes qualify as pure VRM tools. But the movements here are very friendly toward VRM, and I believe will welcome (or help toward) the emergence of pure VRM tools. Those would be ones, for example, with which the customer arrives with their own means and devices for saying “Hi. Listen. Here’s what I’m looking for.” If real conversation follows — even if it’s between digital agents for both sides — our goal with VRM will be met.

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