Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 3)

Market intelligence that flows both ways

This post is about creating a whole new customer-company relationship system, based in what Jon Udell and Phil Windley call The Internet of My Things. This system opens up a boundless frontier of market intelligence that flows both ways: from companies to customers, and from customers to companies. It obsoletes customer service as we know it today, and brings the best of truly personal (rather than “personalized”) customer service into the Internet Age. The examples I use are of products that have problems; but this post is not about those products or the companies that made them — although I would love for those companies to participate in the paradigm shift that is about to take place.


A couple years ago I bought a pair of moccasins at a shopping mall kiosk in Massachusetts. The brand was LAMO and the name was Mens Moc: Here’s one:

I like them a lot. They’re very comfortable and warm on winter mornings. In fact I still wear them, even though they are falling apart. Here is how they look now: You can see that the leather, laces and stitching are all fine. So is the wool lining. The problem is the sole. It has dried up and cracked into pieces. Every time I wear it, chunks fall off. In fact, I first thought about writing this when a piece of a heel with a LAMO logo on it looked up at me from under my desk. But I’m wearing them now, and I’ll probably keep wearing them after the soles come off completely. I would like to help LAMO learn from my experience. As of today, here are the four main choices for that:

  1. Do nothing (that’s the default)
  2. Send them an email
  3. Go on some website and talk about it. (A perfect Leighton cartoon in the March 17 New Yorker shows a couple registering at a hotel while the person behind the counter says, “If there’s anything we can do to make your stay more pleasant, just rant about it on the Internet.” So that’s a less used but common default.) 
  4. Get “social” by tweeting to @LAMOfootwear or whatever they’ve got on Facebook. (I avoid Facebook and haven’t checked.) For wisdom on “social” relations between brands and (presumed) fans, see Bob Hoffman‘s recent talk.

But we can improve on that, by giving these moccasins their own little virtual cloud, where LAMO and I can share intelligence about whatever we like — starting (on my side) with reports on my own experience. Phil Windley calls these clouds picos, for persistent compute objects. They have their own operating system (CloudOS), and don’t need intelligence on board. Just scan a QR code, and you’ll get to the pico. Here’s the code on one of my LAMO moccasins:

Go ahead and scan the code with your phone. Or take the short cut and click on it. You’ll get to a page that says it’s my moccasin.

But if I scan it, I can see whatever notes I’ve taken. Or whatever LAMO has put in there, with my permission. Also whatever programming has been done on it. Such as this logic: IF this is scanned, THEN send LAMO a note that Doc has a new entry in our common journal. Likewise, LAMO can send me a note saying that there is new information in the same journal. Maybe that information is a note telling me that the company has changed sole manufacturers, and that the newest Mens Mocs will be far more durable. Or maybe they’ll send a discount on a new pair. The correct answer for what goes in the common journal (a term I just made up — we’re in tabula rasa-ville here) is: whatever.

And that’s the key to the future of customer service, customer relationship management (CRM), call centersloyalty programs, continuous improvement and other business ideals. Go to those links (all to Wikipedia), and you’ll find most of them have “issues.” The reason they have issues is simple: the customer is not involved with any of them. They are industries talking to themselves. This is an old problem and it can only be fixed on the customer’s side. Before the Internet, solving things from the customer’s side — by making the customer the point of integration for their own data, and the decider about what gets done with that data — was impossible. After the Internet, it’s very possible, if we get our heads out of business as usual and put them back in our own lives. This will be good for business as well.

For example, last summer I had meetings with two call center companies, and reviewed this scenario:

  1. A customer scans the QR code on her cable modem
  2. This triggers a message to the call center saying “this customer has scanned the QR code on her cable modem”
  3. The call center checks to see if there is an outage in the customer’s area, and — if there is — how soon it will be fixed
  4. The call center sends a message back saying there’s an outage and that it will be fixed within X hours

In both cases they said “We want that!” Because they really do want to be fully useful. And — get this — they are programmable. Unfortunately, in too many cases they are programmed to avoid customers, or to treat them as templates rather than as individual human beings who might actually be able to provide useful information. This is old-fashioned mass-marketing thinking at work, and it sucks for everybody. It’s especially bad at delivering (literal) on-the-ground market intelligence from customers to companies.

Call centers would rather be sources of real solutions rather than just customer avoidance machines for companies and anger sinks for unhappy customers. The solution I’m talking about here takes care of that. And much more.

Now let’s go back to shoes.

I’m not a hugely brand-loyal kind of guy. I use Canon cameras because I liked the 5D‘s user interface more than the competing Nikon, and Canon’s lens prices were lower. Not because Canon photos were better. (I still prefer Nikon color, low-light performance and hand grip.) I use Apple computers because they’re easy to get fixed and I can drop into a Unix command line when I need to. I drive a Volkswagen Passat because I got mine at a good price from a friend moving out of the country. And I buy Rockport shoes because, on the whole, they’re pretty good.

Used to be they were great. That was in the ’70s and early ’80s when Saul and Bruce Katz, the founders, were still in charge. That legacy is still there, under Reebok ownership; but it’s clear that the company is much more on the mass marketing operation than it was back in the early days. Still, in my experience, they’re better than the competition. That’s why I buy their shoes. Rockports are the only shoes I’ve ever loved. And I’ve had many.

Here is a photo I just took of wear-and-tear on two pairs of Rockport casual shoes I often wear:

Shots 1 and 2 are shoes I bought in June 2012, and are no longer sold, near as I can tell. (Wish they were.) Shots 3 and 4 are Off The Coast 2 Eye, which I bought in late 2013, but didn’t start wearing a lot until early this year. I bought both at the Rockport store in Burlington Mall, near Boston. I like that store too.

The first pair has developed a hole in the heel and eyelet grommets for the laces around the side of the shoe. The hole isn’t a big deal, except that it lets in water. The loose eyelets are only a bother when I cross my feet sitting down: they bite into the other ankle. The separating outer sole of the second pair is a bigger concern, because these shoes are still essentially new, and look new except for this one flaw. A design issue is the leather laces, which need to be double-knotted to keep from coming undone, and even the double-knots come undone as well. That’s a quibble, but perhaps useful for Rockport to know.

I’d like to share these experiences privately with Rockport, and for that process to be easy. Same with my experiences with LAMO moccasins.

It could be private if Rockport and LAMO footwear came with QR codes for every pair’s pico — it’s own cloud. Customers would buy the cloud along with the shoe. And then they would have their own shared journal and message space, as well as a programmable system for creating and improving the whole customer-company relationship. They could also get social about their dialogs in their own ways, rather than only in today’s Facebook and Twitter, which are the least private and personal places imaginable.

This kind of intelligence exchange can only become a standard way for companies and customers to learn from each other if the code for picos is open source. If Rockport or LAMO try to “own the customer” by locking him or her into a closed company-controlled system — the current default for customer service — the Internet of Things will be the Compuserve + AOL + Prodigy of things. Those “online services” were as close as we could get to the Internet before the Internet itself — an open source system at its base — came along. Even sending emails from one of those services to the other was nearly impossible. Customers were captive inside silos.

One big thing that made the Internet succeed was substitutability of services. Cars, banks, and countless other product categories you can name are large and vital because open and well understood standards and practices at their base have made substitutability possible. Phil Windley says we can’t have a true Internet of Things without it, and I agree.

Far as I know, the only code ready to begin scaffolding picos is Phil’s CloudOS and KRL. But for these — or anything like them — to catch on, we’re going to need a lot more developers thinking outside the silos that comprise the entirety of Internet of Things work going on now. This post is an appeal to those developers.

By the way, Phil believes that cars are the best vertical to start out with. I think he’s right. But shoes are in front of me right now, so I’m using them as an example. And the example works for everything. Literally.

Why Facebook buying WhatsApp is good for #VRM

WhatsFace is a huge deal for VRM, but not just in the ways we’re hearing about so far.

For example, Henry Blodgett is right that Facebook paying $19 billion dollars in cash and stock for WhatsAppis a bargain. Hey, WhatsApp is a real business with a half-zillion customers, growing at a phenomenal rate, and a great platform for more revenue models. Sarah Lacy nails this point too, and adds wisdom about valuations.

And Xeni is right that “dominance in the developing world” is another big reason why it’s a smart move. Josh Constine and Kim-Mai Cutler at TechCrunch agree. (Great chart there, though SMS needs to be in it too, because it would still dwarf everything else.)

And lots of other folks are also right to say that WhatsFace will be a threat to Amazon, Apple, Google, mobile carriers and other big players.

But Zach Seward in Quartz scores a #VRM bulls-eye with WhatsApp’s anti-ad philosophy is really a broad new vision for mobile. He brings me in too, with a quoted blast from the distant past:

But there’s something else, more fundamental: a disquieting suspicion that, in the long run, advertising simply might not work for the mobile web.

“No one wakes up excited to see more advertising, no one goes to sleep thinking about the ads they’ll see tomorrow,” Koum wrote in 2012. It echoed a prophesy that writer Doc Searls made about the web all the way back in 1998: “There is no demand for messages.”

Of course, Searls wasn’t talking about the kind of person-to-person messages that WhatsApp specializes in. Rather, he was pushing the idea that the internet would lead to the erosion of mass media where messages—think corporate marketing or political messaging—could be imposed on people no matter what. That happened to an extent, but most of the web’s big businesses—Facebook chief among them—can fairly be described as mass media. At any rate, they have been successful selling ads.

What if things are different—and much closer to Searls’s vision—on the mobile internet? Koum certainly thinks so: ”Cellphones are so personal and private to you that putting an advertisement there is not a good experience,” he said last year. He has described mobile messaging as a utility akin to water or gas.

Or perhaps, well, a phone company. After all, WhatsApp transmits 18 billion messages a day, but doesn’t send any itself.

I wrote that line a year before Chris Locke, Rick Levine, David Weinberger and I put up The Cluetrain Manifesto. But, even though Cluetrain is best known for the line “markets are conversations,” its most radical and prophetic clue was actually this one, by Chris:

It was for lack of “dealing with it” — business welcoming free and independent customers — that I posted The Intention Economy in Linux Journal in March 2006. It’s also why I started ProjectVRM later that same year — and why I reported on VRM work in The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012). There are now more than 100 listings on our VRM Development Work page. The creation of WhatsFace just made that work much more valuable. Here is why I think so.

It’s a worldwide millennial thing. As Xeni pointed out, many or most of Whatsapp’s half-billion customers are in geographics and demographics where Facebook is post-peak. These people communicate primarily by text and hate paying the extractive fees required by carriers for SMS.

WhatsApp has real customers. Not just consumers. The 99¢/year Whatsapp charges is 99¢ more than users are paying now for Facebook itself. This means Facebook has, for the first time, consumers who are also customers. Having a paid relationship with customers who are not mere consumers (or, in the lingo of the drug and computer industries, “users”) is a huge thing. It closes a split that not only troubles Facebook, but Google and every other business with an advertising-only model. And think about this possibility (or from where I sit, certainty): what made Whatsapp especially valuable and distinctive from the start was not having advertising. It says advertising on mobile has net-negative value — not for advertisers, who are out of the loop, but for human beings using mobile devices. Here in the VRM development world we’ve been been waiting for the advertising bubble to deflate, and now Facebook makes $19 billion bet on it. This should yank the veil off the eyes of everybody who still thinks advertising is going to “pay for the free Web” or whatever. It never really did, and it never will. Real business will happen here, in addition to the stuff that was free before advertising came along. Lots of it will happen directly, between anybody and everybody. And remember, Zuck never liked advertising. (Seen the movie? Zuck’s antipathy toward advertising drove a major sub-plot that still hasn’t played out.) Oh, and putting Jan Koum, WhatsApp’s CEO, on Facebook’s board gives Facebook a good heart to go along with its smart heads.

The holy grail of mobile payments is within reach. WhatsApp already integrates audio, video and photography. Next up: voice service to beat Skype’s and conference calling to beat Skype’s and everybody else’s. Why not? Skype has been idle since Microsoft bought it and the rest of them suck in their own ways. Payments will be harder, and there are political and regulatory hurdles (plus huge competitors, some of which might be potential partners). But soon the electric slab your pocket might finally integrate with your wallet.

Next up: intentcasting. How long before you point your phone at a pair of shoes, or a QR or barcode for any product, and either ask the seller (by text) if they have it in the size and color you want, or advertise your desire to the world, either socially (telling friends) or privately (telling nobody but potential sellers who agree to your terms)? Play a little API and programming jazz and you’re in business. (“You” being anybody, or, of course, Facebook.)

The tech matters. Whatsapp uses a customized version of XMPP (originally called Jabber), the open protocol created by Jeremie Miller and the team now working on Telehash. I bring this up not for WhatsFace, but for the rest of us. There are plenty of free and open building materials laying around. Go build something.

Here are some places to start, where #VRM has already blazed some paths to the frontier.

Truly personal clouds. I’m talking about your own secure and fully personal virtual spaces in the connected world, not just places to store stuff. These personal clouds will have their own open source operating systems (e.g. CloudOS), programming languages (e.g. KRL), privacy canon (e.g. the Respect Trust Framework) and protocols (e.g. XDI).

Integration with the Internet of Things. I wrote about this a year ago here. Phil Windley explains here how every thing (which he calls a pico, for persistent compute object) can have its own cloud. And how those clouds can live in your cloud. And how they can interact with other things, and service, and APIs, programatically.

Customer service run by customers. Right now CRM — customer relationship management — is broken in this one simple and single way: You can’t relate in one way to every company, but must go inside each one’s closed silo to do anything, in different ways in which the company calls all the shots and you call exactly none. Wouldn’t it be much cooler to be able to change your address or phone number one time for every company you deal with, and not separately? And wouldn’t it be much better if you and the companies you deal with had shared spaces where you both kept usage records, product updates, contact information and everything else? This is do-able. I wrote about it here in an HBR post.

Better economic signaling. Intentcasting is one example. Another is people running their own customer service platforms, for everything they care about, in their own clouds. (As in the last two items above.) In both cases customers will be able to signal intentions (about shopping, buying, requiring service, whatever) far more efficiently and consistently. And the failings of advertising, which Don Marti has done a great job unpacking.

Market based marketing. Once free customers prove more valuable than captive ones, marketing will find that actually talking to people will have a lot more leverage than trying to herd them like cattle, or force them to operate inside feudal empires.

The pendulum is swinging away from centralization, back toward the distributed nature of the Net as it was designed in the first place. Here is how Paul Baran described the Net’s future architecture in 1962:

Ever since the Net went viral in 1995, companies and governments have been trying to stuff the distributed genie back inside the centralized (or by compromise, decentralized) bottles. Now, in post-Snowden time, we’re learning the errors of those ways, and are  ready for truly distributed solutions. It should help that some of us around ProjectVRM are already downstream in that direction.

Personal = Sovereign

We are all different.different

We look different, we sound different, we think and act different. Even soldiers marching lock-step in uniform are all different. Emperor Qui Shi Huang recognized this fact by having his sculptors put a different face on every soldier in the terracotta army.

Even identical twins are not identical.

Devon Loffreto has a useful word for this state. He calls it sovereign. Here are a few of his posts on the matter:

I wrote about it here:

For as long as we’ve had identifiers in computer and network system namespaces, we have been talking about administrative identities, not sovereign ones.

All administrative identities are silo’d: isolated inside systems and their namespaces. The Internet, which cyber-utopians (me included) cheer for its decentralized peer-to-peer and end-to-end architectural graces, has become a vast forest of centralized systems, each a silo. This Great Silo Forest is a hall of administrative mirrors. Your reflection in each is not you, but an administrative version of you.

Want a sense of how bad this is? Go into your browser prefs and hunt down the place where your logins and passwords are kept. Every one of those login/password combinations is for a different you, that each different system knows separately, owns separately and controls separately.

The concern in that post is identity. That’s personal, but so is much else: personal spaces, personal possessions, personal preferences, personal relationships and so on. What do we mean by personal in each of those cases?

In the physical world, the meaning is obvious, and the usage so common that we use the pronouns my and mine. But in the virtual world the boundaries are not so clear. Is the data a company collects about me really mine?

Yet we need to develop better  understandings, better definitions, better vocabularies — before the norms of the still-young virtual world catches up with the physical one, where civilization has been around for millennia.

I heard last night from a colleague that a word gaining currency with some young people is sovereign. In the past it was a word that applied mostly to countries and governments. Says the Free Dictionary,

adj.

1. Self-governing; independent: a sovereign state.
2. Having supreme rank or power: a sovereign prince.
3. Paramount; supreme: Her sovereign virtue is compassion.
4. a. Of superlative strength or efficacy: a sovereign remedyb. Unmitigated: sovereign contempt.

Since so much of what we do as persons in the virtual world was once do-able only by large organizations (computing and networking, for example), this makes sense.

And, given our much our personal spaces and our agency have been compromised, sovereignty is a state devoutly to be wished for.

Here is how Chris Locke put it in The Cluetrain Manifesto, fifteen years ago:

we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.

While privacy is a huge concern, and something about which VRM developers have much to offer, it tends also to be understood in defensive terms.  Sovereign is more positive, and has a great deal of dignity as well.

So I’m rooting for it.

Big Data, meet Big Privacy

Look up “big data” (with the quotes) today on Google, and you’ll results that look like this:

Basically, a heap of hype. The only visible organic search results are a Wikipedia article and the a May 2011 report that McKinsey wrote for corporate customers. I am sure some of those same customers are among the advertisers hogging acreage in search results.

Whenever you see a money river that gets bigger and bigger while flowing in a circle, you’ve looking at a mania. That’s what we see here, and in Google Trends as well:

Big Data today is entirely an obsession of the B2B (Business to Business) world. It may fuel B2C (Business to Consumer); but the consumer does not participate except as a source of data and as a target for marketing messages guided by Big Data analytics. So, while we get to witness the Big Data mania as individuals, we don’t participate in it.

But we will.

Think about computing before it got personal around the turn of the ’80s. Before then, “personal computer” was an oxymoron. But eventually computers became something everybody had. Today our phones are computers. The same thing happened with networking. Before the Internet got huge in the mid-’90s, networking was something companies and governments did.  Today computing and networking are fully personal as well as fully corporate. And far more value is generated by people computing and networking than by companies doing it only with themselves and each other.

It’s a good bet that Big Data will follow the same path. Individuals will be able to do far more with data of all sizes than would ever be possible in the B2B world alone.

Meanwhile, the B2B appetite for “big data,” and eagerness to use it to market at us, has raised privacy as an issue. Back in the pre-Internet world, privacy wasn’t very controversial. We all knew what it was, and how to protect it most of the time. In the new digital world, we don’t, except through relatively primitive means, such as ad and tracking blocking. In The Rise of Ad Blocking, published in August 2013, PageFair found an average ad blocking rate of 22.7%. On some browsers it’s much higher:

This is the market speaking.

So is Big Privacy: Bridging Big Data and the Personal Data Ecosystem Through Privacy by Design, a paper published today by Ann Cavoukian, Ph.D. and Drummond Reed. Ann is the Information & Privacy Commissioner for Ontario, Canada, and Drummond is Co-Founder and CEO of Respect Network. Ann is also behind Privacy By Design, which “advances the view that the future of privacy cannot be assured solely by compliance with legislation and regulatory frameworks; rather, privacy assurance must become an organization’s default mode of operation.”

Both Ann and Drummond are coming from the customer side of the C2B relationship. In other words, they are coming from the need for VRM ways to solve market problems and open up new opportunities. It also goes straight after “big data”:

Recent technological and business developments have given rise to a new understanding of personal information. It is now being compared to currency and energy1—often being referred to as “the new oil.” It is an economic asset generated by the identities and behaviors of individuals and their technological surrogates. These metaphors, which express its increasing economic value to organizations, ring especially true in the case of Big Data. Indeed, Big Data derives economic value from its use of personal information to such an extent that if personal information is considered to be “the new oil,” then Big Data is the machinery that runs on it.

However, like our current dependence on fossil fuels, Big Data’s current use of personal information is unsustainable, increasingly resulting in “pollution” via privacy infringement. At the moment, individuals have little, if any, control over their information’s use and disclosure in Big Data analytics. In addition to a host of privacy concerns, this lack of informational self-determination gives rise to an uneven exchange of the economic value. While the owners of Big Data algorithms profit from their use and disclosure of personal information, the individuals the personal information relates to do not—at least not directly. If not properly addressed, the privacy and economic concerns raised by Big Data threaten to decrease individuals’ willingness to share their personal information—in effect, cutting off the flow of the “oil” on which the analytic “machinery” of Big Data runs.

The report describes the Personal Data Ecosystem (PDE) as “the emerging landscape of companies and organizations that believe individuals should be in control of their personal information and directly benefit from its use, making available a growing number of tools and technologies to enable such control,” adding (in boldface type), “So if privacy infringement is the negative externality that Big Data frequently ignores, the PDE is the emerging positive externality that can turn the combination into a positive-sum outcome where both data subjects and Big Data users benefit.
The paper defines Big Privacy this way:

Big Privacy is Privacy by Design writ large, i.e., it is the application of the 7 principles of Privacy by Design, not only to individual organizations, applications, or contexts, but to entire networks, value chains, and ecosystems, especially those that produce and use Big Data. The goal of Big Privacy is the systemic protection of personal data and radical personal control over how it is collected and used. Radical control is an embodiment of “informational self- determination”—the right enshrined in the German Constitution relating to the individual’s ability to determine the fate of one’s information.12 This means that it must be possible to assure whole populations that their privacy is being respected because the network, value chain, and/or ecosystem producing and processing Big Data has implemented Privacy by Design at a system-wide level, enabling individuals who consent to the use of their personal information to reap a proportion of the benefits. 

The paper goes on to detail seven architectural elements of Big Privacy:

  1. Personal Clouds
  2. Semantic Data Interchange
  3. Trust Frameworks
  4. Identity and Data Portability
  5. Data-By-Reference (or Subscription)
  6. Accountable Pseudonyms
  7. Contractual Data Anonymization

These in turn leverage the  “Seven Foundational Principles of Privacy by Design”:

  1. Proactive not Reactive; Preventative not Remedial
  2. Privacy as the Default Setting
  3. Privacy Embedded into Design
  4. Full Functionality – Positive-Sum, not Zero-Sum
  5. End-to-End Security – Full Lifecycle Protection
  6. Visibility and Transparency – Keep it Open
  7. Respect for User Privacy – Keep it User-Centric

ProjectVRM gets a mention. I’d also like to add a pointer to the Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium, which has done pioneering work in the PDI, and whose work pulls toward the future alongside ours here.

The paper also does the best job I’ve seen yet of explaining the Respect Trust Framework and XDI, both of which normally require a lot of mental chewing to get down. They still do; just less this time.

I’ve always thought that XDI was a brilliant and elegant solution looking for a problem. I still do. The difference now is that it’s found the right one.

Come to VRM & Personal Cloud Day

Tomorrow, Monday 21 October, is VRM and Personal Cloud Day at the Computer History Museum. Register at that link. It’s free. Or just show up. (Registering gives us a better idea of head count.)

It’s the time and place to brainstorm about both topics, plus what we’ll be discussing and moving forward the following three days at IIW, also at the CHM.

More details here.

It’s all about leverage on the future. So be there.

VRM happenings in France

Before I spoke briefly to the Cap Digital innovation cluster in Paris a few weeks ago, I asked how many in the audience had heard of VRM. Every hand went up.

FING, the Foundation Internet Nouvelle Génération, has been hip to VRM for some time. So have many of its members, which overlap with Cap Digital and other tech/business circles.

Companies such as Privowny (founded a by Hervé Le Jouan and HQ’d in Palo Alto) and OneCub are addressing multiple VRM challenges.

The latest bit of encouragement comes in the form of a tweet from @DigiWorldIDATE, posted from the DigiWorld Summit, a three-day event that wrapped today in Montpelier, France. The tweet is in this haystack here. If anybody was there and wants to report on what got talked about, please share it. From what little I read, sounds like it was good.

Bonus link.

 

An olive branch to advertising

Online advertising has a couple of big problems that could possibly be turned into opportunities. One is Do Not Track, or DNT. The other is blocking of ads and/or tracking.

In my last post I talked about how DNT might be turned into DNT-D, for Do Not Track – Dialog. Then I said a bit more about that in this post at Harvard Business Review. Note that DNT is one among many possible HTTP headers. If DNT bogs down in politics (which it already has to some degree), there is nothing to stop anybody from working on alternatives that create opportunities for agreement and productive hand shaking between users and sites.

On blocking of ads and tracking, I’ll start by leveraging this from my HBR post:

According to ClarityRay’s Adblock Report, issued in May of this year, the overall rate of ad-blocked impressions in the U.S. and Europe is 9.26%. Even if we discount the source (ClarityRay’s business deals with ad blocking), the rate of ad blocking is substantial. Mozilla shows 170.5 million downloads of Adblock Plus, with more than 3 million downloads in the last 30 days alone, and an average of 13.9 million daily users. That’s for just one add-on for one browser.

People are also taking action against unwanted tracking. All the major browsers support some form of Do Not Track (DNT) signaling by browser users to websites, and Microsoft is committed to turning it on by default with the next version of Internet Explorer.

But to engage, VRM can’t just draw lines in the sand. It will also provide ways to cross those lines, offer a handshake, and back that handshake by demonstrating new and better ways of doing business.

Next, here’s a list of ad blocking tracking monitoring and blocking services, listed in the ProjectVRM wiki:

Abine DNT+, deleteme, PrivacyWatch: privacy-protecting browser extentions

Collusion Firefox add-on for viewing third parties tracking your movements

Disconnect.me  browser extentions to stop unwanted tracking, control data sharing

Ghostery  browser extension for tracking the trackers

PrivacyScore  browser extensions and services to users and site builders for keeping track of trackers

And I’m sure that leaves out a few more.

This is all a natural reaction simple bad manners on the part of sites and some of their advertisers and third party partners. Civilization runs on manners. The whole Net runs on the form of manners we call protocols. These are simply agreements about how things get along. They take the form of working together. In most cases no agreements are signed.

This is very much the way things work in the open marketplaces of the physical world. When we go in to a store, we behave as civilized human beings, and the stores are discreet about following us. (Which they do in many cases, and we know, either tacitly or explicitly.)

When you walk out of a department store on Main Street or a mall, nobody follows you with their hand in your pocket, saying “I’m just following you around so we can give you a better experience.” Yet this is nearly pro forma on the commercial Web today, and why we have the growing list of work-arounds above.

Yet few of us want no advertising at all, anywhere. Most of us appreciate what advertising can do, and certainly what it pays for, which is many of the graces that constitute the Web we know, starting with search.

The advertising business does have a conscience. The IAB, for example, has a Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising. Leaders in that industry, such as John Battelle and Randall Rothenberg, have done much to address the industry’s problems with overreach.

But they can’t do it alone. We can help from our end. One way is by making DNT-D happen, or by coming up with something better that respects what only advertising can do (as well as what we’d rather not have it do). Another is by bringing industry reps and tech developers into dialog with some of the development work we’re doing.

A good place to do both, and to just get dialog going, is at IIW, the Internet Identity Workshop, an inexpensive unconference we hold twice per year at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. The next one will be on 23-25 October. Hope to see you there.

Bonus links from Zemanta (which I’m using experimentally here):

? as an “I want” hashtag

Last month Chris Carfi posted A Question of Intent, in which — in addition to much else — he vetted “?” as a hashtag signaling intent to buy. Or intent, period. Hey, we could make it mean whatever we like.

In any case, Twitter seemed like a good #intent router. Or, microblogging in general. I tried it once, as Chris notes in his post. Nothing happened. But one tweet does not a movement make.

Dave had a post yesterday, Hashtags and dollar signs, that visits the topic of hashtags in general, and how opportunity has been lost around the “$” hashtag that  Howard Lindzon and Stocktwits had been using, and Howard vetted for Twitter a while back. (In a tweet I actually saw at the time and now can’t find, because … never mind. Search is another dying horse I’d rather not beat.) Howard didn’t like Twitter “hijacking” the hashtag, for reasons that he gives at that link.

Still, I like the “?” hashtag for intent. In fact, I’d love to see it hijacked. I also like “⊂” for the first person (I, me, my, mine) side of a relationship, and “⊃” for the second person side (you, yours). Or to represent the buyer and the seller. Whatever. Hijack those too and have fun with them. Develop something.

We’ve been calling them “r-buttons”. But that’s up for grabs as well.

What matters is that we need simple vernacular symbols, widely used, that mean something. And we can’t just leave it up to the Twitters of the world to create and popularize them.

Opening VRM for Business

In his post The customer as god, Nic Brisbourne of the investment firm DFJ Esprit shows how he is both a smart and a patient man. He was smart to get hip to VRM three years ago…

Back in 2008-09 I wrote a few posts about Vendor Relationship Management (VRM), a conceptual framework for improving the customer experience of being advertised to which turns the traditional advertising model on its head by putting the customer in control of the adverts they see. In theory this should be better for everyone – the customer only sees ads that are relevant to things they want to buy or do, and the advertiser can avoids the waste of advertising to people who aren’t interested in their product.

Doc Searls and the other proponents of VRM have sketched out a technical architecture for the services that are required to make this vision a reality, the most important element of which is a personal datastore for each consumer which tells advertisers which products and services they are allowed to advertise. The datastore contains rich profile information which is valuable for advertisers, but the contents and access to the datastore are controlled by the consumer, who may choose to see no ads at all.

And he’s been patient waiting for developers to get their collective acts together…

I stopped writing about VRM in 2009 when it became clear that the practical challenges to implementing VRM were such that we were unlikely to see any successful startups in this area in the short term. I think the biggest challenge is getting consumers to engage with the concept, both by contributing to a personal datastore and then by updating their preferences so advertisers know what they might want to buy. For a service to work the data needs to be captured and the preferences inferred without any effort from the consumer, and to my knowledge nobody has found a way to do that.

I still believe in this vision of the future though. It is much more efficient than today’s advertising which, despite much improved targeting, is still mostly irrelevant to the consumer and increasingly simply not seen.

I’m writing about this now because I just read an interview with Doc Searls about his new book, The Intention Economy. The interview is a good reminder of the problems with the existing advertising system and how things will look different in the future. As I say, I still believe in the vision of VRM, but equally the path that gets us there still isn’t clear.

And, as an investor, he’s putting some clarifying bait on the table:

I think developments in smartphones and intelligent agents are bringing us closer to the point when that clarity will arrive though, and I’d be happy to hear from any startups working in this area.

Okay, so here is a list of VRM developers and projects. Who is going to step up?

Link wrangling

A list just from the #VRM hashtag, e.g. here and here.

Others from the open tab roster:

;lk

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