Category: user-driven (page 1 of 6)

Live blogging #Smalldata NYC

I’m at SmallData NYC, hosted by Mozilla.  What I’m writing here is not a report on the event (which will be up on the Web for all to see, soon enough), but rather my own #VRM-based riffs on what the panelists (and later the audience) are saying.  The purpose of an event like this is to get people thinking and talking. So that’s what I’m doing here.

  • New word for me: deconvolve. I like it, but gotta look it up.
  • Actual and clear intent is more valuable than inferred intent.
  • Whatever happened to AskJeeves-type search?  Such as “I’m looking for Michael Jordan the AI expert, not the basketball player.”
  • Thought: Why does search have to be so effing complicated.
  • The Net has no business model. That’s why it supports an infinitude of business.
  • At the moment a common (if not prevailing) business model on the Web is surveillance-based personalized advertising. This is not the same thing as the Web itself. If protecting your privacy,  or “becoming an exile” from surveillance fails to support this business model, it does not break the model so much as provide feedback on what isn’t working — or what else might work better. And it certainly does not “break the Web.”
  • “The Industry” is an interesting term. (One of the panelists “speaks for the industry.” I think here it means “commercial players on the Web.” In Hollywood it means Hollywood. I don’t think we’re even close to that level of metonymic maturity.
  • “Small animal taxidermy is specifically an eBay problem.” I think I just heard that.
  • I like “giving a user recommendations that are out of the cone of relevance.”
  • Cone of Relevance is a good name for a band.
  • Netflix recommendations are at least partly (or largely) about developing a long-term relationship with the company. Keeping subscribers. “If you know Netflix knows you, you’ll stay.”
  • Battlestar Gallactica, by pure numbers, has high correlations with a children’s show for 3 year olds. Possibly because watchers of the show have little kids. “The math works,” but the manners don’t.
  • On break, I’m with @Deanland, who sez, “All they seem to care about is how to glean information from people for the benefit of the sell side, with no discussion or apparent thinking about what the user wants, feels, means or cares about. The data is on a one-way street from buyer to seller, but only for the benefit of the seller, not the benefit of the buyer. Saying ‘It’s about serving them better’ actually means ‘We can sell them better.’ There is also a sense that it is a given that The Machine, run by the seller, can get all this information, with no conscious involvement at all by the people yielding the information.” (Hoping Dean — and others — will bring this up after the break. We’ve only had presentations so far, not discussions yet.)
  • Also from the audience on break: “We need a personal data silo. For the person, the #smalldata holder — not the marketing machine.”
  • Wendy Davis of Mediapost (moderator) is challenging the apparent belief, by the panel,  that more information about individuals held by companies is better for individuals. (I think she’s saying.)
  • I’m a person. I want my to do my own damn personalization. Just saying.
  • David Sontag, panelist, says usage data with Internet Explorer all goes to Microsoft.
  • “People get much more upset with bad personalization than no personalization.” (Not sure I got that down right.)
  • Chris Maliwat, panelist: It’s sometimes hard to perceive a company’s intentionality.
  • All these companies are in the train business. We’re passengers, whether we like it or not. Meanwhile, what we need are cars: instruments of independence, agency and personal utility — for ourselves, following our own intentions. I believe Mozilla is the only major browser that can fill this role, because it’s on our side and not on these companies’ side. The other browsers are all instruments of their parent companies.
  • A reason people don’t get more creeped out by all this surveillance and personalization, is that there have not yet been clear, big, news-making harms. Once that happens, the game changes.
  • David Sontag: “I can ‘t get a credit card that won’t share my information with other companies.”
  • Wendy: “How do researchers get users’ true intent?” (e.g. her gender may be irrelevant to her search, but The System notes her gender anyway)
  • Chris: Personalization is not about perfection, but about providing a range of choices.
  • Wendy: “Do people actually know what they want?” My answer: yes. And the assumption that people mostly don’t know is a flaw in The System. So is the assumption that we are in the market to buy stuff all the time. If I want to know the height of Mt. Everest, that doesn’t mean I want to go there, or buy mountaineering gear, or anything commercial.
  • Pat, from the audience, on intelligibility of recommendations: Pandora has filters that are domain aware… But lack of domain makes it harder to make recommendations intelligible.
  • So far all of this is inside baseball. Except the game isn’t baseball. It’s building out the system in Minority Report. But instead of “pre-crime,” it’s all about what we might call “pre-sales.” It’s this scene here.
  • The panel conversation is currently (I think) about the user’s intent “being understood.” So I find myself channeling Walt Whitman: I know that I am august. I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood. I see that the elementary laws never apologize. Also, Do I contradict myself? Very well then. I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes… The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me. He complains of my gab and my loitering. I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable. I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. I feel one of those yawps rising in me now.
  • A question from the back of the room for “opt in, rather than opt out.” (Of tracking and all that.)
  • Chris’s reply: “Google already exists.” The point is that Google and today’s Web giants are the environment. Deal with it.
  • Audience guy: There is an imbalance between their control and mine as an individual. Right.
  • Wendy: Targeting based on zip code isn’t especially personal. But what we’re talking about here is very personal. Doesn’t this raise issues?
  • Slobodan: Maybe the Net will become more like the insurance business. (Did I hear that right? Missed the point, though.)
  • Audience guy: What kinds of restraint exists now for users that don’t care about privacy at all — as with some young people.?
  • I stirred things up a bit at the end (my barbaric yawp, you might say), but it’s over now, so I’ll need to do my own wrapping later.

Currently 9:15pm, EDST.

Okay, next day, 5pm.

I had hoped that Dean, quoted above, would be called, but he wasn’t, so I raised my hand and said that what the panel had talked about up to that point was mostly inside baseball — a metaphor that at least Chris wasn’t clear on, because he asked me what I meant by it. What I meant was that all three of the panelists were inside The Industry. And what I tried then to do was get them to stand on the other side, the individual’s side, and look at what they do from that angle. When they asked what was being done on the individual’s side, I brought up VRM development, and volunteered Kenneth Lefkowitz of Emmett Global to speak as a VRM developer. Which he did.

So that was it, or as close as I’m going to get in a blog post. When the event goes up on the Web, I’ll add the links.

#VRM and the OpenNotice Legal Hackathon

The OpenNotice Legal Hackathon is happening now: 12 July 2014. Go to that link and click on various links there to see the live video, participate via IRC and other fun stuff.

It’s multinational. Our hosts are in Berlin. I’m in Tel Aviv (having just arrived from Sydney by way of Istanbul). Others are elsewhere in the world.

It’s moving up on 5pm, local time here, and 10am in New York.

I’m prepping for talking #VRM at this link here and  this link here.

Here are some core questions we’ll be visiting.

I’ll add more links later. This is enough to get us started.

#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.

On the geofences we’re already building

I was just pointed to the Geofencing Manifesto, “created by the audience at the SxSW 2014 workshop entitled ‘The Future Landscape of Geofencing Manifesto’ on Saturday, March 8th, 2014.” Leading the workshop were Jay Wilson (@jwsfl), Jenessa Carder (@expressanything) and Kevin Pound, all with SapientNitro, “a new breed of agency for an always-on world” that is “redefining how stories can be told across brand, digital and commerce.” Additional inks: workshopguidelines.

I salute their good efforts. Could be they’ll get farther with this than other agencies have. There are also some existing contexts they will need to consider as they press forward with this and similar efforts. So, to help with that,  I’ll run them down:

  1. There is work already going on here, by the EFFMozilla, ProjectVRM and others.
  2. The Geofencing Manifesto appears to be a marketing document. Meaning, it seems to be a form of outreach from marketing. It also frames the geofencing challenge — correctly — in the context of huge push-back against marketing by its targets.
  3. We have some manifestos already, starting with Cluetrain, which laid out the situation pretty well in 1999. It does help that marketing embraced Cluetrain rather enthusiastically, especially the idea that markets are conversations. (That was Cluetrain’s first thesis, expanded a few months later into a whole book chapter.)
  4. We are not just “consumers.” As Cluetrain put it, “we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.” Persons, people, individuals and customers are all better terms.
  5. There have never been mutual and consenting relationships between marketers and the people they call “targets,” and which they seek to “acquire,” “manage,” “control” and “lock in” as if they were slaves or cattle. For example, programs called “loyalty” involve all the words in that last sentence, and are by nature coercive. They are all different from each other as well, requiring the customer to maintain separate “relationships” with every marketing operation, which is a huge inconvenience and an industrial-age affront to the peer-to-peer design of the Net in the first place.
  6. Let’s face it: until we build those fences, and get tools of our own for managing real relationships, on our terms, all we’ll get from marketing is more respectful and conversational forms of the same old thing. Meaning it’s our job, not marketing’s.
  7. There is nothing in the history of marketing to suggests that it will work cooperatively with “consumers” to come up with something agreeable to both that will lock out all marketing intrusions. This is especially true in the Age of Data, because…
  8. Data is to marketing as blood is to Dracula. Telling surveillance-oriented marketing “Let’s work together on what we agree to let you suck from our necks” won’t get us very far in the dark and bat-filled night that the commercial Web has become.
  9. The only way to build fences that work is for us to build them ourselves, which is what we’ve been doing with ProjectVRM.
  10. Geo is an interesting angle, especially in the mobile world. I like it. Privacy in the physical world tends to be spacial, and matching that in the virtual world seems a good thing. Bonus link: Clothing as a privacy system.

So we invite Jay, Venessa, Kevin and other well-intended marketers to come check out the work already going on here and elsewhere. (A good place to start is at our development work list.) I also suggest they come as individuals and not as marketers. In other words, stand on our side of the fence. Trust me: doing that will make marketing a lot better than anything marketing can do alone, or with the help of cooperating “consumers.” (For more on the customer/consumer distinction, go here, here, here and here.)

Why Google and Facebook need to go direct

In Google sets plans to sell users’ endorsements, and describe new ways that Google and Facebook are taking liberties with users who have had nice things to say about companies’ products and services in the past, in contexts where they didn’t expect their words to turn into personal endorsements (especially ones for which they are not paid). Specifically,

Google on Friday announced that it would soon be able to show users’ names, photos, ratings and comments in ads across the Web, endorsing marketers’ products. Facebook already runs similar endorsement ads. But on Thursday it, too, took a step to show personal information more broadly by changing its search settings to make it harder for users to hide from other people trying to find them on the social network.

(on the left) An example of a Google shared endorsement…

The problem, privacy advocates say, is when Web companies use or display the personal information of users in ways the authors did not expect when they originally posted it.

“People expect when they give information, it’s for a single use, the obvious one,” said Dr. Deborah C. Peel, a psychoanalyst and founder of Patient Privacy Rights, an advocacy group. “That’s why the widening of something you place online makes people unhappy. It feels to them like a breach, a boundary violation.”

“We set our own boundaries,” she added. “We don’t want them set by the government or Google or Facebook.”

There is a simple reason why Google and Facebook feel free to take these kinds of liberties: we pay them nothing, so they feel free to make us the product they sell, rather than the customers they serve.

This kind of abuse (and it is exactly that) will cost more value than it adds, for example with the Times story and this post. Even if the costs aren’t obvious on bottom lines, the negative externalities are large, and growing.

So here’s a simple suggestion for both companies: go freemium. Charge for value-added services, such as genuine, accountable privacy, within circles that customers (no longer just “users” or “consumers”) help define. We are legion, and you are increasing our numbers every day.

Online advertising is already post-peak and possibly headed toward oblivion, at least for ads that aren’t whitelisted by the likes of Adblock Plus. Ad and tracking blockers and enlightened browser makers, all working for the demand side of the marketplace, have their fingers on a pulse that Google, Facebook and the other ad-supported Web companies ignore. Enlightened as they are about their algorithms, analytics and infrastructures, they are literally senseless toward the consumers they sell to their customers — and the far greater return on investment they would get if lots of those consumers were customers as well.

A couple years ago I heard a Google executive say the company would never “go direct” because it was an “engineering company” and that didn’t want to make less than $1 million per employee. The implication was that going direct would require lower-wage and lower-skill workers in call centers — and other forms of non-engineering-type overhead. Yet there are plenty of highly profitable companies that do high quality service (call centers and all) with plenty of margin. For example: Apple and Amazon.

The writing is on the wall, big guys. Time to wake up and smell the demand for respect, privacy and genuine service. It’s huge.

And, if you’re ready to talk about it (or anything), come to IIW the week after next, at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. It’s cheap. (Heck, Google is already a sponsor — and we do thank them for that.) It’s an unconference, so we can easily make “going direct” a topic there. (Hey, if you don’t, one of us will.)

Speaking of negative externalities, here’s the bonus linkage recommended by Zemanta:

Big Data will remain a Big Dud until individuals have their own

The impact of computing on the worldwide economy, and even on business, was subject to debate until it got personal around the turn of the ’80s. Same with networking before the Internet came along in the mid ’90s.

Big computing and worldwide communications — two capabilities that for decades were entirely the province of large organizations — exploded with boundless new value once they became personal. You and I can do far more with computing and communications today than companies and governments ever could with either when they ran those shows, and when both were just B2B businesses.

From the B2B perspective in 1980, personal computing was an oxymoron. If you wanted to do serious computing, you needed big machines on raised floors tended “data processing” professionals. There was no way individuals with desktop machines could do the same grade of work. That notion ended when human creativity was massively unleashed by tens of thousands of new apps that could do things for individuals — and organizations — that big machines and staffs never could.

Likewise, personal networking in 1993 was also an oxymoron — again from the B2B perspective.  Networks were things companies built, were a grace provided by giant telecom operators. Then the Internet came along, and subordinated those telecom operators (and cable operators as well) to the boundless new capacities of anybody with a computer and a connection to the vast new “cyber” spaces the Internet’s simple protocols opened.

What happened in both cases was individuals acquiring and exploiting capacities that were once exclusively corporate — and doing far more with those capacities than those corporations (and governments) ever could.

We forget those lessons when we look at “Big Data” today. In Is Big Data an Economic Big Dud? for example,  of The New York Times writes, “There is no disputing that a wide spectrum of businesses, from e-marketers to pharmaceutical companies, are now using huge amounts of data as part of their everyday business.” The whole piece is contained in the B2B frame: Big Data is something only big companies (and hot start-ups) have, care about, and put to use.

Yet to each of us nothing is bigger (or at least more important) than our own data. And nothing shifts attention farther away from what we can do with that data than assuming that others (especially marketers) know more about what we want and need than we do ourselves. Or that Big Data is something that only companies do and care about. This is exactly the mentality that held back computing in the mainframe age, and communications in the telecom age. (And we are being held back today to the very degree that those two old industries, and mentalities, continue to hold sway in our minds and our marketplaces.)

But we’ve seen this movie before and we know how it starts: with assumptions that it can’t be done. It can, and it will.

We are going to be able to do far more with our own data — and data, period — than big organizations ever could.

Bonus links:

For real customer engagement, “social” is inadequate

In Social’s Value Measured in Engagement Over Sales, eMarketer provided this revealing graphic:

There are trends here too:

…consumer engagement and brand lift were the No. 1 goals of social media marketing, each cited by 67% of respondents. This was up significantly from 2011, when those goals were cited by about 50% each.

Last year, using social media marketing to garner positive sentiment was the leading goal, whereas this year it dropped to No. 4.

They add,

Marketers may be finding that it is less important that their posts get a warm reception from social users and more important that they keep consumers posting, “liking” and sharing social content.

That’s what marketers may think; but what about the parts of the company that make, sell and service the company’s goods? Let’s return again to an Oracle graphic of the “customer journey” that has been helping us focus lately:

Oracle Twist

Here’s what this illustrates about engagement:

  1. We’re not always buying stuff. We’re using it. When we have good ideas to feed back to companies, or when we want help with a company’s products or services, we shouldn’t have to go through “social” marketing. There, are, and should, be better means for that.
  2. Substantive engagement is not “posting, ‘liking’ and sharing social content”. It’s making direct connections with the parts of companies that want to help and learn from customers directly.
  3. Owning is what we do with the stuff we buy. Think about it. You’re owning 100% of the time, and buying far less, even if you’re a shopaholic. Yet the respect this fact gets from social marketing — and from marketing in general — is sub-minimal, even in our networked age.

Meanwhile spending on marketing budgets is going up, while other budgets are going down. Most of the increase is going to digital strategies, Gartner says (more here), and approximately none of that, outside “social”, is for direct engagement with the human beings who buy goods and services.

There is a reason for this, which I visit in The Intention Economy:

Back in the early ‘90s, when I was making a good living as a marketing consultant, I asked my wife—a successful businesswoman and a retailing veteran—why it was that heads of corporate Sales & Marketing departments were always from Sales people and not from Marketing people. Her answer: “Simple: Sales is real. Marketing is bullshit.”

When I asked her to explain that, she said this wasn’t marketing’s fault. The problem was the role marketing was forced to play. “See, sales touches the customer; but marketing can’t, because that’s sales’ job. So marketing has to be ‘strategic.’” She put air-quotes around “strategic.” She acknowledged that this was an over-simplification, and not fair to all the good people in marketing (such as myself) who really were trying to do right by customers. But her remark spoke to the need to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not, and to dig deeper into why the latter has become such an enormous part of the way we do business.

And now we have CMOs, Chief Marketing Officers, a title that barely existed two decades ago, graced with bigger budgets and increased political power within companies. And yet they still don’t touch the customer. Instead they want to follow the customer around with tracking beacons and to better personalize the “shopping experience” or whatever, and troll for “likes” on Facebook. In less delicate terms, the bullshit is out of control, with bigger budgets and fancier rationalizations than ever.

Want to see how far this goes? Check out the IBM/Aberdeeen “Big Datastillery”:

Look closely at this thing to see where you fit in. You’ll need to scroll down to the conveyor belt at the bottom. See those colored beakers, being filled with “customer interaction optimization” and “marketing optimization,” and then rolling off to oblivion after farting out “campaign metrics”? That’s you.

Your campaign metrics gas gets fed into the big hopper at the top from one pipe among many others. In rough order of decreasing size those are:

  • CRM
  • Social media
  • Clickstream data
  • Transactional data
  • Marketing history
  • SEO data
  • PPC (pay per click)
  • Email metrics
  • Campaign metrics
  • Ad impressions
  • Customer sentiment

None of this involves actual interactions with human beings except perhaps through social media. And even there, one CRM executive recently told me, marketing zealotry is “poisoning the well.”

We can’t fix this and shouldn’t try. It’s marketing’s house. Let them work on it. (Credit where due: according to the top graphic above, 56% of them want to use social media to “improve customer support/service”.)

What we can do is expand the owning experience to include helpful and productive interactions with companies that make, sell and service what we own, and what we use. Here’s one example.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear stories from non-marketing people inside companies about what it’s like to try engaging, in durable and substantive ways, with customers who are at the same time getting treated like the beakers in the graphic above.

Bonus link from @bobosphere.

Freedom vs. Tracking

In The Mobile Customer as Data vs. Customer Data, Chuck Martin in MediaPost‘s Mobile Shop Talk says this:

The world of data tracking for mobile commerce is getting much more precise.

The phone knows where the phone goes, as we all know. And that knowledge can be used to help provide better services to those carrying them.

Any driver using Google Navigation, for example, gets the benefit of other phones being tracked to identify bottlenecks on roads ahead. The next step was for Navigation to automatically re-route your trip to avoid the traffic jam, so the benefit became seamless.

The tracking of phones at retail also is being used in efforts to provide a better shopping experience.

In these cases, the value comes from the data about the phone being tracked, not information about the person.

This is about the use of customers as data rather than data about the customer.

This data about phone movements already is being used at hundreds of stores ranging from small mom-and-pop shops to national chains and shopping centers.

He goes on to talk about Euclid, “a three-year-old California company that likens what it does to Google analytics but for the physical world.” And he explains what they do:

Rather than tracking phones by apps, sign-ins, GPS or cell tower, Euclid installs sensors at stores to capture MAC addresses, which are part of every smartphone.

The company doesn’t capture any information about the person, just the identification of smartphones that are on with Wi-Fi enabled.

The idea is to map shopper traffic and analyze how stores can become more effective. The large volume of aggregated data of phone traffic patterns is what provides the value.

Here is what I put in the comments below (with paragraph breaks and links added):

I am a customer. I am not data. I do not wish to yield personal data, even if anonymized, to anybody other than those with whom I have a fully consenting, non-coercive and respectful relationship.

I do not wish to receive offers as a matter of course, even if machines following me guess those offers might might be relevant — especially since what I am doing most of the time is not shopping.

I also don’t wish to have a “better experience” with advertising inundation, especially if the “experience” is “delivered” to me rather than something I have for myself.

Familiar with Trader Joes? People love them. Know why? They do none of this tracking jive. They just talk, as human beings, to customers. There’s no way to automate that, and they save the overhead of marketing automation as well.

Now think of the “mobile experience” we call driving a car, or riding a bike. Our phones need to be the same: fully ours. Not tracking devices.

I know mine is a voice in the wilderness here, but I’m not alone. It’s not for no reason that the most popular browser add-ons are ad and tracking blockers. That’s the market talking. Marketers need to listen.

In a commencement speech this past May, former presidential speechwriter @JonLovett says this (around 14:30): I believe we may have reached peak bullshit.

He continues: I believe those who push back against the noise and the nonsense, those who refuse to accept the untruths of politics and commerce and entertainment and government, will be rewarded. And that we are at the beginning of something important. He also pushes back on what he calls “a process that is inauthentic.” (Here’s a transcript.)

Here’s what’s real: For whatever reasons, we blew it by not building browsers to be cars and bikes in the first place. Same with smartphones and tablets. We gave wonderful powers to users, but greater powers to companies that would rather track us than respect us, who would rather “deliver”us the “experience” they want us to have than equip us to operate as fully human beings in the world — beings with independence and agency, able to engage in our own ways, and on our own terms.

So, what we’ve got now, nice as it is in many ways, is a feudal system. Not real freedom.

It’s a feudal system run by advertising money, and it is worse than broken: it looks to its masters like it isn’t working well enough. Those masters include lots of good people trying to do the Right Things. But they aren’t listening, because they are too busy talking to each other. The whole marketing ecosystem is an echo chamber now. And we, the users and customers of the world, are not in it, except as magnets for tracking beacons and MAC addresses sold to marketing mills.

There is now a line in the sand. On one side is industrial control of human beings, and systems that “allow” degrees of freedom. On the other side is freedom itself. On that side also lies the truly free marketplace.

Here’s a bet. A lot more money will be made equipping individual human beings with means for enjoying full agency than there is today in “delivering” better sales “experiences” to them through browsers and phones that aren’t really theirs at all.

And here’s betting we’ll get better social effects too: ones that arise from freedom of association in an open world, rather than inside giant mills built for selling us to advertisers.

Turning the customer journey into a virtuous cycle

Traditional CRM typically looks at customers this way:CRM cycleIt’s a cycle. One of the reasons we started ProjectVRM is that actual customers are hard to find in the CRM business. We are “leads” for Sales, “cases” in Support, “leads” again in Marketing. At the Orders stage we are destinations to which products and invoices are delivered. That’s it.

Oracle CRM, however, has a nice twist on this (and thanks to @nitinbadjatia of Oracle for sharing it*):

Oracle Twist

Here we see the “customer journey” as a path that loops between buying and owning. The blue part — OWN, on the right — is literally the customer’s own-space. As the text on the OWN loop shows, the company’s job in that space is to support and serve. As we see here…

… the place where that happens is typically the call center.

Now let’s pause to consider the curb weight of “solutions” in the world of interactivity between company and customer today. In the BUY loop of the customer journey, we have:

  1. All of advertising, which Magna Global expects to pass $.5 trillion this year
  2. All of CRM, which Gartner pegs at $18b)
  3. All the rest of marketing, which has too many segments for me to bother looking up

In the OWN loop we have a $0trillion greenfield. This is where VRM started, with personal data lockers, stores, vaults, services and (just in the last few months) clouds.

Now look around your home. What you see is mostly stuff you own. Meaning you’ve bought it already. How about basing your relationships with companies on those things, rather than over on the BUY side of the loop, where you are forced to stand under a Niagara of advertising and sales-pitching, by companies and agencies trying to “target” and “acquire” you. From marketing’s traditional point of view (the headwaters of that Niagara), the OWN loop is where they can “manage” you, “control” you, “own” you and “lock” you in. To see one way this works, check your wallets, purses, glove compartments and kitchen junk drawers for “loyalty” cards that have little if anything to do with genuine loyalty.

But what if the OWN loop actually belonged to the customer, and not to the CRM system? What if you had VRM going there, working together with CRM, at any number of touch points, including the call center?

This is more than a simple dream. One of the coolest things to happen in the VRM development world is this insight, based on actual technology: everything you own can have its own cloud, and each can live inside your personal cloud. Your stuff doesn’t need to have embedded smarts. You can put your things’ smarts inside clouds of their own. Manufacturers can also include clouds along with everything they sell. Inside that cloud can go all the touchpoint contact data required for a genuine relationship, plus useful extras such as service manuals and shortcuts to product updates.

This means the product itself becomes the platform for relationship between the customer and everybody on the sell side, from manufacturer to distributor to retailer to service company. As I explained in this HBR post, that platform — the product’s cloud — is the level table where all those parties sit, at the grace of the customer. Because it’s the customer’s space.

One tablecloth for that platform is the TalkTag. It’s a simple QR code, like the one on the right. The pioneering company here is Kynetx, through its SquareTag service. It’s a simple way to give anything you have a cloud of its own. Scanning a TalkTag is one way to visit a thing’s cloud, which is also a programmable space. If your thing is lost, you can program it to provide contact information through somebody’s smartphone when they scan it. (Which I have done, and it works.)

You can also program it to, say, notify the call center when you scan it. For example, I want the TalkTag I just put on my cable modem to notify Time Warner Cable when I scan it. If Time Warner Cable’s CRM system is listening (which should be easy enough to make happen), it can send back a message to my phone, telling me there is an outage in my neighborhood. Or, in the event that there isn’t an outage, the “I’ve been scanned” message from me to Time Warner Cable can jump past stages in the company’s IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system and get me straight to the right person or automated response. That might be, “You need to download new firmware,” or “We have three new service tiers you might want to know about,” or “We see you haven’t paid your bill.”

I have shared this kind of scenario with two call center companies recently, and they liked it a lot. In fact they like the whole idea of VRM systems on the customers’ side that can lighten the burdens of relationship (and open opportunities) for both sides.

The customer journey — his or her experiences of owning and buying — will include more than just interacting with call centers. We use the things we own in countless ways that might be useful to share with others, including the companies that make and sell stuff — and not just through “social” systems like Facebook and Twitter, over which we have little or no control.

We should also be able to integrate data from products that don’t relate but should. In the Quantified Self world, for example, there is a standing need to synthesize data from many devices and databases. This need  cannot be solved by asking Nike, Fitbit, Withings, RunKeeper and the rest of them to all make their data un-silo’d and combine-able. And doing it in “social media,” whose only business is advertising at us, won’t work either. We need means of our own.

In the VRM world we’ve been saying the user needs to be the point of integration for his or her own data since Joe Andrieu first expressed that insight in 2007. Now, with personal clouds, in 2013, it’s starting to look possible. In fact the personal cloud, and the whole OWN loop, can also be a platform for intentcasting toward the BUY side.

The OWN side is also where all the privacy technology also sits, chiefly because it is distributed. It is here also that we hold the terms, preferences and policies we express when dealing with companies sitting across the tables set between us.

An interesting case that lies between buying and owning is relationships with service organizations, such as utilities. What we own here is own side of an ongoing relationship. Equipment of our own may be in there, or may not be. Either way, the use of a service — in our homes, cars and pockets — is what we at least control, even if we don’t own it.

So clearly we need a common platform for personal clouds, and for the things we put in them. That platform needs to be small, lightweight, distributed and open source. Right now I see one candidate for that: CloudOS, which is the brainbaby of Phil Windley. (Here’s a search for CloudOS and Windley. Lots of stuff there.) If you’ve got some other hacks, point them out in the comments below.

If we look at the customer experience from the company’s side again, this graphic from Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore does a nice job of framing the possibilities:

Across the table set in a personal cloud, customers can feed back good intelligence to every one of the loops in that graphic. And, because that data arrives directly and voluntarily, it has far higher quality than inferential data gathered by marketing’s many surveillance methods.

It also re-frames relationship and loyalty, as real things rather than as words marketing recites inside its own echo chambers. It will reduce marketing’s urge to manipulate, and advertising’s urge to personalize in the absence of conscious and voluntary signals welcoming it. The customer journey will thus turn into a virtuous cycle rather than the arduous one it is today.

It can also create a demand chain that can work in tandem with the supply chain, providing far better feedback at every stage. I could go on, but I want to get this up before the latest in the series of Important Calls that punctuate my life. (And they are all Good Things, trust me.)

Bonus link.

* In the comments below the post that follows this one, Ray Wang points to Esteban Kolsky as the original author of this graphic. As I say in my comment below Ray’s, I did hear that from Nitin Badjatia (of Oracle and formerly of Right Now), but I didn’t remember it when I wrote both posts in a hurry. Again, it is the verbs — BUY and OWN — that make the image especially useful for VRM, because they are the customer’s. I don’t yet know if those verbs are Esteban’s or Right Now/Oracle’s. Let me know and I’ll give credit where due.

VRM videos

First Retail

Here is a collection of videos about VRM and related subjects, in roughly reverse chronological order.

First, a series of well-edited excerpts from Disrupting Retail 2013, which was hosted by First Retail in New York City. Here’s an outline:

  1. What is Disrupting Retail?
  2. Amazon’s Product Recommender Systems
  3. Big Data Enabled Intention Management and the Customer Experience
  4. Moving from Personal Data to Individual Intention

The sessions were led by Gam Dias (@gammydodger) of First Retail, with Andreas Weigend (@weigend) and myself serving as sounding boards for the collection of forward-looking retailers gathered around the table. (That’s the two of us in the shot above.) Lots of excellent grist for retailers, VRooMers and everybody else who cares about the future of business (which, let’s face it, wouldn’t be business without retail). Bonus link.

Second, Phil Windley on building trillion-node networks. Within those might be your network, with your own Internet of Things in your own cloud. Bonus video: The cloud needs an operating system.

Third, from the State of the Net (#SOTN) conference in Trieste last month, four videos:

There were a number of others as well, which I’ll put up when I find them (or they find me).

Fourth, some others from the last year and more:

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