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#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.

VRM is as distributed as humanity

VRM is for the  individual human beings we call customers.

While human beings form collective groups — families, teams, parishes, parties — what makes each of us most human is our individuality — and our capacity to grow and change.

We are all different. Even identical twins, grown from the same split egg, can be as different as male and female.

Our species evolved faces so we could tell each other apart, express ourselves differently, and live separate and unique lives. No other species has the same degree of variation among faces and voices, or has the same ability to customize personal appearance, behavior and voice, through diet, exercise, piercings, markings (such as tatoos) and other choices.

And yet we also form organizations — tribes, churches, businesses, governments — that cannot scale to usefulness without treating people as populations, groups and templates. We need these organizations to operate civilization.

But we also need our individuality. This is why we bristle when asked in a survey to provide our age, ethnicity or income group. Both asking and answering those questions insults our dignity as separate and distinct individuals: ones with dominion over ourselves, born to possess full agency in the world, and irreducible to demographic characteristics.

Humanity by its nature is also distributed. Scattered. In the computing and networking worlds — which are now the same — distributed means comprised of individual points of autonomy and control. The same goes for links between those nodes.

Paul Baran described the different ways humanity and its networks can be organized, with this drawing here —


— in this essay for the Rand Corporation on the subject of distributed communications. It was radical when it was written, in 1962, because centralized networks were the only kind. But Baran was also writing  at the height of the cold war, when the need to create the smallest possible “attack surface” was imperative. Hence the distributed design that later became the base-level nature of the Internet: as basic and elemental as chemical valency — the combining power of elements — and human nature.

This design is what David Isenberg calls “stupid” — because its purpose is to put all the intelligence at the network’s infinite number of ends (which are mostly human), rather than in the middle(s), where it is vulnerable.

Over the last decade, however, large businesses operating on the Internet, and provisioning access to it, have become increasingly centralized — or at best decentralized, but in very central ways. Visualizations of the Internet, such as this


— and this



— are of type B in Baran’s drawing above: decentralized, rather than distributed.

But the forces of decentralization and distribution are still with us, growing up from the Net’s own grass roots: individual geeks, working together on behalf of the Net itself, and its native nature.

Jon Udell wrote about them yesterday, pointing to this amazing list by @rossjones by way of @Jeremie Miller, father of XMPP, one of the most widespread protocols in the Internet suite. It’s far longer than our own here at Project VRM. But we will include it, because what they’re doing supports what we are doing, in the most fundamental way possible.

Lately I’ve been asked, along with many others, if there is still hope for a Net free from control by giant Net-based corporations, governments, phone and cable companies, the entertainment industry, and combinations of all those forces. On the surface it looks like the answer is no.

But looking down in the grass roots, growing upward out of the Net’s deepest and most permanent layer — also the most human one — gives me faith.

VRM early June rundown

Cozy Cloud, an open source personal cloud (and therefore VRM) company based in France, just raised a million bucks. Nice work!

MyWave, a New Zealand-based VRM/CMR (Customer Managed Relationship) company, says this in one of its recent posts:

MyWave’s vision is for an online world where individuals have control and ownership of their data and have the power to choose and create ‘segment of one’ personal relationships based on Mutual Value.

That means giving people the power to gather, control and use their data in one place; to see where they have been, what they have been doing and plan for what they want to do. It means giving individuals new ways to engage – not only with companies and people, but with the things they own or aspire to, or are interested in. Conversely, it means giving individuals the power to filter out the products and services and other personal and business clutter that wastes their time and energy.

The data an individual generates describes who they are and what they do – up to a point. Typically, that data is held in enterprise company databases. It ages, is incomplete and is stored and used in ways designed to push products and services. But if individual customer data could be accurate, up to date, and – most important – be used with the individual’s personal ownership and permission, then that data can become alive and help individuals and enterprises build a highly personalised mutual value relationship.

brand eins‘  Ausgabe 05/2014 – Schwerpunkt Im Interesse des Kunden Was der Kunde wirklich will translates as  Issue 05/2014 – Focus In the interest of the customer — What the customer really wants. It sources The Cluetrain Manifesto and more recent utterings by David Weinberger and myself.

Don Marti‘s latest unpackings of what’s going wrong in online advertising-ville:

Dan Blum‘s Dark Lords of the Internet moves the ball downfield from his earlier piece, Covert OAuth Redirects and Perverse Incentives. The pull-quote in both: “A weak protocol meets risk aggregation and perverse incentives. There may be an even bigger story here. Unfortunately, it seems the big service providers may be equally loose on fraud, when it comes to their advertising bottom lines.”

 at GovLab Blog and Ideas LunchDoc Searls – Maintaining Independence and Privacy in a World of Security and Surveillance. Very thorough rundown of a talk I gave at The Gov Lab in New York.

In Fellow Travelers: Thali and Telehash, Jon Udell gives props to Jeremie Miller’s tele hash (“A secure wire protocol powering a decentralized overlay network for apps and devices”), along with Jon’s own work on Thali (“Building the Peer to Peer Web”).  Both are open source and have crews working away on them. Both guys also point me (and now us) toward alternative-internet.

Vendor Relationship Management: Why Nonprofits Should Care at TechSoup has a nice rundown on what VRM can do for nonprofits and where VRM stands in general right now. One pull-quote: “The movement has huge potential for nonprofits and public libraries, but it still has some ways to go in the overall technology sector.” That’s why nearly every movement starts with verticals. Uber is a perfect example. Not only is it now a navigation fixture on Google maps, but (says the company) it’s creating 20,000 jobs per month.

Geddup, a Melbourne-based VRM startup, is listed by Anthill Online as one of the 2014 Smart 100. Readers get to vote on their favourites.

In Building a Universal Silo (which he argues against), Phil Windley explains, “the Internet is the one big silo we’re after. It’s not perfect. In particular, we need to weed out some of the centralization that has crept in (e.g. DNS, Root Certificate Authorities). But it’s the one big silo we all can be a part of without everyone subjecting themselves to a single administrative authority.” He also points to Ben Werdmüller’s How we’re on the verge of an amazing new open web  #indieweb. Great work going on there, all up the #VRM alley.

Russell Brandom in The VergeiOS 8 Strikes an unexpected blow against location tracking.

Will Bourne in Inc.: The Revolution Will Not Be Monetized. Nice profile of Wickr (“an all-but-unhackable mobile messaging app”), and founder Nico Sell. Pull-quotage:

Wickr, which was founded in 2011, has much bigger ambitions than helping people avoid the NSA: Sell wants to obliterate the business model on which the world’s most powerful tech companies depend.

Sell is part of an idealistic but ambitious movement in Silicon Valley looking to flip the switch on how we live and share and do business online. These entrepreneurs see the status quo–in which users have signed away the rights to their data and online existence to Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, and a few other supremely powerful companies–as not just a violation of privacy but also as fatal to innovation. “We all assumed our data was private, and now we’re realizing that it’s not, and we’re doing something about it–as a culture, as a society,” says Brian Blau, Gartner Group’s research director covering social networks. “I’m seeing this all over the place. The pendulum is swinging,” he says, adding that he is in the middle of a project tentatively called “Power to the People.” “If people demand better privacy controls, then the natural outcome is that they’re going to want more control of their data, and eventually they’ll realize their data has value. I think there’s a big business there.”

This sector is only just emerging, but Sell certainly sees the potential. “I want [Wickr] to replace Facebook and Skype–simultaneously,” she says. And she isn’t kidding. “We’re hoping to create an entire marketplace and have thousands of apps running off Wickr software.”

In fact, a cluster of young companies is forming around the premise that users will demand more control of their online data and that the Googles and Facebooks of the world will give in 
to that demand–or be replaced. As Johannes Ernst, CEO of the company that makes Indie Box, a personal server that debuted in May, asks: “Why can’t we have all the same chatting and things we like to do online without Mark Zuckerberg in the loop? Why do we need him?”

Naturally, many eyes will roll at the thought of a guerrilla force of furry little “open Web” usurpers setting their sights on Zuck. But Apple laughed at Android, too, once upon a time. Sell believes we can rebuild our online lives around a new model and open up a vast commercial terrain in the process. “They are stealing,” she insists. “I think that Google and Facebook, in another 30 years when we look back, will be the robber barons of our time.”

Also featured are Ansa (“Communicate off the record, so no trace of your conversation is left behind”) and Omlet (“Unlimited free messaging with control over your data.”)

Thanks to Johannes for bringing this piece to my attention. Also thanks to the Personal Clouds list for pointing out “patents pending” on every Wickr page, and its apparent absence of source code to inspect. Alec Muffett also wrote about this two years ago. When another contributor to the list took issue with criticizing Wickr for its patents and (apparently) hidden source code, I wrote this back to the list:

These are fraught issues.

That Wickr would require NDAs is not unusual. Nor (imho) should that make it a non-starter, at least at this stage of the company’s game.  But it does give me some of the same pause it does (another contributor to the list).

I have my own problems with patents:

Still, I know many companies that say they cannot get funding or operate in markets such as finance and government without standing on patents they hold.

I know others that patent everything they can, just to protect themselves and their work from “submarine” patents and patent trolls.

Large companies — ones that can afford to patent everything they want — often deploy patents like nuclear weapons: something they never use, but which give them bargaining power with other big companies. Sometimes that bargaining power opens rather than closes markets.

And I know others (including big companies such as the kind just mentioned) who patent their work for the purpose of opening it up to everybody. Digital, Intel and Xerox together did this with their patents for Ethernet. They held (and presumably still hold) those patents while also letting the whole world use Ethernet at no cost. This led them to beat Token Ring in the marketplace. Ethernet was free and open (but owned) while Token Ring was costly and closed (and owned). The whole world uses Ethernet today.

Source code is another issue. There are the kinds of code that use licenses approved by the Free Software Foundation or the Open Source Initiative (including most things called “open source”). There are kinds that are open and frozen in place and left stable for the world to use (e.g. RSS 2.0), but don’t bother with getting FSF or OSI approval. I am sure there are other variants as well. Still, it would be nice if Wickr could expose at least some of their code for the world to see and trust.

Anyway, it’s complicated.

Steve Lohr in The New York Times: New Curbs Sought on the Personal Data Industry. It begins,

The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday called on Congress to protect consumers against the unchecked collection and sharing of their digital data — from websites visited to their marital status — by providing people with tools to view, suppress and fix their information.

The agency also said the little-known companies, called data brokers, that analyze and sell huge amounts of the consumer information for marketing purposes, needed to be reined in and more transparent to the public.

Companies that trade in consumer data, the agency said in a 110-page report about the industry, suffered from “a fundamental lack of transparency.”

RT News: German ‘NSA-proof’ private server raises $1mn crowdfunding in 89 minutes. The server is for small companies, but it’s a harbinger for personal servers as well.

Recent VRM tweets:

. Just glossary or LIVE notes at event, then collaborate / act post event? model  from Boston, MA

 United Individuals of America

my wave ‏@mywaveme A simple and informative look at the new marketing economy.

 What is you ask Individual Human Power,Pre-Administration

 Jun 6 Come to the training course for Building Quality Business Relationships Join us here >

 Jun 5 Ds universitaires, mais aussi ds représentants de ministères, d’associations et d’OBNL participent aux discussions sur

 Jun 5 Want to be cheered up, after that? Here:

 Jun 5 Root Data Structure of Society Our Integrity is a Structural Concern.

 Jun 4  Society has root data model problem caused by flawed

 Jun 4 PvdA vraagt om meer aandacht voor ondergrondse infrastructuur voor bv datatransport, glasvezel, CO2 leidingen, warmtemeter

 Jun 4 Behandeling Visie Ruimte en Mobiliteit door over onzekerheid bestaande initiatieven, leefbaarheid kleine kernen en rol PS

 Jun 3  unfortunately with the acquisitions it also becomes exponentially harder to get in touch and ask questions :-(

 Jun 3  Post- the new privacy policy, I will gladly pay you to have full control over who and what I share my data with.

 Jun 3 This research paper ably demonstrates the advantages of turning CRM into CMR. MyWave enables this.

 Jun 3  workshop today at NTIA

 Jun 3 RT : Building a Universal Silo  /cc < “The Internet is the one big silo we’re after.” +1

 May 20 Acting in the interests of customers is the best way to comply with data laws

 May 15 RT : Our technology expert James Ladd on how the personal touch builds a loyal audience

 May 13 Opp.Research2.0 RT SocialRank Raises $1M To Help Brands ID Competitors’ Most Valuable Followers

 May 12 Is a personal cloud/ VRM in your future?

 May 12 “Not paying for a product? You’re the product” becomes “Your data is someone else’s property even when paying”:

 May 11 Want an amendment to Constitution that says U own Ur data? Don’t wait to get started

VRooMy developments

Youstice is a new VRM company focused on mediating disputes online. Says the home page, “We help customers and retailers resolve shopping issues quickly and effectively.” Here’s the customer side (shop with confidence). Here’s the retailer side (manage claims easily). And here’s the pitch to partners (“help retailers and customers globally reach resolution of thousands of complaints – all through one simple online application”).

Enable your customers to better engage and make them independent. Become a VRooMer! is a new blog post by Zbynek Loebl that nicely explains VRM and the context it provides for Youstice, which is in beta now. So check it out.

Fargo is the online outliner/publishing system brought to us by Dave Winer and friends. As a tool of independence and engagement, it has many VRM possibilities, methinks. I enjoy following it both in use (I often blog through it) and in the Fargo Blog.

Phil Windley‘s The Compuserve of Things speaks to a problem we all suffer but few of us examine: silo-ization. Phil starts by insightfully observing that Web 2.o, for all the progress it brought, did so at the expense of centralization around sites, services and data sources:

Each of these online service businesses sought to offer a complete soup-to-nuts experience and capitalized on their captive audiences in order to get businesses to pay for access. In fact, you don’t have to look very hard to see that much of what’s popular on the Internet today looks a lot like sophisticated versions of these online service businesses. Web 2.0 isn’t so much about the Web as it is about recreating the online business models of the 80′s and early 90′s. Maybe we should call it Online 2.0 instead.

To understand the difference, consider GMail vs. Facebook Messaging. Because GMail is really just a massive Web-client on top of Internet mail protocols like SMTP, IMAP, and POP, you can use your GMail account to send email to any account on any email system on the Internet. And, if you decide you don’t like GMail, you can switch to another email provider (at least if you have your own domain).

Facebook messaging, on the other hand, can only be used to talk to other Facebook users inside Facebook. Not only that, but I only get to use the clients that Facebook chooses for me. Facebook is going to make those choices based on what’s best for Facebook. And most Web 2.0 business models ensure that the interests of Web 2.0 companies are not necessarily aligned with those of their users. Decisions to be non-interoperable aren’t done out of ignorance, but on purpose. For example, WhatsApp uses an open protocol (XMPP), but chooses to be a silo.

He adds,

If we were really building the Internet of Things, with all that that term implies, there’d be open, decentralized, heterarchical systems at its core, just like the Internet itself. There aren’t. Sure, we’re using TCP/IP and HTTP, but we’re doing it in a way that is closed, centralized, and hierarchical with only a minimal nod to interoperability using APIs.

We need the Internet of Things to be the next step in the series that began with the general purpose PC and continued with the Internet and general purpose protocols—systems that support personal autonomy and choice. The coming Internet of Things envisions computing devices that will intermediate every aspect of our lives. I strongly believe that this will only provide the envisioned benefits or even be tolerable if we build an Internet of Things rather than a CompuServe of Things.

When we say the Internet is “open,” we’re using that as a key word for the three key concepts that underlie the Internet:

  1. Decentralization
  2. Heterarchy (what some call peer-to-peer connectivity)
  3. Interoperability

And concludes,

The only way we get an open Internet of Things is to build it. That means we have to do the hard work of figuring out the protocols—and business models—that support it. I’m heartened by developments like Bitcoin’s blockchain algorithm, the #indieweb movement,TelehashXDI DiscoveryMaidSafe, and others. And, of course, I’ve got my own work onKRLCloudOS, and Fuse. But there is still much to do.

We are at a crossroads, with a decision to make about what kind of future we want. We can build the world we want to live in or we can do what’s easy, and profitable, in the short run. The choice is ours.

This is strong and important stuff.

Here in browser-land (where I’m writing this), Firefox has released a major new upgrade: version 29.0. Here’s an explanation. Firefox matters for VRM purposes because it’s the browser that’s closest to ours alone, and therefore in the best position to become a VRM instrument. The team there has also recently made hires — on purpose — from within our VRM orbit, and this is hugely encouraging. Oh, and they just put out this very cool video.

Same goes for WordPress. Gideon Rosenblatt‘s Automattic for the People: WordPress as a Regenerative Business singles out WordPress for praise as a paradigmatic example. He defines a regenerative business as a people- (rather than a money- or mission-) centric. So, in this respect, it helps to note that the main stakeholders in WordPress, Mozilla and Fargo are the people who put it to use. They are driven by us. This is more important than them being -centric around us. (This distinction is unpacked here and here.)

Regenerative business reminds me a lot of Umair Haque’s concept of thick value. Need to look more deeply into that.

Last but not least, dig Casius, which matches homeowners with pre-screened and qualified contractors in several European countries, so far: intentcasting, of a sort.

Looking forward to seeing lots of you at IIW next week.

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.

VRM mojo Down Under


I’m still de-compressing from a week in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne, where I had my mind blown by all the VRM energy gathering there and in New Zealand.

In Sydney, Flamingo hosted a consortium of VRM companies on Wednesday, held its official launch on Thursday and put on a Customer Experience unconference on Friday. (That’s one shot from it above. The full set is here.)  The consortium included people representing (in alphabetical order) Customer Commons, Flamingo, Geddup, Meeco, MyWave, ProjectVRM, Respect Network, and Welcomer . Some of us, myself included, wore a number of those hats at once.*

Here are a few links.

A focus of many conversations in Sydney (especially at the unconference) was customer experience, or CX, a buzzterm Wikipedia currently describes (with “issues,” the box above it says) this way: “Customer experience (CX) is the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods and/or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier.” A VRM corollary to that angle is “Customer experience is also about how the company experiences the customer.” Or how the government experiences the citizen. Or how the organization experiences the member. The source of those was @CatrionaWallace<, CEO of Flamingo. It was also very much in line with conversations last Summer in New Zealand with Geraldine McBride (@GeraldineGlobal) of MyWave. (@JoePine, co-author of The Experience Economy, was also there and contributed to those conversations.)

Various combinations of VRooMers also met with three different government agencies, all of which were eager to support GRM (government relationship management) by citizens, and to learn as much as possible about how that’s being done in the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere. Two of those meetings happened in Canberra, where we were led within and between meetings by Kevin Cox of Welcomer. In Melbourne we also got quality time with Rohan Clarke (@GeddupRC) of Geddup, who also arranged an interview at PBS 106.7 on the overlapping subjects of VRM and community radio in Australia. Pieces of that should be coming online soon.

One VRM outfit I’m bummed to have missed was 4th Party, which sources  The Intention Economy, and says “Fourth parties are trusted agents that help consumers interact with multiple vendors on the consumers’ terms.” Since we’ve been talking about fourth parties for several years, it’s great to finally see the term put to good use.

Much more happened, and will continue to happen, than I’m reporting on here. I’m just in a hurry right now to get something up while it’s fresh in my mind and all the browser tabs are open.

*I’m on the Flamingo board (and have relationships with other VRM companies as well), but I don’t play favorites. I want everybody to win, and work toward that goal.

Why we need first person technologies on the Net

mousehammerWe need first person technologies for the same reason we need first person voices: because there are some things only a person can say and do.

Only a person can use the pronouns  “I,” “me,” “my” and “mine.” Likewise, only a person can use tools such as screwdrivers, eyeglasses and pencils. Those things are all first person technologies. They were invented for individual persons to use.

We use first person technologies the same unique ways we use our voices. “The human voice is unmistakably genuine,” The Cluetrain Manifesto says. “It can’t be faked.” Same with first person technologies. GoPro cameras, for example, are first person technologies that are used as many different ways as the people who strap them to their helmets.

Here in the physical world, first person technologies are extensions of our bodies and our senses. When we swing a hammer, twist a fork, ride a bike and drive a car, our senses dwell within each of those things. They become part of us, and us part of them.

There are social influences on how we use first person technologies, of course, just as there are social influences on how we speak. But that does not diminish the personal nature of what we do with our tools and our voices. Each of us speaks, writes, walks and drives in ways that are ours alone.

What’s purely personal is clear in the physical world. In the networked world, however, it is not — and this is a problem that needs fixing.

For example, there was a time when personal computers were truly personal. They ran applications that you acquired (or created) and used by and for yourself. You did not have to subscribe to them as services, and they did not require some company’s cloud. That time was before personal computers became network nodes. We are in a new world now — one in which first person agency is both provided and limited by what the lawyers call second and third parties, out on the Net.

Take smartphones and tablets for example. These are personal in many intimate ways, but they are also suction cups on corporate tentacles. So, while you can still operate a PC as independently as you would a typewriter, you cannot operate your mobile device except by the graces of Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and other controlling parties — especially your mobile network provider. And, unless you are a serious hacker, you can’t acquire apps except through company stores. Many of those apps are also just interfaces on remote services over which you have little control.

This state of things is one of the reasons why privacy has lately become a big issue. The term covers several concerns at once. Here is how Eben Moglen unpacks them:

Privacy—as we use the word in our conversations now all around the world, and particularly when we talk about the net— really means three things.

The first is secrecy, which our ability to keep messages “private,” so that their content is known only to those who we intend to receive them.

The second is anonymity, which is our ability to keep our messages—even when their content is open—obscure as to who has published them and who is receiving them. It is very important that anonymity is an interest we can have in both our publishing and our reading.

The third is autonomy, which is our ability to make our life decisions free any force which has violated our secrecy or our anonymity.

Our old PCs provided all of those graces. (So does your GoPro camera.) We have none of them with our smart mobile devices today. Not yet, anyway.

Books in the physical world are first person technologies as well. Digital ones we “buy” from Amazon are not, because they come with leashes. Eben asks, “What if every book for the last five hundred years had been reporting its readers at headquarters?”

We won’t get back our privacy, or make real progress toward real personal freedom, until we develop and deploy first person technologies for everybody. Without them our democracies and marketplaces will also continue to be compromised, because both require those three virtues of privacy.

First person technologies are also required  by the distributed design of the Net, which Paul Baran first describede in 1964, using this drawing:

The Internet is the one on the right. In it each node is equal and possesses full agency. It is also what Adriana Lukas calls a heterarchy. Routing (which Paul Baran called “hot potato” and we now call packet switching) takes the best available path, rather than running only through central (or multi-central) relay points.  He posed this in contrast to the centralized model of computing, which prevailed at the time, and to decentralized networks, which reduced some of the risks of centralized networks but still held the same vulnerabilities, because they still contain central hubs and therefore also hierarchies. We experience those vulnerabilities  today when services we depend on are attacked, and the privacy of many is compromised at once.

Design models and habits die long and hard, however; and it remains too easy to create centralized services, such as corporate clouds, and to deliver benefits from those that are good enough — until something goes wrong.

First person technologies are a step in the right direction: the distributed one.

From the start a variety of ProjectVRM developers have been developing first person technologies. Here’s a quick list:

Everything there is open source or uses open standards and protocols. There are many others I insult by not listing (corrections are invited); but the main thing is not just to give credit where due. It’s to show groundwork toward a whole new category: first person technology.

Nailing down what this category means, and contains, is job one. It isn’t easy, because there is plenty of gray in the networked world. But lines can and must be drawn. Here’s one: we can use them to make a dent in the universe. Here’s another: They move us from what Dave Winer describes as Model #1 to Model #2:

Once we’ve done that, we can see how first person technologies, for example, deliver benefits in all four of the development categories Fred Wilson listed in the speech he gave at LeWeb in December:

  1. Money
  2. Health and wellness
  3. Data leakage
  4. Trust and identity

Solutions here will come, like our own voices, from our sovereign and independent selves, using tools that extend our native capabilities. They won’t come only from systems others provide for us. They will, however, make those systems better as well.

Bonus link: Tahrir.

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 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.

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