If you’re getting health care in the U.S., chances are your providers are now trying to give you a better patient experience through a website called MyChart.

This is supposed to be yours, as the first person singular pronoun My implies. Problem is, it’s TheirChart. And there are a lot of them. I have four MyChart accounts with four five* health care providers, so far: one in New York, two in Santa Barbara, one in Mountain View, and one in Los Angeles. I may soon have another in Bloomington, Indiana. None are mine. All are theirs, and they seem not to get along. Especially with me.

Not surprisingly, all of them come from a single source: Epic Systems, the primary provider of back-end information tech to the country’s health care providers, including most of the big ones: Harvard, Yale, Mayo, UCLA, UChicago, Duke, Johns Hopkins, multiple Mount Sinais, and others like them. But, even though all these MyChart portals are provided by one company, and (I suppose) live in one cloud, there appears to be no way for you, the patient, to make those things work together, or for you to provide them with data you already have from other sources. Which you could presumably do if My meant what it says.

The way they work can get perverse. For example, a couple days ago, one of my doctors’ offices called to tell me we would need to have a remote consult before she changed one of my prescriptions. This, I was told, could not be done over the phone. It would need to be done over video inside MyChart. So now we have an appointment for that meeting on Monday afternoon, using MyChart.

I decided to get ahead of that by finding my way into the right MyChart and leaving a session open in a browser tab. Then I made the mistake of starting to type “MyChart” into my browser’s location bar, and then not noticing that the top result was one of the countless other MyCharts maintained by countless other health care providers. But this other one looked so much like one of mine that I wasted an hour or more, failing to log in and then failing to recover my login credentials. It wasn’t until I called the customer service number on the website that I found I was trying to get into a MyChart for some provider I’d never heard of. And which had never heard of me.

Now I’m in looking at one of my two MyCharts for Santa Barbara, where it shows no upcoming visits. I can’t log into the other one to see if the Monday appointment is noted there, because that MyChart doesn’t know who I am. So I’m hoping to unfuck that one on Monday before the call on whichever MyChart I’ll need to use. Worst case, I’ll just tell the doctor’s office that we’ll have to make do with a phone call. If they answer the phone, that is.

The real problem here is that we have hundreds or thousands of different health care providers, all using one company’s back end to provide personal health care information to millions of patients through hundreds or thousands of different portals, all called the same thing (or something close), while providing no obvious way for patients to gather their own data from multiple sources to use for their own independent purposes, both in and out of that system. Or any system.

To call this fubar understates the problem.

Here’s what matters: Epic can’t solve this. Nor can any or all of these separate health care systems. Because none of them are you.

And you’re where the solution needs to happen. You need a simple and standardized way to collect and manage your own health-related information and engagements with multiple health care providers. One that’s yours.

This doesn’t mean you need to be alone in the wilderness. You do need expert help. In the old days, you used to get that through your primary care physician. But large health care operations have been hoovering up private practices for years, and one of the big reasons for that has been to make the data management side of medicine easier for physicians and their many associated providers. Not to make it easier for you. After all, you’re not their customer. Insurance companies are their customers.

In the midst of this there presists a market hole where your representation in the health care marketplace needs to sit. I know of just one example of how that might work: the HIE of One. (HIE is Health Information Exchange.) For all our sakes, somebody please fund that work.

Far too much time, sweat, money, and blood is being spilled trying to solve this problem from the center outward. (For a few details on how awful that is, start reading here.)

While we’re probably never going to make health care in the U.S. something other than the insurance business it has become, we can at least start working on a Me2B solution in the place it most needs to work: with patients. Because we’re the ones who need to be in full command of our relationships with our providers as well as with ourselves.

Health care, by the way, is just one category that cries out for solutions that can only come from the customers’ side. Customer Commons has a list of fourteen, including this one.


*Okay, now it’s Monday, and I’m a half-hour away from my consult with my doctor, via Zoom, inside MyChart. Turns out I was not yet registered with this MyChart, but at least there was a phone number I could call, and on the call (which my phone says took 14 minutes) we got my ass registered. He also pointed me to where, waaay down a very long menu, there is a “Link my accounts” choice, which brings up this:

Credit where due:

It was very easy to link my four known accounts, plus another (the one in Mountain View) that I had forgotten but somehow the MyChart master brain remembered. I suspect, given all the medical institutions I have encountered in my long life, that there are many more.

So that’s the good news. The bad news remains the same. All these charts are not mine. That they are now federated (that’s what this kind of linking-up is called) does not make it any more mine. It just makes it a many-theirs.

So the system still needs to be fixed. From our end.

 

 

 

 

 


That’s the UI for  the Brother HL-L2305w laser printer, which you can get for $140 right now at OfficeMax (or Office Depot, same thing). It’s a good deal. It also took me a whole day to set up.

See, it comes with instructions that say to use the UI above to make CONNECTING WLAN happen. It doesn’t. Instead it sits for awhile, says TIMED OUT, and then prints out a page that says “The WLAN access point/router cannot be detected,” and gives instructions to locate the printer as close as possible to your wi-fi (that’s the WLAN) access point, to make sure you’re not using MAC address filtering or other secure things that might prevent connection.

After parking an access point (we have four in our house, all connected by Ethernet through a switch to the cable modem) right on top of the printer, I gave up, assumed it was bad, took it back and swapped it for another that had the same problem, meaning I was dealing with a feature.

Then, after failing to find help in the Brother Product Support Center, I registered the printer and logged in as a now-known customer. In that state I was able to chat with an entity (human, it seemed, but ya never know) who pointed me to a page with useful instructions, plus a video that’s also on YouTube, where I should have looked in the first place. Lesson re-learned.

So, if you get one, go straight to that YouTube link and save a lot of trouble/

Just learned Wayne Thiebaud died, at 101. I didn’t know he was still alive. But I did know he had a lot of influence, most famously on pop art. Least famously, on me.

Many of Thiebaud’s landscapes were from aerial perspectives. For example, this—

—and this:

In me, those influenced this—

—and this—

—and this—

—and this—

—and this—

—and this—

—and this—

—and even this:

Like Thiebaud, I love the high angle on the easily overlooked, and opportunity for revelations not obtainable from the ground, or in the midst.

Example. Can you guess where these mountains are?

Try Los Angeles. I shot that, as I did the others in this album, during the approach to LAX on a flight from Houston.

Here’s another shot in that series:

That’s 10,068-foot Mt. San Antonio, aka Old Baldy, highest of the San Gabriel Mountains. These are Los Angeles’ own Alps, which wall the north side of the L.A. basin, thwarting sprawl in that direction. The view is up San Antonio Canyon, below which lays a suburb-free delta of rocks and gravel spreading outward from canyon’s mouth. Across that mouth, and in a series of of similar ones below is a dam. These are for slowing “debris flows” coming out of the mountains after heavy rains, and sorting the flows’ contents into boulders, rocks, and gravel. Businesses that trade in these geological goods are also sited there. Imagine a business selling fresh lava from the base of a volcano, and you have some idea of how rapidly the geology changes here.

Anyway, while there is Thiebaud-informed art to that shot, there is also a purpose: I want people to see how these mountains are alive and dangerous in ways unlike no others flanking a city.

My main influence toward that purpose is John McPhee, the best nonfiction writer ever to walk the Earth—and report on it. Dig Los Angeles Against the Mountains. Doesn’t get better than that.

McPhee is 90 now. I dread losing him.

The Cluetrain Manifesto had four authors but one voice, and that was Chris Locke‘s.

Cluetrain, a word that didn’t exist before Chris (aka RageBoy), David Weinberger, Rick Levine and I made it up during a phone conversation in early 1999 (and based it on a joke about a company that didn’t get clues delivered by train four times a day), is now tweeted constantly, close to 23 years later. (And by now belongs in the OED.)

In his book The Tipping Point, which was published the same month as The Cluetrain Manifesto (January, 2000), Malcolm Gladwell said, “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.” He also called this “the Law of the Few.” Among those few, one needed three kinds of people: mavens, connectors, and salespeople. Chris was all three. To different degrees so were David, Rick and myself; but Chris was the best, especially at connecting. He was the one who brought us together. And he was the one who sold us on making something happen. He moved us from one Newtonian state to another—a body at rest to a body in motion—by sending us this little graphic:

After we got that, we had to put up the Cluetrain website. And then we had to expand that site into a book, thanks to the viral outbreak of interest that followed a column about the site—and Chris especially, face and all—in The Wall Street Journal. Though a great enemy of marketing-as-usual, nobody was better than Chris at spreading a word. I mean, damn: dude got Cluetrain in the fucking Wall Street Journal! (Huge hat tip to Tom Petzinger for writing that column, and for writing the book’s forward as well. Chris Locke

Want to know Chris’s marketing techniques? Read Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices, which followed Cluetrain, and had the best cover ever, with bullet holes (actual holes) through a barcode, and a red page behind it. I’m sure Chris came up with that idea. His graphic sense was equally creative, sharp and—as with everything—outrageous.

Or listen to the audio version, performed by Chris in his perfect baritone voice.

Alas, Chris died yesterday, after a long struggle with COPD. (Too much smoke, for too long. Got my dad and my old pal Ray too. That cigarette smoking has become unfashionable is a grace of our time.)

Good God, what a great writer Chris was. Try Winter Solstice. One pull-quote: “We learn to love the lie we must tell ourselves to survive.”

And his stories. OMG, were they good. Better than fiction, and all true.

For example, you know how, when two people are first getting to know each other, they exchange stories about parts of their lives? I remember once telling Chris that my parents were frontier types who met in Alaska. While I thought that would take us down an interesting story hole (my parents really were interesting people), Chris blasted open a conversational hole of his own the size of a crater: “My father was a priest and my mother was a nun.” Top that.

Once, when I missed a plane from SFO to meet Chris in Denver, I mentioned that I was standing next to a strangely wide glass wall at my just-vacated gate in Terminal 1. “I know that gate well,” he said. “And that glass is a trip. I once missed a plane there myself while I was on acid and got totally into that glass wall.” I don’t remember what he said after that, except that it was outrageous (for anyone but Chris) and I couldn’t stop laughing as his story went on.

Among too many other stories to count, here is one I hope his soul forgives me for lifting (along with that picture of him) from a thread on Facebook:

on this Father’s Day I am recalling getting drunk with MY dad on Christmas Eve 1968, as was our custom back then (this month I am 34 years sober). he told me he was suicidal and i knew he meant it. so I turned him on to acid there and then. it was a bit of a rocky trip, but things were better for him after that.

btw, when the trip got really rough, I tricked him into thinking he could fall asleep. “If you want to come down, just take six of these big bomber multivitamin pills and that’ll be it.” fat chance! but he fell sound asleep. as I sat next to him marveling at the sound of guardian angel wings softly beating over us, THE PHONE RANG!!! OMG. at like 4am! and worse, it was my judgmental hyper-Catholic MOTHER!! she said…

hello, is your father over there

….yes… I said.

are you two taking LSD?

oh no! had she gone psychic??

….yes… I said, fearful of what was coming next.

THANK GOD, she said. SOMETHING had to give.

and then:

“well, have a good trip,” she said, and rang off.

I’ll leave you with this, from a post on Chris’s Rageboy blog called Dust My Boom. It was written on the occasion of an odd wind coming toward Boulder that now seems prophetic toward the future that came three days ago when a wind-driven fire swept across the landscape, eventually roasting close to 600 homes, a hotel, and a shopping center. Read the whole thing for more about the wind…

There’s so much you don’t know about me. Cannot ever, no matter how hard I try to make it otherwise. I have been places, done things impossible to recount. I remember nights of love, each different from all the rest. I have sat beside the dead in the room with the open windows. I have seen those ships on fire off Orion’s shoulder.

Yeah well. I wrote something into the cluetrain manifesto that must have raised some eyebrows among our more knowing cousins. And it went like this:

…People of Earth

The sky is open to the stars. Clouds roll over us night and day. Oceans rise and fall. Whatever you may have heard, this is our world, our place to be. Whatever you’ve been told, our flags fly free. Our heart goes on forever. People of Earth, remember.

So I should end this now, but that’s way too dramatic and drama is the wrong note to end on. I think I need to put in something ordinary here, pedestrian. A joke maybe. A duck walks into a bar…

Because, whatever it is, it’s just the normal regular passage of time. Nothing mystical. Nothing shocking. We are born. We grow old. We die. In between, we sometimes get a glimpse of something. If I knew what it was, I’d tell you in a second. I don’t know. Take this piece of writing as my prayer flag flapping out in the wind of a day that came on sideways. Who knows where it’s headed? Tomorrow I have a con-call at noon, a website to build, and forty-one phone calls to return. Possibly lunch.

What I do know is that if you’re lonely and you’re hurting, then you’re human. What am I telling you this for? Hell if I know. To cheer you up maybe. Let me know if it worked.

And remember the man who said all that, and so much more. He was here for real, and he is missed.

This is about credit where due, and unwanted by the credited. I speak here of Kim Cameron, a man whose modesty was immense because it had to be, given the size of his importance to us all.

See, to the degree that identity matters, and disparate systems getting along with each other matters—in both cases for the sakes of each and all—Kim’s original wisdom and guidance matters. And that mattering is only beginning to play out.

But Kim isn’t here to shake his head at what I just said, because (as I reported in my prior post) he passed last week.

While I expect Kim’s thoughts and works to prove out over time, the point I want to make here is that it is possible for an open and generous person in a giant company to use its power for good, and not play the heavy doing it. That’s the example Kim set in the two decades he was the top architect of Microsoft’s approach to digital identity and meta systems (that is, systems that make disparate systems work as if just one).

I first saw him practice these powers at the inaugural meeting of a group that called itself the Identity Gang. That name was given to the group by Steve Gillmor, who hosted a Gillmor Gang podcast (here’s the audio) on the topic of digital identity, on December 31, 2004: New Years Eve. To follow that up, seven of the nine people in that podcast, plus about as many more, gathered during a break at Esther Dyson‘s PC Forum conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, on March 20, 2005. Here is an album of photos I shot of the Gang, sitting around an outside table. (The shot above is one of them.) There was a purpose to the meeting: deciding what we should do next, for all of the very different identity-related projects we were working on—and for all the other possible developments that also needed support.

Kim was the most powerful participant, owing both to his position at Microsoft and for having issued, one by one, Seven Laws of Identity, over the preceding months. Like the Ten Commandments, Kim’s laws are rules which, even if followed poorly, civilize the world.

Kim always insisted that his Laws were not carved on stone tablets and that he was no burning bush, but those laws were, and remain, enormously important. And I doubt that would be so without Kim’s 200-proof Canadian modesty.

The next time the Identity Gang met was in October of that year, in Berkeley. By then the gang had grown to about a hundred people. Organized by Kaliya (IdentityWoman) Young, Phil Windley, and myself (but mostly the other two), the next meeting was branded Internet Identity Workshop (IIW), and it has been held every Fall and Spring since then at the Computer History Museum (and, on three pandemic occasions, online), with hundreds, from all over the world, participating every time.

IIW is an open space workshop, meaning that it consists entirely of breakouts on topics chosen and led by the participants. There are no keynotes, no panels, no vendor booths. Sponsor involvement is limited to food, coffee, free wi-fi, projectors, and other graces that carry no other promotional value. (Thanks to Kim, it has long been a tradition for Microsoft to sponsor an evening at a local restaurant and bar.) Most importantly, the people attending from big companies and startups alike are those with the ability to engineer or guide technical developments that work for everyone and not for just those companies.

I’m biased, but I believe IIW is the most essential and productive conference of any kind, in the world. Conversations and developments of many kinds are moved forward at every one of them. Examples of developments that might not be the same today but for IIW include OAuth, OpenID, personal clouds, picosSSI, VRM, KERI, and distributed ledgers.

I am also sure that progress made around digital identity would not be the same (or as advanced) without Kim Cameron’s strong and gentle guidance. Hats off to his spirit, his laws, and his example.

 

 

Got word yesterday that Kim Cameron had passed.

Hit me hard. Kim was a loving and loved friend. He was also a brilliant and influential thinker and technologist.

That’s Kim, above, speaking at the 2018 EIC conference in Germany. His topics were The Laws of Identity on the Blockchain and Informational Self-Determination in a Post Facebook/Cambridge Analytica Era (in the Ownership of Data track).

The laws were seven:

  1. User control and consent
  2. Minimum disclosure for a constrained use
  3. Justifiable parties
  4. Directed identity (meaning pairwise, known only to the person and the other party)
  5. Pluralism of operators
  6. Human integration
  7. Consistent experience across contexts

He wrote these in 2004, when he was still early in his tenure as Microsoft’s chief architect for identity (one of several similar titles he held at the company). Perhaps more than anyone at Microsoft—or at any big company—Kim pushed constantly toward openness, inclusivity, compatibility, cooperation, and the need for individual agency and scale. His laws, and other contributions to tech, are still only beginning to have full influence. Kim was way ahead of his time, and its a terrible shame that his own is up. He died of cancer on November 30.

But Kim was so much more—and other—than his work. He was a great musician, teacher (in French and English), thinker, epicure, traveler, father, husband, and friend. As a companion, he was always fun, as well as curious, passionate, caring, gracious. Pick a flattering adjective and it likely applies.

I am reminded of what a friend said of Amos Tversky, another genius of seemingly boundless vitality who died too soon: “Death is unrepresentative of him.”

That’s one reason it’s hard to think of Kim in the past tense, and why I resisted the urge to update Kim’s Wikipedia page earlier today. (Somebody has done that now, I see.)

We all get our closing parentheses. I’ve gone longer without closing mine than Kim did before closing his. That also makes me sad, not that I’m in a hurry. Being old means knowing you’re in the exit line, but okay with others cutting in. I just wish this time it wasn’t Kim.

Britt Blaser says life is like a loaf of bread. It’s one loaf no matter how many slices are in it. Some people get a few slices, others many. For the sake of us all, I wish Kim had more.

Here is an album of photos of Kim, going back to 2005 at Esther Dyson’s PC Forum, where we had the first gathering of what would become the Internet Identity Workshop, the 34th of which is coming up next Spring. As with many other things in the world, it wouldn’t be the same—or here at all—without Kim.

Bonus links:

Wikipedia

In Students are told not to use Wikipedia for research. But it’s a trustworthy source, Rachel Cunneen and Mathieu O’Niel nicely unpack their case for the headline. In a online polylogue in response to that piece, I wrote,

“You always have a choice: to help or to hurt.” That’s what my mom told me, a zillion years ago. It applies to everything we do, pretty much.

The purpose of Wikipedia is to help. Almost entirely, it does. It is a work of positive construction without equal or substitute. That some use it to hurt, or to spread false information, does not diminish Wikipedia’s worth as a resource.

The trick for researchers using Wikipedia as a resource is not a difficult one: don’t cite it. Dig down in references, make sure those are good, and move on from there. It’s not complicated.

Since that topic and comment are due to slide down into the Web’s great forgettery (where Google searches do not go), I thought I’d share it here.

Going west

Long ago a person dear to me disappeared for what would become eight years. When this happened I was given comfort and perspective by a professor of history whose study concentrated on the American South after the Civil War.

“You know what the most common record of young men was, after the Civil War?” he asked.

“You mean census records?”

“Yes, and church records, family histories, all that.”

“I don’t know.”

“Two words: Went west.”

He then explained that that, except for the natives here in the U.S., nearly all of our ancestors had gone west. Literally or metaphorically, voluntarily or not, they went west.

More importantly, most were not going back. Many, perhaps most, were hardly heard from again in the places they left. The break from the past in countless places was sadly complete for those left behind. All that remained were those two words: went west.

This fact, he said, is at the heart of American rootlessness.

“We are the least rooted civilization on Earth,” he said. “This is why we have the weakest family values in the world.”

This is also why he also thought political talk about “family values” was especially ironic. We may have those values, but they tend not to keep us from going west anyway.

This comes to mind because I just heard Harry Chapin‘s “Cat’s in the Cradle” for the first time in years, and it hurt to hear it. (Give it a whack and try not to be moved. Especially if you also know that Harry—a great songwriter—died in a horrible accident while still a young father.)

You don’t need to grow up in an unhappy family to go west anyway. That happened for me. My family was a very happy one, and when i got out of high school I was eager to go somewhere else anyway. Eventually I went all the way west, from New Jersey, then North Carolina, then Calfornia. After that, also Boston, New York and Bloomington, Indiana. There was westering in all those moves.

Now I’m back in California for a bit, missing all those places, and people in them.

There are reasons for everything, but in most cases those are just explanations. Saul Bellow explains the difference in Mr. Sammler’s Planet:

You had to be a crank to insist on being right. Being right was largely a matter of explanations. Intellectual man had become an explaining creature. Fathers to children, wives to husbands, lecturers to listeners, experts to laymen, colleagues to colleagues, doctors to patients, man to his own soul, explained. The roots of this, the causes of the other, the source of events, the history, the structure, the reasons why. For the most part, in one ear out the other. The soul wanted what it wanted. It had its own natural knowledge. It sat unhappily on superstructures of explanation, poor bird, not knowing which way to fly.

What explains the human diaspora better than our westering tendencies? That we tend to otherize and fight each other? That we are relentlessly ambulatory? Those are surely involved. But maybe there is nothing more human than to say “I gotta go,” without needing a reason beyond the urge alone.


The worldwide shipping crisis is bad. Here are some reasons:

  1. “Just in time” manufacturing, shipping, delivery, and logistics. For several decades, the whole supply system has been optimized for “lean” everything. On the whole, no part of it fully comprehends breakdowns outside the scope of immediate upstream or downstream dependencies.
  2. The pandemic, which has been depriving nearly every sector of labor, intelligence, leadership, data, and much else, since early last year.
  3. Catastrophes. The largest of these was the 2021 Suez Canal Obstruction, which has had countless effects upstream and down.
  4. Competing narratives. Humans can’t help reducing all complex situations to stories, all of which require protagonists, problems, and movement toward resolution. It’s how our minds are built, and why it’s hard to look more deeply and broadly at any issue and why it’s here. (For more on that, see Where Journalism Fails.)
  5. Corruption. This is endemic to every complex economy: construction, online advertising, high finance, whatever. It happens here too. (And, like incompetence, it tends to worsen in a crisis.)
  6. Bureacracies & non-harmonized regulations. More about this below*.
  7. Complicating secondary and tertiary effects. The most obvious of these is inflation. Says here, “the spot rate for a 40-foot shipping container from Shanghai to Los Angeles rising from about $3,500 last year to $12,500 as of the end of September.” I’ve since heard numbers as high as $50,000. And, of course, inflation also happens for other reasons, which further complicates things.

To wrap one’s head around all of those (and more), it might help to start with Aristotle’s four “causes” (which might also be translated as “explanations”). Wikipedia illustrates these with a wooden dining table:

  • Its material cause is wood.
  • Its efficient cause is carpentry.
  • Its final cause is dining.
  • Its formal cause (what gives it form) is design.

Of those, formal cause is what matters most. That’s because, without knowledge of what a table is, it wouldn’t get made.

But the worldwide supply chain (which is less a single chain than braided rivers spreading outward from many sources through countless deltas) is impossible to reduce to any one formal cause. Mining, manufacturing, harvesting, shipping on sea and land, distribution, wholesale and retail sales are all involved, and specialized in their own ways, dependencies withstanding.

I suggest, however, that the most formal of the supply chain problem’s causes is also what’s required to sort out and solve it: digital technology and the Internet. From What does the Internet make of us?, sourcing the McLuhans:

“People don’t want to know the cause of anything”, Marshall said (and Eric quotes, in Media and Formal Cause). “They do not want to know why radio caused Hitler and Gandhi alike. They do not want to know that print caused anything whatever. As users of these media, they wish merely to get inside…”

We are all inside a digital environment that is making each of us while also making our systems. This can’t be reversed. But it can be understood, at least to some degree. And that understanding can be applied.

How? Well, Marshall McLuhan—who died in 1980—saw in the rise of computing the retrieval of what he called “perfect memory—total and exact.” (Laws of Media, 1988.) So, wouldn’t it be nice if we could apply that power to the totality of the world’s supply chains, subsuming and transcending the scope and interests of any part, whether those parts be truckers, laws, standards, and the rest—and do it in real time? Global aviation has some of this, but it’s also a much simpler system than the braided rivers between global supply and global demand.

Is there something like that? I don’t yet know. Closest I’ve found is the UN’s IMO (International Maritime Organizaiton), and that only covers “the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships.” Not very encompassing, that. If any of ya’ll know more, fill us in.

[*Added 18 October] Just attended a talk by Oswald KuylerManaging Director of the International Chamber of Commerce‘s Digital Standards initiative, on an “Integrated Approach” by his and allied organizations that addresses “digital islands,” “no single view of available standards” both open and closed, “limited investments into training, change management and adoption,” “lack of enabling rules and regulations,” “outdated regulation,” “privacy law barriers,” “trade standard adoption gaps,” “costly technical integration,” “fragmentation” that “prevents paperless trade,” and other factors. Yet he also says the whole thing is “bent but not broken,” and that (says one slide) “trade and supply chain prove more resilient than imagined.”

Another relevant .org is the International Chamber of Shipping.

By the way, Heather Cox Richardson (whose newsletter I highly recommend) yesterday summarized what the Biden administration is trying to do about all this:

Biden also announced today a deal among a number of different players to try to relieve the supply chain slowdowns that have built up as people turned to online shopping during the pandemic. Those slowdowns threaten the delivery of packages for the holidays, and Biden has pulled together government officials, labor unions, and company ownership to solve the backup.

The Port of Los Angeles, which handles 40% of the container traffic coming into the U.S., has had container ships stuck offshore for weeks. In June, Biden put together a Supply Chain Disruption Task Force, which has hammered out a deal. The port is going to begin operating around the clock, seven days a week. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has agreed to fill extra shifts. And major retailers, including Walmart, FedEx, UPS, Samsung, Home Depot, and Target, have agreed to move quickly to clear their goods out of the dock areas, speeding up operations to do it and committing to putting teams to work extra hours.

“The supply chain is essentially in the hands of the private sector,” a White House official told Donna Littlejohn of the Los Angeles Daily News, “so we need the private sector…to help solve these problems.” But Biden has brokered a deal among the different stakeholders to end what was becoming a crisis.

Hopefully helpful, but not sufficient.

Bonus link: a view of worldwide marine shipping. (Zoom in and out, and slide in any direction for a great way to spend some useful time.)

The photo is of Newark’s container port, viewed from an arriving flight at EWR, in 2009.

There’s an economic theory here: Free customers are more valuable than captive onesto themselves, to the companies they deal with, and to the marketplace. If that’s true, the intention economy will prove it. If not, we’ll stay stuck in the attention economy, where the belief that captive customers are more valuable than free ones prevails.

Let me explain.

The attention economy is not native to human attention. It’s native to businesses that  seek to grab and manipulate buyers’ attention. This includes the businesses themselves and their agents. Both see human attention as a “resource” as passive and ready for extraction as oil and coal. The primary actors in this economy—purveyors and customers of marketing and advertising services—typically talk about human beings not only as mere “users” and “consumers,” but as “targets” to “acquire,” “manage,” “control” and “lock in.” They are also oblivious to the irony that this is the same language used by those who own cattle and slaves.

While attention-grabbing has been around for as long as we’ve had yelling, in our digital age the fields of practice (abbreviated martech and adtech) have become so vast and varied that nobody (really, nobody) can get their head around everything that’s going on in them. (Examples of attempts are here, here and here.)

One thing we know for sure is that martech and adtech rationalize taking advantage of absent personal privacy tech in the hands of their targets. What we need there are the digital equivalents of the privacy tech we call clothing and shelter in the physical world. We also need means to signal our privacy preferences, to obtain agreements to those, and to audit compliance and resolve disputes. As it stands in the attention economy, privacy is a weak promise made separately by websites and services that are highly incentivised not to provide it. Tracking prophylaxis in browsers is some help, but itworks differently for every browser and it’s hard to tell what’s actually going on.

Another thing we know for sure is that the attention economy is thick with fraud, malware, and worse. For a view of how much worse, look at any adtech-supported website through PageXray and see the hundreds or thousands of ways sthe site and its invisible partners are trying to track you. (For example, here’s what Smithsonian Magazine‘s site does.)

We also know that lawmaking to stop adtech’s harms (e.g. GDPR and CCPA) has thus far mostly caused inconvenience for you and me (how many “consent” notices have interrupted your web surfing today?)—while creating a vast new industry devoted to making tracking as easy as legally possible. Look up GDPR+compliance and you’ll get way over 100 million results. Almost all of those will be for companies selling other companies ways to obey the letter of privacy law while violating its spirit.

Yet all that bad shit is also a red herring, misdirecting attention away from the inefficiencies of an economy that depends on unwelcome surveillance and algorithmic guesswork about what people might want.

Think about this: even if you apply all the machine learning and artificial intelligence in the world to all the personal data that might be harvested, you still can’t beat what’s possible when the targets of that surveillance have their own ways to contact and inform sellers of what they actually want and don’t want, plus ways to form genuine relationships and express genuine (rather than coerced) loyalty, and to do all of that at scale.

We don’t have that yet. But when we do, it will be an intention economy. Here are the opening paragraphs of The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012):

This book stands with the customer. This is out of necessity, not sympathy. Over the coming years, customers will be emancipated from systems built to control them. They will become free and independent actors in the marketplace, equipped to tell vendors what they want, how they want it, where and when—even how much they’d like to pay—outside of any vendor’s system of customer control. Customers will be able to form and break relationships with vendors, on customers’ own terms, and not just on the take-it-or-leave-it terms that have been pro forma since Industry won the Industrial Revolution.

Customer power will be personal, not just collective.  Each customer will come to market equipped with his or her own means for collecting and storing personal data, expressing demand, making choices, setting preferences, proffering terms of engagement, offering payments and participating in relationships—whether those relationships are shallow or deep, and whether they last for moments or years. Those means will be standardized. No vendor will control them.

Demand will no longer be expressed only in the forms of cash, collective appetites, or the inferences of crunched data over which the individual has little or no control. Demand will be personal. This means customers will be in charge of personal information they share with all parties, including vendors.

Customers will have their own means for storing and sharing their own data, and their own tools for engaging with vendors and other parties.  With these tools customers will run their own loyalty programs—ones in which vendors will be the members. Customers will no longer need to carry around vendor-issued loyalty cards and key tags. This means vendors’ loyalty programs will be based on genuine loyalty by customers, and will benefit from a far greater range of information than tracking customer behavior alone can provide.

Thus relationship management will go both ways. Just as vendors today are able to manage relationships with customers and third parties, customers tomorrow will be able to manage relationships with vendors and fourth parties, which are companies that serve as agents of customer demand, from the customer’s side of the marketplace.

Relationships between customers and vendors will be voluntary and genuine, with loyalty anchored in mutual respect and concern, rather than coercion. So, rather than “targeting,” “capturing,” “acquiring,” “managing,” “locking in” and “owning” customers, as if they were slaves or cattle, vendors will earn the respect of customers who are now free to bring far more to the market’s table than the old vendor-based systems ever contemplated, much less allowed.

Likewise, rather than guessing what might get the attention of consumers—or what might “drive” them like cattle—vendors will respond to actual intentions of customers. Once customers’ expressions of intent become abundant and clear, the range of economic interplay between supply and demand will widen, and its sum will increase. The result we will call the Intention Economy.

This new economy will outperform the Attention Economy that has shaped marketing and sales since the dawn of advertising. Customer intentions, well-expressed and understood, will improve marketing and sales, because both will work with better information, and both will be spared the cost and effort wasted on guesses about what customers might want, and flooding media with messages that miss their marks. Advertising will also improve.

The volume, variety and relevance of information coming from customers in the Intention Economy will strip the gears of systems built for controlling customer behavior, or for limiting customer input. The quality of that information will also obsolete or re-purpose the guesswork mills of marketing, fed by crumb-trails of data shed by customers’ mobile gear and Web browsers. “Mining” of customer data will still be useful to vendors, though less so than intention-based data provided directly by customers.

In economic terms, there will be high opportunity costs for vendors that ignore useful signaling coming from customers. There will also be high opportunity gains for companies that take advantage of growing customer independence and empowerment.

But this hasn’t happened yet. Why?

Let’s start with supply and demand, which is roughly about price. Wikipedia: “the relationship between the price of a given good or product and the willingness of people to either buy or sell it.” But that wasn’t the original idea. “Supply and demand” was first expressed as “demand and supply” by Sir James Denham-Steuart in An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy, written in 1767. To Sir James, demand and supply wasn’t about price. Specifically, “it must constantly appear reciprocal. If I demand a pair of shoes, the shoemaker either demands money or something else for his own use.” Also, “The nature of demand is to encourage industry.”

Nine years later, in The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, a more visible bulb in the Scottish Enlightenment, wrote, “The real and effectual discipline which is exercised over a workman is that of his customers. It is the fear of losing their employment which restrains his frauds and corrects his negligence.” Again, nothing about price.

But neither of those guys lived to see the industrial age take off. When that happened, demand became an effect of supply, rather than a cause of it. Supply came to run whole markets on a massive scale, with makers and distributors of goods able to serve countless customers in parallel. The industrial age also ubiquitized standard-form contracts of adhesion binding all customers to one supplier with a single “agreement.”

But, had Sir James and Adam lived into the current millennium, they would have seen that it is now possible, thanks to digital technologies and the Internet, for customers to achieve scale across many companies, with efficiencies not imaginable in the pre-digital industrial age.

For example, it should be possible for a customer to express her intentions—say, “I need a stroller for twins downtown this afternoon”—to whole markets, but without being trapped inside any one company’s walled garden. In other words, not only inside Amazon, eBay or Craigslist. This is called intentcasting, and among its virtues is what Kim Cameron calls “minimum disclosure for constrained purposes” to “justifiable parties” through a choice among a “plurality of operators.”

Likewise, there is no reason why websites and services can’t agree to your privacy policy, and your terms of engagement. In legal terms, you should be able to operate as the first party, and to proffer your own terms, to which sites and services can agree (or, as privacy laws now say, consent) as second parties. That this is barely thinkable is a legacy of a time that has sadly not yet left us: one in which only companies can enjoy that kind of scale. Yet it would clearly be a convenience to have privacy as normalized in the online world as it is in the offline one. But we’re slowly getting there; for example with Customer Commons’ P2B1, aka #NoStalking term, which readers can proffer and publishers can agree agree to. It says “Just give me ads not based on tracking me.” Also with the IEEE’s P7012 Standard for Machine Readable Personal Privacy Terms working group.

Same with subscriptions. A person should be able to keep track of all her regular payments for subscription services, to keep track of new and better deals as they come along, to express to service providers her intentions toward those new deals, and to cancel or unsubscribe. There are lots of tools for this today, for example TruebillBobbyMoney DashboardMintSubscript MeBillTracker ProTrimSubbyCard DueSiftSubMan, and Subscript Me. There are also subscription management systems offered by PaypalAmazonApple and Google (e.g. with Google Sheets and Google Doc templates). But all of them to one degree or another are based more on the felt need by those suppliers for customer captivity than for customer independence.

As Customer Commons unpacks it here, there are many largely or entirely empty market spaces that are wide open for free and independent customers: identity, shopping (e.g. with shopping carts of your own to take from site to site), loyalty (of the genuine kind), property ownership (the real Internet of Things), and payments, for example.

It is possible to fill all those spaces if we have the capacity to—as Sir James put it—encourage industry, restrain fraud and correct negligence. While there is some progress in some of those areas, the going is still slow on the global scale. After all, The Intention Economy is nine years old and we still don’t have it yet. Is it just not possible, or are we starting in the wrong places?

I think it’s the latter.

Way back in 1995, when the Internet first showed up on both of our desktops, my wife Joyce said, “The sweet spot of the Internet isn’t global. It’s local.” That was the gist of my TEDx Santa Barbara talk in 2018. It’s also why Joyce and I are now in Bloomington, Indiana, working with the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University on deploying a new way for demand and supply to inform each other and get business rolling—and to start locally. It’s called the Byway, and it works outside of the old supply-controlled industrial model. Here’s an FAQ. Please feel free to add questions in the comments here.


The title image is by the great Hugh Macleod, and was commissioned in 2004 for a startup he and I both served and is now long gone.

 

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