Free customers make free markets

I was was trying to find an old Bill Gates quote when I ran across an early DaveNet titled Bill Gates vs The Internet. In it Dave wrote,

  The users outfoxed us again. It happens every fifteen years or so in this business, We lost our grounding, the users rebelled, and a new incarnation of the software business has been created.

  What is it? The Internet, of course. It’s a very magic thing whose potential has barely been explored. New stuff is happening almost on a daily basis. There’s a rebellious spirit to it...

  Now the tail is wagging the dog! The old software industry is struggling (even flailing) to not be random idiots. The next versions of Windows, Macintosh and OS/2 are all Internet clients, with the standards supported — Gopher, WAIS, FTP, Telnet, Mosaic, news groups, etc. It’s an incredible thing because none of the platform vendors had any say in the definition of these standards! It isn’t based on OpenDoc, OLE 2.0, Kaleida, Taligent, AppWare, or any of the various database standards that Philippe and Bill were arguing about a few years ago. Or even MAPI or VIM. Remember OCE? Do you remember how important those things seemed at the time?

He wrote that on October 18. 1994. This was before Netscape, before Amazon, before eBay and waaaay before Google.

Yesterday Dave wrote two equally precient and important posts: A bit about Open Social and Think about all the frees and opens and what they reveal. In the first he says,

  When Google makes their announcement on Thursday, the question they should be asked by everyone is — How much of my data are you letting me control today? That’s pretty much all that matters to anyone, imho.

And in the second he looks at all the “Open _____” and “Free _____” mantras, then adds,

  These aren’t good or bad, they just serve someone’s interest without thinking about the users’ interest (at best) or counter to the users’ interest (at worst).

  Which suggests maybe it’s time to get to the point.

  Free Users. 🙂

Here’s my corollary to both: When we have free users, we won’t ask companies to “let me control” my data. Instead, we’ll ask “What data of mine will I let this or that company use.”

Think about what it means to be a “user”, and what a “user” is.

Because companies are users too.

The idea behind this challenge isn’t to put the shoe on the other foot, but to put proper shoes on both feet.

We need real relationships here. Not the kind where one party has the exclusive power to “let” the other party have rights, data or anything else. Not the kind where one party has to beg the other party for their freedom. Not the kind where “Customer Relationship Management” consists of “capturing”, “managing” and “owning” customers as if they were cattle.

We will never have truly free and open markets — ones with choices for customers among large suppliers that go beyond “Which rancher’s fenced land shall I graze in?” — until users on both the demand and the supply sides are truly free. And that will only happen when both sides have the tools to express their freedom and independence, when both can assert the terms by which they are willing to relate — for the good of themselvess and each other.

We have those tools on the sellers’ side. We lack them on the buyers’ side. Correcting that is what ProjectVRM is all about.

Bonus link from Britt Blaser, with a bonus quote: Where there’s folk, there’s fire.

8 comments

  1. Free customers make free markets « turnings’s avatar

    […] customers make free markets 1 11 2007 Free customers make free markets: Here’s my corollary to both: When we have free users, we won’t ask companies to “let me […]

  2. Good news: the user is back, and he won’t be ignored this time! « Alexander van Elsas’s Weblog on new media & technologies and their effect on social behavior’s avatar

    […] Internet does not evolve around you now. Another interesting post was written by Doc Searl called “Free Customers make free markets”. He writes in response to a post by Dave Winer who proposes that the next change will be to free […]

  3. Quasi.dot » Dice Doc Searls : Free customers make free markets’s avatar

    […] Doc Searls Weblog · Free customers make free markets […]

  4. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    Mmmmmmm, but Doc, Open Source has always been about user freedom. We don’t *pitch* it that way, because we don’t want to frighten the horses. We don’t want to send developers packing because we’re nuts.

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Russ, I don’t mind frightening the horses. Also, “free users” is AND logic at work. It’s in addition to all the other free and open stuff.

    It’s also just an idea. We’ll see if it takes.

  6. Matt Blass’s avatar

    To me, it’s less a question of ‘if it takes’, but ‘when will it take’? Right now, users think they want more control. Companies who have the control think they don’t want to lose that control. But as you say, it’s actually about relationships.

    Control is a phantom illusion that rarely empowers except in an environment of oppression. If users are being oppressed, then control will improve the environment, but what we really want is empowerment through flexibility and friendliness. We want the freedom to interact, the flexibility to adjust, and the connection of mutual benefactors.

    That to me is inevitable. I’d just prefer that inevitable future happen sooner than later.

    Free users!

  7. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Matt. Good points all. I want it to happen in my lifetime. Since I’m already 60, you can understand my rush. 🙂

  8. Companies are users too « Pen.sieve.ity’s avatar

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