Month: March 2013

The best VRM post, ever

One of the most mind-blowing one-liners I ever heard tossed was this one:

“All the significant trends start with technologists.”

It was uttered by Marc Andreessen  during an interview I did with him for Linux Journal, in May 1998, for the August issue of the magazine, following up on Netscape’s open source release of Mozilla. The title of the piece was Betting on Darwin. It’s still up at that link, and an interesting piece of history.

That one-liner knocked me over because it is so obvious and true, yet easily overlooked. It is also exactly the reason I started ProjectVRM. I knew it needed technologists. Not just to develop code, but to fully understand  the challenges and opportunities that call technology forth into the world.

Lately one of those technologists has stepped forward and written the best VRM post I’ve ever read, including all of my own. It’s by T.Rob, in his blog The Odd is Silent. The title is Futurists Groundhog Day. An excerpt:

Why VRM?

VRM, or Vendor Relationship Management, is a new approach to conducting business in which the missing physical constraints have been replaced by technological and policy constraints that restore the balance of power between individuals and their vendors, and perhaps to some extent also their governments.

One of the issues is asymmetry in the cost of data collection.  Vendors spread the capital cost of data collection over a large population of customers.  Given enough time, the cost of data collection drops to near-zero or in some cases actually generates returns.  Consumers on the other hand have no such infrastructure.  You are co-owner of your transactional data but your grocer records each line item of your purchase in real time and you get a cryptic paper receipt which you have the option to transcribe into a database.  If you had a database.  And knew how to program.

VRM proposes to provide that platform so that individuals will have the means to capture more of their own data at a cost that is competitive with their vendors.  Indeed, the vision is that the vendors who already have that data will some day participate in the VRM ecosystem by sharing it with their customers, in real time and full resolution.  Instead of just a crappy paper receipt with unreadable abbreviated names, you’ll get the actual line items with UPC codes, prices and for some products possibly even the cradle-to-grave history and status.  You’d get your smart meter readings in real time so that you could program home automation behaviors based on load, utility rate, occupancy and so forth.  When you purchase online, the terms of the contract, price and all other metadata about the purchase would either be captured by you or delivered to you in real time by the vendor.

But VRM is about a lot more than just replacing today’s functionality.  Just as electric motors transcended the function occupied by stem engines, VRM enables entirely new capabilities.  Many are yet to be discovered but a key new capability is intentcasting.  This is a direct signal from the individual to the market about preferences, requirements and purchase intent.

Read the whole thing.

Bonus link.

VRM Roundup

Some collected items, some old, some new…

Products I Want, an intentcasting post by Johannes Ernst.

On cricket, riots, trust and customer advocacy and The Dimes; a modern retail fable, by JP Rangaswami.

Own your identity, by Phil Windley, responds to The VRM perspective.

On personal clouds:

Groupon’s group discount on the Tech sector, by Tom Foremski.

Several posts on adtech:

Doc Searls and the Intention Economy, held at Capital One Labs wasn’t covered but was tweeted. Find a few bits at the intersection of @dsearls and  #smwwdc.

Android for independence.

@shelisrael – “Advertisers call this contextual advertising. I call it spam.” http://t.co/8Hkf06ya #intentioneconomy #VRM

RT @pfasano: NYTimes: Search Option From Facebook Is Privacy Test #VRM RT @pfasano: NYTimes: Search Option From Facebook Is Privacy Test #VRM Smarter information, smarter consumers, by Richard Thaler and Will Tucker in Harvard Business Review

RT @GrahamHill: @Lynn_Teo If you want another view of #vrm watch Alan Mitchell’s preso on Responding to the Empowered Customer http://t. … January 26, 2013 gammydodger (gammydodger)

RT @seanbohan: Future of Ecommerce 2013 from @heatherAtaylor & @Econsultancy includes a nice mention about @dsearls & #VRM http … January 26, 2013gammydodger (gammydodger)

RT @Toon: #VRM & Trust Networks pitched in Davos by Sandy Petland “Digital society did not turn out how we hoped…own your data” ht …January 26, 2013 gammydodger (gammydodger)

Will Consumer Transaction Data Drive New Online Marketplaces?

Refactoring Consumer Electronics, Bob Frankston

What if companies gave me control of my data? by , Consumer Affairs Minister, in Which? Conversation.

 

Explaining VRM

In Rallying cry for innovation – and faith, Mark Sage puts up some long excerpts from a post I made to the ProjectVRM list, explaining VRM to a skeptical marketer. The bottom lines:

VRM isn’t complicated. It’s only about giving customers means toward two things: independence and engagement. To see how that can be done, one needs to stand on the side of the customer. So that’s what we’re doing.

Go to the first link above for the whole thing.

The VRM perspective

The VRM perspective is independence.Liberty Bell

This isn’t new. In fact, it’s as old as the Net. It is also nearly forgotten. Billions have never experienced it.

When the Net first came into common use, in 1995, independence was what anybody felt who started up a browser and surfed from place to place, or who built a site on a domain of one’s own, with its own name and email addresses.

To do anything substantive on the Net today, we use personalized services that require us to live inside corporate walled gardens. We have these with Google apps and Drive, Apple’s iCloud, and “social” systems such as Facebook and Twitter. Adobe and Microsoft are also now pushing hard for us to rent software as a service (SaaS), so we no longer own and run software for ourselves on our own machines.

Bruce Schneier compares today’s walled gardens to castles in a feudal system. We are vassals within these systems. Our job with VRM is not to fight these systems, but to equip individuals with their own tools of independence and engagement: to make them the points of integration for their own data, and of origination for what gets done with it.

To cease being vassals requires that we possess full agency: the power to act, with effect. We cannot do that without tools that are ours alone. Just as our bodies and souls are ours alone, yet also work in human society, we need tools that are ours alone, yet also work in the world of connections that comprises the Net.

To operate with full agency we need a full box of VRM tools — plus two other things. One is substitutability of the services we engage. The other is freedom of contract.

Substitutability means we have a choice, say, of intentcasting services, of quantified self gizmos and service providers, of health care data and service providers, and of trust networks and personal cloud service providers — just as we have a choice today among email service providers, including the choice to host our own email.

Freedom of contract means we don’t always have to subordinate our power and will to dominant parties in calf-cow ceremonies (e.g. clicking “accept” to one-sided terms we don’t read because there’s no point to it). We can design automated processes by which both parties come to mutually respectful agreements, just as we have with handshake agreements in the physical world.

Both of these virtues need to be design principles for VRM developers. If they are, we can save the Net by empowering ourselves.

 

The all-silo mobile marketplace

In the beginning was the browser, and the browser was yours. You drove it on the Information Superhighway of the World Wide Web:

As a driver, you experienced the same kind of independence that you did with a car. You had a private space inside a private vehicle that you alone operated. You thought and spoke about it with first person possessive pronouns. So, just as you still think and speak of my car, with my engine and my tires, you also thought and spoke of my browser with my bookmarks and my history.

But, because the Web was designed on the client-server model (aka calf-cow), sites could do what t hey wanted with your vehicle. So, while each site gave you both what you came for (pages, usually), it also gave you cookies to help you both remember where you were the last time you visited. And, for the convenience of you both, it also gave you a shopping cart. Thus, to them, and to you, this is what your browser became:

But there was a cost to this: you were no longer an independent human being with your own private space, but a shopper in the site’s private space. This asymmetry of power and dependence was — and remains — so absolute that it became pro forma for sites and services to use the first person possessive pronoun for you: myspace, myfitnesspal, myverizon. This only made sense in the context of not being able to say it for ourselves.

As a result, our browsers on the commercial Web are not really our own. They are re-skinned at each site with whatever the site wants to make of them:

On the commercial Web, we may still think we’re drivers, but inside each site we are passengers — or, in the now-favored lingo of retailing, “guests.”

Being guests rather than drivers has put us each in a slow-cook hell with these features/bugs:

  • Accumulating up to hundreds of different password-login combinations
  • Needing to fill and re-fill hundreds of mostly-redundant forms, over and over again
  • Submiting just as often to one-sided terms of service that we never read because there’s no point to it

This absolute submissiveness, this complete yielding of personal power to “providers” of all kinds, has boundless upsides. But it has been a Faustian bargain from the start. What we deal away is our time and our agency, both of which matter to our souls.

Seeing the success to be found in dominating customers online, brick-and-mortar retailers have replicated some of the same systems, requiring that regular customers carry around loyalty cards, one for each store. Here’s how “loyalty cards” shows up in Google’s Ngram Viewer:

The timing is no coincidence. Nor are the inconveniences these cards impose on customers and stores alike. But, so long as “free” means “your choice of captor,” the captive-captor system prevails.

That’s what’s happening in the mobile space as well.Shopping carts on websites have become the shopping apps on smartphones. The result is an all-proprietary subset of the World Wide Web:

And they proliferate. If you go to CVS, you get told to download an app. If you’ve already done that, you get told to download another one:

cvs pitch

Or so it appears. I just spent 20 minutes trying to figure out if the Pill Identifier is a feature of the CVS pharmacy app, or an app of its own. Hard to tell when you look up “cvs” on Apple’s App Store app:

To CVS, these are all conveniences for both of you. Never mind that these end up cluttering your phones. Nor that you can only get these (at least on the iPhone) at just Apple’s store, and that your phone company also controls what you can do with it (far more than any car company controls what you can do with the car you buy, lease or rent from them). The inconvenience is yours, not theirs.

The benefits, again, are enormous. For example, it is surely a good thing, for some people, to know what kinds of pills they have. And it’s a good thing that CVS provides a way to do that. But it’s CVS’s app, not yours.

To get the difference, consider an ordinary thermometer.  When you buy one from CVS, it’s yours when you walk out of the store. It isn’t CVS’s any more. Maybe it would be good if the thermometer were smart enough to communicate  your temperature to your doctor or to CVS. But that option should be yours, not CVS’s. Yet there are many who would urge CVS to get your temperature, if it can. And these are the people who are running the “big data” conversation today, at least around marketing.

We are already down a steep and slippery slope here.

See, once you have an app, it’s hard to know for sure what information about you and your life the app is sending back to the company, or to its third parties. According to the Wall Street Journal, countless apps are reporting on you and your activities to marketers, without telling you that’s what they’re doing. Or at least not in an obvious way. Yes, they have privacy policies, but nearly all of them reserve the right to change those. And yes, you do have the choice to not participate in the app marketplace. But as the world becomes more and more networked, that becomes less and less of a practical option.

In respect to the Faustian bargain with the all-silo marketplace, it doesn’t matter how good the silos get. They are still silos. Making better silos doesn’t solve the problem.

After awhile all this power asymmetry adds up, and at some point it breaks. Our job with VRM is to make that  break happen — by showing customers and providers alike that there are better ways to operate a free marketplace, starting with free customers. We do that through tools and services that are more like cars than like shopping carts: that make us both independent and equipped to engage.

A list of VRM developers is here.

Bonus links:

 

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