Category: Business

Customertech Will Turn the Online Marketplace Into a Marvel-Like Universe in Which All of Us are Enhanced

enhanced-by-customertech

We’ve been thinking too small.

Specifically, we’ve been thinking about data as if it ought to be something big, when it’s just bits.

Your life in the networked world is no more about data than your body is about cells.

What matters most to us online is agency, not data. Agency is the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power (Merriam-Webster).

Nearly all the world’s martech and adtech assumes we have no more agency in the marketplace than marketing provides us, which is kind of the way ranchers look at cattle. That’s why bad marketers assume, without irony, that it’s their sole responsibility to provide us with an “experience” on our “journey” down what they call a “funnel.”

What can we do as humans online that isn’t a grace of Apple, Amazon, Facebook or Google?

Marshall McLuhan says every new technology is “an extension of ourselves.” Another of his tenets is “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” Thus Customertech—tools for customers—will inevitably enlarge our agency and change us in the process.

For example, with customertech, we can—

Compared to what we have in the offline world, these are superpowers. When customertech gives us these superpowers, the marketplace will become a Marvel-like universe filled with enhanced individuals. Trust me: this will be just as good for business as it will be for each of us.

We can’t get there if all we’re thinking about is data.

By the way, I made this same case to Mozilla in December 2015, on the last day I consulted the company that year. I did it through a talk called Giving Users Superpowers at an all-hands event called Mozlando. I don’t normally use slides, but this time I did, leveraging the very slides Mozilla keynoters showed earlier, which I shot with my phone from the audience. Download the slide deck here, and be sure to view it with the speaker’s notes showing. The advice I give in it is still good.

BTW, a big HT to @SeanBohan for the Superpowers angle, starting with the title (which he gave me) for the Mozlando talk.

 

 

Our radical hack on the whole marketplace

In Disruption isn’t the whole VRM story, I visited the Tetrad of Media Effects, from Laws of Media: the New Science, by Marshall and Eric McLuhan. Every new medium (which can be anything from a stone arrowhead to a self-driving car), the McLuhans say, does four things, which they pose as questions that can have multiple answers, and they visualize this way:

tetrad-of-media-effects

The McLuhans also famously explained their work with this encompassing statement: We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.

This can go for institutions, such as businesses, and whole marketplaces, as well as people. We saw that happen in a big way with contracts of adhesion: those one-sided non-agreements we click on every time we acquire a new login and password, so we can deal with yet another site or service online.

These were named in 1943 by the law professor Friedrich “Fritz” Kessler in his landmark paper, “Contracts of Adhesion: Some Thoughts about Freedom of Contract.” Here is pretty much his whole case, expressed in a tetrad:

contracts-of-adhesion

Contracts of adhesion were tools industry shaped, was in turn shaped by, and in turn shaped the whole marketplace.

But now we have the Internet, which by design gives everyone on it a place to stand, and, like Archimedes with his lever, move the world.

We are now developing that lever, in the form of terms any one of us can assert, as a first party, and the other side—the businesses we deal with—can agree to, automatically. Which they’ll do it because it’s good for them.

I describe our first two terms, both of which have potentials toward enormous changes, in two similar posts put up elsewhere: 

— What if businesses agreed to customers’ terms and conditions? 

— The only way customers come first

And we’ll work some of those terms this week, fittingly, at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, starting tomorrow at VRM Day and then Tuesday through Thursday at the Internet Identity Workshop. I host the former and co-host the latter, our 24th. One is free and the other is cheap for a conference.

Here is what will come of our work:
personal-terms

Trust me: nothing you can do is more leveraged than helping make this happen.

See you there.

 

Pictures Unpack 20,669 Words

rsiskoryak-image

That’s a small sample of some great work by the artist R. Siskoryak, who (Wikipedia tells us), usually “specializes in making comic adaptations of literature classics”, but has now graphically adapted the complete text of what Joe Coscarelli (@JoeCoscarelli) of The New York Times (in Artist Helps iTunes’ User Agreement Go Down Easy), calls “the complete text of Apple’s mind-numbing corporate boilerplate” one must agree to before using iTunes.

The adaptation has its own Tumblr site, where it says, “@rsikoryak is on tour to promote the new color edition of Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel, out now from @drawnandquarterly.” Hence the image above. His  well-illustrated bio there is fun too. You can also read the original Tumblr version from the beginning here.

He’ll be appearing (and, presumably speaking and showing) at the Strand Bookstore, 828 Broadway, 10003, with Kenneth Goldsmith, at 7pm this evening (Thursday, March 9). He’s already been in Baltimore. Next up:

  • Pittsburgh, PA, Friday, March 17, 2017 – 6:00pm, ToonSeum with Copacetic Comics. 945 Liberty Ave, 15222
  • Cincinnati, OH, Tuesday, March 21, 2017 – 7:00pm, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 2692 Madison Ave., 45208 with Carol Tyler
  • New York, NY, Friday, March 24, 2017 – 4:00pm, Spring Symposium, Cardozo Law Journal, moderated by Brett Frischmann
  • Rochester, NY, Wednesday, April 12, 2017 – 4:00pm, Rochester Institute of Technology, Bamboo Room in the Student Alumni Union, 1 Lomb Memorial Dr, 14623
  • Toronto, ON, Toronto Comic Arts Festival, Friday, May 12, 2017 – 9:00am to Sunday, May 14, 2017 – 5:00pm, Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge

Meanwhile, here are a few things we’ve been doing (both through ProjectVRM and CustomerCommons, which is working with the Consent & Information Sharing Working Group at Kantara) on terms and conditions you, the individual formerly known as “the user” (as if you’re on drugs) can assert as the first party. In other words, ways companies such as Apple can click “agree” to what you bring to the level table between you both. Four reasons they would do that:

  1. We have the Internet now. It’s a flat place. We don’t need to drag industrial age defaults that give companies scale across many customers, but don’t give individuals scale across many companies.
  2. Ours can have scale too. This is what Cluetrain promised in 1999 when it said we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it. Sure, companies haven’t heard of customer boilerplate before; but they do like consistency, simplicity, predictability, standardization and saving money and time. Customers’ scalable terms will bring them all.
  3. Our terms can be as friendly online as they are off. First example: #NoStalking, which can save the asses of publishers and advertisers, and maybe save journalism too.
  4. GDPR compliance. No need to worry about Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation and its scary penalties when agreeing to friendly GDPR-compliant terms proffered by individuals obviates the whole thing.

Bonus links:

We will also be visiting all of these—on both the first and second party sides—at VRM Day, and then at the 24th Internet Identity Workshop, which happen together the first week of May at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley.

“Disruption” isn’t the whole VRM story

250px-mediatetrad-svg

The vast oeuvre of Marshall McLuhan contains a wonderful approach to understanding media called the tetrad (i.e. foursome) of media effects.  You can apply it to anything, from stone tools to robots. McLuhan unpacks it with four questions:

  1. What does the medium enhance?
  2. What does the medium make obsolete?
  3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
  4. What does the medium reverse or flip into when pushed to extremes?

I suggest that VRM—

  1. Enhances CRM
  2. Obsoletes marketing guesswork, especially adtech
  3. Retrieves conversation
  4. Reverses or flips into the bazaar

Note that many answers are possible. That’s why McLuhan poses the tetrad as questions. Very clever and useful.

I bring this up for three reasons:

  1. The tetrad is also helpful for understanding every topic that starts with “disruption.” Because a new medium (or technology) does much more than just disrupt or obsolete an old one—yet not so much more that it can’t be understood inside a framework.
  2. The idea from the start with VRM has never been to disrupt or obsolete CRM, but rather to give it a hand to shake—and a way customers can pull it out of the morass of market-makers (especially adtech) that waste its time, talents and energies.
  3. After ten years of ProjectVRM, we still don’t have a single standardized base VRM medium (e.g. a protocol), even though we have by now hundreds of developers we call VRM in one way or another. Think of this missing medium as a single way, or set of ways, that VRM demand can interact with CRM supply, and give every customer scale across all the companies they deal with. We’ve needed that from the start. But perhaps, with this handy pedagogical tool, we can look thorugh one framework toward both the causes and effects of what we want to make happen.

I expect this framework to be useful at VRM Day (May 1 at the Computer History Museum) and at IIW on the three days that follow there.

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The distributed future is personal

The End of Cloud Computing, is a prophetic presentation by  Peter Levine, of Andreesen Horowitz, and required viewing by anyone interested in making the distributed future happen.

His key point: “We are returning to an edge-intelligence distributed computing model that’s absolutely thematic with the trends in computing moving from centralized out to distributed,” which he illustrates this way:

back-to-the-future

Later he adds, “We are absolutely going to return to a peer-to-peer computing model where the edge devices connect together creating a network of end point devices not unlike what we sort of saw in the original distributed computing model.” Here’s a graphic for that one:

sensor-data-explosion

I added the face in the middle, because the edge is individuals and not just the technology and data occupying their lives.

Joe Andrieu wrote about this a decade ago in his landmark post VRM: The user as point of integration.  An excerpt:

User Centrism as System Architecture

Doc Searls shared a story about his experience getting medical care while at Harvard recently. As a fellow at the Berkman center, he just gave them his Harvard ID card and was immediately ushered into a doctor’s office–minimal paperwork, maximal service. They even called him a cab to go to Mass General and gave him a voucher for the ride. At the hospital, they needed a bit more paperwork, but as everything was in order, they immediately fixed him up. It was excellent service.

But what Doc noticed was that at every point where some sort of paperwork was done, there were errors. His name was spelled wrong. They got the wrong birthdate. Wrong employer. Something. As he shuffled from Berkman to the clinic to the cabbie to the hospital to the pharmacy, a paper (and digital trail) followed him through archaic legacy systems with errors accumulating as he went. What became immediately clear to Doc was that for the files at the clinic, the voucher, the systems at the hospital, for all of these systems, he was the natural point of data integration… he was the only component gauranteed to contact each of these service providers. And yet, his physical person was essentially incidental to the entire data trail being created on his behalf.

User as Point of Integration

But what if those systems were replaced with a VRM approach? What if instead of individual, isolated IT departments and infrastructure, Doc, the user was the integrating agent in the system? That would not only assure that Doc had control over the propagation of his medical history, it would assure all of the service providers in the loop that, in fact, they had access to all of Doc’s medical history. All of his medications. All of his allergies. All of his past surgeries or treatments. His (potentially apocryphal) visits to new age homeopathic healers. His chiropractic treatments. His crazy new diet. All of these things could affect the judgment of the medical professionals charged with his care. And yet, trying to integrate all of those systems from the top down is not only a nightmare, it is a nightmare that apparently continues to fail despite massive federal efforts to re-invent medical care.

(See The Emergence of National Electronic Health Record Architectures in the United States and Australia: Models, Costs, and Questions and Difficulties Implementing an Electronic Medical Record for Diverse Healthcare Service Providers for excellent reviews of what is going on this area, both pro and con.)

Profoundly Different

Doc’s insight–and that of user-centric systems–isn’t new. What’s new is the possibility to utilize the user-centric Identity meta-system to securely and efficiently provide seamless access to user-managed data stores. With that critical piece coming into place, we have the opportunity to completely re-think what it means to build out our IT infrastructure.

Which brings us to Peter Levine’s final point, and slide:

entireworld-it

That world will be comprised of individuals operating with full agency, rather than as peripheral entities, and concerns, of centralized systems. Which is exactly what we’ve been fostering here at ProjectVRM from the start, ten years ago.

To obtain full agency, with control over the data and machine power suffusing our connected lives, we will need what’s been called first person or self-sovereign technologies. Not “personal power as a service” from some centralized system.

One immediate example is Adrian Gropper‘s Free Independent Health Records, which he’ll talk about on Thursday, January 26, at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University.  At that link: “Gropper’s research centers on self-sovereign technology for management of personal information both in control of the individual and as hosted or curated by others.”

For other efforts in the same direction, see our VRM Development Work page.

 

 

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Let’s give some @VRM help to the @CFPB

cfpbThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (@CFPB) is looking to help you help them—plus everybody else who uses financial services.

They explain:

Many new financial innovations rely on people choosing to give a company access to their digital financial records held by another company. If you’re using these kinds of services, we’d love to hear from you…

Make your voice heard. Share your comments on Facebook or Twitter . If you want to give us more details, you can share your story with us through our website. To see and respond to the full range of questions we’re interested in learning about, visit our formal Request for Information

For example,

Services that rely on consumers granting access to their financial records include:

  • Budgeting analysis and advice:  Some tools let people set budgets and analyze their spending activity.  The tools organize your purchases across multiple accounts into categories like food, health care, and entertainment so you can see trends. Some services send a text or email notification when a spending category is close to being over-budget.

  • Product recommendations: Some tools may make recommendations for new financial products based on your financial history. For example, if your records show that you have a lot of ATM fees, a tool might recommend other checking accounts with lower or no ATM fees.

  • Account verification: Many companies need you to verify your identity and bank account information. Access to your financial records can speed that process.

  • Loan applications: Some lenders may access your financial records to confirm your income and other information on your loan application.

  • Automatic or motivational savings: Some companies analyze your records to provide you with automatic savings programs and messages to keep you motivated to save.

  • Bill payment: Some services may collect your bills and help you organize your payments in a timely manner.

  • Fraud and identity theft protection: Some services analyze your records across various accounts to alert you about potentially fraudulent transactions.

  • Investment management: Some services use your account records to help you manage your investments.

A little more about the CFPB:

Our job is to put consumers first and help them take more control over their financial lives. We’re the one federal agency with the sole mission of protecting consumers in the financial marketplace. We want to make sure that consumer financial products and services are helping people rather than harming them.

A hat tip to @GeneKoo (an old Berkman Klein colleague) at the CFPB,  who sees our work with ProjectVRM as especially relevant to what they’re doing.  Of course, we agree. So let’s help them help us, and everybody else in the process.

Some additional links:

#120—our lever on the world

archimedes120

Archimedes said “Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough and I can move the world.”

For decades, big business has had a place to stand and move millions or billions of consumers. That place is mass media.

Now, with the Internet, customers have a place to stand as well. Sure, businesses of all kinds and sizes can also stand there, but that’s a good thing, because the Internet is a place designed to get rid of distances. Think of it as a giant zero between everybody and everything on it: a second virtual world that coexists with the physical one.

We need our own levers in this world. We already have a few, in the form of browsers, email, and ways to publish on our own. But  we need new and better tools that make us both independent—able to stand on our own—and engaging, so we can do business.

Our developers list is constantly changing, but currently we list these categories of software and services:

That’s in addition to hardware, code bases, protocols, frameworks and other forms of work.

Now, in Phase Two, we need to focus sharply on making levers for the Archimedes in each of us: ways we can move the world. For example, here are two requests that came up just in the last few days:

  1. A single way any of us can view and control all the subscriptions in our lives. Maybe it’s an app. Maybe it’s a dashboard. What matters is that it’s a single lever that scales across every subscription we pay for. Every magazine, premium cable channel, public radio station, podcast, whatever. One tool that scales across all of them—rather than as many tools as there are services we pay, each provided by them rather than by us.
  2. A single way any of us can view and control relationships and data flows between ourselves and all of the utilities and service providers that serve our homes. With one of these, we can see and compare, for example, energy and water uses over time, and easily reach and relate to any and all of our service providers. This too might be a dashboard of some kind.

This is in addition to the commercial relationship manager we’ve wanted with from ProjectVRM’s start ten years ago: a tool that gives us one way to change our contact information (e.g. last name or address) for every entity we deal with, in one move.

Those levers give each of us scale:

seesaw

Ten years into this project, and the idea of giving individuals scale is still new, still odd. So, to help move both development and conversation forward, I suggest a new category, just for levers that give each of us world-moving scale: One to Zero, meaning One to the Whole Net. Abbreviation: 120. Hashtag: #120.

So, rather than asking if some product is an example of VRM, we can ask “Does that do 120?”

And let’s see how it goes.

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