Category: EmanciPay (page 1 of 3)

On #Bitcoin, #Blockchain, #Linux and Minimum Viable Centralization

BrokenBitcoinBitcoin and the block chain have been getting  bad PR lately.

Bad PR is when even your friends turn on you.

Bitcoin ex-friend #1 is Mike Hearn, writing in Medium. He opens with his credentials…

I’ve spent more than 5 years being a Bitcoin developer. The software I’ve written has been used by millions of users, hundreds of developers, and the talks I’ve given have led directly to the creation of several startups. I’ve talked about Bitcoin on Sky TV and BBC News. I have been repeatedly cited by the Economist as a Bitcoin expert and prominent developer. I have explained Bitcoin to the SEC, to bankers and to ordinary people I met at cafes.

… and then, after a short digression, brings out the knife:

But despite knowing that Bitcoin could fail all along, the now inescapable conclusion that it has failed still saddens me greatly. The fundamentals are broken and whatever happens to the price in the short term, the long term trend should probably be downwards. I will no longer be taking part in Bitcoin development and have sold all my coins.

Why has Bitcoin failed? It has failed because the community has failed. What was meant to be a new, decentralised form of money that lacked “systemically important institutions” and “too big to fail” has become something even worse: a system completely controlled by just a handful of people. Worse still, the network is on the brink of technical collapse. The mechanisms that should have prevented this outcome have broken down, and as a result there’s no longer much reason to think Bitcoin can actually be better than the existing financial system.

Think about it. If you had never heard about Bitcoin before, would you care about a payments network that:

  • Couldn’t move your existing money
  • Had wildly unpredictable fees that were high and rising fast
  • Allowed buyers to take back payments they’d made after walking out of shops, by simply pressing a button (if you aren’t aware of this “feature” that’s because Bitcoin was only just changed to allow it)
  • Is suffering large backlogs and flaky payments
  • … which is controlled by China
  • … and in which the companies and people building it were in open civil war?

I’m going to hazard a guess that the answer is no.

Then comes Bitcoin friend #2: Fred Wilson, with Bitcoin is Dead, Long Live Bitcoin. Fred hedges the headline in the text below, which he should since his firm has investments in the category. He also offers some hope, and a call to action:

I personally believe we will see a fork accepted by the mining community at some point this year. And that will come with a new set of core developers and some governance about how decisions are made among that core developer team. But it could well take a massive collapse in the price of Bitcoin, breakdowns in the Bitcoin network, or worse to get there. And all of that could cause the whole house of cards to come crashing down. Anything is possible. Even the return of Satoshi to fix things as an AVC regular suggested to me in an email this morning.

The Bitcoin experiment is six years old. There has been a significant amount of venture capital investment in the Bitcoin ecosystem. There are a number of well funded companies competing to build valuable businesses on top of this technology. We are invested in at least one of them. And the competition between these various companies and their visions has played a part in the stalemate. These companies have a lot to gain or lose if Bitcoin survives or fails. So I expect that there will be some rationality, brought on by capitalist behavior, that will emerge or maybe is already emerging.

Sometimes it takes a crisis to get everyone in a room. That’s how the federal budget has been settled for many years now. And that may be how the blocksize debate gets settled to. So if we are going to have a crisis, let’s get on with it. No better time than the present.

Much tweetage is going on. The best of it, to me at least, involves Vinay Gupta (@Leashless), who does an amazing job of unpacking Bitcoin politics, which seems to be most at issue here. (As Craig Burton (@craigburton) says, “All technical problems are technical and political. And you can always solve the technical stuff.”)

So take a look at this 12-minute video of Vinay holding forth on Bitcoin last August, when at least some of today’s problems were already surfaced. In it he talks about Bitcoin having “anarchist infrastructure producing a libertarian trading environment,” among other wise one- (and few-) liners. Great make-ya-think stuff there.

Bitcoin and the blockchain matter for VRM, because they can both help liberate individual customers (and groups) from the highly centralized systems that have reduced the free market to “your choice of captor.” And, though flawed, they are already in the world. If we are to prove that free customers are better than captive ones, we need systems that break us out of captivity. Bitcoin and the blockchain can do that.

I also want to pause here to express my love for Chris EllisProtip (@ProtipHQ), which allows anybody to pay whatever they want for anything on the Web, facilitated by a bit of open source code added to a site or service. One click and the cash moves. No intermediators required. No governments. No settlement systems. No credit card cruft. Consider the implications of that.

To solve Bitcoin’s problems (if they can be solved), I believe we need what Brian Behlendorf calls minimum viable centralization. That’s what Fred proposes in his post, and what — in some way or other — we will have at the end of the day. (Or the week, year or decade.)

The best example I know of mimimum viable centralization is Linux, which has a cluster of kernel maintainers at the top. All are benevolent dictators who earned their roles by proven merit. At the top sits Linus Torvalds, who started the whole thing and remains no less involved than he was in the first place. Linux isn’t in everything, but it’s close enough. Consider the implications for Bitcoin/Blockchain and other things like it.

Makes me think  maybe it’s time for Satoshi Nakamoto (whoever he or she really is) to step up.

Bonus links:

Let’s scale #intentcasting

intent-starThe only way #VRM can get scale is by giving customers scale. And customers won’t get scale until enablers of VRM leverage the same open source code and protocols.

Scale for customers means being able to deal with many companies the same way, and to issue signals to whole markets in one move.

We don’t have that yet, though there is lots of development work going on. On the ProjectVRM wiki we list many dozens of development projects, including  22 startups in the Intelligent Personal Assistant and intentcasting categories (“†” signifies a commercial effort):

Intelligent Personal Assistants

  • iNeed † “Your own personal assistant.”
  • MyWave † “‘Frank’ puts the customer in control of “getting personalised experiences anytime, anywhere, on any device.”

Intentcasting

Note: Intelligent Personal Assistants, above, by nature also do intentcasting.

  • About2Buy † “A Collaborative Commerce System to Align Internet Buyers & Sellers Via Multiple Channels of Social Distribution.”
  • Crowdspending † “… gives each of us the power of all of us.”
  • GetHuman † “Need to contact a company? Or have them call you? Get customer service faster and easier.”
  • Greentoe † “Finally…There’s a New Way to Shop! Name Your Price & We Negotiate For You.”
  • HireRush † “Connecting people who are looking for work and locals who need to hire trusted professionals.”
  • HomeAdvisor † “We help you find trusted home improvement pros.”
  • Indie Dash Button “This … turns traditional advertising on its head, and removes the need for complicated targeting technology. Customers readily identify themselves, creating more valuable sales channels where guesswork is all but eliminated.”
  • Intently † “Request any service anywhere with Intently.co.”
  • Instacart † “The best way to shop for groceries — Delivered from the stores you love in one hour”
  • Magic † “Text this phone number to get whatever you want on demand with no hassle…”
  • Mesh † “Connect with only the things you love… See ads from brands that matter to you. And block the ones that don’t.”
  • MyTime † “Book appointments for anything.”
  • Nifti † – Intentcasting “puts” in the market at customer (or community-) -chosen prices
  • Pikaba † “Pikaba is Social Shopping Platform that captures consumer intent to purchase and connects them with the right local business.”
  • PricePatrol † “monitors nearby stores for what you want at the price you want”
  • RedBeacon † “Trusted pros for a better home.”
  • TaskRabbit † “Tell us what you need, let us know what we can take off your plate, choose a Tasker, hire one of our fully vetted Taskers to get the job done.”
  • Thumbtack † “We help you hire experienced professionals at a price that’s right.”
  • TrackIf † “Track your favorite sites for sales, new items, back-in-stock, and more.”
  • WebOfNeeds – “A distributed marketplace driven by customer needs.”
  • yellCast † “What you want, where you want it.”
  • Zaarly † “Hire local, hand-picked home services. We moderate every job and guarantee happiness at virtually any cost.”

But so far only two projects on those lists — the Indie Dash Button — and WebOfNeeds — give people (and companies helping them, such as those on the two lists) an open source way to scale across multiple vendors with the same signaling method. (I am sure there are more. If you know some, or want us to correct this list, please let us know and we’ll make the changes.)

Talk about intentcasting has increased lately, thanks to the need for better signaling from demand to supply at a time when more than 200 million souls are blocking ads, and there is a growing sense that this is a crisis for advertisers and publishers that’s too good to waste —and that the best either of those parties can do is a better job of listening for signals from the marketplace that are beyond their control but will do them some good. Intentcasting is one of those signals.

Intentcasting is a good signal because it’s friendly and comes from either new customers wanting to spend or existing customers wanting to relate (for example, to obtain services). In the former case it fits nicely into the existing need (and programmatic interfaces for) lead generation. In the latter case it speaks straight to call centers. What matters most is that both come voluntarily and straight from prospective or actual customers.

I’m wondering if there is a semantic-ish approach to Intentcasting. By that I mean a vernacular of abbreviated simple statements of what one is looking for. Example: “2br 2ba apt 10019” means a two bedroom and two bath apartment in the 10019 zip code.

Again, what matters most here is that these signals need to be issued to the marketplace outside of the silo system that currently comprises way too much of the business world. I know the IndieWeb folks have worked on something like this. (Theirs is the Indie Dash Button, mentioned above).

And I know there are already bitcoin/blockchain appraoches too.  For eample, @MrChrisEllis’s ProTip, which facilitates Bitcoin payments in a nearly frictionless way. There are the broad outlines of possibility in both EmanciTerm and EmanciPay, which are design models we’ve had for years. (ProTip is an example of the latter.)

We could also use a good generic symbol for intent. I don’t know of one, or it would have made the cover of The Intention Economy. The star photo above is the best I could come up with for a visual to go with this post. But the lazyweb should do better than that.

Whatever we come up with, the time could hardly be more right.

[This post was impelled by the need to enlarge on my comment under Move Over, Doc Searls: It’s Time For A New Intention Economy by Kaila Colbin (@kcolbin) in MediaPost. Thanks, Kaila, for getting me going. :-)]

How music lovers can fix the broken music business and stop screwing artists

In Taylor Swift, Spotify and the Musical Food Chain Myth, musician Doria Roberts (@DoriaRoberts) details a problem that we’ve been hearing about for the duration:  artists have been getting screwed by the music industry, which now includes streaming services such as Spotify, paying tiny fractions of a penny for every tune everybody hears through them. She writes,

…not only have physical CD sales been down, but also the digital money I used to get from legal downloads all but disappeared. Instead of getting weekly payments ranging between $200-$750 from my distributor, I started getting an average $11.36, once a month from all streaming services combined. Yes, $11.36/month is what I get from all of them. That is not a sustainable business model for a truly independent artist.

And it will get worse as streams gradually become the main source for music. Signs and portents in that direction:

Doria also offers some answers:

HOW CONSUMERS CAN HELP REVERSE THE COURSE

As a consumer and a fan, you are at the top of this food chain, not the bottom. You are not subject to the whims of popular culture; you are the arbiter of it. If you want to see less “fluff” in the music industry, if you want to see your artists remain authentic, creative and prolific beings and, if you want them to come back to your hometowns:

1. Start buying our music again. Digital, hard copy, doesn’t matter, just pay for it. If you can pay $4 for a coffee, you can pay $9.99 for something meaningful that you’ll enjoy forever.

2. Stop using streaming services that only pay us $.0006 per listen if you don’t already own our music either via a legal download or a hard copy. Educate yourself. If you think the profits that oil companies make are obscene, I urge you to do some digging about what some of these streaming companies are really about. [Editor’s note: Spotify claims to have paid Taylor Swift over $2 million dollars in streaming royalties. Her label says that’s not even close to the truth.]

3. And, this is important: Set your DVRs on your favorite show nights and go to our concerts. If I had a dime for every time a person told me they weren’t able to make my show because it was the finals of DWTS or The Voice, I wouldn’t be writing this post. I’d be sitting in a bungalow in Costa Rica sipping something fruity and delicious.

Simple solutions sometimes require difficult choices. Oh, and this goes for independent movies, books, indie/feminist bookstores, small venues and small businesses, too. Just know this: you have the power to change the cultural landscape around you. Use that power wisely.

In reply below, I wrote,

All the course-reversing suggestions are good, but also assume that the only possible choices are the ones we have now. This has never been the case. We can invent new choices — new solutions for this already-old problem.

I believe the best solutions are those that make it very easy for consumers to pay whatever they want for whatever they like (and not just music).

One outline for this is EmanciPay, at ProjectVRM: . My own idea for an expression of EmanciPay is a user-side system set up to automatically pay (or pledge to pay) a penny per listen to any song heard anywhere, including one’s own music collection. That’s a high multiple of whatever coercive rates are being extracted on the supply side of the marketplace today — and in the whole future, which will suck.

Way back in ’98, when the DMCA birthed the ancestor of today streamed music royalty regime, it framed coercive rates with this context: “in the absence of a willing buyer and a willing seller.”

So let’s quit working only the seller-side of the marketplace. Let’s equip the willing buyer.

If anybody wants to work on the code for that, contact me (I’m not hard to find). We’ll get a posse together and go do it. Given the sum of existing code in the world already, it shouldn’t be too hard.

If we really are at the top of the food chain, we need better ways to pay for what we eat. If we don’t come up with those, all we will have are government-regulated ways to screw both the artists and the media. (Ask Spotify and Pandora how much they’re profiting in the current system.)

What we have today with streaming is guided by language like this (from the last link above):

…rates for the statutory licenses for webcasting and for ephemeral recordings must be the rates that most clearly represent the rates that would have been negotiated in the marketplace between a willing buyer and a willing seller. — http://www.copyright.gov/carp/webcasting_rates_final.html

The boldface is mine. Here’s my point: Regulators and their captors in the record industry have believed from the start that listeners to streams cannot be willing buyers.

I want to prove them wrong.

The time wasn’t right when we started writing about this back in the late ’00s.  But now it is. Let’s do something about it.

 

Good news for VRM and financial transactions

FinTPTomorrow, 24 January, is code launch day for FinTP, described by its parent, Allevo, as “the first open source application for financial transactions.” The code is being released under the GPL v3 license on Github.

FinTP’s development is intended, among other things, to support VRM product and service development. This began in 2011, when Allevo folks discovered that VRM developers were collaborating with SWIFT‘s Innotribe on what would become the Digital Asset Grid (described as “a new infrastructure providing a platform for secure, authorised peer to peer data sharing between known, trusted people, businesses and devices”).

Since FinTP is open source, VRM developers — especially those dealing with financial transactions (and there are many) — should check it out and consider getting involved as well. (On my own wish list: EmanciPay.)  The FinTP community is FINkers United, and looks like this:

FinTP community

Read more at the Allevo blog.

By the way, SWIFT has an annual Startup Challenge it would be wise for VRM developers to check out — especially those dealing with banking and financial transactions.

 

 

When the customer gets the pricing gun

Customers don’t normally operate pricing guns. That’s why we have this old Steven Wright joke:

The lady across the hall tried to rob a department store — with a pricing gun.
She said, “Give me all of the money in the vault, or I’m marking down everything in the store.”

It wouldn’t be funny if it wasn’t a scary prospect for retailers.

But what if customers actually do get that power, on their own — meaning they don’t get that power from any seller, but from themselves. Like they get their car on their own. Or their . Or their browser. Or their email.

For example, what if each of us had a way to publish an offer price to many retailers at once? For example, “I’ll pay $2500 for a Canon 5D Mk III camera.” (In fact I’ve already said that, through a VRM company called .) And what if I had a way to escrow that money — and that intention-to-buy — at a bank, ready to pay when a seller meets my price and my terms? That’s the idea (though not the only one) behind . It should be a good business for banks — or for anybody wanting to help activity in markets move faster and more efficiently.

There has already been work in that direction, through the companies listed under Intentcasting here, plus the work some of us did with , a division of . That work began with discussions at around digital identity, personal data and the EmanciPay idea. Once underway, it evolved into the Digital Asset Grid: a way to move data on the SWIFT network that also moves money, with the same high degree of security. Having a secure way to move both personal data and money seemed like good idea, so we created it, and it’s there for the taking.

Meanwile, let’s say that EmanciPay, or something like it, takes off, and the pricing gun really is in the hands of the customer. Will this be the end of the world for mass marketing? Or for anything? Or will it open a huge new greenfield of opportunity, based on much better signaling of pricing — and other variables — by customers?

Like, what if we could signal real loyalty, rather than just the coerced kind we get with loyalty cards? What about convenience? Reliability? Experience with the product, the vendor, and the quality of service?

How would it work if every product we buy, or service we engage, would also serve as the platform for a genuine relationship with maker and/or the seller? This can happen if the product or service comes with its own cloud. Think about that. Your car, your cable modem, your TV, your stove, your dishwasher, your anything can have a cloud of its own, today. picos, for persistent compute objects. When you buy a product with a pico, that cloud might come with all the service materials required, be updated automatically, and contain all the service records as well. And you can add whatever you want to it, or use it as a communications conduit between you and the product’s maker or seller.

This is what makes . It’s not just a second dashboard for your car in a mobile app. It’s your platform for relationships with the car maker, your mechanic, or others in your family who also use the car. Think of it as a service gun. Or the platform for one.

There’s no limit to what you can imagine if you’re an independent party with full agency, rather than a serf in some company’s castle. Or to what can happen between people and companies that value each other’s independence.

 

Wanted: a handshake across the paywall

For five years I was a loyal subscriber to the Boston Globe. When I was out of town, which was a lot, I’d read it online, because the print subscription covered that too.

This academic year I’m out of town more, so I canceled the subscription, because I didn’t want to pay $3.99 per week for a digital-only subscription. Not when I’m also in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and other places, with other papers that I also like to read — and to pay for, preferably on an à la carte basis, or something close to it, like I can when I buy a paper at a newsstand. There’s no way to do that. But I still go to the Globe often, to catch a story, such as this one, which hits a paywall:

I only get that on the browser I use most, and which I assume carries a cookie telling the Globe that I’ve visited too often without subscribing. It’s annoying, but I get around it by using other browsers and other machines.

I don’t do that to avoid paying. In fact I’d be glad to pay, because I believe information wants to be free but value wants to be paid for. That means I’m willing to pay something for all the media I use, including music for which I hold rights to play (one doesn’t really “own” music, but instead holds rights to it). But this is impossible as long as media vendors supply all the mechanisms of relationship. There’s no handshake with that system. Just the sound of one hand slapping.

The promo-covered paywall in the screen shot above tells me the Globe’s subscription system has no idea that I was a loyal subscriber for a long time, and am willing to pay more than the $0 that I’m paying when I go around their wall. It also tells me the Globe values data justifying its 99¢/week promo more than its relationship with me as a reader and a long-term subscriber. But I’m not insulted because I know I’m not dealing with human beings here; just a software routine.

Many questions come to mind when I look at a fail like this. Like, Why should a new subscriber get a better deal than a veteran one? Why not have, say, a frequent-reader program, modeled on airline frequent flyer programs?

The answer is that it’s a pain in the ass for a paper (or any business) to do something different than what it already does. In the Globe’s case the bureaucratic overhead is even higher than it looks, because the Globe is a subsidiary of the New York Times, which has the same 99¢ promo (that I wrote about almost a year ago). Even if the two papers don’t use the same content management and subscription software, the policies obviously work in tandem, meaning there is at least twice the inertia to overcome.

Additional inertia is locked up in the heavy burden of sole responsibility for a “relationship” that barely qualifies for the noun. If I had a real relationship with the Globe, I could respond to the above with a message that says “Hi, there. You know me. Remember? I do. Here’s the evidence. Now, can we come up with something that works for both of us here?”  CRM (Customer Relationship Management systems should help, but typically don’t. “Social” CRM is built to listen for signals from prospects or customers; but neither Twitter nor Facebook are mine, nor do they represent me as fourth parties — ones that work for me.  (Twitter and Facebook may serve me, in a way; but they are paid for that work by advertisers.)

There are some VRM-friendly signs on the horizon. For example, in this Guardian interview, Tien Tzuo, the founder and CEO of Zuora, explains what he calls “Paywall 2.0.” Here’s what he says about 3:50 into the video:

Don’t think about it as just a paywall. Don’t think about it as just a tollbooth for you to make money. Think about it as an ongoing dialog with your customers, and allow your paywall to stretch, and go to where your customers really want to go.

(Disclosure: last year I gave a speech at a Zuora event in London.) I want the Globe and the Times to have 2.0-generation paywalls: ones that stretch to embrace my loyalty and my good intentions. I would also like that embrace to appreciate independent signaling from my side of the relationship, not just what it picks up from CRM radar pointed at social media. (And let’s face it: If I have to go on Twitter to get some action out of a company, there’s a failure in direct communication. Here’s one example.)

We also need the VRM tools that match up with 2.0 generation ones on the media sellers’ side. For example, let’s say I budget $2 per day toward all the media I use. (A lexical digression: I don’t “consume” media any more than I consume a hammer. That’s why I say “use” instead of “consume.”) And let’s say  I have the capacity to track what I use, in a QS (quantified self) kind of way. Then let’s say that I’m ready to divide that $2 up and parse it out, using an EmanciPay system. This would put money on the market’s table.

Then maybe, once the money is on the table, we can shake hands over it and actually do business.

Bonus link: House of news

 

 

What if qualified leads were free?

In terms of economic signaling, think about which is worth more:

  1. A ready-to-sell-something message from an advertiser
  2. A ready-to-buy-something message from a customer

Of course it depends. A company can use an ad to signal many people at once, and to signal far more than a readiness to sell something. And now, with advanced analytics and Big Data, an ad can be personalized to a high degree: timed and targeted to reach a customer at exactly the right place and time. (Or that’s the idea, anyway.) Customers are also separate individuals. They may only be worth something to a company in aggregate. So we’re talking about lots of variables here.

But let’s look at a single vendor and a single customer for a moment, and say you’re the vendor. What would a ready-to-buy signal from a customer be worth to you? The answer today is called the qualified leads business. Search for that and you’ll get lots of results, most of which pitch you on paying for those leads.

But what if the leads were free, or close to that price? They are with intentcasting. (In Hunter becomes the prey, Scott Adams calls this “broadcast shopping.”) With intentcasting, customers advertise their wants and needs. For vendors, listening to the signals is free.

From the list of VRM development efforts on the ProjectVRM wiki, here’s the current list of intentcasting efforts:

AskForIt † – individual demand aggregation and advocacy
Body Shop Bids † – intentcasting for auto body work bids based on uploaded photos
Have to Have † – “A single destination to store and share everything you want online”
Intently † – Intentcasting “shouts” for services, in the U.K.
Innotribe Funding the Digital Asset Grid prototype, for secure and accountable Intentcasting infrastructure
OffersByMe † – intentcasting for local offers
Prizzm †- social CRM platform rewarding customers for telling businesses what they want, what they like, and what they have problems with
RedBeacon † – intentcasting locally for home services
Thumbtack † – service for finding trustworthy local service providers
Trovi intentcasting; matching searchers and vendors in Portland, OR and Chandler, AZ†
Übokia intentcasting†
Zaarly † intentcasting to community – local so far in SF and NYC

I’m sure it’s far from complete or up-to-date, but you can see some of what’s already going on. I guarantee that a lot more will be happening here in 2013 and beyond.

Intentcasting

I’ve lately been posting under Dave Winer‘s threads, using an OPML editor. One of Dave’s latest posts bowls right up a big VRM alley, as he says in this tweet here. That alley is Intentcasting.

From my reply:

In the VRM development community, we started out calling the latter category “Personal RFPs,” but in the last few months we’ve started calling it Intentcasting. (Scott Adams of Dilbert fame called it “broadcast shopping.”)

A partial list of intentcasting developers is listed here.

An intentcasting scenario ten years hence is described in my Wall Street Journal essay from July. Let’s make it sooner than that. 🙂

Also take a look at this video demo of an intentcasting scenario, produced by @HeatherVescent for Innotribe, the innovation arm of SWIFT, the Belgium-based nonprofit that transfers $trillions per day:

That involves the Digital Asset Grid, which was demo’d two weeks ago in Osaka at SWIFT’s Sibos conference. A number of VRM developers have been involved with that, as well as myself. The main two contributing to the prototype, and there to demo it at Sibos, were Phil Windley of Kynetx and Drummond Reed of Respect Network. Phil has a nice rundown on the session.

A huge thanks to @Petervan for leading the whole project, over the last two years.

Here’s the current list of intentcasting developers at the ProjectVRM wiki:

AskForIt † – individual demand aggregation and advocacy
Body Shop Bids † – intentcasting for auto body work bids based on uploaded photos
Have to Have † – “A single destination to store and share everything you want online”
OffersByMe † – intentcasting for local offers
Prizzm †- social CRM platform rewarding customers for telling businesses what they want, what they like, and what they have problems with
RedBeacon † – intentcasting locally for home services
Thumbtack † – service for finding trustworthy local service providers
Trovi intentcasting; matching searchers and vendors in Portland, OR and Chandler, AZ†
Übokia intentcasting†
Zaarly † intentcasting to community – local so far in SF and NYC

I know there are more, and that the descriptions need updating and de-bugging. That’s why I’m listing these here. Write to me with corrections, or fix the wiki yourself. (If you’re not known to it, you’ll need to go through the registration thing.)

Time for subscribers to fix the broken subscription business

I love the New York Times. I’ve been buying and reading the Times for most of my life, and consider it the best newspaper in the world. And, now that I’m spending more time in New York, I want to subscribe, to at least the digital edition. But trying to do that is a freaking ordeal.

First, when I go to http://ww.nytimes.com/access, I see this*:

NYTimes digital subscription first page

Note that this is only for “the first four weeks.” After that it’s what? It doesn’t say. While I’m sure the Times has analytics galore to rationalize hiding the full costs of subscriptions longer than four weeks (which the Times of course wants), it amounts to bait-and-switch.

But I want to subscribe, so I click on “continue.”

Up comes a pop-over form that wants me to re-enter my password or log out. My password guess fails, but I don’t want to log out, or go through the “don’t know your password” routine. So let’s count the frictions here:

  1. Popover. Hate them.
  2. Requiring logins and passwords. It’s 2012. This “system” was a kluge in 1995. That it’s still with us is one of the great fails of e-commerce. That it started modeling loyalty cards that same year is one of the great fails of retailing.
  3. Retrieving a forgotten password through email and re-logging only compounds the same fail.
  4. Logging out feels like pulling the lever on a trap door. I’m part-way there and don’t want to give up, says the brain, right before it says, Fuggit, I give up.

But I don’t give up, because I really want a damn subscription. So I log out, and find myself at https://myaccount.nytimes.com/gst/signou…, where it says,

You are now logged out of NYTimes.com. Thanks for visiting.

Then adds,

And, over on in a column on the right, all this:

My Account Common Tasks

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So where’s what it costs after four weeks? I have no idea. So I click on “Register a new account,” and see it’s a come-on to sign up for newsletters and stuff. I already get some of those. This tells me I need to go recover the password, unless I want to have two accounts rather than one. So I try logging in again.

This time I go through several tries using a variety of old passwords, and find one that works. Now I’m at http://www.nytimes.com/. At the top of the page, where it says Digital / Home Delivery, I click on the first link and find myself at the same page I show at the top.

This time when I click on “continue,” an ORDER SUMMARY page comes up. Here’s a screen shot of the parts that matter:

Note how the full costs — $15 every four weeks — are mumbled. According to Google’s calculator, the cost comes to 53.571428571¢ per day. I think that’s worth it, but I also think the system is worse than broken, and don’t wish to reward it.

But I don’t want just to complain. (Which I’ve done before anyway, to no effect.) I want to build a better system: one that works for both subcribers and publishers. This can only be done by developers and users working together, for all subscribers and all publishers. One thing should be clear, after seventeen years of failure here: the publishers can’t fix it from their side alone. The demand side needs to build the table at which every subscriber and publisher can sit. A zillion different tables for a zillion different publishers is exactly the kind of mess that the Internet and the Web are ideally positioned to solve. So let’s finish the job.

Subscribers know that information is free, but value wants to be paid for. The New York Times has enormous value. For people who value the content of its character and just its curb weight on streets and tablets, four bits a day is cheap. The Times doesn’t need to conceal that cost.

But as long as the Times and other papers remain stuck in the commercial Web’s antique calf-cow system — in which subscribers come as calves to the publishers’ cows for the milk of “content” and cookies they don’t want — everybody will be stuck in the wrong species and the market won’t evolve past the cattle industry stage.

So, at #IIW today, I will propose a #VRM session titled Fixing subscriptions from the customer’s side. Suggestions welcome. But they have to be VRM suggestions — ones that give us both independence and better means of engagement, for all publishers, and not each separately. Think of how today’s email system (SMTP, IMAP, POP3 and other protocols) fixed the problem of different proprietary email systems from MCI, Compuserve, Prodigy and for every company that could afford to mount its own internal systems. We need that kind of thing now for subscriptions. Asking for better behavior on the publishers’ side won’t work. Making better cows won’t work. We need something that makes us all peers, as email, the Web, and the Internet do. Let’s build that.

Bonus Link, two weeks later, from Dave Winer.

* [Later… When I first wrote this, I missed the “Regular Rate” column above, with the lines through the prices. This was clearly an oversight on my part, for which I was offered corrections aplenty in the comments below. Still, looking for what was also in plain sight sent me on the rest of this journey, which is why I am leaving it intact. I would also direct the reader (and the Times, if they’re reading this) to what Scott Adams says about confusopolies, of which the newspaper subscription business is one example. Thanks to the confusopolistic nature of that business, there is no reason to believe that the “regular” prices listed are the only long-term ones, or that the 99¢ prices are the only discounted ones. This too makes the rest of the journey I took — and this post as well — worthwhile… I hope.]

Can we each be our own Amazon?

The most far-out chapter in  is one set in a future when free customers are known to be more valuable than captive ones. It’s called “The Promised Market,” and describes the imagined activities of a family traveling to a wedding in San Diego. Among the graces their lives enjoy are these (in the order the chapter presents them):

  1. Customer freedom and intentions are not restrained by one-sided “agreements” provided only by sellers and service providers.
  2. — service organizations working as agents for the customer — are a major breed among user driven services.
  3. The competencies of nearly all companies are exposed through interactive that customers and others can engage in real time. These will be fundamental to what calls .
  4. s (now also called intentcasts), will be common and widespread means for demand finding and driving supply in the marketplace.
  5. Augmented reality views of the marketplace will be normative, as will mobile payments through virtual wallets on mobile devices.
  6. Loyalty will be defined by customers as well as sellers, in ways that do far more for both than today’s one-sided and coercive loyalty programs.
  7. Relationships between customers and vendors will be genuine, two-way, and defined cooperatively by both sides, which will each possess the technical means to carry appropriate relationship burdens. In other words, VRM and CRM will work together, at many touch-points.
  8. Customers will be able to proffer prices on their own, independently of intermediaries (though those, as fourth parties, can be involved). Something like EmanciPay will facilitate the process.
  9. Supply chains will become “empathic” as well as mechanical. That is, supply chains will be sensitive to the demand chain: signals of demand, in the context of genuine relationships, from customers and fourth parties.
  10. The advertising bubble of today has burst, because the economic benefits of knowing actual customer intention — and relating to customers as independent and powerful economic actors, worthy of genuine relationships rather than coercive — bob will have became obvious and operative. Advertising will continue to do what it does best, but not more.
  11. Search has evolved to become far more user-driven and interactive, involving agents other than search engines.
  12. ‘s will be taken for granted. There will still be businesses that provide connections, but nobody will be trapped into any one provider’s “plan” that excludes connection through other providers. This will open vast new opportunities for economic activity in the marketplace.

In , Sheila Bounford provides the first in-depth volley on that chapter, focusing on #4: personal RFPs. I’ll try to condense her case:

I’ve written recently of a certain frustration with the seemingly endless futurology discussions going on in the publishing world, and it’s probably for this reason that I had to fight my way through the hypothesis in this chapter. However on subsequent reflection I’ve found that thinking about the way in which Amazon currently behaves as a customer through its Advantage programme sheds light on Searls’ suggestions and projections…

What Searls describes as the future for individual consumers is in fact very close to the empowered relationship that Amazon currently enjoys with its many suppliers via Amazon Advantage…  Amazon is the customer – and a highly empowered one at that.

Any supplier trading with Amazon via Advantage (and that includes most UK publishing houses and a significant portion of American publishers) has to meet all of the criteria specified by Amazon in order to be accepted into Advantage and must communicate online through formats and channels entirely prescribed and controlled by Amazon…

Alone, an individual customer is never going to be able to exert the same kind of leverage over vendors in the market place as a giant like Amazon. However individual customers online are greater than the sum of their parts: making up a crucial market for retailers and service providers. Online, customers have a much louder voice, and a much greater ability to collect, organise and mobilise than offline. Searls posits that as online customers become more attuned to their lack of privacy and control – in particular of data that they consider personal – in current normative contracts of adhesion, they will require and elect to participate in VRM programmes that empower them as individual customers and not leave them as faceless, impotent consumers.

So? So Amazon provides us with a neat example of what it might look like if we, as individuals, could control our suppliers and set our terms of engagement. That’s going to be a very different online world to the one we trade in now.  Although I confess to frustration with the hot air generated by publishing futurology, it seems to me that the potential for the emergence VRM and online customer empowerment is one aspect of the future we’d all do well to work towards and plan for.

From the start of ProjectVRM, Iain Henderson (now of The Customer’s Voice) has been pointing to B2B as the future model for B2C. Not only are B2B relationships rich, complex and rewarding in ways that B2C are not today (with their simplifications through customer captivity and disempowerment), he says, but they also provide helpful modeling for B2C as customers obtain more freedom and empowerment, outside the systems built to capture and milk them.

Amazon Advantage indeed does provide an helpful example of where we should be headed as VRM-enabled customers. Since writing the book (which, except for a few late tweaks, was finished last December) I have become more aware than ever of Amazon’s near-monopoly power in the book marketplace, and possibly in other categories as well. I have heard many retailers complain about “scan and scram” customers who treat brick-and-mortar stores as showrooms for Amazon. But perhaps the modeling isn’t bad in the sense that we ought to have monopoly power over our selves. Today the norm in B2C is to disregard that need by customers. In the future I expect that need to be respected, simply because it produces more for everybody in the marketplace.

It is highly astute of Sheila to look toward Amazon as a model for individual customers. I love it when others think of stuff I haven’t, and add to shared understanding — especially of a subject as protean as this one. So I look forward to the follow-up posts this week on her blog.

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