Category: EmanciPay (page 2 of 4)

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, 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…, where it says,

You are now logged out of Thanks for visiting.

Then adds,

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

My Account Common Tasks

Contact Us

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 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.

Let’s fix the car rental business

Lately  (@ronlieber), the Your Money editor and columnist for the New York Times, has been posting pieces that expose a dysfunction in the car rental marketplace — one that is punishing innovators that take the sides of customers. The story is still unfolding, which gives us the opportunity to visit and think through some VRM approaches to the problem.

Ron’s first piece is a column titled “A Rate Sleuth Making Rental Car Companies Squirm,” on February 17, and his second is a follow-up column, “Swatting Down Start-Ups That Help Consumers,” on April 6. Both stories are about , a start-up that constantly researches and re-books car rentals for you, until you get the lowest possible price from one of them. That company wins the business, at a maximized discount. The others all lose. This is good for the customer, if all the customer cares about is price. It’s bad for the agencies, since the winner is the one that makes the least amount of money on the rental.

In the second piece, Ron explains,

The customer paid nothing for the service, and AutoSlash got a commission from Travelocity, whose booking engine it rented. This was so delightful that it felt as if it might not last, and I raised the possibility that participating companies like Hertz and Dollar Thrifty would bail out, as Enterprise and the company that owns Avis and Budget already had. I encouraged readers to patronize the participants in the meantime to reward them for playing along. Well, they’ve stopped playing. In the last couple of weeks, Hertz and the company that owns both Dollar and Thrifty have turned their backs on AutoSlash — and for good reason, according to Hertz: AutoSlash seems to have been using discount codes that its customers were not technically eligible for.

On its site, AutoSlash put things this way (at that last link):

We’re disappointed that these companies have now chosen to reverse course and adopt this anti-consumer position, after having participated in this site since its launch in mid-2010. Apparently, with more customers booking reservations through our service, they felt they could no longer support our consumer-friendly model of automatically finding the best discount codes and re-booking when rates drop. AutoSlash will not waver in our objective to help people get a great deal on their rentals. We have exciting product plans on the horizon to make our site even more useful to you..

On the same day as his second column, Ron ran a blog post titled “AutoSlash, AwardWallet, MileWise and the Travel Bullies,” in which he points to airlines as another business with the same problems — and the same negative responses to rate-sleuths:

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have made it clear that they do not want any third party Web site taking customers’ AAdvantage or Rapid Rewards frequent flier balances and putting them on a different site where people can view them alongside those from other loyalty programs. This comes at a loss of convenience to customers, and the airlines make all sorts of specious arguments about why this is necessary. Meanwhile, sites like  and  are less useful than they would be otherwise without a full lineup of airline account information available. But there’s a the bigger question here: Why can’t the big travel players simply fix their archaic business models and add these nifty features to their Web sites and stop spending energy ganging up on start-ups who unmask their flaws?

The answer comes from , of Dilbert fame. By Scott’s definition, the big travel players are a “confusopoly.” They see what Ron calls a “flaw” — burying the customer in a snowstorm of discounts intended both to entice and to confuse — as a feature, rather than a bug. Here’s Scott:

A confusopoly is any group of companies in a particular industry that intentionally confuses customers about their pricing plans and products. Confusopolies do this so customers don’t know which one of them is offering the best value. That way every company gets a fair share of the confused customers and the industry doesn’t need to compete on price. The classic examples of confusopolies are phone companies, insurance companies, and banks.

Car rental agencies are clearly confusopolies. So are airlines. Dave Barry explains how it is that no two passengers on one airplane pay the same price for a seat:

Q. So the airlines use these cost factors to calculate a rational price for my ticket?
A. No. That is determined by Rudy the Fare Chicken, who decides the price of each ticket individually by pecking on a computer keyboard sprinkled with corn. If an airline agent tells you that they’re having “computer problems, ” this means that Rudy is sick, and technicians are trying to activate the backup system, Conrad the Fare Hamster.

There are a few exceptions. One is , which competes through relatively simple seat pricing and unconfusing policies (e.g. no seat assignments and “bags fly free”). But even Southwest plays confusing games. For example, I just went to Southwest to make sure the URL was right (it used to be, as I recall), and got intercepted by a promo offer, for a gift card. So, for research purposes, I filled it out. That got me to this page here:

Note that there is no place to take the last step. The “Your Info Below” space is blank. Everywhere I click, nothing happens. Fun. (Is it possible this isn’t from Southwest at all? Maybe somebody from Southwest can weigh in on that.)

So, a confusopoly.

What can we do? Governments fix monopolies by breaking them up. But confusopolies come pre-broken. That’s how they work. There is no collusion between Hertz and Budget, or between United and American. They are confusing on purpose, and independently so. No doubt they have their confusing systems fully rationalized, but that doesn’t make the confusion less real for the customer, or less purposeful for the company.

Let’s look a bit more closely at three problems endemic to the car rental business, and contribute to the confusopoly.

  1. Cars, like airlines and their seats, have become highly generic, and therefore commoditized. Even if there is a difference between a Chevy Cruze and a Ford Focus, the agencies mask it by saying what you’ll get is some model of some maker’s car, “or similar.” (I’ve always thought one of the car makers ought to just go ahead and make a car just for rentals, and brand it the “Similar.”)
  2. The non-price differentiators just aren’t different enough. For example, I noticed that Enterprise lately forces its workers to go out of their way to be extra-personal. They come out from behind the counter, shake your hand, call you by name, ask about your day, and so on. Which is all nice, but not nicer for most of us than a lower price than the next agency.
  3. The agencies’ CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems don’t have enough to work with. While Enterprise is singled out here and here for having exceptional CRM, all these systems today operate entirely on the vendors’ side. Not on yours or mine. Each of is silo’d. How each of us relates to any one agency doesn’t work with the others. This is an inconvenience for us, but not for the agencies, at least as far as they know. And, outside their own silo’d systems, they can’t know much, except maybe through intelligence they buy from “big data” mills. But that data is also second-hand. No matter how “personalized” that data is, it’s about us, not directly by us or from us, by our own volition, and from systems we control.

A few years ago I began to see these problems as opportunities. I thought, Why not build new tools and systems for individual customers, so they can control their own relationships, in common and standard ways, with multiple vendors?  And, What will we call the result, once we have that control? My first answer to those questions came in a post for in March, 2006, titled The Intention Economy. Here are the money grafs from that one:

The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. It leverages the simple fact that buyers are the first source of money, and that they come ready-made. You don’t need advertising to make them. The Intention Economy is about markets, not marketing. You don’t need marketing to make Intention Markets. The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don’t have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal info (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer’s purchase. Simple as that. The Intention Economy is built around more than transactions. Conversations matter. So do relationships. So do reputation, authority and respect. Those virtues, however, are earned by sellers (as well as buyers) and not just “branded” by sellers on the minds of buyers like the symbols of ranchers burned on the hides of cattle.

The Intention Economy is about buyers finding sellers, not sellers finding (or “capturing”) buyers. In The Intention Economy, a car rental customer should be able to say to the car rental market, “I’ll be skiing in Park City from March 20-25. I want to rent a 4-wheel drive SUV. I belong to Avis Wizard, Budget FastBreak and Hertz 1 Club. I don’t want to pay up front for gas or get any insurance. What can any of you companies do for me?” — and have the sellers compete for the buyer’s business.

Thanks to work by the VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) development community, The Intention Economy is now a book, with the subtitle When Customers Take Charge, due out from Harvard Business Review Press on May 1. (You can pre-order it from Amazon, and might get it sooner that way.)

Having sellers compete for a buyer’s business (to serve his or her signaled intent) is what we now call a Personal RFP. (Scott Adams calls it “broadcast shopping.”) What it requires are two things that are now on their way. One is tools. The other is infrastructure. As a result of both, we will see emerge a new class of market participant: the . It’s a role AutoSlash can play, if it’s willing to play a new game rather than just gaming the old one.

The new game is serving as a real agent of customers, rather than just as a lead-generating system for third parties such as Travelocity, or a pest for second parties such as Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty. Fourth parties are businesses that side with customers rather than with vendors or third parties. Think of them as third parties that work for you and me. In this post, of (a VRM developer), represents the four parties graphically: Fourth parties can also serve as agents for improving actual relationships (rather than coercive ones). The two magnets are “r-buttons” (explained most recently here), which represent the buyer and the seller, and (as magnets) depict both attraction and openness to relationship. They are simple symbols one can also type, like this:  ⊂ ⊃. (The ⊂ represents you, or the buy side, while the ⊃ represents vendors and their allied third parties, or the sell side.) Here is another way of laying these out, with some names that have already come up: 4 parties As of today AutoSlash presents itself as an agent of the customer, but business-wise it’s an accessory to a third party, Travelocity. While Travelocity could be a fourth party as well, it is still too tied into the selling systems of the car rental agencies to make the move. (If I’m wrong, tell me how.) Now, what if AutoSlash were to join a growing young ecosystem of VRM companies and projects working on the customer’s side? Here is roughly how that looks today: AutoSlash is over there on the right, on the sell side. On the buy side, in the fourth party quadrant, are , , , MyDex, and . All provide ways for individuals to manage their own data, and (actually in some cases, potentially in others) relationships with second and third parties, on behalf of the customer. If you look at just the right two quadrants, on the ⊃ side, the car rental agencies fired AutoSlash for breaking their system. That’s one more reason for AutoSlash to come over to the ⊂ side and start operating unambiguously as a pure fourth party.

I believe that’s what already does. While their service is superficially similar to AutoSlash’s (they book you the lowest prices), they clearly work for you (⊂) as a fourth party and not for the agencies (⊃) as a third party. What makes them unambiguously a fourth party is the fact that you pay them. Here are their rates.

For controlling multiple relationships, however, you still need tools other than straightforward one-category services (such as AutoSlash and RentalCarMagic). One circle around those tools is what KuppingerCole calls Life Management Platforms. Another, from Peter Vander Auwera of SWIFT is The Programmable Me These (among much more) will be the subject of sessions at the European Identity and Cloud Conference (EIC) this week in Munich. (I’ll be flying there shortly from Boston.) I’ll be participating in those. So will Phil Windley of Kynetx, who has detailed a concept called the “Personal Event Network,” aka the “Personal Cloud.” Links, in chronological order:

  1. Ways, Not Places
  2. Protocols and Metaprotocols: What is a Personal Event Network?
  3. KRL, Data and Personal Clouds
  4. Personal Clouds as General Purpose Computers
  5. Personal Clouds Need a Cloud Operating System
  6. The Foundational Role of Identity in Personal Clouds
  7. Data Abstractions for Richer Cloud Experiences
  8. A Programming Model for Personal Clouds
  9. Federating Personal Clouds

This is thinking-in-progress about work-in-progress, by a Ph.D. computer scientist and college professor as well as an entrepreneur and a very creative inventor. (By the way, KRL and its rules engine are open source. That’s cool too.)

If I have time later I’ll unpack some of this, and start knitting the connections between what Phil’s talking about and what others (especially Martin Kuppinger of KuppingerCole, who will be writing and posting more about Life Management Platforms) are also bringing to the table here.

In particular I will bring up the challenge of fixing the car rental agency market. What can we do, not only for the customer and for his or her fourth parties (the ⊂ side) but for everybody on the third and second party (⊃) side?

And what changes will have to take place on the ⊃ side once they find they need to truly differentiate, in distinctive and non-gimmicky ways? What effect will that have on the car makers as well?

When I started down this path, back in 2006, I had a long conversation with a top executive at one of the car rental companies. What sticks with me is that these guys don’t have it easy. Among other things, he told me that the car companies mostly don’t like the car rental business because it turns drivers off to many of the cars they rent, and the car companies don’t make much money on the cars either. Can that be fixed too? I don’t know, but I’d like customers and their fourth parties to help.

How about through true personalization, in response to actual demand by individual customers, such as I suggested in 2006?

How about through new infrastructural approaches, such as the ?

Hertz, Budget’s and Enterprise’s own CRM and loyalty systems are not going to go away. Nor will the ways they all have of identifying us, and authenticating us. How can we embrace those, even as we work to obsolete them?

There are two worlds overlapping here: the one we have, and the one we’re building that will transcend and subsume the one we have.

The one we have is a “free market” with a “your choice of captor” model. It is for violating this model that AutoSlash was fired as a third party by the car rental agencies.

The one we’re building is a truly free market, in which free customers prove more valuable than captive ones. We need to make the pudding that proves that principle.

And we’re doing that. But it’s not a simple, an easy, or even a coordinated process. The good thing is, it’s already underway, and has been for some time.

Looking forward to seeing you at EIC in Munich, and/or at the other events that follow, in London and Mountain View:

Meanwhile, a last word, in respect to what Bart Stevens says below. Clearly the car rental business needs to move out of the confusopoly model, and to differentiate on more than price. To some degree they already do, but price is the primary driver for most customers. (And I’d welcome correction on that, if it’s wrong.) We have a lot to learn from each other.

Your actual wallet vs./+ Google’s and Apple’s

Now comes news that Apple has been granted a patent for the iWallet. Here’s one image among many at that last link:


Note the use of the term “rules.” Keep that word in mind. It is a Good Word.

Now look at this diagram from Phil Windley‘s Event Channels post:

event channels

Another term for personal event network is personal cloud. Phil visits this in An Operating System for Your Personal Cloud, where he says, “In contrast a personal event network is like an OS for your personal cloud. You can install apps to customize it for your purpose, it canstore and manage your personal data, and it provides generalized services through APIsthat any app can take advantage of.” One of Phil’s inventions is the Kinetic Rules Language, or KRL, and the rules engine for executing those rules, in real time. Both are open source. Using KRL you (or a programmer working for you, perhaps at a fourth party working on your behalf, can write the logic for connecting many different kinds of events on the Live Web, as Phil describes here).

What matters here is that you write your own rules. It’s your life, your relationships and your data. Yes, there are many relationships, but you’re in charge of your own stuff, and your own ends of those relationships. And you operate as  free, independent and sovereign human being. Not as a “user” inside a walled garden, where the closest thing you can get to a free market is “your choice of captor.”

Underneath your personal cloud is your personal data store (MyDex, et. al.), service (Higgins), locker (Locker Project / Singly), or vault ( Doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as it’s yours, and you can move the data from one of these things into another, if you like, compliant with the principles Joe Andrieu lays out in his posts on data portability, transparency, self-hosting and service endpoint portability.

Into that personal cloud you should also be able to pull in, say, fitness data from Digifit and social data from any number of services, as Singly demonstrates in its App Gallery. One of those is Excessive Mapper, which pulls together checkins with Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter. I only check in with Foursquare, which gives me this (for the U.S. at least):

Excessive Mapper

The thing is, your personal cloud should be yours, not somebody else’s. It should contain your data assets. The valuable nature of personal data is what got the World Economic Forum to consider personal data an asset class of its own. To help manage this asset class (which has enormous use value, and not just sale value), a number of us (listed by Tony Fish in his post on the matter) spec’d out the Digital Asset Grid, or DAG…


… which was developed with Peter Vander Auwera and other good folks at SWIFT (and continues to evolve).

There are more pieces than that, but I want to bring this back around to where your wallet lives, in your purse or your back pocket.

Wallets are personal. They are yours. They are not Apple’s or Google’s or Microsoft’s, or any other company’s, although they contain rectangles representing relationships with various companies and organizations:

Still, the container you carry them in — your wallet — is yours. It isn’t somebody else’s.

But it’s clear, from Apple’s iWallet patent, that they want to own a thing called a wallet that lives in your phone. Does Google Wallet intend to be the same kind of thing? One might say yes, but it’s not yet clear. When Google Wallet appeared on the development horizon last May, I wrote Google Wallet and VRM. In August, when flames rose around “real names” and Google +, I wrote Circling Around Your Wallet, expanding on some of the same points.

What I still hope is that Google will want its wallet to be as open as Android, and to differentiate their wallet from Apple’s through simple openness.  But, as Dave Winer said a few days ago

Big tech companies don’t trust users, small tech companies have no choice. This is why smaller companies, like Dropbox, tend to be forces against lock-in, and big tech companies try to lock users in.

Yet that wasn’t the idea behind Android, which is why I have a degree of hope for Google Wallet. I don’t know enough yet about Apple’s iWallet; but I think it’s a safe bet that Apple’s context will be calf-cow, the architecture I wrote about here and here. (In that architecture, you’re the calf, and Apple’s the cow.) Could also be that you will have multiple wallets and a way to unify them. In fact, that’s probably the way to bet.

So, in the meantime, we should continue working on writing our own rules for our own digital assets, building constructive infrastructure that will prove out in ways that require the digital wallet-makers to adapt rather than to control.

I also invite VRM and VRooMy developers to feed me other pieces that fit in the digital assets picture, and I’ll add them to this post.

Say howdy to Insidr and Glome

One is , which is “rewriting the Rules of ” by giving you a way to “connect directly to real people who have worked in big companies and are willing to help when the company can’t or won’t.” You post a question, offer a bounty for an answer, and get an answer from an insider at the company. So far those include (copied and pasted from Insidr’s about/learn page):

I asked a question regarding , with which I’ve flown .82 million miles so far. The question had nothing to do with customer service, but rather with looking for a connection inside the airline, with whom I might talk about publishing a book of aerial photos (such as these) taken from United planes, timed to publish about the time  come into service. It’s a long shot, but a fun one.

I think Insidr qualifies as a fourth party (as described this blog post and this ProjectVRM wiki article). That is, one working primarily for the customer, rather than for the vendor. That Insidr is paid by places it on the side of customers financially, which is significant — and novel, in an age when most new Web-based businesses still look for revenue coming from sellers “targeting” customers rather than customers expressing their own intentions, in their own ways.

about Insidr. (I was given a heads-up that TechCrunch might call to get the VRM angle, but that didn’t happen.)

[Update…] I spoke with Antony Brydon, Insidr’s CEO. He made it clear that the term “Insider” is not limited to people working for the company, and in fact is refers to the collection of experts who are proximal to the company rather than inside the company — though it might include those too. He also begs our indulgence of Insidr’s learning process. They’re just getting started.

The other new VRM entry is .  “Stop being a product” says the main copy on the index page. @glomeinc‘s Twitter page says,

Glome Inc@GlomeInc Helsinki, Finland
Media startup aiming to change the way advertisers connect with customers online. Buzzwords: VRM, User controlled data, online privacy, open API:s

The first and only tweet so far there says,

Glome Inc. is officially founded. Stay tuned for private beta invite instructions. #glomeinc #vrm #privacy #changetheworld

I tweeted back,

@GlomeInc Tell us more about your #VRMwork. DM me if you need to keep it private for now.

We’ll see how that goes. Meanwhile, it’s good to know that both companies fly the #VRM flag.

Here’s Zemanta‘s list of Related Articles:

Signs of progress

The bottom line (literally) of this report on the Consumer Energy Summt in the UK is this piece of excellent news:

…energy companies have agreed to give consumers access to their data in electronic format as part of the government Midata programme., a VRM company, gives us a way to construct “trust frameworks” among ourselves. They have worked to make this as game-free as possible. Check it out.

Twitter search for VRM.

Singly and Locker Project getting mojo as Jeremie presents at Web 2.o, on Day One. (Too bad  Web 2.0 co-happens on the calendar with IIW.)

Smári McCarthyThe End of Artificial Scarcity. Required reading.

Phil Windley on personal event networks.

In a session at IIW: EventedAPIs vs./+ ActivityStreams. Bonus link.

ProgrammableWeb’s directory of APIs. will be discussed this afternoon at IIW. “Peer review for the Internet.”

John Battelle wishes Tapestry existed. Connecting the dots. Recalling the database of intentions. Mentioning Singly and Locker Project.

e-Patient Dave: Is “Gimme my damn data” coming to radiology at last??

Vetted as VRM companies:

Bonus links:

Prototyping a new business model for everything

For IIW next week, and I have been working on a prototype demonstrating , using on the  app from .  The description at the EmanciPay link is minimal so far, but the model has a great deal of promise, because what it puts forward is a new business model for all kinds of stuff: easy voluntary payments from anybody for anything, to escrow accounts where the money can be picked up by the intended recipient with no strings attached. The first target is public radio (as it has been, ever since the earliest ProjectVRM meetings at the ), but it could easily apply to and other media as well.

We still need financial institutions to weigh in and take up a new business model for themselves, and it would be cool if some of them showed up at IIW next week for that, but in any case we’re taking one small step in the direction of a major sea change in the way markets for media work.

I’ve been making test contributions to different public radio stations, using the EmanciPay prototype. Craig has hacked a way for this to show up in my Twitter stream. You can see those here.

Lawsuits as a business model

In The Economics of (Killing) Mass-BitTorrent Lawsuits at TorrentFreak, Alan Gregory examines the likely effects of recent rulings in the Northern District of California and elsewhere, all of which discourage the filing of copyright infringement lawsuits against whole swarms of BitTorrent users.

While not exactly a VRM topic, I’m posting pointage to it because Alan was an intern for ProjectVRM at the Berkman Center in the summer of 2009, when he was still in law school at the University of Florida. Work he did for us then still applies today, and we’re pleased to see him prospering as an attorney practicing in Florida, and staying on the copyright case, which does affect you, me and the new markets that VRM will make.

Some bonus links:

Google’s Wallet and VRM

Yesterday Google opened the curtain on Google Wallet. I think it’s the most important thing Google has launched since the search engine. Here’s why:

Reason #1: We’ve always needed an electronic wallet, especially one in our mobile phone. And, although others have tried to give us one, it hasn’t worked out for them, because…

Reason #2: We’ve needed one from somebody who doesn’t also have a hand in our pocket. Google WalletGoogle is the only company in the world that can pull this off, because it’s the only company in the world that lives to commodify exactly the businesses that desperately need commodification, and to await interesting consequences. I can’t think of a single company that’s better at causing tsunamis of commodification so they can join hundreds of other companies, surfing them to new shores. List the things Google does but doesn’t make money with, and you’ll have a roster of businesses that needed commodification. What Google looks for is what JP Rangaswami and I call because effects: you make money because of those things, not with them. (Note, not talking about “monetization” here. A subtle distinction.) A Google lawyer once told me this strategy was “looking for second and third order effects.” Same thing. Either way, they’re out to give us — and retailers we do business with — a hand. (But they will need to keep it out of our pockets, which includes data we consider personal. We’re the ones to say what that is, and others — including Google, Sprint, Citi and the retailers — need to respect that.)

Reason #3: This reduces friction in a huge way. It’s not an exaggeration when Google says this on their Vision page for the project:

In the past few thousand years, the way we pay has changed just three times—from coins, to paper money, to plastic cards.

Now we’re on the brink of the next big shift.

What weighs your wallet down? What slows you down at checkout? Sometimes it’s pulling out cash, but most times it’s dealing with cards. In the last few years every store, it seems, has been piling on with loyalty cards and keyring tags. This last week Panera Bread started, and watching the results have been a clinic in business fashion gone wrong. The poor folks behind the counter are now forced to ask customers if they have a Panera bread card, and the customers have to either say no (and feel strange), or to produce one from their wallet or key ring. Yesterday I asked the person behind the counter how she liked it. “We don’t need it, and customers don’t want it,” she said. “We’re only doing it because every other store does it. That’s all.” That’s a pain in the pocket nobody needs.

Says Google,

Google Wallet has been designed for an open commerce ecosystem. It will eventually hold many if not all of the cards you keep in your leather wallet today. And because Google Wallet is a mobile app, it will be able to do more than a regular wallet ever could, like storing thousands of payment cards and Google Offers but without the bulk. Eventually your loyalty cards, gift cards, receipts, boarding passes, tickets, even your keys will be seamlessly synced to your Google Wallet. And every offer and loyalty point will be redeemed automatically with a single tap via NFC.

This assumes that the ecosystem will continue to support the kind of loyalty programs we have today. It won’t, because we won’t and that brings me to…

Reason #4: Now customers can truly relate with vendors. That is, if Google Wallet and participating retailers and other players welcome it. See, CRM — Customer Relationship Management — has thus far been almost entirely a sell-side thing. It’s how companies related with you, not how you related with them. They set the rules, they provided the cards, they put up the websites where you filled out long complicated forms, they send you the junk mail, and they do the guesswork about what you might want, usually because you’ve bought something like it before. But what if your phone has your shopping list? What if you want to advertise what you’re looking for, as a personal RFP for something you need right now, and may never need again? Think of this as advertising in reverse, or what Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) calls “Broadcast Shopping”. This is one example of how …

Reason #5: Now demand can signal supply in great detail. Until now, about the only signals we could send were with cash, cards, and whatever might percolate up the corporate CRM chain from “social” CRM. There’s a lot here (see Brian Solis’ Converation Prism, for example, or follow Paul Greenberg). But those all depended on second (vendor) or third parties (all the petals in Brian’s prism, which actually looks more like a flower). They weren’t your signals. I see no reason why the open commerce ecosystem shouldn’t include that. Why should customers always be the dependent variables and not the independent ones? Speaking of independence…

Reason #6: Now you have your own pricing gun. You can tell a store, or a whole market, what you’re willing to pay for something — or what you might offer along with payment, such as information about your other relationships, or the fact that you just moved here and are likely to be shopping at this store more. (Or that you’re a high-status frequent flyer with another airline, and considering the same for this one.) Why not?

Reason #7: You can take your shopping cart with you. Back when e-commerce began, in 1995, my wife’s sister was the VP Finance for Netscape, so that company was something like family for us, making my wife (not a technical type) an early adopter. One of her first questions back then was one that exposes a flaw that’s been in e-commerce from the start: “Why can’t I take my shopping cart from one store to another?” At least conceivably, now you can. Let’s say you want to shop at Store B while you’re at Store A. This already happens when you scan a QR or a barcode with your smartphone to see if it’s cheaper at Amazon or something. But what if you want to be more sophisticated than that? The implications for retailers can be scary, but also advantageous. After all, retailers have physical locations, which Amazon doesn’t. Retailers can earn loyalty in ways that are as unique as each store, and each person working at a store.

Reason #8: Now you can bring your own data with you. Inevitably, you will have a personal data store, vault, lockerdata wallet (yes, it’s already called that), trust framework — or other combination of means for managing and selectively sharing that data in secure, trustworthy and auditable ways. And your data doesn’t just have to be about shopping. Personal tracking and informatics are getting big now (read Quantified Self for more). That’s stuff we bring to the market’s table as well. The wallet in one’s phone seems a good way.

Reason #9: Now you can actually relate. When a customer has the ability to shop as well as buy, right in his or her wallet — and to put shopping in the contect of the rest of his or her life, which includes far more than shopping alone — retailers can discover advantages other than discounts, coupons and other gimmicks. Maybe you’ll buy from Store B because you like the people there better, because they’re more helpful in general, because they took your advice about something, or because they help your kid’s school. Many more factors can come into play.

Reason #10: Now you’re in a free and open marketplace. Not just the space contained by any store’s exclusive loyalty system. Nor in a “free” market that’s “your choice of captor” (which is one of the purposes of loyalty programs).  Along those same lines…

Reason #11: You don’t have to play calf to every store and website’s cow. The reason you can’t take your shopping cart with you from store to store on the Web is that e-commerce normalized from the start on the calf-cow, slave-master architecture of client-server computing. This is what turned the Web from a peer-to-peer, end-to-end egalitarian greenfield into fenced-off ranchland where vendors built walled gardens for “consumers” who fed on the milk of each site’s exclusive offerings, and also got cookies that helped calf and cow remember each other, but which sometimes also tracked the calves as they wandered off into other gardens. It was a submissive/dominant system from the get-go, and has been flawed for exactly that reason ever since. Google Wallet, at least conceptually, gives you ways in which you can relate to anybody or anything, on your terms and not just theirs. And not just in the old commercial-Web-based calf-cow system. You can divine the bovine right in your pocket, and avoid or correct vendors trying to feed you tainted milk or tracking cookies.

I could go on, but I have a book to write and not much time left. But I consider Google Wallet a move of profound importance, even if it doesn’t work out, so I’m putting this list out there for us to correct, debate or whatever else we need to do . At the very least Google Wallet gives us one thing a BigCo is doing that can mesh well with what the VRM development community has been working on for the last few years. I hope the synergies will get everybody excited.

[Later, in August…] Some additional news:

Stay tuned.

IIW dev job: ListenLog

Craig Burton has a nice tutorial on developing VRM applications, using ListenLog as both an example and a challenge for next week at IIW.

ListenLog is the brainchild of Keith Hopper and the collaborative result of efforts by folks from NPR, PRX and other public radio institutions, as well as the Berkman Center and volunteers from the VRM community. It’s a form of self-tracking (see The Quantified Self for more on what that’s about), and also part of a larger effort that includes EmanciPay.

You’ll already find it on the Public Radio Player for iPhone, which is free and a great app. If you’re using an iPhone, download it, then go (as the tutorial says) to the settings and turn on logging. What you’ll have is your own growing pile of personal data, that you control. (No, it’s not yet in your all-purpose personal data store, locker or vault, but that’s another step and we can talk about that too. It is, for sure, in your Personal Data Ecosystem.)

Here’s where the tutorial pauses, for now:

to be done

One of our jobs next week is fulfilling those needs. This is light-duty hacking of the sort we can do around a table in one afternoon. (For those of us who can hack. Alas, the only code I know is Morse.)

Here’s where moving forward on this will lead:

  1. Better knowledge for listeners about what they actually value.
  2. Necessary groundwork for EmanciPay, which is a new listener-driven business model for public radio — and for everything else thats available for free but worth more than that.
  3. More money for public radio (because the old models won’t go away).
  4. More money for every business that produces free goods that are worth more than that. (For example music, newspapers, magazines, blogs and so on.)
  5. Experience and modeling for other similar projects.

Should be fun work.

Bonus thought: This might also work as something that ties in with the Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge. (Keith will be there, I think.) Hey, let’s connect the two. Should be fun. Just tweeted this as well.

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