Category: Initiatives (page 3 of 6)

Knight News Challenge entry for EmanciPay

Below is a copy of our entry to the Knight News Challenge. It actually hadn’t crossed my mind to put one together until last Monday, when I saw that they have a category for sustainability. It says here,

Sustainability: Considers new economic models supporting news and information. New ways of conducting and consuming journalism may require new ways of paying for it. We’re open to ideas for generating revenue as well as ways to reduce costs.

EmanciPay is exactly that.

Three years ago, when ProjectVRM was new, we applied and made it to the second round. Back then EmanciPay was still called PayChoice. (We changed it because we wanted a better name with a URL we could buy, which we did.) Sustainability wasn’t front-burner for Knight then, I guess. Now it is. And, in the meantime, much VRM development has been going in the sustainability direction, including work behind the r-button (some context here). Special thanks for that goes to David Karger, Oshani Seneviratne and Adam Marcus of CSAIL at MIT,  our Google Summer of Code student, Ahmad Bakhiet of Kings College London and Renee Lloyd (a fellow veteran Berkman Center fellow) for their good work on that.

That work is built on code Adam and Oshani had already done on Tipsy, which has its own Knight News Challenge entry as well. (This is all open source stuff, so it can be leveraged many ways.) I met Adam and Oshani through David Karger, who I met through Keith Hopper of NPR, a stalwart contributor to the VRM community from the beginning. Keith is the brainfather of ListenLog, an application you’ll find in your Public Radio Player, from PRX, which is run by Jake Shaprio (another Berkman vet, and a star with the band Two Ton Shoe). When I ran the idea of applying again past Jake (who has an exceptional track record at winning these kinds of things), he said “Go for it,” so we did.

Another VRM effort in the Knight News Challenge  is Tom StitesBanyan Project. Tom has forgotten more about journalism, and its business, than most of us will ever know, and has been hard at work on Banyan for the last several years, rounding up good people and good ideas into one coherent system that could use support. Here’s the Banyan application to the News Challenge. It seems not to appear on the roster at the KNC site right now. I’m told that’s just a glitch. So check it out at that last link in the meantime.

Meanwhile, here are the parts of the EmanciPay entry that matter:

Project Title:

EmanciPay:
a user-driven system for generating revenue and managing relationships
Requested amount from Knight News Challenge:

$325,000

Describe your project:

EmanciPay is the first user-driven revenue model for news and information media. With EmanciPay, users can easily pay whatever they like, whenever they like, however they like — on their own terms and not just those controlled by the media’s supply side.

EmanciPay will also provide means for building genuine two-way relationships between the consumers and producers of media, rather than the confined relationships defined by each organization’s default subscription and membership systems .

EmanciPay is among a number of VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) tools that have been in development for the last several years, with guidance from ProjectVRM, which is led by Doc Searls at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Here is a list of VRM development projects.

Starting early this year, Doc and other members of the VRM community have been working on EmanciPay with developers at MIT/CSAIL and Kings College London. The MIT/CSAIL collaboration is led by David Karger and ties in with work he and others are doing with Haystack. This work includes developing a UI called r-button for offering payment and for creating and managing relationships between users and producers.

The r-button is the first Web UI element that allows a site to signal openness to the user’s own terms of engagement. Toward this end work has also begun on terms-matching, which will allow engagement to go forward without the user being forced to “accept” terms on a site’s take-it-or-leave-it basis — thus eliminating a major source of friction in the marketplace. (Note: These one sided agreements are increasingly coming under fire by courts and regulators, thus creating a higher risk profile for organizations using them. EmanciPay seeks to lower or eliminate that risk altogether.)

As with Creative Commons, terms will be expressed in text and symbols that can be read easily by both software and people.

While there is no limit to payment choice options with EmanciPay, we plan to test these one at a time. The first planned trials are with Tipsy, which is itself the subject of another Knight News Challenge application, here. (Note: EmanciPay is not a micropayments system. It is a way for users to choose whatever amounts and methods of payment they like, whenever they like, with maximum ease.)

ProjectVRM has also been working with PRX and other members of the public radio community on ListenLog (the brainchild of Keith Hopper at NPR), which can currently be found on the Public Radio Player, an iPhone app that has been downloaded more than 2 million times, so far.

Other VRM development efforts, on identity and trust frameworks, and personal data stores (PDSes), will also be brought in to help with EmanciPay.

The plan now is to step up code development, get the code working in the world, test it, improve it, work with media and their CRM suppliers, and drive it to ubiquity.

How will your project improve the delivery of news and information to geographic communities?:

Two ways.

The first is with a new business model. Incumbent local and regional media currently have three business models: paid delivery (subscriptions and newsstand sales), advertising, and (in the case of noncommercial media) appeals for support. All of these have well-known problems and limitations. They are also controlled in a top-down way by the media organization, and cannot be managed from the user’s side, using tools native to the user. Thus they lack insight into what buyers really want. Accordingly, what we propose is a new supplementary system that makes it as easy as possible for anybody to pay anything for whatever they like, whenever they like, without going through the friction of becoming a “member” or otherwise coping with existing payment systems.

The second is a system for creating and sustaining relationships between the consumers and producers of news and information. EmanciPay is one among a larger box of VRM (vendor relationship management) tools by which individual consumers of news can also participate in the news development process. These tools are based on open source code and open standards, so they can be widely adopted and adapted to meet local needs.

CRM software companies, many of which supply CRM (customer relationship management) systems to media organizations, are also awaiting VRM developments. (The cover and much of a recent CRM Magazine were devoted to VRM.)

What unmet need does your proposal answer?:

EmanciPay meets need for maximum freedom and flexibility in paying for news and information, and for a media business model that does not depend only on advertising or the frictions of subscriptions and membership systems.

Right now most news and information is already free of charge on the Web, whether or not it costs money to subscribe or to buy those goods on newsstands. Meanwhile, paying for those goods voluntarily today ranges from difficult to impossible. Even the membership systems of public broadcasting exclude vast numbers of people who would contribute “if it was easy”.

EmanciPay will make it easy for consumers of news to become customers of news. It will allow customers to pay for what they want, when they want, in ways they want, and to initiate actual relationships with the news organizations they pay — on users’ own terms as well as those of news organizations.

How is your idea new?:

Equipping individuals with their own digital tools for exerting and controlling their means of engagement with suppliers is a new idea. So is basing those tools on open source and open standards.

There have also been no tools for expressing terms of engagement that match up with — and reform — those of sellers, rather than just submitting to what are known in law as contracts of adhesion: ones in which the dominant party is free to change what they please while the submissive party is nailed to whatever the dominant party dictates. Contracts of adhesion have been pro forma on the Web since the invention of the cookie in 1995, and EmanciPay is the first system developed to replace them. This system is entirely new, and is being developed by legal experts on the ProjectVRM team, aided by friends at Harvard Law School and other interested institutions. Once in place, its implications and reformations are likely to exceed even those of Creative Commons, because they address the demand as well as the supply side of the marketplace — and (like Creative Commons) do not require changes in standing law.

EmanciPay is also new in the sense that it is distributed, and does not require an intermediary. As with email (the protocols of which are open and distributed, by design), EmanciPay supports any number of intermediary services and businesses providing services to assist it.

What will you have changed by the end of the project?:

First, we will have changed the habits and methods by which people pay for the media goods they receive, starting with news and information.

Second, we will have established a new legal framework for agreements between buyers and sellers on the Web and in the networked world.

Third, we will have introduced to the world an intention economy, based on the actual intentions of buyers, rather than on guesswork by sellers about what customers might buy. (The latter is the familiar “attention economy” of advertising and promotion.)

Fourth, we will have introduced relationship systems that are not controlled by sellers, but instead are controlled and driven by the individuals who are each at the centers of their own relationships with many different entities. Thus relationships will be user-driven and not just organization-driven.

What terms best describe your project?:

Bold, original, practical, innovative and likely to succeed.

(I left out stuff where I was asked to flatter myself. Not my style; but hey, they made me do it.)

So far the place has 207 views and 20 ratings. It would help us if you could view it too, and rate it kindly. Recommendations going forward are welcome too.

And do the same for Tipsy and Banyan.

VRM+CRM Follow-Up

It’s been a week since VRM+CRM 2010, and there have been many conversations on private channels (emails, face-to-face, phone-to-phone, face-to-faces), all “processing,” as they say. Meanwhile we also have some very interesting postings to chew on. (Note: This is cross-posted here.)

First, Bill Wendell‘s RealEstateCafe wiki has a nice outline of sessions at the workshop. Better than our own, so far, I might add. Great notes behind his many links, and an excellent resource.

Next, there is Katherine Warman Kerns’s Making Sense of Things (which follows her HuffPo piece, Will VRMCRM2010 disrupt ambiguity?). Here Katherine puts on some hats we both shared as veterans of the advertising and media businesses, and does some great thinking out loud about better ways for marketing energy to be spent than CRM, online advertising and FSIs (I believe these are Free Standing Inserts). An excerpt:

What if that 3% in CRM, the 1% in FSI’s, and the less than 1% online are the same heavy TV watchers with nothing better to do?You’d think there would be a lot of investment in innovation to develop “something better”, but innovators are getting mixed signals from advertisers.  Most businesses still advertise  in order to convince retailers and/or Wall Street that they are supporting the brand.

Few outsiders understand that advertising has become a business to business marketing tactic more than a business to “consumer” tactic. Instead of paying attention to advertising spending trends –  dropping from 40.6 % of the total media/marketing industry in 1975 to 17.2% in 2009 . . . . . .  the Venture world pays attention to the proportional amount spent on different tactics: “what this chart (provided by GOOGLE’s Hal Varian) says is that over that past decade Internet has gone from nothing to 5% of all the ad spend in the US”.  As I point out in my comment on this post, “At 5% of 17.2% that puts internet advertising at less than 1% of total media/marketing revenues. “

Ignoring this fundamental change in the market, an amazing amount of money is wasted on investing in incremental change.  For example, the race is on (reportedly, over $40 Billion a year) to upgrade CRM technology to improve predictive accuracy so that 3% will go up.

I’m all for continuous improvement process . . .  but, when the starting point is single digit success and that success may not even be among the desirable demographic who leaves the house, doesn’t it make sense to spend some of that money developing Plan B?

Hey if everyone on the team is aiming for the same corner of the goal with a single digit success rate, doesn’t it make sense to develop the skill to go after the remaining 90%+ of the goal?Until something better comes along, a market leader, P&G is quietly investing in the “new media” segment, “custom digital publishing”, to reach their target with less waste and to identify “thought leaders” to engage in their leading edge open innovation process.  Two examples are beinggirl.com and the partnership with NBCU to produce lifegoesstrong.com.

A new technology movement is creating a possibility to offer something even better: making it possible to shift the paradigm from improving Business to Customer communications to improving Customer to Business communication. Instead of wasting money on better ways to interrupt customers with messages, the customers are enabled to tell business when and what they want information. Project Vendor Relationship Management is the thought leadership evangelizing this premise and encouraging technology development.  On August 26-27, a workshop calledVRMCRM2010 introduced many of these technologies to VRM fans and receptive CRM professionals.

Media has an opportunity to use this technology to give all participants “The Freedom to be Ourselves”.   Instead of self-censuring because of uncertainty over what, with whom, or when their participation will be available for exploitation in “cyberspace”, participants may manage the release of identity, content, and information “in context”.   AND this control can be mutual – for  the “formerly known as audience”, the “formerly known as creative content producers”**, and the “formerly known as advertisers”.

Mutual benefit has the potential to breakdown the siloes which are barriers to collaborate on innovation.  Indeed, VRMCRM- like technologies offer a blank canvas of possibilities for media and marketing innovation to  disrupt ambiguity.

Next, Dan Miller’s In Spite of Investment in “Social CRM”, Enterprises are Still not Paying Attention. Dan, who led the CRM panel at the workshop, sees CRM and social CRM as a train wreck in progress:

…current solutions that are based in CRM and social CRM capture and conduct analysis on a broad set of customer generated data and metadata. Companies think they are doing a better job of paying attention but, whether they admit it to themselves or not, they continue to use their resources to analyze activity, target messages and promotions and influence future activity. That’s not listening or engaging in a meaningful conversation.

VRM involves a totally different engagement model. “Users” (be they shoppers, searchers, mobile subscribers or “other”) initiate conversations with their selected vendors through a trusted resource or advocate. They can compare notes with other shoppers/customers and, while they may be loyal to a brand, they are more loyal to themselves and their peers. In the ideal, the power shifts to the shopper in ways that will disintermediate traditional channels (like the contact center) and influencers (meaning commercials and advertisements).

The train wreck is not the result of there being too many names for the social CRM phenomenon, it is that CRM and VRM are on a collision course whereby one side seeks to grant more power to buyers while the other seeks to retain nearly all the power by pretending to do a better job of listening.

On the other hand, Denis Pombriant sees social CRM as having some promise for VRM, and writes about that in VRM’s Missing Ingredient, also posted as VRM and CRM Meet. An excerpt:

The great thing about social CRM is that it lets the genie out of the bottle.  It introduces randomness and uncertainty to the puzzle and that’s largely a good thing.  You can’t program a customer relationship, there are too many permutations and customers do things you just can’t always predict.

My big takeaway from the conference is the wisdom of crowds, the idea that since you can’t predict, take a deep breath and stop trying.  Instead, just ask the customer and, if you do it right, you’ll get amazing insights.  It struck me that the wisdom of crowds is, perhaps, one thing that VRM could incorporate with great success.

Mitch Lieberman (@mjayliebs) put up a nice summary of #vrmcrm2010 tweets through September 1Here’s the current Twitter search for the tag.

Even though the workshop was well-attended by CRM folks (and some of their customers), I was struck by how widely varied that business actually is. The distinction between CRM and sCRM is but one of very many.

In fact I had already been schooled on this by my old friend Larry Augustin, whom I got to know well back when he was a major force in the Linux community, and now runs SugarCRM. You can’t have a $15 billion (give or take… I still haven’t seen any numbers since 2008) business without a great deal of variation in what is sold to whom, and how it is used.

And, of course, relating to customers is not the sole province of CRM itself. I would bet that most customer-supporting corporate Twitter entities (e.g. @BigCoCares) began as individual efforts within their companies, completely outside those companies’ CRM systems, including call centers. These as a class now qualify as sCRM, I suppose. But in any case, it’s complicated.

So is VRM, of course. It starts from the individual, but can go in many directions after that. Here are a few of my own take-aways, all arguable, of course:

  1. You can’t get to VRM from CRM, or even sCRM, any more than you can get to personal from social. But VRM needs to engage both. And both need to engage VRM.
  2. You can’t get to VRM from advertising, either. Trying to make VRM from advertising is like trying to make green from red. The closest you’ll get is brown.
  3. We have code, and were able to show some off (or at least talk about it), and that was great. Adam Marcus’ talk on r-buttons, while delayed by equipment failings (not his — the classroom’s built-in projection system on Day One was flaky), showed how users and site owners could signal their intentions toward each other with symbols that actually worked. Renee Lloyd unpacked the (very friendly) legal side of that too. Iain Henderson gave a nice forecast of the Personal Data Store (PDS) trials that MyDex will be running in the UK shortly. Phil Windley vetted the work Kynetx is doing with the Kynetx Rules Language (KRL). It also amazed me that, even when the workshop was over, many people stayed late, on a Friday, to see Craig Burton give a quick demonstration of KRL at work. (See the photo series that starts here.) Joe Andrieu didn’t show his code at work, but gave a great talk on how search is more than queries. I could go on, but to sum up: this was a watershed moment for the VRM community.
  4. It’s still early. Maybe very early. At the end of the workshop I was asked the What’s Next question. My reply was that it’s great to see a fleet of planes airborne after watching them head down the runway for three years — and that they’re all heading in different directions. Also, they’re not the only planes. Beyond that the future is what we make it, and we’ve still got a lot of making to do.
  5. VRM+CRM is a live topic. There was much talk afterward of next steps with workshops, conferences and other kinds of gatherings, in addition to a list for people wanting to follow up with focused conversation. Stay tuned for more on all that.
  6. VRM is not just the counterpart of CRM. There are VRM efforts, such as The Mine! Project, that address one-to-one relating outside the scope both of identity systems (from which some VRM efforts originated) and of CRM. These also matter a great deal, and are very close to the heart of VRM’s mission.
  7. GRM has mojo going. Two years ago, Britt Blaser was the only GRM guy at that VRM workshop, and had trouble drawing a crowd. This time he brought his own crowd, and drew a bigger one. Very encouraging.
  8. I’m still not entirely sure what ProjectVRM should become as it spins out of the Berkman Center. I want it to be lightweight and useful. I’ll be involved, obviously; and we’ll always have a kinship connection with Berkman. Specifics beyond that are forthcoming, probably in the next three weeks.

I’ll think of others, but I’m out of time right now. Please add your own. And thanks again to everybody who participated. It was a great workshop.

VRM + CRM

We’ve reached the point where VRM and CRM developers are ready to talk.

There is a lot of CRM-facing development going on in the VRM community. A number of both commercial and non-commercial projects on this list are involved, and some are far enough downstream that folks in both communities need to show what they’re working on, sit down and talk.

Some of this is already happening. More will happen next week in New York. And more will happen in some other gatherings that are in the works. Stay tuned for those.

I think that will help answer some of the questions that have been coming up — partly as a result of what I’ve been writing here, and especially after CRM Magazine’s May Issue, Julian Gay’s Beyond Social CRM post, Ewe Hook’s Edison, Insull and planning for the future of VRM and Mitch Lieberman’s VRM Who Has the Relationship Repsonsibility Anyway?, in CRM Ousiders. Martin Schneider’s follow-up, Remember, No One “Owns” a Relationship aligns exactly with what I wrote in Cooperation vs. Coercion and in R-buttons and the open marketplace. As I said there,

Markets, in both their literal and metaphorical meanings, are middle grounds. They are places where we are selectively open to society, and especially to sellers — and where they are open to us. One way to represent that is to turn our silos on their sides and open them up, so we each have a representation of containment, but also of openness, and even of attraction. So, instead of having silos, we have magnets, like this:

You are on the left. The seller is on the right. And the market is in the middle.

The VRM community is working on building this out. (As we said above, the CRM community has begun to join the effort as well.) We are doing this by creating ways of relating in which both sides are open to the other, but neither contains the other. The two can have attractions toward each other, but engagement is optional. Think of the result as a market that’s far more free than the your-choice-of-silo model.

This also realates to Larry Augustin‘s Some Thoughts on Open post. Larry runs SugarCRM. Larry and I go way back to the 90s, when he started VA Linux and I was still a rookie editor for Linux Journal. Even at a distance we’ve been manning the same barricades for the duration. (Much of the time explaining the same things over and over again. Right, Larry? 🙂

I’m also know people at SalesForce.com, including Marc Benioff and especially my old buddy Steve Gillmor (for whom I can’t find a link currently, so here’s his latest Gillmor Gang, which I was on). Plus people at SAP, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft. (Though in some cases not in their CRM divisions.) I’m looking forward to seeing and talking to many of those folks (and more) over the coming weeks and months. More importantly, I’m looking forward to VRM developers other than myself meeting with their counterparts on the CRM side. And with customers and users of CRM software and services.

Meanwhile I’m looking for ways that ordinary users — that’s all of us — can become more aware and mindful of the good work that folks in the CRM community are trying to do. I’m talking here about the work that doesn’t just try to “capture,” “acquire,” “own,” “lock in” or otherwise “manage” us as if we were slaves or cattle. This customer-respecting work is at the leading edge of the CRM world. Respectable customers are at the leading edge of the VRM world. The twain should meet.

I should add that there is much happening in VRM that isn’t CRM facing as well. But for the next few weeks, the focus for many of us will be on reaching across and building out the new common ground between VRM and CRM. That ground is the marketplace, and in many ways it’s still virgin and unspoiled territory.

Loose Links Raise Ships

Little Brother TV for Every Single One of Us is a VRooMy project from Jonathan MacDonald. Writes Jonathan,

Today I want to share ‘littlebrother.tv‘ with you.

I am fascinated by the movement from ‘Big Brother’ type of activities in spying, behavioural targeting and deep packet inspection, to a society that is now empowered to turn the cameras back around on the corporations and vendors. I am also inspired by Michael Rosenblum who I feel very much aligned to in the empowerment by video…

So – down to business, here is the first goal of VRM:

Provide tools for individuals to manage relationships with organizations. These tools are personal. That is, they belong to the individual in the sense that they are under the individual’s control. They can also be social, in the sense that they can connect with others and support group formation and action. But they need to be personal first.

To this end, and within the principles of VRM at the forefront I would like to form a collaboration with others to create littlebrother.tv to enable a space where people can upload and store their recorded observations of companies, retailers and service providers.

This blog post is an open invitation to anyone who is thinks they could help bring this to life.

In Personal datastore: The future of the relationship economy, Uwe Hook gives props to VRM in a post that starts, “We’re not consumers anymore.” Yessss.

In Is HITECH Working? #5: “Gimme my damn data!” The stage is being set to enable patient-driven disruptive innovation, Dave deBronkart (e-PatientDave), Vince Kuraitis, and David C. Kibbe say some kind things about what I (and others in the VRM circle) have said, and go on to cover a variety of VRM-type items in respect to health care. They conclude,

Put the data in the consumer’s hands, and let real patient-driven disruption begin.

Here’s Jon Lebkowsky’s report. And, though he doesn’t mention VRM, Andy Oram has a customarily thorough and terrific report from the same event.)

And more from e-PatientDave.

Nicholas Schriver writes about VRM, noting that we can do some VRM-type stuff already with Twitter.

VRM shows up on this 21 Tips post.

mrtoff’s page two references VRM in a summary of Eve Maler session on UMA a the European Identity Conference.

And, while Pete Blackshaw doesn’t mention VRM in a post about trust, he does say,

In the 10th-anniversary edition of the classic “all markets are conversations” “Cluetrain Manifesto,” co-author Doc Searls warns of a coming “advertising bubble” and a push-media “attention economy” crash. Eventually, he suggests, an “intention economy” will “come along in which demand drives supply at least as well as supply drives demand.” If he’s right, one presumes new rules of trust will come along for the ride.

Last but far from least, we have a Google Summer of Code programmer (and others) working with us on EmanciPay. More on that in due time.

Why not have your own cloud?

A Cloud of One’s Own is both the title and topic for my EOF column in the March issue of Linux Journal. In it I unpack a bit of what clouds are (they may have your data but are not yours), and the opportunities that might await if we turn around our orientation toward the rest of the world. A pull quote:

True: the PCs of today might be a lot smarter than the dumb terminals of computing’s mainframe and minicomputer ages, but in respect to clouds, they’re still terminals. That is, they are still remote: architecturally peripheral to the cloud itself.

Now, we could argue about what clouds are good for and have deep digressive exchanges about the premises (or even the facts) in that last paragraph, but instead, let’s address this question: Why not have your own cloud? That is, why not be what Joe Andrieu calls the point of integration for your own data and the point of origination about what gets done with it?

I point to The Mine! Project, about which I say, “Although not exactly a cloud of one’s own (which may be a contradiction in terms), it’s close enough to obey RMS’s admonitions. That is, it gives you control of your data and what can be done with it by others.”

So will other projects, in different ways. We’ll be visiting those at IIW/10 in May, where VRM topics and developers will be well represented. You can register here.

The Mine! Project at BarCamp Antwerp

The Mine! Project is closer to my personal ambitions for VRM — developing base-level open source tools that give individuals both independence and constructive means for engaging with others in the world — than any other project I know. It’s also living proof that a user can get geeks to do what she or he wants. The user in this case is Adriana Lukas, and the geeks begin with Alec Muffett and fan out from there.

You can see some of those geeks sharing their work and progress at BarCamp Antwerp yesterday, in these videos:

The Mine! Project at BarCamp Antwerp 2010.

Now I’ll see if I succeeded in embedding video, something I rarely do. [Later…] Nope, failed. Still, follow that link to learn about the project and its progress from Alec & friends.

Hot Fodder for next week’s VRM Workshop

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Neil Davey of MyCustomer.com, a major voice in the CRM (Customer Relationship Management) field. The results are up at Doc Searls: Customers will use ID data to force CRM change. Much of what Neil sources for that piece come from my new chapter (“Markets are Relationships”) in the latest edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto (Now with 30% more clues!). In that chapter, Neil says,

Searls sticks the boot into customer relationship management. And even though CRM has become accustomed to bruising encounters, some of these blows hurt – perhaps because there are some painful truths being delivered. CRM, as Searls sees it, would rather have captive customers rather than free ones. To demonstrate this, we only have to examine the language organisations use when referring to customers – how they try to ‘lock in’ customers and ‘retain’ them after they have been ‘acquired’.

Later this week, after I’ve looked more closely at what did and didn’t make it into Neil’s piece (what I said to him, by emai, was quite long), I’ll post some of what was missed.

Meanwhile, a little summary for VRM newbies arriving from the lands of CRM…

The purpose of VRM is to improve markets by enlarging what customers can do, not just what vendors can do. The latter is necessary too; but that’s what all good sellers have always been doing. And there’s a limit to how far that can go.

Better selling alone can’t make better buying. Better marketing alone can’t make better markets. Better CRM alone can’t make better customers. At a certain point customers have to do that for themselves.

That point came when the Internet arrived. It was announced by Chris Locke in The Cluetrain Manifesto, with this very graphic:

notThere was an equipment problem with that statement. Customers were not yet self-equipped with the means for reaching beyond the grasp of old-school marketers and sellers—a school that is still very much in session.

VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) is about equipping customers with their own ways of of relating to vendors. In the larger sense, it’s also for equipping individuals with their own ways of relating to any organization.

Thats the mission of ProjectVRM.org, which I lead as a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center. It’s also the mission of a variety of related projects and companies: The Mine! Project, PAOGA, The Banyan Project, MyDex, ListenLog, EmanciPay, Scanaroo, Kynetx, r-button and SwitchBook, to name a subset of the whole community.

Adriana Lukas, who started The Mine! Project, has something new at Market RIOT (Relationships on Individuals’ Own Terms): MINT, for My Information, Not Theirs. She calls it “a movement to redress the balance of market power between vendors and customers, institutions and individuals, web services/platforms and users.” Its obectives:

  • “to create an ecosystem where customer data belongs to the customer, is freely available to individual customer or user, in open formats
  • ‘to help the individual to become the point of integration for his or her transactional data
  • “to encourage development of applications that enable individuals to enjoy the value they can add by managing and analysing their own data (buying behaviour, purchasing patterns and preferences) and potentially benefit vendors, when such information is voluntarily shared by customers.”

This should bring up plenty of discussion at the VRM East Coast Workshop next Monday and Tuesday at Harvard Law School. It’s free. The agenda will be set by participants (on the “open space” model). In addition I am working right now on lining up an opening panel on Tuesday to lead off discussion of user control of data. Stay tuned for more on that.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t signed up already, go here to register for the workshop.

Unf*cking car rental

The oldest case for VRM is one that has hardly improved in decades: car rental. Few business categories do a worse job of matching specific customer needs. Or a worse job of doing even the very limited range of services to which they limit themselves.

For example, Enterprise. I had a car booked for this evening in Santa Barbara that I would drive for the next week and return to the same airport. Price: $205 for an economyh car.  Nice deal. But, thanks to the common difficulty of getting from Airport A to Airport B, I’m arriving at 11:45 this evening, after Enterprise is closed.  So I called the company from the airport in Denver, where I’m sitting now.

The robot asked if I’d like to answer a one-question survey if I stayed on line after the call. I pressed 1 for yes. The reservations agent explained that I couldn’t change the reservation for pick-up tomorrow morning, but would need a new reservation. This one would be $245. Why? The short answer: because that’s what The System says.

So the survey robot asked me to say whether I was satisfied with the agent’s service (not the company’s, meaning the agent gets penalized, I would guess). On a scale of 1 to 5 (where 5 is most satisfied), I punched in 2. The robot expressed electronic unhappiness with my dissatisfaction, and told me to leave a detailed message. When the promt for that came, I started to talk and the robot instantly interrupted with a “Thank you,” and hung up the line. Is there a better way to compound customer unhappiness than that?

So I want to take this opportunity to appeal to anybody in a responsible position anywhere in the car rental business to work together with us at on a customer-based solution to this kind of automated lameness. It can’t be done from the inside alone. That’s been tried and proven inadequate for way too long. Leave a message below or write me at dsearls at cyber dot law dot harvard dot edu.

Let’s build The Intention Economy — based on real, existing, money-in-hand intentions of real customers, rather than the broken attention-seeking and customer-screwing system we have now.

[Later…] Just booked a Budget compact car through United for $196.86. Got miles with it. By the way, I am a long-standing member of Budget’s FastBreak club. There was nowhere on the reservation I just made to note that. Makes no difference. Just pointing out how lame “loyalty” programs are too. I have minimal loyalty to Budget (which, over the years, has generally been okay). As of now, I have antipathy toward Enterprise.

Dawn of the Living Infrastructure

So how do we get out of this place?

infrastructure_of_living_dead

Let’s face it. Mike Arrington’s problem with the iPhone, Om Malik’s problem with AT&T, the FCC’s problem with Apple + AT&T together, my own problems with Cox, Dish Network and Sprint, David Pogue’s problem with the whole freaking cell phone industry … all of these are a great big WAAAH! in the wilderness of industrial oblivity to what customers want. We’re in the graveyard of what Umair Haque calls the zombieconomy. We’re living in Night of the Living Dead and complaining that the zombies want to eat us alive.

What they really want is to strap us down while they bleed us for small change—tiny amounts of ARPU. They do this, for example, by forcing us to sit through “The … number … you … have … dialed … eight … zero … five … seven …” until a small ka-ching happens somewhere deep in their billing system, so you get bled whether or not you’ve left (or received) a message. David Pogue:

Is 15 seconds here and there that big a deal? Well, Verizon has 70 million customers. If each customer leaves one message and checks voicemail once a day, Verizon rakes in — are you sitting down? — $850 million a year. That’s right: $850 million, just from making us sit through those 15-second airtime-eating instructions.

It was JP Rangaswami (disclosure: I consult JP and his company, BT) who first pointed out to me that the primary competence of phone companies isn’t technical. It’s financial. They’re billing machines. That’s their core competency. And it was r0ml who pointed out, way back when he was with AT&T Wireless (before it became Cingular, and then the AT&T we all know and hate today), that phone companies arrived at the holy grail of micropayments decades ago. They don’t charge small amounts, but they know how to add them up, and round piles of microminutes into billions of dollars.

A better movie metaphor is The Matrix. We’re all wet cell batteries inside giant phone company billing systems. The machines took over a long time ago, and they’re still running the world.

Not that acting like machines does them much good in the long run. Umair Haque:

Profit through economic harm to others results in what I’ve termed “thin value.” Thin value is an economic illusion: profit that is economically meaningless, because it leaves others worse off, or, at best, no one better off. When you have to spend an extra 30 seconds for no reason, mobile operators win — but you lose time, money, and productivity. Mobile networks’ marginal profits are simply counterbalanced by your marginal losses. That marginal profit doesn’t reflect, often, the creation of authentic, meaningful value.

He adds,

The fundamental challenge for 21st Century businesses — and economies — is learning to create thick value. We’re seeing the endgame of a global economy built to create thin value: collapse. Why? Simple: thin value is a mirage — and like all mirages, it ultimately evaporates. In the 21st Century, we’ve got to reconceive value creation.

Constructive Capitalists are disrupting their rivals by creating thicker value. Thick value is sustainable, meaningful value — and a new generation of radical innovators is wielding it like a strategic superweapon.

Rick Segal thinks Mike Arrington‘s CrunchPad is one of those superweapons. Here’s what the Crunchies say will look like:

crunchpad-near-final-design

Sez Rick,

No, this probably isn’t the next Apple or Motion Computing, but here’s the secret.

Let’s assume there are just 1000 people out of all the TechCrunch people in the world that want this device.  If this device gets made and sold to 1000 happy people and the result is a manufacturing world and process which can now do these “one off” type devices, the game changes.

That’s why I want this device to get made. It begins a high profile (and positive) disruption at the point of manufacture and that can mean exciting things to you.

One way to blow up silos and walled gardens is de-verticalize industry itself. Not by making it horizontal (that’s too abstract), but by making it personal. Rick’s angle here is to go all the way to the source, and make manufacturing personal.

That’s what Rick thinks Mike & Co. are doing here. I also think the Crunchpad is compliant with what Dave says in this post here:

I’ve been through this loop many times, this is Mike’s first. The only platform that really works is a platform with no platform vendor, and that’s the Internet.

Right. The Crunchpad, as I understand it (and the Crunchies have explained it) is a Net-native device. Standards-based. Commodity parts. Full of open source stuff. The platform is the Net. The vendor is TechCrunch, but trapping users isn’t their game. They’d rather have thick value than thin.

So how do we contribute, besides paying cash for goods? By being constructive customers, rather than passive consumers. That’s what Rick is calling for here, and why we, as free and independent customers, can choose to support something that uses the Net as the platform, and is built to be user-driven.

Think about it. Is the Crunchpad crippled by any deals with a major vendor of any kind? Is it locked into any phone company’s billing and application approval systems? Is it locked into any one industry’s Business-as-Usual? No.

So who is in the best position to contribute to its continued improvement, besides the Crunchies themselves?

You. Me. Users. Customers.

We can drive this thing. Even if what Dan Frommer says is right, and Apple comes out with the world’s most beautiful pad ever, and pwns the whole category, there’s more vroom for improvement in the Crunchpad, because Apple’s device will be closed and the Crunchpad will be open. Or should be.

You listening, Mike?

Gain of Facebook

In How Facebook Could Create a Revolution, Do Good, and Make Billions, Bernard Lunn of ReadWriteWeb has put forth a generous and highly understanding take on VRM. Sitting here in a big house amidst countless members of two extended families, on the morning of my daughter’s wedding, is not the ideal place to post at length on what Bernard and his many commenters have put forth, so I’ll keep it to a minimum now and pick up the thread next week when I’m back home in Santa Barbara.

The two most important questions Bernard brings up are,

  1. What will it take for VRM to succeed?
  2. What big companies are in the best positions to step up and make billions by serving VRM-equipped customers?

His initial focus is on Facebook as a company well-positioned to step up. And I agree with him. I also agree with him on the “the three horsemen of the consumer-clypse” (phone companies, health care providers and credit card companies) — plus Joshua Hall’s suggestion of ISPs as a fourth horseman. (Of course, phone companies are ISPs too.)

Of course we need big companies of many kinds to step up. I think in general the biggest winners will be companies doing Fourth Party Services. Facebook could easily do that. So could others among the many “horsemen.” The problem for all of them is that they see their “consumers” as an asset to “monetize,” rather than seeing themselves as services to be driven by users. For more about that distinction, see Joe Andrieu’s postings that begin with this one on User Driven Services.

To drive services, users need code. Standards. Implementations. These take time, and there are a number of projects underway. Check out The Mine! Project, including Alec Muffett’s latest — his slides from a recent Google Tech Talk. Check out what Iain Henderson says about his work with VPI (volunteered personal information) and what he calls the personal data ecosystem. Check out Media Logging, Listen Log and EmanciPay, all of which move toward providing an additional source of revenue for media that cost nothing but have values that exceed $0 (or €0, ¥0 or £0).

All this and much more work has been done voluntarily, by the way. None of these are businesses. Yet all of them can make a lot of money for businesses, once they’re in use and adopted. Which some or all of them (plus others, not mentioned or not yet discovered or adapted) will be.

Okay, I need to go rehearse for this afternoon’s wedding. Happy 4th, ya’ll.

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