Category: Legal (page 2 of 3)

Let’s turn Do Not Track into a dialog

Do Not Track (DNT), by resembling Do Not Call in name, sounds like a form of prophylaxis.  It isn’t. Instead it’s a request by an individual with a browser not to be tracked by a website or its third parties. As a request, DNT also presents an interesting opportunity for dialogue between user and site, shopper and retailer, or anybody and anything. I laid out one possibility recently in my Inkwell conversation at The Well. Here’s a link to the page, and here’s the text of the post:

The future I expect is one in which buyers have many more tools than they have now, that the tools will be theirs, and that these will enable buyers to work with many different sellers in the same way.

One primitive tool now coming together is “Do Not Track” (or DNT): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_Not_Track It’s an HTTP header in a user’s browser that signals intention to a website. Browser add-ons or extensions for blocking tracking, and blocking ads, are also tools, but neither constitute a social protocol, because they are user-side only. The website in most cases doesn’t know ad or tracking blocking being used, or why. On the other hand, DNT is a social gesture. It also isn’t hostile. It just expresses a reasonable intention (defaulted to “on” in the physical world) not to be followed around.

But DNT opens the door to much more. Think of it as the opening to dialog:

User: Don’t track me.
Site: Okay, what would you like us to do?
User: Share the data I shed here back to me in a standard form, specified here (names a source).
Site: Okay. Anything else?
User: Here are my other preferences and policies, and means for matching them up with yours to see where we can agree.
Site: Good. Here are ours.
User: Good. Here is where they match up and we can move forward.
Site: Here are the interfaces to our CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, so your VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) system can interact with it.
User: Good. From now on my browser will tell me we have a working relationship when I’m at your site, and I can look at what’s happening on both sides of it.

None of this can be contemplated in relationships defined entirely by the sellers, all of which are silo’d and different from each other, which is what we’ve had on the commercial Web since 1995. But it can be contemplated in the brick & mortar world, which we’ve had since Ur. What we’re proposing with VRM is nothing more than bringing conversation-based relationships that are well understood in the brick-and-mortar world into the commercial Web world, and weaving better marketplaces in the process.

A bit more about how the above might work:
http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/vrm/2012/02/23/how-about-using-the-no-track-button-we-already-have/

And a bit more about what’s wrong with the commercial Web (so far, and it’s not hard to fix) here:
http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/vrm/2012/02/21/stop-making-cows-stop-being-calves /

So, to move forward, consider this post a shout-out to VRM developers, to the Tracking Protection Working Group at the W3C, to browser developers, to colleagues at Berkman (where Chris Soghoian was a fellow, about at the time he helped think up DNT) — and to everybody with the will and the ways to move forward on this thing.

And hey: it’s also our good luck that the next IIW is coming up at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, from October 23rd to 25th. IIW is the perfect place to meet and start hashing out DNT-D (I just made that up: DNT-Dialog) directions. IIW is an unconference: no keynotes, panelists or vendor booths. Participants vet and choose their own topics and break out into meeting rooms and tables. It’s an ideal venue for getting stuff done, which always happens, and why this is the 15th of them.

Meanwhile, let’s get in touch with each other and start making it happen.

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.

Coming to terms

We lie every time we “accept” terms that we haven’t read — a pro forma  behavior that is all but required by the calf-cow model of the Web that’s prevailed since 1995. We need to change that. And so we are.

StandardLabel.org is working on “A clear, consistent way for websites to say what they do with the data they share, before we share it.” While its recent Kickstarter campaign came up a bit short, the work continues. Here is one (prototypical) way that label might look:

(The actual image I wanted there was this one, but heard it wasn’t showing up in all browsers, so I went with the one above.)

The StandardLabel folks also have a survey, which I recommend taking.

CommonTerms intends “to solve the problem of non-accessible online legal texts in a way similar to how Creative Commons made different copyright licenses accessible,” adding, “We thought that by analyzing existing agreements, we could identify the most common terms, and then create icons to symbolize them.” Background:

The CommonTerms project is coordinated by Metamatrix AB andsponsored by Internetfonden.se

The project is a result of a session on “sustainable web development” by Pär Lannerö and Thomas Bjelkeman at the Sweden Social Web Camp, in August 2010.

Their prototype, focused on icons, stars Pär and looks like this:

Par and  Lars-Erik Jakobsson (icon), Gregg BernsteinCarl TörnquistHanna ArkestålMax WalterMattias AspelundAnders Carlman have since added BiggestLie.com, source of the image at the top of this post, plus this one here, which I just earned:

The idea is to start getting real about what we’re all doing and not doing.

What we’re doing is lying: i.e. agreeing not only to what we don’t read, but to the rotted status quo of which one-sided non-agreements are a part. What we’ve not been doing for most of the last 17 years is solving the problem.

But, thanks to the work above (plus whatever I’ve missed), we are doing some things. So are PDEC.cc and companies like Personal. Other work is happening with personal clouds. (PDEC is on that case too.) Aza Raskin‘s Privacy Icons are an effort in this same direction. (CommonTerms has a longer list.)

Still, looks to me like most of the work being done so far is on the cow side of the calf-cow relationship. On our side, we need to stop being calves, for real. That is, we need to have full agency in the original sense of the word: power to cause intended effects on our own.

For that we will need machine- and user-readable ways to express own terms, preferences and policies, so they can be read by sites (the cows) and matched up. That’s the idea behind EmanciTerm, described in How about using the ‘No Track’ button we already have? and in The Intention Economy. There I explain,

With full agency, however, an individual can say, in the first person voice, “I own my data, I control who gets access to it, and I specify what I wish to happen under what conditions.” In the latter category, those wishes might include:

  • Don’t track my activities outside of this site.
  • Don’t put cookies in my browser for anything other than helping us remember each other and where we were.
  • Make data collected about me available in a standard, open format.
  • Please meet my fourth-party agent, Personal.com (or whomever).

These are EmanciTerms, and there will be corresponding ones on the vendor’s side. Once they are made simple and straightforward enough, they should become normative to the point where they serve as de facto stan- dards, in practice.

Since the terms should be agreeable and can be expressed in text that code can parse, the process of arriving at agreements can be automated.

For example, when using a public wi-fi access point, a person’s EmanciTerms might say, “I will not knowingly hog this shared resource, for example, by watching high-def video on it,” or “I will not engage in illegal activities here.” If the provider of the access point has a VRM-ready service that is willing to deal with the user on his or her own EmanciTerms as well as those of the provider, it should be possible to automate the formalities and let the user bypass the usual “read and accept our agreement” ritual.

Not everything we express in the proposed ceremony here has to be one side of a binding agreement. If we express these terms as preferences or policies they can still be heard, even if they’re not agreed to. Being heard is one idea behind BiggestLie. But the cows can’t fix this on their own. We need to work both sides.

The only problem with all this is that our work is scattered. Let’s get it together.

How about using the ‘No Track’ button we already have?

left r-buttonright r-buttonFor as long as we’ve had economies, demand and supply have been attracted to each other like a pair of magnets. Ideally, they should match up evenly and produce good outcomes. But sometimes one side comes to dominate the other, with bad effects along with good ones. Such has been the case on the Web ever since it went commercial with the invention of the cookie in 1995, resulting in a calf-cow model in which the demand side — that’s you and me — plays the submissive role of mere “users,” who pretty much have to put up with whatever rules websites set on the supply side.

Consistent with Lord Acton’s axiom (“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”) the near absolute power of website cows over user calves has resulted in near-absolute corruption of website ethics in respect to personal privacy.

This has been a subject of productive obsession by Julia Anguin and her team of reporters at The Wall Street Journal, which have been producing the What They Know series (shortcut: http://wsj.com/wtk) since July 30, 2010, when Julia by-lined The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets. The next day I called that piece a turning point. And I still believe that.

Today came another one, again in the Journal, in Julia’s latest, titled Web Firms to Adopt ‘No Track’ Button. She begins,

A coalition of Internet giants including Google Inc. has agreed to support a do-not-track button to be embedded in most Web browsers—a move that the industry had been resisting for more than a year.

The reversal is being announced as part of the White House’s call for Congress to pass a “privacy bill of rights,” that will give people greater control over the personal data collected about them.

The long White House press release headline reads,

We Can’t Wait: Obama Administration Unveils Blueprint for a “Privacy Bill of Rights” to Protect Consumers Online

Internet Advertising Networks Announces Commitment to “Do-Not-Track” Technology to Allow Consumers to Control Online Tracking

Obviously, government and industry have been working together on this one. Which is good, as far as it goes. Toward that point, Julia adds,

The new do-not-track button isn’t going to stop all Web tracking. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people’s Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as “market research” and “product development” and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers.

The do-not-track button also wouldn’t block companies such as Facebook Inc. from tracking their members through “Like” buttons and other functions.

“It’s a good start,” said Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “But we want you to be able to not be tracked at all if you so choose.”

In the New York Times’ White House, Consumers in Mind, Offers Online Privacy Guidelines Edward Wyatt writes,

The framework for a new privacy code moves electronic commerce closer to a one-click, one-touch process by which users can tell Internet companies whether they want their online activity tracked.

Much remains to be done before consumers can click on a button in their Web browser to set their privacy standards. Congress will probably have to write legislation governing the collection and use of personal data, officials said, something that is unlikely to occur this year. And the companies that make browsers — Google, Microsoft, Apple and others — will have to agree to the new standards.

No they won’t. Buttons can be plug-ins to existing browsers. And work has already been done. VRM developers are on the case, and their ranks are growing. We have dozens of developers (at that last link) working on equipping both the demand and the supply side with tools for engaging as independent and respectful parties. In fact we already have a button that can say “Don’t track me,” plus much more — for both sides. Its calle the R-button, and it looks like this: ⊂ ⊃. (And yes, those symbols are real characters. Took a long time to find them, but they do exist.)

Yours — the user’s — is on the left. The website’s is on the right. On a browser it might look like this:

r-button in a browser

Underneath both those buttons can go many things, including preferences, policies, terms, offers, or anything else — on both sides. One of those terms can be “do not track me.” It might point to a fourth party (see explanations here and here) which, on behalf of the user or customer, maintains settings that control sharing of personal data, including the conditions that must be met. A number of development projects and companies are already on this case. All the above falls into a category we call EmanciTerm. Much has been happening as well around personal data stores (PDSes), also called “lockers,” “services” and “vaults.” These include:

Three of those are in the U.S., one in Austria, one in France, one in South Africa, and three in the U.K. (All helping drive the Midata project by the U.K. government, by the way.) And those are just companies with PDSes. There are many others working on allied technologies, standards, protocols and much more. They’re all just flying below media radar because media like to look at what big suppliers and governments are doing. Speaking of which… 🙂

Here’s Julia again:

Google is expected to enable do-not-track in its Chrome Web browser by the end of this year.

Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president of advertising at Google, said the company is pleased to join “a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘Do Not Track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls.”

White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Daniel Weitzner said the do-not-track option should clear up confusion among consumers who “think they are expressing a preference and it ends up, for a set of technical reasons, that they are not.”

Some critics said the industry’s move could throw a wrench in a separate year-long effort by the World Wide Web consortium to set an international standard for do-not-track. But Mr. Ingis said he hopes the consortium could “build off of” the industry’s approach.

So here’s an invitation to the White House, Google, the 3wC, interested BigCos (including CRM companies), developers of all sizes and journalists who are interested in building out genuine and cooperative relationships between demand and supply::::

Join us at IIW — the Internet Identity Workshop — in Mountain View, May 1-3. This is the unconference where developers and other helpful parties gather to talk things over and move development forward. No speakers, no panels, no BS. Just good conversation and productive work. It’s our fourteenth one, and they’ve all been highly productive.

As for the r-button, take it and run with it. It’s there for the development. It’s meaningful. We’re past square one. We’d love to have all the participation we can get, from the big guys as well as the little ones listed above and here.

To help get your thinking started, visit this presentation of one r-button scenario, by Adam Marcus of MIT. Here’s another view of the same work, which came of of a Google Summer of Code project through ProjectVRM and the Berkman Center:

(Props to Oshani Seneviratne and David Karger, also both of MIT, and Ahmad Bakhiet, of Kings College London, for work on that project.)

If we leave fixing the calf-cow problem entirely up to the BigCos and BigGov, it won’t get fixed. We have to work from the demand side as well. In economies, customers are the 100%.

Here are some other stories, mostly gathered by Zemanta:

All look at the symptoms, and supply-side cures. Time for the demand side to demand answers from itself. Fortunately, we’ve been listening, and the answers are coming.

Oh, and by the way, Mozilla has been offering “do not track” for a long time. Other tools are also available:

Stop making cows. Quit being calves.

Emoji_u1f42e.svg The World Wide Web that invented in 1990 was a collection of linked documents. The Web we have today is a collection not just of documents (some of which we quaintly call pages), but of real estate we call sites. This Web is mostly a commercial one.

Even if most sites aren’t commercial (I don’t know), most search results bring up commercial sites anyway, thanks both to the abundance of commercial sites on the Web, and “search engine optimization” (SEO) by commercial site operators. Online ad spending in the U.S. alone will hit $40 billion this year, and much of that money river runs through Google and Bing.

But that’s a feature, not a bug. The bug is that we’ve framed our understanding of the Web around locations and not around the fabric of connections that define both the Net and the Web at the deepest level. That’s why nearly every new business idea starts with real estate: a site with an address. Or, in the ranching-based lingo of marketing, a brand.

The problem isn’t with the sites themselves, or even with the real estate model we use to describe and understand them. It’s with their underlying architecture, called client-server.

Client-server, by design, subordinates visitors to websites. It does this by putting nearly all responsibility on the server side, so visitors are just users or consumers, rather than participants with equal power and shared responsibility in truly two-way relationship between equals. Thus the client-server relationship is roughly that of calf to cow:

calf-cow

From the teats of the cow-server, the calf-client sucks the milk of HTML and Javascript, plus : text files deposited by a website’s server in a visitor’s browser. Their original purpose was to help both the site and the visitor (the cow and the calf) remember where they were last time they met, and to retain other helpful information, such as logins and passwords.

But cookies also became a way for commercial cows and their business friends (aka third parties) to keep track of their calves, reporting back where those calves traveled, the  cows they suckled, the stuff they click on. Based on what they learn from tracking, the cows can — alone or with assistance from third parties, produce “personalized” milk in the form of customized pages and ads. This motivation is all the rage today, especially around advertising.

Nearly all the investment on ‘relating’ is still on the sell side: the cow side, because that’s where all the power is concentrated, thanks to client-server. So we keep making better cows and cow-based systems, forgetting that the calves are actual human beings called customers. We also overlook opportunity in helping demand drive supply, rather than just in helping supply drive demand.

But some of us haven’t forgotten. One is Phil Windley, a Ph.D. computer scientist, former CIO of Utah, co-founder of , and the inventor and lead maintainer of a language called , plus the rules engine for executing KRL code. (Both are open source.) The rules are the individual’s own. The rules engine can go anywhere. No cow required.

To describe the box outside of which Phil thinks, he gives a great presentation on the history of e-commerce. It goes like this:

1995: Invention of the Cookie.
The End.

To describe where he’s going (along with Kynetx and the rest of the VRM development community), Phil wrote a new book, The Live Web (a term you might have first read about here), and has been publishing a series of blog posts that deal with what he calls . Think of your Personal Event Network as the Live Web that you, as a human being (rather than as a calf) operate. Live. In real time. Your own way. You can take advantage of services offered by the servers of the world (through APIs, for example). But it’s your network, and it’s built with your own relationships. It doesn’t replace client-server, but it gives servers lots to do besides being cows. In fact, the opportunities are boundless, because they’re in wide-open virgin territory.

A Personal Event Network puts you at the center of your Live Web, with your own apps, and your own rules for what follows from events in your web of relationships. “Personal event networks interact with each other as equals,” Phil says. “They aren’t client server in nature.” Here’s how Phil draws one example:

Personal Event Network

Look at the three items indside the personal cloud:

  • At the center are apps. We’re already familiar with those on our computers and mobile devices. While they might have connections to outside services, they are personal tools of our own. They are neither calves nor cows.
  • On the left is an RFQ, or a Request For Quote, also called a .
  • On the right are rules, written in KRL.

Together those control how we interact with all the devices and services on the outside, on the Live Web. Note that those outside items are not functioning as cows, even though they also live in the commercial Web’s client-server world. They are being engaged outside the cow function, mostly through s.

Here’s how Phil explains how this works for a guy named Tim, who has a relationship with a flower shop, described here:

Tim’s personal event network has a number of apps installed. It’s also is listening on many event channels. These channels are carrying events about everything from Tim’s phone and appliances to merchants he frequents.

REI and the flowershop both have separate channels into Tim’s personal event network. Consequently, Tim can

  • Manage them independently. If REI starts spamming Tim with events he doesn’t like, he can simply delete the channel and they’re gone.
  • Permission them independently. Tim might want to get certain events from REI and other’s from the flowershop. Which events can be carried on which channels is up to Tim.
  • Respond to them independently. Tim might want to get notification events from the flowershop delivered to his phone today because it’s his wife’s birthday whereas normally merchant communications are sent to his mail box.

Tim is in charge of whether and how events are delivered. He manages the channel, delivery, and response while the publishers of these event choose the content.

This cannot be done within the bovine graces of any one company — not Apple, Facebook, Google or Microsoft — no matter how rich their services might be, and no matter how well they treat their users and customers. And not matter how much they might insist that they’re not really treating their users and customers as calves.

But they’re still playing the cow role, and we’re still stuck as calves. That’s why we keep looking for better cows.

For example take The Real Problem With Google’s New Privacy Policy, in . The subtitle explains, “The tech giant owes users better tools to manage their information.” Well, that might be true. But we also need our own tools for managing relationships with Google — and every other site and service on the Web. And we need those tools to work the same way with every company, rather than different ways with every company.

(We have this, for example, with email, thanks to open, standard and widely deployed protocols. Email is fully human, even if we submit to playing the half-calf role inside, say, Gmail. We can still take our whole email pile outside of Gmail and put it on any other server, or host it ourselves. Email’s protocols and standards support that degree of independence, and therefore of humanity as well.)

Another example is The Ecommerce Revolution is All About You, in . Here’s the closing paragraph:

So shoppers, be prepared to give up your data. In the coming year, we’re going to see many more retail sites ramping up data-driven discovery. And e-commerce sites who aren’t thinking about how to mine social and other forms of data are probably going to be left in the dust by the Amazons and Netflix’s of the next wave of personalization.

Credit where due to Amazon and Netflix: their personalization is best-of-breed. Their breed just happens to be bovine.

As it did in 1995, Amazon today provides their own milk and cookies for their own calf-customers. As a loyal Amazon customer, I have no problem being its calf. But I can’t easily take my data (preferences, history, reviews etc.) from Amazon and use it myself, in my own ways, and for my own purposes. It’s their data, not mine.

The problem with this — for both Amazon and me — is that Amazon isn’t the whole World Live Web. I don’t shop only at Amazon, and I would like better ways of interacting with all sellers than any one seller alone can provide, even if they’re the world’s best online seller. (Which Amazon, arguably, is.)

So sure, the Ecommerce Revolution is “about us.” But if it’s our revolution, why aren’t we getting more of our own tools and weapons? Why should we keep depending on sellers’ personalization systems to do all the work of providing relevance for us as shoppers? Should we give up our data to those companies just so they can raise the click-through rates of their messages from one in less than a hundred to one in ninety-eight — especially when many of the misses will now be creepily “personalized” as well?

Shouldn’t we know more about what to do with our data than any seller can guess at? And if we don’t know yet, why not create companies that help us buy at least as well as other companies are help sellers sell?

Well, those kinds of companies are being created, and you’ll find a pile of them listed here, Kynetx among them.

VCs need to start looking seriously at development on the demand side. Kynetx is one among dozens of companies that are flying below the radar of too many VCs just looking at better cows, and better ways to sell — or worse, to “target,” “capture,” “acquire,” “lock in” and “manage” customers as if they were slaves or cattle.

The idea that free markets are your-choice-of-captor is a relic of a dying mass-market-driven mentality from the pre-Internet age. Free markets need free customers. And we’ll get them, because we’ll be them.

We — the customers — are where the money that matters most comes from. Driving that money into the marketplace are our own intentions as sovereign and independent human beings.

In the next few years we’ll build an Intention Economy, driven by customers equipped with their own tools, and their own ways of interacting with sellers, including their own terms of engagement. This was the promise of the Net and the Web in the first place, and we’ve awaited delivery for long enough.

Time’s up. The age of captivity is ending. Start placing your bets on the demand side.

Consumers are social, Customers are personal

Social media are a partial and temporary solution at best to a pair of linked problems that are essentially personal:

  1. dysfunctional customer relationship management on the vendor’s side; and
  2. minimal vendor relationship management on the customer’s side.

In the absence of solutions to both problems, vendors still see customers as consumers, and that too is a problem that hasn’t yet come to a head, because we still don’t fully grok the difference between consumers and customers. As a result, we think social media looks like a the good answer rather than a better question. That question is, How can we get companies and media to stop treating us as consumers and start treating us as real customers?

To see what needs to be done, check out Consumers Punish Companies that Ignore Them, by Eric Sass in MediaPost. In that piece Eric sources a pair of Conversocial studies that contain plenty of grist for social media and marketing mills. Here they are, from the Conversocial blog:

Here are some samplings from Eric’s gleanings:

  • “…more than 60% of complaints and question about retailers posted online on social media are ignored, in part because of the sheer volume of content created on sites like Twitter and Facebook.”
  • “30% of the retail chains surveyed don’t respond to any questions or complaints posted on social media, effectively choosing to ignore issues mentioned in these forums.”
  • “…78% believe that social media platforms will soon replace other means of customer service altogether or at least become one of the top ways to communicate with corporations.”
  • “…among the group which has communicated with companies via social media, 32.5% said they were either neglected or totally ignored; that works out to 16.5% of the total…This included ‘inadequate response times, unanswered queries, and overall unmet expectations.’
  • “What’s more, ‘respondents were also adamant that such corporate behaviors would have some or much effect on their future decision to do business with offending corporations.’
  • “27.3% of respondents said being ignored by companies on social media makes them ‘very angry,’ and 27.1% said they’d stop doing business with the offending company altogether.”
  • “88.3% of respondents said they’d be somewhat or far less likely to do business with a company that has visibly ignored other customers’ questions or complaints on social media. That includes 49.5% who said they would be ‘far less likely, and 38.8% who said they’d be ‘somewhat less likely.'”

Note that the blame here is on offending companies; not on social media, or on the absence of something better.

This is understandable because social media offer radically new and helpful avenues both for customer feedback one one side and customer support on the other. Also, social media is where Conversocial is coming from, and what MediaPost reports on. The problem for both — and for all of us thinking and talking about this stuff inside the social media framework — is that consumers are a statistical category while customers are individual human beings.

Individual human beings are all different. They are not categories, and they cannot be treated with full respect only by templates, which is what vendors — especially those serving mass markets — tend to use.

And, while social media do provide ways to get personal (say, though one’s @-handle on Twitter), they don’t have personal relationships with their users. That’s because social media users are not customers of them, because they don’t pay for them. And if you don’t pay, you’re the product being sold.

The actual customers of Facebook and Twitter are advertisers, not users. Because of this, social media has exactly the same un-visited problem that commercial broadcasting has had for the duration: its consumers and its customers are different populations. Financial accountability is to those that pay, which are advertisers, not users. Yes, there are moral and operational obligations to users, but economically speaking those obligations are lesser ones. They are those of a farmer to crops, not of a store to actual customers.

For now social media are a useful and popular way for customers to send messages to companies — and to route around inadequate customer service systems (or, in the vernacular of the trade, using sCRM routing around or to improve CRM) — the failures listed by Conversocial are not just those of companies ignoring social media, but of social media itself.

There is a structural problem as well, because social media are still only semi-personal. They are a weak substitute for direct contact — meaning that, in a person-to-person sense, even email and telephony are better.

Improving each company’s customer service systems and policies (which the Conversocial studies call for) also isn’t enough, because each company’s system is different, and all of them are silo’d. Thus the way you deal as a customer with Nordsrom, Safeway, Amazon and Apple are all different, and incompatible. If you want, say, to change your address or your phone number with all of them at once, you don’t have a single way to do that. You also don’t have a standard way to publish your own terms and conditions of engagement, to say for example “don’t track me outside of your own store or site” or “any data you collect is mine as well as yours, and should be available to me in the standard way I describe.”

Tools for doing that would have to live on your side of the relationship. Not the vendor’s, not the CRM cloud’s, and not Facebook’s. If you are a real customer, and not just a consumer or a user, you need your own tools. You need VRM — Vendor Relationship Management — tools, to work together with vendors CRM tools, not to replace them. The demand chain and the supply chain will work together.

The only case against VRM is that companies serving mass markets can’t afford to be personal, and just won’t go there. This was also the argument against PCs and the Internet. History and enterprising developers proved both cases wrong.

In fact enterprising developers in the VRM community have been working on personal tools for the last five years or more — tools that make customers both independent of vendors and better able to engage with vendors. It helps that the CRM community is aware of VRM developments, and has been awaiting them for some time. This is the year that wait will pay off. We’ll finally see VRM developments mature and start to become useful, both for customers and for vendors. So, watch the space.

Bonus link: Alan Mitchell’s comment below. I love how he says social media marketing is among “the grandest imperialist invasions of them all. The attempt to occupy day-to-day human interaction and turn it into a profit centre.” Indeed.

Also, to answer questions raised below, I have posted Customers are personal, cont’d.

Enough with browsers. We need cars now.

What we need, and don’t yet have:

For independence on the Net and the Web, we need cars, pickup trucks, bikes and motorcycles. Not just shopping carts — which are what browsers have become.

Personal vehicles give us independence. They let us drive and shop all over the place, coming and going as we please. In different stores we use the shopping carts provided for us; but we haul home what we buy in our own vehicles. We also meet sellers in stores at a human level, person-to-person. We can talk.

Even if we don’t own the vehicle we drive, we experience independence. Whether we drive a Ford, a Volkswagen or a Toyota, that car or pickup is ours. It is an extension of ourselves. We know in our bones, as drivers, that this is my engine, my doors, my tires. No company is saying “my” for you.

Cars, trucks, bikes and motorcycles are all substitutable goods. That’s why, if we’re competent drivers or riders, we can switch between them. It’s why we can bring what’s ours (our wallets and other personal things) with us in any variety of vehicles, without worrying about whether those personal things are compatible with a maker’s proprietary driving system.

And, because we are independent as drivers and riders, we are better able to relate to everybody and everything our vehicles enable us to reach and engage. Vehicles are, literally, tools of independence and engagement.

Nobody has invented a car for the Net or the Web yet. Browsers could have been cars, but .  That’s not the Net’s model, or the Web’s, either. It’s just what we’ve used for so long that we can hardly imagine anything else.

Think about how you feel on your bike, or in your car or truck. That’s what we want online. We don’t have it yet, so let’s invent it.

Some background

The was designed originally as a way to link documents by hypertext. Like the it still runs on, it was end-to-end. At the ends were documents and (presumably) readers.

The commercial Web of today is something else: a collection of sites. All are real estate: domains, literally. Each site doing business (and there are now a billion or more of those) has its own terms of engagement. Visitors can take or leave them. Either way, visitors’ freedom within each domain is entirely submissive in respect to the site owner.

This is an architectural fact of life on the commercial Web. It’s also why, should we wish to do business with the site owner, we meet an agreement that looks like this…

You agree that we aren’t liable for annoying interruptions caused by you; or a third party, buildings, hills, network congestion, rye whiskey falling sickness or unexpected acts of God or man, or of Elvis leaving the building. Unattended overseas submissions in saved mail hazard functions will be subject to bad weather or sneeze funneling through contractor reform blister pack truncation, or for the duration of the remaining unintended contractual subsequent lost or expired obligations, except in the state of Nevada at night. We also save harmless ourselves and close relatives from all we don’t control; including clear weather and acts of random gods. You also agree that we are not liable for missed garments, body parts, or voice mails, even if you have saved them. Nothing we say or mumble here is trustworthy or true, or meant for any purpose other than to feed the fears of our legal department, which has no other reason to live. Whether for reasons of drugs, hormones, gas or mood, we may change terminate this agreement with cheerful impunity, and notify you by means that neither of us will respect or remember.

☐   Accept.

… and click on the box.

“Agreements” like this are known in the legal trade as . According to  West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, this form “offers goods or services to consumers on essentially a ‘take it or leave it’ basis without giving consumers realistic opportunities to negotiate terms that would benefit their interests. When this occurs, the consumer cannot obtain the desired product or service unless he or she acquiesces to the form contract.” In other words, we acquiesce to these:

These contracts are called “adhesive” because they lock the submissive party to an agreement which the dominant party can change whenever it wants. In “Contracts of Adhesion—Some Thoughts about Freedom of Contract” (Columbia Law Review, July 1943), Friedrich Kessler explains how these contracts came to be:

 The development of large scale enterprise with its mass production and mass distribution made a new tvpe of contract inevitable—the standardized mass contract. A standardized contract, once its contents have been formulated by a business firm, is used in every bargain dealing with the same product or service. The individuality of the parties which so frequently gave color to the old type contract has disappeared. The stereotyped contract of today reflects the impersonality of the market. It has reached its greatest perfection in the different types of contracts used on the various exchanges. Once the usefulness of these contracts was discovered and perfected in the transportation, insurance, and banking business, their use spread into all other fields of large scale enterprise, into international as well as national trade, and into labor relations.

Half a century later, that same perfection has spread across the commercial Web as well. For example, take Google’s Terms of Service. Here’s an excerpt:

2. Accepting the Terms

2.1 In order to use the Services, you must first agree to the Terms. You may not use the Services if you do not accept the Terms.

2.2 You can accept the Terms by:

(A) clicking to accept or agree to the Terms, where this option is made available to you by Google in the user interface for any Service; or

(B) by actually using the Services. In this case, you understand and agree that Google will treat your use of the Services as acceptance of the Terms from that point onwards.

The parts I’ve italicized translate to use = agreement.

There is also this:

19. Changes to the Terms

19.1 Google may make changes to the Universal Terms or Additional Terms from time to time. When these changes are made, Google will make a new copy of the Universal Terms available at http://www.google.com/accounts/TOS?hl=en and any new Additional Terms will be made available to you from within, or through, the affected Services.

Every site and service has the same  kind of jive. :

Modification of Terms of Use.
foursquare reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to modify or replace any of these Terms of Use, or change, suspend, or discontinue the Service (including without limitation, the availability of any feature, database, or content) at any time by posting a notice on the Site or by sending you notice through the Service or via email. foursquare may also impose limits on certain features and services or restrict your access to parts or all of the Service without notice or liability. It is your responsibility to check these Terms of Use periodically for changes.

These are what I call the “Vogon clauses.” Readers of Douglas Adamswill recall that Earth was destroyed without warning by (the galaxy’s bureaucrats) to make way for a hyperspace express route. Plans for the route, Vogons explained, had been available at the local planning department near  for fifty years before the wrecking ships came through.

Ah, but that’s not all. Terms of Service are usually accompanied by Privacy Policies. foursquare’s, again, is typical:

Sharing with Partners, in connection with business transfers, and for the protection of foursquare and others:

  • Our Partners: In addition to the data sharing described above, we enter into relationships with a variety of businesses and work closely with them. In certain situations, these businesses sell items or provide promotions to you through foursquare’s Service. In other situations, foursquare provides services, or sells products jointly with these businesses. You can easily recognize when one of these businesses is associated with your transaction, and we will share your Personal Information that is related to such transactions with that business, unless you have elected not to be solicited by marketing partners during the registration process or through the account settings page.
  • Business Transfers: If foursquare or substantially all of its assets are acquired, or in the unlikely event that foursquare goes out of business or enters bankruptcy, user information would be one of the assets that is transferred or acquired by a third party.
  • Protection of foursquare and Others: We may release Personal Information when we believe in good faith that release is necessary to comply with the law, including laws outside your country of residence; enforce or apply our conditions of use and other agreements; or protect the rights, property, or safety of foursquare, our employees, our users, or others. This includes exchanging information with other companies and organizations (including outside of your country of residence) for fraud protection and credit risk reduction.

The italicized passage is the loophole through which every bit of information about you, your checkins, your friends, your tips, your mayoralty of the crosstown bus and the corner dry cleaner — all of it — can fly off to Lyrfmstrdl.com or some other acquisitor, which will be free of foursquare’s burden of good intentions toward your privacy.

We have acquiesced for so long to these insults and abuses that we have a mass case of  — the paradoxical tendency of long-held captives to sympathize with their captors. Corporate legal departments have become our Vogons, and the commercial Web has become our Stockholm.
Contracts of Adhesion became normative when Industry won the , and have long been pro forma for companies wishing to have mass markets for their goods and services, and to otherwise enjoy the benefits of what tech giants and their wannabes call “scale.” In fact, the Internet has actually made things worse, thanks to client-server,
The client–server model of computing is a distributed application structure that partitions tasks or workloads between the providers of a resource or service, called , and service requesters, called .

They illustrate that with this generic drawing:

Client-server graphic

Thus, while the Net itself has a design in which all the ends are essentially peers, the Web (technically an application on the Net) has a submissive-dominant design in which clients submit to servers in the manner of calves to cows:

As calves, we get the milk made from html, javascript, XML and other document-authoring standards; plus, in most cases,  as well.

The original idea behind cookies was helping a site remember where you both were the last time the last time your browser suckled on the site’s teat. That’s how you can get straight to your shopping cart, your account data and other graces of modern consumer husbandry. It’s one way your browser turns into one big personalized single-store superset of a shopping cart in each commercial site you visit. It’s also how you get “personalized” advertising, plus all the other good and bad stuff that visits in .

We also aren’t going to get rid of the calf-cow system, and we can’t improve it any more than we can improve slavery. There is no hack on submissive-dominant that can make it peer-to-peer.

If we wish to leverage the original peer-to-peer nature of the Net and the Web, we will need new instruments of independence and autonomy, that also allow us to engage as equals, and to form relationships that are worthy of the noun. What would those be?

When the first browsers came along from Netscape (and then Microsoft), my wife asked a question that challenged a premise of browsers, and of Web-server-based commerce. “Why can’t I take my shopping cart from one site to another?”

The reason was, and still is, that each site has its own shopping cart, and comprehends you as their customer alone. (I’ve italicized the first person possessive pronoun there.) Even if the commercial site is or , you can’t take your preferences, your settings or anything else from one of those to another. You are trapped on each one’s ranch.

Offline in the brick-and-mortar world, retailers have copied this system through loyalty programs and other instruments of customer entrapment.  But at least in the brick-and-mortar world we still have our own vehicles, including our feet.We are independent by nature.

But we are not yet independent on the commercial Web. Sellers have hijacked the browser and made it theirs, not ours.

So, then

Taking browsers back isn’t the challenge.* The best we can do is improve what will never be good enough. What we need instead are vehicles that give us both independence and means for engagement.

Work in this direction has been going on in the from the start, and a big thanks goes to the for giving us the runway we needed to get that community off the ground. A lot of the necessary tools we’ll need are already there (or in the free and open source code toolbox), or on their way.

But we still don’t have the equivalent of a bike, a car, a motorcycle, a truck, or our own two feet. We just have clients of servers.

Thus, in the absence of our own means of ambulation and locomotion, we continue to talk about how we make slavery easier while improving the ranching system. That’s good and essential work, but it’s not enough. We need to get creative for ourselves now. Not just for the Big Ranchers of today and tomorrow.

* [Later…] I’ve gotten some good push-back on this from members of the VRM community that have more hope for browsers than I do. They also point out that browsers have 100% market penetration, and lots of enlightened developers on the case. We should engage them and not dis them. I agree.

To your owned self be true

After getting this provocative tweet, I checked the source (@NZN), and found Ready to make change? A sample:

…my son BELIEVES he OWNS the Internet. His Internet. His Facebook.

And in case you think that is not how reality works, I suggest that you also consider that my son also BELIEVES that he OWNS his government.

We all know that we are a part of a fucked up socio-economic system that has been designed over 1000’s of years by countless contributions into what is, in my arrogant Human perspective, true Genius. We are surviving, we are struggling, we are prospering, we are becoming….

We are becoming something new. The Internet will increasingly come to be seen by the Individuals within our species as an inherent element of their lives, indeed, of their freedom. As a result, a new royalty is emerging on our planet. There is good reason for the mad dash to wealth and power we are experiencing in our bubble-forming industries; strategic positioning in the face of rampant change. It is both a rational and immature way of dealing with the substance of change we are all confronting.

He (I’m assuming it’s he, but I dunno) concludes,

Facebook, Inc. today has constructed the relationship it has with its data sources as secured assets under its incorporated control. Modern law will substantiate that position.

Thus, we have two positions to contend with:

1. Facebook: that data you are building tools to service as a social utility, has been co-opted due to the present ignorance of the general public which willingly constructs itself as “data slaves” within most public relational database constructs. This dynamic is easily changed, and Rights will be afforded the General population today representing your customer base that changes the nature of the relationship that you now possess as a private asset. This is important for any investor in Facebook to recognize, as it points to the finite temporal nature of the ROI formula Facebook is today using to evaluate its market valuation, which I believe stands at $65 billion?

2. Modern law was formed upon a foundation that is no longer represented within its construct; Individual Sovereignty was an implied Right and natural feature of Human existence as demonstrated by the signatures which founded our Declaration of Independence and Constitutional Democracy. Individual Sovereignty is the only force standing behind ‘John Hancock’ meaning anything, as written on these legal documents. And either that Individual Sovereignty is part of the inherent structure of my IDENTITY as a citizen, or CITIZENSHIP has co-opted my Individual Sovereignty without acknowledging the recursive nature of that original signature moment. Either way, something needs to change. And in every case, its the structure of our governmental bureaucracy. I own America as a citizen. I own myself, pre-citizenship. If anyone wants to say different, lets get that started asap.

I’m ready to create change. Are you?

So there ya go. I’ve got a book to finish, but maybe one of the rest of ya’ll can engage. (I will eventually, just not right now.)

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.

Cooperation vs. Coercion

We think of markets as competitive places: arenas, battlegrounds, playing fields, boxing rings. Which they are, if you look at them from the standpoint of vendors. As buyers, we do want vendors to compete, of course. But we also want them to cooperate — with us. From our perspective, markets are places where we shop, meet and do business. We want the freedom to do that, and we don’t want sellers taking any of that away, even if they think doing that makes them better competitors.

For decades, if not for a century or more, taking customers’ freedoms away has been something of a virtue for vendors. It’s not for nothing that marketers talk about “acquiring,” “capturing,” “owning” and “managing” customers as if they were slaves or cattle. In the old industrial economy, this made sense. It was easier to serve managed customers than free ones. You could limit the variables you addressed. Even today we sometimes like having our choices restricted, and gladly make the Faustian bargain of captivity. But even here we see the downsides, which go beyond lack of choice. Being captive may seem safe in some ways, but it also makes us vulnerable to a single source of goods on which we have no choice but to depend.

On the sell side, there are two problems. One is the burden of management itself, which should be easier if customers were also carrying some of the load. The other is intelligence. When all you know is what you learn from your captive customers (say, through your loyalty program), you don’t know enough. There is far more happening in the marketplace than you can learn and crunch only in your own exclusive ways.

What we need now is for vendors to discover that free customers are more valuable than captive ones. For that we need to equip customers with better ways to enjoy and express their freedom, including ways of engaging that work consistently for many vendors, rather than in as many different ways ways as there are vendors — which is the “system” (that isn’t) we have now.

There are lots of VRM development efforts working on both the customer and vendor sides of this challenge. In this post I want to draw attention to the symbols that represent those two sides, which we call r-buttons, two of which appear above. Yours is the left one. The vendor’s is the right one. They face each other like magnets, and are open on the facing ends.

These are designed to support what Steve Gillmor calls gestures, which he started talking about back in 2005 or so. I paid some respect to gestures (though I didn’t yet understand what he meant) in The Intention Economy, a piece I wrote for Linux Journal in 2006. (That same title is also the one for book I’m writing for Harvard Business Press. The subtitle is What happens when customers get real power.) On the sell side, in a browser environment, the vendor puts some RDFa in its HTML that says “We welcome free customers.” That can mean many things, but the most important is this: Free customers bring their own means of engagement. It also means they bring their own terms of engagement.

Being open to free customers doesn’t mean that a vendor has to accept the customer’s terms. It does mean that the vendor doesn’t believe it has to provide all those terms itself, through the currently defaulted contracts of adhesion that most of us click “accept” for, almost daily. We have those because from the dawn of e-commerce sellers have assumed that they alone have full responsibility for relationships with customers. Maybe now that dawn has passed, we can get some daylight on other ways of getting along in a free and open marketplace.

The gesture shown here —

— is the vendor (in this case the public radio station KQED, which I’m just using as an example here) expressing openness to the user, through that RDFa code in its HTML. Without that code, the right-side r-button would be gray. The red color on the left side shows that the user has his or her own code for engagement, ready to go. (I unpack some of this stuff here.)

Putting in that RDFa would be trivial for a CRM system. Or even for a CMS (content management system). Next step: (I have Craig Burton leading me on this… he’s on the phone with me right now…) RESTful APIs for customer data. Check slide 69 here. Also slides 98 and 99. And 122, 124, 133 and 153.

If I’m not mistaken, a little bit of RDFa can populate a pop-down menu on the site’s side that might look like this:

All the lower stuff is typical “here are our social links” jive. The important new one is that item at the top. It’s the new place for “legal” (the symbol is one side of a “scale of justice”) but it doesn’t say “these are our non-negotiable terms of service (or privacy policies, or other contracts of adhesion). Just by appearing there it says “We’re open to what you bring to the table. Click here to see how.” This in turn opens the door to a whole new way for buyers and sellers to relate: one that doesn’t need to start with the buyer (or the user) just “accepting” terms he or she doesn’t bother to read because they give all advantages to the seller and are not negotiable. Instead it is an open door like one in a store. Much can be implicit, casual and free of obligation. No new law is required here. Just new practice. This worked for Creative Commons (which neither offered nor required new copyright law), and it can work for r-commerce (a term I just made up). As with Creative Commons, what happens behind that symbol can be machine, lawyer or human-readable. You don’t have to click on it. If your policy as a buyer is that you don’t want to to be tracked by advertisers, you can specify that, and the site can hear and respond to it. The system is, as Renee Lloyd puts it, the difference between a handcuff and a handshake.

Giving customers means for showing up in the marketplace with their own terms of engagement is a core job right now for VRM. Being ready to deal with customers who bring their own terms is equally important for CRM. What I wrote here goes into some of the progress being made for both. Much more is going on as well. (I’m writing about this stuff because these are the development projects I’m involved with personally. There are many others.)

What I want to make clear here is that symbols are necessary. We need graphic representations of states and actions, and what’s possible for both. And we need ones that are not encumbered by anybody’s intellectual property claims. That’s why r-buttons are free for the using. Everybody is also free to use something else, if you think it’s better. I don’t care. I just know we need symbols, and these are some we’ve been using while we’ve been developing stuff.

In the next few weeks there will be a number of  occasions for VRM and CRM folks to get together, to talk, to start building toward each other, and to start training company legal departments in the new ways of open markets — cooperative ways, rather than just coercive ones. Looking forward to seeing how that all goes.

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