Category: News (page 2 of 4)

Circling Around Your Wallet

To get our heads all the way around Google+, it helps to remember Microsoft’s Hailstorm initiative from ten years ago. Think of Google+ as Hailstorm done right, or at least better. (That is, for Google.)

googlepluswallet

What Microsoft wanted with Hailstorm was less “social” than personal. (“Social” in 2001 was years away from getting buzzy.)  What Google wants with Google+ is very personal, or Google wouldn’t be so picky about the “real names” thing.

One difference from Hailstorm is that Google isn’t playing all its cards yet. Microsoft laid all theirs on the table with Hailstorm, and its identity service, Passport. What they wanted was to be the iDP, or IDentity Provider, for everybody. Is that what Google has in mind too? In 2005 John Battelle said Google was “angling to become the de facto marketplace for global commerce.” That might be a stretch, but it’s the vector that counts here, and Google+ points in that direction.

Let’s connect the dots.

  • Google’s “real names” policy (they actually say common names) for Google+ is freaking people out, sparking “nym wars“, on the other side of which are my.nameis.me, Kathy Gill, Kevin MarksSkud (who unpacks the whole thing extensively) and many others. (Here’s the latest from Kaliya.)
  • Google+ has just started. The big type on the current index page says “A quick look at the first pieces of the project.” Brad Horowitz, who runs Google+, in an interview with Tim O’Reilly (Google’s main defender at this point) says the project is “unfinished”, in “limited field trial” and not “launch ready”, meaning some people aren’t being served, and getting going for others is still “hard”. Specifically, Google+ cannot serve “tranches” of users who, for example, a) work inside enterprises that “bet their businesses on Google”, b) are minors, c) are brands, and d) wish to use pseudonyms or otherwise uncommon names. (That last group includes many early adopters of Google+ who are now being rejected.)
  • The common names policy wasn’t there for Gmail or any (or many) of Google’s many other services. Why this one? An answer came from Eric Schmidt, who told Andy Carvin that Google+ was being built “primarily as an identity service.”
  • Google has many services, none of which are truly “finished,” and some of which are just getting started. On the finished end of that spectrum is Google Checkout. At just-started end is Google+. Not out yet but announced is Google Wallet. What matters is that they can all both iterate and connect.
  • Google makes most of its money from advertising. That’s different than being an “advertising company.” Google was launched as a search company, and found a way to make money through advertising. They surely wish to diversify their income streams. One way is to support actual commercial activities, at the point of engagement between buyer and seller: to support the Intention Economy that starts with buyer volition, and not just the Attention Economy of which advertising is a part. In other words, to work where the demand chain meets the supply chain.
  • The first source of revenue in markets is customers: ones that have real names on their drivers licenses and credit cards. Pseudonyms, handles and nicknames — such as IdentityWoman, @Skud, FactoryJoe and Doc — might appear on business cards, but not on the bank- or government-issued plastic cards in those folks’ wallets.
  • To Google, Twitter and Facebook, pseudonyms, handles and nicknames are for users. Real names, or common names, are for customers. And real names tend to be what we have on our credit cards and government-issued identification cards and documents, such as drivers licenses and passports. When a seller wishes to authenticate us, that’s what they ask for.
  • Note carefully: Most users don’t pay. All customers pay: that’s what makes them customers.
  • Facebook is already the de facto iDP for perhaps hundreds of millions of people. (Pete Touchner unpacks that nicely in a slide deck, especially starting here.) The ubiquitous Facebook Connect button testifies to that. (As does Marc Zuckerberg calling the name you use in Facebook “your online identity.” But…
  • Facebook Connect lacks infrastructural legs that Google can put under the market’s table — legs like Google Checkout, Android and Google Wallet, as well as Google’s own physical network, back-end processing power and engineering knowhow, spread across many more business and technical disciplines than Facebook can pull together.

Back in May, I posted Google’s Wallet and VRM here. In it I posed eleven reasons why Google Wallet is potentially a development of profound importance. Here’s one:

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

Such as when your circles intersect.

The earliest thrust for Google Wallet has been NFC (Near Field Communication), for doing mobile payments. From a Google post back in May:

Because Google Wallet is a mobile app, it will do more than a regular wallet ever could. You’ll be able to store your credit cards, offers, loyalty cards and gift cards, but without the bulk. When you tap to pay, your phone will also automatically redeem offers and earn loyalty points for you. Someday, even things like boarding passes, tickets, ID and keys could be stored in Google Wallet.

At first, Google Wallet will support both Citi MasterCard and a Google Prepaid Card, which you’ll be able to fund with almost any payment card. From the outset, you’ll be able to tap your phone to pay wherever MasterCard PayPass is accepted. Google Wallet will also sync your Google Offers, which you’ll be able to redeem via NFC at participating SingleTap™ merchants, or by showing the barcode as you check out. Many merchants are working to integrate their offers and loyalty programs with Google Wallet.

With Google Wallet, we’re building an open commerce ecosystem, and we’re planning to develop APIs that will enable integration with numerous partners. In the beginning, Google Wallet will be compatible with Nexus S 4G by Google, available on Sprint. Over time, we plan on expanding support to more phones.

Two months after that, in July, Google acquired punchd, “a better solution for loyalty cards”. (More here.) And now it seems that one of the first retailers with the NFC devices required at checkout is going to be Radio Shack. (Google’s list of signed-up “single tap™” partners is quite long.)

Pause now to think about supply and demand.

Most of Google’s commercial work so far has been on the market’s supply side, especially with advertising. (Nearly all their customers are sellers, not buyers.) Google Wallet, however, works on the demand side, because it goes on your phone, which lives in your pocket or your purse.

Your electronic wallet is the point of contact between your demand chain and the sellers’ supply chain. With electronic wallets, we get many new ways for these two to dance. And, therefore, many more commercial opportunities.

Wallets are also instruments of independence. (As are, say, cars.) As the Intention Economy grows (and electronic wallets will help with that), so must the things we as individual customers can do with them — and behind them, back up our demand chain, in our personal data stores. This is where we need to be the point of integration for our own data, which should include data collected by and about us.

Don’t think about how and why we should sell our data, especially to marketing’s guesswork mills (of which Google is the largest). Think about what services we might buy, to help us apply intelligence to the use of our data.

Think about new and different ways in which we might save and spend our money — ways that have nothing to do with today’s defaulted vendor-run gimmicks (loyalty cards, “sales,” coupons, “rewards”…) meant to trap us, herd us and shake us down for more money. Think about having more control over how, why, and where we spend (or actually save — as in a bank) our money. That’s what we start to see when we think about electronic Wallets beyond the near horizons of point-of-sale connections and better come-ons from sellers. That’s what Google will start to see when they start talking with us, and not just with big companies looking for more and better ways to sell.

If our electronic wallets are to become instruments of independence, we need a choice of interchangeable ones that work the same with every seller — much as we have a choice of cars that work the same way with every driveway, highway, gas station and parking lot. This means Google’s can’t be the only wallet. (I’m sure they know and welcome that.)

Presumably, Google Wallet will be open source. In fact, that would be a good way to fight Isisa new competitor to Google Wallet, funded by AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile — and whatever Apple comes up with if it wishes to fight Google Wallet and/or Isis. Says Mashable (at that last link), “Isis was born last year, and aside from allowing mobile payments, it’ll also give you the ability to redeem coupons via their mobile payment service. It’s planned to debut in several unnamed major cities next year and will monetize by charging marketers a fee for sending offers to consumers’ phones.”

Earth to Big Boys: We’ll pay for value, including services that make our wallets serve us, and not just the marketing mills of the world.

When we have full independence, we will also have the ability to engage as equals in agreements and contracts. The legal dance online will need to resemble the legal dance offline, which is in the background. In the same way that we don’t need to “accept” a written “agreement” to enter and shop at most stores in the physical world, we shouldn’t need to do the same online. We should be able to bring agreeable terms with us, match them with those of sellers, electronically, without the intervention of lawyers or forms to sign, and do business. In other words, freedom of contract needs to obsolete contracts of adhesion, and the calf-cow system of asymmetrical non-relationships we’ve had online since the dawn of the cookie.

Listening to Brad Horowitz talk with Tim O’Reilly, I sense that Google is also tired of the old cookie-based paradigm of e-commerce. Helping make the customer independent, starting with his or her own wallet, is a great way to start breaking that paradigm.

The problem, as Google is discovering though the “nym wars”, is identity. People take that one personally.

To get a better angle on the issue, let’s look more closely at Microsoft’s Hailstorm. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time. Here’s a much longer piece by Clay Shirky, also from back then.

Microsoft saw Hailstorm as (among other things) a way to compete with AOL, which was the Facebook of its time. Hailstorm’s main feature was Passport: a then-new single-sign-on authentication service. The idea was to have Passport login buttons appear everywhere, like Facebook buttons do now (though far less securely than Passport, which didn’t spill your social guts by default). Such buttons provided Single Sign-On, or SSO.

Joe Wilcox’ unpacked Hailstorm and Passport in March 2001 for CNET. An excerpt:

HailStorm is a group of services, using Microsoft’s Passport authentication technology, meant to provide secure access to e-mail, address lists and other personal data from virtually anywhere via PCs, cell phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants). The catch? Users of the services will be required to pay a fee to use them. Analysts said that if the HailStorm model is widely adopted–and if people will pay a premium for security–the days of ad-subsidized Internet services, such as free e-mail and messaging, may be over.

“HailStorm is absolutely the test of can you make money on the Web,” saidGartner analyst Chris LeTocq. “But to get there, you have to offer people something they are willing to pay for. That will be the test for Microsoft.”

Microsoft executives are confident that the time is right for HailStorm. “There’s been a lot of stuff (on the Internet) in the last couple of years that was free and interesting, but people weren’t actually willing to pay for it,” said Charles Fitzgerald, director of business development in Microsoft’s platform strategy group. “We want to pursue a model that lets us deliver a lot more value in an economic fashion so that we all can get paid every two weeks like we’re used to.”

One big difference: Google isn’t looking to make money with fees here. In fact they say clearly that they are not. But Google is looking to make money their old-fashioned way, which is with “second and third order effects” that will manifest in due time.

Here’s what’s the same: Passport was an identity service. Which Eric Schmidt says Google+ is now.

Microsoft failed because they thought their platform (Window plus .Net) was bigger than the Net and the Web. (In the now-gone Hailstorm white paper, they talked about “moving the Web” in a new direction.) Google knows better.

Still, the game is the same. That game is turning users into customers.

In competitive terms, Facebook and Google will both have users. But Google will have the customers — even if they’re not customers of Google’s services directly. Google will be helping customers use their wallets, while Facebook will be stuck at SSO.

But Google vs. Facebook, or anybody vs. anybody, is the wrong way to look at the market opportunities opening up in the Intention Economy. Because the Intention Economy isn’t a supply-side game. It’s a demand-side game. The slate is fresh, but not blank. Two groups are already there:

  1. VRM developers, working to equip customers with tools of both independence and engagement. (Automobiles, rather than seats on railroad cars.)
  2. Fourth parties, working on behalf of customers, helping them build out their personal demand chains. These can include any service company an individual employs — that is, pays, to help work with the third and second parties of the world (numbered from the customer perspective). We’re talking here about banks, insurance companies and anything called an agency, plus all the new companies coming into the personal services and personal data store businesses. These might include parties the individual doesn’t pay, but that clearly are in business mainly to help individuals (first parties) rather than second and third parties. That qualifies Google, should they wish to join.

There is a lot happening with VRM here that we’re not ready to talk about yet. (No, none of it involves Google Wallet, at least not yet.) But demand chain (Craig Burton‘s term) hints strongly at where we’re going.

Investors take note.

VRooMing along

A quick progress report on a number of VRM fronts.

First, lots of action around TrustFabric.org, a VRM company in South Africa. To get some background on context, start with KYC: Know Your Customer. This good-sense imperative takes on official qualities when banking is involved, or holes are left for criminals to slip through. In South Africa it takes form in the Financial Intelligence Centre Act, aka FICA (not to be confused with the U.S.’s Federal Insurance Contributions Act, which shows up on personal income taxes every year). Turns out FICA is a pain in the butt for honest folks. But with problems come opportunities. Joe Botha explains TrustFabric’s this way:

“Most of us who interact with banks, mobile phone companies and ISPs have come to fear the terms FICA and RICA. We know the pain involved in scanning and faxing copies of identity documents and proof of residence invoices. The endless duplication, which in the case of FICA often has to be repeated every three months can feel pointless and like a huge waste of our time,” says Joe Botha, CEO of TrustFabric.

TrustFabric has built a free service, which lets users securely store and selectively share their FICA documents.

Users create a TrustFabric Connect account and upload FICA documents to their Document Store. They create a unique link for each business that requires their documents. Connections to their Document Store are password protected. Users have the option to define an expiry date and receive notifications when their documents are accessed.

The Document Store service is an extension of the TrustFabric Connect service. TrustFabric Connect gives users a way to define how businesses are allowed to contact them via email, phone, text message and snail mail.

“TrustFabric is a Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) service. Businesses use CRM to manage relationships with their customers, while VRM provides customers with tools to manage relationships with businesses.” says Botha. “The new service is a natural extension of this ethos as it puts power back in the hands of the customer. It relieves both the business and the customer from the frustration, duplication and bureaucratic nightmare that is common to FICA processes.”

Here’s more on TrustFabric Connect. Here’s a story on Joe and TrustFabric. And here’s another explaining TrustFabric Connect as “a do-not-contact list that lets individuals opt-out of direct marketing, makes it easy for businesses to comply with legislation protecting customer rights and update existing customers.”

Next, relevantly, two stories on MyData in the U.K.: Consumers to have access to personal marketing data held by businesses—A new scheme, mydata, plans to “empower” consumers by giving them access to personal information held by businesses in the Guardian. Mydex is involved. I am also told that the U.K. government gets how big this is, and is taking the lead.

Gam Dias brings us vrm, fourth party and the empowered consumer, a long and thoughtful blog post. The key excerpt:

What appears to be missing is a service where vendors (manufacturers and retailers) are able to locate individuals looking for products that they might supply.Service Magic and Elance allow seekers to find providers in the Service space, yet nothing really exists yet in the consumer-product space.

vrm and the fourth party

The Fourth Party is a concept that has emerged from the VRM movement – it proposes a fourth party that acts on behalf of the Customer in the same way that a Third Party acts on behalf of the Vendor. If the Vendors are the hotel chains, airlines and car rental companies, then the third parties are ExpediaOrbitz andTravelocity and a fourth party might be the “agent” that negotiates with the travel aggregators to find the best deal.

The advantages to the customer of a four party system are huge and easily understandable. Booking my recent trip to Las Vegas involved a large number of parameters (flight times, airline options, hotel locations and star ratings, car rental companies and car sizes and above all the price parameters) – booking the trip took 3 hours and ended up with a deal for flight and hotel from Expedia and car from Hotwire. If there had been a service to whom I could have sent all the parameters and have them take care of it, then I would have paid for that and they would have probably got me a better deal if they do it all the time.

But wait… I remember a service like that from when I was a child, I think we called it a ‘Travel Agent’. But didn’t they become extinct a few years ago? Perhaps it’s time for them to re-emerge, but not only booking travel, but also handling all sorts of complex requirements, particularly bundles of goods and services. If enough people were able to publish their requests for things and there was a fee involved in finding a solution, a human outsource agent model is likely to emerge – something like the Dedicated Assistant service.

The fourth party also gets around the problem faced by Aggregators (such asKelkoo and Nextag) – to ensure that the consumer is presented with all the offers available. With a fourth party, their value will be to ensure this.

the future state

Once this starts to scale and requests are in millions and billions, then eventually the dedicated assistants will need to be augmented with more automated service that respond faster and are perhaps able to bid at auctions or take advantage of limited time / quantity deals, then my belief is that we will see Agent Technology doing our bidding online. I’ll be watching this space closely for many reasons.

David Dorf in Oracle’s Insight-Driven Retail Blog writes a nice post about VRM titled CRM vs. VRM. He calls VRM,

…a reverse CRM of sorts.  Instead of vendors managing their relationships with customers, customers manage their relationships with vendors.

Your shopping experience is not really controlled by you; rather, its controlled by the retailer and advertisers.  And unfortunately, they typically don’t give you a say in the matter.  Yes, they might tailor the content for “female age 25-35 interested in shoes” but that’s not really the essence of you, is it?  A better approach is to the let consumers volunteer information about themselves.  And why wouldn’t they if it means a better, more relevant shopping experience?  I’d gladly list out my likes and dislikes in exchange for getting rid of all those annoying cookies on my harddrive.

He adds,

The closest thing to VRM I can find is Buyosphere, a start-up that allows consumers to track their shopping history across many vendors, then share it appropriately.  Also, Amazon does a pretty good job allowing its customers to edit their profile, which includes everything you’ve ever purchased from Amazon.  You can mark items as gifts, or explicitly exclude them from their recommendation engine.  This is a win-win for both the consumer and retailer.

So here is my plea to retailers: Instead of trying to infer my interests from snapshots of my day, please just ask me.  We’ll both have a better experience in the long-run.

I should add that it’s been VRM+CRM from the start, though “vs” works in this case. (And we’re working on setting up the next VRM+CRM workshop. Hope David and some Oracle folks can make it.)

Alan Patrick writes VRM, Loopt and the Reverse-Groupon Effect. “…the thing that keeps me interested in VRM is that part of me thinks that if (i) the power of today’s web was harnessed (ii) with modular product design ansd (iii) the sheer numbers online now, it may become a reality.”

On Twitter @ScottEustace suggests that Seth Godin‘s Show me the (meta) data is a VRM post. Could be. Says Seth,

Who owns the trail of digital breadcrumbs you’re leaving behind?

Is understanding who you know and how you know them and where you visit and what you’re interested in and what you buy worth anything?

Perhaps you should own it. Richard Thaler’s provocative idea shouldn’t be that provocative, and it represents a significant business opportunity. He argues that you (not some company) ought to own your caller history, your credit card history, etc. If it was available to you as a machine-readable file, you could easily submit it to another company and see if there was a better deal available. You could make your preferences and your history (you, basically) portable, and others could bid for a chance to do better for you.

This is an idea that feels inevitable to me, and I think that entrepreneurs shouldn’t wait for the government to require it. There are already services that scrape financial pages (like Mint), but it could go further. We need software on our phones that can remember where we go and what we do, software for our browsers that can create profiles that save us time and money, and most of all, software for our email that gets ever smarter about who we are and who we’re connecting to.

Data about data is more important than ever, and being on the side of the person creating that data is a smart place to be.

Can’t get much more VRooMy than that.

In his Loyalty Blog, Mark Sage suggests that the Pizza Express app is a glimpse into the future of VRM. A long excerpt:

This is a really interesting feature that both Pizza Express and Square have in common – the provision of customer data back to the customer – and it is becoming increasingly common as customers begin to expect their data to be collected, but increasingly consider it “their” data. When I shop at Tesco I know they are tracking my purchases, however when I go online and see new products added to my favourites list it begins to actually feel like my data.

This trend of providing information back to customers and giving them access to and ownership of it is also gathering pace.

Within websites and applications for example you are increasingly given the option to login via social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. While you still login, connecting via a social network provides a subtle change. You are actually granting permission to that application to connect to you rather than the other way round. At any time, I can review my relationships with different applications and simply close them down by removing the authorisation. I can also look at the permissions I’ve granted to those applications and change what information they can see.

There has been a transfer of power within identity management. It’s now my identity and I can choose who has access to it, how much access they have and when I want to end it.

Imagine this trend being extended to all your interactions.

Within a supermarket loyalty programme for example you could link your purchase history to an app from a CPG manufacture like Unilever. You’d be doing this in the full knowledge that Unilever could then access your purchases and provide you with relevant offers (or reward points). You’d be choosing how to use your information for your benefit.

This is a really amazing thought and something that has been termed VRM or Vendor Relationship Management…

Google is also ahead of this curve, with its Data Liberation Front. Says the Data Liberation team,

The Data Liberation Front is an engineering team at Google whose singular goal is to make it easier for users to move their data in and out of Google products. We do this because we believe that you should be able to export any data that you create in (or import into) a product. We help and consult other engineering teams within Google on how to “liberate” their products. This is our mission statement:

Users should be able to control the data they store in any of Google’s products. Our team’s goal is to make it easier to move data in and out.

People usually don’t look to see if they can get their data out of a product until they decide one day that they want to leave. For this reason, we always encourage people to ask these three questions before starting to use a product that will store their data:

  1. Can I get my data out at all?
  2. How much is it going to cost to get my data out?
  3. How much of my time is it going to take to get my data out?

The ideal answers to these questions are:

  1. Yes.
  2. Nothing more than I’m already paying.
  3. As little as possible.

There shouldn’t be an additional charge to export your data. Beyond that, if it takes you many hours to get your data out, it’s almost as bad as not being able to get your data out at all.

We don’t think that our products are perfect yet, but we’re continuing to work at making it easier to get your data in and out of them. Visit our Google Moderator page to vote on and add suggestions on what you’d like to see liberated and why.

And that’s pretty darned VRooMy too.

State of the VRooM

A lot has been happening in VRooMville lately. (Testimony: over there on the right at the moment we have three different #VRM tweets, in three different languages.) Rather than summarize things, I’ll let writers and developers in the VRM community give us a rundown. In no special order, here goes…

Reverse the Paradigm, by . Excerpt:

What if we asked: How can we deliver a product/service that people want? We could stop the insane guessing game all of us are engaged in. We wouldn’t have to battle for the attention of people; they asked for our attention. That’s the basic idea of Vendor Relationship Management. I’ve written many times about VRM before.

What baffles me is that many people believe this is an utopian dream. “It’ll never happen.” They tend to forget, it’s already happening. Not in the marketing world yet but it happened to the publishing industry. The desire of people to get customized media whenever they want it lead to the sale of Newsweek for $1. And the sale of Huffington Post for $315 million. It changed the recording industry forever. Or, rather, wrecked it. People revolted against getting their information top-down. They wanted customization, filters and control. It was a quick transformation because Web 2.0 made publishing so easy for everyone.

What makes you think the same won’t happen to marketing and advertising?

The Customer is Center, by . Excerpt:

THE BIG IDEA: “Cookies and tracking software? Who needs em? People are creating taste-signals daily with what they choose to buy. Why not let the customer go directly to the brand/vendor and get rid of this guesswork?”

C3 Commentary : Welcome to VRMville! by Dan Miller. Excerpt:

Adding VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) to the picture adds a more “user-centric” set of possibilities. Each person who generates all this metadata is also given adequate means to control release of the data or to attach terms and conditions governing how and to whom the information can be released. That’s where companies like Sing.ly and its closely related Locker Project come into play.

In Bridging the Marketing/Customer Care Divide – Thoughts from #C32011, Lou Dubois of The Social Customer wrote that “Dan Miller (@dnm54) and Greg Sterling (@gsterling) from Opus Research (@opusresearch) put on a unique, intimate and thought-provoking conference last week in San Francisco built around the challenges and opportunities facing different companies as they try to close the gap and get folks from marketing, customer service and PR to work towards the larger organizational strategy.” He added that one take-away was, “The next big step for Social CRM is VRM — and 2011 will mark it officially moving from theory to practice for most intelligent organizations.”

The Personal Cloud, by . Excerpt:

When the VRM’rs on the panel first explained the concept of the personal data store, Mark Plakias, VP Strategy and Design at Orange Labs in San Francisco, immediately referred to it as the personal cloud. Although I’d heard the term a few times before, Mark’s usage suddenly rang true for me. He was referring to everything that the VRM community has traditionally defined a PDS as encompassing, plus personal storage, backup, connectivity, and other options that will clearly be part of the overall value proposition as the concept goes to market.

A little Google searching this weekend showed that a number of vendors including Iomega and Tonido are already using the term for cloud storage of personal data assets. And last May Forrester analyst Frank Gillette predicated that the personal cloud will replace the traditional personal computing OS.

That all seems to fit.

Then, The Personal Cloud, Take 2:

…neither the idea nor the term “personal cloud” is really new — all of this was 18 months ago. And the VRM community has been talking about personal data stores since 2004.

But, as with almost everything in tech, it’s all about timing. The hadn’t formed yet. And, in my personal opinion, the technologies that can actually implement the personal control that all these authors agree will be necessary for personal clouds wasn’t there yet (hint: Internet identity is only the start). For example, Jeremie Miller hadn’t created the Locker Project or protocol yet, nor his new company based on it, which just won best-in-show at the O’Reilly Strata Conference Startup Showcase.

So maybe it’s finally time to seed personal clouds for real.

Then,  Personal Cloud Take 3: Thomas Vander Wall’s Personal Infocloud:

When I first heard the term “personal cloud” from Mark Plakias at C3, I knew it sounded vaguely familiar, but it wasn’t until I started this series of blog posts that Kaliya Hamlin (Identitywoman) reminded me that Thomas Vander Wal named his blog Personal InfoCloud some years ago. Instantly I recalled the dinner that Kaliya and Thomas and I had in Washington D.C. a few years ago wheree he explained his vision for a personal information cloud, and how it was a superset of what the VRM community has been calling a personal data store.

In retrospect, I am quite sure this was one reason a subconscious bell rang for me when the term “personal cloud” came up again. And, reading recent posts from Thomas’ blog, including one about lessons to be learned from Yahoo’s threat to close Delicious, I point to it as even more evidence that the term works well for expressing what we all mean by this collection of personal data and relationships that will become the hub of your digital life.

Speaking of hubs, that reminds me of yet another pioneer thinker in this space: Jon Udell and his concept of hosted lifebits.

Riftstalker‘s VRM vs. RPG Excerpt:

When Doc Searls couldn’t explain what VRM is, he turned to RPGs. Wait, what’s VRM? VRM stands for Vendor Relationship Management.

So, as I was explaining VRM to some people this morning, and how we were equipping individuals with tools for both independence and engagement, an analogy came up: role playing games. Dungeons & Dragons. World of Warcraft. Final Fantasy.

I was blown away. Not because it’s a great analogy, but because I … just didn’t know. I’ve never played any of these games. But the people I was talking to had (or still did) play these games. And they were getting something about VRM that I wasn’t saying.

Well, Doc, RPGs get immediate response. Often emotional and sometimes even dramatic. Everyone has their favorite archetype, everyone has their favorite game. So who knows, maybe it’s like talking about your vendors… the Warrior vendor, the Mage vendor, and of course, the Rogue vendor.

Startups in the personal data ecosystem, by The list (all of which are also in the VRM space):

Data Storage,  Collection and Sharing

is a Community Interest Company based in the UK that has begun a community prototype that connects individuals’ personal data store accounts to local government agencies.

has raised 7 million in venture funding and although it does not yet have any services their website articulates clearly how personal data under the control of the user is valuable.

Jeremy Miller’s startup to build 3rd and 4th party apps based on data from data stores build using the Locker Project code base an open source project for collating, securing and sharing personal data .

is a startup that supports you pulling in your information from different service providers including Mobile phone record, Energy and utility records, Health and fitness, Shopping and payment, Transportation.  Statz gives you instructions on how to go into your mobile carrier or electric company and export your statements – often this involves a dozen steps and is very labor intensive – not something easy or that everyone will do.

Greplin Does Personal Cloud SearchWhen people set up their accounts they give the service access to a range of accounts – LinkedIn, Gmail, Basecamp, Flickr, etc. Then you use their engine to search across them.

Backupify is an all-in-one archiving, search and restore service for the most popular online services including Google Apps, Facebook, Twitter, Picasa and more.

helps manage user-driven searches across multiple search providers and websites, creating a powerful new way to explicitly express search intent anywhere on the Internet.  Joe Andrieu

provides Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) infrastructure. Businesses use CRM to manage customer relationships, while VRM lets individuals manage their relationships with businesses. TrustFabric writes Open Source software and gives customers a platform to represent their side of the VRM+CRM relationship. TrustFabric is based in Cape Town, South Africa.

helps you to stop unwanted marketing and to get in control of the way your data is used.

Consortium for Local Ownership and Use of Data, Inc.  A non-profit technology standard consortia started in early 2009 that believes that a new era of ME 1.0 is at hand, an era that looks beyond Web 2.0, while simultaneously looking to the founding principles of the Internet as the solution to many of today’s most vexing issues of privacy, security and data.

DataInherit online safes from Switzerland offer individuals around the world highly secure online storage for passwords and digital documents. You can access your online safe using any Internet browser or an iPhone from anywhere and at any time. In addition the unique data inheritance functionality will protect your data in emergency situations. Simple and convenient.

New Application Building and Design Tools

Kynetx is developing a new language that looks at data from personal data stores and public datasets and can do real time matching based on rule sets created by the individual to surface relevant content.

EmanciPay is a relationship management and voluntary payment framework in which buyers and sellers can present to each other the requirements and options by which they are willing to engage, or are already engaging. Including choices concerning payment, preference, policies.

Open Source Projects

Speaking of Jeremie Miller, and Sing.ly, Marshall Kirkpatrick put the scoop in Creator of Instant Messaging Protocol to Launch App Platform for Your Life on ReadWriteWeb:

Called The Locker Project, the open source service will capture what’s called exhaust data from users’ activities around the web and offline via sensors, put it firmly in their own possesion and then allow them to run local apps that are built to leverage their data. Miller’s three person company, Singly, will provide the corporate support that the open source project needs in order to remain viable. I’m very excited about this project; Miller’s backgrounds, humble brilliance and vision for app-enabling my personal data history is very exciting to me.

Here’s how The Locker Project will work. Users will be able to download the data capture and storage code and run it on their own server, or sign up for hosted service – like WordPress.org and  WordPress.com. Then the service will pull in and archive all kinds of data that the user has permission to access and store into the user’s personal Locker: Tweets, photos, videos, click-stream, check-ins, data from real-world sensors like heart monitors, health records and financial records like transaction histories.

Where data extraction is made easy already by APIs or feeds, Lockers will pull it that way. Where the data is appealing and the Locker community is motivated to do so, data connectors will be built.

Searching those data archives has been a technical challenge for many other startups, but the Locker team says it is trivial for them – because they only have to build search to scale across your personal data and the data you’ve been given permission to access by members of your network.

Seach and sharing across a user’s network will be powered by Miller’s eagerly-anticipated open source P2P project called Telehash, described as “a new wire protocol for exchanging JSON in a real-time and fully decentralized manner, enabling applications to connect directly and participate as servers on the edge of the network.”

… and here’s in O’Reilly Radar:

Singly, by giving people the ability to do things with their own data, has the potential to change our world. And, as Kirkpatrick notes, this won’t be the first time Jeremie has done that.

I was drawn over to the Singly table when an awesome app they were demonstrating caught my eye. Fizz, an application from Bloom, was running on a locker with data aggregated from three different places.

Fizz is an intriguing early manifestation of capabilities never seen before on the web. It provides the ability for us to control, aggregate, share and play with our own data streams, and bring together the bits and pieces of our digital selves scattered about the web.

, by . Excerpt:

Personal data assets are fast becoming a new asset class, traded among these companies and marketing departments of enterprises around the world. That’s a shift in how personal data is conceived and exploited. The Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) community could bring another shift as start-ups begin invading this space, switching the emphasis to managing personal data assets on behalf of users.

Facebook as a personal data store, by Joe Andrieu. Excerpt:

To this veteran VRM evangelist, Facebook has done more in 2010 to usher in the era of the personal data store than anyone, ever. In one fell swoop, Facebook launched a World Wide Web built around the individual instead of websites, introducing the personal data store to 500 million people and over one million websites.

Unexpectedly, Facebook has moved VRM from a conversation about envisioning a future to one about deployed services with real users, being adopted by real companies, today. We still have a lot of work to do to figure out how to make this all work right—legally, financially, technically—but it’s illuminating and inspiring to see the successes and failures of real, widely-deployed services. Seeing what Amazon or Rotten Tomatos or Pandora do with information from a real personal data store moves the conversation forward in ways no theoretical argument can.

There remain significant privacy issues and far too much proprietary lock-in, but for the first time, we can point to a mainstream service and say “Like that!  That’s what we’ve been talking about. But different!”

The Case Against Data Lock-In, by Brian W Fitzpatrick and JJ Lueck of Google’s Data Liberation Front in ACMQueue. Excerpt:

What Data Liberation Looks Like

At Google, our attitude has always been that users should be able to control the data they store in any of our products, and that means that they should be able to get their data out of any product. Period. There should be no additional monetary cost to do so, and perhaps most importantly, the amount of effort required to get the data out should be constant, regardless of the amount of data. Individually downloading a dozen photos is no big inconvenience, but what if a user had to download 5,000 photos, one at a time, to get them out of an application? That could take weeks of their time.

Even if users have a copy of their data, it can still be locked in if it’s in a proprietary format. Some word processor documents from 15 years ago cannot be opened with modern software because they’re stored in a proprietary format. It’s important, therefore, not only to have access to data, but also to have it in a format that has a publicly available specification. Furthermore, the specification must have reasonable license terms: for example, it should be royalty-free to implement. If an open format already exists for the exported data (for example, JPEG or TIFF for photos), then that should be an option for bulk download. If there’s no industry standard for the data in a product (e.g., blogs do not have a standard data format), then at the very least the format should be publicly documented—bonus points if your product provides an open source reference implementation of a parser for your format.

The point is that users should be in control of their data, which means they need an easy way of accessing it. Providing an API or the ability to download 5,000 photos one at a time doesn’t exactly make it easy for your average user to move data in or out of a product. From the user-interface point of view, users should see data liberation merely as a set of buttons for import and export of all data in a product.

Google is addressing this problem through its Data Liberation Front, an engineering team whose goal is to make it easier to move data in and out of Google products. The data liberation effort focuses specifically on data that could hinder users from switching to another service or competing product—that is, data that users create in or import into Google products. This is all data stored intentionally via a direct action—such as photos, e-mail, documents, or ad campaigns—that users would most likely need a copy of if they wanted to take their business elsewhere. Data indirectly created as a side effect (e.g., log data) falls outside of this mission, as it isn’t particularly relevant to lock-in.

Another “non-goal” of data liberation is to develop new standards: we allow users to export in existing formats where we can, as in Google Docs where users can download word processing files in OpenOffice or Microsoft Office formats. For products where there’s no obvious open format that can contain all of the information necessary, we provide something easily machine readable such as XML (e.g., for Blogger feeds, including posts and comments, we use Atom), publicly document the format, and, where possible, provide a reference implementation of a parser for the format (see the Google Blog Converters AppEngine project for an example1). We try to give the data to the user in a format that makes it easy to import into another product. Since Google Docs deals with word processing documents and spreadsheets that predate the rise of the open Web, we provide a few different formats for export; in most products, however, we assiduously avoid the rat hole of exporting into every known format under the sun.

GeekTown.ca‘s What if Flickr Fails? Excerpt:

Wouldn’t it be nicer to have a ‘bucket’ of storage where all your files are kept, and then make those files available to third party services that can add snappy interfaces, clever sharing mechanisms, tagging, and other Web 2.0 tools to the mix without touching the files directly?

That’s the concept now being floated by a growing collection of people that want to take back control of their data. Searls is working on ProjectVRM (vendor relationship management), which preaches self-hosting, among other things. Aleks Cronin-Lukas is working on the Mine! project, which advocates separating data owned by the user from third party applications. In models such as these, the data is stored in a single place on the Internet. The user can then expose that data to third party sites (like Flickr, etc), who can add functionality to it. But if the content site gets shut down, the original data is untouched. Another advantage to this concept is that the user can decide exactly what data gets shared, and how.

The folks have a post by Sebastian Reisch titled Otras maneras de definir VRM: la Nube Personal o Relaciones Manejadas por Consumidores, which Google Chrome translates to Other ways to define VRM: Personal Cloud or Managed by Consumer Relations. The translation, slightly edited:

…ultimately what we want to achieve with VRM is that each individual has an identity in the network by using myinfo.cl, and therefore has a personal space in the cloud… to keep your personal information that will help you to manage relationships with their suppliers. Ultimately to have a digital identity, which will receive the messages and offers that meet the needs we have at the right time.

Ultimately, VRM is the application we’re building.. to lead consumers to take a more active role, and thus manage their relationships…

Also in ReadWriteWeb, Kynetx gets coverage in Nevermind Google, New Extensions Block Spam Across Browsers & Search Engines:

Yesterday, Google released a Chrome browser extension that lets users block certain websites from showing up in their Google search results. That way, if you never want to see an eHow article again, you don’t have to. Kynetx, a company that offers developers a single platform for building extensions for multiple browsers, saw the announcement and immediately offered $500 to the first person that could create an extension “with the same functionality for all 3 browsers and all 3 major search engines.”

Less than a day later, the company has announced a winner and released the extensions.

Those wishing to be involved in development efforts should also check out the and at .

Last but hardly least, both and are in the second round of the . Go to those links and vote ’em up.

And if I’ve missed anything (and I’m sure I have), let me know and I’ll add it on.

VRM comes to (and from) Chile

VRM.cl is a new VRM effort in Chile. The site is in Spanish, but I’m having no trouble reading it translated by Google Chrome (a major advantage of that browser). It’s new, and they’re on Twitter as well, through @VRM_cl. I also added them to the blogroll on the right. We welcome them aboard the VRM development community, and look forward to following their progress.

CRM (Mag) digs VRM

Got an email a couple days ago from Andre Durand saying it was great to see VRM making the cover of the May 2010 edition of CRM Magazine. Well, “cover” doesn’t cover it. Seems like about half the magazine is devoted to VRM, or to what Cluetrain (which in many ways begat VRM) still says, ten years later, about the independence, autonomy and centrality of individual human beings to the workings of a healthy marketplace.

The link above and behind the image goes to a .pdf of the magazine. I’ve hardly had a chance to look at it yet (and it’s hard to my old eyes using a laptop screen with 1920 x 1200 resolution, which makes small print microscopic), but I just discovered that all the articles are here in .html form. Here’s the table of contents, with links:

This is a Big Deal. The original motives of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) were good ones, but far too much of CRM’s use by companies today is unfriendly rather than friendly to customers. The language is a give-away. Customers are “consumers” that companies “track,” “target,” “acquire,” “lock in” and “manage” as if they were animals or slaves. Not that CRM pros are bad people or slave-drivers. (Quite the contrary: all the CRM people I know are fine folks.) Just that with CRM, relationships tend to be under the control of the vendor rather than the customer. With VRM, customers are in charge of their sides of relationships with multiple vendors in the connected retail environment. Once this becomes real, the whole system — and the marketplace with it — changes. And it won’t change unless VRM and CRM work together. As the techies put it, we need AND logic, rather than OR.

The good folks at CRM Magazine see that. And for that we owe huge thanks to Tara Hunt, who made the original connections with CRM Magazine folks, and started conversations that fanned out to include many other folks doing good work in the VRM community. So, a big thank-you to her. Also to CRM Magazine for having the curiosity, vision and guts to look seriously at VRM and its development efforts — and to everybody in the VRM community for playing a part.

Lots of good work going on. Let’s keep it up.

Wanted: User-usable data

For years makers of many kinds of goods and services have provided means for them to monitor how things are going. Now they need to include us in on the action, for the simple reason that we can do it better than they can. That’s the point of Driving by the Numbers, Robin Chase‘s recent op-ed in The New York Times.

Says Robin,

…sometimes the solution to a safety problem is simply more transparency. Indeed, there is a relatively easy solution that would help identify problems before they affect thousands of cars, or kill and injure dozens of people: allow drivers and carmakers real-time access to the data that’s already being monitored.

Most cars now undergo regular state emissions and safety inspections. A mechanic plugs an electronic reader into what’s known as the onboard diagnostic unit, a computer that sits under your dashboard, monitoring data on acceleration, emissions, fuel levels and engine problems. The mechanic can then download the data to his own computer and analyze it.

Because carmakers believe such diagnostic data to be their property, much of it is accessible only by the manufacturer and authorized dealers and their mechanics. And even then, only a small amount of the data is available — most cars’ computers don’t store data, they only monitor it. Though newer Toyotas have data recorders that gather information in the moments before an air bag is deployed, the carmaker has been frustratingly vague about what kind of data is collected (other manufacturers have been more forthcoming).

But what if a car’s entire data stream was made available to drivers in real time? You could use, for instance, a hypothetical “analyze-my-drive” application for your smart phone to tell you when it was time to change the oil or why your “check engine” light was on. The application could tell you how many miles you were getting to the gallon, and how much yesterday’s commute cost you in time, fuel and emissions. It could even tell you, say, that your spouse’s trips to the grocery store were 20 percent more fuel-efficient than yours.

Carmakers could collect the data, too. Aberrant engine and driving behavior would leap out of the carmakers’ now-large data set…

For those companies, keeping that data to themselves — in fact, not realizing in the least that the largest body of intelligence about their own goods and services is out there among the actual users of them — is mainframe thinking at its worst.

In 1943, Thomas Watson of IBM famously said, “”I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” That’s the kind of thinking that IBM (which invented the PC as most of us know it, in 1982) gave up generations ago. But it’s still alive and well in big companies of nearly all other kinds.

What I’d like to know is if there are any hacks on Toyota’s or Honda’s or any car maker”s data reporting systems. Betcha there is. If not, let’s attack this from our side of the fence, rather than the car makers’ — or even the governent’s. (They’re even less likely to get it right.) To wrap that case, here’s Robin’s bottom line:

Cars would continue to break down and even cause accidents, but it wouldn’t take a Congressional hearing to figure out why.

Hat tip to Bart Stevens of iChoosr for sharing Robin’s piece with fellow VRooMers.

Is RedBeacon VRM?

That question came to me this morning, in response to RedBeacon being named the winner of this year’s TechCrunch 50.

What RedBeacon offers is a form of what in the VRM community we call a personal RFP. As the company’s site says, RedBeacon provides a way to …

  • 1Customers find you on Redbeacon
    Request a local service
  • 2Work when you want
    Compare prices
    from qualified providers
  • 3Did we mention it's FREE?
    Schedule the job online

(Whoa. I didn’t know WordPress would let you copy and paste images and text together like that. Nice. An old dog learns a new trick.)

As it says here, you can request a service, review qualified buyers, select a provider, and schedule the job, all at the RedBeacon site.

Is that VRM? In a number of ways, yes. RedBeacon to me looks like a fourth party service, such as those outlined in VRM and the Four Party System.

I would like to see how it fits as what Joe Andrieu outlines as a user-driven service. What do the rest of ya’ll think?

Appreciating TipJoy

It’s shocking and sad to read Jason Kincaid‘s  Tipjoy Heads To The Deadpool story this morning in TechCrunch. Ivan and Abby Kirigin were neighbors just up the road from Cambridge (I understand they’ve recently moved back to California), and kindred spirits to the VRM community as well. Keith Hopper and I had a nice get-acquainted lunch with them a couple months back, and talked often in conversations about how EmanciPay might use the excellent TipJoy API, among other possibilities. The key paragraph from their final blog post:

When we evaluate why there’s been so much hype about payments on Twitter, and yet so little traction for us (and even far less for our competitors) it is clear to us that the reason is that a 3rd party payment service doesn’t add enough value. We strongly believe that social payments will work on a social network, provided that they’re done within the platform and not as a 3rd party. “Simple, social payments” is *the* philosophy needed to do digital payments right, but once a service groks that, they need only to implement it on their own. We’ve been the thought leaders in this space, we see the hype and excitement, and yet we know very intimately the difficulties in gaining actual traction. The only way to get around this is for the platforms themselves to control payments – then all people wanting to operate on that platform would have to play along. We believe that a payments system directly and officially integrated into social networks such as Twitter and Facebook will be a huge success.

This is consistent with our thinking as well. It’s why we’re designing EmanciPay not as a payment system but rather as a lightweight customer-native and -controlled set of methods (rather than a “system,” which implies something big, heavy and central) for choosing not only how much to pay, but when, where and under what terms — and leaving payment itself up to the Twitters, Facebooks, PayPals and Google Checkouts of the world.

EmanciPay is also not a business in itself. When it’s done it will be a set of specifications (data types, protocols, logic) rather than a commercial venture. It will add to the still-small portfolio of native customer capabilities as independent actors in the marketplace.

To leverage what Dave said long ago, Ask not what the marketplace can do for you. Ask what you can do for the marketplace. VRM is about answering that second question.

Meanwhile, we salute the pioneers. TipJoy did much for the marketplace. I just hope that the marketplace will repay Abby, Ivan and their colleagues generously. In fact, I have faith that it will.

Testing the all-tip system

Arlington cafe serves gourmet food and lets customers pay what they want, by Shane Stephens in the Dallas Morning News, probes some of our assumptions with EmanciPay—a customer-controlled way to choose how much to pay for online goods that cost nothing but are worth more than that. The financial end of the story:

The no-set-price concept is intriguing, especially in this economy. Chippindale says it was inspired by One World Cafe in Salt Lake City, a pay-what-you-want community kitchen founded by her friend Denise Cerreta. But while One World Cafe is nonprofit, Chippindale intends to make money. “I definitely do not turn away from a profit,” she says.

So far, she’s not getting rich; in fact, she’s not even breaking even. Customers have been leaving an average of about $7 per person in the envelopes, and Potager’s food costs are running about $8 per person, she says.

That’s two small tests in a trial that needs many more. Think payment levels might change if the restaurants’ costs were fully exposed?

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?

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