Category: Questions (page 1 of 5)

Our radical hack on the whole marketplace

In Disruption isn’t the whole VRM story, I visited the Tetrad of Media Effects, from Laws of Media: the New Science, by Marshall and Eric McLuhan. Every new medium (which can be anything from a stone arrowhead to a self-driving car), the McLuhans say, does four things, which they pose as questions that can have multiple answers, and they visualize this way:

tetrad-of-media-effects

The McLuhans also famously explained their work with this encompassing statement: We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.

This can go for institutions, such as businesses, and whole marketplaces, as well as people. We saw that happen in a big way with contracts of adhesion: those one-sided non-agreements we click on every time we acquire a new login and password, so we can deal with yet another site or service online.

These were named in 1943 by the law professor Friedrich “Fritz” Kessler in his landmark paper, “Contracts of Adhesion: Some Thoughts about Freedom of Contract.” Here is pretty much his whole case, expressed in a tetrad:

contracts-of-adhesion

Contracts of adhesion were tools industry shaped, was in turn shaped by, and in turn shaped the whole marketplace.

But now we have the Internet, which by design gives everyone on it a place to stand, and, like Archimedes with his lever, move the world.

We are now developing that lever, in the form of terms any one of us can assert, as a first party, and the other side—the businesses we deal with—can agree to, automatically. Which they’ll do it because it’s good for them.

I describe our first two terms, both of which have potentials toward enormous changes, in two similar posts put up elsewhere: 

— What if businesses agreed to customers’ terms and conditions? 

— The only way customers come first

And we’ll work some of those terms this week, fittingly, at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, starting tomorrow at VRM Day and then Tuesday through Thursday at the Internet Identity Workshop. I host the former and co-host the latter, our 24th. One is free and the other is cheap for a conference.

Here is what will come of our work:
personal-terms

Trust me: nothing you can do is more leveraged than helping make this happen.

See you there.

 

“Disruption” isn’t the whole VRM story

250px-mediatetrad-svg

The vast oeuvre of Marshall McLuhan contains a wonderful approach to understanding media called the tetrad (i.e. foursome) of media effects.  You can apply it to anything, from stone tools to robots. McLuhan unpacks it with four questions:

  1. What does the medium enhance?
  2. What does the medium make obsolete?
  3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
  4. What does the medium reverse or flip into when pushed to extremes?

I suggest that VRM—

  1. Enhances CRM
  2. Obsoletes marketing guesswork, especially adtech
  3. Retrieves conversation
  4. Reverses or flips into the bazaar

Note that many answers are possible. That’s why McLuhan poses the tetrad as questions. Very clever and useful.

I bring this up for three reasons:

  1. The tetrad is also helpful for understanding every topic that starts with “disruption.” Because a new medium (or technology) does much more than just disrupt or obsolete an old one—yet not so much more that it can’t be understood inside a framework.
  2. The idea from the start with VRM has never been to disrupt or obsolete CRM, but rather to give it a hand to shake—and a way customers can pull it out of the morass of market-makers (especially adtech) that waste its time, talents and energies.
  3. After ten years of ProjectVRM, we still don’t have a single standardized base VRM medium (e.g. a protocol), even though we have by now hundreds of developers we call VRM in one way or another. Think of this missing medium as a single way, or set of ways, that VRM demand can interact with CRM supply, and give every customer scale across all the companies they deal with. We’ve needed that from the start. But perhaps, with this handy pedagogical tool, we can look thorugh one framework toward both the causes and effects of what we want to make happen.

I expect this framework to be useful at VRM Day (May 1 at the Computer History Museum) and at IIW on the three days that follow there.

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Let’s give some @VRM help to the @CFPB

cfpbThe Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (@CFPB) is looking to help you help them—plus everybody else who uses financial services.

They explain:

Many new financial innovations rely on people choosing to give a company access to their digital financial records held by another company. If you’re using these kinds of services, we’d love to hear from you…

Make your voice heard. Share your comments on Facebook or Twitter . If you want to give us more details, you can share your story with us through our website. To see and respond to the full range of questions we’re interested in learning about, visit our formal Request for Information

For example,

Services that rely on consumers granting access to their financial records include:

  • Budgeting analysis and advice:  Some tools let people set budgets and analyze their spending activity.  The tools organize your purchases across multiple accounts into categories like food, health care, and entertainment so you can see trends. Some services send a text or email notification when a spending category is close to being over-budget.

  • Product recommendations: Some tools may make recommendations for new financial products based on your financial history. For example, if your records show that you have a lot of ATM fees, a tool might recommend other checking accounts with lower or no ATM fees.

  • Account verification: Many companies need you to verify your identity and bank account information. Access to your financial records can speed that process.

  • Loan applications: Some lenders may access your financial records to confirm your income and other information on your loan application.

  • Automatic or motivational savings: Some companies analyze your records to provide you with automatic savings programs and messages to keep you motivated to save.

  • Bill payment: Some services may collect your bills and help you organize your payments in a timely manner.

  • Fraud and identity theft protection: Some services analyze your records across various accounts to alert you about potentially fraudulent transactions.

  • Investment management: Some services use your account records to help you manage your investments.

A little more about the CFPB:

Our job is to put consumers first and help them take more control over their financial lives. We’re the one federal agency with the sole mission of protecting consumers in the financial marketplace. We want to make sure that consumer financial products and services are helping people rather than harming them.

A hat tip to @GeneKoo (an old Berkman Klein colleague) at the CFPB,  who sees our work with ProjectVRM as especially relevant to what they’re doing.  Of course, we agree. So let’s help them help us, and everybody else in the process.

Some additional links:

We’re done with Phase One

Here’s a picture that’s worth more than a thousand words:

maif-vrm

He’s with MAIF, the French insurance company, speaking at MyData 2016 in Helsinki, a little over a month ago. Here’s another:

sean-vrm

That’s Sean Bohan, head of our steering committee, expanding on what many people at the conference already knew.

I was there too, giving the morning keynote on Day 2:

cupfu1hxeaa4thh

It was an entirely new talk. Pretty good one too, especially since  I came up with it the night before.

See, by the end of Day 1, it was clear that pretty much everybody at the conference already knew how market power was shifting from centralized industries to distributed individuals and groups (including many inside centralized industries). It was also clear that most of the hundreds of people at the conference were also familiar with VRM as a market category. I didn’t need to talk about that stuff any more. At least not in Europe, where most of the VRM action is.

So, after a very long journey, we’re finally getting started.

In my own case, the journey began when I saw the Internet coming, back in the ’80s.  It was clear to me that the Net would change the world radically, once it allowed commercial activity to flow over its pipes. That floodgate opened on April 30, 1995. Not long after that, I joined the fray as an editor for Linux Journal (where I still am, by the way, more than 20 years later). Then, in 1999, I co-wrote The Cluetrain Manifesto, which delivered this “one clue” above its list of 95 Theses:

not

And then, one decade ago last month, I started ProjectVRM, because that clue wasn’t yet true. Our reach did not exceed the grasp of marketers in the world. If anything, the Net extended marketers’ grasp a lot more than it did ours. (Shoshana Zuboff says their grasp has metastacized into surveillance capitalism. ) In respect to Gibson’s Law, Cluetrain proclaimed an arrived future that was not yet distributed. Our job was to distribute it.

Which we have. And we can start to see results such as those above. So let’s call Phase One a done thing. And start thinking about Phase Two, whatever it will be.

To get that work rolling, here are a few summary facts about ProjectVRM and related efforts.

First, the project itself could hardly be more lightweight, at least administratively. It consists of:

Second, we have a spin-off: Customer Commons, which will do for personal terms of engagement (one each of us can assert online) what Creative Commons (another Berkman-Klein spinoff) did for copyright.

Third, we have a list of many dozens of developers, which seem to be concentrated in Europe and Australia/New Zealand.  Two reasons for that, both speculative:

  1. Privacy. The concept is much more highly sensitive and evolved in Europe than in the U.S. The reason we most often get goes, “Some of our governments once kept detailed records of people, and those records were used to track down and kill many of them.” There are also more evolved laws respecting privacy. In Australia there have been privacy laws for several years requiring those collecting data about individuals to make it available to them, in forms the individual specifies. And in Europe there is the General Data Protection Regulation, which will impose severe penalties for unwelcome data gathering from individuals, starting in 2018.
  2. Enlightened investment. Meaning investors who want a startup to make a positive difference in the world, and not just give them a unicorn to ride out some exit. (Which seems to have become the default model in the U.S., especially Silicon Valley.)

What we lack is research. And by we I mean the world, and not just ProjectVRM.

Research is normally the first duty of a project at the Berkman Klein Center, which is chartered as a research organization. Research was ProjectVRM’s last duty, however, because we had nothing to research at first. Or, frankly, until now. That’s why we were defined as a development & research project rather than the reverse.

Where and how research on VRM and related efforts happens is a wide open question. What matters is that it needs to be done, starting soon, while the “before” state still prevails in most of the world, and the future is still on its way in delivery trucks. Who does that research matters far less than the research itself.

So we are poised at a transitional point now. Let the conversations about Phase Two commence.

 

 

 

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

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

Bad PR is when even your friends turn on you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus links:

Helping publishers and advertisers move past the ad blockade

reader-publisher-advertiser

Those are the three market conversations happening in the digital publishing world. Let’s look into what they’re saying, and then what more they can say that’s not being said yet.

A: Publisher-Reader

Publishing has mostly been a push medium from the start. One has always been able to write back to The Editor, and in the digital world one can tweet and post in other places, including one’s own blog. But the flow and power asymmetry is still push-dominated, and the conversation remains mostly a one-way thing, centered on editorial content. (There is also far more blocking of ads than talk about them.)

An important distinction to make here is between subscription-based pubs and free ones. The business model of subscription-supported pubs is (or at least includes) B2C: business-to-customer. The business model of free pubs is B2B: business-to-business. In the free pub case, the consumer (who is not a customer, because she isn’t paying anything) is the product sold to the pub’s customer, the advertiser.

Publishers with paying subscribers have a greater stake — and therefore interest — in opening up conversation with customers. I believe they are also less interested in fighting with customers blocking ads than are the free pubs. (It would be interesting to see research on that.)

B. Publisher-Advertiser

In the offline world, this was an uncomplicated thing. Advertisers or their agencies placed ads in publications, and paid directly for it. In the online world, ads come to publishers through a tangle of intermediaries:

displaylumascape:

Thus publishers may have no idea at any given time what ads get placed in front of what readers, or for what reason. In service to this same complex system, they also serve up far more than the pages of editorial content that attracts readers to the site. Sight unseen, they plant tracking cookies and beacons in readers’ browsers, to follow those readers around and report their doings back to third parties that help advertisers aim ads back at those readers, either on the publisher’s site or elsewhere.

We could explore the four-dimensional shell game that comprises this system, but for our purposes here let’s just say it’s a B2B conversation. That it’s a big one now doesn’t mean it has to be the only one. Many others are possible.

C. Reader-Advertiser

In traditional offline advertising, there was little if any conversation between readers and advertisers, because the main purpose of advertising was to increase awareness. (Or, as Don Marti puts it, to send an economic signal.) If there was a call to action, it usually wasn’t to do something that involved the publisher.

A lot of online advertising is still that way. But much of it is direct response advertising. This kind of advertising (as I explain in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff) is descended not from Madison Avenue, but from direct mail (aka junk mail). And (as I explain in Debugging adtech’s assumptions) it’s hard to tell the difference.

Today readers are speaking to advertisers a number of ways:

  1. Responding to ads with a click or some other gesture. (This tens to happen at percentages to the right of the decimal point.)
  2. Talking back, one way or another, over social media or their own blogs.
  3. Blocking ads, and the tracking that aims them.

Lately the rate of ad and tracking blocking by readers has gone so high that publishers and advertisers have been freaking out. This is characterized as a “war” between ad-blocking readers and publishers. At the individual level it’s just prophylaxis. At the group level it’s a boycott. Both ways it sends a message to both publishers and advertisers that much of advertising and the methods used for aiming it are not welcome.

This does not mean, however, that making those ads or their methods more welcome is the job only of advertisers and publishers. Nor does it mean that the interactions between all three parties need to be confined to the ones we have now. We’re on the Internet here.

The Internet as we know it today is only twenty years old: dating from the end of the NSFnet (on 30 April 1995) and the opening of the whole Internet to commercial activity. There are sand dunes older than Facebook, Twitter — even Google — and more durable as well. There is no reason to confine the scope of our invention to incremental adaptations of what we have. So let’s get creative here, and start by looking at, then past, the immediate crisis.

People started blocking ads for two reasons: 1) too many got icky (see the Acceptable Ads Manifesto for a list of unwanted types); 2) unwelcome tracking. Both arise from the publisher-advertiser conversation, which to the reader (aka consumer) looks like this:

rotated

Thus the non-conversation between readers blocking ads and both publishers and advertisers (A and C) looks like this:

stophandsignal

So far.

Readers also have an interest in the persistence of the publishers they read. And they have an interest in at least some advertisers’ goods and services, or the marketplace wouldn’t exist.

Thus A and C are conversational frontiers — while B is a mess in desperate need of cleaning up.

VRM is about A and C, and it can help with B. It also goes beyond conversation to include the two other activities that comprise markets: transaction and relationship. You might visualize it as this:

Handshake_icon_GREEN-BLUE.svg

From Turning the customer journey into a virtuous cycle:

One of the reasons we started ProjectVRM is that actual customers are hard to find in the CRM business. We are “leads” for Sales, “cases” in Support, “leads” again in Marketing. At the Orders stage we are destinations to which products and invoices are delivered. That’s it.

Oracle CRM, however, has a nice twist on this (and thanks to @nitinbadjatia of Oracle for sharing it*):

Oracle Twist

Here we see the “customer journey” as a path that loops between buying and owning. The blue part — OWN, on the right — is literally the customer’s own-space. As the text on the OWN loop shows, the company’s job in that space is to support and serve. As we see here…

… the place where that happens is typically the call center.

Now let’s pause to consider the curb weight of “solutions” in the world of interactivity between company and customer today. In the BUY loop of the customer journey, we have:

  1. All of advertising, which Magna Global expects to pass $.5 trillion this year
  2. All of CRM, which Gartner pegs at $18b)
  3. All the rest of marketing, which has too many segments for me to bother looking up

In the OWN loop we have a $0trillion greenfield. This is where VRM started, with personal data lockers, stores, vaults, services and (just in the last few months) clouds.

Now look around your home. What you see is mostly stuff you own. Meaning you’ve bought it already. How about basing your relationships with companies on those things, rather than over on the BUY side of the loop, where you are forced to stand under a Niagara of advertising and sales-pitching, by companies and agencies trying to “target” and “acquire” you. From marketing’s traditional point of view (the headwaters of that Niagara), the OWN loop is where they can “manage” you, “control” you, “own” you and “lock” you in. To see one way this works, check your wallets, purses, glove compartments and kitchen junk drawers for “loyalty” cards that have little if anything to do with genuine loyalty.

But what if the OWN loop actually belonged to the customer, and not to the CRM system? What if you had VRM going there, working together with CRM, at any number of touch points, including the call center?

So here are two questions for the VRM community:

  1. What are we already doing in those areas that can help move forward in A and B?
  2. What can we do that isn’t being done now?

Among things we’re already doing are:

  • Maintaining personal clouds (aka vaults, lockers, personal information management systems, et.al.) from which data we control can be shared on a permitted basis with publishers and companies that want to sell us stuff, or with which we already enjoy relationships.
  • Employing intelligent personal assistants of our own.
  • Intentcasting, in which we advertise our intentions to buy (or seek services of some kind).
  • Terms individuals can assert, to start basing interactions and relationships on equal power, rather than the defaulted one-way take-it-or-leave-it non-agreements we have today.

The main challenge for publishers and advertisers is to look outside the box in which their B2B conversation happens — and the threats to that box they see in ad blocking — and to start looking at new ways of interacting with readers. And look for leadership coming from tool and service providers representing those readers. (For example, Mozilla.)

The main challenge for VRM developers is to provide more of those tools and services.

Bonus links for starters (again, I’ll add more):

Of vaults and honey pots

Personal Blackbox (pbb.me) is a new #VRM company — or so I gather, based on what they say they offer to users: “CONTROL YOUR DATA & UNLOCK ITS VALUE.”

So you’ll find them listed now on our developers list.

Here is the rest of the text on their index page:

pbbWheel

PBB is a technology platform that gives you control of the data you produce every day.

PBB lets you gain insights into your own behaviors, and make money when you choose to give companies access to your data. The result? A new and meaningful relationship between you and your brands.

At PBB, we believe people have a right to own their data and unlock its benefits without loss of privacy, control and value. That’s why we created the Personal Data Independence Trust. Take a look and learn more about how you can own your data and its benefits.

In the meantime we are hard at work to provide you a service and a company that will make a difference. Join us to participate and we will keep you posted when we are ready to launch.

That graphic, and what seems to be said between the lines, tells me Personal Blackbox’s customers are marketers, not users.  And, as we so often hear, “If the service is free, you’re the product being sold.”

But, between the last paragraph and this one, I ran into Patrick Deegan, the Chief Technology Officer of Personal Blackbox, at the PDNYC meetup. When I asked him if the company’s customers are marketers, he said no — and that PBB (as it’s known) is doing something much different that’s not fully explained by the graphic and text above, and is tied with the Personal Data Independence Trust, about which not much is said at the link to it. (At least not yet. Keep checking back.) So I’ll withhold judgement about it until I know more, and instead pivot to the subject of VRM business models, which that graphic brings up for me.

I see two broad ones, which I’ll call vault and honey pot.

The vault model gives the individual full control over their personal data and what’s done with it, which could be anything, for any purpose. That data primarily has use value rather than sale value.

The honey pot model also gives the individual control over their personal data, but mostly toward providing a way to derive sale value for that data (or something similar, such as bargains and offers from marketers).

The context for the vault model is the individual’s whole life, and selective sharing of data with others.

The context for the honey pot model is the marketplace for qualified leads.

The vault model goes after the whole world of individuals. Being customers, or consumers, is just one of the many roles we play in that world. Who we are and what we do — embodied in our data — is infinitely larger that what’s valuable to marketers. But there’s not much money in that yet.

But there is in the honey pot model, at least for now. Simply put, the path to market success is a lot faster in the short run if you find new ways to help sellers sell.  $zillions are being spent on that, all the time. (Just look at the advertising coming along with that last link, to a search).

FWIW, I think the heart of VRM is in the vault model. But we have a big tent here, and many paths to explore. (And many metaphors to mix.)

Preparing for the 3D/VR future

Look in the direction that meerkatMeerkat and periscopeappPeriscope both point.

If you’ve witnessed the output of either, several things become clear about their evolutionary path:

  1. Stereo sound is coming. So is binaural sound, with its you-are-there qualities.
  2. 3D will come too, of course, especially as mobile devices start to include two microphones and two cameras.
  3. The end state of both those developments is VR, or virtual reality. At least on the receiving end.

The production end is a different animal. Or herd of animals, eventually. Expect professional gear from all the usual sources, showing up at CES starting next year and on store shelves shortly thereafter. Walking around like a dork holding a mobile in front of you will look in 2018 like holding a dial-phone handset to your head looks today.

I expect the most handy way to produce 3D and VR streams will be with  glasses like these:

srlzglasses

(That’s my placeholder design, which is in the public domain. That’s so it has no IP drag, other than whatever submarine patents already exist, and I am sure there are some.)

Now pause to dig @ctrlzee‘s Fast Company report on Facebook’s 10-year plan to trap us inside The Matrix. How long before Facebook buys Meerkat and builds it into Occulus Rift? Or buys Twitter, just to get Periscope and do the same?

Whatever else happens, the rights clearing question gets very personal. Do you want to be broadcast and/or recorded by others or not? What are the social and device protocols for that? (The VRM dev community has designed one for the glasses above. See the ⊂ ⊃ in the glasses? That’s one. Each corner light is another.)

We should start zero-basing the answers today, while the inevitable is in sight but isn’t here yet. Empathy is the first requirement. (Take the time to dig Dave Winer’s 12-minute podcast on the topic. It matters.) Getting permission is another.

As for the relevance of standing law, almost none of it applies at the technical level. Simply put, all copyright laws were created in times when digital life was unimaginable (e.g. Stature of Anne, ASCAP), barely known (Act of 1976), or highly feared (WIPO, CTEA, DMCA).

How would we write new laws for an age that has barely started? Or why start with laws at all? (Nearly all regulation protects yesterday from last Thursday. And too often its crafted by know-nothings.)

We’ve only been living the networked life since graphical browsers and ISPs arrived in the mid-90’s. Meanwhile we’ve had thousands of years to develop civilization in the physical world. Which means that, relatively speaking, networked life is Eden. It’s brand new here, and we’re all naked. That’s why it’s so easy anybody to see everything about us online.

How will we create the digital equivalents of the privacy technologies we call clothing and shelter? Is the first answer a technical one, a policy one, or both? Which should come first? (In Europe and Australia, policy already has.)

Protecting the need for artists to make money is part of the picture. But it’s not the only part. And laws are only one way to protect artists, or anybody.

Manners come first, and we barely have those yet, if at all. None of the big companies that currently dominate our digital lives have fully thought out how to protect anybody’s privacy. Those that come closest are ones we pay directly, and are financially accountable to us.

Apple, for example, is doing more and more to isolate personal data to spaces the individual controls and the company can’t see. Google and Facebook both seem to regard personal privacy as a bug in online life, rather than a feature of it. (Note that, at least for their most popular services, we pay those two companies nothing. We are mere consumers whose lives are sold to the company’s actual customers, which are advertisers.)

Bottom line: the legal slate is covered in chalk, but the technical one is close to clean. What do we want to write there?

We’ll be talking about this, and many other things, at VRM Day (6 April) and IIW (7-9 April) in the Computer History Museum in downtown Silicon Valley (101 & Shoreline, Mountain View).

Signs of progress

In Fightback against internet giants’ stranglehold on personal data starts here, , John Naughton of The Guardian writes,

When the history of this period comes to be written, our great-grandchildren will marvel at the fact that billions of apparently sane individuals passively accepted this grotesquely asymmetrical deal. (They may also wonder why our governments have shown so little interest in the matter.) And future historians, diligently hunting through digital archives, will discover that there were only a few voices crying in the wilderness at the time.

Of these prophets, the most prominent are Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist who was one of the pioneers of virtual reality, and Doc Searls, one of the elder statesman of the old internet who is now at the Berkman Centre at Harvard. In his book Who Owns the Future?, Lanier argued that by convincing users to give away valuable information about themselves in exchange for “free” services, firms such as Google and Facebook have accumulated colossal amounts of data (and corresponding amounts of wealth) at virtually no cost. His proposed solution is to make online transactions bidirectional, to ensure that the economic value of personal data can be realised by individuals, who at the moment just give it away.

Doc Searls has much the same argument in his book The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge but proposes a different kind of software solution – “vendor relationship management”. The basic idea is that “many market problems (including the widespread belief that customer lock-in is a ‘best practice’) can only be solved from the customer side: by making the customer a fully empowered actor in the market place, rather than one whose power in many cases is dependent on exclusive relationships with vendors, by coerced agreement provided entirely by those vendors”. In that sense, just as most big companies now use “customer relationship management” systems to manage their interactions with users, Searls thinks that customers need systems that can manage their interactions with companies, but on customers’ terms.

The underlying philosophy underpinning all attempts to level the online playing field is a belief that an individual’s data belongs to him or herself and that no one should have access to it except on terms that are controlled by the data owner. The hunt is on, therefore, for technologies (software and/or hardware) that would make this both possible and be easy to use.

Also in the UK, Lee Henshaw asks, Is Advertising Broken?  Specifics:

We’re currently reading The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge by Doc Searls, an American journalist working from Harvard University who writes about the future of business.

Advertising is broken, he says.

He argues against the trend in online advertising for reducing customers to data points and delivering us personal advertising.

“Perfectly personal advertising is a dream of advertisers, not of customers,” he writes.

Personal advertising puts us in the uncanny valley, he says. In the uncanny valley, robots start freaking us out because they appear too human.

His alternative is the intention economy. In the intention economy, we – the customers – tell the market of our intention to buy something then companies compete to sell it to us.

“The intention economy is about buyers finders sellers, not sellers finding (or ‘capturing’) buyers,” he writes.

He invites advertisers to give up what he calls their cat and mouse game and start building more meaningful relationships with customers through our personal data stores instead.

“Nothing big data offers today, in any business, is a substitute for intentionally delivered intelligence from real customers who are engaged, one to one, with retailers in a marketplace, in their own ways, on their own terms,” he writes.

Searls works from Harvard University’s Berkman Centre for Internet and Society, where he runs Project VRM – VRM stands for Vendor Relationship Management.

“VRM tools work as the demand-side counterpart of vendors’ CRM (customer relationship management) systems,” he explains.

Project VRM, he hopes, will liberate customers through tools that help us make requests for proposals to companies that are selling something we want to buy. This kind of engagement, he writes, “is the only evolutionary path out of the pure guess-work game that advertising has been for the duration”.

And he asks for answers. Feel free to volunteer some.

Also see Meaningful Consent in the Digital Economy (aka MCDE) I’ll be participating in a  workshop on MCDE  on 23- 24 February in Southampton, UK.  It’s described as “an interdisciplinary workshop on issues related to giving and obtaining user consent online, with special emphasis on privacy and data protection.”

Bonus Links: Dave Winer on How VRM works, and Consumers vs. Data Science Bad Guys, by @kinglevi) in Techcrunch.

What would a VRM social network be?

The Big Bang of Social Networking 128px-Emoji_u1f4c7.svgis a piece by Jim Dwyer in The New York Times that will likely be a subject of a session today or tomorrow at IIW. So here are a few thoughts of my toward that discussion…

  1. All of us had social networks before Facebook, Diaspora and Ello existed. We still do. They’re in our heads, hearts, contact lists and address books.
  2. Facebook, Diaspora* and Ello are silo’d commercial services. They do serve many social purposes, of course, and a few very well, or they wouldn’t be so popular.
  3. If we want real social networks online, we need to start with our own genuine personal ones.
  4. To be VRM, they need to support independence and engagement. They should also be substitutable in the same way that, say, browsers and email apps and services are substitutable.

It is essential to start outside the box of thinking that says everything needs to be a service. Inside that box we risk thinking only of other calf-cow solutions to calf-cow problems.

Facebook and Ello are both cows. Even though one doesn’t advertise at us, we’re still calves in its fenced farm.

Unless, of course, we can take our social graphs away with us, to use on our own, or with some substitutable service.

VRM social network solutions to the problems of calf-cow designs need to be first person technologies. At that link, I explain,

Only a person can use the pronouns  “I,” “me,” “my” and “mine.” Likewise, only a person can use tools such as screwdrivers, eyeglasses and pencils. Those things are all first person technologies. They were invented for individual persons to use.

I suggest we start with address books and calendars. Those could not be more personal, yet more social. And, far as I know, nobody has yet done them in a way that’s useful for scaffolding the successor to Facebook on top of them. But that shouldn’t stop us.

* [Later…] This was a copy/paste/rush error.  In fact Diaspora is quite VRooMy. The Wikipedia  entry makes that clear.

 

 

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