Tag: VRM (page 1 of 7)

VRM at MyData2016

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As it happens I’m in Helsinki right now, for MyData2016, where I’ll be speaking on Thursday morning. My topic: The Power of the Individual. There is also a hackathon (led by DataBusiness.fi) going on during the show, starting at 4pm (local time) today. In no order of priority, here are just some of the subjects and players I’ll be dealing with,  talking to, and talking up (much as I can):

Please let me know what others belong on this list. And see you at the show.

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Is Facebook working on a VRM system? Or just another way to do ads?

It’s easy to get caught up in news that WhatsApp is starting to accept advertising (after they said they would never do that), and miss the deeper point of what’s really going on: Facebook setting up a new bot-based channel through which companies and customers can communicate. Like this:

vrmcrmbot

The word balloon is Facebook Messenger. But it could be WhatsApp too. From a VRM perspective, what matters is whether or not “Messenger bots” work as VRM tools, meaning they obey the individual user’s commands (and not just those of Facebook’s corporate customers). We don’t know yet. Hence the question mark.

But before we get to exploring the possibilities here (which could be immense), we need to visit and dismiss the main distractions.

Those start with Why we don’t sell ads, posted on the WhatsApp blog on 18 June 2012. Here are the money grafs from that one:

We knew we could do what most people aim to do every day: avoid ads.
No one wakes up excited to see more advertising, no one goes to sleep thinking about the ads they’ll see tomorrow. We know people go to sleep excited about who they chatted with that day (and disappointed about who they didn’t). We want WhatsApp to be the product that keeps you awake… and that you reach for in the morning. No one jumps up from a nap and runs to see an advertisement.

Advertising isn’t just the disruption of aesthetics, the insults to your intelligence and the interruption of your train of thought. At every company that sells ads, a significant portion of their engineering team spends their day tuning data mining, writing better code to collect all your personal data, upgrading the servers that hold all the data and making sure it’s all being logged and collated and sliced and packaged and shipped out… And at the end of the day the result of it all is a slightly different advertising banner in your browser or on your mobile screen.

Remember, when advertising is involved you the user are the product.

Great stuff. But that was then and this is now. In WhatsApp’s latest post, Looking Ahead for WhatsApp (25 August), we have the about-face:

But by coordinating more with Facebook, we’ll be able to do things like track basic metrics about how often people use our services and better fight spam on WhatsApp. And by connecting your phone number with Facebook’s systems, Facebook can offer better friend suggestions and show you more relevant ads if you have an account with them. For example, you might see an ad from a company you already work with, rather than one from someone you’ve never heard of. You can learn more, including how to control the use of your data, here.

Pretty yucky, huh?

Earlier in the same post, however, WhatsApp says,

we want to explore ways for you to communicate with businesses that matter to you too

Interesting: Mark Zuckerberg said the same thing when he introduced messenger bots, back in April. In the video at that link, Zuck said,

Now that Messenger has scaled, we’re starting to develop ecosystems around it. And the first thing we’re doing is exploring how you can all communicate with businesses.

You probably interact with dozens of businesses every day. And some of them are probably really meaningful to you. But I’ve never met anyone who likes calling a business. And no one wants to have to install a new app for every service or business they want to interact with. So we think there’s gotta be a better way to do this.

We think you should be able to message a business the same way you message a friend. You should get a quick response, and it shouldn’t take your full attention, like a phone call would. And you shouldn’t have to install a new app.

Note the similarities in the set-up:

  1. Zuck:  “how you can all communicate with business.”
  2. WhatsApp: “explore ways for you to communicate with businesses.”

This is, or should be, pure VRM:  a way for a customer to issue a service request, or to intentcast for bids on a new washing machine or a car. In other words, what they seem to be talking about here is a new communication channel between customers and businesses that can relieve  the typical pains of being a customer while also opening the floodgates of demand notifying supply when it’s ready to buy. Back to Zuck:

So today we’re launching Messenger Platform. So you can build bots for Messenger.

By “you” Zuck means the developers he was addressing that day. I assume these were developers working for businesses that avoid customer contact and would rather have robots take over everything possible, because that’s the norm these days. But I could be wrong. He continues,

And it’s a simple platform, powered by artificial intelligence, so you can build natural language services to communicate directly with people. So let’s take a look.

CNN, for example, is going to be able to send you a daily digest of stories, right into messenger. And the more you use it, the more personalized it will get. And if you want to learn more about a specific topic, say a Supreme Court nomination or the zika virus, you just send a message and it will send you that information.

The antecedents of “you” move around here. Could be he’s misdirecting attention away from surveillance. Can’t tell. But it is clear that he’s looking past advertising alone as a way to make money.

Back to the WhatsApp post:

Whether it’s hearing from your bank about a potentially fraudulent transaction, or getting notified by an airline about a delayed flight, many of us get this information elsewhere, including in text messages and phone calls.

This also echoes what Zuck said in April. In both cases it’s about companies communicating with you, not about you communicating with companies. Would bots work both ways?

In “‘Bot’ is the wrong name…and why people who think it’s silly are wrong”, Aaron Batalion says all kinds of functionality now found only in apps will move to bots—Messenger’s in particular. “In a micro app world, you build one experience on the Facebook platform and reach 1B people.”

How about building a one-experience bot so 1B people can reach businesses the same way?

Imagine, for example, that you can notify every company you deal with that your last name has changed, or you’ve replaced a credit card. It would be great to do that in one move. It would also be VRM 101. But, almost ten years into our project, nobody has built that yet. Is Facebook doing it?

Frankly, I hope not, because I don’t want to see VRM trapped inside a giant silo.

That’s why I just put up Market intelligence that flows both ways, over in Medium. (It’s a much-updated version of a post I put up here several years ago.)

In that post I describe a much better approach, based on open source code, that doesn’t require locating your soul inside a large company for which, as WhatsApp put it four years ago, you’re the product.

Here’s a diagram that shows how one person (myself, in this case) can relate to a company whose moccasins he owns:

vrmcrmconduit

The moccasins have their own pico: a cloud on the Net for a thing in the physical world. For VRM and CRM purposes, this one is a relationship conduit between customer and company.

A pico of this type comes in to being when the customer assigns the QR code to the moccasins and scans it. The customer and company can then share records about the product, or notify the other party when there’s a problem, a bargain on a new pair, or whatever. It’s tabula rasa: wide open.

The current code for this is called Wrangler. It’s open source and in Github. For the curious, Phil Windley explains how picos work in Reactive Programming With Picos.

I’ll continue on this theme in the next post. Meanwhile, my main purpose with this one is to borrow interest in where Facebook is going (if I’m guessing right) with Messenger bots, and do it one better in the open and un-silo’d world, while we still have one to hack.

 

 

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At last, a protocol to connect VRM and CRM

person-entity

We’ve been waiting a long time for a protocol to connect VRM (customers’ Vendor Relationship Management) with CRM (vendors’ Customer Relationship Management).

Now we have one. It’s called JLINC, and it’s from JLINC Labs. It’s also open source. You’ll find it at Github, here. It’s still early, at v.0.3. So there’s lots of opportunity for developers and constructive hackers of all kinds to get involved.

Specifically, JLINC is a protocol for sharing data protected by the terms under which it is shared, such as those under development by Customer Commons and the Consent and Information Sharing Working Group (CISWG) at Kantara.

The sharing instance is permanently recorded in a distributed ledger (such as a blockchain) so that both sharer and recipient have a permanent record of what was agreed to. Additionally, both parties can build up an aggregated view of their information sharing over time, so they (or their systems) can learn from and optimize it.

The central concept in JLINC is an Information Sharing Agreement (ISA). This allows for—

  1. the schema related to the data being shared so that the data can be understood by the recipient without prior agreement
  2. the terms associated with the data being shared so that they can be understood by the recipient without prior negotiation
  3. the sharing instance, and any subsequent onward sharing under the same terms, to be permanently recorded on a distributed ledger of subsequent use (compliance and analytics)

To test and demonstrate how this works, JLINC built a demonstrator to bring these three scenarios to life. The first one tackled is Intentcasting , a long-awaited promise of VRM. With an Intencast, the customer advertises her intention to buy something, essentially becoming a qualified lead. (Here are all the ProjectVRM blog posts here with the Intentcasting tag.)

Obviously, the customer can’t blab her buying intention out to the whole world, or marketers would swarm her like flies, suck up her exposed data, spam her with offers, and sell or give away her data to countless other parties.

With JLINC, intention data is made available only when the customer’s terms are signed. Those terms specify permitted uses. Here is one such set (written for site visiting, rather than intentcasting):

UserSubmittedTerms2ndDraft

These say the person’s (first party’s) data is being shared exclusively with the second party (the site), for no limit in time, for the site’s use only, provided the site also obey the customer’s Do Not Track signal. I’m showing it because it lays out one way terms can work in a familiar setting

For JLINC’s intentcasting demonstration, terms were limited to second party use only, and a duration of thirty days. But here’s the important part: the intentcast spoke to a Salesforce CRM system, which was able to—

  1. accept or reject the terms, and
  2. respond to the intentcast with an offer,
  3. while the handshake between the two was recorded in a blockchain both parties could access

This means that JLINC is not only a working protocol, but that there are ways for VRM tools and systems to use JLINC to engage CRM systems. It also means there are countless new development opportunities on both sides, working together or separately.

Here’s another cool thing:  the two biggest CRM companies, Salesforce and Oracle, will hold their big annual gatherings in the next few weeks. This means JLINC and VRM+CRM can be the subjects of both conversation and hacking at either or both events. Specifically, here are the dates:

  1. Oracle’s OpenWorld 2016 will be September 18-22.
  2. Salesforce’s Dreamforce 2016  will be October 4-7.

Both will be at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Conveniently, the next VRM Day and IIW will both also happen, as usual, at the end of October:

  1. VRM Day will be October 24.
  2. Internet Identity Workshop (IIW’s XXIIIth) will be October 25-27.

Both will take place at the Computer History Museum, in downtown Silicon Valley. And JLINC, which was launched at the last VRM Day, is sure to be a main topic of discussion, starting at VRM Day and continuing through IIW, which I consider the most leveraged conference in the world, especially for the price.

If all goes well, we’ll have some examples of VRM+(Oracle and/or Salesforce) CRM to show off at Demo Day at IIW.

Love to see other CRM vendors show up too. You listening, SugarCRM? (I spoke about VRM+CRM at SugarCon in 2011. Here’s my deck from that talk. What we lacked then, and since, was a protocol for that “+”. Now we have it. )

Big HT to Iain Henderson of both JLINC Labs and Customer Commons, for guiding this post, as well as conducting the test that showed, hey, it can be done!

 

 

 

 

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If it weren’t for retargeting, we might not have ad blocking

jblflip2This is a shopping vs. advertising story that starts with the JBP Flip 2 portable speaker I bought last year, when Radio Shack was going bankrupt and unloading gear in “Everything Must Go!” sales. I got it half-off for $50, choosing it over competing units on the same half-bare shelves, mostly because of the JBL name, which I’ve respected for decades. Before that I’d never even listened to one.

The battery life wasn’t great, but the sound it produced was much better than anything my laptop, phone or tablet put out. It was also small, about the size of a  beer can, so I could easily take it with me on the road. Which I did. A lot.

Alas, like too many other small devices, the Flip 2’s power jack was USB micro-b. That’s the tiny flat one that all but requires a magnifying glass to see which side is up, and tends to damage the socket if you don’t slip it in exactly right, or if you force it somehow. While micro-b jacks are all design-flawed that way, the one in my Flip 2 was so awful that it took great concentration to make sure the plug jacked in without buggering the socket.

Which happened anyway. One day, at an AirBnB in Maine, the Flip 2’s USB socket finally failed. The charger cable would fit into the socket, but the socket was loose, and the speaker wouldn’t take a charge. After efforts at resuscitation failed, I declared the Flip 2 dead.

But I was still open to buying another one. So, to replace it, I did what most of us do: I went to Amazon. Naturally, there were plenty of choices, including JBL Flip 2s and newer Flip 3s, at attractive prices. But Consumer Reports told me the best of the bunch was the Bose Soundlink Color, for $116.

So I bought a white Bose, because my wife liked that better than the red JBL.

The Bose filled Consumer Reports’ promise. While it isn’t stereo, it sounds much better than the JBL (voice quality and bass notes are remarkable). It’s also about the same size (though with a boxy rather than a cylindrical shape), has better battery life, and a better user interface. I hate that it  charges through a micro-b jack, but at least this one is easier to plug and unplug than the Flip 2 had been. So that story had a happy beginning, at least for me and Bose.

It was not happy, however, for me and Amazon.

Remember when Amazon product pages were no longer than they needed to be? Those days are gone. Now pages for every product seem to get longer and longer, and can take forever to load. Worse, Amazon’s index page is now encrusted with promotional jive. Seems like nearly everything “above the fold” (before you scroll down) is now a promo for Amazon Fashion, the latest Kindle, Amazon Prime, or the company credit card—plus rows of stuff “inspired by your shopping trends” and “related to items you’ve viewed.”

But at least that stuff risks being useful. What happens when you leave the site, however, isn’t. That’s because, unless you’re running an ad blocker or tracking protection, Amazon ads for stuff you just viewed, or put in your shopping cart, follow you from one ad-supported site to another, barking at you like a crazed dog. For example:

amazon1

I lost count of how many times, and in how many places, I saw this Amazon ad, or one like it, for one speaker, the other, or both, after I finished shopping and put the Bose speaker in my cart.

Why would Amazon advertise something at me that I’ve already bought, along with a competing product I obviously chose not to buy? Why would Amazon think it’s okay to follow me around when I’m not in their store? And why would they think that kind of harassment is required, or even okay, especially when the target has been a devoted customer for more than two decades, and sure to return and buy all kinds of stuff anyway?  Jeez, they have my business!

And why would they go out of their way to appear both stupid and robotic?

The answers, whatever they are, are sure to be both fully rationalized and psychotic, meaning disconnected from reality, which is the marketplace where real customers live, and get pissed off.

And Amazon is hardly alone at this. In fact the practice is so common that it became an Onion story in October 2018: Woman Stalked Across 8 Websites By Obsessed Shoe Advertisement.

The ad industry’s calls this kind of stalking “retargeting,” and it is the most obvious evidence that we are being tracked on the Net. The manners behind this are completely at odds with those in the physical world, where no store would place a tracking beacon on your body and use it to follow you everywhere you go after you leave. But doing exactly that is pro forma for marketing in the digital world.

When you click on that little triangular symbol in the corner of the ad, you can see how the “interactive” wing of the advertising business, generally called adtech, rationalizes surveillance:

adchoices1The program is called AdChoices, and it’s a creation of those entities in the lower right corner. The delusional conceits behind AdChoices are many:

  1. That Ad Choices is “yours.” It’s not. It’s theirs.
  2. That “right ads” exist, and that we want them to find us, at all times.
  3. That making the choices they provide actually gives us control of advertising online.
  4. That our personal agency—the power to act with full effect in the world—is a grace of marketers, and not of our own independent selves.

Not long after I did that little bit of shopping on Amazon, I also did a friend the favor of looking for clothes washers, since the one in her basement crapped out and she’s one of those few people who don’t use the Internet and never will. Again I consulted Consumer Reports, which recommended a certain LG washer in my friend’s price range. I looked for it on the Web and found the best price was at Home Depot. So I told her about it, and that was that.

For me that should have been the end of it. But it wasn’t, because now I was being followed by Home Depot ads for the same LG washer and other products I wasn’t going to buy, from Home Depot or anybody else. Here’s one:

homedepot1

Needless to say, this didn’t endear me to Home Depot, to LG, or to any of the sites where I got hit with these ads.

All these parties failed not only in their mission to sell me something, but to enhance their own brands. Instead they subtracted value for everybody in the supply chain of unwelcome tracking and unwanted message targeting. They also explain (as Don Marti does here) why ad blocking has grown exactly in pace with growth in retargeting.

I subjected myself to all this by experimentally turning off tracking protection and ad blockers on one of my browsers, so I could see how the commercial Web works for the shrinking percentage of people who don’t protect themselves from this kind of abuse. I do a lot of that, as part of my work with ProjectVRM. I also experiment a lot with different kinds of tracking protection and ad blocking, because the developers of those tools are encouraged by that same work here.

For those new to the project, VRM stands for Vendor Relationship Management, the customer-side counterpart of Customer Relationship Management, the many-$billion business by which companies manage their dealings with customers—or try to.

Our purpose with ProjectVRM is to encourage development of tools that give us both independence from the companies we engage with, and better ways of engaging than CRM alone provides: ways of engaging that we own, and are under our control. And relate to the CRM systems of the world as well. Our goal is VRM+CRM, not VRM vs. CRM.

Ad blocking and tracking protection are today at the leading edge of VRM development, because they are popular and give us independence. Engagement, however, isn’t here yet—at least not at the same level of popularity. And it probably won’t get here until we finish curing business of the brain cancer that adtech has become.

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VRM Day: Let’s talk UMA and terms

VRM Day and IIW are coming up in October: VRM Day on the 26th, and IIW on the 27th-29th. As always, both are at the Computer History Museum in the heart of Silicon Valley. Also, as always, we would like to focus  VRM day on issues that will be discussed and pushed forward (by word and code) on the following days at IIW.

I see two.

The first isUMA-logo UMA, for User Managed Access. UMA is the brainchild of Eve Maler, one of the most creative minds in the Digital Identity field. (And possibly its best singer as well.) The site explains, “User-Managed Access (UMA) is an award-winning OAuth-based protocol designed to give a web user a unified control point for authorizing who and what can get access to their online personal data, content, and services, no matter where all those things live on the web. Read the spec, join the group, check out the implementations, follow us on Twitter, like us onFacebook, get involved!”

Which a number of us in the #VRM community already are — enough, in fact, to lead discussion on VRM Day.

In Regaining Control of Our Data with User-Managed Access, Phil Windley calls VRM “a perfect example of the kind of place where UMA could have a big impact. VRM is giving customers tools for managing their interactions with vendors. That sounds, in large part, like a permissioning task. And UMA could be a key piece of technology for unifying various VRM efforts.”

For example, “Most of us hate seeing ads getting in the way of what we’re trying to do online. The problem is that even with the best “targeting” technology, most of the ads you see are wasted. You don’t want to see them. UMA could be used to send much stronger signals to vendors by granting permission for them to access information would let them help me and, in the process, make more money.”

We call those signals “intentcasting.”

Yet, even though our wiki lists almost two dozen intentcasting developers, all of them roll their own code. As a result, all of them have limited success. This argues for looking at UMA as one way they can  substantiate the category together.

A large amount of activity is going into UMA and health care, which is perhaps the biggest VRM “vertical.” (Since it involves all of us, and what matters most to our being active on the planet.)

The second topic is terms. These can take two forms: ones individuals can assert (which on the wiki we call EmanciTerm); and truly user- and customer-friendly ones sites and services can assert. (Along with truly agreeable privacy policies on both sides.)

At last Fall’s VRM Day, we came up with one possible approach, which looked like this on the whiteboard:

UserTerms1This was posted on Customer Commons, which is designed to serve the same purpose for individual terms as Creative Commons does for individual artists’ copyright terms. We can do the same this time.

Lately Meeco has come out with terms individuals can set. And there are others in the works as well. (One in particular will be of special interest, but it’s not public yet. I expect it will be, by VRM Day.)

So be sure to register soon. Space is limited.

Bonus links/tweets: here and here.

 

 

If your voice comes from a company, you don’t have one

Got this in my email today:

Oracle pitch

I’m sure Oracle Service Cloud is good at what it does. Such as:

  • Deliver an integrated customer experience while equipping employees with the right tools
  • Drive and meet consumer expectations in the new omni-channel world
  • Adapt their service to customer needs by researching and considering their demographics

The problem is that this assumes customers have no voices of their own, and need to be given one. And, since every company has its own way to give customers voices, the customer turns into a Tower of Babble, speaking with many different voices to many different companies.

For example, today at a medical center I had to give exactly the same personal information to two different systems operating in the same office — and this was information already known to countless other systems with which I’ve had dealings over the years. Why? “Because we’re using two different CRM systems.”

You can look at the problem here as one of scale. Systems such as Oracle’s give companies scale: one way to deal with many different customers. Likewise, customers need one way to deal with many different companies, regardless of what CRM systems they run. This is a fundamental VRM challenge. And it’s one that should be good for CRM too. Win-Win.

You can see how it would work if you imagine being able to  change your phone number or email address, for every company you deal with, in one move. Lots of VRM developers are working on that, but we aren’t there yet.

It helps that we already have the Internet, which bridges many networks (why it’s called internet), along with email, phones and other things that give us one way to deal with many different entities.

But we don’t yet have voices of our own (meaning scale), or we wouldn’t see headlines like the one above.

Giving our voices scale isn’t a CRM job. It’s a VRM job. It also has to be done in a way that speaks directly to the Oracle Service Clouds of the world, engaging what they already have in place.

I know people at Oracle and its competitors who are ready and eager to see VRM developments that speak — literally and figuratively — to their corporate systems. They know VRM is going to make their jobs a lot easier and cause a lot more business to happen and improve.

Conversations are happening, and that’s good. But we also need more development in the direction of convergence. Expect to see reports on that in coming months.

VRM+CRM at IIW

Four years and a few months ago, CRM Magazine devoted much of its May issue to VRM.not_iball1 That’s the cover there on the right. It was way ahead of its time. Same goes for ProjectVRM, which started four years earlier.

Now things are starting to shift.

I’ve heard encouraging reports from friends who went to Oracle OpenWorld last month and are headed to Salesforce‘s Dreamforce  next week. They tell me it is now becoming apparent to CRM that it needs a hand to shake on the customer side that’s not a captive one. Specifically —

  • That customers need scale across the many companies they deal with, just as companies need scale across the many customers they deal with. So, for example…
  • A customer should to be able to change his or her address (plus other form fields) for every company they deal with in one move, rather than one at a time within each company’s separate CRM system.
  • A customer should be able to intentcast as a qualified lead, safely and (at least at first) anonymously, outside of any one company’s captive marketplace.
  • An individual’s sovereign identity matters more to them — and to the marketplace — than any administrative identities conferred by companies or governments.
  • The negative externalities of unwelcome surveillance tend to outweigh whatever positive internalities the practice provides.
  • Co-creating the customer experience is better than having one side in charge of the whole thing — especially when the customer has few ways to bring consistency to her experience with many different companies.
  • Customers should have clouds of their own (aka personal clouds, stores, vaults, PIMS), and not just those of silo’d services.
  • Customers need ways to express their own policies, preferences, terms and conditions, and not be forced all the time to accept those provided by sellers — and that mutually agreeable terms will be far better than the one-sided (and in many cases unenforceable) ones nobody reads because there’s no point to it.
  • There is far more leverage on customer retention in the “own cycle” than in the “buy cycle” of the customer experience.

Speaking of which, here’s how that cycle looks, thanks to Esteban Kolsky, who drew the original: oracle-twist

There are now many dozens of developers in or near the VRM space that can be helpful for CRM as well.

Given all the action that’s going on, it would be way cool if we can get players on both sides together in one room to talk and whiteboard our way onto common ground and build new and better stuff there.

So we’re in luck, because that’s what we have with VRM Day and IIW, both at the Computer History Museum in downtown Silicon Valley (101 and Shoreline Road in Mountain View), on the last week of this month.

  • VRM Day is Monday, October 27.
  • IIW (Internet Identity Workshop) is Tuesday to Thursday, October 28-30.

The two go together. VRM Day is located and timed to lead in to IIW. The topics are ones we’ll want to be working on for the next three days — and beyond.

IIW is an unconference. There are no speakers or panels. All the topics are vetted by participants, who lead discussions and push topics forward in breakout rooms. It’s designed that way so stuff gets done and not only talked about.

While the original focus was (and remains) identity, the workshop is open to anything. High on the list of topics that get worked on, every time, are VRM ones like those listed above.

VRM Day and IIW will provide an ideal week for anybody who wants CRM to truly engage customers to get together and help make that happen.

VRM developers need to know more about how to connect with and help CRM systems and related ones, such as sCRM (social CRM), Customer Experience Management and call centers.

CRM developers need to know more about how to connect with and help VRM developers.

And, since everybody with a wallet is also a customer, that character will be well-represented too.

So I encourage everybody involved in CRM or VRM to come to VRM Day and IIW — with a special shout-out to Oracle, SAP, Microsoft Dynamics, IBM, Salesforce and SugarCRM. We need you there. And so do you. 🙂

It’s time to make good on the promise we’ve seen coming for way too long.

The second coming of double-entry bookkeeping

Many years ago, in a column about journalism, William Safire surfaced a tasty bit of inside jargon: the word “MEGO.” It stood for “My Eyes Glaze Over.” Any story that was too important not to run but too dull to interest anybody was a MEGO. His example of a one-word MEGO was “eurodollars.”

Lately a three-word MEGO has come up in conversations about VRM (itself, admittedly, a MEGO): double-entry bookkeeping.  As it happens I have some source material for those conversations, in the form of a chapter of The Intention Economy that didn’t make it into the book because, well, it was a MEGO.

It’s still too important not to write about, however, even if it is too dull to interest more than a few people for a few minutes at a time. And hell, that’s why we have blogs, no?

What makes double-entry bookkeeping important is that maybe it can save our asses from what computing did to our hands-on knowledge of how business works—or ought to work—in a  hearty economy. Hence the hope behind the headline above.

So, rather than let my last draft of the chapter languish on my hard drive for another few years, here it is.

— Doc

Balances

Books should be closed each year, especially in partnership because frequent accounting makes for long friendship. —Luca Pacioli

THE ARGUMENT

Networked markets connect two ways: between businesses and people, and between the functional parts of companies. These connections have long been facilitated through double-entry bookkeeping, the deep virtues of which have mostly been ignored or forgotten in our digital age. If we recall what double-entry bookkeeping did, and can do again, we may have another useful path toward The Intention Economy.

THE ORIGINAL BUSINESS SCIENCE

Modern banking is seven hundred years old. It was invented in early Renaissance Italy, and modeled at its start by the Medici bank, which lasted from 1397 to 1494.[ii] One fo those early Italian banks, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena S.p.A., founded in 1472, is still around.

Modern double-entry bookkeeping was also established in that time, though it dates back farther. The first major published work on the subject was Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita (Venice: 1474), a textbook by Fra Luca Pacioli, a Franciscan monk, doctor of divinity, and mathematician on the faculty of several universities [iii]. Within Summa is a Tractatus de Computis et Scripturis: the first complete description of double-entry bookkeeping, a system of mathematics which Pacioli treats as equal to Euclid’s in relevance to the everyday world.

Summa was Pacioli’s second published work. Da_Vinci_Vitruve_bw-imagonlyThe first, Tractatus mathematicus ad discipulos perusinos, is a six hundred page textbook in which sixteen sections are devoted to “merchant arithmetic.” [iv] In 1509, Pacioli published both Geometry (a Latin translation of Euclid’s Elements) and Divina proportione, illustrated with sixty drawings by Pacioli’s student and friend, Leonardo da Vinci [1]. Although Pacioli and Leonardo did not begin working together until 1496, it is likely that da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (on the right), drawn in 1487, was informed by Summa de arithmetica, a copy of which da Vinci possessed.[v] (Pacioli also applied the divine proportion (better known as the golden ratio) to typeface design. The “M” in the Metropolitan Museum of Art logo is Pacioli’s[vi])

In The Printing press as an agent for changeElizabeth Eisenstein calls Pacioli “a pioneering public lecturer and science-writer whose work was ransacked by others for a century or more”[vii], and “probably the most wide-ranging, influential and forceful advocate of mathematics for the layman during the first century of print,”[viii] with influences on DürerKeplerPascal and others. She continues,

Less often noted is the way this fifteenth-century encyclopedic work linked double-entry bookkeeping and business arithmetic with Pythagorean harmonies and the music of the spheres… Pacioli’s Summa represents something of a landmark. Within the covers of this one book can be found all the varied between schoolmen and mysteries of double-entry bookeeping for mechants, so too he underlined the importance of the study of Euclid for Surveyors, architects and other ‘universal men.’ [ix]

In “The Beauty of Double-Entry Bookkeeping and its Impact on the Nature of Accounting Information,” (written in celebration of Summa’s 500th anniversary), Yuri Ihri writes, “the essence of double-entry bookkeeping is not just a contrast between balance sheet accounts and income statement accounts, but, more generically, a contrast between state accounts and explanatory accounts, with the latter explaining changes in the former.” Note that these are two different things. Ihri continues,

This essence, which is stated here in the form of axioms of double-entry bookkeeping are done not globally but myopically and incrementally, which is of double-entry bookkeeping on the nature of accounting information is analyzed accounts. Turning somewhat philosophical, “difficulty, efficiency and originality” are regarded as being the three ingredients of intellectual beauty. Double-entry bookkeeping is found to have all three and to be a “thing of beauty” indeed, as stated by Goethe, Cayley and Sombart, whose quotes are given at the beginning of the paper.[x]

Those quotes are,

“What a thing it is to see the order which prevails throughout his business! By means of this he can at any time needing to perplex himself in the details.What advantages does he derive from the system of bookkeeping by double-entry! It is among the finest inventions of the human mind.” (Goethe, 1824., Vol. I, Book 1, Chapter X. p. 28, translated by Thomas Carlyle). “The Principles of Book-keeping by theory which is mathematically by no means uninteresting: it is in fact like Euclid’s theory of ratios an absolutely perfect one, and it is only its extreme simplicity which prevents it from being as interesting as it would otherwise be. (Cayley, 1907).

“Double-entry bookkeeping is bourne of the same spirit as the system of Galileo and Newton… With the same means as these, it orders the phenomenon into an elegant system, and it may be called built on the basis of mechanistic thought. Double-entry bookkeeping discloses to us the cosmos of the economic world by the same method as, later, the cosmos of the stellar universe was unveiled by the great investigation of natural philosophy… One can scarcely conceive of capitalism without double-entry book-keeping: they are related as are form and context. It is difficult to decide, however, whether in double-entry book-keeping capitalism provided itself with a tool to make it more effective, or whether capitalism derives from the ‘spirit’ of double-entry book-keeping”. (Sombart, 1928. Vol. II, Part I, p. 118-9).[xi]

In spite (or perhaps because) of these cosmic qualities, nothing in Summa reads strange to a businessperson today. Pacioli describes journals, ledgers, inventories, accounts receivable and payable, trial balances, income, expenses, trades and exchanges, salaries, duplicate receipts, “sales for cash or on time with brokers’ commissions,” profit, loss and other concepts and practices that have hardly changed in most of a millennium. His instructive tone is also familiar:

He who wants to know how to keep a ledger and its journal in due order must pay strict attention to what I shall say. To understand the procedure well, we will take the case of one who is just starting in business, and tell how he must proceed in keeping his accounts and he may find each thing in its place. For, if he does not put each thing in its own place, he will find himself in great trouble and confusion as to all his affairs, according to the familiar saying, Ubi non est ordo, ibi est confusio (Where there is no order, there is confusion).

Central to bookkeeping — then and now — are its three books: the memorandum, the journal and the ledger. Here is a compression of Pacioli’s teachings, taken from a series of chapters in Summa:

The memorandum book… is a book in which the merchant shall put down all his transactions, small or big, as they take place, day by day, hour by hour. In this book he will put down in detail everything that he sells or buys, and every other transaction without leaving out a jot; who, what, when, where, mentioning everything to make it fully as clear as I have already said in talking about the Inventory, so that there is no necessity of saying it over again in detail.

…The bookkeeper will put everything in order before he transcribes a transaction in the journal. In this way, when the owner comes back he will see all the transactions, and he may put them in a better order if he thinks necessary. Therefore, this book is very necessary to those who have a big business.

…After you have proceeded on this way through all the accounts of the Ledger and Journal and found that the two books correspond in debit and credit. It will mean that all the accounts are correct and the entries entered correctly.

…After you have finished checking off the Journal, if you find in the Ledger some account or entry which has not been checked off In debit or credit, this would indicate that there has been some mistake in the Ledger… and you shall correct this error.

Throughout Summa, Pacioli invokes the context of balance. Balancing books also balances a functioning business in the world. It is an exercise as normal and necessary as walking upright on two feet.

MOMENTS IN DOUBLE-TIME

In 1913 Charles M. Van Cleve self-published Principles of Double-Entry Bookkeeping. His purposes were to “to explain the principles which underlie the art of accounting by the double-entry method,” and to solve “the problem of placing double-entry bookkeeping on a rational basis”:

As a rule, the study of a useful art has a certain value as mental discipline; the art of accounting is the one exception to the rule. Aside from the so-called occult sciences, there is nothing which so tends to bewilder the mind and to dull the faculty of reason as the study of double-entry bookkeeping in the form in which it is customary to present it.[xii]

In our time, double-entry bookkeeping has fallen out of favor after a six century run. Today accounting is done on computers, with software packages, the most popular of which is Quickbooks, which boasted a 94.2% share of retail units in the business accounting category in 2008. [xiii]  Quickbooks is built for single-entry bookkeeping. Yes, you can get it to do the double-entry kind, though not in ways that make sense to double-entry stalwarts. One of those is Jim Reverend, who blogged this in 2006:

A few years ago, just for fun, I taught myself Double Entry Accounting. I found the whole process very interesting and was intrigued by the fact that so many people would go through so much trouble to learn what amounts to nothing more than a hunk of theory and procedures developed over 500 years ago that have changed very little since then. I really enjoyed the simplicity of the system and the obvious nature of its rules.

I assumed that keeping track of my business’ finances using accounting software would be a relatively straight-forward task, so I set out in search of this software. Quickbooks came highly recommended by almost everyone I asked so I purchased the “Pro” version. $150 later and 10 minutes into using the software and I found myself angry, confused, and sitting in a pile of my own hair.

While Quickbooks may indeed perform Double Entry Accounting in the background, using it is nothing like the simple system of checks and balances that I learned. Quickbooks breaks everything down into common business aspects and concepts and takes the accounting out of it as much as possible. This is great if you don’t know accounting and your business doesn’t deviate too far from the norm. However, if you intend to make even the slightest curve away from a “normal” usage pattern, you’ll find that the software gets in your way more than anything. So I’ve found that my knowledge of Double Entry Accounting isn’t nearly as useful as I thought it would be and, instead, I’m now giving myself a profanity-studded crash-course in manipulating “Quickbooks” into doing what I want.[xiv]

When we go back to Van Cleve, we begin to see why Reverend got so frustrated with Quickbooks’ new double-entry conventions:

The whole difference, and the only difference, between the two systems of accounting is in the fact that single-entry bookkeeping always uses literal language, while double-entry bookkeeping always uses figurative language except when speaking of persons. As soon as one understands the figurative language which it uses, double-entry bookkeeping is just as simple as single-entry bookkeeping — and much more compact.

In single-entry bookkeeping, cash means cash. Merchandise means merchandise. Interest means interest. Expense means expense. But in double-entry bookkeeping cash does not mean cash; it means the imaginary person who owes the amount of the cash. Merchandise does not mean merchandise; it means the imaginary person who owes the amount of the merchandise. Interest does not mean interest; it means the imaginary person who owes or is owed the amount of the interest. Expense does not mean expense; it means the imaginary person who owes the amount of the expenses. Net Capital does not mean net capital; it means the person (real in the case of an individual owner, imaginary in the case of a firm or a corporation) who is owed or owes the amount of the net capital.

This kind of abstraction may seem to detach meanings, but instead they are useful generalizations. Quickbooks insists on a specificity that loses the virtues of abstraction. Here’s Reverend again:

If you want to “pay a bill” (an annoying feature of Quickbooks that you are all but required to use) you will be annoyed every time you do unless you have a “Credit Card” defined. I don’t have a business credit card. I don’t really need one. Despite this, I ended up making a fake “Credit Card” account just to get it to shut up.

You can only pay bills by “Check” or “Credit Card”. You cannot use “Cash”, “Accounts Payable” or “Owner’s Equity” to do so. Oftentimes, I “pay bills” with my personal funds which are not tracked along with my business accounts. So, in order to work around this, I had to create a “Credit Card” account for myself at the “Bank of Daniel”. Any expenses that are paid with personal funds are treated as charges on the “Bank of Daniel” “Credit Card”. Every now and then (once a month, probably) I’ll submit a transaction to pay off the debt on this “Credit Card” with funds from “Owner’s Equity”.

Van Cleve’s case was for all-rational double-entry bookkeeping: “What this treatise has accomplished is to prove that double-entry bookkeeping is a rational process and therefore does not involve the necessity of using irrational language.” [xv] His final paragraph is a Victorian huff:

When accountants learn to use words in their proper sense, when they learn to say asset when they mean asset, liability when they mean liability, and net capital when they mean net capital, they will be surprised to find how much higher a place their occupation will hold in public esteem.

Van Cleve won. Pacioli lost. In place of double-entry bookkeeping’s well-abstracted “irrational” language is an all-literal vernacular, formalized in Quickbooks. Gone also is what Van Cleve failed to appreciate, even if he understood it: that bookkeeping isn’t just about keeping books, or recording profits and losses. It’s about the business’s own narrative. That narrative maintains the integrity of the business itself and its connection to the world. It’s also a way to maintain the form of coherence we call sanity. We have, as they say, lost it.

This was an observation made by Dan Palanza more than three decades ago.

MAKING THE CONNECTIONS

I first met Dan Palanza in September 2010, when I was in Woods Hole with friends. One of those was Andy Maffei, a scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Andy had pulled together a small group to hear Dan share what he had learned about bookkeeping, a subject Dan had studied intensively over the last three decades. In recruiting me, Andy wrote, “Dan has convinced me that Book-keeping is actually a language that is used to describe energy transfers between two entities where there are two paired components, one physical and one intellectual. It is a way both to describe that transfer and to analyze and represent the balance inherent in such transfers.”

While Dan’s topic is book-keeping [2], his subtopics include thoughts and works by Einstein, Lewis HydeDenise Schmandt-Besserat’s history of counting and writing, four kinds of arithmetic, computing, software, linguistics, the construction business, and the financial meltdown. The list is actually much longer, but that gives you a sense of Dan’s scope. Dan’s story begins in the 1950s, when he worked at General Electric:

In those days the company had a well-refined double-entry book-keeping framework. It ran a complex manufacturing operation building steam turbines, generators and ship propulsion systems. These manufacturing operations were run by a book-keeping journal that used mimeograph business cards as control. The control cards carried production operations as shop work-orders and were returned with accounting data telling which pieceworkers completed each operation.  When the journal data was used to generate ledger reports, those reports were detailed to treat each shop foreman as an individual business within the business. The technical term for this level of book-keeping is “cost accounting.” Note that cost accounting and production operations were connected in this system, which was still the one Pacioli described. What GE also had was a network business architecture. The pieces were all functionally connected, and these connections transcended corporate hierarchy.

For many years after leaving GE, Dan didn’t give book-keeping much thought, beyond remembering with admiration how it worked. By the 1970s he had returned to his family’s construction business, and by 1979 was specializing in energy-efficient homes. The first personal computers were in the world then, so Dan decided to get an Apple II and a book-keeping program, in faith that he would find in the program the same deep cost accounting methods he had learned at GE twenty years earlier. “I assumed that book-keeping was book-keeping,” he said, “even if it was done on a PC. But it didn’t work out that way.” What Dan found was that accounting systems on early PCs were flawed:

Essential pieces were missing. There no cost-accounting, no network architecture. I saw problems not only for my own business, but for the whole financial system that would be built on top of inadequate programs like the ones I saw at the time, and on through the 1980s. Even though these were business applications, they were built to serve isolated needs: filling out checkbooks, paying taxes, putting stuff in lightweight databases and spreadsheets. None of them implemented the journal | ledger pattern, which is fundamental to a proper book-keeping framework. They skipped the journal entirely, posting transactions directly into a relational database, which was fine for doing what databases do, but what databases don’t includes double-entry book-keeping.

In 1985, when Dan’s daughter Laureen opened a small business in Falmouth, Dan decided to learn programming, and developed his own full cost-accounting system with a network business architecture. Laureen’s place became Dan’s own little General Electric. Then, after Laureen’s was sold in 1995, Dan set about re-constructing book-keeping’s universal framework of rules. Like Pacioli, Dan mission was to understand and codify the fundamentals of an applied science. Unlike Pacioli, Dan was operating in a world where the science was no longer applied. So Dan got a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation in 1998, and competed his project in 2003. He did this alone, since there was no peer group for his work, and no standing interest in what otherwise looked like an utterly mundane subject. Since then Dan has been studying Einstein, Gödel, von Neumann, Heisenberg and other Deep Dudes, making connections between their work—both finished and unfinished—and book keeping, plus three other subjects that explain why this chapter is here: the market, the Internet and the commons.

If we want the Internet’s commons to function fully as a marketplace, Dan says, we’re going to need double-entry bookkeeping. Put more simply, business will need to become sane again. We don’t need Dan to tell us business is insane now. But it might help to report that Dan saw the loss of double-entry book-keeping writ large in the dot-com and housing industry meltdowns, both of which he predicted years before they happened.

He doesn’t blame business leaders or governments for not getting it. He blames a lack of tools. Business without double-entry book-keeping is like mathematics without calculus. You still can do a lot, but you’re crippled if you want to look at—say, change. Not that Dan is a pessimist. He sees the lack of book-keeping tools as an opportunity. “If we bring back double-entry book-keeping—to business, to the commons, to the Internet, to the marketplace, and to our everyday lives—we’ll start another renaissance.”

DEMAND AND SUPPLY

The expression “supply and demand” was first coined as “demand and supply” by James Denham-Steuart in An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy, written in 1767. [xvi] In his Inquiry, Denham-Steuart says of demand, “it must constantly appear reciprocal. If I demand a pair of shoes, the shoemaker either demands money, or something else for his own use.” He goes on to describe seven qualities of demand, the sixth of which is, “The nature of demand is to encourage industry.”

In The Wealth of Nations, published nine years later, Adam Smith wrote, “The real and effectual discipline which is exercised over a workman is that of his customers. It is the fear of losing their employment which restrains his frauds and corrects his negligence.” What these two bright bulbs of the Scottish Enlightenment both illuminated—the necessity for strong connections between customers and companies—fell into darkness in the Age of Industry. As the mass market replaced the literal one, the importance of individual customers to large businesses diminished. Actual conversation between company and customer was a cost to be minimized, rather than a source of intelligence and discipline.

SO, THEN

In recent years we have seen many ways in which bridges between customers and companies can be built, some of which we reviewed back in the Asymmetrical Relations chapter. But none of these are more than partial systems. And none of them take full advantage of the Net’s nature as a commons, and as a marketplace. Which means there are many opportunities ahead of us—especially if we take a few lessons from our Italian and Scottish teachers.

Footnotes

[1] Pacioli was also the first to note Leonardo’s left-handedness. In De viribus quantitatis (Ms. Università degli Studi di Bologna, 1496–1508), Pacioli says his buddy “wrote in reverse, [his script] is left-handed and could not be read except with a mirror or by holding the back of the sheet against the light.” (Carmen C. Barnbach, “Leonardo, Left-Handed Draftsman and Writer.” Special Exhibition, Metropolitan Museum Of Art, 2003.)

[2] Dan prefers the hyphenated spelling, which is the original form, though less widely used today. So, when referring to Dan’s background, thinking and work, I use his spelling.

Endnotes

[i] John B. Geijsbeek, Ancient double-entry bookkeeping: Lucas Pacioli’s treatise  (A.D. 1494 — the earliest known writer on bookkeeping). (Denver: self-published, 1914)

[ii] Raymond De Roover, The Rise and Decline of the Medici Bank—1397-1494, 2nd Ed. (New York: Beard Books, 1999.)

[iii] Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern Europe. (London: Cambridge University Press, 1979.), 547.

[iv] Albrecht Heeffer, “Algebraic partitioning problems from Luca Paccioli’s Perugia manuscript (Vat. Lat. 3129).” Sources and Commentaries in Exact Sciences, (2010), v.11, 3–52.

[v]Carmen C. Barnbach, “Leonardo, Left-Handed Draftsman and Writer.” Special Exhibition. (New York: Metropolitan Museum Of Art, 2003.) http://www.metmuseum.org/special/Leonardo_Master_Draftsman/draftsman_left_essay.asp (Accessed June 12, 2011.)

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Eisenstein, Loc. cit. 547.

[viii] Ibid., 550.

[ix] Ibid., 549.

[x] Yuri Ihri, “The Beauty of Double-Entry Bookkeeping and its Impact on the Nature of Accounting Information,” Economic Notes, Volume 22, No. 2 (1993). Reprinted in Proceedings of the Conference Accounting and Economics: In Honour of the 500th Anniversary of the Publication of Luca Pacioli’s Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Propotionalita, Siena, 18-19 November 1992 (Garland Publishing, Inc., New Works in Accounting History by Martin Shubik, January, 1996), 266.

[xi] Ibid., 266.

[xii] Charles M. Van Cleve, Principles of Double-Entry Bookkeeping. (New York: James Kempster Printing Company, 1913)

[xiii] “Intuit Hits 50,000-member Milestoene With QuickBooks ProAdvisor Program.” Intuit, Inc., 2008. The number quoted is from NPD Group. http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=151982&nid=127645 (Accessed June 9. 2011.)

[xiv] Jim Reverend, “Quickbooks != Double Entry Accounting.” Revjim.net, April 20, 2006. http://revjim.net/2006/04/20/quickbooks-double-entry-accounting/ (Accessed June 9, 2011.)

[xv] Van Cleve., loc. cit., 204.

[xvi] James Denham-Steuart, An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy (London: Printed for A. Millar, and T. Cadell, in the Strand, 1767). Online there are three good sources: Google Books http://bit.ly/hI3oTL , McMaster University http://socserv.socsci.mcmaster.ca/~econ/ugcm/3ll3/steuart/  and Marxists.org http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/steuart  (Accessed July 19, 2010)

Bonus links from Jane Gleeson-White, who as written about this MEGO with more authority than anybody since Pacioli:

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Good news for VRM and financial transactions

FinTPTomorrow, 24 January, is code launch day for FinTP, described by its parent, Allevo, as “the first open source application for financial transactions.” The code is being released under the GPL v3 license on Github.

FinTP’s development is intended, among other things, to support VRM product and service development. This began in 2011, when Allevo folks discovered that VRM developers were collaborating with SWIFT‘s Innotribe on what would become the Digital Asset Grid (described as “a new infrastructure providing a platform for secure, authorised peer to peer data sharing between known, trusted people, businesses and devices”).

Since FinTP is open source, VRM developers — especially those dealing with financial transactions (and there are many) — should check it out and consider getting involved as well. (On my own wish list: EmanciPay.)  The FinTP community is FINkers United, and looks like this:

FinTP community

Read more at the Allevo blog.

By the way, SWIFT has an annual Startup Challenge it would be wise for VRM developers to check out — especially those dealing with banking and financial transactions.

 

 

Loose links

I’ll be flying shortly to Italy, for the State of the Net conference in Trieste later this week. (Here’s the English version, the program, the hashtag: #sotn13.) I’ll be on a couple of panels and giving a keynote on personal clouds, which are emerging as center of control for individuals doing VRM. Meanwhile, here are some links I’m accumulating around VRM topics…

Mainstream Media

Webstream Media

Tweets

BTW, while I’m glad that copying and pasting linky text from a browser window into the composing space here in WordPress mostly works, I hate the way all kinds of formatting cruft comes along with it. Normally I make the time to de-cruft out all the <div> and <span> jive, and maybe I will later today or tomorrow; but I don’t have time right now so I’ll let it stand.

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