Tag: VRM (page 2 of 7)

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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


[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.


[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:







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


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.

Life Management Platforms

Kuppinger Cole, an analyst firm headquartered in Germany, has been hip to VRM for a long time.EIC award They gave ProjectVRM an award (that’s it there on the right) at the EIC (European Identity Conference) in 2008, and have been following VRM developments closely ever since. A number of VRM developers were there again at this year’s EIC, where I gave a keynote titled “Free Customers: The New Platform”, and the topic was front and center.

In fact VRM has always been about more than relating to vendors, which is another thing Kuppinger Cole has believed as well. It’s been about personal empowerment, and better means for dealing with all kinds of organizations. There are also many more VRM developers now than there were back then, with many different labels for what they do. We have personal data stores, lockers, vaults, clouds, services and networks, for example. We also have and much activity in overlapping and adjacent development areas, such as with quantified self work, which includes self-hacking, personal informatics, self-tracking and much more.

Martin Kuppinger now throws a loop around all of these with Life Management Platforms, which is also the subject of his paper here. I like the term, and think it does a good job of encompassing both the internal (self-managing) and external (relating with others) sides of VRM.

Martin’s latest post is Intention and Attention – how Life Management Platforms can improve Marketing, in which he notes the main thrust of The Intention Economy, and adds,

Taking this view, the one of Doc Searls, and the idea of Life Management Platforms the way we at KuppingerCole have it in mind shows that this is where things become really interesting: A Life Management Platforms allows expressing your Intention. The Intention is nothing other than a vital part of where your current Attention is focused. In other words: Knowing the Intention is about knowing at least an important part of the current Attention, which is much better than trying to change the Attention. Furthermore, Life Management Platforms could provide more information about the current Attention in real-time, but in a controlled way – controlled by the individual. That allows getting even more targeted information and makes this concept extremely attractive for everybody – the vendors and the individuals.

Control by the individual is what VRM has been about since the start. What I’d like to know now is how Life Management Platforms sits with VRM developers, and others who have been following or involved with VRM from the start.


VRM was a hot topic at IIW last week, with at least one VRM or VRM-related breakout per session — and that was on top of the VRM workshop held at Ericsson on Monday, April 30, the day before IIW started. (Thanks to Nitin Shah and the Ericsson folks for making the time and space available, in a great facility.) Here’s a quick rundown from the #IIW14 wiki:

Tuesday, May 1, Session 1

Tuesday, May 1,Session 2

Tuesday, May 1, Session 3

Tuesday, May 1,Session 4

Tuesday, May 1,Session 5

Wednesday, May 2, Session 1

Wednesday, May 2,Session 2

Wednesday, May 2,Session 3

Wednesday, May 2,Session 4

Wednesday, May 2,Session 5

Thurssday, May 3,Sessions 1-5

On Friday, May 4, I also visited with Jeremie Miller, Jason Cavnar and the Locker Project / Singly team in San Francisco. Very impressed with what they’re up to as well.

Bonus IIW linkage:

Complaining vs. Buying

Q: “What’s the difference between a tweeter and a customer?”

A: “One complains, the other buys.”

Just had to write that down. The Q and the A came in the midst of a VRM conference call that also touched on CRM, VRM+CRM, sCRM, trust frameworks, identity and other stuff.

Not saying that’s a fair characterization, by the way. Just that it’s an interesting one.

Google’s Wallet and VRM

Yesterday Google opened the curtain on Google Wallet. I think it’s the most important thing Google has launched since the search engine. Here’s why:

Reason #1: We’ve always needed an electronic wallet, especially one in our mobile phone. And, although others have tried to give us one, it hasn’t worked out for them, because…

Reason #2: We’ve needed one from somebody who doesn’t also have a hand in our pocket. Google WalletGoogle is the only company in the world that can pull this off, because it’s the only company in the world that lives to commodify exactly the businesses that desperately need commodification, and to await interesting consequences. I can’t think of a single company that’s better at causing tsunamis of commodification so they can join hundreds of other companies, surfing them to new shores. List the things Google does but doesn’t make money with, and you’ll have a roster of businesses that needed commodification. What Google looks for is what JP Rangaswami and I call because effects: you make money because of those things, not with them. (Note, not talking about “monetization” here. A subtle distinction.) A Google lawyer once told me this strategy was “looking for second and third order effects.” Same thing. Either way, they’re out to give us — and retailers we do business with — a hand. (But they will need to keep it out of our pockets, which includes data we consider personal. We’re the ones to say what that is, and others — including Google, Sprint, Citi and the retailers — need to respect that.)

Reason #3: This reduces friction in a huge way. It’s not an exaggeration when Google says this on their Vision page for the project:

In the past few thousand years, the way we pay has changed just three times—from coins, to paper money, to plastic cards.

Now we’re on the brink of the next big shift.

What weighs your wallet down? What slows you down at checkout? Sometimes it’s pulling out cash, but most times it’s dealing with cards. In the last few years every store, it seems, has been piling on with loyalty cards and keyring tags. This last week Panera Bread started, and watching the results have been a clinic in business fashion gone wrong. The poor folks behind the counter are now forced to ask customers if they have a Panera bread card, and the customers have to either say no (and feel strange), or to produce one from their wallet or key ring. Yesterday I asked the person behind the counter how she liked it. “We don’t need it, and customers don’t want it,” she said. “We’re only doing it because every other store does it. That’s all.” That’s a pain in the pocket nobody needs.

Says Google,

Google Wallet has been designed for an open commerce ecosystem. It will eventually hold many if not all of the cards you keep in your leather wallet today. And because Google Wallet is a mobile app, it will be able to do more than a regular wallet ever could, like storing thousands of payment cards and Google Offers but without the bulk. Eventually your loyalty cards, gift cards, receipts, boarding passes, tickets, even your keys will be seamlessly synced to your Google Wallet. And every offer and loyalty point will be redeemed automatically with a single tap via NFC.

This assumes that the ecosystem will continue to support the kind of loyalty programs we have today. It won’t, because we won’t and that brings me to…

Reason #4: Now customers can truly relate with vendors. That is, if Google Wallet and participating retailers and other players welcome it. See, CRM — Customer Relationship Management — has thus far been almost entirely a sell-side thing. It’s how companies related with you, not how you related with them. They set the rules, they provided the cards, they put up the websites where you filled out long complicated forms, they send you the junk mail, and they do the guesswork about what you might want, usually because you’ve bought something like it before. But what if your phone has your shopping list? What if you want to advertise what you’re looking for, as a personal RFP for something you need right now, and may never need again? Think of this as advertising in reverse, or what Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) calls “Broadcast Shopping”. This is one example of how …

Reason #5: Now demand can signal supply in great detail. Until now, about the only signals we could send were with cash, cards, and whatever might percolate up the corporate CRM chain from “social” CRM. There’s a lot here (see Brian Solis’ Converation Prism, for example, or follow Paul Greenberg). But those all depended on second (vendor) or third parties (all the petals in Brian’s prism, which actually looks more like a flower). They weren’t your signals. I see no reason why the open commerce ecosystem shouldn’t include that. Why should customers always be the dependent variables and not the independent ones? Speaking of independence…

Reason #6: Now you have your own pricing gun. You can tell a store, or a whole market, what you’re willing to pay for something — or what you might offer along with payment, such as information about your other relationships, or the fact that you just moved here and are likely to be shopping at this store more. (Or that you’re a high-status frequent flyer with another airline, and considering the same for this one.) Why not?

Reason #7: You can take your shopping cart with you. Back when e-commerce began, in 1995, my wife’s sister was the VP Finance for Netscape, so that company was something like family for us, making my wife (not a technical type) an early adopter. One of her first questions back then was one that exposes a flaw that’s been in e-commerce from the start: “Why can’t I take my shopping cart from one store to another?” At least conceivably, now you can. Let’s say you want to shop at Store B while you’re at Store A. This already happens when you scan a QR or a barcode with your smartphone to see if it’s cheaper at Amazon or something. But what if you want to be more sophisticated than that? The implications for retailers can be scary, but also advantageous. After all, retailers have physical locations, which Amazon doesn’t. Retailers can earn loyalty in ways that are as unique as each store, and each person working at a store.

Reason #8: Now you can bring your own data with you. Inevitably, you will have a personal data store, vault, lockerdata wallet (yes, it’s already called that), trust framework — or other combination of means for managing and selectively sharing that data in secure, trustworthy and auditable ways. And your data doesn’t just have to be about shopping. Personal tracking and informatics are getting big now (read Quantified Self for more). That’s stuff we bring to the market’s table as well. The wallet in one’s phone seems a good way.

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

Reason #10: Now you’re in a free and open marketplace. Not just the space contained by any store’s exclusive loyalty system. Nor in a “free” market that’s “your choice of captor” (which is one of the purposes of loyalty programs).  Along those same lines…

Reason #11: You don’t have to play calf to every store and website’s cow. The reason you can’t take your shopping cart with you from store to store on the Web is that e-commerce normalized from the start on the calf-cow, slave-master architecture of client-server computing. This is what turned the Web from a peer-to-peer, end-to-end egalitarian greenfield into fenced-off ranchland where vendors built walled gardens for “consumers” who fed on the milk of each site’s exclusive offerings, and also got cookies that helped calf and cow remember each other, but which sometimes also tracked the calves as they wandered off into other gardens. It was a submissive/dominant system from the get-go, and has been flawed for exactly that reason ever since. Google Wallet, at least conceptually, gives you ways in which you can relate to anybody or anything, on your terms and not just theirs. And not just in the old commercial-Web-based calf-cow system. You can divine the bovine right in your pocket, and avoid or correct vendors trying to feed you tainted milk or tracking cookies.

I could go on, but I have a book to write and not much time left. But I consider Google Wallet a move of profound importance, even if it doesn’t work out, so I’m putting this list out there for us to correct, debate or whatever else we need to do . At the very least Google Wallet gives us one thing a BigCo is doing that can mesh well with what the VRM development community has been working on for the last few years. I hope the synergies will get everybody excited.

[Later, in August…] Some additional news:

Stay tuned.

Prepping for IIW

IIWCode talks, talk walksCraig Burton just said in a phone conversation about IIW #12, which is coming up in Mountain View in the first week of May: the week after next. I like the spirit of that statement. Lots of VRM and related development efforts will be present there. Same goes for lots of APIs, and opportunities to improve them and hook them together. So we should see some good hacking done there and shown off as well.

Toward the API side of that, Craig points us to Punctuated Equilibrium, Celestial Navigation, and APIs, a slide deck by Sam Ramji (@sramji), Dan Jacobson (@daniel_jacobson) and Michael Hart (@michaelhart). Sam and Michael are both at Apigee . Michael worked on the Netflix API. And Dan came to Netflix after doing great work on NPR’s excellent API.  Sam gave a great talk along the same lines a few weeks back at Kynetx’ Impact 2011 conference. (Photos start here. My own slides are here.) I hope one or more of those guys can come down, show off what they’re doing and help us out.

I know there will be other newcomers to IIW, though I don’t want to say who yet. (Let’s let that be a pleasant surprise.) What I know is that they’ll bring work they’re doing, and expect to contribute and not just to hang out and talk about stuff. Obviously, we need to talk. In fact, IIW is home to more productive talking than I’ve ever heard at any other conference of any kind, thanks to its open space-sytle format, and Kaliya Hamlin‘s expert facilitation. (Speaking of which, here’s Kaliya’s post about possible IIW topics.)

IIW has been focused on identity for the duration (that’s been its middle name). Identity is still a big issue — maybe bigger than ever — but the contexts have been changing, especially around a core VRM concern: growing independence and capacity for action and interaction by individuals, especially in respect to data we each either gather for ourselves or share with others. This is what the Personal Data Ecosystem (of which VRM plays a role) is all about. On deck at IIW will be many approaches, technologies, protocols and other other developments toward personal data control and sharing. To visit a few, check the last two links.

Craig suggests that the growing connections between individuals and institutions (corporate or otherwise), especially through APIs, constitutes a new form of infrastructure. And, like me, he thinks that infrastructure itself needs to be visited as a topic, since we’ll be making more and more of it ourselves, and in cooperation with others. So, that’s a topic too.

Personally, I think we’re at the end of the Web 2.0 era and at the start of something less numeral and far more profound. Louis Gray calls it the Third Wave of the Web: one that’s uniquely personal. I agree. From the corporate side, this looks like personalization. But that’s not enough. In fact, personalization without personal independence is just more of the same, but with a smaller bull’s eye. We need to be the same independent, sovereign, autonomous human beings on the Net that we are in the physical world. I wrote about the problem with the current (mostly corporate and silo’d) social media matrix in A Sense of Bewronging.

What I say there, and have said many times before, is that we’re nearing the end of a bubble period, especially around “social” you-name-it, and its defaulted business model: advertising. I spoke about this a bit at the IAB (Internet Advertising Board) Annual Leadership meeting in Palm Springs, on February 28. The show’s theme was “The People vs. Data”, and I was joined in conversation on stage with John Battelle (at his invitation, good man). The title of the meeting (with >1000 attending, and in the room) was “Data, Privacy and Control — Unpacking the Role of the Consumer in the Media and Marketing Ecosystem.” John and I had some interesting back-and-forths on our blogs (see here), and carried the same exchange forward in front of many hundreds of folks in the very hot online advertising business. A short video hunk of the conversation is here on YouTube. I have other notes, which I’ll put up after I get back from my current trip. Meanwhile, many open tabs need to be closed, so here is a rundown, in no particular order:

I’ll add more later in two new posts, one about a VRM vertical, the other about a VRM horizontal. The vertical is health care. The horizontal is legal (because it cuts across everything). I suppose identity does too, but we just covered that.

Volunteer some below as well.

Stuff going on

Loose beginnings:

  • Yesterday Thomas Ruddy, who lives in Switzerland and words for the government there, gave me a variant on the old “On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog” line. It was this: “On the Internet, every vendor knows you’re a dog.” And treats you like one, because that’s the way the system is rigged. He’s working with colleagues to un-rig it by developing an open source protocol for relations between personal data stores (aka safes and vaults) and other entities — in which the individual holds the keys what is theirs. Watch that last link (and where it re-directs) for more developments.
  • @xmlgrrl Eve Maler tweets, “Interesting. Crowdmap:CI is exploring non-social and selectively-shared checkin use cases. http://is.gd/k1GcP #VRM #UMACrowdmap is a non-commercial alternative of sorts to Foursquare and other familiar location-based ‘checkin’ systems. (“Checkins with a purpose”, sez here.) It’s from folks behind Ushahidi, which does good in the world.
  • Marketing can do better, says Parable of Kristian (Cruz), citing VRM, which is called “a giant leap towards building an economy where organizations listen up–instead of shout down.”
  • Along those same lines, Valeria Maltoni lists VRM among Three Important Business Conversations in 2010 You May Have Missed, pointing to the post here titled Where Markets Are Not Conversations. That post in particular contains a good summary of the privacy-insulting presumptions of business-as-usual.
  • Nicolas Shriver says “Somehow, Groupon is using Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) to have a better conversion rate for their offer, by letting users pick which offers they are interested in.” Nothing Groupon does looks like VRM to me, but it’s an interesting reference in any case.
  • In The Revival of Peer-to-Peer, Oliver Amprimo writes, “Vendor Relationship Management & Federated Social Web initiatives by Markus Sabadello / @versionvega are useful attempts to push the 2.0 logic further:http://bit.ly/dJjP3q. They are part of a growing movement that has a strong attention to Identity Management with ethics and personal responsibility in mind. For this purpose, they revive the decentralized / federated approaches made popular by Peer-to-Peer (P2P) before the web 2.0 rise and glory. P2P was killed by the music & media industry for the wrong reasons: comfort and refuse to reinvent itself. Web 2.0 remained centralised, transforming consumers as authors, but not owners. This opened doors to appropriation of personal data by Corporations, which found here new avenues for making profits. But this has not closed in no way the gap between Physical & Digital in terms of individual responsibility. Instead, this generated the privacy issue. So, no matter what was said 10 yrs ago to kill it, see how this revival of P2P is to bring responsibility and ethics on the Digital side of our lives.”
  • In Redefining Customer Experience: CRM, VRM and “Disruptive Technologies”, Michael Hinshaw writes, “If we look at CRM as the corporate view of customer relationships, and VRM as the customer view of their corporate relationships, the real promise of “customer experience” as a strategic discipline comes into focus: Straddle these two perspectives and embrace the tools they enable to leverage disruptive innovation in ways that benefit everyone.”
  • Inspirited Enterprise quotes Alan Mitchell‘s The Customer is not King:

    A tectonic shift
    But today that’s changing and we can look at the world through a different lens – that of the decision-maker (the person) rather than that of the decision-influencer (the seller). Once you do this it quickly becomes apparent that this meta-need – to make (and implement) better decisions – is bigger than all other needs (for chocolates, for cars, for current accounts etc) because it embraces them all, subsuming them into the bigger task of achieving what the person (not the seller) wants to achieve.

    Person- or buyer-centric services then, sit on the side of the individual, helping the individual achieve what the individual wants to achieve, including managing relationships with many different suppliers more efficiently and more effectively (VRM, or Vendor Relationship Management). The central questions here are, What challenges does the person face when doing this? How to do it better?

    The difference between now and say, twenty years ago, is that twenty years ago this person-centric perspective was operationally irrelevant. You couldn’t do anything practical to help people address these challenges. When marketers said ‘the customer is king’, it was just a disguised way of saying ‘the organisation is king’.

    Now, however, as information becomes a tool in the hands of the individual, that’s changing. The organisational king is being deposed. This is not about superficial changes in ‘how to achieve the same old marketing goals better’. For example, it’s got nothing to do with arguments about whether it’s easier, cheaper or better to get marketing messages across via social media or mass advertising. It’s a deep, structural, tectonic, remorseless and comprehensive transformation in the relationship between individuals and organisations.

    And if you keep on looking in the customer mirror, you simply won’t see it coming.

And I’ll leave those as the last words (or the first) for now.

Do we have to “trade off” privacy?

Look up privacy trade-offs and you’ll get more than 150,000,000 results. The assumption in many of those is that privacy is something one can (and often should) trade away. Also that privacy trading is mostly done with marketers and advertisers, the most energetic of which take advantage of social media such as and .

I don’t think this has to be so.

One example of a trade-off story is this one on public radio’s Marketplace program, which I heard this evening. It begins with the case of Shea Sylvia, a FourSquare user who got creeped out by an unwelcome call from a follower who knew her location. Marketplace’s Sally Herships says,

There are millions of Sylvias out there, giving away their private information for social reasons. More and more, they’re also trading it in for financial benefits, like coupons and discounts. Social shopping websites like Blippy and Swipely let shoppers post about what they buy. But first they turn over the logins to their e-mail accounts or their credit card numbers, so their purchases can be tracked online.

Later, there’s this (the voice is Herships again):

Alessandro Acquisti researches the economics of privacy at Carnegie Mellon, and he says the value we put on privacy can easily shift. In other words, if giving away your credit card information or even your location in return for a discount or a deal seems normal, it must be OK.

ALESSANDRO ACQUISTI: Five years ago, if someone told you that there’d be lots of people going online to show, to share with strangers their credit card purchases, you probably would have been surprised, you probably would thought, “No, I can’t believe this. I wouldn’t have believed this.”

But Acquisti says, when new technologies are presented as the norm, people accept them that way. Like social shopping websites.

HERSHIPS: So the more we use sites like Blippy, the more we’ll use sites like Blippy?

ACQUISTI: Or Blippy 2.0.

Which Acquisti says will probably be even more invasive, because as time passes, we’re going to care less and less about privacy.

Back in Kansas City Shea Sylvia is feeling both better and worse. She thinks the phone call she got that night at the restaurant was probably a prank. But it was a wake up call.

What we’re dealing with here is an evanescent norm. A fashion. A craze. I’ve indulged in it myself with FourSquare, and at one point was the “mayor” of ten different places, including the #77 bus on Mass Ave in Cambridge. (In fact, I created that location.) Gradually I came to believe that it wasn’t worth the hassle of “checking in” all over the place, and was worth nothing to know Sally was at the airport, or Bill was teaching a class, or Mary was bored waiting in some check-out line, much as I might like all those people. The only time FourSquare came in handy was when a friend intercepted me on my way out of a stop in downtown Boston, and even then it felt strange.

The idea, I am sure, is that FourSquare comes to serve as a huge central clearing house for contacts between companies selling stuff and potential buyers (that’s you and me) wandering about the world. But is knowing that a near-infinite number of sellers can zero in on you at any time a Good Thing? And is the assumption that we’re out there buying stuff all the time not so wrong as to be insane?

Remember that we’re the product being sold to advertisers. The fact that our friends may be helping us out might be cool, but is that the ideal way to route our demand to supply? Or is it just one that’s fun at the moment but in the long term will produce a few hits but a lot of misses—some of which might be very personal, as was the case with Shea Silvia? (Of course I might be wrong about both assumptions. What I’m right about is that FourSquare’s business model will be based on what they get from sellers, not from you or me.)

The issue here isn’t how much our privacy is worth to the advertising mills of the world, or to intermediaries like FourSquare. It’s how we maintain and control our privacy, which is essentially priceless—even if millions of us give it away for trinkets or less. Privacy is deeply tied with who we are as human beings in the world. To be fully human is to be in control of one’s self, including the spaces we occupy.

An excellent summary of our current privacy challenge is this report by Joy L. Pitts (developed as part of health sciences policy development process at the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences). It sets context with these two quotes:

“The makers of the Constitution conferred the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by all civilized men—the right to be let alone.”

—Justice Louis Brandeis (1928)

“You already have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”

—Scott McNealy, Chairman and CEO of Sun Microsystems (1999)

And, in the midst of a long, thoughtful and well-developed case, it says this (I’ve dropped the footnotes, which are many):

Privacy has deep historical roots. References to a private domain, the private or domestic sphere of family, as distinct from the public sphere, have existed since the days of ancient Greece.  Indeed, the English words “private” and “privacy” are derived from the Latin privatus, meaning “restricted to the use of a particular person; peculiar to oneself, one who holds no public office.” Systematic evaluations of the concept of privacy, however, are often said to have begun with the 1890 Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis article, “The Right of Privacy,” in which the authors examined the law’s effectiveness in protecting privacy against the invasiveness of new technology and business practices (photography, other mechanical devices and newspaper enterprises). The authors, perhaps presciently, expressed concern that modern innovations had “invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and . . . threatened to make good the prediction that ‘what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.’” They equated the right of privacy with “the right to be let alone” from these outside intrusions.

Since then, the scholarly literature prescribing ideal definitions of privacy has been “extensive and inconclusive.” While many different models of privacy have been developed, they generally incorporate concepts of:

  • Solitude (being alone)
  • Seclusion (having limited contact with others)
  • Anonymity (being in a group or in public, but not having one’s name or identity known to others; not being the subject of others’ attention)
  • Secrecy or reserve (information being withheld or inaccessible to others)

In essence, privacy has to do with having or being in one’s own space.

Some describe privacy as a state or sphere where others do not have access to a person, their information, or their identity. Others focus on the ability of an individual to control who may have access to or intrude on that sphere. Alan Westin, for example, considered by some to be the “father” of contemporary privacy thought, defines privacy as “the claim of individuals, groups or institutions to determine for themselves when, how and to what extent information about them is communicated to others.” Privacy can also be seen as encompassing an individual’s right to control the quality of information they share with others.

In the context of personal information, concepts of privacy are closely intertwined with those of confidentiality and security. Privacy addresses “the question of what personal information should be collected or stored at all for a given function.” In contrast, confidentiality addresses the issue of how personal data that has been collected for one approved purpose may be held and used by the organization that collected it, what other secondary or further uses may be made of it, and when the permission of the individual is required for such uses.Unauthorized or inadvertent disclosures of data are breaches of confidentiality. Informational security is the administrative and technological infrastructure that limits unauthorized access to information. When someone hacks into a computer system, there is a breach of security (and also potentially, a breach of confidentiality). In common parlance, the term privacy is often used to encompass all three of these concepts.

Take any one of these meanings, or understandings, and be assured that it is ignored or violated in practice by large parts of today’s online advertising business—for one simple reason (I got from long ago): Individuals have no independent status on the Web. Instead we have dependent status. Our relationships (and we have many) are all defined by the entities with which we choose to relate via the Web. All those dependencies are silo’d in the systems of sellers, schools, churches, government agencies, social media, associations, whatever. You name it. You have to deal with all of them separately, on their terms, and in their spaces. Those spaces are not your spaces. (Even if they’re in a place called . Isn’t it weird to have somebody else using the first person possessive pronoun for you? It will be interesting to see how retro that will seem after it goes out of fashion.)

What I’m saying here is that, on the Web, we do all our privacy-trading in contexts that are not out in the open marketplace, much less in our own private spaces (by any of the above definitions). They’re all in closed private spaces owned by the other party—where none of the rules, none of the terms of engagement, are yours. In other words, these places can’t be private, in the sense that you control them. You don’t. And in nearly all cases (at least here in the U.S.), your “agreements” with these silos are contracts of adhesion that you can’t break or change, but the other party can—and often does.

These contexts have been so normative, for so long, that we can hardly imagine anything else, even though we have that “else” out here in the physical world. We live and sleep and travel and get along in the physical world with a well-developed understanding of what’s mine, what’s yours, what’s ours, and what’s none of those. That’s because we have an equally well-developed understanding of bounded spaces. These differ by culture. In her wonderful book , Polly Platt writes about how French —comfortable distances from others—are smaller than those of Americans. The French feel more comfortable getting close, and bump into each other more in streets, while Americans tend to want more personal space, and spread out far more when they sit. Whether she’s right about that or not, we actually have personal spaces on Earth. We don’t on the Web, and in Web’d spaces provided by others. (The Net includes more than the Web, but let’s not get into that here. The Web is big enough.)

So one reason that privacy trading is so normative is that dependency requires it. We have to trade it, if that’s what the sites we use want, regardless of how they use whatever we trade away.

The only way we can get past this problem (and it is a very real one) is to create personal spaces on the Web. Ones that we own and control. Ones where we set the terms of engagement. Ones where we decide what’s private and what’s not.

In the VRM development community we have a number of different projects and companies working on exactly this challenge.  is pure open source and has a self-explanatory name. Others (, and others) are open in many ways as well, and are working together to create (or put to use) common code, standards, protocols, terminologies and other conventions on which all of us can build privacy-supporting solutions. You’ll find links to some of the people involved in those efforts (among others) in Personal Data Stores, Exchanges, and Applications, a new post by  (of Switchbook). There’s also the One example is the and at . (For more context on that, check out Iain Henderson’s unpacking of the .) There’s also our own work at ProjectVRM and , which has lately centered on developing -like legal tools for both individuals and companies.  What matters most here is that a bunch of good developers are working on creating spaces online that are as natural, human, personal—and under personal control—as the ones we enjoy offline.

Once we have those, the need for privacy trade-offs won’t end. But they will begin to make the same kind of down-to-Earth sense they do in the physical world. And that will be a huge leap forward.

Older posts Newer posts

© 2018 ProjectVRM

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑