Category: EmanciPay (page 1 of 4)

A citizen-sovereign way to pay for news—or for any creative work

The Aspen Institute just published a 180-page report by the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy titled  (in all caps) CRISIS IN DEMOCRACY: RENEWING TRUST IN AMERICA. Its Call to Action concludes,
This is good. Real good.  Having  Aspen and Knight endorse personal sovereignty as a necessity for solving the crises of democracy and trust also means they endorse what we’ve been pushing forward here for more than a dozen years.

Since the report says (under Innovation, on page 73) we need to “use technology to enhance journalism’s roles in fostering democracy,” and that “news companies need to embrace technology to support their mission and achieve sustainability,” it should help to bring up the innovation we proposed in an application for a Knight News Challenge grant in 2011. This innovation was, and still is, called EmanciPay. It’s a citizen-sovereign way to pay for news, plus all forms of creative production where there is both demand and failing or absent sources of funding.

We have not only needed this for a long time, but it is for lack of it (or of any original and market-based approach to paying for creative work) that the EU is poised to further break our one Internet into four or more parts and destroy the open Web that has done so much to bring the world together and generate near-boundless forms of new wealth and productivity. The EU’s hammer for breaking the open Web is the EU Copyright Directive,  which has been under consideration and undergoing steady revision since 2016. Cory Doctorow, writing for the EFF, says The Final Version of the EU’s Copyright Directive Is the Worst One Yet. One offense (among too many to list here):

Under the final text, any online community, platform or service that has existed for three or more years, or is making €10,000,001/year or more, is responsible for ensuring that no user ever posts anything that infringes copyright, even momentarily. This is impossible, and the closest any service can come to it is spending hundreds of millions of euros to develop automated copyright filters. Those filters will subject all communications of every European to interception and arbitrary censorship if a black-box algorithm decides their text, pictures, sounds or videos are a match for a known copyrighted work. They are a gift to fraudsters and criminals, to say nothing of censors, both government and private.

There are much better ways of getting the supply and demand sides of creative markets together. EmanciPay is one of them, and deserves another airing.

Perhaps now that Knight and Aspen are cheering the citizen-sovereign bandwagon, it’s worth open-sourcing our original EmanciPay proposal.

So here it is, copied and pasted out of the last draft before we submitted it. Since much has changed since then (other than the original idea, which is the same as ever only more timely), I’ve added a bunch of notes at the end, and a call for action. Before reading it, please note two things: 1) we are not asking for money now (we were then, but not now); and 2) while this proposal addresses the challenge of paying for news, it applies much more broadly to all creative work.

10:00pm Monday 31 January 2011

Project Title:

EmanciPay: a user-driven system for generating revenue and managing relationships

Requested amount from Knight News Challenge

$325,000

Describe your project:

EmanciPay is the first user-driven payment system for news and information media. It is also the first system by which the consumers of media can create and participate in relationships with media — and the first system to reform the legal means by which those relationships are created and sustained.

With EmanciPay, users can easily choose to pay whatever they like, whenever they like, however they like — on their own terms and not just those controlled by the media’s supply side. EmanciPay will also provide means for building genuine two-way relationships, rather than relationships defined by each organization’s subscription and membership systems. As with Creative Commons, terms will be expressed in text and symbols that can be read easily by both software and people.

While there is no limit to payment choice options with EmanciPay, we plan to test these one at a time. The first planned trials are with Tipsy, which is being developed in alongside EmanciPay, and which also has a Knight News Challenge application. The two efforts are cooperative and coordinated.

EmanciPay belongs to a growing family of VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) tools. Both EmanciPay and VRM grew out of work in ProjectVRM, which I launched in 2006, at the start of my fellowship with Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. In the past four years the VRM development community has grown internationally and today involves many allied noncommercial and commercial efforts. Here is the current list of VRM development projects.

How will your project improve the delivery of news and information to geographic communities?:

Two ways.

First is with a new business model. Incumbent local and regional media currently have three business models: paid delivery (subscriptions and newsstand sales), advertising, and (in the case of noncommercial media) appeals for support. All of these have well-known problems and limitations. They are also controlled in a top-down way by media organizations. By reducing friction and lowering the threshold of payment, EmanciPay will raise the number of customers while also providing direct and useful intelligence about the size and nature of demand. This supports geographic customisation of news and information goods.

Second is by providing ways for both individuals and news organizations to create and sustain relationships that go beyond “membership” (which in too many cases means little more than “we gave money”). EmanciPay will also help consumers of news participate in the news development process. Because EmanciPay is based on open source code and open standards, it can be widely adopted and adapted to meet local needs. CRM (customer relationship management) software companies, many of which supply CRM systems to media organizations, are also awaiting VRM developments. (The cover and much of this CRM Magazine are devoted to VRM.)

What unmet need does your proposal answer?:

EmanciPay meets the need for maximum freedom and flexibility in paying for news and information, and for a media business model that does not depend only on advertising, membership systems, large donors or government grants. (This last one is of special interest at a time when cutting government funding of public broadcasting is a campaign pledge by many freshly elected members of Congress.)

Right now most news and information is free of charge on the Web, even when the same goods are sold on newsstands or through cable TV subscriptions. This fact, plus cumbersome and widely varied membership, pledging and payment systems, serves to discourage payment by media users. Even the membership systems of public broadcasting stations exclude vast numbers of people who would contribute “if it was easy”. EmanciPay overcomes these problems by making it easy for consumers of news to become customers of news. It also allows users to initiate real and productive relationships with news organizations, whether or not they pay those organizations.

How is your idea new?:

Equipping individuals with their own tools for choosing what and how to pay, and for creating and maintaining relationships, is a new idea. Nearly all other sustainability ideas involve creating new intermediators or working on improving services on the supply side.

Tying sustainability to meaningful relationships (rather than just “membership” is also new). So is creating means by which individuals can assert their own “terms of service” — and match those terms with those on the supply side.

EmanciPay is also new in the scope of its ambition. Beyond creating a large new source of revenues, and scaffolding meaningful relationships between supply and demand, EmanciPay intends to remove legal frictions from the marketplace as well. What lawyers call contracts of adhesion (ones in which the dominant party is free to change what they please while the submissive party is nailed to whatever the dominant party dictates) have been pro forma on the Web since the invention of the cookie in 1995. EmanciPay is the first and only system intended to obsolete and replace these onerous “agreements” (which really aren’t).

Once in place and working, EmanciPay’s effects should exceed even those of Creative Commons, because EmanciPay addresses the demand as well as the supply side of the marketplace. And, like Creative Commons, EmanciPay does not require changes in standing law.

Finally, EmanciPay is new in the sense that it is not centralized, and does not require an intermediary. As with email (the protocols of which are open and decentralized, by design), EmanciPay supports both self-hosting and hosting in “the cloud.” It is also both low-level and flexible enough to provide base-level building material for any number of new businesses and services.

What will you have changed by the end of the project?:

First, we will have changed the habits and methods by which people pay for the media goods they receive, starting with news and information.

Second, we will have introduced relationship systems that are not controlled by the media, but driven instead by the individuals who are each at the centers of their own relationships with many different entities. Thus relationships will be user-driven and not just organization-driven.

Third, we will have created a new legal framework for agreements between buyers and sellers on the Web and in the networked world, eliminating many of the legal frictions involved in today’s e-commerce systems.

Fourth, we will have introduced to the world an intention economy, based on the actual intentions of buyers, rather than on guesswork by sellers about what customers might buy. (The latter is the familiar “attention economy” of advertising and promotion.)

Why are you the right person or team to complete this project?:

I know how to get ideas and code moving in the world. I’ve done that while running ProjectVRM for the last four years. As of today VRM tools are being developed in many places, by many programmers, in both commercial and noncommercial capacities, around the world, Those places include BostonLondonJohannesburgDubuqueSantiagoBelfastSalt Lake CitySanta BarbaraVienna, and Seattle. Much of this work has also been advanced at twice-yearly IIW (Internet Identity Workshop) events, which I co-founded in 2005 and continue to help organize.

As Senior Editor of Linux Journal, I’ve been covering open source code development since 1996, contributing to its understanding and widespread adoption. For that and related work, I received a Google-O’Reilly Open Source Award for “Best Communicator” in 2005.

I helped reform both markets and marketing as a co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, a business bestseller in 2000 that has since become part of the marketing canon. (As of today, Cluetrain is cited by more than 5300 other books.) I also coined Cluetrain’s most-quoted line, “Markets are conversations.”

I helped popularize blogging, a subject to which I have been contributing original thinking and writing since 1999. I also have more than 12,000 followers on Twitter.

EmanciPay is also my idea, and one I have been working on for some time. This includes collaboration with PRX and other members of the public radio community on ListenLog (the brainchild of Keith Hopper at NPR), which can be found today on the Public Radio Player, an iPhone app that has been downloaded more than 2 million times. I am also working on EmanciPay with students at MIT/CSAIL and Kings College London. The MIT/CSAIL collaboration is led by David Karger of the MIT faculty, and ties in with work he and students are doing with Haystack and Tipsy.

I’ve also contributed to other VRM development efforts — on identity and trust frameworks, on privacy assurance, on selective disclosure of personal data, and on personal data stores (PDSes), all of which will help support EmanciPay as it is deployed.

What terms best describe your project?:

Bold, original, practical, innovative and likely to succeed.

What tasks/benchmarks need to be accomplished to develop your project and by when will you complete them? (500 words)

1) Engaging of programmers at MIT and other institutions within two months.

2) Establishment of Customer Commons (similar to Creative Commons) within two months.

3) Getting EmanciPay into clinical law case study by classes at law schools, one semester after the grant money arrives.

4) Beta-level code within six months.

5) Recruitment of first-round participating media entities (journals, sites, blogs, broadcast stations — completed within six months.

6) Relationships established with PayPal, Google Checkout and other payment intermediators within six months.

7) Tipsy trials within three months after beta-level code is ready.

8) Full EmanciPay trials within six months after beta-level code is ready.

9) Research protocols completed by the time beta code is ready.

How will you measure progress?: (500 words)

1) Involvement in open source code development by programmers other than those already paid or engaged (for example, as students) for the work

2) Completion of code

3) Deployment in target software and devices

4) Cooperation by allied development .orgs and .coms

5) Adoption and use by individuals

6) Direct financial benefit for news organizations.

All are measurable. We can count programmers working on code bases, as well as patches and lines of code submitted and added. We can see completed code in downloadable and installable form in the appropriate places. We can see and document cooperation by organizations. We can count downloads and monitor activities by users (with their permission). And we can see measurable financial benefits to news and information organizations. Researching each of these will be part of the project. For example, we will need to provide on our website, or directly, descriptions of accounting methods for the organizations that will benefit directly from individual contributions.

Do you see any risk in the development of your project?: (500 words)

EmanciPay is likely to be seen as disruptive by organizations that are highly vested in existing forms of funding. One example is public broadcasting, which has relied on fund drives for decades.

There is also a fear that EmanciPay will raise the number of contributors while lowering the overall funding dollar amount spent by contributors. I don’t expect that to happen. What I do expect is for the market to decide — and for EmanciPay to provide the means. Fortunately, EmanciPay also provides means for non-monetary relationships to grow as well, which will raise the perception of value by users and customers, and the likelihood that more users will become customers.

How will people learn about what you are doing?: (500 words) remaining

We will blog about it, talk about it at conferences, tweet about it, and use every other personal and social medium to spread the word. And we will use traditional media relations as well — which shouldn’t be too hard, since we will be working to bring more income to those media.

We have a good story about an important cause. I’m good at communicating and driving stories forward, and I and have no doubt that the effort will succeed.

Is this a one-time experiment or do you think it will continue after the grant?: (500 words)

EmanciPay will continue after the grant because it will become institutionalized within the fabric of the economy, as will its allied efforts.

In addition to the Knight News Challenge, does your project rely on other revenue sources? (Choose all that apply):

[ ] Advertising
[ ] Paid Subscriptions
[ x ] Crowd-Funded
[ ] Earned Income
[ ] Syndication
[ ] Other

Here’s what happened after that.

  1. Customer Commons was incorporated as a California-based 501(3)(c) nonprofit shortly after this was submitted.  (It is also currently cited in this CNN story  and this one by Fox News.) Almost entirely bootstrapped, Customer Commons has established itself as a Creative Commons-like place where model personal privacy policies and terms of engagement that individuals proffer as first parties can live. Those terms are among a number of other tools for exercising citizen sovereign powers. “CuCo” also plans, immodestly, to be a worldwide membership organization, comprised entirely of customers (possible slogan: “We’re the hundred percent”). In that capacity, it will hold events, publish, develop customer-side code that’s good for both customers and businesses (e.g. a shopping cart of your own that you can take from site to site), and lobby for policies that respect the natural sovereignty and power of customers in the digital world. After years of prep, and not much asking, Customer Commons is at last ready to accept funding, and to start scaling up. If you have money to invest in grass roots citizen-sovereign work, that’s a good place to do it.
  2. Commercial publishers, including nearly all the world’s websites (or so it seems) became deeply dependent on adtech—tracking based advertising—for income. (I reviewed that history here in 2015.) We’ve been fighting that. So have governments. Both the GDPR in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act were called to existence by privacy abuses funded by adtech. (Seriously, without adtech, those laws wouldn’t have happened.)
  3. The current VRM developments list is a large and growing one. So is our list of participants.
  4. Some of the allied projects mentioned in the proposal are gone or have morphed. But some are still there, and there are many other potential collaborators.
  5. Fintech has become a thing, along with blockchain, distributed ledgers and other person-driven solutions to the problem of excessive centralization.
  6. The word cluetrain is now mentioned in more than 13,000 books. And, twenty years since it was first uttered, cluetrain is also tweeted almost constantly.
  7. I am now editor-in-chief of Linux Journal, the first publication ready  to accept terms proffered by readers, starting with a Customer Commons one dubbed #NoStalking.

That list could go on, but it’s not what matters.

What matters is that EmanciPay was a great idea when we proposed it in the first place, and a better idea now. With the right backing, it can scale.

If you want to solve the problem of paying for news (or all of journalism), there is not a more democratic, fair, trust-causing and potentially massive idea on the table, for doing exactly that, than EmanciPay. Nor one better potentiated to address lots of other problems and  goals laid out in that Knight Commission report. One example: An immodest proposal for the music industry.

If you’re interested, talk to me.

Customertech Will Turn the Online Marketplace Into a Marvel-Like Universe in Which All of Us are Enhanced

enhanced-by-customertech

We’ve been thinking too small.

Specifically, we’ve been thinking about data as if it ought to be something big, when it’s just bits.

Your life in the networked world is no more about data than your body is about cells.

What matters most to us online is agency, not data. Agency is the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power (Merriam-Webster).

Nearly all the world’s martech and adtech assumes we have no more agency in the marketplace than marketing provides us, which is kind of the way ranchers look at cattle. That’s why bad marketers assume, without irony, that it’s their sole responsibility to provide us with an “experience” on our “journey” down what they call a “funnel.”

What can we do as humans online that isn’t a grace of Apple, Amazon, Facebook or Google?

Marshall McLuhan says every new technology is “an extension of ourselves.” Another of his tenets is “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” Thus Customertech—tools for customers—will inevitably enlarge our agency and change us in the process.

For example, with customertech, we can—

Compared to what we have in the offline world, these are superpowers. When customertech gives us these superpowers, the marketplace will become a Marvel-like universe filled with enhanced individuals. Trust me: this will be just as good for business as it will be for each of us.

We can’t get there if all we’re thinking about is data.

By the way, I made this same case to Mozilla in December 2015, on the last day I consulted the company that year. I did it through a talk called Giving Users Superpowers at an all-hands event called Mozlando. I don’t normally use slides, but this time I did, leveraging the very slides Mozilla keynoters showed earlier, which I shot with my phone from the audience. Download the slide deck here, and be sure to view it with the speaker’s notes showing. The advice I give in it is still good.

BTW, a big HT to @SeanBohan for the Superpowers angle, starting with the title (which he gave me) for the Mozlando talk.

 

 

We’re done with Phase One

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

maif-vrm

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

sean-vrm

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

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

cupfu1hxeaa4thh

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

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

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

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

not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

Bad PR is when even your friends turn on you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus links:

Let’s scale #intentcasting

seesawScale for customers means being able to issue signals to whole markets in one move.

Imagine, for example, calling for a ride, and getting it from whatever service might be listening. Could be Uber, Lyft, a car service, a taxi company or a private individual. You should be able to do this anonymously until you’re ready to do business, and then disclose just what the other party needs to know.

Imagine being able to change your address, phone number or last name with all the companies you deal with, again in one move.

This is do-able. But it can’t be done unless it is approached from the customers’ side. This customer-side approach defines VRM.

Toward that, there is lots of development work going on. On the ProjectVRM wiki we list many dozens of development projects, including  22 startups in the Intelligent Personal Assistant and intentcasting categories (“†” signifies a commercial effort):

Intelligent Personal Assistants

  • iNeed † “Your own personal assistant.”
  • MyWave † “‘Frank’ puts the customer in control of “getting personalised experiences anytime, anywhere, on any device.”

Intentcasting

Note: Intelligent Personal Assistants, above, by nature also do intentcasting.

  • About2Buy † “A Collaborative Commerce System to Align Internet Buyers & Sellers Via Multiple Channels of Social Distribution.”
  • Crowdspending † “… gives each of us the power of all of us.”
  • GetHuman † “Need to contact a company? Or have them call you? Get customer service faster and easier.”
  • Greentoe † “Finally…There’s a New Way to Shop! Name Your Price & We Negotiate For You.”
  • HireRush † “Connecting people who are looking for work and locals who need to hire trusted professionals.”
  • HomeAdvisor † “We help you find trusted home improvement pros.”
  • Indie Dash Button “This … turns traditional advertising on its head, and removes the need for complicated targeting technology. Customers readily identify themselves, creating more valuable sales channels where guesswork is all but eliminated.”
  • Intently † “Request any service anywhere with Intently.co.”
  • Instacart † “The best way to shop for groceries — Delivered from the stores you love in one hour”
  • Magic † “Text this phone number to get whatever you want on demand with no hassle…”
  • Mesh † “Connect with only the things you love… See ads from brands that matter to you. And block the ones that don’t.”
  • MyTime † “Book appointments for anything.”
  • Nifti † – Intentcasting “puts” in the market at customer (or community-) -chosen prices
  • Pikaba † “Pikaba is Social Shopping Platform that captures consumer intent to purchase and connects them with the right local business.”
  • PricePatrol † “monitors nearby stores for what you want at the price you want”
  • RedBeacon † “Trusted pros for a better home.”
  • TaskRabbit † “Tell us what you need, let us know what we can take off your plate, choose a Tasker, hire one of our fully vetted Taskers to get the job done.”
  • Thumbtack † “We help you hire experienced professionals at a price that’s right.”
  • TrackIf † “Track your favorite sites for sales, new items, back-in-stock, and more.”
  • WebOfNeeds – “A distributed marketplace driven by customer needs.”
  • yellCast † “What you want, where you want it.”
  • Zaarly † “Hire local, hand-picked home services. We moderate every job and guarantee happiness at virtually any cost.”

But so far only two projects on those lists — the Indie Dash Button — and WebOfNeeds — give people (and companies helping them, such as those on the two lists) an open source way to scale across multiple vendors with the same signaling method. (I am sure there are more. If you know some, or want us to correct this list, please let us know and we’ll make the changes.)

Talk about intentcasting has increased lately, thanks to the need for better signaling from demand to supply at a time when more than 200 million souls are blocking ads, and there is a growing sense that this is a crisis for advertisers and publishers that’s too good to waste —and that the best either of those parties can do is a better job of listening for signals from the marketplace that are beyond their control but will do them some good. Intentcasting is one of those signals.

Intentcasting is a good signal because it’s friendly and comes from either new customers wanting to spend or existing customers wanting to relate (for example, to obtain services). In the former case it fits nicely into the existing need (and programmatic interfaces for) lead generation. In the latter case it speaks straight to call centers. What matters most is that both come voluntarily and straight from prospective or actual customers.

I’m wondering if there is a semantic-ish approach to Intentcasting. By that I mean a vernacular of abbreviated simple statements of what one is looking for. Example: “2br 2ba apt 10019” means a two bedroom and two bath apartment in the 10019 zip code.

Again, what matters most here is that these signals need to be issued to the marketplace outside of the silo system that currently comprises way too much of the business world. I know the IndieWeb folks have worked on something like this. (Theirs is the Indie Dash Button, mentioned above).

And I know there are already bitcoin/blockchain appraoches too.  For eample, @MrChrisEllis’s ProTip, which facilitates Bitcoin payments in a nearly frictionless way. There are the broad outlines of possibility in both EmanciTerm and EmanciPay, which are design models we’ve had for years. (ProTip is an example of the latter.)

We could also use a good generic symbol for intent. I don’t know of one, or it would have made the cover of The Intention Economy. The star photo above is the best I could come up with for a visual to go with this post. But the lazyweb should do better than that.

Whatever we come up with, the time could hardly be more right.

[This post was impelled by the need to enlarge on my comment under Move Over, Doc Searls: It’s Time For A New Intention Economy by Kaila Colbin (@kcolbin) in MediaPost. Thanks, Kaila, for getting me going. :-)]

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How music lovers can fix the broken music business and stop screwing artists

In Taylor Swift, Spotify and the Musical Food Chain Myth, musician Doria Roberts (@DoriaRoberts) details a problem that we’ve been hearing about for the duration:  artists have been getting screwed by the music industry, which now includes streaming services such as Spotify, paying tiny fractions of a penny for every tune everybody hears through them. She writes,

…not only have physical CD sales been down, but also the digital money I used to get from legal downloads all but disappeared. Instead of getting weekly payments ranging between $200-$750 from my distributor, I started getting an average $11.36, once a month from all streaming services combined. Yes, $11.36/month is what I get from all of them. That is not a sustainable business model for a truly independent artist.

And it will get worse as streams gradually become the main source for music. Signs and portents in that direction:

Doria also offers some answers:

HOW CONSUMERS CAN HELP REVERSE THE COURSE

As a consumer and a fan, you are at the top of this food chain, not the bottom. You are not subject to the whims of popular culture; you are the arbiter of it. If you want to see less “fluff” in the music industry, if you want to see your artists remain authentic, creative and prolific beings and, if you want them to come back to your hometowns:

1. Start buying our music again. Digital, hard copy, doesn’t matter, just pay for it. If you can pay $4 for a coffee, you can pay $9.99 for something meaningful that you’ll enjoy forever.

2. Stop using streaming services that only pay us $.0006 per listen if you don’t already own our music either via a legal download or a hard copy. Educate yourself. If you think the profits that oil companies make are obscene, I urge you to do some digging about what some of these streaming companies are really about. [Editor’s note: Spotify claims to have paid Taylor Swift over $2 million dollars in streaming royalties. Her label says that’s not even close to the truth.]

3. And, this is important: Set your DVRs on your favorite show nights and go to our concerts. If I had a dime for every time a person told me they weren’t able to make my show because it was the finals of DWTS or The Voice, I wouldn’t be writing this post. I’d be sitting in a bungalow in Costa Rica sipping something fruity and delicious.

Simple solutions sometimes require difficult choices. Oh, and this goes for independent movies, books, indie/feminist bookstores, small venues and small businesses, too. Just know this: you have the power to change the cultural landscape around you. Use that power wisely.

In reply below, I wrote,

All the course-reversing suggestions are good, but also assume that the only possible choices are the ones we have now. This has never been the case. We can invent new choices — new solutions for this already-old problem.

I believe the best solutions are those that make it very easy for consumers to pay whatever they want for whatever they like (and not just music).

One outline for this is EmanciPay, at ProjectVRM: . My own idea for an expression of EmanciPay is a user-side system set up to automatically pay (or pledge to pay) a penny per listen to any song heard anywhere, including one’s own music collection. That’s a high multiple of whatever coercive rates are being extracted on the supply side of the marketplace today — and in the whole future, which will suck.

Way back in ’98, when the DMCA birthed the ancestor of today streamed music royalty regime, it framed coercive rates with this context: “in the absence of a willing buyer and a willing seller.”

So let’s quit working only the seller-side of the marketplace. Let’s equip the willing buyer.

If anybody wants to work on the code for that, contact me (I’m not hard to find). We’ll get a posse together and go do it. Given the sum of existing code in the world already, it shouldn’t be too hard.

If we really are at the top of the food chain, we need better ways to pay for what we eat. If we don’t come up with those, all we will have are government-regulated ways to screw both the artists and the media. (Ask Spotify and Pandora how much they’re profiting in the current system.)

What we have today with streaming is guided by language like this (from the last link above):

…rates for the statutory licenses for webcasting and for ephemeral recordings must be the rates that most clearly represent the rates that would have been negotiated in the marketplace between a willing buyer and a willing seller. — http://www.copyright.gov/carp/webcasting_rates_final.html

The boldface is mine. Here’s my point: Regulators and their captors in the record industry have believed from the start that listeners to streams cannot be willing buyers.

I want to prove them wrong.

The time wasn’t right when we started writing about this back in the late ’00s.  But now it is. Let’s do something about it.

 

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.

 

 

When the customer gets the pricing gun

Customers don’t normally operate pricing guns. That’s why we have this old Steven Wright joke:

The lady across the hall tried to rob a department store — with a pricing gun.
She said, “Give me all of the money in the vault, or I’m marking down everything in the store.”

It wouldn’t be funny if it wasn’t a scary prospect for retailers.

But what if customers actually do get that power, on their own — meaning they don’t get that power from any seller, but from themselves. Like they get their car on their own. Or their . Or their browser. Or their email.

For example, what if each of us had a way to publish an offer price to many retailers at once? For example, “I’ll pay $2500 for a Canon 5D Mk III camera.” (In fact I’ve already said that, through a VRM company called .) And what if I had a way to escrow that money — and that intention-to-buy — at a bank, ready to pay when a seller meets my price and my terms? That’s the idea (though not the only one) behind . It should be a good business for banks — or for anybody wanting to help activity in markets move faster and more efficiently.

There has already been work in that direction, through the companies listed under Intentcasting here, plus the work some of us did with , a division of . That work began with discussions at around digital identity, personal data and the EmanciPay idea. Once underway, it evolved into the Digital Asset Grid: a way to move data on the SWIFT network that also moves money, with the same high degree of security. Having a secure way to move both personal data and money seemed like good idea, so we created it, and it’s there for the taking.

Meanwile, let’s say that EmanciPay, or something like it, takes off, and the pricing gun really is in the hands of the customer. Will this be the end of the world for mass marketing? Or for anything? Or will it open a huge new greenfield of opportunity, based on much better signaling of pricing — and other variables — by customers?

Like, what if we could signal real loyalty, rather than just the coerced kind we get with loyalty cards? What about convenience? Reliability? Experience with the product, the vendor, and the quality of service?

How would it work if every product we buy, or service we engage, would also serve as the platform for a genuine relationship with maker and/or the seller? This can happen if the product or service comes with its own cloud. Think about that. Your car, your cable modem, your TV, your stove, your dishwasher, your anything can have a cloud of its own, today. picos, for persistent compute objects. When you buy a product with a pico, that cloud might come with all the service materials required, be updated automatically, and contain all the service records as well. And you can add whatever you want to it, or use it as a communications conduit between you and the product’s maker or seller.

This is what makes . It’s not just a second dashboard for your car in a mobile app. It’s your platform for relationships with the car maker, your mechanic, or others in your family who also use the car. Think of it as a service gun. Or the platform for one.

There’s no limit to what you can imagine if you’re an independent party with full agency, rather than a serf in some company’s castle. Or to what can happen between people and companies that value each other’s independence.

 

Wanted: a handshake across the paywall

For five years I was a loyal subscriber to the Boston Globe. When I was out of town, which was a lot, I’d read it online, because the print subscription covered that too.

This academic year I’m out of town more, so I canceled the subscription, because I didn’t want to pay $3.99 per week for a digital-only subscription. Not when I’m also in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and other places, with other papers that I also like to read — and to pay for, preferably on an à la carte basis, or something close to it, like I can when I buy a paper at a newsstand. There’s no way to do that. But I still go to the Globe often, to catch a story, such as this one, which hits a paywall:

I only get that on the browser I use most, and which I assume carries a cookie telling the Globe that I’ve visited too often without subscribing. It’s annoying, but I get around it by using other browsers and other machines.

I don’t do that to avoid paying. In fact I’d be glad to pay, because I believe information wants to be free but value wants to be paid for. That means I’m willing to pay something for all the media I use, including music for which I hold rights to play (one doesn’t really “own” music, but instead holds rights to it). But this is impossible as long as media vendors supply all the mechanisms of relationship. There’s no handshake with that system. Just the sound of one hand slapping.

The promo-covered paywall in the screen shot above tells me the Globe’s subscription system has no idea that I was a loyal subscriber for a long time, and am willing to pay more than the $0 that I’m paying when I go around their wall. It also tells me the Globe values data justifying its 99¢/week promo more than its relationship with me as a reader and a long-term subscriber. But I’m not insulted because I know I’m not dealing with human beings here; just a software routine.

Many questions come to mind when I look at a fail like this. Like, Why should a new subscriber get a better deal than a veteran one? Why not have, say, a frequent-reader program, modeled on airline frequent flyer programs?

The answer is that it’s a pain in the ass for a paper (or any business) to do something different than what it already does. In the Globe’s case the bureaucratic overhead is even higher than it looks, because the Globe is a subsidiary of the New York Times, which has the same 99¢ promo (that I wrote about almost a year ago). Even if the two papers don’t use the same content management and subscription software, the policies obviously work in tandem, meaning there is at least twice the inertia to overcome.

Additional inertia is locked up in the heavy burden of sole responsibility for a “relationship” that barely qualifies for the noun. If I had a real relationship with the Globe, I could respond to the above with a message that says “Hi, there. You know me. Remember? I do. Here’s the evidence. Now, can we come up with something that works for both of us here?”  CRM (Customer Relationship Management systems should help, but typically don’t. “Social” CRM is built to listen for signals from prospects or customers; but neither Twitter nor Facebook are mine, nor do they represent me as fourth parties — ones that work for me.  (Twitter and Facebook may serve me, in a way; but they are paid for that work by advertisers.)

There are some VRM-friendly signs on the horizon. For example, in this Guardian interview, Tien Tzuo, the founder and CEO of Zuora, explains what he calls “Paywall 2.0.” Here’s what he says about 3:50 into the video:

Don’t think about it as just a paywall. Don’t think about it as just a tollbooth for you to make money. Think about it as an ongoing dialog with your customers, and allow your paywall to stretch, and go to where your customers really want to go.

(Disclosure: last year I gave a speech at a Zuora event in London.) I want the Globe and the Times to have 2.0-generation paywalls: ones that stretch to embrace my loyalty and my good intentions. I would also like that embrace to appreciate independent signaling from my side of the relationship, not just what it picks up from CRM radar pointed at social media. (And let’s face it: If I have to go on Twitter to get some action out of a company, there’s a failure in direct communication. Here’s one example.)

We also need the VRM tools that match up with 2.0 generation ones on the media sellers’ side. For example, let’s say I budget $2 per day toward all the media I use. (A lexical digression: I don’t “consume” media any more than I consume a hammer. That’s why I say “use” instead of “consume.”) And let’s say  I have the capacity to track what I use, in a QS (quantified self) kind of way. Then let’s say that I’m ready to divide that $2 up and parse it out, using an EmanciPay system. This would put money on the market’s table.

Then maybe, once the money is on the table, we can shake hands over it and actually do business.

Bonus link: House of news

 

 

What if qualified leads were free?

In terms of economic signaling, think about which is worth more:

  1. A ready-to-sell-something message from an advertiser
  2. A ready-to-buy-something message from a customer

Of course it depends. A company can use an ad to signal many people at once, and to signal far more than a readiness to sell something. And now, with advanced analytics and Big Data, an ad can be personalized to a high degree: timed and targeted to reach a customer at exactly the right place and time. (Or that’s the idea, anyway.) Customers are also separate individuals. They may only be worth something to a company in aggregate. So we’re talking about lots of variables here.

But let’s look at a single vendor and a single customer for a moment, and say you’re the vendor. What would a ready-to-buy signal from a customer be worth to you? The answer today is called the qualified leads business. Search for that and you’ll get lots of results, most of which pitch you on paying for those leads.

But what if the leads were free, or close to that price? They are with intentcasting. (In Hunter becomes the prey, Scott Adams calls this “broadcast shopping.”) With intentcasting, customers advertise their wants and needs. For vendors, listening to the signals is free.

From the list of VRM development efforts on the ProjectVRM wiki, here’s the current list of intentcasting efforts:

AskForIt † – individual demand aggregation and advocacy
Body Shop Bids † – intentcasting for auto body work bids based on uploaded photos
Have to Have † – “A single destination to store and share everything you want online”
Intently † – Intentcasting “shouts” for services, in the U.K.
Innotribe Funding the Digital Asset Grid prototype, for secure and accountable Intentcasting infrastructure
OffersByMe † – intentcasting for local offers
Prizzm †- social CRM platform rewarding customers for telling businesses what they want, what they like, and what they have problems with
RedBeacon † – intentcasting locally for home services
Thumbtack † – service for finding trustworthy local service providers
Trovi intentcasting; matching searchers and vendors in Portland, OR and Chandler, AZ†
Übokia intentcasting†
Zaarly † intentcasting to community – local so far in SF and NYC

I’m sure it’s far from complete or up-to-date, but you can see some of what’s already going on. I guarantee that a lot more will be happening here in 2013 and beyond.

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