Category: Initiatives (page 2 of 6)


The XVth IIW is coming up on October 23-25 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, and VRM will be, as usual, a big topic — or collection of topics — there.

IIW stands for Internet Identity Workshop, but the topical range is much wider than identity alone. Front and center for the last several IIWs has been personal data (a special concern not only of many VRM development efforts, but of the Personal Data Ecosystem Consortium).

IIW is an unconference that Kaliya Hamlin, Phil Windley and I have been putting on twice a year since 2005. It could hardly be less formal or conference-like. There are no panels, no speakers, no keynotes. There are just participants. All the sessions are breakouts, and all the topics are chosen by participants, who come up with them at the start of each day, vetting whatever they like with the rest of the crowd. Some of the sessions are technical, many others are not. All of them are interesting, lively, and move things forward.

As in IIWs past, we have a VRM planning day on Monday, just before IIW. That’s the 22nd. Everybody is welcome. The purpose is to discuss what we’d like to make happen over the following three days. Unlike IIWs past, this planning day is also at the Computer History Museum. It’ll run from 9 to 5.

Here are some topics currently being vetted on the ProjectVRM list:

  1. Demonstrations of progress on various VRM fronts
  2. Relationship management tools, including UI elements such as r-buttons: ⊂ ⊃.
  3. Personal data store/locker/vault/cloud etc. efforts
  4. Personal operating systems (including personal cloud)
  5. Intentcasting, aka personal RFPs
  6. Turning DNT (Do Not Track) into DNT-D (Do Not Track + Dialog)
  7. Cooperation + competition among and between different VRM development efforts
  8. FOSS (free and open source software) and VRM
  9. Creating and working with APIs
  10. Standards and protocols old and new (e.g. XDI, RDF,
  11. Role of governments (e.g. Midata in the UK, and privacy ministries in various countries)
  12. Legal / terms of service and engagement, and expression of preferences and policies
  13. Trust frameworks
  14. Working with industry verticals, such as banks and retail
  15. Matching up with QS (Quantified Self ) and self-hacking movements and interests (especially around personal data)
  16. Matching up VRM and CRM/sCRM
  17. Subject-based VRM, such as with the “subscription economy”
  18. VCs and other investors
  19. Relationships with other .orgs, e.g. PDE.Cc, Customer Commons
  20. Discovering and encouraging more VRM and VRooMy development efforts
  21. Alignment of talking points when evangelizing VRM
  22. Intention Economy
  23. Relationship Economy (and overlaps with the above)
  24. Identity-related matters, including NSTIC

I numbered them not in order of importance, but just to make them easier to discuss at the meeting. (e.g. “Let’s look at number 13”). Look forward to seeing you there.

Here are some photos from IIWs past. The photo up top is of a slab of metal covering a hole in pavement on a street in Manhattan. Saw it and couldn’t resist shooting it with my phone.

Coming to terms

We lie every time we “accept” terms that we haven’t read — a pro forma  behavior that is all but required by the calf-cow model of the Web that’s prevailed since 1995. We need to change that. And so we are. is working on “A clear, consistent way for websites to say what they do with the data they share, before we share it.” While its recent Kickstarter campaign came up a bit short, the work continues. Here is one (prototypical) way that label might look:

(The actual image I wanted there was this one, but heard it wasn’t showing up in all browsers, so I went with the one above.)

The StandardLabel folks also have a survey, which I recommend taking.

CommonTerms intends “to solve the problem of non-accessible online legal texts in a way similar to how Creative Commons made different copyright licenses accessible,” adding, “We thought that by analyzing existing agreements, we could identify the most common terms, and then create icons to symbolize them.” Background:

The CommonTerms project is coordinated by Metamatrix AB andsponsored by

The project is a result of a session on “sustainable web development” by Pär Lannerö and Thomas Bjelkeman at the Sweden Social Web Camp, in August 2010.

Their prototype, focused on icons, stars Pär and looks like this:

Par and  Lars-Erik Jakobsson (icon), Gregg BernsteinCarl TörnquistHanna ArkestålMax WalterMattias AspelundAnders Carlman have since added, source of the image at the top of this post, plus this one here, which I just earned:

The idea is to start getting real about what we’re all doing and not doing.

What we’re doing is lying: i.e. agreeing not only to what we don’t read, but to the rotted status quo of which one-sided non-agreements are a part. What we’ve not been doing for most of the last 17 years is solving the problem.

But, thanks to the work above (plus whatever I’ve missed), we are doing some things. So are and companies like Personal. Other work is happening with personal clouds. (PDEC is on that case too.) Aza Raskin‘s Privacy Icons are an effort in this same direction. (CommonTerms has a longer list.)

Still, looks to me like most of the work being done so far is on the cow side of the calf-cow relationship. On our side, we need to stop being calves, for real. That is, we need to have full agency in the original sense of the word: power to cause intended effects on our own.

For that we will need machine- and user-readable ways to express own terms, preferences and policies, so they can be read by sites (the cows) and matched up. That’s the idea behind EmanciTerm, described in How about using the ‘No Track’ button we already have? and in The Intention Economy. There I explain,

With full agency, however, an individual can say, in the first person voice, “I own my data, I control who gets access to it, and I specify what I wish to happen under what conditions.” In the latter category, those wishes might include:

  • Don’t track my activities outside of this site.
  • Don’t put cookies in my browser for anything other than helping us remember each other and where we were.
  • Make data collected about me available in a standard, open format.
  • Please meet my fourth-party agent, (or whomever).

These are EmanciTerms, and there will be corresponding ones on the vendor’s side. Once they are made simple and straightforward enough, they should become normative to the point where they serve as de facto stan- dards, in practice.

Since the terms should be agreeable and can be expressed in text that code can parse, the process of arriving at agreements can be automated.

For example, when using a public wi-fi access point, a person’s EmanciTerms might say, “I will not knowingly hog this shared resource, for example, by watching high-def video on it,” or “I will not engage in illegal activities here.” If the provider of the access point has a VRM-ready service that is willing to deal with the user on his or her own EmanciTerms as well as those of the provider, it should be possible to automate the formalities and let the user bypass the usual “read and accept our agreement” ritual.

Not everything we express in the proposed ceremony here has to be one side of a binding agreement. If we express these terms as preferences or policies they can still be heard, even if they’re not agreed to. Being heard is one idea behind BiggestLie. But the cows can’t fix this on their own. We need to work both sides.

The only problem with all this is that our work is scattered. Let’s get it together.


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:

Your actual wallet vs./+ Google’s and Apple’s

Now comes news that Apple has been granted a patent for the iWallet. Here’s one image among many at that last link:


Note the use of the term “rules.” Keep that word in mind. It is a Good Word.

Now look at this diagram from Phil Windley‘s Event Channels post:

event channels

Another term for personal event network is personal cloud. Phil visits this in An Operating System for Your Personal Cloud, where he says, “In contrast a personal event network is like an OS for your personal cloud. You can install apps to customize it for your purpose, it canstore and manage your personal data, and it provides generalized services through APIsthat any app can take advantage of.” One of Phil’s inventions is the Kinetic Rules Language, or KRL, and the rules engine for executing those rules, in real time. Both are open source. Using KRL you (or a programmer working for you, perhaps at a fourth party working on your behalf, can write the logic for connecting many different kinds of events on the Live Web, as Phil describes here).

What matters here is that you write your own rules. It’s your life, your relationships and your data. Yes, there are many relationships, but you’re in charge of your own stuff, and your own ends of those relationships. And you operate as  free, independent and sovereign human being. Not as a “user” inside a walled garden, where the closest thing you can get to a free market is “your choice of captor.”

Underneath your personal cloud is your personal data store (MyDex, et. al.), service (Higgins), locker (Locker Project / Singly), or vault ( Doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as it’s yours, and you can move the data from one of these things into another, if you like, compliant with the principles Joe Andrieu lays out in his posts on data portability, transparency, self-hosting and service endpoint portability.

Into that personal cloud you should also be able to pull in, say, fitness data from Digifit and social data from any number of services, as Singly demonstrates in its App Gallery. One of those is Excessive Mapper, which pulls together checkins with Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter. I only check in with Foursquare, which gives me this (for the U.S. at least):

Excessive Mapper

The thing is, your personal cloud should be yours, not somebody else’s. It should contain your data assets. The valuable nature of personal data is what got the World Economic Forum to consider personal data an asset class of its own. To help manage this asset class (which has enormous use value, and not just sale value), a number of us (listed by Tony Fish in his post on the matter) spec’d out the Digital Asset Grid, or DAG…


… which was developed with Peter Vander Auwera and other good folks at SWIFT (and continues to evolve).

There are more pieces than that, but I want to bring this back around to where your wallet lives, in your purse or your back pocket.

Wallets are personal. They are yours. They are not Apple’s or Google’s or Microsoft’s, or any other company’s, although they contain rectangles representing relationships with various companies and organizations:

Still, the container you carry them in — your wallet — is yours. It isn’t somebody else’s.

But it’s clear, from Apple’s iWallet patent, that they want to own a thing called a wallet that lives in your phone. Does Google Wallet intend to be the same kind of thing? One might say yes, but it’s not yet clear. When Google Wallet appeared on the development horizon last May, I wrote Google Wallet and VRM. In August, when flames rose around “real names” and Google +, I wrote Circling Around Your Wallet, expanding on some of the same points.

What I still hope is that Google will want its wallet to be as open as Android, and to differentiate their wallet from Apple’s through simple openness.  But, as Dave Winer said a few days ago

Big tech companies don’t trust users, small tech companies have no choice. This is why smaller companies, like Dropbox, tend to be forces against lock-in, and big tech companies try to lock users in.

Yet that wasn’t the idea behind Android, which is why I have a degree of hope for Google Wallet. I don’t know enough yet about Apple’s iWallet; but I think it’s a safe bet that Apple’s context will be calf-cow, the architecture I wrote about here and here. (In that architecture, you’re the calf, and Apple’s the cow.) Could also be that you will have multiple wallets and a way to unify them. In fact, that’s probably the way to bet.

So, in the meantime, we should continue working on writing our own rules for our own digital assets, building constructive infrastructure that will prove out in ways that require the digital wallet-makers to adapt rather than to control.

I also invite VRM and VRooMy developers to feed me other pieces that fit in the digital assets picture, and I’ll add them to this post.

How about using the ‘No Track’ button we already have?

left r-buttonright r-buttonFor as long as we’ve had economies, demand and supply have been attracted to each other like a pair of magnets. Ideally, they should match up evenly and produce good outcomes. But sometimes one side comes to dominate the other, with bad effects along with good ones. Such has been the case on the Web ever since it went commercial with the invention of the cookie in 1995, resulting in a calf-cow model in which the demand side — that’s you and me — plays the submissive role of mere “users,” who pretty much have to put up with whatever rules websites set on the supply side.

Consistent with Lord Acton’s axiom (“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”) the near absolute power of website cows over user calves has resulted in near-absolute corruption of website ethics in respect to personal privacy.

This has been a subject of productive obsession by Julia Anguin and her team of reporters at The Wall Street Journal, which have been producing the What They Know series (shortcut: since July 30, 2010, when Julia by-lined The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets. The next day I called that piece a turning point. And I still believe that.

Today came another one, again in the Journal, in Julia’s latest, titled Web Firms to Adopt ‘No Track’ Button. She begins,

A coalition of Internet giants including Google Inc. has agreed to support a do-not-track button to be embedded in most Web browsers—a move that the industry had been resisting for more than a year.

The reversal is being announced as part of the White House’s call for Congress to pass a “privacy bill of rights,” that will give people greater control over the personal data collected about them.

The long White House press release headline reads,

We Can’t Wait: Obama Administration Unveils Blueprint for a “Privacy Bill of Rights” to Protect Consumers Online

Internet Advertising Networks Announces Commitment to “Do-Not-Track” Technology to Allow Consumers to Control Online Tracking

Obviously, government and industry have been working together on this one. Which is good, as far as it goes. Toward that point, Julia adds,

The new do-not-track button isn’t going to stop all Web tracking. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people’s Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as “market research” and “product development” and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers.

The do-not-track button also wouldn’t block companies such as Facebook Inc. from tracking their members through “Like” buttons and other functions.

“It’s a good start,” said Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “But we want you to be able to not be tracked at all if you so choose.”

In the New York Times’ White House, Consumers in Mind, Offers Online Privacy Guidelines Edward Wyatt writes,

The framework for a new privacy code moves electronic commerce closer to a one-click, one-touch process by which users can tell Internet companies whether they want their online activity tracked.

Much remains to be done before consumers can click on a button in their Web browser to set their privacy standards. Congress will probably have to write legislation governing the collection and use of personal data, officials said, something that is unlikely to occur this year. And the companies that make browsers — Google, Microsoft, Apple and others — will have to agree to the new standards.

No they won’t. Buttons can be plug-ins to existing browsers. And work has already been done. VRM developers are on the case, and their ranks are growing. We have dozens of developers (at that last link) working on equipping both the demand and the supply side with tools for engaging as independent and respectful parties. In fact we already have a button that can say “Don’t track me,” plus much more — for both sides. Its calle the R-button, and it looks like this: ⊂ ⊃. (And yes, those symbols are real characters. Took a long time to find them, but they do exist.)

Yours — the user’s — is on the left. The website’s is on the right. On a browser it might look like this:

r-button in a browser

Underneath both those buttons can go many things, including preferences, policies, terms, offers, or anything else — on both sides. One of those terms can be “do not track me.” It might point to a fourth party (see explanations here and here) which, on behalf of the user or customer, maintains settings that control sharing of personal data, including the conditions that must be met. A number of development projects and companies are already on this case. All the above falls into a category we call EmanciTerm. Much has been happening as well around personal data stores (PDSes), also called “lockers,” “services” and “vaults.” These include:

Three of those are in the U.S., one in Austria, one in France, one in South Africa, and three in the U.K. (All helping drive the Midata project by the U.K. government, by the way.) And those are just companies with PDSes. There are many others working on allied technologies, standards, protocols and much more. They’re all just flying below media radar because media like to look at what big suppliers and governments are doing. Speaking of which… 🙂

Here’s Julia again:

Google is expected to enable do-not-track in its Chrome Web browser by the end of this year.

Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president of advertising at Google, said the company is pleased to join “a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘Do Not Track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls.”

White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Daniel Weitzner said the do-not-track option should clear up confusion among consumers who “think they are expressing a preference and it ends up, for a set of technical reasons, that they are not.”

Some critics said the industry’s move could throw a wrench in a separate year-long effort by the World Wide Web consortium to set an international standard for do-not-track. But Mr. Ingis said he hopes the consortium could “build off of” the industry’s approach.

So here’s an invitation to the White House, Google, the 3wC, interested BigCos (including CRM companies), developers of all sizes and journalists who are interested in building out genuine and cooperative relationships between demand and supply::::

Join us at IIW — the Internet Identity Workshop — in Mountain View, May 1-3. This is the unconference where developers and other helpful parties gather to talk things over and move development forward. No speakers, no panels, no BS. Just good conversation and productive work. It’s our fourteenth one, and they’ve all been highly productive.

As for the r-button, take it and run with it. It’s there for the development. It’s meaningful. We’re past square one. We’d love to have all the participation we can get, from the big guys as well as the little ones listed above and here.

To help get your thinking started, visit this presentation of one r-button scenario, by Adam Marcus of MIT. Here’s another view of the same work, which came of of a Google Summer of Code project through ProjectVRM and the Berkman Center:

(Props to Oshani Seneviratne and David Karger, also both of MIT, and Ahmad Bakhiet, of Kings College London, for work on that project.)

If we leave fixing the calf-cow problem entirely up to the BigCos and BigGov, it won’t get fixed. We have to work from the demand side as well. In economies, customers are the 100%.

Here are some other stories, mostly gathered by Zemanta:

All look at the symptoms, and supply-side cures. Time for the demand side to demand answers from itself. Fortunately, we’ve been listening, and the answers are coming.

Oh, and by the way, Mozilla has been offering “do not track” for a long time. Other tools are also available:

SOPA and Customer Commons

Imagine that Customer Commons had been created a year ago. To guide that imagining, here is the copy that matters from the placeholder page:

Customer Commons is about us.

  1. We are a com­mu­nity of customers.
  2. We are funded only by customers.
  3. We serve the inter­ests and aspi­ra­tions of customers.

We are the 100%

Customer Commons is a companion organization to ProjectVRM, and in the long run will be its successor. Think of ProjectVRM as the launch pad and rocket for getting VRM development and research into orbit — and of Customer Commons as the rest of the universe.

So the future is wide open.

SOPA, however, is about enclosing some of the Universe’s commons, which is essentially NEA:

  1. Nobody owns it
  2. Everybody can use it
  3. Anybody can improve it

What would we — the 100% who are customers — be doing about SOPA?

Customer Commons is just in the planning stages now. We want it up and running by the time The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge comes out in May. What should it be and how would it work?

All thoughts welcome.

P.S. ProjectVRM is a Berkman Center project, and therefore does not take an advocacy position on matters of public debate, such as SOPA — which is why this blog is not offline or blacked out today.

FWIW, my own (naturally optimistic) point of view is well expressed by Harold Feld in SOPABlackout And the “Internet Spring”.

Prototyping a new business model for everything

For IIW next week, and I have been working on a prototype demonstrating , using on the  app from .  The description at the EmanciPay link is minimal so far, but the model has a great deal of promise, because what it puts forward is a new business model for all kinds of stuff: easy voluntary payments from anybody for anything, to escrow accounts where the money can be picked up by the intended recipient with no strings attached. The first target is public radio (as it has been, ever since the earliest ProjectVRM meetings at the ), but it could easily apply to and other media as well.

We still need financial institutions to weigh in and take up a new business model for themselves, and it would be cool if some of them showed up at IIW next week for that, but in any case we’re taking one small step in the direction of a major sea change in the way markets for media work.

I’ve been making test contributions to different public radio stations, using the EmanciPay prototype. Craig has hacked a way for this to show up in my Twitter stream. You can see those here.

Link roundup

The hot edge of VRM right now is in South Africa, where TrustFabric (@TrustFabric, also mention ed in the prior post) is answering that country’s approach to personal privacy concerns with TrustFabric Connect. Let’s help them out. Note also that they’re helping the rest of us by making their code free (GPL v2) and therefore also open source.

Also on the move is getable, based here in Boston, which has a personal RFP approach. Evan Pritchard points to it here. Commenters to that post correctly point out that Buyosphere and Zaarly are also in the space, though coming at it from different angles. Let’s help all them out too.

Jeremiah Owyang puts VRM squarely in the center of his radar with VRM Systems Put Power in Hands of Buyers –Disrupting Sellers.

Just ran across Sparksheet‘s Freeing the Customer with VRM Part I and Making Business More Human, a pair of interviews from last Fall. Haven’t changed my mind about anything since. (I also get a few seconds at the 3:09 point in the Future of Facebook trailer. Venessa Meimis and friends also give me the final word there, starting at 4:06.)

The older B2B meaning of VRM may start blurring with the newer C2B one, if we follow the thrust of Laura Cecere’s Spice it up? post at Supply Chain Shaman.

Personal leverage for personal data

VRM is starting to snowball. You can see it in the Twitter scroll there on the right, and in Twitter searches for #VRM. Gaining velocity lately is personal data. To look down that vector, I’ll connect several links.

The first is Show Us the Data. (It’s Ours, After All), by Richard H. Thaler in the . The gist:

The collection and dissemination of this information raises a host of privacy issues, of course, and the bipartisan team of Senators John Kerry and John McCain has proposed what it is calling the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights to deal with many of them. Protecting our privacy is important, but the senators’ approach doesn’t tackle a broader issue: It doesn’t include the right to access data about ourselves. Not only should our data be secure; it should also be available for us to use for our own purposes. After all, it is our data.

Here is a guiding principle: If a business collects data on consumers electronically, it should provide them with a version of that data that is easy to download and export to another Web site. Think of it this way: you have lent the company your data, and you’d like a copy for your own use.

This month in Britain, the government announced an initiative along these lines called “mydata.” (I was an adviser on this project.) Although British law already requires companies to provide consumers with usage information, this program is aimed at providing the data in a computer-friendly way. The government is working with several leading banks, credit card issuers, mobile calling providers and retailers to get things started.

Here’s the long-form .pdf on mydata. What’s most important about it, especially for U.S. domestic purposes, is that its case is not just for protective legislation to keep customers safe from abuse by big bad companies, but for empowering customers in the marketplace. (When you dig into his work you see that this is Thaler’s case as well.) In this respect, mydata is a very VRM-ish move. But then, the U.K. government has been pro-VRM for awhile now. (Somewhere around here I have a link to a speech by a U.K. official that names VRM specifically. If it shows up, I’ll put it here.)

The good people at Ctrl-SHIFT, a U.K. company that’s highly active in the VRM movement, explains the mydata initiative:

The announcement is a first on two fronts:

1) Its ‘mydata’ programme encourages companies to release data they hold about individuals back to them, so that they can use this data for their own purposes. This is the first major Government initiative, globally, towards a changed personal data consensus: personal data is a personal asset, and individuals should have the right and ability to manage and use this asset to pursue their own goals.

2) The Government programme is also the first official recognition that there is a market for decision-making services (or ‘choice tools’ in Government parlance) that operates independently of existing markets for products and services – the market for what we call Personal Information Management Services (PIMS).

Want to know more?

Do you want to join your peers in debating this initiative and related issues? If so, then join our new Explorers Club on May 12 (in central London). It’s got a packed agenda including slots on both the Government’s new mydata initiative and on PIMS.

They also have a briefing paper on the topic.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S. we’ve been  focused more on prophylaxis than empowerment, at least at the federal level. This is a problem with our obsession with privacy as an issue in itself. Focus on privacy alone, and conversation inevitably veers toward policy. What new laws and regulations do we need to protect ourselves? we ask. That may be a good question, but it ignores answers that are already coming from the marketplace — answers that see today’s privacy problems as secondary effects of market dysfunction, and which pursue opportunities that marginalize and obsolete today’s privacy-threatening business practices.

Rex Hammock deals with this in his post, VRM: I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours, which begins with a response to the same NYTimes piece:

…the examples of initiatives the writer points to may lead the reader to believe that government-led initiatives are the best route to take. That may be the best route one day, if companies don’t, themselves, join in the types of initiatives Project VRM is trying to foster.

However, it is important to recognize there are lots of startups, non-profits, academic and open source / grassroots (note: where I’ll place my bets) and even big-company initiatives in this arena, as well. It is also important to note that this issue is not something that sprang forth last week: For as long as I can remember, there have been those who embrace the internet, but who believe relationships (and identity) should belong to the users and buyers, not just hosts and sellers.

I will be writing more on this topic in the future. I just wanted to post this to alert people that the next big thing is not going to be about what others are doing to collect your data and lock you into their data-protectorates. The next big thing is going to be about you having better ways to access and use the relationships and data that belong to you, in ways that recognizes that markets are conversations — not plantations.

That last link is mine, pointing to an earlier post that unpacks the agricultural metaphor behind Rex’s point.

In vrm, fourth party and the empowered consumer, Gam Das gives a terrific example of VRM’s potential for radically improving the way markets work:

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

vrm and the fourth party

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

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

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

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

the future state

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

Fourth parties are just one of the many VRM topics being tee’d up for IIW in Mountain View next week. It’s also one of the reasons why for the first time we’re inviting investors along with developers, journalists and other usual suspects. (The Ctrl-SHIFT people and Gam will be there, by the way, as will I.)

By the way, I wish I had involved myself in the ‘s this week (hard to do everything while writing a book), because (one of those potential IIW topics, above) would have been a great candidate for the new business model contest. (It got through two rounds of the Knight News Challenge, for whatever that’s worth.) In any case, I highly recommend reading for the event. Here’s an idea to keep in mind: Once customers start driving the music industry bus, that industry will be much bigger than it ever was when the labels drove the thing.

And to loop back to the topic of this post, note the collection of entities in the Personal Data Ecosystem, which will also be well-represented at IIW next week.

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.

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