Greg Broiles (gbroiles) Tue 21 Aug 12 13:56
I just purchased the audio version of the book but haven't listened to it yet. So perhaps what I'm saying is already well-covered. It occurs to me that a lot of the focus of this discussion seems to be on the selling side of a relationship - but a lot of what's important to me is not just the selling, but the actual nuts & bolts of the ongoing business relationship. My life as a customer would be improved if it was easier for me to automate interactions with many vendors in a standard fashion - maybe I've changed addresses, or got a new payment card, and want to notify my vendors to make those updates to their system. My life as a vendor would be improved if it was easy for my clients to tell me that they've moved. My life as a customer would be improved if I could have invoices/statements delivered to me "paperlessly", but not as fragile HTML e-mails that won't be readable in 6 months because the graphics/CSS elements will have disappeared from the web, and also not as hidden files on someone else's website hidden behind username/password credentials that will be deleted as soon as I stop doing business with that company (if not sooner). I'd be delighted if I could be "paperless" and that meant giving my vendors write-only access to a vendor-specific folder on Dropbox, and they could drop PDF statements/invoices in there. Until I can have that, they can continue to spend a few dollars every month mailing me paper, and I'll continue spending a few minutes every month scanning that paper and putting it on Dropbox. I think there may be a lot of opportunities where customers/clients could get finer-grained control of their side of relationships, without significantly limiting what vendors can do with their systems. It's just not realistic to expect that vendors will voluntarily give me control over the internal records they keep about me, any more than I'm going to let my clients tell me what I can record in my CRM system to make my business run smoothly.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Tue 21 Aug 12 14:35
Doc, since you've written the book, what's taken place and what has changed regarding VRM?
Rohan Clarke (jonl) Tue 21 Aug 12 17:50
Submitted by Rohan Clarke: Doc, We are developing a VRM model based on 'vendor pays / free to customers' with the efficiency gains to vendors far outweighing the costs. One challenge with this approach is that the argument can be made that our real 'customers' are the vendors - the implication being that the model is fundamentally conflicted. We see the issue but do not agree it is material. Given you have commented elsewhere on the ability for 4th parties to charge the vendor, I'd appreciate your thoughts on this issue. Thanks Rohan
Doc Searls (doc-searls) Wed 22 Aug 12 10:32
Greg, you're nailing many of the reasons we started ProjectVRM in 2006, and one of the reasons (at least for me) that we wrote The Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999. The "business end" of business for customers is their end, not the seller's. Countless business problems can only be solved fully if customers are in control of exactly the stuff you talk about -- and then some. Ted, the book was finished (except for a few small edits) late last year. Since then there have been three major changes. First, many more developers have showed up, either because they gravitated toward VRM, or discovered that VRM is a good label for what they were already working on. Second, all the most active VRM developers have made big strides forward. Third, as the book predicted, "social" is starting to look post-peak as a meme, and general distate for surveillance and privacy loss has become more widespread. Yet it's still early. On Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovation curves <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations> VRM is still at the far left end. But it is definitely moving fast to the right. Rohan, I must confess that I have doubts about the 'vendor pays / free to consumers' model (we need a shorter name for that, so for now let's call it VP/F2C -- and I say "consumers" rather than "customers," because the vendors are your paying customers while users consume the service... hope I have that right). It's not so much that the model is fundamentally conflicted in the first place, but that it becomes conflicted as soon as the interests of the consumers and the customers are at odds. Every business in which the consumers and customers are different populations has the same problem. Commercial broadcasting has always had it. I once worked with the #1 radio station in a market -- one the listeners loved, and which totally kicked butt in the ratings. But the owner decided that more money could be made from advertisers with a different format, so they flipped the switch, abandoning a base of half a million loving listeners, in an instant. (The same thing happened with classical KDFC in the Bay Area last year.) Google and Facebook have the same problem today. That problem is accountability. To whom are you most accountable? How? And why? And who will you screw when times get tough and somebody has to lose? If somebody pays for a service, they expect that service to be accountable to them. If they get it for free, then not so much. In fact, it is reasonable to assume, especially on today's commercial Web, that any "free" commercial service has other costs, many unseen. For example, unwanted surveillance and lost privacy. In your business, you are likely to know by name, and serve with maximized responsibility, your customers: the vendors. You are likely to not know by name, and to serve with minimized responsibility, your consumers. Your lawyers will also construct one-sided terms of service that maximize liability to consumers and minimize it to your company. Far more even-handed and equitable terms, including assurances of performance, will be granted to your actual customers. Ever try to get Google on the phone? Or Facebook? Those are the biggest and most successful models for VP/F2C. That said, there are plenty of VRM services coming along that have VP/F2C as the business model. At this early stage we welcome all comers, but my bet is against the success of that model in the long run, especially if the model is supported by advertising (a topic I visit on at some length in the book). Have you looked at a freemium option? I think that's a good way to get rolling in many cases.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 22 Aug 12 11:00
Freemium -- basic for free, upgrades for fee -- is a great model that seems to me to have arisen from the free sample concept, but is very attractive when it allows an ongoing community interaction between people who use/participate for free and those who are paying for an upgraded service level. In many cases when I support the service or community I appreciate the virtual badges that often come with the step up from the free level. (I have a "pro" icon on my Flickr account at http://www.flickr/com/photos/gail for example). It has occurred to me that in some situations I might want to have the choice to show that I'm paying or not, and that option is not always given to me. I'd like to see that be a choice in such situations. To use a different example, I go to Starbucks now and then (particularly in airports) but I would not want them to make me wear a Starbucks tee shirt after I got an espresso. There are not many logos I want to "wear" online or off, though I will be a customer happily. There's another opportunity for consumer choice.
Doc Searls (doc-searls) Wed 22 Aug 12 19:58
Thanks, Gail. I have a Flickr pro account too. And, as with my paid account with Google Checkout (which now Google Wallet), it gives me no sense of actual accountable connection with the company. Like Google, Flickr/Yahoo makes most of its money from advertising, not from individual customers. I worry about that, since I have a high degree of exposure and dependence on Flickr, through 50,000 or so photographs, many highly annotated there. I visit that concern here: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/2011/01/12/what-if-flickr-fails/
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Wed 22 Aug 12 20:44
It doesn't help that flickr calls their paid account "Pro" while explicitly prohibiting professional use.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 22 Aug 12 21:19
Doc, could you say a bit about the idea of the commons, and more specifically, the formation of a Customer Commons? (http://customercommons.org/)
Doc Searls (doc-searls) Thu 23 Aug 12 04:35
Jef, I'm not familiar with that rule. Many professional photographers show off their work on Flickr, and a Flickr arrangement with Getty images allows one's work, should one wish, to be sold through Getty. I should add that over the years I've taken in a few hundred dollars from those wishing to pay me for a shot here or there. This has all been voluntary. I don't require payment for anything. And, to its credit, Flickr does have an API which, I am told, allows the user to copy off every shot in their collection, metadata and all. Still, I would gladly pay much more than I do for truly professional-grade service from Flickr, and I am sure I am not alone.
Doc Searls (doc-searls) Thu 23 Aug 12 04:53
Jon, the term "commons" for several recent decades was most commonly a noun modified by the adjective "tragic," thanks to Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons," an essay published in Science in 1968. This Wikipedia article does a good job of summarizing his case and criticism of it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons . More recently Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org/) has established a less contentious meaning: that of a simple shared resource from which an interested group -- in this case artists -- can extract something useful to them, at no cost to anybody. For Creative Commons that something is a license, or a set of licenses, for marking a work with simple signs representing its permitted uses. The original idea for Customer Commons was to play the same role for individuals, respecting permitted use of their data. That purpose persists, although Customer Commons is now conceived more broadly as an organization of customers, representing the interests of customers. The organization is still brand new, and I encourage those interested to get involved and make it what they like. Those interested in a deeper look at the idea of the commons itself should grab a copy of Lewis Hyde's book Common as Air. Or any of Lewis' other books, starting with The Gift, for which he was granted a MacArthur prize. Brilliant stuff.
Rob Myers (robmyers) Thu 23 Aug 12 05:07
IMO the Wikipedia article makes clear that Hardin at best didn't know what he was talking about. Elinor Ostrom is the name that comes up more now when talking about the commons, although I haven't read her work. The real historical threat to commons is enclosure by the gentry, which in this scenario would mean Amazon and Facebook-style corporate data silos. Commons are managed by peers, and Amazon and Facebook aren't my peers. That said, goods from the commons can be taken to market, so perhaps ironically the customers of (rather than in) this commons will be its would-be gentry. :-)
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Thu 23 Aug 12 09:49
From flickr's Community Guidelines, http://www.flickr.com/help/guidelines/ * Don't use Flickr to sell. If we find you engaging in commercial activity, we will warn you or delete your account. Some examples include selling products, services, or yourself through your photostream or in a group, using your account solely as a product catalog, or linking to commercial sites in your photostream. If you engage in commercial activity elsewhere on the internets or in the real world, youre still welcome on Flickr - in fact, weve even set up some best practices especially for you. And yes, professional photographers have been kicked off flickr based on this clause.
Doc Searls (doc-searls) Fri 24 Aug 12 03:09
Rob, Ostrom and Hyde are (to me at least) the brightest lights on the commons topic. In The Intention Economy I devote a chapter to what I've learned from both, especially Hyde. It's not far off from what you say. Jef, Flickr certainly has the right to forbid commercial activity. But they could also see opportunity there as well, thinking like eBay instead of like Google. Alas, with a Googler now in charge of the company, I don't see a reason to bet on a change there.
Rob Myers (robmyers) Fri 24 Aug 12 04:48
Gah another book I am going to have to buy because of Inkwell! ;-)
Jef Poskanzer (jef) Fri 24 Aug 12 09:40
I don't dispute that they can ban commercial activity if they want to, although it's super foolish. I just enjoy pointing out the irony of calling their paid accounts "Pro" while banning professional activity.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 24 Aug 12 12:14
How are Project VRM and the Customer Commons related, and how are they organized? Do either or both have a roadmap or plan for development? Or are they growing/evolving more organically?
Doc Searls (doc-searls) Sun 26 Aug 12 15:46
ProjectVRM (http://projectvrm.org) is a development and research project (in that order) that I started six years ago at the Berkman Center, when I became a fellow there. (http://cyber.law.harvard.edu) (The fellowship ended in 2010, but I still run the project.) Its purpose is to foster development of VRM tools and services. This it has done, and continues to do, very well. Research is next. That's the roadmap. Along the way what matters most is the work, not the organization, which consists of a wiki, a list (of about 500 members) a blog, and gatherings, most frequently at the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW), an un-conference that happens twice a year at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. (http:internetidentityworkshop.org) We're going on the 15th of those in October. I'm one of the three instigators. The other two are Phil Windley (http://windley.com) and Kaliya Hamlin (http://www.identitywoman.net/). If you're interested in VRM development, or would like to become involved with it, IIW is a fun way to get started. Customer Commons (http://customercommons.org) was created earlier this year to gather customers around VRM development and VRM issues. Its mission is to "create a world of liberated, powerful and respected customers." It is described as "a non-profit for customers who are tired of just complaining about the 'powers that be' and want to contribute to making tools for the rest of us." Its immodest intention is to enroll "the 100%." In other words, all customers. There is less a roadmap than a frontier and several trails toward settling it: helping (and crowd-funding) VRM development; sharing ideas and development work through The Customers Journal; events and some other things. Customer Commons is also a highly active topic at IIW.
Doc Searls (doc-searls) Sun 26 Aug 12 15:49
I should add that a number of the people involved with ProjectVRM (starting with me) are also involved with Customer Commons. But Customer Commons also has lots of new blood as well, which is as it should be. Customer Commons, when it succeeds, should be huge. ProjectVRM will never be bigger than it is now, and will likely go away once VRM is fully established as a category.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 27 Aug 12 06:36
Doc, can you tell us about your next book, The Giant Zero; how is that going, what will it cover, when will it be out?
Doc Searls (doc-searls) Tue 28 Aug 12 05:24
I've got lots of material for The Giant Zero, and a lot of leverage-able writing, as well as a number of potential collaborators. But I won't start putting it together, I'm guessing, until about a year from now. That may change, but at the moment I'm focusing on The Intention Economy and some new work I'll be doing around journalism at NYU. Can't provide details on the latter yet. Stay tuned. :-)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 28 Aug 12 05:47
_The Intention Economy_ is written as a prompt for more conversation about the subject - you ask questions, and make it clear that you don't have all the answers (though you do cover a lot of ground, say a lot about how the Internet works and how it's transformed markets and eocnomies). What is your vision for next steps? Project VRM was an instigator of many tech developments that may become companies and applications. Similarly, are you hoping the book will inspire new streams of thought and action? Perhaps a body of related work authored by others?
Doc Searls (doc-searls) Tue 28 Aug 12 18:22
The next step for ProjectVRM will be research. A lot TBD there, but it will start in the next year. There are lots of next steps for VRM companies and development projects. I'm looking forward to seeing progress shared at the next IIW <http://internetidentityworkshop> in October. I have speaking gigs coming up in Amsterdam, Toronto, London, Dallas and other places, plus a online webinars and such. Interested to see how those go as well. For example, I'm curious to see how VRM work matches up not only with CRM but with CXPs -- customer experience professionals. They overlap to a degree with CRM, but are a different discipline. They're looking at customers gaining more control over their own experiences and wondering how that changes what CXP is all about. And yes, I am hoping that the book inspires fresh thought and action, and I'd love to see others pick up the that thinking, my own and that of others, and run with it.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 29 Aug 12 04:43
What are some specific examples of VRM-ish applications currently in development? What makes them VRM?
Doc Searls (doc-searls) Thu 30 Aug 12 09:06
All the work around DNT -- Do Not Track -- are VRM in the sense that they give individuals both independence and means for engaging. As I said early on, this is very early stuff, but it is VRM. Examples: http://www.abine.com/ https://disconnect.me/ https://www.ghostery.com/ http://privacyscore.com/ http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/collusion/ Personal data stores, aka lockers, vaults, systems, clouds, etc., also meet the VRM definition. Examples: http://www.personal.com/ http://www.azigo.com/ http://personal-clouds.org/wiki/Main_Page http://lockerproject.org/ http://singly.com http://mydex.org/ http://www.qiyfoundation.org/en/ http://mydex.org/ http://www.paoga.com/ http://www.thecustomersvoice.com/ http://www.privowny.com/ http://zaarly.com http://thumbtack.com Then there's intentcasting: http://askforit.com/ http://ubokia.com http://offersby.me/ http://www.redbeacon.com/ https://bodyshopbids.com/ Those are all from the ProjectVRM development wiki page... http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/projectvrm/VRM_Development_Work ... which is far from complete. None of these apps and projects are yet killer. But something will kill, soon enough.
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sun 2 Sep 12 22:51
Probably you've already written about this but it hasn't come up yet here: it seems to me that providing a common UI for buying things from multiple vendors is what a retail store does. Instead of always going to farmer's market, sometimes we shop at a grocery store that buys food from many farmers. Walmart provides a standard UI for buying products from thousands of manufacturers, many in foreign countries. Ebay and Amazon provide a standard UI for buying things from millions of small online shops. Apple, Amazon, Google, and so on are all competing to be the best UI for buying recorded music from any musician. Besides providing the UI, large retailers also do a valuable service for their retail customers by bargaining down their suppliers and setting quality standards. They use leverage that individual customers could never have, as John Kenneth Galbraith's pointed out when a wrote about "countervailing power". Of course, the retailers themselves have their own interests, and how much they actually serve their customers varies - generally it's not as much as they claim. But the best ones could credibly claim that the serve their customers well and that you could simplify your life by always buying through them - so why aren't they VRM vendors already?
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