Change of Address (√)

Way back in 2006 or so, in the first Project VRM meetings, our canonical use case was ‘change of address’; that is to say, we wanted individuals to have the ability to update their address in one place and have that flow to multiple suppliers.

That seemed easy enough, so we thought at the time; all that’s needed is:

– a data store controlled by the individual

– a user interface

– an API that allowed organisations to connect

We did not note the need at the time, but there probably should have been one around ‘standardised data sharing terms’ so that organisations would not get tied in legal knots signing many different contracts to cover themselves as they would need to do.

So, 12 or so years later, that proved to not be quite so easy….. I think our most flawed assumption was that organisations would see this as a good thing and be willing to get involved.

No matter, the reason for my post is to flag that individual driven change of address can now be done at Internet scale, albeit yes we still need to crack the adoption issue. There are also then a number of downstream use cases, e.g. where the address change must be verified.

Here’s a visual of how change of address works in the JLINC environment; the same principles could apply in other environments. The critical dependency is that both parties (individual and organisation) have their own data-sets that they voluntarily connect to each other.

Beyond the fact that this plumbing now demonstrably works at scale, I think the most interesting thing that has emerged from the JLINC deployment is the Standard Information Sharing Agreement. The requirement here is to have an agreement that works for both parties; here is the initial one built for JLINC. The expectation is that these will evolve over time and likely become life aspect/ sector specific (e.g. Health); but critically they will not mimic the current model where each organisation invents their own. The secondary function that I believe makes this scale is the ability to record every single data exchange that takes place should either or both parties need to refer to that downstream.

So, we can now tick the box around ‘change of address’, at least as working plumbing. The better news still is that the same plumbing and approach works for any type of data, or any data flow (so organisations sending data to Alice too). At least it should not take another 12 years to make that next use case work, which incidentally was ‘Intentcasting’; i.e. an individual being able to articulate what they are in the market for without losing control over that data.

How customers help companies comply with the GDPR

That’s what we’re starting this Thursday (26 April) at GDPR Hack Day at MIT.

The GDPR‘s “sunrise day” — when the EU can start laying fines on companies for violations of it — is May 25th. We want to be ready for that: with a cookie of our own baking that will get us past the “gauntlet walls” of consent requirements that are already appearing on the world’s commercial websites—especially the ad-supported ones.

The reason is this:

Which you can also see in a search for GDPR.

Most of the results in that search are about what companies can do (or actually what companies can do for companies, since most results are for companies doing SEO to sell their GDPR prep services).

We propose a simpler approach: do what the user wants. That’s why the EU created the GDPR in the first place. Only in our case, we can start solving in code what regulation alone can’t do:

  1. Un-complicate things (for example, relieving sites of the need to put up a wall of permissions, some of which are sure to obtain grudging “consent” to the same awful data harvesting practices that caused the GDPR in the firs place).
  2. Give people a good way to start signaling their intentions to websites—especially business-friendly ones
  3. Give advertisers a safe way to keep doing what they are doing, without unwelcome tracking
  4. Open countless new markets by giving individuals better ways of signaling what they want from business, starting with good manners (which went out the window when all the tracking and profiling started)

What we propose is a friendly way to turn off third party tracking at all the websites a browser encounters requests for permission to track, starting with a cookie that will tell the site, in effect, first party tracking for site purposes is okay, but third party tracking is not.

If all works according to plan, that cookie will persist from site to site, getting the browser past many gauntlet walls. It will also give all those sites and their techies a clear signal of intention from the user’s side. (All this is subject to revision and improvement as we hack this thing out.)

This photo of the whiteboard at our GDPR session at IIW on April 5th shows how wide ranging and open our thinking was at the time:

Photos from the session start here. Click on your keyboard’s right (>) arrow to move through them. Session notes are on the IIW wiki here.

Here is the whiteboard in outline form:

Possible Delivery Paths

Carrots

  • Verifiable credential to signal intent
  • Ads.txt replaced by a more secure system + faster page serving
  • For publishers:
    • Ad blocking decreases
    • Subscriptions increase
    • Sponsorship becomes more attractive
  • For advertisers
    • Branding—the real kind, where pubs are sponsored directly—can come back
    • Clearly stated permissions from “data subjects” for “data processors” and “data controllers” (those are GDPR labels)
    • Will permit direct ads (programmatic placement is okay; just not based on surveillance)
    • Puts direct intentcasting from data subject (users) on the table, replacing adtech’s spying and guesswork with actual customer-driven leads and perhaps eventually a shopping cart customers take from site to site
    • Liability reduction or elimination
    • Risk management
    • SSI (self-sovereign identity) / VC (verified credential) approach —> makes demonstration of compliance automateable (for publishers and ad creative)
    • Can produce a consent receipt that works for both sides
    • Complying with a visitor’s cookie is a lot easier than hiring expensive lawyers and consultants to write gauntlet walls that violate the spirit of the GDPR while obtaining grudging compliance from users with the letter of it

Sticks

  • The GDPR, with ePrivacy right behind it, and big fines that are sure to come down
  • A privacy manager or privacy dashboard on the user’s side, with real scale across multiple sites, is inevitable. This will help bring one into the world, and sites should be ready for it.
  • Since ample research (University of Pennsylvania, AnnenbergPageFair) has made clear that most users do not want to be tracked, browser makers will be siding eventually, inevitably, with those users by amplifying tracking protections. The work we’re doing here will help guide that work—for all browser makers and add-on developers

Participating organizations (some onboard, some partially through individuals)

Sources

Additions and corrections to all the above are welcome.

So is space somewhere in Cambridge or Boston to continue discussions and hackings on Friday, April 27th.

New Rules for Privacy Regulations

The Wall Street Journal has an informative conversation with Lawrence Lessig: Technology Will Create New Models for Privacy Regulation. What underlies a change toward new models are two points: the servers holding vast user databases are increasingly (and very cheaply) breached, and the value of the information in those databases is being transferred to something more aligned to VRM: use of the data, on a need to know basis. Lessig notes:

The average cost per user of a data breach is now $240 … think of businesses looking at that cost and saying “What if I can find a way to not hold that data, but the value of that data?” When we do that, our concept of privacy will be different. Our concept so far is that we should give people control over copies of data. In the future, we will not worry about copies of data, but using data. The paradigm of required use will develop once we have really simple ways to hold data. If I were king, I would say it’s too early. Let’s muddle through the next few years. The costs are costly, but the current model of privacy will not make sense going forward.

The challenge, notes Lessig, is “a corrupt Congress” that is more interested in surveillance than markets and doing business. Perhaps that isn’t a problem, according to an Associated Press poll (which has no bias, of course!):

According to the new poll, 56 percent of Americans favor and 28 percent oppose the ability of the government to conduct surveillance on Internet communications without needing to get a warrant. That includes such surveillance on U.S. citizens. Majorities both of Republicans (67 percent) and Democrats (55 percent) favor government surveillance of Americans’ Internet activities to watch for suspicious activity that might be connected to terrorism. Independents are more divided, with 40 percent in favor and 35 percent opposed. Only a third of Americans under 30, but nearly two-thirds 30 and older, support warrantless surveillance.

Right. After all, who needs business?

The Personal Data Eco-system

Post from 2009 reposted here to facilitate further discussion.

At the VRM workshop, we discussed the need for the concept of the Personal Data Store, what it would do in practice, and what that will ultimately enable.

Why we need such things – because individuals have a complex need to manage personal information over a lifetime, and the tools they have at their disposal today to do so are inadequate. Existing tools include the brain (which is good but does not have enough RAM, onboard storage, or an ethernet socket……thankfully), stand alone data stores (paper, spreadsheets, phones, which are good but not connected in secure ways that enable user-driven data aggregation and sharing), and supplier based data stores (which can be tactically good but are run under the supplier provided terms and conditions). NB Our current perception of ‘personal data stores’ is shaped by the good ones that are out their (e.g. my online bank, my online health vault); what we need is all of that functionality, and more – but working FOR ME.

What they will do/ enable – the term Personal Data Store is not an ideal term to describe a complex set of functions, but it is what it is until we get a better one (the analogy I’d use in more ways than one is the term ‘data warehouse’ – again a simplistic term that masks a lot of complex activity). A Personal Data Store can take two basic forms:

Operational Data Stores – that get things done, and only need store sufficient breadth and depth of data to fulfill the operation they are built for (e.g. pay a credit card bill, book a doctor’s appointment, order my groceries).

Analytical Data Stores – that underpin and enable decision making, and which typically need a more tightly defined, but much deeper data-set that includes data from a range of aspects of life rather than just that from one specific operation (e.g. plan a home move, buy a car, organise an overseas trip).

A sub-set of the individual’s overall data requirement will lie in both of the above, this being the data that then integrates decision-making and doing.

In both cases, the functionality required is to source, gather, manage, enhance and selectively disclose data (to presentation layers, interfaces or applications).

We also discussed ‘who has what data on you’ and introduced the following diagrams to explain current state and target state (post deployment of Volunteered Personal Information (VPI) tech and standards).

The key terms that require explanation are:

My Data – is the data that is undeniably within, and only within, the  domain of an individual. It’s defining characteristic is that it has demonstrably not been made available to any other party under a signed, binding agreement. This space has been increasingly encroached upon by technology and organisations in recent history (e.g. behavioural tracking tools like Phorm) and this encroachment will continue. Indeed a general comment can be made that ‘my data’ equates to privacy in the context of personal data; so the rise of the surveillance society and state is a direct assault on ‘My Data’. Management of ‘My Data’ can be run by the individual themselves, or outsourced to a ‘fourth party service’.

Your Data – is the data that is undeniably within the domain of an organisation; either private, public or third sector. Proxy views of this data may exist elsewhere but are only that. This data would include, for example, the organisations own master records of their product/ service range, their pricing, their costs, their sales outlets and channels. Customer-facing views of much of Your Data is made available for reproduction in the ‘Our Data’ intersect.

Our Data – is the data that is jointly accessible to both buyer and seller/ service provider, and also potentially to any other parties to an interaction, transaction or relationship. It is the data that is generated through engaging in interactions and transactions in and around a customer/ supplier relationship. Despite being ‘our’ data, it is probably technically owned, or at least provided under terms of service designed by the seller/ service provider; in practical terms this also means that the seller/ service provider dictates the formats in which this data exists/ is made available.

Their Data – is the data built/ owned/ sold by third party data aggregators, e.g. credit bureaux, marketing data providers in all their forms. It’s defining characteristic is that it is only available/ accessible by buying/ licensing it from the owner.

Everybody’s Data – is the public domain data, typically developed/ run by large, public sector(ish) entities including local government (electoral roll), Post Offices (postal address files), mapping bureau (GIS). Typically this data is accessible under contract, but the barriers to accessing these contracts are set low – although often not low enough that an individual can engage with them easily.

The Basic Identifier Set/ Bit in the Middle – this is the core personal identity data which, like it or not, exists largely in the public domain – most typically (but not exclusively) as a result of electoral rolls being made available publicly, and specifically to service providers who wish to build things from them. This characteristic is that which enables the whole personal eco-system and its impact on data privacy to exist, with the individual as the un-knowing ‘point of integration’ for data about them.

Propeller Current State

The ovals in the venn diagram represent the static state, i.e. where does data live at a point in time. The flow arrows show where data flows to and from in this eco-system; I use red to signify data flowing under terms and conditions NOT controlled by the individual data subject.

Flow 1 (My Data to Your Data, and My Data to Our Data) – Individuals provide data to organisations under terms and conditions set by the organisation, the individual being offered a ‘take it or leave it’ set of options. Some granularity is often offered around choices for onward data sharing and use, i.e. the ‘tick boxes’ we all know and which are one of the main bitsof legacy CRM that VRM will fix.

Flow 2 (Your Data to Your Data, including Our Data) – Organisations share data with other organisations, usually through a back-channel, i.e. the details of the sharing relationship are typically not known to the data subject.

Flow 3 (Your Data, including Our Data to Their Data) – Organisations share data with a specific type of other organisation, data aggregators, under terms and conditions that enable onward sale. Typically the sharer is paid for this data/ has a stake in the re-sale value.

Flow 4 (Everybody’s Data to Their Data) – Data Aggregators use public domain data sources to initiate and extend their commercial data assets.

The target state is shown below, a different scenario altogether – and one which I believe will unfold incrementally over the next ten years or so…..data attribute by data attribute, customer/ supplier management process by customer/ supplier management process, industry sector by industry sector. In this scenario, the individual and ‘My Data’ becomes the dominant source of many valuable data types (e.g. buying intentions, verified changes of circumstance), and in doing so eliminates vast amounts of guesswork and waste from existing customer/ citizen managment processes.

The key new capabilities required to enable this to happen are those being worked on in the User Driven and Volunteered Personal Information work groups at Kantara (one tech group, one policy/ commerce one), and elsewhere within and around Project VRM. The new capabilities will consist of:

– personal data store(s), both operational and analytical

– data and technical standards around the sharing of volunteered personal information

– volunteered personal information sharing agreements (i.e. contracts driven by the individual perspective, creative commons-like icons for VPI sharing scenarios)

– audit and compliance mechanics

Around those capabilities, we will need to build a compelling story that clearly articulates, in a shared lexicon (thanks to Craig Burton for reminding us of the importance of this – watch this space), the benefits of the approach – for both individuals and organisations.

The target state that will emerge once these capabilities begin to impact will include the 4 additional individual-driven information flowsover and above the current ones. The defining characteristic of these new flows is that the can only be initiated by the data subject themselves, and most will only occur when the receiving entity has ’signed’ the terms and conditions asserted by the individual/ data subject. The new flows are:

Flow 5 (My Data to Your Data (inc Our Data) – Individuals will share more high value, volunteered information with their existing and potential suppliers, eliminating guesswork and waste from many customer management processes. In turn, organisations will share their own expertise/ data with individuals, adding value to the relationship.

Flow 6 (Everybody’s Data to My Data) – With their new, more sophisticated personal information management tools, individuals will be able to take direct feeds from public domain sources for use on their own mashups and applications (e.g. crime maps covering where I live/ travel)

Flow 7 (My Data to (someone else’s) My Data) – An enhanced version of ‘peer to peer’ information sharing.

Flow 8 (My Data to Their Data) – The (currently) unlikely concept of the individual making their volunteered information available to/ through the data aggregators. Indeed we are already starting to see the plumbing for this new flow being put in place with the launch of the Acxiom Identity Card.

Propeller Target State

The implications of the above are enormous, my projection being that over time some 80% of customer management processes will be driven from ‘My Data’. I’m pretty confident about that, a) because we are already see-ing the beginning of the change in the current rush for ‘user generated content’ (VPI without the contract), and b) because the economics will stack up. Organisation need data to run their operations – they don’t really mind where it comes from. So, if a new source emerges that is richer, deeper, more accurate, less toxic – and all at lower cost than existing sources; then organisations will use this source.

It won’t happen overnight obviously; as mentioned above specific tools, processes and commercial approaches need to emerge before this information begins to flow – and even then the shift will be slow but steady, probably beginning with Buying Intention data as it is the most obvious entry point with enough impact to trigger the change. That said, the Mydex social enterprise already has a working proof of concept up and running showing much of the above working. A technical write up of the proof of concept build can be found here. And the market implications of this are explored in more detail in new research on the market value of VPI shortly to be published by Alan Mitchell at Ctrl-Shift.

The two hour session at the VRM workshop was barely enough to scratch the surface of the above issues, so the plan is to continue the dialogue and begin specifying the capabilities required in detail in the User Driven and Volunteered Personal Information (technology) workgroup at The Kantara Initiative. The workgroup charter can be found here. A parallel workgroup focused on business and policy aspects will also be launched in the next few weeks. Anyone wishing to get involved in the workgroup can sign up to the mailing list hereand we’ll get started with the work in the next couple of weeks.

Omie Update (version 0.2)

We’re overdue an update on the Omie Project…., so here goes.

To re-cap:

We at Customer Commons believe there is room/ need for a device that sits firmly on the side of the individual when it comes to their role as a customer or potential customer.
That can and will mean many things and iterations over time, but for now we’re focusing on getting a simple prototype up and running using existing freely available components that don’t lock us in to any specific avenues downstream.
Our role is demonstrate the art of the possible, catalyse the development project, and act to define what it means to ‘sit firmly on the side of the customer’.
For now, we’ve been working away behind the scenes, and now have a working prototype (Omie 0.2). But before getting into that, we should cover off the main questions that have come up around Omie since we first kicked off the project.

What defines an Omie?

At this stage we don’t propose to have a tight definition as the project could evolve in many directions; so our high level definition is that an Omie is ‘any physical device that Customer Commons licenses to use the name, and which therefore conforms to the ‘customer side’ requirements of Customer Commons.

Version 1.0 will be a ‘Customer Commons Omie’ branded white label Android tablet with specific modifications to the OS, an onboard Personal Cloud with related sync options, and a series of VRM/ Customer-related apps that leverage that Personal Cloud.

All components, wherever possible, will be open source and either built on open specs/ standards, or have created new ones. Our intention is not that Customer Commons becomes a hardware manufacturer and retailer; we see our role as being to catalyse a market in devices that enable people in their role of ‘customer’, and generate the win-wins that we believe this will produce. Anyone can then build an Omie, to the open specs and trust mechanisms.

What kind of apps can this first version run?

We see version 1 having 8 to 10 in-built apps that tackle different aspects of being a customer. The defining feature of all of these apps is that they all use the same Personal Cloud to underpin their data requirements rather than create their own internal database.

Beyond those initial apps, we have a long list of apps whose primary characteristic is that they could only run on a device over which the owner had full and transparent control.

We also envisage an Omie owner being able to load up any other technically compatible app to the device, subject to health warnings being presented around any areas that could breach the customer-side nature of the device.

How will this interact with my personal cloud?

As noted above, we will have one non-branded Personal Cloud in place to enable the prototyping work (on device and ‘in the cloud’), but we wish to work with existing or new Personal Cloud providers wishing to engage with the project to enable an Omie owner to sync their data to their branded Personal Clouds.

Where are we now with development?

We now have a version 0.2 prototype, some pics and details are below. We intend, at some point to run a Kickstarter or similar campaign to raise the funds required to bring a version 1.0 to market. As the project largely uses off the shelf components we see the amount required being around $300k. Meantime, the core team will keep nudging things forward.

How can I get involved?

We are aiming for a more public development path from version 0.3. We’re hoping to get the Omie web site up and running in the next few weeks, and will post details there.

Alternatively, if you want to speed things along, please donate to Customer Commons.

VERSION 0.2

Below are a few pics from our 0.2 prototype.

Home Screen – Showing a secure OS, a working, local Personal Cloud syncing to ‘the cloud’ for many and varied wider uses. This one shows the VRM related apps, there is another set of apps underway around Quantified Self.

Omie 0.2 Home Screen

My Suppliers – Just as a CRM system begins with a list of customers, a VRM device will encompass a list of ‘my suppliers’ (and ‘my stuff’).

Omie 0.2 My Suppliers

My Transactions – Another critical component, building my transaction history on my side.

Omie 0.2 Transactions

Intent Casting/ Stroller for Twins – Building out Doc’s classic use case, real time, locally expressed intention to buy made available as a standard stream of permissioned data. Right now there are about 50 online sellers ‘listening’ for these intent casts, able to respond, and doing business; and 3 CRM systems.

Omie 0.2 Intent Casting

So what have we learned in the build of version 0.2?

Firstly, that it feels really good to have a highly functional, local place for storing and using rich, deep personal information that is not dependent on anyone else or any service provider, and has no parts of it that are not substitutable.

Secondly, that without minimising the technical steps to take, the project is more about data management than anything else, and that we need to encourage a ‘race to the top’ in which organisations they deal with can make it easy for customers to move data backwards and forwards between the parties. Right now many organisations are stuck in a negative and defensive mind-set around receiving volunteered information from individuals, and very few are returning data to customers in modern, re-usable formats through automated means.

Lastly that the types of apps that emerge in this very different personal data eco-system are genuinely new functions not enabled by the current eco-system, and not just substitutes for those there already. For example, the ‘smart shopping cart’ in which a customer takes their requirements and preferences with them around the web is perfectly feasible when the device genuinely lives on the side of the customer.

Why CRM needs to turn around

This guest post is by Charles Oppenheimer, creator of Prizzm and Mightbuy.it

CRM (customer relationship management ) are systems that companies use to track their customers.  The hope for most companies that invest in CRM is that their  investment will produce happier customers, that loyal customers will produce more profits.

To some extent CRM investment has worked for companies that have made long term investments in CRM processes, despite the flaws with these systems.     Apple is a decent example, they invest in very high end  CRM systems – but no amount of money they spent on customer service is too much, they are wildly profitable, and probably just want to spend more to make customers happier.   But many customers  feel that the investment hasn’t worked, they aren’t happy, or often outraged and appalled by terrible service and awful ads  and marketing.  Here is a recent one about United Airlines – one of the few cases where terrible customer service is almost life threatening. Usually it’s not that bad, but as customers we have the right to express ourselves if we don’t like our vendor, either by taking our business elsewhere or complaining – or both.

There are a number of problems with  CRM promise:

1. CRM doesn’t work.  CRM doesn’t “manage” relationships with customers. Oops.  They are databases that track a few data points and transactions – at best. Often they fail to do that too. Oops again.

2. They are inefficient – they can cost an enormous amount of money, smaller businesses generally don’t use them at all.  The cloud/saas has reduced some of the costs, but many costs are organizational and haven’t fallen that far.

That isn’t stoping the CRM industry, many players are growing as fast as ever. Who doesn’t want happier customers?  But there is a shift going on in CRM  – powered by the proveribal social media firehose.  Although there is a lot of hype, it’s true, things have changed, both in marketing sideand service side of CRM. Customers now have systems of their own and public voices. For every corporate dashboard showing stack ranking of satisfied customers, there is likely to be an outraged blog post, or tweets or facebook messages about the company for all the world to see.  The fact that each person is a publisher has changed the way many companies see their customers.  They are a bit scared, and excited by the opportunity, the changes in what’s going on with social media.

Companies are excited about social media because it may produce new revenue channels, and they are scared because customers can say anything they want about any company, with better reach than most marketing campaigns.   And indeed, the fastest growing segment of CRM is those parts that deal with social media. Systems that publish tweets, that monitor sentiment, scanning twitter and responding – these systems are flying off the shelf.

CRM systems have always been fancy databases. Databases of first name, last name, middle name, multiple addresses.  Companies fill that information out themselves,  and hundreds of different companies track the same people, often inaccurately across multiple systems they spend billions on.  And that doesn’t tend to make  happier customers.

The problem with the Social Media investments in CRM is companies are making investments in the same the traditional database CRM model – companies owning the data. They scan social networks and import the data into their CRM system, and believe they know customers better.

Proposal.  Here is where CRM needs to go: Customers need to track companies, and use their own systems to do it.  A model that is the reverse of the current system, companies tracking and marketing to their own customers.  A system that the fundamental data model radiates from the individual, each customer tracking multiple companies.

It’s not how CRM systems are built now. It should be.

Each customer should have records of companies and products they deal with, what they think about them, what issues they have, what they recommend.  That is already happening to some extent – how many of your friends have complained about companies on facebook, how many times do you turn to Yelp for a review instead of the yellow pages? This trend isn’t stopping there needs to be more tools that support customers more efficiently, so each customer will have evolving tools that hopefully work more like Facebook than Oracle.

Let’s help NBC prep for the 2014 Winter Olympics

ice crystals and olympics symbol

The 2012 Summer Olympics are almost over, but not the challenge of a world where more and more customers are looking to watch coverage — especially of the live kind — on devices other than TVs, and through connections other than cable and satellite.

This has proved hard for many cable and satellite TV customers (myself, for example.) who would also like to watch NBC’s coverage on computers, smartphones, tablets, or large screens connected directly over the Internet.

For example, in spite of NBC’s good efforts (in the form, for example, of smartphone and tablet apps), it has often proven hard for cable and satellite TV customers to authenticate with their providers, or to find what programming packages are required to obtain NBC’s coverage services for the olympics.

No doubt NBC will soon be sitting down with itself, and with its distribution partners, to discuss what they have learned over the last few weeks, and to begin preparing for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Customer Commons wishes to help with that, by convening an independent forum where all of us can discuss what we’ve learned, and where customers can offer constructive help.

This will not be the place to complain, or to assume that the only parties in a position to come up with good ideas and solutions are NBC and its distribution partners. Out here in the long tail, we have plenty of good ideas too, and are willing to help any way we can. (In fact, I did that for NBC’s Winter 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, by contributing ice crystal images that appeared on screen throughout the event.) We are mindful that the goods are not free for the taking, and that improvements must be worthwhile for everybody, starting with NBC and its bottom line.

We’ll start with comments here, while we set up the forum. If the forum proves successful, we will also have a body of experience that can be leveraged in other markets where meeting demands of a fast-arriving future are daunting for everybody involved. We also invite ProjectVRM and PDE.Cc developers to come help out too. (These are developers working to solve market problems from the customer side, in cooperation with sellers.)

We have a unique opportunity here, while the olympics are still going on, to direct everybody’s interests in a positive and mutually helpful direction, a year and a half before the next olympics begin. So let’s go for it.

The Promise of the Personal Cloud

The term “personal cloud” is only about a year old and has a wildly disparate set of meanings.  For some, services such as Facebook, Dropbox, and SugarSynch are personal clouds.  For others the gold standard is iCloud, which stores data and media and manages your apps from all your devices – as long as they are all from Apple.  I find myself agreeing with Jon Udell who writes in Wired, “I see signs of the personal cloud in services like Dropbox, Evernote, and Flickr. You can use them for free, or you can pay for higher capacity and enhanced customer service. But the personal cloud also arises from a way of thinking about, and using, any of the services the web provides.”

Yes.  The personal cloud is a way of thinking and it is not necessarily a new way.  Phil Windley and co-authors Craig Burton, Scott David, Drummond Reed and Doc Searls make this case well in a recent white paper, From Personal Computers to the Personal Cloud.  As the title indicates, the authors contend that the best model for thinking about the personal cloud is in fact the personal computer.  Gartner analyst Steve Kleyhans seconds this when he writes, “Many call this era the post-PC era, but it isn’t really about being ‘after’ the PC, but rather about a new style of personal computing that frees individuals to use computing in fundamentally new ways to improve multiple aspects of their work and personal lives.”

Most of the folks working on this nascent space agree that personal clouds will emerge because customers will demand secure and trusted access to their apps, data, and media anytime, anywhere from any device.  Gartner, among others, believes that the market for personal clouds and everything they imply – connected services, devices and data — will be huge.  By 2015 Gartner predicts we will spend some US$2.8 trillion worldwide on connected devices, the services that run them and content transferred through them.  While we all agree that this is what the future looks like, how markets and technology will get there remains an open question.

Are Personal Clouds Inevitable? 

Nothing is inevitable, but the promise offered by personal clouds of putting us back in charge of our personal data, of seamlessly and securely managing our online lives in a way that meets our own idiosyncratic needs, offers a powerful pull.   Windley et at summarize the benefits succinctly.  Personal clouds will 1) change how we relate to everything in our lives; 2) rearrange how we buy and sell products; and 3) revolutionize how we communicate with each other.  Why?  With personal clouds, we set the rules.  Our identities can be fluid and flexible.  Our data can be broadcast widely, hoarded or selectively shared.  We will be able to have infinite channels, that work seamlessly, with people, companies, organizations, accounts, and more.  When we have seamless access to all of our information, and control over the tools and services to use and understand it, everything changes.

While the potential is vast, the challenges are equally hard.  Personal clouds that live up to the vision of trusted, secure, seamless services will require solving a host of hard problems.  Windley et al have begun envisioning the next steps.  Core to their vision is the development of a Cloud Operating System.  Analogous to the OS that makes your PC run, the CloudOS will track your identity, attributes and preferences; run as many apps as you like; store and manage data distributed across the web; and host services for you to use.  Here is a picture that Joaquin Miller put together after a session at the most recent IIW conference. The OS lives inside your cloud.

A Gathering of Clouds

While it is tempting to think of the personal cloud as one thing, living in one place like a personal computer, it is much more likely to be a window into a collection of stuff spread across the net.  This makes sense because this is how the Net is structured.  Virtual stuff doesn’t have to live anywhere – as long as there is a way for me to find it, I can get value from it.  This feature is central to the radical potential of the Net, whose soul is vastly distributed and peer to peer.

We are now living in an era where increasing amounts of our data and services are living in virtual silos maintained and controlled by centralized companies.  The personal cloud slices these silos open, letting the data flow around in new ways.  This is highly disruptive and why Andrew Johnson of Gartner says, “Providers of consumer devices, services and content must anticipate the risk of sweeping changes to their business models.  The personal cloud will force technology providers not only to rethink how they approach markets, but also, more importantly, how they define markets. ‘Emerging’ and ‘mature’ markets are no longer useful market segmentation.”

One of the reasons that the personal cloud will be so disruptive is that it’s not one cloud.  There will be many clouds, capable of talking to each other, with many channels between them.  As long as everything is interoperable, there could be many operating systems, many identity and trust networks, many services, and more.  These “federated personal clouds” as Windley et al call them, mean that there will likely be many vendors in the mix offering different apps and services that work together.  Federated clouds are much more likely to escape centralized control.  This could engender huge new levels of innovation while empowering each of us at the same time.

This dynamic reminds me of one of my most beloved philosophical maxims, drawn from process theology.  An omnipotent god who exerts absolute control over the universe creates a system that limits each individual’s creativity, resulting in a less creative whole.  The god that grants creative control to the creatures and then lets each of them do their thing, ends up with a much richer and more powerful universe.  The moral:  centralized control constrains creativity and innovation.  Something similar is afoot with the personal cloud.  When each of us gains creative control over our virtual lives, the whole virtual universe becomes more innovative, creative and powerful.

Aligning Incentives

Much of the current conversation is necessarily still in the programming weeds.  My hope is that in parallel with much-needed technical development, we will continue to think through real world use cases that test emerging solutions.  These use cases will not only offer leverage to those trying to build business models for the personal cloud, but they will help us ferret out the ethical issues that will inevitably arise.

I personally worry as much about the cloud doing too much for me as too little.  If it does too little, then it will not have real value.  If it does too much filtering, sorting and aggregating then I will potentially be replicating a new version of the filter bubble inside my own cloud.  That’s just migrating creepy practices from our current silos into the personal cloud.  We have to get the filters right.  The trick will be to always, always err on the side of giving users control over their settings, channels, permissions and preferences.  This is the beauty of putting the user in the center.  The vendors that give me choice and control are the ones I will pick.  The incentives between customer and vendor will align.

(This post was originally published at www.spruceadvisers.com.)

Which companies love customers?

Not love to have them, but love interacting with them, knowing them, talking with them, learning from them, involving them in the business, and letting them take the lead sometimes. (And not just by using a “loyalty card” or some other gimmick.)

In The Intention Economy, I give two examples, one offline and one on.

The first is Trader Joe’s, whose retired President, Doug Rauch, told me that his main job at the store was talking with customers. That is, literally, shopping along with them. Seeing what they liked, didn’t like, and why. Asking questions. Getting input. Trader Joe’s, he said, doesn’t just look for transactions, but for relationships. When I asked him if there was anything in the store that customers did not influence, he said no. When I told him we lived in Santa Barbara, he asked if we shopped at the store on Milpas Street or the newer one near Upper State. I was impressed. The dude was based in Massachusetts and still knew every store, and had shopped along with customers at every one he went to as well.

The online example is Zappo’s, which encourages its service people to maximize interaction with customers on phones. The company also welcomes exceptions. For example, I have wide feet: 9 1/2 EE. Shopping just for what fits me is easy. A few minutes ago I bought replacements for my several-year-old ASICS Gel-Cumulus 13 athletic shoes. The old ones look more worn than they really are, so I got some fresh ones. There was no reason to work with a human in this case, but I sensed a human sensibility to the ease with which I could find and get what I wanted. (The Kid and I like to sing, “Shop like a man, fast as you can,” to the tune of the Four Seasons‘ old “Walk Like a Man.”)

So who else is there? You tell us, in the comments below. No restrictions. The only qualifications are the ones I laid out in the first sentence. And tell us why, too.

How C2B becomes more like B2B

Buyer's Insights imageRay Collins in Buyer Insights asks, How Long Before Consumers Start Buying Like Corporations? He sees “B2C markets going the way of B2B markets with a dramatic shift in power from seller to buyer.”

In business-speak, B2B is business-to-business, and C2B is consumer- (or customer-) to-business. Or vice versa, as used above. The context here is an increase in power on the buy side in general.

Ray adds,

For many decades there has been talk of an end to the era of mass marketing. However, until now it was just talk. That is because although targeting the ‘customer of one’ sounded good, the technology did not exist to make it possible.

A new book by Doc Searls called ‘The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge‘ envisions how new technology will kill the age of mass marketing. It means an end to the ‘Calf – Cow model’ where the consumer is powerless and the supplier is all-powerful.

No longer will consumers be simply”targeted” “captured”,” “locked-in,” “owned” and “managed” by sellers!

… This is the information or  ’Big Data’ age. As consumers we leave a rich digital trail through our use of; loyalty cards, online retailers, web browsers and online search engines, as well as our social networking pages.

For sellers this information is power. But that may not always be the case.

Instead of sellers using this data to sell more effectively to consumers, how can consumers use it to buy more effectively from sellers? Well, the answer is an emerging technology called VRM.

‘VRM, or vendor relationship management is a category of business activity made possible by software tools that provide customers with both independence from vendors and better means for engaging with vendors.’ That is the definition fromProject VRM at Harvard.

To quote Doc Searls: ‘For most of the industrial age, companies have been obsessed with getting the attention of prospects and customers…’ But now ‘we can make our intentions known personally and in ways that can cause and sustain genuine relationships. And, where no relationship is required, we can connect, do business, and move on, with less cost and hassle than ever.’

…In the Attention Economy of mass marketing vendors focused on getting the buyer’s attention and marketing, or advertising was all powerful.   But in The Intention Economy the consumer buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer’s purchase. It is a shift in the balance of power and that is something that B2B sellers know all about.

Iain Henderson of The Customer’s Voice has done much research comparing B2B relations with C2B, and found many thousands of variables in the former and just a handful in the latter. This owed to a relatively even balance of power between customers and vendors in the B2B world (even given the changes Ray notes in his post), and a lopsided one in the C2B world, in favor of the vendor’s (B) side. As customers get more power, however, the variables will only go up, and with them will also rise choices for both sides.

For example, today no company is ready to hear a customer name his or her own terms (or preference for terms) in a C2B interaction (sometimes called a “ceremony”). Few companies are ready to hear a personal RFP or “intentcast” by customers in the wild. Ray (who writes in the U.K.) gives two examples of those:

  • I am looking for a mountain bike, in Hull, with 500 pounds to spend – p.s. as my facebook wall shows I am into extreme biking and am rather tall!
  • I am looking for a child’s stroller in the Lewisham area and have 150 to spend – p.s. I am a member of the fair trade alliance, so ethical products appeal to me.

As VRM development matures, we’ll start seeing these scenarios becoming common.