Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

The stories never told

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From a book I am reading*:

He did a new thing with a new set of people every day of his life. And that made him just as different from the people in the traffic jam as I was.
So I looked with fascination at those people in their [cars]**, and tried to fathom what it would be like. Thousands of years ago, the work that people did had been broken down into jobs that were the same every day, in organisations where people were interchangeable parts. All of the story had been bled out of their lives. That was how it had to be; it was how you got a productive economy. But it would be easy to see a will at work behind this: not exactly an evil will, but a selfish will. The people who’d made the system thus were jealous, not of money and not of power but of story. If their employees came home at day’s end with interesting stories to tell, it meant that something had gone wrong: a blackout, a strike, a spree killing. The Power That Be would not suffer others to be in stories of their own unless they were fake stories that had been made up to motivate them. People who couldn’t live without story had been driven [out]**. All others had to look somewhere outside of work for feeling that they were part of a story, which I guessed was why people were so concerned with sports, and with religion. How else could you see yourself as part of an adventure? Something with a beginning, middle, and end in which you played a significant part?

In other words, creating and living your own story means you have autonomy. And that is one thing that nobody working in a corporation, institution or another system has. And why in the New Year, it will be disruption management full blast for me…

*Neal Stephenson’s Anathem

**sci-fi terms replaced by their Earth equivalents.

Social media eBay auction

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For those who follow my escapades, I am auctioning two hours of my time next Wednesday 13 May on eBay, together with Chris Heuer, founder of AdHocnium.

This is a one time only opportunity (for this moment in time ;) This is a low cost way for a smart company to take our minds for a test drive, to see if what we know, and to improve what you are doing with social media, marketing and web strategies to make your organization more succesfull in these efforts.

VRM journey

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For those who follow my VRM escapades, I have tried to capture what VRM is about and why I am working on it. So here is my paper (and manifesto) A VRM journey.

Loosely speaking, apart from my consolidate position on VRM, this is what it’s about (as summed up by my friend Carrie):

  1. ‘Social media’ is limited and people are outgrowing it
  2. There is demand from growing number of people for more control over their online ’stuff’
  3. There are benefits to users and ‘vendors’ for re-working the current imbalanced relationship
  4. Some tools are being developed to make that a reality
  5. It will be a hard slog but there is a call to arms for users to even out the balance; the most open vendors will also benefit – bringing more certainty to their future in this uncertain economic climate

Here is the PDF version for those who prefer a non-web format.

Mine! pointer

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For those interested in the Mine! project here is another of my continuous efforts to describe, explain and eventually demonstrate Mine!

Further elaboration on the theme is in the comments.

I am pursuing the user-driven approach where my data is neither in the hands of the second party (the vendor) nor a third party (intermediary or service provider). This is a practical requirement if I am to exercise greater control over my data and autonomy over sharing it. And that is what I set out to enable with Mine! as best I can.

Tuttle club hosts VRM roundtable

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I am a fan and supporter of the Tuttle Club and what Lloyd has done for the social media scene in London can be seen from the popularity of the gatherings every Friday morning from 10am till about 1pm. I have two pieces of news to share regarding the Tuttle Club/Social Media Cafe.

First, the Friday morning meetings are moving from Coach & Horses to the ICA club (as part of what Lloyd calls Phase II). The weekly sign up wiki is here.

Secondly, on 10th October the Social media cafe meeting will be morph into a VRM roundtable at around 12.30pm. The idea is to bring VRM to the attention of the social web network in London and as a forerunner to the VRM Hub conference in November.

For more information feel free to email me at adriana dot lukas at gmail dot com.

Look forward to seeing you there!

cross-posted from VRM Hub

Truly social software?

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I have been thinking about how social software and social networking platforms actually limits my ability to be social…

But isn’t social networking all about being social? Not quite. At the moment, I don’t drive who gets to see what beyond simple decisions about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. Social interactions and relationships are far more granular than social networks allow them to be. Usually, this is seen as a privacy issues and results in a complicated access management e.g. Facebook privacy settings.

Why do we have our relationships pre-determined by others such as Facebook, Flickr, Plaxo etc.? Presumably to give us more ‘control’ over our social network and contacts in it. But how is lumping people into categories imposed by an application helping me to be social? By determining the types of relationships I am able to have – business contact or colleague, family or friend, I am not able to reflect relationships I already have. The best social software is not online, it is loaded on to my cortex. And no software can fully map the relationships, let alone replace our natural ability to create and maintain them.

Privacy is merely the other side of the coin of complexity in human relationships. My ‘privacy settings’ are inherent in my behaviour. My privacy policy should not be embedded in any software. In that sense, software cannot be social (or antisocial), though it can help me be more or less social. Software privacy settings limit my ability to be truly social i.e. capable of maintaining complex relationships and interactions with others – arguably the purpose of such tools.

For context of the argument see the Mine! project blog.

cross-posted from VRM Hub

Ownership of data, privacy policies and other VRM creatures

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Here are some thoughts based on what I posted to the Project VRM mailing list on the discussion about data ownership:

The ownership of data, whatever that means, is merely a starting point of VRM and our attempts to redress the balance of power between vendors and customers. I might volunteer information – to me that means I share it on my own terms – but I also need the ability to establish and
maintain relationships. For that I (others may not) need and want
the following ‘functionality’:

  1. take charge of my data (content, relationships, transactions, knowledge),
  2. arrange (analyse, manipulate, combine, mash-up) it according to my needs and preferences and
  3. share it on my own terms
  4. whilst connected and networked on the web.

That’s what I mean when I talk about turning the individual into a platform, etc etc.

This does not happen by creating a database or a data store, however personal. Store implies passive and static, even with some sort of distribution. The objective is equipping individuals with analytical and other tools to help them understand themselves better and give them an online spring board to relationships with others (in VRM context this includes vendors).

I think it’s the user who should define the nature of the data stored/shared/analysed and what data is called what – whether confidential or premium or whatever. The crucial point is being able to share it (as well as do all sorts of groovy things with it, independently of third party and without the data being hijacked, er, harvested by third parties in the process.)

In the spirit of user-driven-ness, it should be the user who determines the ‘policies’ by which his or her data is managed and shared. I don’t see why they need to be standard(ised) as my sharing preferences and tolerance are a matter of my policy* – just like security and privacy are policies, not systems, i.e. what’s secure or private to me is not necessarily the same to you and vice versa.

What happens after information/data/whatever is shared is partly provenance of the law but mostly of a relationship I have with those the data is shared with… The main issue with the latter is that it can become meaningful only if the user is the most authoritative source of his or her data. Hence I call the means of doing this the Mine!

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*My take on privacy is that it is a policy of the individual, not in a sense of privacy policy for the individual selected from a given selection, in the style of Creative Commons. Huge difference. For instance, I have a policy about who I let into my house. I don’t need to display it on my doors or attach it to my address or business cards. It is far more convenient and flexible for me to decide there and then, when someone’s knocking at the door. It is my implicit privacy policy that kicks in. Sure, I don’t want junk mail or door-to-door salesmen but just because I can display notices to that effect, doesn’t mean that is the way to deal with the rest of the humankind. So online, it is about creating tools that help the individual control the data to the point that he/she decides practically and directly who gets to see what – without a third party or intermediary…

cross-posted from VRM Hub

Rules for open web community

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Eran of Hueniverse has extrapolated 10 helpful rules from his obviously extensive experience of web communities and projects. They seem excellent to me and so I’ll reproduce them here in full for future reference:

Community efforts must adhere to the same rules startups use when trying to build something new. They must be focused, have a clear plan on how they are going to accomplish their goals, and what it is going to take to get there. With that in mind, here are my 10 rules for community driven open-web projects:

  1. Know what you are trying to solve. Start with a single sentence description of the problem you are going to solve. Stop wasting people’s time by writing long essays about the philosophy of your project and ideas. The more narrow your problem the better. Define the outcome and the most important characteristics.
  2. Find the right people. Before you open a project to the public, hand pick those you want to be involved. Like any successful business, community efforts must have a strong foundation which is created by getting the right team together. In a way, you are going to need to put a team in place as if you are not building a community at all. It is rare for community members to do more than provide feedback, so you will still need a core group to get stuff done.
  3. Make it easy for people to join. Don’t start with a wiki, a blog, a group, a website, and a meetup. Pick the one format that works best for your idea. Writing code? Pick a developer oriented solution. Writing specs? A group is all you need. At some point when your project matures, you will need all those other tools, but starting with it just because it makes your project look more real, actually makes it look stupid. If people need to check out 5 different sites to catch up, they will either leave, or contribute the wrong resources.
  4. Don’t be too nice or too democratic. I’m a big believer in enlightened dictatorship, and it is something every community needs. Give a tiny group of people, 3-5, the power to manage the project, make final decisions, and keep the community on track. It will piss off some people, and they are sure to – you guessed it – start their own new projects that are even bigger and cooler. But your project will stay on track. There is a limit to making decisions by taking votes.
  5. Set deadlines. Open-ended projects have no motivation to get anything done. Set timelines and do your best to make them. Don’t go too far into the future, and try to limit your effort to few deliverables. People need to see progress to continue putting time into the project.
  6. Don’t branch out too soon. Almost every single project I read about already has sub-projects going before anything was accomplished. If a member of the community has an idea that doesn’t fit right now, or at all, a better idea is to put it off, rather than split the community resources. This is where #3 comes in – don’t let people hijack your community for their own agenda.
  7. Let your project grow organically. It is funny how everyone talks about viral marketing but rarely apply that to their own efforts. Letting people find out about your project through members and by experiencing the results of your project is always better than posting about it in every blog comment and other community. If people join a group that has accomplished nothing, they are more likely to try and take over, shift the conversation, and generally have little respect towards the leaders. #3 is easier when people respect you.
  8. Start with an accomplishment. Starting with an idea or goal is nice, but rarely gets things done. Write some code, a spec draft, a site prototype – anything – just something others can relate to. Point of reference is the single most powerful tool for getting productivity out of a community.
  9. Don’t be afraid to end a project. If for some reason an effort has not worked out, or did but reached its objectives, don’t recycle the community or force more deliverables just because you have everyone in one place. Most ideas will fail simply because that is the nature of human invention. Recognize that and know when to shutdown a project. The beauty of the internet is that you get to leave behind whatever outputs were created, and that by itself can be a useful lesson. Stale projects are like stale milk. You never buy a one because when you open the fridge it looks like you have milk, and meanwhile that milk is starting to smell.
  10. Know what you are trying to solve. The first rule is so important, it needs to be repeated. The people you want and need to make your project successful are usually the ones with very little free time. Just like getting funding for a startup, you need to sell them the idea and it needs to be very specific. Remember, you can always get one problem solved and pick another.

Change is driven by need, and so far, the needs of the open social web has not been fully figured out. We don’t need projects to talk and discuss ideas, and we don’t need to give them big names.

Note: There are a couple of issues I have with Eran’s approach to the proliferation of often mismanagement and sometimes pointless web projects – the answer is not to sit it out or wait. Change and improvement happens because someone got pissed off and did it right. :)

From misapprehensions to alternatives

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There has been some confusion about the ‘Feeds Based VRM’, the Mine! and its provenance, possibly due to this post and this one. I’d like to put the record straight about where ‘Feeds Based VRM’ comes from and what the Mine! is and what it isn’t.

An earlier paper on ‘Feeds Based VRM’ has dealt with the data logistics using feeds mechanism. Althought it did not explore the Mine! in detail – that was done in a paper posted here last Sunday – it has always been predicated on the existence of something like the Mine!. The feeds approach has appealing simplicity and it has caught the attention of some who assumed it fits in with some of the existing approaches to VRM. To clarify, the ‘Feeds Based VRM’ is an alternative to identity based VRM, not an evolutionary step. This has led to some misapprehensions and the slides and diagrams drawing on the ‘Feeds Based VRM’ and the Mine! amount to running around with the bathwater, often without the baby. Before explaining in more detail, some definitions:

Having opened the user-centric can of worms by pitching the term against user-driven, a couple of other terms have sprung up, such as individual-driven and human centric. The first one misses the point that user and usage is a component of the design and the second is merely a variation on user-centric. Just replace ‘user‘ with ‘human‘ in user-centric sayz – we are going to build a system, put the user in the centre instead of the system to see what I mean. Same thing. A good test of user-driven is whether the user can add value to an application or the (by definition emergent) system itself.

John Dodds hits the nail on the head:

Sorry folks “individual” and “social identity” are pretty much useless because there are too many subjective definitions and associations pertaining to them out there. The strength of user-driven lies in the verb – there can be no doubt here, the user is in charge and actively driving and thus delineates it from user-centric and all the others. That is what you need a term to do.

User-driven has been coined to drive home my discomfort about the term user-centric. It is the user that adds value to the system, which then serves that user and other users. Think Twitter or BitTorrent – applications only as valuable as the user activity on them. The functionality provided depends entirely on whether people use it and more importantly how they use it. For example, Twitter’s reply functionality @USERNAME has come directly from users, they started doing it as part of conversations and Twitter turned it into a reply function.

A design principle for the Mine! applies here:

We are creating better tools for users, not trying to improve what they want to do; i.e. giving them better ways of doing what they are already doing. If we try to improve what they want to do, we are not doing our job – nifty technology is good but usage is even better.

When it comes to driving usage, scaling a network or relying on user-driven design, an important distinction between the primary and secondary objectives has to be made. There often is just one objective – either the benefit to the designer/developer of the application that flows from others using it; or some pre-defined result that benefits everybody but that will emerge only if many people use it towards that end.

Two types of objectives need to be present to foster a community or scale a network.

  • The primary, which taps into the user’s needs, objectives and convenience. Here the benefit to the user has to be immediate, the functionality delivering now.
  • The secondary, which motivates the application designer or the network builder who foresees future outcomes that may be desirable and emerge through users’ behaviour.

User-centric design often focuses on the secondary objective, with no or little attention given to the primary one. The result is often a range of applications or a system with no relevance or convenience to the user. This in turn breeds misconceptions about users and their motivations, habits, preferences, needs and levels of tolerance. I lost count of the number of times I heard some usability wonk or a UI design agency assert their conclusions about ‘users’, their wants and needs, without any first hand experience of how people behave and interact online, in the wild. If not for the open web and the ability of users to bypass the ‘professionals’ by building tools and applications for themselves, scratching their own itch, the system/human/user-centric designs would not be unravelling as they are today.

The Mine! is currently about the primary objectives, with occasional indulgent glimpses of the secondary ones. It needs to be ruthlessly modular:

We are not creating a tool/application/platform that can do everything for them, we are creating the best modular tools for specific functions and let the user put them together. In terms of a car, we build the engine but the user decides the shape, colour, number of doors, seats and, of course, how and where to drive it.

I can, and do, take educated guesses where all this might lead and what the emergent benefits will be (and will do so in the follow up paper on the Mine!’s applications), but that is a far cry from allowing functionality that is not essential to the user now to be hardwired into the Mine!. I want to see what the user does with it, what is useful and what has to change, what the user breaks and what empowers him more. That is why with regard to technical aspects, the Mine! will be an open source project with goals to

  1. invent as little as possible
  2. reuse only popular technologies, techniques and user-interface metaphors in order to enable VRM, and…
  3. provide maximal inclusiveness and extensibility to its implementation, to permit the greatest potential for growth.

My preference for minimalism and modularity aside, this is a practical consideration. The Mine! doesn’t need to spend years in standards committee (we are using Atom and HTTP) or in formats kerfuffles (we are addressing data logistics as we find it with the currently used formats).

Embedding various metadata into feeds is not the way we are going. Suggestions to add any metadata to feeds describing rights, access to objects etc have been and will be resisted for reasons of unnecessary complexity and tech bureaucracy. Such proposals are about attaching another object with metadata such as licenses or access rights to each object in the feed. So my wine feed – a photo of wine bottle, a review of bottle of wine, then another photo of wine bottle – would end up with more metadata objects dropped into it, each of them stipulating how a particular picture may be used e.g. the first one with creative commons license, the other all rights reserved etc. In the end, every object in the feed would require some more metadata objects, amounting to many months in standards committee deciding what format(s) this will be in.

In my view, this is not the web way of doing as it involves invention of and obsession over creating new XML objects. There are simpler ways of achieving this, if and when such metadata is required by users. The non-committee way is simply here’s is a URL of my feed of objects, one that is personalised for you. The first time you access it, you’ll be required to click a button saying “everything I retrieve through the feed will be creative commons license”. Simple, really.

I, for one, want to use the Mine! as soon as possible, for my own purposes. And if there are others who will find it similarly useful, they will be the ‘adoption’ curve. Standards and formats will come back to haunt us but no need to court them before usage.

Now back to the ‘drawing’ board – last week I came across a drawing based on incomplete understanding of the Mine! and ‘Feeds based VRM’. It prompted me to further differentiation between that view and what I am actually working on.

The Mine! is not merely a personal data store – it is a structural element on the web that meets four requirements:

  1. take charge of my data (content, relationships, transactions, knowledge),

  2. arrange (analyse, manipulate, combine, mash-up) it according to my needs and preferences and
  3. share it on my own terms
  4. whilst connected and networked on the web.

This does not happen by the Mine! being a database or a data store, however personal. Store implies passive and static, with some distribution via feeds, whereas one of the major elements of the Mine! is equipping individuals with analytical and other tools to help them understand themselves better and give them an online spring board to relationships with others (in VRM context this includes vendors).

The personal data store implies that there is no other reason to be using it other than to slave yourself to someone’s CRM system. Herein lies the fundamental problem with the graphic and the approach it illustrates – it treats people’s Mines! like a back-end to vendors’ CRM systems. It does not capture using the Mine! to manage relationships – see the reference to ‘User Accounts Records‘ which in no sense reflects the customer being in control of their own data.

It is a good example of a user-centric or human-centred approach, but certainly not user-driven. The purpose of the Mine! is not only to put the individual in the centre and align the vendors around him. That is a far more gargantuan effort than what the Mine! is designed to do as the vendors have very little motivation to do that in ways that are useful to the individual. The idea behind the Mine! is to give the individual ability to become the authoritative source of information about him by handling the living breathing data as they go about their life. Taking just the feeds and not groking the autonomous space for my data is like looking at a vast landscape through a key hole, not bothering to open the door.

So once more, with feeling – the feeds and the Mine! feed technology are a subset of the Mine!, which has been conceived as an alternative way to provide data logistics for the individual on the web, one with a higher degree of autonomy and control over one’s preferences that is possible now. It originates from the social web, not from the identity space or any other area. It is a platform for the individual, with the aim to shift the balance of power between individual and platoform (or customers and vendors or other types of locked see-saw). It aspires to be an infrastructure for other solutions but it is not and should not be defined in terms of any of those solutions – identity, VRM, authentication, data portability and hopefully many more. A collection or selection of those solutions can be used as use-cases and that is what the Mine! community is working on.

For the moment, the Mine! prototype is being build according to the concepts described in the paper, (functionality designed by me, with coding by Alec). It is aimed at other hackers who appreciate the non-trivial distinctions that I have laid out and might want to join the open source project to improve it. Those who want to know more feel free to contact me directly via email on this blog. I also organise regular monthly VRM Hub meetings in London where we often discuss the Mine!.

‘Scratch your VRM itch’ meeting

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This is an all day meeting on Tuesday April 15th, the theme is VRM and how it addresses (and hopefully redresses) the imbalance between individuals and their relationships with vendors, companies or institutions.

The agenda will be set by attendees starting from why VRM appeals to you, where you see it going and how. Bring your assumptions, understanding and ideas to the table where others can examine it, challenge it, improve it or help you take them further.

Technical issues can be discussed although for focus on specifics I find smaller gatherings, more productive (so watch this space for ‘hacker sessions‘ announcements). This meeting will be more about what VRM can do for you as well as what you can do for VRM.

I envisage working in groups or all together depending on the situation and have chosen the venue to fit that purpose. Limit is about 35 people as greater numbers (especially in one room) become unwieldy and hard to focus on specific issues.

Date and time:
Tuesday April 15th 2008, from about 9.30 to 5pm

Venue:
Central London – October gallery near Holborn, in Club room with sofas, large table and chairs, wi-fi, flipchart, lunch and refreshments during coffee & tea breaks.

Price:
not more than £40 to cover cost for 35 people. As I am organising this as an individual, without any corporate backing, I will be able to go ahead with the event after 15 people sign up. This is to cover the fixed cost, any surplus will go towards the next VRM event of this kind. (Many thanks to Paul Doleman of iCrossing for offering to subsidise tickets to the tune of £10 each.)

Who this is for:
Been following VRM for a while, given it some thoughts, want to be part of it, wondered how to make it work, wondered where the money is, how to get businesses involved, how to build tools and applications, have it all worked out and want others to know, in short, have a VRM itch to scratch. :) .

Who this is not for:
Heard about VRM, interested or intrigued, would like to know more but haven’t really thought much about it. Join us at VRM Hub meetings where you can imbibe VRM with drinks and informal chat.

Sign up for “Scratch your VRM itch” meeting on the VRM Hub wiki.

For those interested, here is a VRM one-pager and a white paper on Feeds based VRM.

VRM one-pager

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Here is a brief summary, a taster of what VRM means to me:

Imagine being able to take charge of your information and data, notes and records about past transactions, your purchase history, future plans and ideas, preferences and knowledge about areas of your life. At the moment you are the last person to be able to benefit from all this accessible only via various platforms. Your ‘digital detritus’ is not yours, it is information that others harvest and use for their own purposes. Imagine to be able to do that with the same ease as checking email, posting to a blog, adding a bookmark to del.icio.us, searching Google, commenting on an article, uploading a photo to Flickr, managing your google or ical calendar, leaving a review on Amazon, adding an application on Facebook. All this whilst protecting your privacy to the degree you find comfortable, sharing your activity or data as you wish, not as mandated by the platform providing some functionality in exchange for your data (Facebook, Amazon etc).

Imagine having your customers share with you what they like, want and think of you. At the moment, you are dependent on market research, which is like looking through a keyhole at the rich ‘user-generated’ world. Imagine being able to relate to your customers, consistently and persistently, where they contribute directly to your supply chain where it makes sense – whether it is R&D, product design, distribution and marketing. Interaction with them is modular, intuitive and user-driven freeing much of your resources spent on marketing and transaction cost.

The above is part of the vision of the Project VRM. The name stands for Vendor Relationship Management and it originates from ‘flipping’ CRM – customer relationship management. Project VRM is a community-driven effort to support the creation and building of VRM tools. The project is headquartered at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and headed by Doc Searls, a fellow with the center. The project is building a framework that sets standards and protocols for a category of tools that enable individuals and organizations to relate and transact on more equivalent terms. By minimizing the leverage and control one party has over another in a (typically commercial) relationship, individuals and organizations can instead focus on creating and sharing value. The VRM opportunity is not rooted in us vs. them emotionally-driven arguments but in creating a more efficient and balance relationship between business and their customers, markets and companies, demand and supply.

What’s in it for the individual?
The ability to manage and analyze your data will give you better knowledge about yourself, the kind of knowledge that is the holy grail of most companies’ customer data management. The awareness of your preferences, understanding of your needs will help you to articulate them easier and strengthen your position with vendors.

What’s in it for businesses?
We live in an increasingly decentralized world with more customer choice, yet vendors continue to fiercely collect and control customer data and exploit the opportunities therein. The ultimate goal of VRM is better relationships between customers and vendors, by considering and constructing tools that put the customer in control of their data and ultimately their relationships with other individuals, companies and institutions.

Benefits of ‘letting go’ of customer data:

  • Customers share the burden of storing and protecting the data – eases compliance, privacy & security concerns
  • Increased access to information about customers – direct benefits to the customer to share more data rather than less.
  • New services from previously unavailable access to customer data

For those based in London, who want to learn more and meet people with similar interests there are regular monthly VRM Hub meetings.

VRM meetings in London

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Getting our VRM act together, Iain Henderson and I, have organised meetings for those who would like to know more about the project, meet those involved in it and find out what’s been happening. And hopefully meet some interesting people.

We plan to have regular monthly meetings, usually falling on the last Thursday of the month, unless there is a compelling reason to move it.

January meeting is tomorrow evening from 6-9pm in Grape Street Wine Bar in Shaftesbury avenue, private room.

February meeting is currently planned for 28th February, with a good chance of Doc Searls joining us.

For more details and sign up:


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