Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Thinking about why VRM…

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…because a customer database doesn’t a relationship make.

Power equation

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I have been thinking about how to explain the shift in communications to professional communicators within companies. That communication is not a skill, it is a survival trait. It is considered a skill within a particular environment that requires specific ways of processing, broadcasting and receiving information. But if the environment changes, then the skill may no longer be relevant. And such shift has occurred in communications and media industries because of the internet.

We now have the POWER to do things we couldn’t do before, we have the tools and the technology that enable us to go direct and bypass. That’s a real power in the world where intermediaries form entire industries. The ‘power to the person’ is the most important development for me so far.

Then there is the rise of CONTEXT. The web has removed physical limitations on space. Data was expensive to create, store and move around and now it is not. This made room for context, which is becoming at least as important as the data. In fact, it is what make data and information the skeleton, giving shape to the flesh and skin but it is no longer the whole body and finish. The important thing is that context can be provided only by a human mind. It cannot be automated – when creating or absorbing it.

Finally, there is DISTRIBUTION. The networked nature of the web has changed the nature of the expensive part of the media – getting their content to the desired audience. But online, the content does not contain any more and people formerly known as audience are now co-producers and distributors.

All this adds up to many groovy things. The important one for communicators is that communication is now the default, not a skill.

Communications equation

Quote to remember

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Web 2.0, Health 2.0, whatever you call it, that seems more to be the pretty packaging you can put something around it to help market it. People aren’t just “co-developers” in this relationship — they are true partners. People don’t want their intelligence “harnessed.” They want to engage in a two-way dialogue and conversation with their providers.
- John Grohol, E-patients and Health 2.0

Quote to remember

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But rather than grieving over what BigCos do with our privacy, or getting straight exactly what Facebook is up to, I’d prefer to create tools that give us — each of us, natively — selective disclosure policies that we can pass along to the membership organizations of the world.

We’re so used to living in vendor habitats that we can barely imagine having real power and control in our relationships with them — for their good as well as our own. Selective disclosure has always been a basic tenet of VRM.

Power needs to start with the individual. In a pure VRM context, it’s about my relationship with FaceBook, or Peets Coffee, or United Airlines, or the corner cleaners.

- Doc Searls in Power to the person

Power to the customers

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A friend emailed me a link saying ‘you won’t like this’.

An Australian accounting software developer blames a “severe downturn in sales” on people who bad-mouthed its products in online user forums. It wants a judge to muzzle their comments.

Apart from being a serious contender for the Darwin Award – seriously, suing people for making comments about its products and services! – it is also a company with a mindset I ranted about recently.

Let’s have a look at the offending ‘word of mouth’:

Among the challenged statements are incendiary comments such as these:

If you deal in Foreign Currency at all, I would avoid it. It was one of the big issues we faced … and don’t get me started on the inventory and manufacturing system – what a joke.

and

I was put onto this forum recently after discussion with peers, about how frustrated, dissatisfied and ultimately ripped off I feel after purchasing 2clix earlier this year … Our company has been trying to implement 2clix for sometime now and we are still in the implementation process and feel like we are getting nowhere fast.

These are very mild comments indeed. They would hardly register on the heat scale in most flame wars in the blogosphere. So on top of a company that has bad products and services and doesn’t know how to treat its customers, we also have a software developer that has no clue about the web and the conversations it spawns.

And now for the good news:


Since January 2Clix has suffered a “severe downturn in sales” that cost the company about $750,000 over six months, according to the 2Clix complaint, which was filed in the Supreme Court of Queensland. (All currency amounts are in US dollars.)

Here we have the holy grail of quantification of the word of mouth! The marketers of the world rejoice! Not quite. The good news is that the impact can be significant and lasting. Started by a few comments by ‘unimportant’ people. This is a power of sorts, although not yet harnessed. It can be amplified by more tools and understanding of what’s going on. Similar to blogs capturing, networking and scaling the conversations that people have always had, and similar to social networks connecting people through their profiles and relationships, there are ways to do this to our interactions with businesses and markets. Preferably without silos, lock-ins and closed platforms.

It often seems to be that people forget the power starts from the individual. It is not merely about scale and aggregation. I am reminded of Doc’s post Power to the person, which strongly resonates, for obvious reasons. :)

On the way to the airport this morning, my wife and I were talking about one of the big easily-defaulted misunderstandings of the VRM concept: that power for people only comes in numbers, in aggregation. The problem is with the word “only”. Power needs to start with the individual. In a pure VRM context, it’s about my relationship with FaceBook, or Peets Coffee, or United Airlines, or the corner cleaners.

A Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web

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Yeah, I signed. Happily.

We publicly assert that all users of the social web are entitled to certain fundamental rights, specifically:

* Ownership of their own personal information, including:
o their own profile data
o the list of people they are connected to
o the activity stream of content they create;
* Control of whether and how such personal information is shared with others; and
* Freedom to grant persistent access to their personal information to trusted external sites.

Sites supporting these rights shall:

* Allow their users to syndicate their own profile data, their friends list, and the data that’s shared with them via the service, using a persistent URL or API token and open data formats;
* Allow their users to syndicate their own stream of activity outside the site;
* Allow their users to link from their profile pages to external identifiers in a public way; and
* Allow their users to discover who else they know is also on their site, using the same external identifiers made available for lookup within the service.

I do like it. Especially, the ownership, control and freedom over my own data principles.

I was happy to see a call for the ability to export any data online by their owners… very much in line with what we are trying to evangelise with Project VRM in all areas.

Open as in…

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I linked to my post about social networks in a Facebook note, just to see how it works. I got an interesting response from Geoff Arnold who pointed out:

But how do you build an open version of a trusted third party? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

For instance, how could Paypal be open? Or Amazon’s new payment system? Could one create an “open” bank?

These are hard issues. There’s technical feasibility, and then there’s rationality. I assume that it is rational to prefer to be a monopolist….

Yes, I see what Geoff is getting and and also that I haven’t defined ‘open’ well enough. I agree, it can cover a multitude of sins, so let me clarify… Open as in not locked-in, open from the point of the user and his ability to use the data that is being collected by him and about him. It doesn’t mean indiscriminately open and accessible to everyone. Open as in offering much greater control over stuff that belongs to me, that I create and manage. Open as in opposed to siloed.

For example, all the data and purchase history I have on Amazon.com (actually it’s Amazon.co.uk). I would like to be able to put them somewhere, in a place that I can call my own. And then do clever stuff with it myself. Combine it with my reading habits, travels (to make sure I have reading material for those long airport queues), my calendar for people’s birthday, with my notes on vendors, my purchase history, my opinion about prices, trends and reading habits, share my views on books with my friends. (And not just use some silly widget somewhere on a blog but as a proper space, secure and private but shareable where I run my own affairs using not just a few apps like ‘to do’ or shopping lists but the entire range of tools that are available online, openly developed). Basically, a potential improvement on the sparse information available to me that Amazon and other vendors that they collect for their own purposes. Not mine.

The internet is an open platform, but it doesn’t mean everything is hanging out there for all to see. For example, open bank could mean that the safety deposit box belongs to you and only you can get inside it.

All this leads me to my current obsession project, which is VRM. We hope to address, or rather, redress the balance of power between the customers and vendors, individuals and companies, employees and processes…etc. So watch this space.

As for Quis custodiet ipsos custodes… how about Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.. :)

I tried to post this response on Facebook but, alas, could not. I got a message – comment is too long by 450 characters. Not enough space for a verbose blogger. So here it is, out in the open. :-)

Doing it my way, all the way…

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And that is exactly what Kamal Aboukhater, the producer of the movie Blowing Smoke, has just done. He has produced the film his way – deeply un-PC screenplay about cigars, men and women using cutting-edge digital technology – and now he is releasing the movie via the Blowing Smoke blog.

Bs_posterSo having done all that, getting good people on my side working with me, I didn’t want to become a slave to anyone. I didn’t want to wait for my movie to travel up the long and tedious chain of command until someone finally made a decision to release it.

…There will be no waiting. I can, audience willing, get immediate response and won’t be at the mercy of a movie studio or distributor. One thing I have learned about audiences, thanks to blogs, is that they are not a unified mass of "consumers." They are individuals, choosing something (like what to watch) for many and varied reasons. Some might want to watch Blowing Smoke because they like cigars, some might be drawn to the poker, and others may want their opinions about women and men confirmed. Whatever the reason, now they can do so easily. And, if they feel like it, they can let me know their reactions and opinions.

And he really does not like the studios, but he seems to like bloggers:

Major studios seem to be the last to adopt and adapt to innovation and trends. And, just like with video and DVDs, they are again missing the boat, unaware of the new possibilities for reaching their audiences. They might have caught glimpses of the future, such as Firefly, Global Frequency, and Garden State. This is thanks to a new band of warriors, better known as bloggers, who add strength to the voice of the fans, fighting for more choice for themselves and, in the end, all of us.

The point is that he can go all the way to his audience, by-passing the intermediaries. Sure, the path is not clear, the journey may be either uneventful or too bumpy, but Kamal is aware of the experimental nature of what he has done. He is enjoying the comments from those who understand and appreciate what he is trying to do. As he said after the ‘launch’:

It’s no longer just about the movie but about an opportunity to add another dimension to the infrastructure that’s already there – the blogosphere and the internet.

It has taken a while to get to this point both in terms of understanding and then realising the idea. I feel priviledged to have been part of that process and enjoy working with Kamal whose open mind has been instrumental in this adventure. In return, he can be blamed for my blossoming addiction to cigars, the quality of which would make any cigar afficionado weep with joy. Whilst discussing the final details of the Blowing Smoke ‘release operation’, I savoured a particularly good Hoyo de Monterrey. Who says the days of plotting in smoke-filled rooms are over… I shall leave you with an exhortation: Boxed BS. Available now! Get your own! Oh and, BS download is Coming Out Real Soon Now!

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